A Letter about a Flight Jacket

I jumped at the chance to buy a 1986 Mel Ziegler letter on BR letterhead and I’m really glad I did. First, it’s just a great look at what a classy company they were and how Mel’s gift for language never fails to charm. It’s so warm and witty. Secondly, this particular letter points directly to a slight but important change made in the catalogue copy for the leather Flight Jacket. For both authenticity and thrilling minutia this letter fulfills all of my geek needs.

The writer, a Mr. Doug Marshall from Ohio, is one of a number of WWII vets who had written in to dispute a detail in the write-up for the jacket. The line in the catalog is “…and there were no handpockets, presumably because said appendages are occupied when you are aiming a P47 at the flight deck of a carrier.)” Apparently, it is wrong to imagine a P47 fighter plane landing on an aircraft carrier in WWII whereas a “Hellcat” would be correct. (Don’t ask me!)

Mel thanks him for the constructive criticism in the most charming and self-effacing manner and points out the copy is corrected as of the holiday 1986 catalogue. (See before and after catalogue pages below)

The letter goes on to comment on the possibility of a children’s line as well as some insight into their strategy for adding new stores in areas where catalog buying is strongest.

You can see in the letter’s signature line the note “mz/ca” for Mel Zeigler and Christie Allair. Thanks to my friend Scott Dodd who pointed me to this passage in the Wild Company memoir: “… we were getting outsized positive feedback from all over the country; hundreds of letters from customers every week. Because someone had taken the trouble to write, each letter, whether it offered an idea, an observation, or a compliment, required a thoughtful answer…A charming, witty friend, Christie Allair, worked with me to answer every letter.”

Here’s the letter in full:

Dear Mr. Marshall:

Thanks for your letter. We indeed heard from an incredible number of WWII carrier pilots and flyers who pointed out the folly of attempting to land a P47 on a carrier. We would consider it a kindness if you didn’t press us for the exact number.

No doubt you’ve received our holiday catalogue by now and noted the corrected Flight Jacket copy. We may err occasionally, but never for long governed by the astute readership you represent.

Although we haven’t any immediate plans to offer children’s wear, it’s obviously a market for consideration. Presently, we’re opening new stores in areas that have generated the greatest mail order response. Eventually, we hope to reach more communities like yours.

Again, thanks for both the complients and constructive criticism. We enjoyed hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

Mel Ziegler


The (Hellcat) corrected Flight Jacket page.

About The Author

Robyn Adams
Robyn's fascination with Banana Republic began in 1984 when her Alaskan adventurer father began buying the clothing and giving her the catalogs. She loved the clothes and as an artist she was drawn to the illustrations. She went on to study illustration at art college in BR's hometown of San Francisco and worked for years as a background artist for animation. She is now based in Oakland, CA as a graphic designer and illustrator with Secret Fan Base . She's been collecting and archiving at Abandoned Republic since 2011.


  • Wendy Joffe on August 19, 2020

    Thank-you for sharing this letter, which is yet another wonderful vignette in the history of what Banana Republic stood for: Listening to customers and responding to their questions and concerns. I’ve a letter-writing story to share, if I may.

    While a college student in the mid- to late 80s, I built my modest wardrobe around a few key pieces from Banana Republic. By far, my favorite was the Bush Dress, a most versatile item worn year ’round – with short sleeves in summer, long sleeves when the weather cooled. It offered everything I needed in a dress, from comfort to durability and practicality (those commodious pockets substituted for a purse). When a group of classmates expressed admiration, I of course had to sing praises for Banana Republic. One of the students piped, “Oh, THAT dress! I wrote to the company that I was offended by the ‘Mother Earth’ description in the catalogue. Mel Ziegler sent me a letter apologizing that no offense was meant….” She continued her rant, I held my tongue, and thought how cool it was that Mr. Ziegler himself would reply.

    The reference to “Mother Earth” is found in the Holiday ’85 edition, which offers head-to-toe gift ideas aptly titled, “Good Sport,” “Wall Street Survivalist,” etc. The “Mother Earth” outfit is found on page 34 (featuring the corduroy version of said Bush Dress), accompanied by an idealized description of she who might wear it. Personally, I find nothing offensive – kindly do not roast me – but of course to each their own opinion. I still have the dress, which is a testament to its quality. It’s handily withstood long days on campus, casual Fridays at the office, nature walks with tugging toddlers, and just gettin’ through the day. I sincerely doubt a current offering from BR’s Heritage line, bearing the dreaded DRY CLEAN ONLY label, would hold its own next to my trusty Bush Dress.

    • Robyn Adams on August 24, 2020

      This is such a marvelous comment, Wendy, thanks for sharing! I love that story and yes, she was lucky to get a thoughtful reply!

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