Men Still Need J. Crew

J. Crew AW 2010

Derek Guy at Put This On recently wrote a nice piece about what makes J. Crew special following news of Jenna Lyons leaving the company, so I won't belabor the same points in a much less compelling and more grammatically dubious manner, but the trouble that J. Crew is in financially (and in some ways existentially) has struck an emotional chord in me that I did not know existed. I thought I'd share a few thoughts of my own here. In a small way, it's been like watching a beloved family member dealing with a difficult disease, and one that may be terminal.

I grew up with J. Crew - not so much in the sense that I happened to be young when J. Crew was in its prime, but more so that I found a brand I could afford that fundamentally changed the way I thought about style early on. I can confidently say that no brand has done more to shape the development of my personal style - essentially, they taught me to dress myself before I knew how. When I was just starting out making an active effort into thinking more deeply about my clothes years ago, I was lucky to have found them and saved myself a closet full of throwaways.

J. Crew AW 2014

In those days, Uniqlo wasn't really around (not to suggest the two are interchangeable) and J. Crew's main competitors were Banana Republic, Gap, and Express - none of which have ever managed to achieve the same level of sophistication and sense of authenticity or soul, if there is such a thing, in their design. I suppose I could have ended up under the wing of Polo RL or Brooks Brothers and also had a solid base in Americana, but with the overwhelming scope of different aesthetics under the Polo brand and Brooks Brothers catering to a more expensive and somewhat WASPier crowd, it seemed my relationship with J. Crew was almost fate. They just resonated with me in a way that no "mall brand" had before, or has since for that matter. The only one close would be Club Monaco of the Ralph Lauren empire, who have been struggling with their own woes as of late.

Wallace and Barnes flight jacket
Despite the ongoing troubles that J. Crew has been going through, and even though my tastes have developed to lay somewhat outside the bounds of their normal purview, if a guy were to ask where he should look if he just wanted to "dress better" without spending a lot of money, but otherwise had no idea what he really meant by that, there would be no better answer than J. Crew. Just look at some of the pictures on display here - "timeless" is an ignorant label in fashion, as nothing is actually timeless, but those same looks from 2010 I'd wear today and feel great about.

I don't shop there often anymore for some of the reasons referenced in the above-mentioned post, but I still keep my eye on what they are putting out every season and swoop in to catch some of the good stuff from time to time. This is especially true of the vintage-inspired Wallace and Barnes line, which has been written about in various style blogs but I think still remains heavily under-recognized and under-valued if you want higher quality construction and materials as well as generally more interesting design without paying much more (and oftentimes paying the same).

I think Derek said it best in simple terms: "If J. Crew were to fold, the world of menswear will be worse for it." It's hard to imagine a world without J. Crew, from both a price and stylistic point of view, but certainly their absence would leave a gaping hole in the fabric of the menswear universe. Thinking about a situation where the only available options to those starting out were fast fashion giants like H&M and Zara followed by an abrupt and steep jump up to more expensive designer labels is a sobering thought indeed. I consider myself a graduate from the school of J. Crew, but there are many more behind me who would also benefit from a similar affordable education.

J. Crew AW and SS 2017


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