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