Ode to the J.Crew Catalog

Ode to the J.Crew Catalog

Volume 9
Volume 9
Story by Alix Browne

                          Tatjana Patitz, Fall 1992 catalog

                           Gail O’Neill in perfect T and baseball cap, Summer 1988 catalog.

Long before drops became a thing, there was the J.Crew catalog, where the clothes and the experience were leisurely by design. There was an entire ritual to reading it. First, flip through the entire catalog back to front. Next, go back and carefully pore over each individual page (this time front to back), dog earring those pages containing anything with must-have potential. (A lot of dog-earring.) Then, go back yet again and review the dog-eared pages, editing down the must-haves. Then there was the process of painstakingly filling out the order form, in ballpoint pen, double, triple checking the page numbers and style numbers, colors and sizes. The final step was to procure a check, put it in an envelope with the order form, and pop it in the mailbox. And wait.

                        Deck sneakers with Courtside socks, Summer 1994 catalog.

If that all seems tediously quaint in the day of frictionless 1-click checkout, when everything is available, anywhere, all at once, con-sider those lines that snake around the block outside of Nike, or Supreme, or Dover Street Market on the day of a drop. The arrival of the J.Crew catalog was our drop day. And the time and effort we put into making our selects was proof not of our susceptibility to hype, but of our devotion. There was something deliberately slow in the clothes themselves, too. All designed to look as though they had been in your closet—your family, even—for generations.

                                Spring 1992 catalog                                   Fall 1996 catalog

Emily Woods (now Emily Scott), who in her twenties was a buyer for J.Crew, eventually took over the design department and then went on to run the company as Chief Executive, took pains to make everything seem old as opposed to shiny and new. That rumpled, weathered and unsubtly unisex look (“so J.Crew”), she said, was largely inspired by her father, Arthur Cinader, who came up with the idea for J.Crew while run-ning his father Mitchell Cinader’s clothing and home furnishing smail order company, Popular Club Plan.


The J.Crew Rollneck (to this day the number one searched item for the brand) was inspired by an old sweater that had been worn so many times that the neck-band* finally gave up the ghost. “My father has great style,” Emily told Forbes. “He wears out his clothes completely—his shirts have fringed necks, his belts are always on their last legs, and his pants are always worn out.”

                                Spring 1991 catalog.


                             Gail O’Neill, Summer 1988 catalog

Emily always said that she was simply making the clothes she herself wanted to wear but just couldn’t find—outside of her dad’s closet anyway. And we all found them in the pages of the J.Crew catalog.

                         Rachel Williams in the classic sweater, Fall 1992 catalog


For more on our hommage to J.Crew, check out So J.Crew and Cast + Crew.