'Cause Tonight We're Gonna Dress up Like it's 1999

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's no secret that the brands I relied on heavily during those prep-heavy, khaki-wearing, collegiate years – J.Crew, Gap, Banana Republic – have had their ups and (lots of) downs ever since. But like all things in fashion, they seem to be coming back – and even appealing to those of us who moved on long ago.

And they all seem to have gotten the same memo for spring: lots of bright solids, freshly-scrubbed skin and tons of layering, particularly of "clashing" colors and prints. Luckily, it's pretty appealing mix – I find myself (for the first time in years) being drawn into their stores. I haven't shelled out any of my hard-earned dollars yet, but I'm definitely taking some notes. Let's review our options, shall we?

First, we have the Gap. They haven't seemed to quite sync their store and online offerings – right now, the store experience is way more appealing than the website. (They seem to be working on it though, complete with tips from new creative director Patrick Robinson and a pretty decent Spring lookbook, where I snagged the image above.)

My favorite part of the Gap these past few years has been their boys section – the pieces are cheaper, cuter, and have a great shrunken fit that works well for layering (like this rugby-striped polo shirt and purple gingham button-down). Throw in hot pink jackets and bold patterned scarves from the women's side and you've got yourself a pretty solid preppy-fun look.

Final verdict: We do like that the quality at the Gap is higher than fast-fashion brands like H&M and Forever 21 (of course, the prices are higher too, but we don't mind paying a premium to ensure our new clothes won't disintegrate as soon as they hit the washing machine). They seem to be on the right path; we look forward to some continued improvements.

Okay, moving on: J. Crew! The prices seem to have really skyrocketed (our perhaps our minds don't move quite as fast as inflation?), but the items are getting quite good and the styling – in the stores, catalogue and online – is quite fun. See for yourself.

Also, I really want these Martine satin heels, in regal purple. And maybe also bright green.

Their boys selection is also pretty cute. I like the idea of pairing one of these little sweaters with flouncy circle skirt on chilly spring days.

Also, Nantucket bracelets! I had one of these permanently attached to my wrist circa age 14. I love the idea of piling them on like bangles now. And! Only $5 each.

Final verdict: Kind of prohibitively pricey, but also the best take on modified preppy and definitely a source of lots of good eye candy. Still, once the brights thing gets old, what are they going to do to keep our attention?

And, finally! Banana Republic! Sadly, their website reads more like a big bland mess of office-appropriate neutrals. (Their store, which we visited last week, is a lot more appealing – we're still thinking about a chunky cropped cardigan sweater in bold Kelly green that was hanging out on the sale rack.) Still, there are some good things, like this dress:

{They've also got it layered over a crisp button-down on the website, which is pretty cute.}

We also were intrigued by their socks. Cute socks!{They've got more in store, especially in the men's section.} I could see these peeking out under chunky leather heeled sandals for a creative twist on early spring dressing.

Like J. Crew, Banana Republic seems to be working hard on growing their jewelry selection. Both brands have some colorful, affordable pieces. This three-stone bangle, $34, is my favorite. (The colorful striped enamel bangle is nice too.)

Final verdict: Well, perhaps we're not the ideal Banana customer – for starters, we don't dress to go to an office every day – 'cause we find most of it a bit too staid and conservative for us, particularly the website offerings. Still, baby steps.

Of course, it's not all fun and games and punchy-hued finds out there. We like where things are going, but we're not so into some of the ideas these brands refuse to let go. We offer as an example this image from the Banana website:

Please, ladies, if you must wear khaki pants, please do not match them with a khaki trench coat. Repeat after me: Too much khaki is just not cute.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE the idea of wearing boys shirts/sweaters... but it has never worked for me! Something about having boobs makes them wayyyyy too tight under the arms and the neckline is always too high. *sigh* I'm jealous of the girls who can pull it off!

orange you lucky! said...

I agree with you ladies! Big boobs and boy shirts don't go and too much khaki is yuky.
Banana has got a great petit section and their dresses are great (unlike most of their pants).

