Is It Possible to Shop at Old Navy and Still Be Fashionable?

We shopped there to find out.

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Blanket, jumpsuit, mini and matchy-matchy.

Old Navy has been in the headlines a lot lately. When it comes to GAP’s finances, the discount retailer is like the little engine that could, chugging the otherwise floundering parent company to a profit (or, at least, to survival) with its reasonably priced basics. Then came last week’s news that its former CEO was poached to helm Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren. I scribbled it in my ideas notebook: OLD NAVY. Something was in the water over there, and it was time to check it out.

The last time I shopped at Old Navy – like, really shopped – I was in high school. It was 1999, and I’d won $500 in some high school contest. I took that money and went straight to the blazing marquee lights, whereby I bought whole shopping carts worth of sundresses (at least 15) and tops and shoes and surely other things, but now I only really remember the sundresses. So. Many. Sundresses.

Now, after weeks of bumping Old Navy down in our ever-growing list of Stories to Write For Shoppist, assistant lifestyle editor Lauren McGrath and I finally made the pilgrimage to the Old Navy in the Gallery. We’d been talking about going for so long that once we actually arrived, we lifted our arms and sang like singers a church choir. The security guard was not amused.

We started out with a simple rule: Grab anything we thought could be cute. We weren’t looking for workable basics — obviously, Old Navy has these in spades — but pieces that felt fashion-y, whatever that is. (I’ll define it for you: Something that feels special, that speaks to a current trend without being obvious, because capturing a moment, design-wise, takes finesse.)


The scene in my fitting room.

So we began our hunt. Lauren immediately saw a raspberry knit pencil skirt: “I just bought the same one at Zara!” she said. (I would later try this on and discover that it was no good. The Zara version is better.) I scooped up a boxy striped shirt and matching skirt, both the colors of fall leaves, and a faux-suede mini skirt. Then we wound our way to the back of the store, where we found the workout wear section. I wanted everything, but my arms were full.


The scene in Lauren’s dressing room. (We decided she’d be in charge of vetting the workout gear; I’d stick with casual wear.)

After circling the store a few times – Old Navy feels incredibly overwhelming to me; it wasn’t until we were leaving that we noticed the second floor (wiped out, we decided to skip this) – we began the arduous try-on process.


So much good workout wear.

We discovered that nearly all of the exercise wear – leggings, tanks, tissue-thin hoodies – were great. Lauren bought a pair of mesh-paneled leggings and a tank. After a sweaty yoga class, she proclaims them a successful purchase. Even if they don’t last as long as their Lululemon or Nike counterparts, at less than $30, they’re still a smart buy. (For the record, our health and fitness editor gets most of her workout clothes here.)



I tried on the striped skirt with a blue-and-black top that had a wide peplum-like frill at the hips. I liked the weird color/pattern combination, but the silhouette wasn’t all that flattering. An army green jacket with embroidery on the back was cute; I’d add a vintage fur collar (or a colorful faux one, a la Mr. & Mrs. Italy) to take it through colder weeks.


Fashion hack.

A flannel shirtdress was great, although the material felt cheap and itchy. I tried on a size or two larger than I’d normally take, for belting purposes. I unbuttoned the top few buttons, hiked it up, cinched it with a silk scarf (Moschino, a great Century 21 find!), and much preferred it. Hey, why not?


Accessories worth scooping up.

The accessories section didn’t disappoint, either. Skip the jewelry; this all skewed cheap. I recommend scouring a vintage or thrift shop for inexpensive costume baubles instead. But the shoes were surprisingly stylish. Pick up a pair of the slip-on sneakers; you’ll wear them all winter long. The circle sunglasses almost made it into my rotation. Avoid the UGG knockoffs and sweater-cuff boots at all costs.


Those maroon ones went home with Lauren.

In the end, I found this: Nothing in Old Navy moves the needle in terms of where fashion is headed. But I think that’s maybe that’s the fun of it. You become the needle. They provide you with mountains of vaguely on-trend clothing — a plaid cape here (this was also cute, if itchy), a mod suede mini there (get this), a drab olive green jumpsuit (no) — and force you to wade through it all and put it together in interesting ways.

Fidget in the dressing room. Pair weird things together. It might work. It might not. But you’ll be able to experiment with things that could otherwise look basic and find a way to make it yours. And that’s what style is all about.

Just don’t sing on the store floor.