I remember the first items I ever ordered from J.Crew. It was 1998. My catalog order included a pair of chunky wooden platform mules (remember when those were the thing?), a heathered brown Shetland sweater, and a fine-wale brown corduroy blazer. Everything held up perfectly for years until I gave most of those items away some time during or after college. Most memorable purchase from J.Crew that I still miss? Either that palm print tote, or a pair of wool/silk straight leg trousers that were this amazing shade of warm coral. They looked fantastic with a white tee, or dressed up for work. I have no idea what I was thinking when I got rid of those.
I bring all this up because Grace shared a great article via her Facebook earlier this week, from the Wall Street Journal. It’s titled “Dear J.Crew, What Happened to Us?” and I thought it was a very worthy read — as are all the comments. (Note: if you can’t access it via that link, try clicking on it via the WSJ’s Facebook post right here — usually that’ll bypass the subscription wall. And if that doesn’t work, highlights are here.)
So many of the sentiments voiced by customers in the article and the comments are things I agree with. I’m not at the point of totally giving up on the company — to be honest, I popped in over Memorial Day weekend to check out their 50% off Sale sale. It’s uncommon that I visit the actual retail stores (after living in New York, I’ve primarily switched to shopping online). But it became very clear that my online returns history had me trained for how to shop in-store. For one thing, I found myself grabbing two or sometimes three sizes of an item because experience has taught me that I have no idea what will fit. Many of the items I tried on looked comically bad — this sleeveless sweater, which reminded me of one I purchased from Everlane last winter, felt lower quality than their’s, was $10 more expensive, and also looked ridiculous on (like a giant potato sack…even when I sized down). I tried on another knit sweater and realized there were three spots in the back already threading or pilling. And while I liked this embroidered shirt, I bypassed it because I found myself thinking a) that it would eventually go on sale for probably 50% off or more, and b) would the pretty embroidery on it actually hold up? It felt doubtful, and no way was I spending almost $80 on an embellished t-shirt that might fall apart after a single wash.
Newsflash to retailers in case they weren’t aware: these are bad thoughts to have about a brand while you’re still standing in their dressing room.
All these thoughts probably sound familiar to you, right? Based on the WSJ article and the ensuing comments, plus this post from last year (with followups here, here and here), it certainly seems like everyone’s felt the same recently. I ended up leaving the store this past weekend with a decent haul, all things considered: a scarf (heavily marked down), a pair of linen pants, a classic striped tee (can’t go wrong there), and a summer-weight sweater (two sizes below normal). Everything but the pants were on sale — and not even part of the sale rack, but part of additional promotions like “take 30% off sweaters” or “take 30% off scarves.” We’re clearly all trained to never pay full price. Also, the pieces I purchased were pretty classic staples or basics — things I honestly could’ve imagined the Crew selling back in the day. I shied away from the bright pink metallic and jacquard embroidered shorts, because cute? Yes. Will I wear them more than once this summer? Unclear.
Can you still find J.Crew items to love which will actually hold up? I think so. I bought one of the downtown field jackets about three years ago and have washed it over and over again, and it’s held up wonderfully. But frankly, worrying about items holding up is issue #2. For me, it’s all about fit. I can’t ever trust that anything I like online — or even on the rack — will look good on me. Which leads to unnecessary time spent trying on, making trips to stores for returns, or just plain not ordering anything because I don’t feel like taking the gamble. I’ve been shopping at J.Crew a lot less, and hadn’t even realized it until I read these articles and found I agreed with most everything.
It got me wondering — are you still shopping at J.Crew? Have you had the same frustrations? They’re still a store I can see myself checking in with regularly online, if only to take advantage of sales and items I know will fit…but I can certainly say that it doesn’t feel the same as 1998. What do you think?