Elizabeth said...

"Too much khaki is just not cute."


I read somewhere that J.Crew is purposefully raising their prices, and changing their design strategy toward the "J.Crew Collection," theoretically to create the impression that the entire profile of the line will be raised as a result.

One can never be sure, though. The prices are pretty ridiculous for some things. They do have some great looks, though.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I thought it was just me but I vaguely remember the prices at J Crew being a lot cheaper when I was in college (and it wasn't THAT long ago!). But I think their clothes are a little more stylish now. Did you see their new flats? Love the spring floral colors.

Ms. Spinach said...

Perfect! My anti-khaki crusade continues. I'm convinced the cotton union is behind some sort of campaign to brainwash us all into thinking khakis are universally attractive. (Even that ultra-thin professional model seems to have some unfortunate creasing!)

I also read something about how J. Crew's price jump is part of a campaign to rebrand the company and make it higher-end, but I think those kind of strategies backfire more often than not. I've got an long-ingrained idea in my mind about what J. Crew should offer and how much I should pay for it -- once the price starts creeping up there, I start thinking "Wow, that's expensive. Shouldn't I just go buy something from an indie designer like Phillip Lim instead?"

Of course, I'm a big fan of Phillip Lim, so maybe it's a personal preference. Perhaps some people feel just as passionately about J. Crew...

meliindaa. said...

I saw the new j-crew clothes on their website and peronally approved of them right away! It's sophisticated, and the clothes remind me of sunshine.

I miss the sun

Anonymous said...

As someone who has worked with J Crew as a vendor, I think their prices are extremely high, considering their markup. They also have a poor credit rating in the industry, and as such they don't order in large quantities, must pay higher costs for their items and sometimes must pay up front.

Dianna said...

i love your idea of getting things from the boys side from gap. never thought of it. i've always been so unhappy with the way that everything from the gap fits, badly w/ stiff fabrics. but, i am 100% back on the j. crew bandwagon. the prices are a lot higher than i remembered too, but the quality seems to be right in line with the price w/ attention to details & nice fabrics. still not excited about anything at banana, but maybe come spring. i agree that there is too much khaki & blandness. nice post!

Anonymous said...

what would you wear those satin shoes with? i love the bright blue but can't imagine anything that i could pair it with and pull it off

Stacy said...

I love J.Crew. And though their prices have raised a lot - if you can wait it out, everything goes on sale and you can always find it in your size.

I have a hard time with the gap. Their prices have gone up as well but I don't feel the the quality of their clothing validates the price raise.

i.rene said...

i like the jcrew boys sweater with the elbow patches. kids clothing sizing can be restricting though and too short.

out of the 3 stores, jcrew still gets most of my money. though their prices have gone up, their sales can be quite tempting.

K.Line said...

You know, I've got 4 or 5 pieces of jewelry (rings, necklace, earrings) from BR and I am constantly approached about them. I'm kind of embarrassed to tell people where I got them, at the risk of seeming like my tastes are completely mass-produced. But I've never met anyone else who's bought baubles there and the stuff I've bought has lasted years - and continues to garner rave reviews.

Elizabeth said...

I never liked khaki on me, though I tried and tried to make it work. I'm just not a khaki girl.

I learned a lot about J.Crew on this comments page.

Your blog is cool, I'm glad I've been visiting.

Anonymous said...

Love this post! Since 8th grade (when everything I wore - pastel plaids in particular - was from the GAP), the GAP seems to have its ups and downs for sure. They do have some cute prints right now that I can't resist; thanks for pointing out that it's a return to middle school!

As for J. Crew, they're my "steady" right now because the clothes often just fit. so. well. They used to have fabulous finds on sale in the stores but not so much anymore... I do definitely feel like I'm paying more, in exchange for getting some much more beautifully-styled catalogs and way more progressive graphic/prints.

P.S. If not boy shirts, I have found that boy sneakers are often a great deal and fit perfectly!

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