Starter Style Review: J. Crew

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the fifth part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch the first, second, third and fourth parts in the series here . Look for more in the coming weeks!

As far as budget style goes, J. Crew is about the top of the pile for most of us stylish #menswear fanatics on a budget. The brand seems to do just about everything right — they hit on great trends, provide modern, slim and updated looks, and cover every basic men’s style or fashion staple you could want to cover — all at prices that, when on sale and in the right location, are pretty within reach for most us out there (even college students – thanks for that 15% student discount!). Even the Ludlow suit on its own, with a tapered, substantial-feeling jacket and slim pants, makes the store worth stopping by (and checking out online). It’s about the essential barometer for modern men’s style in terms of a trim, updated suit. And, it’s well-known that the store meets so many crucial benchmarks for lower-budget style geeks (check out this Dappered article covering J. Crew for proof).

A trip to a J. Crew store certainly reveals just as many great things as bloggers (myself included ) love. Out of the stores covered to this point on Starter Style Reviews, (see previous posts above in the editor’s note), J. Crew does  a heck of a lot of things right. They eliminate the gaudy logos of Express,and they offer updated fits and stylish colors while avoiding things like gaudy graphic tees, for example. The quality is a definite step up from Old Navy, and and the same thing holds true for past Starter Style Review participant Target — although those stores do provide great staple pieces at nice prices.

Another great thing about J. Crew is the commitment to the overall brand, which now extends to cool in-store aesthetics like neat books and collaborations with companies like Harry’s.

In short, it’s the ideal place for the modern man to shop, be it in your twenties, thirties or beyond. The clothes in the store certainly reflect those values, as well. On a recent trip to the nearest brick-and-mortar location, some of the earliest spring rollouts were taking place – think colorful shorts with some slight pre-wrinkling, striped T-shirts and casual, soft sweaters perfect for throwing on during cool evenings.  Other spring offerings included some low-profile Vans sneakers and a pair of white Nikes with the iconic black swoosh.  Don’t forget about the extremely eye-catching orange New Balance kicks recently released, too.

Newest crop of spring arrivals.
Newest crop of spring arrivals.

The Stanton short (with a 9″ inseam) is a personal favorite — the wide variety of colors, trim cut and above-the-knee fit check off all the major hallmarks of a great pair of shorts. The rest of the store’s early spring offerings were great as well — soft, slim T-shirts with colorful stripes, all-season chinos in brighter spring colors and soft popover shirts (photo below). Items like that are what truly set J. Crew apart — the popover is a shirt with roots as far back as the 1960s in terms of iconic style, and yet with J. Crew, it’s given a modern take and fit.

Retro style, modern update.
Retro style, modern update.

The rest of the store can’t be overlooked either. J. Crew’s sweaters — which were, admittedly, in short supply with spring on the way — fit trim and come in a variety of colors and fabrics, including the ultra-pricey cashmere option. Other sweater options include chunky, fisherman-inspired knits that bring to mind rustic cabins and outdoor settings, like the one pictured below. A trim grey cardigan also looked to be a nice transitional piece in between the depths of winter and the first signs of spring.

A thick knit with vintage roots.
A thick knit with vintage roots.

The dressier accessories really complete the in-store experience at J. Crew, as well. Although purchasing the Ludlow suit wasn’t an option at this particular store, the selection of both casual soft-wash and spread-collar slim fit shirts was extremely on-point. There were all kinds of patterns, styles and fabrics available in the shirting department, all of which would pair perfectly with the right winter blazer (or summer blazer, for that matter).

Numerous colors, styles and fabrics to choose from.
Numerous colors, styles and fabrics to choose from.

As far as the rest of the shopping experience goes, J. Crew knocks it out of the park as well. It’s almost astonishing how well the store does so many different things in just the right way (from a personal standpoint). The jeans and chinos, at least in the 484 or Urban Slim Fit for myself, are a fantastic purchase that keep a slim silhouette and offernumerous color options. The store’s selection of socks are colorful, patterned and eye-catching, and other accessories (like their fantastic, yet pricey, collaboration with Timex)  and their collection of pocket squares with tipped edging and wilder floral patterns add modern edge and flair to an entire look. Keep in mind, too, that J. Crew offers more online in terms of shoes and other accessories — all free of gaudy logos, for the most part.

The one big key with this brand is to, for the most part, wait for sales and discounts. Shop J. Crew Factory online or in-store o get replica-type items at ridiculously low prices. And use whatever discount might apply (especially the college student or teacher discount!). However, buying at full price isn’t a bad bet, either. The pieces are, at the higher points, definitely investment-worthy —particularly the Ludlow suit. The next time you have a substantial and essential menswear purchase in mind, chances are — J. Crew’s got you covered.

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