This Week I Love …

cat

… the J.Crew catalog.

Several months ago, a woman in her 90s swung by a book signing event to ask me what she should be reading to keep up with the current fashion trends. She was just as stylish as she could be in a multicolored tweed blazer and burgundy Chanel flats, and CLEARLY needed no help from me. But she wanted my input. And she didn’t do Internet, so blogs were right out. I told her to take a peek at More Magazine, Real Simple, and to sign up to receive the J.Crew catalog. Now, I know full well that a 90-year-old gal is unlikely to be ordering a French hen intarsia sweater and cropped polka dot pants for herself. But as I told this lovely woman, it’s not really the clothes in this catalog that matter, it’s the styling. J.Crew stylists do four things amazingly well:

Layering

Some outfits are a little over-the-top, with a tee, flannel shirt, cardigan, and blazer all piled onto a single teetering model. But most are re-create-able and inspiring. Shirts under dresses, pattern mixes with paired tees and cardigans, even cropped pants over opaque socks. Loads of layering ideas are crammed into all but the summery-est of catalogs.

Color pairing

This is the J.Crew catalog team’s true forte. Again, a few combos will look a bit outlandish in real life, but most work outside the photo studio. This company prides itself on using and mixing loads of colors, and their spreads show it. Neutrals and neons, jewel tones galore, primaries and pastels, combinations you might never have dreamt of yourself show up in every new catalog. Look for color-on-color outfits that work with your own palette and style, and pay close attention to how these folks do chic monochrome mixes.

Accessorization

Even if the skinny patent belts and rhinestone-laden necklaces don’t appeal, look at how they’re used. Layered over cardigans and under button-front shirt collars, bracelets piled onto wrists, contrasting and patterned shoes implemented in surprisingly chic ways. Note scale and placement, and re-create the looks using items from your own wardrobe.

Finishing touches

Look at HOW garments are worn and styled: Cuffed and scrunched sleeves, contrasting hosiery and socks, popped collars. Few catalog outfits are left alone and untouched, and the subtle finishing touches and adjustments are what make them look so amazing.

And although the company has limited petite and tall offerings and zilch in the plus department, there’s still a lot to learn from the catalogs. I wear some J.Crew myself. Not loads, but some. Even if I didn’t, I’d still get the catalogs. (Remember: You can find sartorial inspiration everywhere!)

Do you get the J.Crew catalog? Feel like the styling is interesting and inspirational? Or does it veer so far from your own tastes that you just don’t find it helpful?

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  • http://sewingnovice.blogspot.co.uk Charlie

    I can’t say that J Crew’s catalogue appeals to me in the slightest, from a quick look through their website. If anything, I found the styling distracting. I also find their target demographic baffling. We don’t have J Crew in this country, so I have no idea who shops there. To me, the styling and looks seem geared towards attracting a younger woman, perhaps in her twenties, but the prices seem like they’d be high for that demographic.

    • Lexi

      J. Crew’s demographic is primarily women in their 20s with wealthy parents. I went on scholarship to a small private college in the northeastern U.S. and all the girls there loved J Crew. It’s much to preppy for my tastes and most of the looks are over the top IMO, not to mention they charge about twice as much for any one item as I would ever want to pay.

  • Becky

    My daughter and I both love J. Crew. (I’m 45, and she’s an 18-year-old art student.) J. Crew has many classic pieces that can work for both of us based on how we style them. Plus they tend to use a gorgeous range of colors!

  • http://www.julieheinrich.com Julie

    I love the J. Crew catalogue. I even keep my back copies because they are filled with ideas. They pair things together that I would never have dreamed of pairing and yet they work!

  • http://yummantra.blogspot.com Leslie

    Probably 30% of my wardrobe is JCrew. I used to wonder if it made me a little too formulaic, but I’ve realized it’s just because their basics and staples are so great and so workable-in-almost-any-outfit, that it just makes sense for me. The fits are fairly consistent, the quality is generally good, and depending on what you choose, the stuff will be in style forever. Plus: SALES.
    I do wish I could learn to take some of the same risks their stylists do, as I tend to be a touch more conservative than I’d like, but I’m getting there…

  • http://tragicsandwich.com/ Tragic Sandwich

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever bought more than a scarf at J. Crew–their clothes are much too expensive for me. But if someone wants to check out the styling without getting another catalog, their website has a “Looks We Love” section that has outfits and tips.

  • http://tallpetite.blogspot.com joy

    I am 27 years old. For many years, JCrew did not appeal to me. Something about the styling, and the prices were outrageous. Nothing in-store ever seemed to be on sale. In the past 6 months though, something clicked. For me, it is becoming my go-to place for replacing my deteriorating “first job no money” pieces with wool sweaters, wool skirts, and general basics that are of decent quality. I tear pages out of the catalog for inspiration and keep them in a file folder in my closet. Sadly I didn’t get the latest issue. I don’t generally go for their more unique items, but I love seeing the mix and match of colors and the styling in the catalog. My key to JCrew is doing “recon” in the store and then buying the items when they have a sale online, usually 25%-40% additional off sale items.

