J. Crew: Not Everyone Wants To Look Like A New England Preppy

If there’s a Neo-Prep revival afoot, don’t expect J. Crew to be part of it. Unless of course the trend gets really big. After all, they’re in the fashion business.

Recently new CEO James Brett, formerly of West Elm, told the Wall Street Journal, “We can’t be all New England preppy. Not everyone wants to look like that.” This prompted Put This On to write a post entitled “A New J. Crew Is Coming And It’s Probably Going To Suck.” While the new direction won’t be fully visible for another season or two, you can see that the website is already looking a bit more generic than usual.

Writes PTO:

… these changes are understandable, but not very inspiring. J. Crew was at its best when it had a voice. Frank Muytjens didn’t invent Americana, but he introduced many men to things such as chambray shirts, Fair Isle sweaters, and better fitting suits, not to mention a host of admirable third-party brands such as Alden and Barbour. J. Crew also used to be a solid, mid-priced brand for value-focused customers who simply wanted to look good without paying out the nose. Maybe it’s not possible anymore to support a company the size of J. Crew with this strategy, but does the world need another generic, ultra-affordable brand hawking the same business causal basics?

Here’s what the brand looks like for fall 2018, with this trio looking like an indie-rock band of some unspecified period in the past few decades:

And a reminder of the salt-watered-down East Coast style it once exemplified. Can’t believe not everyone wants to look like this… — CC

66 Comments on "J. Crew: Not Everyone Wants To Look Like A New England Preppy"

  1. Not shocked, J Crew is off my chart now.

  2. Sign of the times? In the age of “wokeness,”
    I can see anything related to WASP culture being…unfashionable (maybe even objectionable).

    Maybe I don’t follow the industry news like I should, but are there any brands stepping up to offer accessible prep/trad? Like in the vein of old school Lands End.

  3. Compare the facial expressions on the models in the current vs. prior photos above. That speaks volumes about the present emotional climate and psyche of the “youth” market at present. I can’t explain it, but it is profoundly obvious.

  4. I remember getting many of those late 80s/early 90s catalogs delivered to my college address and being excited to see what was inside. Sad I don’t even bother looking their way anymore.

  5. Even recently J.Crew was still exciting: when I was in college at the start of the decade I looked forward to the catalogs too, and I first saw things like Barbour jackets, Alden shoes and Drake’s ties at their Boston flagship. Pity to see it all diluted into such basic nothing-ness.

    That’s one of the reasons I’m inclined to defend Rowing Blazers (which today released a few interesting corduroy suits). While some of it goes over the top, it’s aspiring and built on heritage.

  6. A couple of things come immediately to mind. First, even the generic new direction of the J. Crew looks miles better than most college students and 20-30 somethings lolling around on street corners or in Starbucks. Second, I too am a bit stumped. Who wouldn’t want to dress more like the models in these old Crew photos? I suppose it is somehow preferable to resemble Badger and Skinny Pete from Breaking Bad, the much lauded hip-hip artistes in our midst, or members of MC-13. No one has yet presented a decent argument anywhere about why aping the attire worn by many on the very periphery of society is a good thing.

  7. I well remember receiving those 80s-era J. Crew catalogs in the mail. The barn jacket, cotton rollneck sweater, and anorak were popular among younger “preppies” of that time/place. There was a sophistication about the presentation/marketing that set it apart from Lands End, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and even Orvis. The 80s–that decade wasn’t perfect but, for plenty of reasons, it was pretty darned great. I wonder how much the stylists and photographers borrowed from PoloRL.

  8. @Jerry: Well stated–Pissed. Bewildered. Lost.

  9. Charlottesville | September 6, 2018 at 2:14 pm |

    The white sneakers in the current ad look okay. Otherwise, yuck. And Jerry, Heinz-Ulrich and Bean Boot are right about the ‘tude exuded by the models. Why do they all want to look like drug dealers and slackers? I have read that the generation coming up now (“Generation Z”) are more focused on success and career and may change that for the better. I certainly hope so, although who knows how they will want to dress, having had few good examples.

    It’s hard to recall when J. Crew last had things worth buying, but they certainly did. I still have a tie or two I bought there perhaps 15 years ago.

