Will Shoppers Buy Into Gap's Merchandise Makeover?

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Gap executives this week set plans to turnaround its ailing namesake stores, which include jazzing up its concededly drab clothing mix with more colorful items and prints, as it cuts 21% of its U.S. store base to focus on expansion overseas.

Product changes at Gap stores will bloom in the spring, with more "color, emotion and clear product points of view," while staying true to its "casual, American optimistic" style, the company said, in a press statement.

But is that what shoppers want from the iconic brand that helped define casual dressing in the U.S.?

A random sample of consumers across the nation cited the brand's classic, understated looks as the reason they shop the chain. They worried that the merchandise makeover might result in trendy fare that displaces the Gap's signature clean styling.

Madeline Pietschnig, 18, said she shops the Gap for its "simple, modern styling that's not too flashy," preferring the outlet stores to the full line stores since they're less pricey.

While Pietschnig likes Gap's plan to add more colorful clothing to the mix, she'd like the changes to end there. "I hope they don't become one of those sell out stores, with the animal prints and flashy rhinestones on clothing, like Forever 21," she says.

Pietschnig might be in for a disappointment.

The retailer has introduced to its stores skinny jean leggings with animal and snake prints, which have been a hit, Art Peck, president of Gap North America, told Reuters during a store tour.

It's precisely those young, hipster looks geared toward a model's proportions that have turned off Paulette Stout, 43, a grant writer from Acton, Massachusetts.

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"They went for that teenybopper look, they went heroin chic," she said, noting the rail thin, androgynous look popularized by runway models in the 90s.

Gap went "overboard" with items like skinny leg jeans. "Not everyone is going to wear a size zero," she says. "When you create a line like that, you're telling a lot of people, 'I don't want you to shop in my store.' I used to shop there all the time, but they pushed me away."

Amy Gifford, 52, still manages to find clothes she likes at the Gap.

"For the stuff I'm looking for, I don't find it drab," says the health care professional from Washington D.C. They offer "versatile styles that you can dress up or dress down, and it's good quality."

The longtime Gap devotee recently purchased t-shirts, and what has become a favorite, smokey gray wool cardigan in a classic cut she couldn't find anywhere else.

While it remains to be seen how Gap will hold on to its classic aesthetic while spicing up the mix, they'll have fewer stores to worry about stateside: The retailer will shutter 189 units by the end of 2013.

Shoppers were surprised that Gap will be closing so many units. "They're really doing that bad?" Pietschnig said.

Ann Fischbach, a retiree from Manhattan who shops the Gap for "sporty" looks and polo shirts, had heard the news about the store closings and wondered how many would shutter in New York City. Not too many, she hopes.

"Wow," said Gifford, when told about the number of stores set to shutter. "It's sad. They're an American institution."

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