When I think about the Nineties I think about Seinfeld, scrunchies, Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando at his finest and boys, lots of boys, mooning around with curtains dusting their cheekbones. But most of all when I think about that decade, I think about The Gap.
I was a teenager in 1990s Manchester; a city fat with the arrogance of having created the 1990s club scene. Drugs were everywhere. Getting ‘tw**d’ was a thing to be celebrated and grunge reigned supreme. And yet Gap, more commonly known among costumers as 'The Gap', on the corner of St Anne’s Square, in one of the city’s grandest buildings, was my Valhalla.
The Gap sold a different lifestyle to the one the entire city was offering; one of preppy America with bright white teeth and crease-free chinos. Shopping in The Gap meant something too. You weren’t slacking. You weren’t part of Generation X’s aimless youth brigade. If you shopped at The Gap you weren’t dropping out, but opting in. Gap was slick. It was sunny. It was for go-getters. And that’s exactly what I wanted to be.
You could feel The Gap’s gloss and optimism the minute you walked through the door. All that blonde wood. All those glass shelves. All those Crayola-coloured T-shirts, folded to within an inch of their life.
I bought my first pair of black trousers for a job interview from The Gap. They were cotton with a crease down the front and two roomy pockets that were fully intended to accommodate the nonchalant hands-in-pocket stance of the newly employed. I bought a pair of bootcut jeans from them too for my first day at college. And on my first ever date, I purchased a primrose yellow T-shirt with a little scoop neck that artfully proffered my clavicle to my future boyfriend.
When I got my first proper job on a glossy magazine it was The Gap I similarly turned, investing in a crisp white shirt that felt very ‘Peter Lindbergh woman’. Hell, I even bought all four of their unisex fragrances - Grass, Earth, Day and Heaven, all of which kind of smelt the same, that is to say, clean, crisp, confident. Basically they smelt like every Gap changing room across the entire world… and I was okay with that. Gap’s promise was not to make you stand out, it was to make you fit in. And when you’re busy finding yourself that’s exactly what is needed.
I suppose I started to forget about The Gap the older I got. As I discovered who I was there seemed less need to blend in. But I would always pop in, like stopping by to see an old friend you shared the best memories of your life with.
Of course things changed. Brands, like people do. There were signs things were not well. The acres of beautifully folded jumpers were now just a small corner, while the majority of the shop floor was given over to a giant jumble sale of micro pants and frilly shirts in garish colours. They started to sell things like leopard print puffer jackets and jeans that stretched like Hubba Bubba round your backside. It all started to feel a bit desperate. A bit hard sell. A bit… lost.
And that was its tragedy. Because The Gap was never lost. It was so distinctive. So confident in its simplicity. It knew exactly who it was. It didn’t follow trends. It didn’t need a flashy ad campaign to get you into store. It didn’t ever do the hard sell. You went into The Gap because you knew you could rely on it. You would always find a cashmere jumper that fitted just so; always find a white T-shirt that would make you feel a little bit Winona Ryder; you could always find a pair of flannel pyjamas that would gently caress even the trickiest body shape. And that’s how I like to remember it.
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