Frugal Trad: Stafford Prep At JC Penney

Our last post on William F. Buckley included an eyewitness account of a JC Penney label spied inside one of WFB’s suits.

Then yesterday, as I was exiting at Herald Square, one of the MTA’s more labyrinthine subway stations, I found myself taking an exit that led straight to a Penney’s escalator. Remembering the Buckley post, I decided to continue inside.

And it was good that I did, since among today’s junk mail was a sophisticated (by the department store’s standards) men’s catalog, produced under the stewardship of new menswear director Nick Wooster. It features a new collection called Stafford Prep, which I’d noticed whiled walking through the store. JC Penney’s American Living experiment is over, but undaunted the store has decided to continue offering prep-inspired basics at rock-bottom prices.

I think Stafford Prep will be a great option for young guys on a budget (who email me all the time asking for shopping advice), especially in the spring and summer when you want fun, inexpensive clothes to play around in. I wouldn’t expect much in the way of tweed, flannel and Shetland come next fall.

Just how cheap is Stafford Prep? How about navy cotton blazers for 50 bucks:

Or polos in nearly every color of the preppy rainbow (complete with ferocious unicorn logo), that are just $18:

Red, yellow and sky blue chinos are a mere $30:

Equally bright shorts run just $22:

Oxford-cloth shirts are priced at $28:

Madras-looking shorts are also $28:

What’s more, the regular Stafford collection also includes things that might appeal to the frugal trad, such as the bar-striped tie in the top image ($18), and pocket squares for $15:

You might even be tempted by this plaid jacket, which goes on sale Monday for $71.

All in all a young man could certainly build a whole wardrobe here on the ultra-cheap.

And paying cash for cheap goods, rather than going into debt for pricier ones, is certainly an approach Buckley would endorse. — CC

39 Comments on "Frugal Trad: Stafford Prep At JC Penney"

  1. Why do they insist on putting those awful logos on the polos?

  2. Very helpful post for all the reasons stated! Seems they have the starter kit covered. Nick Wooster delivered for them!

  3. Once again I’m caught making assumptions.

    I’d profiled Wooster for The Rake and so used the occasion of this post to drop him a line and congratulate him on his new role. He wrote back saying that there actually will be Harris Tweed in the fall! And also camel hair jackets, both at prices “that are going to blow your mind.”

    He also said seersucker and madras ship in April.

  4. MRS asked,
    “Why do they insist on putting those awful logos on the polos?”
    I blame Rene Lacoste.

    The Stafford Prep is good news for those younger among us struggling to make ends meet. I haven’t been in a JC Penney for forty years, to buy a microwave I think. I’ll have to drop in and checkout the construction. I’ll let you know.

  5. I was pleasantly surprised the last time I was in a JCP — if you shopped there, you could be as well-dressed as it’s possible to be buying new clothes for their prices. I mean, it’s no match for nine months of a fairly dedicated thrifting hobby, but nothing is. I’ll have to keep an eye on them.

  6. Reactionary Trad | February 23, 2013 at 11:26 pm |

    Definitely preppy rather than ivy or trad.

    No worse than the modern stuff put out by Brooks and Press.

  7. Great article! We get a lot of questions as well on this subject. It is hard to find nice clothes for young men on a budget. The Wooster collection for JC Penny is surely a thumbs up.

  8. I recently tried on some Stafford suits at JCP, I was impressed by the fabric and styling, but fit was a bit off and the construction was cheap.

  9. Ivy? Trad? Prep? ETC? I’ll withhold judgement till the fall collection arrives, that’s the benchmark.

    Dave and FYSK, nice blogs, interesting and worth the trip.

  10. Im going to need one of those polos just for the clawed unicorn logo! I dare you to play polo on one of those beasts. Or think of the instant credibility you would have at a Dungeons and Dragons club.

  11. Christian
    A decent-enough collection — perhaps this is the successor to the retired American Living line. That “fierce unicorn” is stated by JCP to be, in fact, a griffin. Not everyone can afford Brooks and J Press, so I, for one, will support their campaign of preppy economy. If it’s good enough for WFB, it’s good enough for me.

