because we always start with a jam to set the mood...
I've lived the better part of the past decade in solely JCrew. I fell head over heels for the brand back in 2007 as a freshman at Boston College. That Christmas, my wish list was simply a link to their website and a couple dozen style numbers.
Ten years later, so much has changed - and yet - so much is still the same.
I'll turn 29 this year (just two days after Christmas) and JCrew Group Inc is celebrating its 28th year. I don't know about you, but I learned a lot in my twenties. I'd like to think JCrew has too.
I worked for the brand as a retail associate from 2013 to 2015. To this day, the pieces I brought home with my coveted discount are some of the most beloved (and complimented) in my closet. I left the brand as sales were declining - so much so, they took our commission away - and the game of never-ending promotions was just beginning.
To say the retail game has changed significantly in the last five years is an understatement. The explosion of fast fashion, promotion driven purchasing, and "influencer marketing" via Instagram are just a handful of examples.
Like a blogger trying to crack the elusive Instagram algorithm, retailers remain frustrated and confused.
Amidst all the upheaval, JCrew tried (and failed) to play keep up with the Joneses. Falling prey to terrible, short-lived trends. Turning out Zara quality pieces with Tory Burch price tags. Focusing on branded partnerships (beauty? home goods?) instead of creating playful, inspiring collections.
With dismal options, I made a bold move: l stole from the men. I stole their Slim Broken-In T-shirt, because ours were not only so thin you could see your bra, but they were also notorious for small, unexplainable holes.
I stole their Wallace & Barnes Crewneck Sweatshirt, because ours were awkwardly wide and too short for my 'long' torso.
And I stole their bow ties, because the jewelry was unoriginal and unappealing. A sad moment for the girl who took a job with the brand because of their luxe, costume jewels.
But I was one of the lucky ones. I'm 5'7 with a slim athletic shape that can easily steal from the boys. Not everyone enjoys this luxury.
It was a confusing paradigm shift for such an iconic brand to suddenly lack an identity. In an effort to keep pace with soaring costs and sinking sales, beloved hallmarks that said "this piece is JCrew" disappeared seemingly overnight. Cherished details such as contrasted piping, colorful linings, and bejeweled necklines left without so much as a goodbye.
No one said being a twenty-something in a consumer driven, over stimulated, uber connected world was easy. But these desperate attempts to be more "on trend" only seemed to push loyal customers further away.
But here we are in Holiday 2017, and for the first time - in a long time - I'm excited. The signature, playful prints are back at a reasonable price. The fit has vastly improved, with most items running 'true to size.' JCrew is doing what JCrew does best: whimsical takes on classic staples.
Whether it be through color, fabric, or adornment, I love the idea (and simplicity!) of fresh approaches to pre-existing pieces. Of course, styles evolve and demand updated silhouettes. A recent shift from the boxy School Boy Blazer to the more tailored Regent is the perfect example. But for now, my anxiety of trying to find seasonally appropriate clothing is slowly subsiding.
After ten years of sleeve rolling, I've developed a deep understanding and appreciation for the brand's versatility. Something I don't think the executives sitting in the 770 Broadway offices give themselves enough credit for.
Few brands are capable of dressing the same individual through multiple decades of their life. Offering flexibility for both the evolution of personal style as well as changing wardrobe requirements. And yet, JCrew nails it. From flirty mini skirts for teenage dates to breezy and pulled together for school runs to effortless sophistication for your forties and beyond.
Moreover, JCrew feels like home for a wide spectrum of style types. The risk takers with quirky pattern play a la Jenna Lyons. The prepsters with nautical stripes and pearls. The relaxed, California cool girls sporting denim and a simple knit. And nearly everyone in between. Myself included: the all black, capsule closet, minimalist who will bend the rules for a kick-ass statement earring.
Empowering individuals to embrace their own style is what sets JCrew apart. They are truly a brand for everyone. (First Ladies included!)
The aptly named 'Style Guide' does more than showcase the current collection. It provides inspiration. Look closely, and you'll see how one piece can be worn multiple ways. JCrew isn't about creating one "outfit." It's about the bigger picture: fluidly transitioning the same piece from day to night from spring until fall.
Styling techniques like the aforementioned rolled sleeves, the art of mixing patterns, and tricks for comfortable layering combined with quality clothing have true staying power. The power to win the war against one-dimensional fast-fashion trends. Because these pieces and "style hacks" are in it for the long haul. Timeless. Just like the simple fact that leopard is - indeed - a neutral.
When asked for my 2017 Christmas list, I stayed true to form and provided my favorite JCrew style numbers. But instead of preppy patterns and trendy blouses, it was full of minimalist black and basic staples.
Because that's the beauty of being in your twenties. You experiment. You evolve. And in a twist of fate, you might even return to your roots. Albeit, in a more sophisticated and mature fashion. For me, it's a prefix menu of classic silhouettes in minimalist black. For JCrew, it's quality staples with special attention to detail that return each season for a well-deserved encore.
Together, we may have finally conquered the quintessential twenty-something struggle: finding confidence in what sets you apart. And then learning how to play those cards to your advantage.
On the cusp of our thirties, I'm optimistic the pieces are falling into place. I'd like to think we both learned from our mistakes and are ready to embrace change, including the departure of Jenna. Another friendly reminder in life that regardless of who you are - an assistant at KPMG or major retail brand - you're never alone. This is the story of the Comeback Crew.
So let the next chapter begin...because just like that, we're back.
Above are a few of my favorite looks from 2017.
I was fortunate enough to have JCrew feature several on their website.