Simply put, the ambitions of a marketing department do not a preppy store make.
The DNA of preppiness is forged through the crucible of authenticity. Specifically, companies go through rapid feedback cycles around successes or failures in authentic environments. For example:
- L.L. Bean’s focus used to be on outfitting outdoorsmen (sports). When customers came out of the woods and back to Leon Leonwood Bean with common complaints about their gear, improvements were made quickly based on function.
- Lillys, back in the day, were designed by a young Palm Beach matron for young Palm Beach matrons.
- J.Press’ survival depended on their Ivy League clientele (thus their flagship store was, and still is, in New Haven).
- Leather Man Ltd.’s headquarters remains in Essex, Connecticut, one the sailing capitols of the world.
- Patagonia is staffed by outdoor enthusiasts who test their own products (the company famously lets these employees off when the surf is up, and is fiercely committed to the environment).
- There is Barbour (see entry).
- Paul Sperry needed to not slip on the deck of his boat.
- Even Lands’ End was born out of the need to outfit sailors.
- Meanwhile Ralph Lauren, perhaps the exception here, is simply more competent, consistent and visionary than his competitors. This is especially appreciated given how few decent offerings there are for women.
Thimble Island house, a few months before used in the J. Crew shoot.
In fact, whenever a company lets a marketing department call the shots based on demographic research and short-term whims of the fashion industry, you end up with “collections” like LL Bean Signature.
At best, J. Crew is "Preppy lite". At worst, it is to preppy what Pepperidge Farm is to a real farm. J. Crew is far more committed to trendiness than preppiness. Anyone can make a pair of khakis or a white polo shirt for a season or two. But those items are more often filler than loved.
See also Preppy Clothes: Loved New and Old