According to WI staff gear serves 2 main purposes,
While you can read there arguments for and against gear as well as a suggestion on how to remove statistical elements from gear here.
I tend to be one who thinks gear is fine the way it is now agreeing that gear provides a needed slider to help players that aren't quite as skilled as those in the top 10 guilds in the world ease into content. Where as those against it could argue that the stat benefit provided by new gear is not meaningful as to progression.
Both camps for and against gear mentioned that gear provided the form factor of allowing to build your character the way you see them, especially with the advent of transmogification Neither camp wanted to see gear go bye bye completely for this very reason.
After the break I will talk about how Gear isn't the problem it is the way gear is delivered in terms of the random number generator system.