    My wife faces the same dilemma when looking for women’s clothes. Brooks and Talbots are no longer reliable sources, and the local college-town women’s shops have largely disappeared with their male-oriented counterparts. But look at the girl in the top photo from 1989. Aside from the fact that she is naturally lovely, that dress was once available in shopping malls and catalogs. Now one would probably need to go on eBay or to a vintage shop to finds something comparable.

  10. I worked for J.Crew in 1997. I worked in their store at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island. Most of the merchandise at the time was at its preppy core. They were going through a bit of an identity crisis at that time too and released some what I would call questionable items. But at their core they were a simple, preppy brand. And we were constantly busy. The mid 2ooo’s prep revival brought them mainstream, and where I think they went awry is with the number of stores and all the factory stores they opened. This was also a killer for GAP and Macy’s, and numerous other brands. Their new CEO probably had two choices – close a bunch of stores, or streamline the brand. He chose the latter. We’ll see how it plays out, but I agree this is hardly the J.Crew I grew up loving, and still wear to this day. I still have some items that I purchased 20 years ago. It’s sad..

  11. To my mind, J. Crew hasn’t been anything other than “generic” for 25 years: if you remove the labels, can anyone tell the difference between J. Crew and Banana Republic? The last time anybody felt a twinge of excitement about the J. Crew catalog arriving, George H.W. was in the White House.

  12. University Stripe | September 6, 2018 at 3:13 pm |

    How can there be so many stores offering the same combination of overpriced jeans & tees?

    I predict a khaki resurgence on the horizon. The zeitgeist may not favor the trappings of old New England right now, but tempers will cool and soon Americans will begin to embrace their heritage once again.

  13. I assume they know their market better than I do, but it sounds like a race to the bottom.

    If my generic cotton mallcrap is JUST LIKE everyone else’s, won’t mine need to be the cheapest to win buyers? If “J. Crew” means nothing different from “BroDude Streetwear, Ltd.” why else should I buy it?

  14. Regarding that trio above, I don’t find the clothing objectionable so much as it is boring. But for whatever reason, I truly loathe the slip-on, Vans-style shoes two of them are wearing. Something about the shoe feels like the very embodiment of mediocrity.

  15. @Charlottesville
    That comment brought back some memories: I had a GF who could navigate, instinctively, to Talbot’s in a city she’d never been to before.

  16. I wish I still had those mid/late-80’s catalogs. Can’t really say they were the first, but it seemed like they did it best at presenting “lifestyle.” Yes, RL even before, but those were more ad shots…don’t recall any Polo catalogs.

    What I do know is that their catalog spreads that focused as much on the scene as the clothing and they spoke to the reader, presenting the possibility of a lifestyle, that was, to be honest, mostly non-existent or unattainable to most anyway.

    But a company and a catalog that could drive that, is powerful……….or it was, once upon a time.

  17. The WSJ reported that J. Crew will start selling their Mercantile collection on Amazon. Mercantile is their lesser-priced basics collection.

  18. I agree with what BeanBoot wrote in reply to Jerry. Dead nuts on.

  19. Chiming in to agree with BC and Jerry—it’s never a good sign when the models don’t smile.

  20. So pretty much what happened after Mike Jeffries left Abercrombie & Fitch. They went totally down the drain in terms of aesthetic / style, fit, quality, attention to detail, campaigns/marketing, store experience, website. Everything.

  21. I had that polka dot dress in college, and I loved it!

  22. Michael Brady | September 6, 2018 at 7:48 pm |

    I like what I see here about as much as I like West Elm…..generic and overdone. I have been looking at houses for almost a year and if I see many more Flip or Flop interiors I might have to build from scratch. What is is with taste in America these days?

  23. With regard to Jerry, BC, BeanBoot, and Erik Twardzik’s comments above about the appearance of the models, I think one of the notable aspects of the old J.Crew catalogues was that they hired models that looked like real people. Or at least they chose photos of them that revealed them to look like real people – exceptionally good looking real people, perhaps, but real people. They looked at the camera and revealed what might be a glint of intelligence behind their eyes, not the vapid mannequin stare that most fashion models wore.

