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Dear Jenna – an open letter to J Crew

Posted in Style & Travel, Uncategorized, and Women's issues

Style guru Jenna Lyons
Style guru Jenna Lyons

Dear Ms. Lyons,

Would I be too upfront in asking that, next time you sit down at your messy desk, in your stylish office, looking for inspiration for your next collection, you think of me?

Let me introduce myself. I am 51 and, in more ways than one, the poster child for my generation of women: still very engaged with the world, in good shape, living in an urban area, I look nothing much like my mother did at my age. Fashion-wise, I grew up with Vivienne Westwood and Giorgio Armani, Yoji Yamamoto and Gianni Versace (pre-Donatella). I often browse the virtual pages of Vogue for the latest couture collections I cannot possibly afford, looking for ideas and styles that might suit me. In short, I am your dream customer.

For many years, J Crew was, in my mind, a cross between Ann Taylor and Gap, a brand I would patronize when in need of basic tees and woollies but not much else. When you started to inject personality, color and individuality to the collections, I payed attention. And shopped. And I loved you for it. You, Ms. Lyons, spoke my language of a style and whimsy I could afford.

Lately, though, my love affair has been cooling. From your spectacular Spring/Summer collection, I plucked silk pants and tunics, and that polka dot bikini that seemed designed for my body. And some wedges. But the dresses I really really wanted were all 3 inches too short. You will see, it will happen to you, when you cross that 5-0 line: no matter how toned, there is something about your knees you will not want to exhibit any longer and knee-length skirts will suddenly look more appropriate.  From your Fall collection, I love that little black dress with the white border – it would look so lovely on me ….. if only it didn’t end mid-thigh.

The dress I covet....if only it were longer
The dress I covet….if only it were longer

And a word on quality. I understand the effort to keep your products affordable but, that adorable French Hen sweater I snapped up, has turned flimsy after two dry-cleans. And the long sleeve tissue tees my blogging partner sofagirl so loves (and has worn for over a decade), have become mini-dresses – even with careful ironing. No longer wearable for any purpose but as a cover up for yoga or to sleep in.

We 50 something women wield considerable economic power, something most clothing designers seem to have forgotten. We are the generation who helped make couture and design mainstream and conversation centerpieces and we are not prepared, all of a sudden, to have our choices limited to pencil skirts and buttoned up blouses. Pants that are not painted on and with a waistline at least an inch above the hip bones; knee-length creative dresses not limited to the ubiquitous demure cocktail numbers; skirts in shapes other than pencil – it would be nice to have such choices at the price point J Crew has been offering over the past few years.

The only knee length skirts are pencil ones
The only knee-length skirts are pencil ones

I am definitely not advocating J Crew goes back to only the basics  – I wouldn’t be caught dead in khakis. But, Ms. Lyons, next time you find yourself in your creative space, spare a thought for the likes of me: still fashionable, still hip. And still your customer.

Respectfully yours,

Camparigirl

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23 Comments

  1. […] – I was rather harsh on Jenna Lyons a couple of years ago, when I wrote her an open letter complaining of the scarcity of garments someone like me – her ideal customer – could […]

    June 5, 2015
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  2. mistuhcook
    mistuhcook

    two words camparigirl: brooks brothers

    February 20, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      mmm…unless something has changed while I was not paying attention, it’s a bit too conservative for me. In the meantime, though, I think JCrew took note. Browsing the catalogue that landed in my mailbox today and there is plenty I could choose from.

      February 20, 2015
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  3. Stores seem to succeed and then fall into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone and forgetting their original reasons for success.

    August 5, 2013
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    • Very well put – trying to be everything to everyone.

      August 6, 2013
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  4. Sofagirl
    Sofagirl

    Narcissism is spot on with her moment on the arms. 3/4 length sleeves would open up a whole new set of possibilities or those of us who are crepe-ing. A, so relieved I didn’t buy that cashmere … I would have been furious. $300 dollars is an investment for most of us. I hope you get this post in front of Jenna. A revolution starts with one dissenter.

    August 5, 2013
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  5. Please for the love of God make dresses with SLEEVES. And on the rare occasion they do, they are too tight for my arms. (I can only imagine what their fit model looks like). Did you know, ironically that that J. Crew’s secret subsegment demographic are women over 40? That is why you see so many tunics, loose sweaters (I have the Boyfriend in way too many colors), the low rise jeans and bathings suits with the ruching around the tummy. They are catering to the muffin top, er meno-pot. But, because aside from Micky most of J. Crew is pre-menopausal, they miss the mark on the other plagues of mid life, like the knee sag and the generous arms.

    More importantly, you pointed out the decline in quality. I have J Crew cashmere from 10 years ago that hangs in my closet. I have J Crew cashmere from last year that pilled so badly I had to toss it. There’s an elasticity to the cost/value equation and I hope J. Crew recognizes they’re skating close to the threshold of crap.

    Great piece BTW

    Becca

    August 4, 2013
    |Reply
    • I think you are right when it comes to the online offerings but any store in Los Angeles is an ode to youth: all the pants are tight, low numbers; all the dresses are short; very few skirts and I had to hunt down the polka dot bikini because I refuse to buy bikinis on line. And yes, the cashmere feels really flimsy – I love your line about skating close to the threshold of crap. They are getting away with the highest price point they can vs quality.
      Also, all the pretty tunics are always modelled more like mini dresses than tunics the way you and I would wear them. It’s as if they are slightly ashamed to cater to us and that bothers me.

      August 4, 2013
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  6. According to another blogger they’re just coming to London. I will have to report back when I’m next there….

    August 3, 2013
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    • Would be interested to know what you think when you get there

      August 5, 2013
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  7. Funny, I have never shopped there and you always talk about it. Must go see even if the dresses are too short. I liked the line about the knees–so true. I also enjoyed the epistolary form. Fun post!

    August 3, 2013
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    • Thank you. And yes, you should definitely browse the catalogue or wander through a store. Jenna Lyons has done a great job in revamping a pretty stale brand

      August 3, 2013
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  8. I agree with you 100%. Same thing for Banana Republic. They used to have good-quality basic T-shirts. I bought two at the start of the summer, and the neckline trim completely lost its shape after the first wash.

    August 3, 2013
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    • It might be that the quality is not what it used to be but I think that the fast turnaround of merchandise and the punishing schedules factories in the developing world have to abide to, might have something to do with our clothes losing our spunk after a few washes.

      August 3, 2013
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  9. Thank you. Who is built like those models, except other models?

    August 3, 2013
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  10. You captured it! ..also true for those older than you with the same purchasing power. A shop is a block from me by the bus stop. I watch each window display change, enter, and come out sharing your thoughts. Hope someone at J Crew is listening!

    August 3, 2013
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    • Mmmm we will see if anyone is listening. I understand trying to capture the younger audience that might stay loyal for a long time to come but youth is also more fickle and, eventually, don’t they also turn 40?

      August 3, 2013
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  11. I love this article! Just started a blog and it would mean so much if you could check it out! Followed btw xx love the photos

    August 2, 2013
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    • Hi Natalie, I did go to check it out. It’s a lovely blog, infused with your charming personality – hope you will persevere.

      August 3, 2013
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