J. Crew On Prep Around The World

It’s a bit odd that J. Crew would put together a guide to preppy style for its website, given that it largely abandoned the look after the Ivy Trendwatch and Neo-Prep trends petered out some five years ago. Perhaps J. Crew is going to take a sharp right turn back to its roots. Heck, when you’re $2 billion in debt, you’ve got to try something new. Or rather old.

How Prep Is Done Around The World” is the name of the style guide that has been posted on J. Crew’s various global shopping sites. It starts with the claim “J. Crew didn’t invent preppies, but we have been their official outfitter since 1983. We also know that the classic preppy brings a certain insouciance to how it all comes together. That’s why we like a necktie undone and our Secret Wash shirts and chino shorts already broken-in.”

I question whether “insouciance” is the correct word they’re looking for.

The style guide shows American prep alongside Japanese Ivy, which is derived from American Ivy-prep, and French BCBG and British Sloane Ranger, which are more like European equivalents. I’ve got the Sloane Ranger Handbook lying around here somewhere, and as I recall the style for men isn’t to look like a schoolboy from Eton:

For an extensive analysis of J. Crew’s present woes, check out this piece that ran in last week’s issue of The New Yorker, entitled “Why J. Crew’s Vision Of Preppy America Failed.” It was discussed on Ivy’s Facebook group, where one member concluded:

This article is aimless, inconclusive and unfounded. I finished it and am wondering if it made any points, and what the authors intent was at all. New Yorker seems to be reaching for relevance as poorly as Mall retailers.

By the way, here’s what J. Crew’s catalog covers looked like 10 years ago, not so long in the history of WASPy New England style, but an eternity in fashion retail:

Looking at the broader marketplace, it seems like all the big global brands are in a bit of a crisis mode from a die-hard trad’s point of view — not to mention an accountant’s. With each season Brooks Brothers looks more like an Italian department store, Polo had to part with its new CEO who was hired to turn the company around, J. Crew has fallen precipitously from the zenith of its influence, when First Lady Michelle Obama touted the brand. And in the shopping-mall prep sphere, American Living died at JC Penney some years ago, as did its follow-up Stafford Prep, and Abercrombie & Fitch long ago ditched the New England collegiate styles that drove it through the ’90s and early 2000s. Gant recently reached out to me, but when I took a fresh look at its site, I saw pages and pages of stuff, none of which bore any relation to its New Haven heritage save for a few small-collared, alpha-sized oxfords.

On the bright side, J. Press says it will be making a big announcement soon. — CC

27 Comments on "J. Crew On Prep Around The World"

  1. I believe that J Crew’s Prep Shop is good in the sense that it exposes people to ideas which they can then pursue elsewhere.

    The woes of J Crew and other major retailers are somewhere beyond Rothman’s point, as you said. They and many others are making those “TV dinner” versions to which Jim Winston referred, but they are trying to offer many flavors. Some people are okay with that, but the people who develop a particular taste are eschewing the big brands and using the internet to discover and patronize more specialized brands with which they would otherwise be unfamiliar.

    If you love pizza and you only have Domino’s then you will eat there until you discover access to something more authentic. Once you get the taste for authentic pizza you might only eat Domino’s once in a while for convenience or nostalgia.

  2. James Dalessandro | May 8, 2017 at 10:51 am |

    I am also confused by the intent of the article. I thought JCrew was the ultimate forward Prep of the Ys, Xs and now Millennials. Many prep and updated trad seems to have lost it’s way. Too slim, too short, too colorless. If you are good at what you do, you keep doing it. Sure you pay attention to the market place, but you lead with who you are not dragged along. Hire people who know what you are, the product, the history. Not just courteous clerks. You’ll send your customer right to the internet.

  3. I often pop into the J. Crew at the local mall to browse as I want to give them some business. Don’t care for most of the clothes (or their prices) but they do have some handsome looking loafers.

    Retailers like J. Crew, American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch are the last mall-brands that sell clothes that look remotely American. We need them to survive.

  4. Question for the community: what’s the consensus on striped ties with striped shirts? The ones shown do not look awful.

  5. Have been wearing striped ties with striped shirts (often with striped suits) for over fifty years. A few years ago started wearing striped socks sometimes, too.

  6. I think it’s fine as long as the stripes aren’t too similar in width. For example, a university stripe OCBD with a typical repp tie.

  7. Charlottesville | May 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm |

    I am also a big believer in striped ties and shirts worn together, even with a chalk-stripe suit. The Sloaney’s stubby collar is dreadful, but the fabric works well with the ties. Not every combination of stripes or patterns works of copurse, but rules against wearing a stripe with a stripe or a plaid can may yield clothing that is safe, but not very interesting. It’s the difference between Malloy’s Dress for Success (dated and out of print) and Flusser’s Dressing the Man or Boyer’s True Style.

  8. Charlottesville | May 8, 2017 at 1:41 pm |

    “Copurse” is a local dialect for “course.”

  9. I read recently that J Crew’s days are numbered and they most likely file for bankruptcy protection or simply liquidate. I too remember when J Crew was a “go to” preppy staple. They really lost their way in the early 2000s. Look, for example, how ubiquitous Vineyard Vines is (not arguing for the quality of VV, only that they’ve tapped into a market). You could also add Southern Tide to the heir apparents of J Crew. VV, ST and others have obviously filled a void left by J Crew and other stalwarts from the 80s.

  10. University stripes and rep ties work very well together. As everyone has stated, scale is key: http://oxfordclothbuttondown.com/2015/05/striped-shirt-striped-tie/

  11. Just when you thought it might be safe to go back into the suburbs, good old J. Crew is unabashedly bringing the hipster prep look back to life.