  24. Old School Tie | September 6, 2018 at 10:21 pm |

    We cannot compare today’s offerings with those of the 1980s – it is only in the last couple of years that prices have started to climb to those dizzying heights – relatively speaking – so the quality both in material and design terms is simply not there. A bit like the fragrance industry. The modern versions are but pale shadows of once great colognes, mimics that are superficial but totally lacking in substance. Probably no more than Millennials deserve in any case, judging by the insolent looks on their faces and the dreadful denim….

  25. Miles Coverdale | September 6, 2018 at 10:58 pm |

    In the facial expressions of the models demonstrating J Crew’s new clothes I don’t see mannequin emptines. I see attitudes dismissive, sardonic, aggressive, cocky, and confrontational. Are these young men about to engage in a street fight with a rival gang?

  26. As a PoC I much prefer the old J.Crew than its current, more modern form, though there are some pieces that I do like. Now if you told me the pictured that indie band trio had GAP clothes on I’d probably believe you.

  27. Evan Everhart | September 7, 2018 at 1:15 am |

    Minus the floppy haircuts and stupid James Van der Beek (go jump off the boat Dawson!), Id rather be dressed like or keep company with the people in those older J Crew spreads instead of those monoliths to banal mediocrity from the coming season. Wretched. Perhaps they were losing too much money on their excessively priced and ridiculously skinny suits so instead decided as the probelm couldn’t possibly be on their end, they should instead pander to an even lower common denominator than ultra skinny trick gimmick suits and go full on Canadian tux. Next season if you hadn’t heard will be the Johnny Rotten Collection followed by the Used Car Salesman Chic Campaign where they will be pushing leisure suits in lime green, mustard yellow, and bone white or teal & rust double knits! All with suitings sourced from Loro Piana at select locations, in “updated & slim fit” for the modern young man on the go! And starting at $550!

  28. Evan Everhart | September 7, 2018 at 1:22 am |

    The difderence between J Crew and Banana Republic is that BR garbage is in an even narrower fit and color spectrum of dull-drummery with an even more nauseatingly Eurocentric perspective. JC at least had some color and texture and Americana on ocassion. Even if only vestigially. Sad.

  29. It’s more than a tad ironic that Crew would go chasing the fads that everyone else is trying to offer when they’re in such troubled financial straits, while seeming to abandon the core of their line that made them such a staple in the first place. Even when you control for the late ’80s preppies and the prep revival of ca. ten years ago, that core is what made it so popular and sustained them for so long- I didn’t often shop there (we were a Bean house), but what I do have could likely have been found in the 1989 catalogue at the top of the post. Plus, by demographics, and whether I like it or not, I am counted as an older Millennial, which should in theory be Crew’s target audience with this ad, yet I certainly wouldn’t shop there just based on this, nor would many others I know. Abandoning your core base just to chase fads will only land you in the fast fashion business, and that field is pretty crowded for Crew to try to go there. And while, as others here have pointed out, trad/Ivy/preppy may have a bad rap these days due to its historic Establishment ties, that doesn’t mean it needs to be consigned to the fashion scrap heap. If anything, as some of us saw in 2008-09, its reliability, durability, and flexibility gives it all the more reason to keep on strong and be claimed/reclaimed by a new crowd (and perhaps help Crew get out of its financial pickle). But maybe I presume too much.

  30. Plenty were (still) driving Mercedes W123’s and W115’s. This alone makes it a (once) great era.

  31. The lack of diversity in those classic catalogue shots is alarming. Keep the classic clothes I say – it’d be refreshing enough seeing those classic shots recreated to fit the modern world! A new perspective would go further than fitting into crowd.

  32. Reggie Darling | September 7, 2018 at 3:21 pm |

    I once owned a pair of the brown plaid shorts shown in the fourth catalog cover down. Wore them to tatters I loved them so much. Regret to this day I don’t have them anymore. RIP J Crew.

  33. It’s a Sears thing. They can package it, repackage it, hire a person that won big at another company, but they can’t escape the fact that the brand has lived its life cycle. J.Crew rocked during the Drexler years. Done.

