The Gap: See 3 decades of vintage Gap clothes & how the company started with a totally different concept

Vintage The Gap store and bag

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In the beginning, vintage Gap stores didn’t sell any Gap branded clothes

Although the first store launched in 1969, by the late 70s, it seemed like everyone knew The Gap — later simply Gap (or GAP) — if not because they were shopping there, then for their memorable TV tagline, “Fall into The Gap.”

In the early days, The Gap was always well-stocked with Levi’s jeans (and “records and tapes” of all things) as well as other denim apparel, including many of the styles featured in this article.

In fact, that’s the only brand of clothing they sold until 1974, when they started to work with various manufacturers to create colorful sweatshirts, blouses and sportswear for women, men and kids.

They even started up their own in-house labels in the early days — including Monterey Bay and Fox Tails — but those were eventually discontinued and pulled under “The Gap” brand umbrella.

In the mid-80s, the company spent several million dollars to remodel 500 of its shops, making upscale changes like replacing hanging racks with shelves, among other things.

Most of the company’s 600 stores were about 3,500 to 4,000 square feet each, and “Super Gaps” started to appear in 1985 — each one twice the size of the typical store.

The Gap ad - Brights (1979)

Vintage Gap advertising & expansion

Around that time, Gap also made another pivotal transition: they moved most of its ad budget away from TV and radio to print magazines. Those ads are most of what you will see below.

Over time, The Gap’s own private label continued to grow. By 1990, Levi Strauss & Co. products accounted for less than two percent of the company’s sales — and they stopped selling the Levi’s brand altogether at the end of 1991.

But the changes didn’t end there. GapKids and babyGap stores started to open in 1992, expanding their offerings as the “guys and gals” who were their original customers in the started to have kids. (We guess you could say they became a multi-generational Gap.)

PS: Where are they now? Click to see what the company sells today!

The Gap jeans of the 1970s

The Gap: Did you know that in the early 70s, this super comfy brand sold only Levi’s and… records?!

Take a Levi’s Trip — Vintage Gap ad (1973)

Fall into the Gap. The Levi’s store. Over 4 tons of Levi’s! Levi’s for working. Playing. Doing. Traveling. Vacationing. Anything.

We’ve got them. The world’s greatest selection under one roof. The newest styles, colors, and patterns. Neat Levi’s Sta-Prest slacks. Tons of Levi’s for guys. Exciting Levi’s for Gals.

So next time you feel like traveling in style, fall into the Gap. It’s the best trip you’ll ever take.

Vintage 1970s Gap ad - Take a Levi's Trip (1973)

Go Gap happy — The Gap (1977)

The GapThe Gap - 1970s old style design ad from 1977 (1)

Vintage Fall The Gap ad (1977)

So you think you know The Gap… uh, uh, not until you see the new Fall Gap: the big sweaters with hunks of color, shirts going plaid with patches. Lean pants that roll up or skinny down. And you know what else? At Gap prices, you can Gap from head to toe without losing sleep. 

The Gap - 1970s old style design ad from 1977 (1)

ALSO SEE: His and hers matching clothes: Was this 1970s unisex clothing trend romantic or weird?

Gap of the 1980s (TV commercial from 1982)

YouTube video

DIY Gap! A vintage clothing pattern (circa 1980s)

Vintage Gap clothing pattern (c1980s)

Vintage Gap polo shirts (1985)

Playing the game of polo means racing down a field at 20 miles per hour, swinging a 4-1/2 foot stick at a 3-1/2 inch ball, while controlling a 1,200-pound animal with 8 thin strips of leather. It isn’t simple. And neither is making a Gap polo shirt.

Color: Take the issue of color. This new polo shirt from the Gap comes in nine different colors. They range from rose pink to bright turquoise to deep emerald. You’ll also find pale pink, bright red, pale yellow, mint, and of course, black and white.

New Knit: Then there’s the cotton knit. It’s a special cotton interlock — smoother than the traditional mesh. When you try one on, you’ll notice how soft it feels, and how nicely it drapes on your body.