  • hazel mcgillicutty

    Much as I have tried to love J Crew, the fabric and workmanship is often a turnoff. the pictures are pretty, but when you actually go into the stores and look carefully at each piece, the workmanship is poor and the fabrics flimsy. So disappointing. Not much value for the price.

  • Becky

    Sal, posts like this are one of the many reasons I love your blog so much! You have opened my eyes in so many ways, and looking at catalogs for ways to style the clothes I already have (or clothes I may buy from somewhere else) is such a great idea. I think you’ve mentioned it before, but I appreciate the reminder. In general J. Crew clothes don’t work for me, but I will check out their catalog again with new eyes. You rock.

  • JB

    JCrew fans may want to check out the JCrew Aficionada blog. No, it’s not my blog, I don’t even subscribe to it. But it has lots of good information. The reviews section in particular can be useful for info on how particular JCrew items look on normal people as opposed to the catalog models. A good place to check before taking the plunge on one of those tempting Final Sale items. http://jcrewaficionada.blogspot.com/

  • R.S.

    Yes!! The J. Crew catalog is my favorite source of inspiration! Sally is totally correct in that some of the styling is over-the-top and has too many layers to be reasonable in the real world, but you can get so many neat ideas about how to pair prints, use colorblocking or incorporate accessories.

    And thanks to the J. Crew catalog, I have finally perfected the “my-shirt-is-half-tucked-in-half-tucked-out-on-purpose” look, which, when done right, can be very flattering.

  • Anne

    I have been buying J Crew clothes on and off for about 25 years. Sometimes I really liked them all sometimes, not so much. Their clothes have always been at the far edge of my budget, but I’ve usually felt that the quality made up for that. Until the last few years. I feel like the quality has been sliding for about 3 years now. Doesn’t keep me from looking at the catalog though. I think they do a great job of blending the dressy and the casual. I wasn’t too in love with the whole slide into Easter egg colors that I’ve seen in the past few months. They should save that for the Crewcuts.

  • ClaraT

    The J. Crew website (or catalog) is inspiring. Sal nailed it–the layering and mix of colors and prints is creative and thought-provoking.

    I’m with Charlie and Hazel, though: the quality of many of the basics is poor (especially for the price point). The higher-price-point items (blazers/coats/purses) are well made, though.

  • http://midwesternmodernmomma.blogspot.com Jen

    I hoard catalogs. J.Crew, Land’s End, Boden. You name it, I stash them for inspiration. I do use them for their intended purpose sometimes. But most of the time they are my fashion inspiration. I get ideas for color pairings, how to style shoes with a particular outfit, accessories, layerings, etc. Not to mention they are a fun way to window shop from the couch!

  • poodletail

    J’adore J. Crew catalog. I can’t count how many of their crewneck cashmere sweaters I have in my closet. They’re perfect for travel: great for layering and can be rolled up in my suitcase. Every season J. Crew brings out a new color or 2 that I add to the collection.

  • AB

    Nope. Out of both my price and size range.

  • Sarah

    I am 31 years old and J. Crew does not appeal to me for one main reason: everyone wears their clothing. They are ubiquitous. I love reading style blogs but I am not impressed with your personal style if you are wearing the same pair of pants 50 other bloggers are wearing. What comes to mind immediately is the GAP ankle jeans with white polka dots that 30 bloggers must have featured this past week. I know GAP sent them out for free to most bloggers in the past month, but still. I also take issue with J. Crew’s styling, because I think it tends to be fussy and overwrought – not my personal style at all. I wish I could understand the appeal but wearing crazy layers and the same pants as everyone else just does not appeal to me.

  • http://monkeyobsessions.blogspot.com alice

    I really wasn’t into JCrew until recently and I can’t say I own too many things from there because sizing can be an issue for me. As others have mentioned, the pieces are NOT worth the full price, but they often have sales so I usually stalk the website and wait for my sale notification. It’s actually kind of hard to find modern-fitting basics that don’t look dowdy and I think that’s what JCrew really excels at.

  • http://www.meganmaedaily.com/ Megan Mae

    I like what I know of J.Crew. I’m not their target demographic, but I have found a few pieces while thrifting that are of great quality, cut and comfort.

  • Eliza

    My brother loves J. Crew. Me? Not so much. Their women’s clothing tends to feel bright and preppy, and modern, while I gravitate towards low-contrast, romantic, and vintage. I’ve saved a few photos from Peruvian Connection and Rowan Knitting, but most of my styling inspiration photos are vintage, designer, or both.