  34. Reggie, were the shorts made of Madras? They look as though they’ve come from the pages of “Take Ivy.”

  35. @ Marvin Hagler – great comment on several levels.

  36. Marvin & “Just Sayin’,” why does something as arbitrary as the color of the models’ skin matter? Doubt you’d be crying about supposed “diversity” if all the models were non-white.

  37. Just.So.Sad.

  38. @ S.E.

    a) That’s a straw man. If the models are only one color or race, then that would not be diversity by definition. Tempting as it may be, I’d ask you not to tell me what I’d say in a hypothetical situation.

    b) But it IS just a hypothetical, because in the old J. Crew ads, they ARE all white. And that seems to me like a good basis for talking about (the, by definition, lack of) diversity.

    c) And I think it’s relevant, not arbitrary, because the topic here is the loss of appeal of a certain style of clothing to younger consumers. The J. Crew consumers of 2018 typically care more about representation and diversity than they did in, say, 1989. And because of societal changes, these consumers are themselves not only white but black, and brown, and so on. Accurately or not, New England preppy clothing does not have a diverse image – it has a white image, which people of color are still finding their place in. Perhaps this narrow image of the style contributed to some loss of popularity among young consumers? A question worth asking. Many here often seem more interested in propagating their own assumptions about “the kids these days” rather than asking WHY young people might not be interested in dressing this way.

    d) Marvin’s comment was also not disparaging the style. I’d encourage you to look beyond your defensive reaction and think about his comment’s substance – i.e., if we put the same clothes pictured in these old catalogs on models who actually represented the reality of America (and before you tell me what I think again, yes, I mean ALL colors), then perhaps that alone would spark more interest, and the dumbing down/trendifying (to coin a word) of Ivy and prep clothes that is always complained about here in the comments sections wouldn’t be necessary.

    In summary, I don’t think the color of the models’ skin is arbitrary at all, and obviously you don’t think it is either, though for different reasons (though saying it’s arbitrary is a slick Tucker Carlson trick to negate the conversation before it happened). But I truly believe you don’t have to be afraid of representation – it doesn’t have to threaten you. Instead, it can simply allow more people to enjoy what you do.

    Hope you approach my comment with an open mind – I’ve tried to engage with yours in a substantive way (and I hope you take my few jabs in the Buckley-esque spirit in which they were given). If not, thanks for at least giving me the opportunity to elucidate my thoughts more clearly.

  39. This type catalogue simply reflected the merchant’s customer. Brooks every so often had college students meeting their girls under the clock at the Biltmore. And yes there was diversity: normally a West Point cadet or two.

  40. “@ S.E.” ?
    All I wrote was a positive reminiscence about 80s J. Crew and fondness for the older Mercedes models.


    …you can get what they sold elsewhere nowadays. Actually, better. And, come to think of it, I haven’t bought anything from J. Crew in decades.

    So, who cares.

  41. “Just Sayin’,” in the immortal words of the late, great William F. Buckley, Jr., “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you truly believe what you have just said.”

    As for my comment, I meant to call out the anti-white attitude of the American Left of late.

  42. @ S.E. – sorry, I got my initials confused. My apologies. You are but an innocent bystander.

    @ GS – Well, I tried. I do believe it. And if you think the left is anti-white, you’re deluded. But at least you’ll always have your safe space here at Ivy Style.

  43. I gave up working in retail sales years ago because I didn’t want to serve customers dressed like those 2018 types. Now the salespeople dress like that.

  44. Gray Downtown Look | September 8, 2018 at 1:42 am |

    Re “Not Everyone Wants To Look Like A New England Preppy”.

    Not everyone wants to look civilized.

  45. This appears to be the natural consequence of continual growth strategies for businesses. As the new J. Crew CEO explained, “We must reflect the America of today, which is significantly more diverse than the America of twenty years ago. You can’t be one price. You can’t be one aesthetic. You can’t be one fit.”

    If the goal is to expand the company’s reach, then he is right – they need to cater to a broader range of people. The question is whether that should be the goal. They could instead stay the course and continue to serve their traditional customer base, which was reflected in their old catalog photos: middle and upper-middle class white Americans who like an accessible, updated version of “New England prep”.

