An Open Letter to J. Crew: Please Stop Trying to Deceive Your Customers

02/14/2012 9:50 AM |

Screen_shot_2012-02-14_at_12.08.11_AM.png

Dear J. Crew,

There’s something I need to talk to you about. Something I saw on page 58 of your February 2012 catalog that I just can’t get out of my head. But first, a potentially embarrassing bit of background info, lest you think I’m just some weirdo internet troll with ulterior motives rather than a loyal customer writing out of legitimate concern, or at least something resembling concern.

In my closet right now, there is what a lot of people would consider an absurd amount of clothing purchased from your company: 13 long-sleeve button-down shirts, 15 sweaters, one suit, two ties, two pairs of pants, and this really great thermal-lined hoodie you stopped selling years ago. This is to say nothing of the few pairs of shorts I’ve packed away for the winter, or the two short-sleeve button-downs I got on clearance last year, or the half-dozen or so madras—excuse me, Indian cotton—shirts I fell for starting back in the spring of 2010. I have a bunch of your socks, too. And I wore a pair of your shoes on my wedding day, back before you even starting selling all that “special occasion” stuff you sell now.

So yeah, since 1997 or so, I’ve owned more clothes made by you than by any other company, by far. Like so many other people, I’ve long valued your commitment to menswear that is classic and generally conservative, but also cut and styled in a way that keeps me from feeling like somebody’s father, even now that I am actually someone’s father. Though far from a bargain, I feel like your prices are reasonable enough, at least on your more basic items, and especially when they go on sale, which they do often.

To be completely honest, though, I’ve started to have mixed feelings about you these past few years. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about menswear, I’ve come to enjoy the many aspects of dress you’ve expertly kept us from having to worry about for so long. I’ve come to like buying my own 100% cotton oxford cloth button-downs and wearing them in myself—I don’t need my shirts to be pre-faded or distressed, and I certainly don’t need those weird shrunken collars. I like the process of breaking in a really stiff pair of boots—I don’t need my Red Wings to look like I’ve been working in a field for 30 years as soon as I take them out of the box. And probably more than anything else, I like the act of discovering brands that demand a premium for a superior product they’ve taken decades or more to perfect. Scrolling through the pages of your catalog or your website, through the Alden and the Barbour and the Baracuta and the Chippeawa, it feels not unlike the overly-curated little vinyl selection at Urban Outfitters stores these days, where Joy Division meets Bon Iver and you basically couldn’t purchase a bad record if you tried. It feels a little too much like cheating. This, I realize, is just standard hair-splitting about authenticity—a topic so complicated I feel like I can’t even hold you accountable to whatever personal conclusions I come to about it. So that’s fine.

But on page 58, you just took things a little too far: Above a neatly stacked tower of shirts and ties, it reads “Dress Shirts: Now available by neck and sleeve measurements (that’s as close to custom as it gets) in our regular or slim fit.”

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know what this means, for as long as I can remember, J. Crew has sold its “dress shirts” in standard sizes, XS through XXL. Now, though, they’re selling them by neck measurement, down to the half-inch, and by sleeve measurement, down to the inch. So you wind up buying a shirt sized 15×33 or 16.5×34 or whatever. It sounds complicated… assuming you are not a man who has ever bought an actual dress shirt anywhere in the world at any point in your entire life.

Offering shirts in neck and sleeve sizes is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “as close to custom as it gets.” It is simply how mens shirts are sold, everywhere from high-end traditional shops like Brooks Brothers and J. Press to down to Lands End and L.L. Bean all then all the way down to the shit you can buy at Macy’s or Target or even fucking Kohl’s: Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, Nautica… stuff like that.

The “closest to custom you can get,” if you’re wondering, is actually pretty damn close. There’s a company called Mercer & Sons that makes highly regarded traditional dress shirts in a wide array of materials and patterns—it’s a small operation and they’ll work with you on all aspects of the fit to make sure you’re happy. For a slightly younger vibe (and only $10 more than J. Crew), Ratio Clothing will take your neck measurement to the quarter-inch and your sleeve to the half-inch, while also factoring in overall shirt length and the exact size of your chest. And there are places like Indochino and MyTailor.com, too, both of which will get you considerably closer to custom than you guys, J. Crew, are telling people is even possible.

Why do I find this so bothersome? Well, it’s willfully, aggressively dishonest, for one, so that’s just a total bummer and the kind of thing I genuinely thought was beneath you. But even more than that, it seems to contradict the most optimistic possible interpretation of your M.O. in recent years—that your business will grow because people are learning more about clothes and learning to recognize and respect quality. When I began lusting after Alden Indy boots a few years ago, only to see months later that you were selling them, it made me think more of you—even if you’d just discovered them on the same stupid websites where I did, it didn’t really matter. But with this shirt thing, you’re creating a situation that will play out very differently. If I were to somehow find myself in a frankly inconceivable position where I didn’t know how mens shirts are sold, and I were to then do even the modicum of research one would need to do before learning that neck and sleeve measurements are the norm, I would see page 58 in your catalog and immediately come to view you as a) stupid, b) manipulative, or c) some combination of the two. You’re not rewarding knowledge of your industry, you’re hiding from it, and that means you don’t have my best interests at heart.

Which, you know… of course you don’t! You are a giant corporation whose only reason for existing is to take as much of my money as possible, I get it, but I also refuse to believe that this approach will be beneficial for you in the long term. It’s too cynical and too depressing and so far off-message that I’m holding out hope it was just a brief lapse in judgment. If not, well, replacing everything in my closet will take some time, but it will be worth it.

Sincerely,
Mike Conklin

Follow Mike Conklin on Twitter @LMagMusic, but don’t worry… he promises he will never write about clothes again.