  • http://sololisa.com Lisa

    Reading the comments in response to this post has been VERY interesting. These days, it seems like the personal style blogosphere is one big J. Crew love-in, so it’s refreshing and eye-opening to see contrary viewpoints.

    That being said, I admit to being part of the J. Crew love-in. I like paging through their catalogues almost as much as a typical magazine. Almost every outfit post I’ve done in the past couple of months has featured me wearing at least one J. Crew item, and these days I feel like every other purchase is from J. Crew. Some of their clothes just work for my body type, so I buy things like the Tippi sweater, the no. 2 pencil skirt, and the cafe capri in multiple colours.

    I’m at the stage in my life where I’m making a comfortable salary and sick of buying throwaway clothes from places like Forever 21. However, I’m not comfortable with the price points of high-end designers just yet. J. Crew’s kind of a happy compromise between the two: superior quality, and prices that are a little high but still attainable.

  • Christine

    I used to like J Crew, but couldn’t afford it. Then I could afford a few pieces and I thought their cashmere was great. Now, I find the quality of almost everything quite poor, though I do wear their tanks and t-shirts.

    J Crew really isn’t my style though anyway. For want of a better word I find it preppy. I do love the colour mixes, though, and I think that’s where they shine.

    To me, also, the look is “Jenna Lyons” — for her body, her face, her life. If you don’t match her idiom, it’s not going to look good on you. Donna Karan seems to design for a tall, somewhat curvy woman, like herself. If you don’t have that body and lifestyle, it won’t work for most women. Hope that makes sense!

  • http://www.headlinesandhemlines.com Keri Wood

    The J.Crew catalog is my fashion bible! The way they mix patterns and textures is effortless.

  • Tina

    I was a huge J. Crew fan in the 1990s. They had high quality items that lasted for years. I still have a couple of sweaters that are 20 years old. Their big thing was that they did not put any jewelry or accessories on their models back then because the “clothes speak for themselves”. That, of course, has changed. I don’t care for it much anymore. I think they are way too expensive and the quality has declined. I preferred the simplicity of the 1990s catalogs. The ones that are out now are sensory overload.

  • Dee

    Never have seen their catalog….a quick look at their site, some things look nice but I think I am older than their target audience. Overall it doesn’t WOW me – I get my inspriation from Talbot’s, Chicos, and similar. I don’t even know when J. Crew was established, not on my radar…thats my two cents.

  • Kirsten`

    I love J. Crew. It is probably one of my favorite stores. My tip to save… try and find a J. Crew factory outlet, and go during sales.

  • Carrie

    Interesting to read other folks’ comments regarding a perceived decline in quality in recent years in J. Crew items. I’d noticed that some basic items (tanks, camis, tees) seemed to have loose threads after a couple of wearings or one washing; I also noticed that items that looked opaque in catalogues and online really were more like tissue-cotton (even though they weren’t specifically advertised as such). Additionally, a beautiful embellished wool sweater pilled very badly very quickly! I thought I was imagining things, but this confirms that I wasn’t. I’m not particularly hard on my clothing, so I think I may need to re-evaluate purchasing from J. Crew. (On the other hand, I’ve found that items with more built-in structure, such as capri pants and skirts, are well-manufactured and last me a long time.)

    On a related note: am curious if anyone else has had this problem w/Banana Republic?

  • will

    As Anna Wintour said in the documentary “The Man Who Dressed America” (CNBC, 2012), “J.Crew in the 1990s was sort of a poor man’s Ralph Lauren…with several quality and fit issues…”. So when I hear someone promote an idea of J.Crew’s quality falling off in recent years I really wonder what they were buying in the 1990s and what they liked so much about it. J.Crew wasn’t on the verge of financial ruin in the 1900s, but it certainly was not the glory age of that company. that being said, I don’t think the quality of J.Crew has gone downhill at all-if anything it has doubled. Why? Most of their expensive items are milled in Italy (aka not China- even though Mickey Drexler has been quoted several times on the quality of premiere Chinese mills). Their shoes? Italian made. Men’s blazer? World class mills in Japan, England and Italy. However their knits are still competitively priced for any customer. What I think most people are actually complaining about is J.Crew’s departure from mainstay trends and the forumlaic American Mall discount culture of the Gap, Anne Taylor, etc. The truth is, J.Crew is not the same store you used to shop in 10 years ago. For some people, that is disappointing. But to blame it on quality or bad taste? J.Crew has rapidly priced itself out of most malls, yet most customers still shop J.Crew like they would shop say, Banana Republic. Unfortunately for J.Crew, the average women (or man) may not care about those things when they roam in and out of their stores, often shocked at the disparity in price between J.Crew and their competitors. All I can say is that the next five years will be very pivotal for J.Crew – who has never had more success than they do now. If you don’t like it, fine, it’s certainly not for everyone. If you do like it, you better do your ordering fast, because J.Crew items sell out more often than not, a problem that most retailers can’t say they have.