A Rare Look: Banana Republic Catalogs 1978-1983

Posted by on June 2, 2011

This gallery was made possible by former Banana Republic staff artist Kevin Sarkki who generously scanned his personal archive.  An interview with Kevin is coming soon.

The original Banana Republic catalog was printed as a duo-tone, an inexpensive two-color printing technique that fit the funky style of a surplus clothing company. The early catalogs were produced entirely by Mel and Patricia Ziegler, with Mel the journalist doing the writing and Patricia the newspaper illustrator handling the art. Sarkki was hired in 1982 and was their first staff artist. After the GAP bought BR in 1983 more artists would come on board and in Spring 1984 the catalog would move to full color printing and become the catalog most of us remember.

These early catalogs are quite rare as they did not have wide distribution. I had never seen them until now. They offer a unique look at the origins of Banana Republic as a surplus clothing company.

 

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12 Responses to A Rare Look: Banana Republic Catalogs 1978-1983

  1. Jan

    Wow! I had completely forgotten how cool going to a BR store was in the 80s. I can’ t really tell the difference between most of the stores anymore. Old Navy probably is most true to their origins. I really miss the whole safari experience that made the original BR so unique. Thanks for all the work putting this together.

  2. Carla

    I used to get these catalogs in the mail waaaay back in the day and loved them. I’ve tried to describe the illustrations to people who see Banana Republic in a whole different way today, so I’m so glad you’ve posted examples here. Enjoying a fit of nostalgia.

  3. Jemma

    I used to love the original Banana Republic clothes and they were amazing quality with details and great fabrics. If such clothing were sold anywhere today, I would buy it. I was thinking about the old catalogs the other day and remembered to do a search tonight. How cool that someone is keeping track of them. I have saved J. Crew catalogs but Banana Republic’s were really unique and fun.

  4. Lilspeth

    I lived in a full off-white durable heavy Cotten sort of mesh button down full skirt from BR purchased in 1978 and worn until it finally died 20 years later. It always looked great and I have never come across another that can even remotely compare to the quality and timeless style of that skirt. I was a student at the time and also recall it was expensive for my tiny purse but I am so glad it was one of those cannot live without moments which probably drove me to mac and cheese for two weeks! I am still looking for something similar. I wish quality and real style would come back!

  5. Ish

    These catalogs were my window to the world when I was studying journalism at university in the early 80′s. The only thing close to it now is J. Peterman. Thank you so much for this wonderful site!

  6. Justin

    As a ten year old growing up in milquetoast-rural-upstate NY these catalogs would land in our mailbox and ignite my dreams. I’ve tried to live a life of travel and adventure–and happily have succeeded to a degree. I do wish I still had my Israeli Paratrooper Briefcase…thank you for scanning these and for your creativity Kevin Sarkki.

  7. Roger

    This store was a turning point for me when I was a kid in high school.. It was the coolest store I ever walked through. When I heard Mel and Patricia had sold to the Gap I couldn’t believe it :/ It hasn’t been the same since!
    Thanks for this website!!

  8. Larry

    Discovered BR in the mid-80s while attending LSU. No visit to Houston or Dallas was complete without a visit. The entertainment value of BR’s stores were fantastic! I never got around to acquiring a “Botswana Bowling League” shirt; never seemed to have enough money in those days. One would love to see BR make a comeback.
    PS: Those catalogs were too much :)

  9. Margaret

    I worked in Banana’s advertising department from around June of 1984 to August 1986. I wish I had kept those wonderful catalogs. I also wish I could go back in time and buy more of their amazing merchandise. And hi Kevin!

  10. Christopher

    I made my first purchase at, Banana Republic, in July of 1984, in Houston, Texas. I purchased a safari jacket and matching
    trouser, along with a safari shirt……I was hooked from then on. Now that BR is no longer the same wonderful entity it once
    was, I was fortunate indeed to purchase seven original pieces of clothing, six, still new with tags from individual sellers, on
    eBay. I am in paradise!

    Oh yes, I have some of the original catalogs, as well.

    • Scott

      Nothing better than a BR piece with the tag still in it! Thanks for sharing!

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