    But the CEO wants not to serve the existing customer base, one that is presumably either in a steady-state or shrinking, but instead to, in his words, “reflect” a larger one, reaching them by using multiple price points and multiple “aesthetics.” His hope, one presumes, is to retain the existing base while adding to it, and he’s probably correct at least in part – I have no doubt that some percentage of J. Crew’s traditional customers would prefer to think that the clothes they buy are produced by an “inclusive” brand. Exclusivity nowadays must be purely economic in its presentation.

    The problem is that this strategy seems, time and again, to result in the dilution of the original focus that made the brand attractive in the first place. But it likely increases sales in the short run, and that’s how CEOs show results. In the long run, as Keynes noted, we’re all dead anyway.

    With respect to the racial make-up of the old catalogs, the contemporary couching of marketing strategy in the language of social justice by large corporations is, in my opinion, cynical to the extreme. It also seems to work, with these companies having become social agents, so I expect it will continue.

    In the meantime, I’m sure some other business can step up and sell mustard hued barn jackets and tamely-colored Fair Isle sweaters, no denim allowed, if a market for that remains. The “loss” of J. Crew to a larger, more diverse and yet at the same time more sameish marketplace is actually an opportunity to look elsewhere and find something inspiring, and maybe even better.

    Change is a constant, and you owe J. Crew as much loyalty as they obviously think they owe you: none.

  46. Terry O’Reilly | September 8, 2018 at 7:32 am |

    @ Taliesin: you seem to have encapsulates what really matters in “Change is constant, and you owe J. Crew as much loyalty as they think thwy owe you: none.”

  47. No, not everyone wants to look like a New England Preppy, but if you want to dress like you shop at K Mart, why would you go to J Crew and pay J Crew prices?

  48. @Jerry, That’s a very good note about the transition in the models’ facial expressions. The joy of life that was once so obvious has disappeared.

    More generally, I can’t say I’m surprised that the classic collegiate look is a tough sell. Book learning, college, and the professions are all “out.” Truck driving, factory work, mining and the like are “in.” Fashion follows culture, and for the moment jean jackets are ascendant.

  49. Is that Patrick Dempsey in the 1997 shot?

  50. Terry O'Reilly | September 10, 2018 at 4:20 pm |

    @ Matt Robare – No, not everyone wants to look like a New England Preppy, but if you want to dress like you shop at K Mart, why would you go to J Crew and pay J Crew prices?”

    Hear, hear.

  51. http://www.putthison.com has an article “We Regret to Inform You That the New J. Crew is Perfectly Fine”, finds that they have kept a little bit of the “old J.Crew” but not a lot, states that their new campaign is based around “inclusivity and diversity”, and basically concludes that, yes, they are turning into generic mallcrap.

    And “Put This On” is already a bit skinny-jeans trendy, so their bar is low to us.

  52. Let me add that inclusivity and diversity (of models) is fine by me, but that was cited as a big part of their selling point: not the clothes themselves, which is after all what we’re buying.

  53. Henry Contestwinner | September 12, 2018 at 3:29 pm |

    Eric Twardzik wrote, “But for whatever reason, I truly loathe the slip-on, Vans-style shoes two of them are wearing. Something about the shoe feels like the very embodiment of mediocrity.”

    Those hideous foot-wrappings are, in essence, canvas Venetian loafers. Bereft of personality, they are just about the most boring shoe possible. I am not at ADG-levels of shoe exuberance, but even his (and my) staid shoes are infinitely more interesting than Venetians, regardless of the material they are made of.

  54. “new campaign is based around “inclusivity and diversity”,”
    I am amazed, but maybe not that companies are willing to leave millions on the table in order to appease marxist idealogy.

    It’s not just voluntary though, recall that one of the reasons for this ‘a person of color’ in every ad (which meant more interacial stuff) was literally forced by the government – the Obama administration too EOE to new levels when they claimed that having too many whites in ads implied discrimination.

    Of course, all this has nothing to do with good intentions, it’s good ole divide and conquer.

