J. Crew has been in the news a fair amount lately, and not for great reasons. Like many other mid-market retailers, J Crew has felt the sting of declining sales and an increasingly uninterested customer base. It felt like the company could do no wrong six or seven years ago, but not much has gone right for them in recent seasons. Their prices are getting high, but their products can’t compete with luxury goods; their sales are deep, but still not as cheap as fast fashion stores. It’s a tough time to be in the middle, and J. Crew hasn’t made it easy on themselves.
And of course, I’ve had my own problems with the brand – most notably, their resistance to get with the times and stop with the skinny everything. I’ve been complaining loudly about their skinny lapels and collars since 2013, as it felt dated even back then. The Ludlow line of tailored clothing seemed to suffer from this in particular – the company’s flagship suit and jacket pattern had the makings of a great entry-level suit, but was stubbornly stuck with meager lapels that made them hard to get excited about. I bought my first and last Ludlow jacket in 2011.
In the time since then the company has released new versions of their suiting that inched closer to resolving this, but the overall aesthetic has continued to stand firmly in the “2010 preppy hipster” style that helped them become a popular menswear retailer almost 10 years ago. J. Crew is still my go-to for chinos and the occasional piece of outerwear, but I’d stopped looking at their tailored clothing years ago.
Suddenly, though, the game has changed. J. Crew just released a new Ludlow jacket with a 3.5″ lapel (here are the matching pants, and here’s a slate blue jacket with pants), a full inch larger than what the classic Ludlow sports. J. Crew calls these “wide lapel” jackets, but I think a better term would be “perfectly normal, just not scrawny” (nothing wrong with being a little wider than everyone else, amirite?). Semantics aside, I think this is a huge step in the right direction, so I went to check out the new jackets in person.
Aside from the updated lapels, it’s pretty much the same Ludlow we’ve all become familiar with – moderately padded shoulder, classically-positioned button stance, Italian fabrics, nipped waist and trim chest, etc. I take a 36R in this and in Suitsupply, so take that into account when checking out the size of the lapel, as it will appear bigger here than on a larger size jacket. Although it’s a relatively small change, I think it’s huge in terms of wearability – this is now a jacket I could wear without feeling like I was trying to be cool in 2010.The lapel notch sits right on the collarbone, and the lapel is wide enough to have a bit of a roll. The proportions are much more classic and mature. This is a jacket that you could wear in a professional setting and look the part. It’s exciting to see J. Crew dip their toes into being a more viable alternative to competitors like Suitsupply and Brooks Brothers, who have been much more popular mid-market places to get tailored clothing.
Speaking of Suitsupply (my favorite place for an entry level suit), how does this stack up as an alternative? Well, the jacket is currently $425 and with pants it’s $650. Most Suitsupply jackets are $400-500 with full suits running $400-700ish (and they have much more than two options, of course). So Suitsupply has a slight edge on price and a big edge in style options, but also consider this:
- The Ludlow has non-functioning sleeve buttons, making sleeve alterations not terrible.
- With J. Crew you can buy jacket and pants separately, which gives more size configurations.
- J. Crew stores are more common, making in-person try-ons easier.
- The lower button stance will be flattering on more body shapes.
- J. Crew has constant sales, meaning it’s only a matter of time until these are 30%+ off.
At the time of writing, Suitsupply has a huge leg up in terms of available SKUs, but it will be interesting to see if this changes. Will this be the Ludlow of the future, the pattern for all jackets in a season? Will shirt collars and ties grow to match? Or will these wither away in next season’s sale section, never to be seen again? It’s far too early to say, but I’m excited to see this ray of good news from a company that’s had a couple of rough years. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of what’s to come.