“You look like you just walked out of a J. Crew catalogue!”

I often overhear this phrase flung about, usually toward someone dressed in a explosion of pastels or a mélange of heather-tinted animals, vegetables, and condiments— Heather Grape, Heather Mink, and Heather Golden Mustard are real colors inside the strange land that is a J. Crew catalogue, and all appeared on single page in the most recent men’s collection. Seriously. And I can’t even begin with the “colors” in the women’s collection. 

Yes, in recent years J. Crew has certainly made a concerted attempt to at least appear more “urban” and “edgy” by incorporating moodier hues like slate and (Heather) charcoal, shooting the catalogue in dreary alleyways in Tokyo, and selling pants that actually fit human beings. 

But I can’t help but thinking the two young women I recently observed in a perverse game of J. Crew Compliment One-Upmanship were referencing the catalogues of yore when J. Crew was simply Brooks Brothers for Democrats without a trust fund. Or perhaps they though a recent edition had been shot at the bright and cheery Morse Lobster Shack in Harpswell, in which the J. Crew classics like Sun-Faded Ornament Orange Chinos and Sheer Mint Oxford Shirts were out in all their unbridled preppiness. 

So just what is this nauseating competition of catalogue one-upmanship I speak of? You’ve heard it of course, and might have even been a guilty participant. It goes something like this:

“Oh my god! You should totally be in a J.Crew catalogue!” shrieks the first young lady to her friend.The friend replies, “Shut up! You literally just walked off a J. Crew photo shoot!” Quick, someone call Jenna Lyons! 

Let me be clear. It is acceptable to look like you have walked off the set of a photoshoot for a J. Crew catalogue in a select few special circumstances:
1) You are a model who has just walked off the set of a J. Crew shoot. 
2) Never. 

Perhaps this seems a bit harsh, but I have a point. I have nothing against J. Crew and will readily admit that my closet has more than its fair share of Dusty Coral shorts and Heather Pacific sweaters. As I write this I am in fact wearing a Secret Wash Oxford shirt in a color called, I kid you not, Elegant Turquoise. But, perhaps reacting to the fact that I spent the best part of my teen years in deeply obnoxious gingham shirts and madras shorts, I try to limit myself to one heinously preppy item per day. For a long time I thought that the only way to look good and dress well was to wear preppy pieces in happy colors. But it isn’t the only way to look fabulous, and it really isn’t me. 

There is nothing wrong with choosing a preppy look. But if you look like you walked off the pages of a catalogue that claims to have invented the trench coat, then you’re probably not being terribly creative. Mix things up. Remember, J. Crew should work for you, you do not work for J. Crew (or any brand for that matter). 

One of my style icons at Bowdoin wears Sperry Top-Siders (shock!), which, of course, is a decidedly preppy item. But she wears her black Sperrys with such decidedly un-preppy clothes and such a devil-may-care flair that it makes them into something totally different than shoes that appear on the feet of the chiseled blonde (probably Swedish) family sailing off Cape Cod in that brand’s catalogue. It is unexpected and interesting in a way that wearing Sun-Faded Copper Clay Chinos with an Aubergine Check Oxford shirt can never be. Be unexpected. 

Or at least admit that the J. Crew color names are absolutely absurd.