|via Wall Street Journal|
Is it just me, or have people already been talking about the decline of J. Crew for years? I first started shopping there (by which I mean mostly window-shopping) in college, around 2008, and I think I remember people starting to complain about reduced quality and strange styling choices not too long after that. This post isn't really about the decline of J. Crew though, but more about the notion of being emotionally attached to a retail brand. It is a feeling I know well, and one that I even had for J. Crew back in the day.
I first "discovered" J. Crew as a college student on the East Coast, very far from home and newly immersed in a campus culture that was just a little bit different from what I knew before. I'm not talking about the type of extreme challenges born of income inequality that are being discussed at many campuses recently. This was just me getting used to the minor detail that not everyone dressed like they did at home. That and the normal growing pains associated with the transition from high school to college and then the prospect of adult life.
In my northern California suburb, flip-flops, hoodies, and jeans were the constant uniform. As far as I could remember, people generally had very conservative attitudes about consumption. Someone in high school once mentioned shopping for $100 jeans, and I wasn't the only person present who thought it an utterly preposterous notion. Once I got to college, I felt sloppy in my California clothes.
I've mentioned before that I've long used shopping as a way of trying to fake it 'til I make it, hoping that by buying the right things, my anxieties about not belonging or not being cut out for something would go away. Thus, I wanted the preppy things that some (not even that many) of my peers wore, like a Ralph Lauren crew-neck sweater or a Lacoste polo (or Uggs, a Longchamp tote, or a Northface). I think I've always liked the idea that shopping for new things could help me redefine myself, could help me transform.
In that context, J. Crew's range of brightly-colored basics (circa 2008) were just the thing. Whatever was challenging about college would, obviously, be easier if I had a closet full of ruffled tops and embellished cardigans to face it with. If only it wasn't so expensive. J. Crew, to me, was always this out of reach aspirational thing. It wasn't priced so high that I'd feel too embarrassed to browse, even as a college student, though even with the sales, the things I liked tended not to get solidly down into my price range. On that rare occasion when I got something nearly full price, with just the student discount (their Stretch Perfect Shirt is the only button-down for me, and I bought one for interviews back then), I felt like a million bucks for that fleeting moment.
I never bought half the things I thought I wanted then, whether J. Crew or not. Even so, I still spent plenty of money, by college-student standards, before figuring out things such as how something isn't a good value just because its from the right brand or store and heavily discounted.