  12. Charlottesville, I’d never thought of a striped shirt with a striped suit. That would work just fine in my opinion as long as the stripes are of different widths. I’ve worn a tartan tie with a university stripe OCBD, the two patterns go well together.

    OCBD, thanks for the link, I’ll check that out.

    Josh, hipster prep indeed and look what straying from their roots has done to them. And to Polo, as well.

  13. Jojoandthecats | May 8, 2017 at 3:09 pm |

    As a London resident of 20+ years and someone with an interest in apparel, I can confirm that the young chap fetured in the picture above looks nothing like a real-life Sloane (insofar as such a thign still exists).

  14. And I quote, from J. Crew’s own online product descriptions (for chinos, in this case): “…Sits below waist.
    Extra slim through hip and thigh, with our narrowest leg…”

    Because, you know, doubling-down on the bad decisions you made to get you into your present financial predicament is always a good idea.

  15. Guys, the whole stripe thing is really Dressing 101 and if you’re a clothes-wearing man who visits style sites you ought to know the history of menswear and everything Flusser and Boyer have written says mixed stripes are fine as long as (already pointed out) they’re of different scale.

    That’s such a dressing fundamental (whether you personally like it or not), there’s not much to debate about it.

  16. Jack Carlson says J Crew used his photo without permission. That’s pathetic and petty of a big company that could afford to be seen acting ethically.

    Time for J Crew to bite the dust, free up some space in a saturated market.

  17. Mitchell S. | May 8, 2017 at 4:37 pm |

    I wonder what the J. Press announcement will be…maybe a collaboration with a famous designer?

  18. My guess is that J. Crew is named after J. Press and crew, because it’s a classic sport (like how Ralph Lauren chose Polo). The company originally had some generic name before changing it to J. Crew in the ’80s and adopted a preppy image. They originally used an oarsman as a logo, not like the Polo pony, but I do not believe they ever sold anything crew-related.

  19. Mitchell S. | May 8, 2017 at 4:52 pm |

    J. Crew’s “How Prep is Done Around the World” left me scratching my head. I have lived in New England for decades and I can tell you, NO ONE in New England dresses the way you depict in your feature. It’s laughable.

    Come on J. Crew, keep it real!

  20. “Abercrombie & Fitch long ago ditched the New England collegiate styles”

    Way off topic BUT. Couple of days ago scrolling one of my favorite no-stress tumblrs. Mid scroll eyes locked onto a highly-detailed long-ago-looking…well, we oldies would call it a duster but turns out it’s called a trench…jacket. Hit zoom, saw the label read Abercrombie & Fitch, thought yeahhh riiight, not in this lifetime. Went to the website anyway, there it was. That thing ain’t goin nowhere, too old school, too refined, bookmarked it for a return visit – return visit a day later and damn if the thing isn’t sold out. https://www.abercrombie.com/shop/us/mens-outerwear-and-jackets/trench-coat-9512719_01?ofp=true

  21. In slight defense of A&F, they are trying a bit. I recently walked into one for the first time since elementary school and bought something. A sturdy, wooden umbrella with a black watch canopy. Like to think that it’s not too far off from what they originally carried. The handle is even stamped with their original logo.

  22. NaturalShoulder | May 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm |

    I was a big fan of J. Crew is the late 80s/early 90s when I was in college and law school. It was a less expensive alternative to Polo and they had great logo-free polos and the khakis were well made. The chuka boots and barn jackets (a copy of Barbour Beaufort I believe) were quite popular on campus.

  23. Henry Contestwinner | May 10, 2017 at 12:41 am |

    Is it OK to wield a striped polo mallet, or to dip a striped oar into the water?

  24. the problem is the sort of prep identified here borders on costume.
    I was attending a school choir concert (one of **those** really expensive prep schools in Conn) and the parents came I noticed the Oriental parents dressed like the costume/catalog “prep” country club look while those that exuded older money (not necessarily wasp because I think that is nearly extinct in the east) were a little more patagonia-ish and granola like..

    I think like everything else the ‘look’ is becoming politicized as well.

  25. I never played polo. Can’t comment on striped mallets. But striped oars, yes. When I rowed in prep school, we and most of the other schools had oars the blades of which were painted in school colors. Ours were mostly dark with maybe a three-inch stripe of gold painted across the tip.

    Although maybe you ask a rhetorical question.

  26. What exactly is so horrible about J Crew that the entire men’s fashion world has to pile on them? They are, to my estimation, the inheritors of the Polo Ralph Lauren style that was prevalent 20 years ago. They have the same oxford shirts, the same polos, crew neck sweaters, preppy shorts to wear on Nantucket; Oxford shoes, web belts, fancy socks, grey and blue jackets and suits. Everything is traditional, but it is slimmer, lesser quality and more “affordable”. So a guy who needs clothes to wear to work, or to go out on a date, can shop here and look presentable.

    They have also well merchandised stores, thoughtfully laid out with art and photography books, nice accessories, some colognes, grooming products.

    Compare them to the awful cacophony of crap seen on the floors of the men’s department at Bloomingdales, just acres of overpriced, limp offerings from Vince or Seven For All Mankind. There is really a death of merchandising that has occurred in major retailers like Nordstroms and Macy’s. So J Crew is still floundering, but it does a much better job or presenting mens clothes than major stores do.

    Is everything headed for online shopping? Are we going to sit looking at our phones to try on shoes, to feel a tweed jacket in our hands, to smell cologne, to see what we look like in a hat? Is J Crew’s demise like that of the moderate Republican, a formerly well-mannered and intelligent person who is shouted out by the crude and violent ignoramuses who capture the public’s attention?

    Maybe so.

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