    Lastly as our nation becomes more polarized, what you wear- like the french and russion revolutions- will determine if you’re aristo or in this generation ‘white’ in the cultural sense. ( I saw cultural because Candace Owens was called a white supremacist by ANTFIA)

  55. ” But it IS just a hypothetical, because in the old J. Crew ads, they ARE all white. And that seems to me like a good basis for talking about (the, by definition, lack of) diversity.”

    — and what is wrong with that? Is it ‘wrong’ to be all white? I didn’t hear any complaints about Black Panther being a non-diverse nation….

    “The J. Crew consumers of 2018 typically care more about representation and diversity than they did in, say, 1989.”

    — Engineered by who?

    “And because of societal changes, ”
    — Engineered by who and why?

    “Accurately or not, New England preppy clothing does not have a diverse image – it has a white image, which people of color are still finding their place in.”

    –Again, what is wrong with that? I like how traditional Indian clothing looks on women and men and i don’t wan to dress that way myself..what’s wrong with this? Should India change its traditional dress to be ‘more diverse”? What’s really happening is everything is being homogenized into a gray, meaningless world.

  56. “With respect to the racial make-up of the old catalogs, the contemporary couching of marketing strategy in the language of social justice by large corporations is, in my opinion, cynical to the extreme.”

    It’s not just cynical – it’s mandated since the Obama administration (see my post above) -but also, large companies have teamed up with the progressive left in a devil’s bargain:
    a. for banks Glass Stegal will never be revived and no bankers will go to jail as long as they pay a speeding ticket for infractions (if they are ever interested in th first place.
    b. as long as big tech supports the progressive left/globalist policies they will not be investigated for anti-trust, collusion and other violations of the law – do you notice how the EU has fined google but the Obama administration had no interest?
    c. companies that don’t want to play ball will be muscled by the large companies – banks will make financing harder, the NYT and WaPo (which Bezos uses as a tool to keep social justice at bay and silence critics) will direct two minutes of hate at you…

    Globalist bankers supported the 1917 Russian revolution. never forget that.

  57. “The lack of diversity in those classic catalogue shots is alarming.”
    why is it ‘alarming’ it reminds me of the british cabinet minister whose leaked report spoke of ‘dangerously white’ majorites in british cities.

    the past two weeks there has been a firestorm around Tucker Carlson simply asking… ..if diversity is our strength, can you please show what some of those ‘strengths’ are?

  58. Some of these comments are alarming! Just kidding – completely expected considering the target audience of those old J.Crew ads. Progression involves change – something that makes people very afraid.

    In J.Crew’s case, maybe only a little bit of change was required (if you know what I mean).

  59. It would appear you can get the “new” J. Crew look at JC Penney’s for $1.98. The Penney’s stuff is probably made better.

  60. @Jerry

    That is a very perspicacious comment

  61. “Progression involves change – something that makes people very afraid.”

    Rather empty saying, like “diversity is our strength.”

  62. J Press is undergoing heavy layoffs at its corporate headquarters and facing at least 20 additional store closings. Bankruptcy is not out of the question. Their latest online catalog looks like discounted, unsold Wall-Mart clothing at Ralph Lauren prices. Somebody missed big.

  63. Should be J Crew above; I get my Js confused.

  64. Started shopping at J.Crew in 1989 when they had a store at the Old South Street Seaport in Manhattan. Stopped shopping there right after college when I moved up to Brooks Brothers. I guess it was a natural progression but I had those J. Crew clothes for years to follow. My trusty Anorak, my Lobster Fisherman sweater, Car Coat, etc. I can go on and on. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like a New Englander, they were just incredible, well-fitting, well-made cloths that I felt great wearing. It just felt right. Now, with many things…it all just feels wrong.

    I miss my Anorak.

  65. The problem here is niche. J.Crew cut its teeth and made its name with the preppy collegiate crowd in the 90’s. It’s who J. Crew is. Even as a brown (Afro-American) college kid in the 90’s I could care less that none of their models looked like me. Never crossed my mind. I just loved the clothes, and still do. I also new nothing about New England at that time. Here in Chicago, preppy was preppy. The style of the clothes fit my taste, simple as that. If the new guy has something against prep, he should start another company with the look he deems appealing. But keep J.Crew true to its roots.

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