  12. Evidently it’s supposed to be a griffin with a horn:

    Maybe it’s a unigriffin.

  13. $15 is what you’ll pay for a Chinese-made silk pocket square at Macy’s or the Men’s Wearhouse. Same patterns available at both locations, so presumably same source. Not the nicest quality, but a good place to start if you’re on a budget.

    Stafford has different patterns than Macy’s/Men’s Wearhouse, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they came from the same factory.

  14. I for one am extremely disappointed in this Stafford Prep line. Probably shouldn’t have let the fetishization of Nick Wooster by the blogosphere inflate my expectations. If “ultra-cheap” is the watchword, go to H&M.

  15. I’m a longtime reader of the blog and I’m sorry, but I have to respond with my disappointment to this post.

    Yes, the production of “entry level” trad prep from major retailers is always welcome and should further be a sign that retailers are at long last recognizing the dire financial situation of America’s youth in this current job market. From that perspective, I welcome coverage of lower priced prep staples at large chain stores.

    Still, I feel that articles such as this one provide an unbalanced representation for those young people who may be developing their personal sense of style and accumulating their first few good trad pieces post college. What I would not want is for the young jobseekers to go away this article thinking that the solution to a light wallet is solely to pickup new knockoff brands from JC Penney’s, Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, and others.

    It would be refreshing to see more articles here that provide down to earth tips on how to carefully cultivate your prep staples at a discount second-hand from the Goodwill, Salvation Army Store, and others.

    There is an absolute glut of lightly worn, wonderful, high quality namebrand Lacoste, Izod, Polo, Dockers, Brooks Brothers, and other trad names dating back to the 1960’s available for under $10 per garment at your local second-hand store. I do not live in New York and over months, I have slowly put together a collection of trad staples that in many cases were literally worn once by this method.

    If we love Brooks Brothers so much (and we do!), why condemn a classic 1980’s sportsweight wool cardigan to the rag bin so that we can spend literally 10x as much on a knockoff that’s new? I have a stack of second-hand Brooks Brothers sportsweight knits, most of them with barely any wear, and I don’t spend more than $6 on a shirt.

    If I can do it in the suburbs of the tri-state area, probably the vast majority of readers outside of rural middle America can manage the same. Even more, SOME of the classics available second-hand were Made in America, UNLIKE today’s clothing, and the proceeds from those secondary sales are far more likely to go to the American economy than profits made by Macy’s and its ilk. This is a perspective that really needs to be represented.

  16. @Rick…I Buy most of my Ivy clothing second hand as well…but lines like Stafford Prep do fulfill a niche, that is say I’m going to the beach, or washing the car…I still want look presentable, but I really don’t want to risk the clothing I found at Goodwill that I might not ever find another of.

  17. There’s a good chance JCP is going to be out of business before the fall collection arrives — their business is getting annihilated.

  18. how is the fit on these? don’t expect numbered sizing at this price point but I remember trying on some of the american living shirts and they were huge in the torso and the necks were too small.

  19. “It would be refreshing to see more articles here that provide down to earth tips on how to carefully cultivate your prep staples at a discount second-hand from the Goodwill, Salvation Army Store, and others.”

    Though I agree with your views about cultivating a proper wardrobe second-hand, Christian does not need to dedicate a post saying the same thing that Put This On, The Thrifty Gent, An Affordable Wardrobe, and basically every other menswear-related blog already has said. Beyond that, kids today are probably more likely to know about thrifting than they are about prep. There was even a hip hop song about it.

  20. @Rick

    While composing this I’d thought about referencing thrift shops and eBay, but ultimately decided that was another topic entirely.

    The point of this post is not to tell people that new cheap clothes are better than second-hand good clothes, but simply to announce a new source for new, cheap clothes.

    Each reader will decide which he’d rather have, and I suspect many have combinations of old and new.

  21. I do have a question though…Is it possible for a tailor to turn a two button jacket into a 3/2 roll? Or is the silhouette just too different?