Right Details: We lengthened the placket, too, so the shirt looks more feminine when you wear it unbuttoned. And we left the sleeves loose so you can rol] them up. But rest assured, we maintained the authentic side vents and collar design — after all, it is a polo shirt.

It takes a lot of skill to make The Gap’s new polo shirt. But to tell you the truth, we suspect it’s a piece of cake compared to playing the game.

Soft cotton polo available in nine colors — light pink, turquoise, white, rose pink, mint black, emerald, yellow or red.

Vintage Gap polo shirts (1985)

80s polo shirt ad from The Gap

80s clothes from The Gap - 1985 (2)

The Gap’s denim jeans and jackets (1985)

Back in 1969 when we opened the first Gap store in San Francisco, our business didn’t take much know-how. We simply offered America the best way to shop for Levi’s blue jeans. Period.

Honest value: We produce most of our own clothes. That way, we can offer you a great price, and still make sure that everything we sell meets our quality standards, and yours.

Vintage Gap clothing from 1985

Shaker Knit clothes from The Gap (1985)

The Shaker communities believed in hard work. For example, they de-signed butter churns that could be worked by foot, so hands were free for knitting. And they knitted, among other things, with the Shaker stitch you see in so many sweaters today.


The Gap uses the Shaker stitch in all of our ramie/cotton sweaters for fall. Though the stitch is simple, we took the liberty of using 3 gauge needles to create a sweater with substance and added texture.

Ramie/ Cotton

We’ve added ramie to cotton yarn for our fall sweaters. Ramie is a plant, similar to cotton, but since the fibers of the stalk are used instead of the flower the result is a stronger, heavier yarn. In fact, each sweater weighs close to two pounds.


Our sweaters come in colors the Shakers never dreamed of. For example, our high-neck sweater comes in eight colors — fuchsia, jade, and turquoise, to name just a few. It’s a sweater you can wear alone or with your favorite shirt. We spent a great deal of time perfecting our Shaker knit sweaters. After all, at the Gap, we believe in hard work, too.

MORE: Totally awesome vintage 80s clothes for girls

80s clothes from The Gap - 1985 (3)

Gap jeans and denim jacket (1985)

Gap jeans and denim jacket (1985)

Retro flowers and floral print fashion from The Gap (1985)

When you walk through a country garden in Oxfordshire, England, you’d think the flowers grew that way naturally. But you’d be wrong. It’s all planned.

New Style

At the Gap, our favorite summer shirt looks just as natural. We first noticed it in Europe — a shirt actually designed to be tied in front, the way you used to wear men’s shirts. The front shirttail has an extra twelve inches so it’s very easy to tie a knot. It looks great with shorts, pants, jeans, or even over your bathing suit.

Fine Cotton

We used a charming floral print straight from an English country garden for this new summer shirt. And we knew that such a delicate pattern belonged on nothing less than a fine imported lawn fabric. And of course, it’s 100% cotton.

Designing a floral print shirt to look just as natural tied in front, as it does tucked in, takes just as much planning as an English country garden. And at the Gap, we think the results are just as pleasing.

80s clothes from The Gap - 1985

Holiday Know-How by The Gap (1985)
When you do your holiday shopping at the Gap, you’ll realize how simple it can all be. From the greeter at the door willing to lend you a hand, to the in-store catalogs full of gift ideas, the Gap knows how to help.
Simple Shopping
At the Gap, we make holiday gifts easy to find and easy to afford. Shetland sweaters at $28, flannel plaid shirts at $24, great sweats starting at $13 — the hardest part will be deciding which to give as gifts and which to keep for yourself. On your way to the cash register, grab a pair of $3.50 socks for your favorite cousin or choose an angora sweater for someone extra special.

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (8)

Finishing Touches
The Gap even gives you gift cards and gift boxes with your purchases. All you have to do is sign the card and tie a ribbon around the box. So thumb through the next three pages for some ideas, and then stop by the Gap store nearest you. Who knows, you may just find something for everyone on your list.

Gap’s lambwool gloves and vests for winter (1985)

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (7)

Retro Buffalo Plaid patterned lumberjack shirts (1985)

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (6)

The Gap’s 80s textured sweaters (1985)

It isn’t simple to create a sweater with both texture and pattern. And the Gap’s diagonal knit sweater is no exception.

