Brand Guide: J.Crew
Contributed by Robert Esswein
In the 1980’s there was growing demand for quality garments from the blossoming upper-middle class. Fashion tycoons looked to capitalize on the new zeitgeist and it was under these conditions that J.Crew was born. Launched in 1989 through a rebranding of the Popular Club Plan, a catalog-based clothing company, J.Crew saw instant success with the new wave of preppy style that was entering maturity. The first catalog under their original name shipped in 1983, and its success allowed the business to grow throughout the decade. In 1989, after the rebranding, the first J.Crew flagship store was built in downtown Manhattan.
Through my time working at J.Crew I’ve had the opportunity to learn their unique stance on preppy and Ivy-league fashion, from the proper tailoring of clothes to appropriate color combinations. I’ve also been afforded a peek into the inner workings of a clothing conglomerate of their size and the incredible amount of moving parts required to carry out their global mission. Over their many years of success, it is interesting to see their transition from a strictly Ivy focus to a more broad interpretation of men’s style.
In recent years, J.Crew has been under the leadership of CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler and his seasoned executive team including Jenna Lyons, President and Creative Director and Frank Muytjens, Men’s Creative Director. Muytjens is responsible for the repositioning of the men’s line and the distinct aesthetic it is now known for. He has brought in many collaborations from high quality brands such as Sperry, Alden, Crockett & Jones, New Balance, Redwing, and Ray Ban. Muytjens also introduced the popular Ludlow line of formalwear.
Under the leadership of Mickey Drexler, the brand has managed to balance offering consistent supply of basics that brought it success, while venturing out into a number of more fashion-forward options, bordering on streetwear style. J.Crew may not be the prep-focused brand it once was, but the current line of offerings fill many basic needs in a mans wardrobe, with a variety of fit options. Moreover, given the pricing and sale structure, J.Crew remains an affordable place to stock up on all the staples.
Ludlow Oxford Cloth Button Down ($88) shirts. If you are looking for a slimmer fit with an unlined, short length collar, this is the shirt for you. If, however, you’re looking for a more relaxed fit with longer collar, you’ll find more appeal in the Vintage Oxford ($69). A tasteful collar roll can be found on the Vintage oxford, which can be accompanied with a (more often than not) J.Crew narrow tie.
Crosby shirts ($88) are designed for men with an athletic build, featuring wider arms and extra space in the chest. These shirts feature a short length collar that pairs best with a suit and tie. It is notable to say that you can physically feel the difference in fabric between a Ludlow shirt, and a Crosby shirt. The Crosby is a thinner, lighter weight cotton than that of the other lines. This could come in handy when working during the warmer months.
Thomas Mason shirts ($148) are of higher quality than the Crosby and Ludlow dress shirts. This can be found in certain details such as the mother of pearl buttons, and two-ply cotton. The collar is significantly longer than the Crosby collar, but shorter than the Vintage Oxford. The Thomas Mason line also includes tuxedo shirts. J.Crew claim that the Mason shirts have a “softer feel” thanks to the cotton being used, however they feel the same as the Ludlow shirts.
For those of our readers with a more fatherly physique, the Ludlow Pant ($88-$158) may be a more flattering style, with a 15” leg opening, and more relaxed dimensions to the pant. There is quite a color selection, with khaki, olive, stone, brown, and other natural shades frequently featured in the color palette of Fall/Winter, while lighter Nantucket reds, whites, and light blues are released yearly in Spring/Summer. A seasonal delight is also the 484 Corduroy pant, which can only be found in stores between October and December.
The Bowery Slim Fit ($79) in the cotton twill fabric is an excellent complement to an Ivy style approach. With a fit calling back to those from 1960’s Ivy style, including a 14 ½” leg opening, it is nice to see the company returning to it’s original roots.
Speaking of khakis, the Urban Slim Chino ($75) pant is an excellent cold weather choice, as they offer a flannel lined version to keep your lower half warm as you trek through the mountains of New England.
But as for a denim, very few companies come to mind with the ability to market a pair of jeans so well that they become a staple to some cultures. Some may be turned away by the entry level price of $125.00 per pair, but this Japanese selvedge denim is worth every penny. Offered in 3 fits ranging from very slim, to moderately relaxed, this is a prime example of the marketing techniques used to please all ranges of consumers. Personally, I find the 770 fit to be the most comfortable. I have also noticed that my dark-wash trousers tend to go very well with a lighter quarter zip or sweater, and contrasting button down or polo underneath. The 770 denim is also the first fit that will comfortably rest over the outside of a Bean Boot. Some may find that the 770 is a true Goldilocks Zone, as the 440 are often too tight, and the 1040 are too baggy.
484: The slimmest fit offered, tapered through the ankle. This is the also the best selling fit.
Urban Slim: Slim fit like the 484, however they offer more room, with a similar hip and thigh.
770: Similar to the 484 through the hip and thighs, but there is a lack of taper in the ankles.
Classic Fit: This is your father’s fit. This is a baggier fit, with little to no taper in the ankles.
1040: This is the bootcut fit in the denim line. This is not a preppy fitw. There is no taper in the ankles.
When it comes to lacing your shoes and matching your belt, this is where the company takes numerous tastes and markets them all in one location. With well-known brands such as Alden, Sperry Top Sider, New Balance, Red Wing, and Vans, it can be difficult to determine what style the company is trying to convey. This highlights the fine line between trad and modern prep that J.Crew is attempting to walk.