  22. I’m all for vintage clothing, but what about cooties? 😉

  23. Two ways to keep used clothes cooties at bay:

    1. Take them to the cleaners before they go home.
    2. Put them in a zipper-lock plastic bag and chuck them into the freezer overnight.

    Doesn’t work so well with shoes, though.

  24. A.E.W. Mason | February 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm |

    In my day, the general playground solution was to get a “cooties shot”; an inoculation, if you will.

  25. Looks as though Ralph Lauren may have left some of his DNA behind with JCPenney. It’s been interesting watching JCP redefine itself over the last 2-4 years, don’t know if the “masses” are looking to go trad/prep as we live in jeans and t-shirt world. However, Just last month I was actually eying a slim cut Stafford suit and even tartan Izod blazer…30 bucks too! WFB Jr. was a true inspiration!

  26. My best guess is that this brand is being made in China by Van Heusen.

  27. @Christian

    Yeah, that’s all reasonable! :-) It’s tough too to do “buy prep second hand” posts because you can only give examples, not specific products.


    Everything I buy second hand goes straight into the wash when I get it home, but at least where I am the majority of it smells freshly laundered, clearly has barely ever been worn, and in many cases has a dry cleaning tag or sometimes the store tag still on it (albeit 5 or more years old). So, I don’t worry about cooties much since I’m not in a city and I’m not buying bedding? Sometimes I’ll have things dry cleaned before I wear them, like jackets, but I’m not sure that kills the bugs.

  28. Rick
    That was just my attempt at humor. I’m in no position to criticise second hand clothing. I’m the guy that wore hand me down Villager OCBDs in seventh grade. They were beautiful OCBDs and they buttoned backwards, but no one noticed. For those of you unfamiliar with Villager, it was a women’s ivy brand. Thankfully, my older sisters had great taste. The poodle skirt was a problem, no one believed it was a kilt.

  29. I’m really not into the habit of buying used clothes at thrift shops, but occasionally browse for vintage golf clubs. A couple of months ago, after I was going to the checkout with a beautiful persimmon Cleveland Classic driver, I happened past the suit section. Just lurking behind a couple of horseblankets, was two new, yes new, Jack Nicklaus Tournament model (1980’s) blazer, navy and tan. No wear whatsoever on either, the buttons were on tight. I tried the Navy one on and it was slightly snug, so I could assume it was 44L. The tan must have been a 42, for it was way too small.

    For $ 6 for the coat, and $ 3 for the club, I was a happy man. Last week, I happened into the store. No tan coat to be found, but the disco coats were still there.

  30. Why, for the love of all that is holy, can’t clothes manufacturers make pants in my size?? 33w 34L. All you find in clothing stores are pants for short people! WTF??

  31. I went to my local JCP and they do not carry the Stafford Prep line of clothes, so be aware that you may have to shop online or travel to check out the SP line in person.

  32. I would call it a dexter unicorn rampant. :)

  33. Is there a thread here that explains the difference(s) between Ivy, Prep, and Trad?

  34. Yes, there’s this post:

    And also part two of the rise and fall essay.

    We have yet to acknowledge the existence of a clothing genre called “trad,” though sometimes the word is fun to use.

  35. Based on this post I did an experiment. I went to JCP and purchased a Navy Stafford Suit. I had all of the necessary alterations done and the suit looks fantastic. To the untrained eye this suit looks no different than my Brooks Brothers.

    JCP will be my go to store for my daily suits that at times take a fair amount of abuse when work in NYC

  36. @Bob

    How refreshing to come across some honesty! Now, I’m hoping for some honest comments on how BB’s non-iron shirts are as good as (if not better than) the must-iron version.

  37. I own a new stafford suit from JCP and it fits great. Too bad Wooster is out at JCP as of 2 days ago. You can check out my suit on my site:

  38. I regularly shop at JCP and I’ve found great Ivy League looks that would rival Brooks Brothers and others. Stafford makes great blazers and suits. I own some of the Stafford Prep items including the above mentioned navy cotton blazer. It’s been a go to classic blazer this past year and still looks new. So, let’s not be snobby and “I can’t wear this and that.” People who say things like that are usually financially irresponsible and don’t look one bit better than I do.

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