Intricate Detail

Even with all the benefits of modern technology, each sweater takes over half a day to knit and link together. (Anyone who knits will tell you why it’s so difficult.)


The Gap wants you to wear this sweater all year, so we made it out of a natural ramie/cotton blend. It’s the perfect weight in any season. Maybe it wasn’t easy for the Gap to bring you this diagonal knit sweater. But the hard part’s over. All you have to do is decide who to give it to.

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (5)

Retro cotton turtleneck sweater ad by The Gap (1985)

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (1)

Mock turtleneck sweater from The Gap’s fall collection (1985)

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (3)

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (2)

Flying bird print (1985)

The Gap knows what it takes to make your favorite shirt. A small interesting pattern, details like a hidden placket and a pleat down the back, and soft cotton twill. Best of all, your favorite shirt just gets better with time. Red, green or white background. Brushed cotton twill. S,M,L.

The Gap - Vintage clothes from the 80s - 1985 (4)

Gap pullover shetland sweaters ad (1986)

Retro 80s Gap pullover sweaters (1986)

80s GapKids tweed wool sweaters (1986)

Gap Kids clothing (1986)

Gap’s oversized striped cotton tunic (1987)

The Gap - Vintage clothing ad from 1987 (1)

The Gap’s retro plain rayon pocket t-shirt (1987)

The Gap - Vintage clothing ad from 1987 (2)

Mini-cable knit sweater by The Gap (1988)

Gap clothing (1988)

Gap of the 1990s


Classic Gap Denim ad (1991)

Vintage Gap Denim ad (1991)

Gap style linen skirt (1993)

Gap style from 1993 (2)

Ribbed vest and ribbed leggings from The Gap (1993)

Gap style from 1993 (1)

Gap Blue No 655 fragrance for her (1995)

See another Gap scent and more perfumes from the 1990s here!

Gap Blue No 655 fragrance for her (1995) at ClickAmericana com

The Gap’s women’s boot-cut plaid pants (1996)

Gap plaid pants from 1996 (2)

Gap plaid pants from 1996 (1)

80s style children’s anorak jacket by GapKids (1998)

Vintage Gap Kids 1998 (3)

Khakis by Gap (1998)

Model-actress Audrey Marie Anderson for Gap, wearing a black short-sleeved top and khaki pants

Model-actress Audrey Marie Anderson for Gap (1998)

Retro jean long-sleeve shirts from The Gap (1998)

Vintage Gap clothing styles from 1998 (1)

Gap’s basic grey sweatshirt style (1998)

Vintage Gap clothing styles from 1998 (2)

Classic denim jeans ads by The Gap (1998)

Vintage Gap clothing styles from 1998 (3)

Black tank top & painter’s blue jeans

ALSO SEE: Vintage Esprit fashion from the 80s & 90s: This innovative clothing line was ahead of its time

Vintage Gap clothing styles from 1998 (4)

Zip up grey vintage Gap hoodie (1998)

Vintage Gap clothing styles from 1998 (5)

90s fashion: Tank tops and jeans (1998)

Vintage Gap clothing styles from 1998 (6)

Gap Kids children’s graphic t-shirt (1998)

Vintage Gap Kids 1998 (1)

Wide leg jeans for kids by GapKids (1998)

Vintage Gap Kids 1998 (2)

90s youth jean pants by Gap Kids (1999)

Vintage Gap Jeans (1999)

Retro fleece winter wear for kids by GapKids (1999)

Vintage Gap Kids ad from 1999

MORE: The unlikely history of Levi’s jeans – or, how clothes from 150 years ago are still fashionable today

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. In the 1970s, the Gap was the place you went to buy Levi’s jeans and corduroys. Anything Levi’s was super-trendy at the time, and the Gap was the only store in our area that sold Levi’s products. I remember getting my first pair of Levi’s jeans at the Gap, trying on pairs to get the perfect fit. I felt so cool! Then in the late ’90s, the Gap became hip once again because of their chinos (at a time when the casual workplace was becoming more common), and the buzzy ads that went with them, featuring James Dean and other American icons wearing chinos.

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