J.Crew has their own shoe offerings as well, including some Goodyear welted and made-in-Italy options. They have offered both oxfords, chukkas, and penny loafers in a variety of colors of suede, with different sole options as well, ranging from office friendly leather to dainite and crepe rubber, perfect for the outdoors.
If there is one word that J.Crew fanatics seem to know, however, it’s Killshots. A shoe that was so ferociously successful, it never received a face lift in its continuous 30 year life. The Killshot was brought into this world as an athletic shoe for squash players and after-brunch tennis. The rubber gum sole offers superior grip on all surfaces, making it a versatile tool to have in your prep arsenal. Unfortunately, as of February 2016, it appears this iconic style will no longer be carried online or in-stores.
With choices of fabric including: Italian Wool, English Tweed, Worsted Wool, Italian Cashmere, Italian Chino, Japanese Chambray, Italian Cotton, and Italian Corduroy. If you can find one, visit a J.Crew Ludlow Shop, which is J.Crew’s line of suiting focused specialty stores. These will have a far better variety of suiting options, as well as customized MTM suiting.
J.Crew offers competitive pricing for quality fabrics, that will withstand continuous wear. Expect an entry level suit to cost around $500.00, with averages of about $650.00. Often, suit jackets and trousers will go on sale separately, so if you get lucky finding your size, you can pick one up at the end of the season for a substantial discount. While most J.Crew suits are made in Asia, they typically source wool from a variety of Italian mills.
The Ludlow Suit: This is the slimmer, and tighter-to-body suit fit. Featuring a 2 ½” lapel, narrow chest and shoulder measurements, and slim fit pants, (think 484 fit). The Traveler line of Ludlow suits are made from a 3-ply wool which is meant to hold up on-the-go.
The Crosby Suit: This is advertised as their suit for “Athletic builds”. Featuring a 2 ¾” lapel, and a fair amount of room in the chest and shoulders. The pants are roomier than 484, but still feature a significant taper.
J.Crew tends to market smaller brands in their product line, and does not produce many accessory items on their own. The third party companies that are distributed are of quality, and are worth the purchase.
J. Crew socks, offered in a variety of patterns, stripes, and emblematics, are a necessity. The Authentic Camp Sock is the best neighbor that the Bean Boot could have ever asked for. Providing a perfect snug fit for the boot, and more importantly, does not slide down into the shoe. For a price point upwards of 25 dollars, I would expect nothing less.
Ties and pocket squares
J.Crew offers a wide variety of ties every season. These range from silk repp ties in classic stripes, to emblematic, as well as knit and woven wool ties. Most J.Crew ties are Made in the USA, or Italy. The ties tend to be on the skinnier side, typically about 2.5″ in width. These match up with the narrower lapels of J.Crew suiting, but may look odd when worn with a wider, more traditional jacket lapel.
Successful products include the Rayban line for J.Crew, although J.Crew has now launched their own line of sunglasses at a slightly lower price point, starting at $100.
J.Crew is a distributor of Barbour jackets, including their own version of the Bedale. Often limited to just one style per season, it can be beneficial to those looking to save a little, as these jackets can be occasionally found discounted towards the end of the season.
Wallace & Barnes Collection
With an aim to rejuvenate and revive vintage garments, J.Crew offers upper-tier clothing under the label of Wallace & Barnes. These products are considered to have a “Boutique” feel to them, as the company uses higher quality materials for these products. With an OCBD starting at $148.00, and chinos at $168.00, ranging to almost $300.00, these products are certainly steeper than their typical market.
Sales & Events
J.Crew uses a “seasonal” system, much like many clothing distributors. There is one large annual sale that the company runs from late December into early January. This is the “40% off entire purchase” sale, and is well worth marking on the calendar. At the end of every season, J.Crew moves the majority of the past-seasons items into clearance. However this may not necessarily be true for third-party brands such as Ray Bans and Alden. When an item goes into clearance, the price drops by about 30%. Often the company will run a sale that offers 50% off all clearance items, however they are final sale only.
The Key Facts:
- Sale items rotate seasonally, with discounts ranging from 30-50% off already reduced prices
- Additional savings for J.Crew cardholders, and a fairly good student discount (15%)
- Sale items are often final sale, so be sure to try something on before purchasing.
J.Crew factory is a successful branch of the Madewell company, and is not under control by J.Crew and has it’s own separate designers. However, it should be noted that while the products are significantly cheaper, they are still of decent quality. Visibly, one can easily see that the stitching and quality of Factory is not on the same level as J.Crew. Also, many will find that the materials are often thinner, and have less character and craftsmanship than that of their parental company. This is not an outlet store or a factory direct store for J.Crew. It is important that I emphasize, this is a separate company. Think of Banana Republic and Gap. Two different companies, with varying price points and qualities of material.
Working for J.Crew has given me the opportunity to learn much more about the field of fashion and clothing, as well as given me a plentiful amount of experience with retail, and human relations. I can truly say that I enjoy the time I spend in the store as a retail associate, and I find that it rarely ever is a boring job. J.Crew has taught me numerous skills, such as proper tailoring of clothing for customers, appropriate color coordinations, and has offered me a plentiful amount of retail experience. I have also learned the history and some of the inner workings of the corporation, and the various ways it carries out their global mission.