On Jenna Lyons and Growing Up With J.Crew

I suppose, in many ways, I’m a sign of the times. Emblematic of the issue at hand. Look, I know that sounds highly narcissistic, but hear me out, here.

If you haven’t heard the news, Jenna Lyons is out at J.Crew. Yes, the same Jenna Lyons I featured just last week, the same Jenna Lyons whose treatment of leopard as a neutral serves as constant inspiration for this very blog. Allegedly, the decision was “mutual” between Jenna and CEO Mickey Drexler. She’ll say on as creative consultant or some other until her contract ends at the end of the year.

Anyway, there’s a reason I’m being super vain about this and claiming to be the voice of a J.Crew generation, I promise. I was at a prime “finding your style” age when Jenna Lyons took the J.Crew reigns, around 2008/2009. For a long time, her personal style was my personal style. I’d often think to myself while getting dressed, “What would Jenna wear?” In fact, I still have a #jcrewtruths postcard pinned up at my desk that says “There is always more closet space.”

That’s one of the biggest things I miss, actually…the lifestyle aspects of J.Crew, like the dedicated beauty section of the website, Jenna’s picks in the style guides, etc etc etc. And that’s really what the brand was doing at its peak: selling a lifestyle, embodied perfectly by Jenna Lyons. In fact, I’ve had this image of Jenna’s life lessons pinned to my desktop for god knows how long. Notice that those aren’t just her rules of style, because in 2014, Jenna and J.Crew weren’t confined to style and fashion alone. Unlike its competitors, J.Crew managed to transcend “mall brand” and became something much more.

But retail is changing, and quickly. We’ve already seen brands like BCBG and The Limited take the hit, partially because they can’t keep up with fast fashion retailers like Zara. J.Crew isn’t fast fashion, but it was never really high fashion, either. Jenna’s ethos spoke to a very specific moment in American fashion….but fashion ethos never stay for long.

I’ve seen it in my own wardrobe, because I am, of course, influenced by changing tides and trends. At one point in college, one of my favorite outfits consisted of a chambray top + a leopard Tippi sweater + a Schoolboy blazer + multiple oversize necklaces. Now, I’m much, much more likely to favor leggings, a black t-shirt, black leather jacket and one or two dainty necklaces. That’ll probably change, too, because fashion always does.

So, for me, Jenna’s departure from J.Crew is sort of the final sign that I’ve grown up and away from the brand, and more into my own person. I don’t need fashion, and one brand, to be quite so prescriptive anymore. At one point, nearly my entire closet consisted of J.Crew pieces. Now, I’m much more in favor of mixing it up — a little Topshop here, a little Madewell there (which, yes, is J.Crew’s cooler, currently-more-successful little sister brand).

But I, like millions of American women, owe a lot to Jenna. She taught me just how personal style could be. She helped me get dressed for 5+ years… literally, though, since I worked at a J.Crew store in college. And I still deeply, deeply admire her, of course. I can’t wait to see what her next move will be. But I don’t want my whole life to look just like hers, anymore. I want to live like me… deeply, personally, unabashedly me, much like Jenna is deeply, personally, unabashedly herself. And for that, she’ll always be a rockstar.

Embrace the end of “the Jenna era” with some of my favorite J.Crew pieces, below — including, of course, a little leopard:

Image: The Cut

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