15 Comment

  • Mike, I appreciate the sentiment but this article seems more like a result of you having a bad day than a legitimate or realistic concern. (Even Glenn O’Brien himself once said that he stopped writing art reviews because he realized that most of the time the positivity or the negativity of the review was affected by the quality of his day). Anyway, J.Crew is (was) a classic menswear brand that has since entered the realm of “fashion”. That is, it is beyond being classic menswear and is now looking to profit from providing a supply of clothing that fits the current popular aesthetic. Also, you say it yourself in your letter that J.Crew is a very large corporation. Large corporations take liberties in advertising/marketing messages – this is not new and certainly not a very big surprise. My point in writing a comment to you is that we really don’t have very much control over what corporations say in their advertisements (short of lying about a product that induces sickness or death) and that there are probably much bigger things to worry about in your immediate personal life.

  • As someone who has purchased the J.Crew neck and sleeve dress shirts in 1997 and in 2011 (yes, they also came in neck and sleeve sizes back in the 90’s) I will call out their deception for another reason – The Shirts Fit Horribly! I bought one in 16 1/2 (which, by the way only comes with a 34 or 35″ sleeve), and had to have the sleeves shortened (because I’m a 33 sleeve). This is something I am rather used to as many dress shirts only come in Reg or Long for sleeve lengths, but the worst part was that the body of the shirt was gigantic. In stark contrast to the tailored feel you get form many of their casual shirts, you do not get from their dress shirts. I haven’t tried the slim version, so I can’t speak for those, but the regular fit shirts were a definite disappointment…and the fabric felt cheap too.

  • I was surprised to read a “dis” in The J Crew Review (http://thejcrewreview.com/2012/03/19/j-cre…), a blog written by several young women that are seemingly addicted to J Crew, as are many of us, as evidenced by their readership. They highlighted your letter as a hallmark of what’s wrong with J Crew lately and suggested that we write to J Crew if we have complaints, about anything, really. Curious, I read your letter, and I knew immediately to what your were referring. As I paged through my March catalog and came across the page selling mens “…as close to custom as it gets” shirts, my first thought was, “That’s not true! That’s just how mens shirts have always been sold.” And my second thought was, “Well, that’s pretty damned deceptive and downright disappointing.” I disagree with the previous writer, mksolide81d, that we have little to no control over what corporations say in their ads. MONEY talks. When consumers stop spending, the head honchos listen. You can be sure that if many J Crew fans inundated corporate with letters, we would be heard. No, it isn’t rocket science, but I believe that consumers have a right to honesty. And I am still optimistic enough to believe that people can make a difference. Thank you for your letter and column!

  • BRAVO!

  • I understand your disappointment, but I can’t relate to any surprise you may have felt. I give J. Crew a lot of credit for creating a beautiful catalog, and for having stylists who match up continuously appealing ensembles. But J. Crew has for quite some time produced pretty looking men’s clothing that doesn’t match up to the quality and fit of most other brands out there, including the “shit” put out by Polo, which is far more consistent, longer lasting, better fitting, and of generally higher quality than anything J. Crew carries. J. Crew is a mall brand, and behaves like a mall brand by advertising to fashionable if not completely clothing conscious buyers and selling relatively nice basics that don’t last too long. I thought this was common knowledge with anyone who loves men’s clothing and has actually compared J. Crew product to other brands out there.

  • First world problem/rant. Total non issue.

  • I agree with FWP’s comment.

    That said, I’d like to add that I question the author’s judgment when he places J.Crew above Macy’s (Macy’s has stuff made in Italy). No one who understands fashion or works in fashion would place J.Crew in the same tier with Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, or Lacoste (all found at Macy’s). J.Crew stuff is closer to Macy’s own brands than it is to the nicer stuff. Macy’s is also more versatile, carrying North Face gear that’s going to keep you warmer than anything sold at J.Crew.

  • Jcrew ain’t Barberry, Versant, Gucci, Armani and etc. Just a normal clothing brand that’s in the mid upper end.

  • Why doesn’t someone ask where are J Crew getting these clothes made & how only a tiny % are made in the USA. I think they have been involved with some “dodgy” factories in China & Asia!

  • Late to the party on this post and it’s not related to shirts, BUT – just bought a pair of mens suede bucks from Jcrew. $200 – within four wearings they started squeaking worse than any pair of shoes I’ve ever owned. Sure enough, Made in China. Jcrew is a rip off and their shoes are terrible quality. Unless they’re the Alden’s, they suck. Never buying shoes from them again!

  • You poor, poor souls. How ever will you go on with your lives without your perfect clothing? There are people who have to get their clothing from dumpsters, and this is what you’re complaining about?

    Quit whining about what you claim is “dishonesty” and start praising what you KNOW is capitalism at its finest!

    I work for J.Crew. I’m sorry if you had a bad experience, but this is an example of some of the biggest arrogance in American culture: the notion that, if an individual had an unpleasant experience with a company, the company MUST be going down the shitter. In reality, J.Crew doesn’t need you. J.Crew continues to grow, despite your unfortunate body type, or your one pair of squeaky shoes.

    Any issues you may have with the company, stop blogging and commenting about it, and send it to [email protected].

  • RRR is a tool of the lowest order.

  • l meant Nate, not RRR. How ’bout embracing the web?

  • Damn, almost 500 words before you get to the point.

  • Sorry, but the real issue of fraud is not the shirt sizes, but rather how they disguise where their suits are made. The descriptions are sure to point out where the material comes from: be it Italy, Japan, and other fashionable areas on the globe. But they purposely leave out the fact that they are most likely sewn/manufactured in China. Only to write in the description that they are ‘imported’.