Shopping: J. Crew Zebra Silk Blouse


I’ve recently gotten into silk, particularly silk button-up shirts. They’re easier to layer than a stiff cotton shirt, incredibly warm, and don’t trap your sweat in the way shirts made of synthetic fabrics do. They are a bit fussier to care for, as many claim to be dry  clean only or advise you to dry clean them, instead of tossing them in the wash or gently hand washing them. But, here’s a thing I’ve learned over the years: you can, for the most part, get away with washing silk. Use cold water and avoid the dryer and things should be fine. If you’re really cautious, you can hand wash, using a fancy detergent designed just for silks. I also iron my silk shirts, which might horrify some people. But, really silk isn’t always a delicate fabric. It can take some wear and tear, sometimes.

All this brings me to a recent purchase: the classic silk blouse in zebra print from J.Crew. J.Crew’s silk blouses are a bit different this year from styles the brand has made in the past. The blouses have a wide, wide fit and are really long. I’m in a regular length here and it’s grazing the top of my thighs. The sleeves are rolled up because they are a bit blousy. Not quite puffy shirt from Seinfeld blousy but close enough that I won’t wear them full length.

The zebras up close.
The zebras up close.

J.Crew’s been doing some fun prints in silk this season, too, as evidenced by the kind of strange zebra pattern on this blouse. It looks a bit abstract from a distance, but up close you can clearly see that it’s zebras.

Slightly interesting fit and pattern don’t really make up for the construction of the shirt, though. The silk itself has a strange hand. It’s a bit stiff and crinkly. A peek at the inside seams reveals not carefully concealed French seams, but a serged edge. Dammit. At least the fabric isn’t shiny and at least no one will know about those serged seams, unless I tell them. Which I just did. Hm.

The shirt’s lack of quality comes at time when J.Crew has reported losing millions on its women’s line. I can’t help but think that the store’s apparent dash to the bottom is playing some role in that. The original retail price of the zebra blouse (and similar styles) was $128. I paid slightly more than $50 for it. In the few weeks since it was released and the time I purchased it, the shirt was marked down about 60%. That’s just crazy. It suggests the retailer is marking up prices so much that it can bear to lose that 60% or is taking a big loss on everything it sells (because almost everything makes it to the sale section at some point).

J. Crew, it’ s your job to convince me that it’s worth it to drop more than $100 on a shirt. Don’t price your stuff at a level that only a few people will buy it at (people who have enough money not to care about sales or people who just don’t get how retail works these days). Make better stuff, price it at a point that makes sense, and use more than crazy markdowns to make your clothing look appealing.

Shopping: RIP, dELiA*s

Some things from our youth are etched in our brains forever. Sometimes, these things are the important things, like a first date, the first time behind the wheel or a first period. Some things don’t seem so important at the time, but go on to become a big part of who we are and who we end up being.

One of those seemingly unimportant things for me was finding a tiny ad for dELiA*s in the back of a copy of Seventeen (which, for the record, I wasn’t allowed to read). I called up the number on the ad, asked for a free catalog and waited a few months. Maybe it was weeks. Anyway, the catalog that came (this would have been 1996) kinda completely changed my world.

Before dELiA*s, I had to shop at Sears, which sold okay clothing at modest prices. The main reason we (as in my family) went to Sears was that they  had a program that let parents return kids’ clothing for any reason, at any time. That may have been well and good for my three younger brothers, but by that point, I was no longer wearing kids’ clothing and had to make do in the Juniors’ department. (No shame on Sears, I did get my 9th grade semi-formal dress there, for something like $20). Sears wasn’t where you went with your friends to hang out. It was where your parents took you to get back-to-school basics.

Enter dELiA*s. It was free. It came in the mail. It wasn’t a magazine, like YM or Seventeen, so my parents really couldn’t say no to it. In those early teenage years, when I was looking for some way to fit in, dELiA*s proved to be it.

It helped that the clothes were actually pretty cool. I didn’t know it then, but dELiA*s was actually selling a pretty distinct style. It wasn’t out and out skater clothes, though Vans sneakers and insanely wide leg pants were part of it.  It was a look that we know think of as “mid to late 1990s.” But back then, it was just a way to look good.

Of course the drawback of dELiA*s was that the clothes were a bit pricier than the clothing on offer at Sears (or my other early teenage years favorite, Rave, where I managed to get a pair of silver pleather pants for all of $13. I really have to apologize for those. Also, let’s pause to reflect on the fact that I shopped at a store called Rave, which pretty much specialized in plastic pants and tiny, tiny baby tees.).  My parents weren’t exactly down with the switch. But, that was okay, because by that point in my life, I was beginning to work and earn some money. I had a steady babysitting gig on Wednesday evenings, which paid the impressive rate of $3 per hour, for about four hours at a time. I remember saving up my babysitting money until I had enough to make my first purchase from the catalog.

It was a pair of brown, pinstriped wide-leg trousers. They sat really  high on the waist and although the model in the catalog wore them with a baby blue button up shirt, I went with a polyester knit brown button up. Because I was all about matching in those days. Anyway, it took me four weeks to save up for those pants ($12/week x 4 =$48).

So, the reason I’m blathering on about stuff I bought nearly 20 years ago is that dELiA*s recently announced it was shutting down. Apparently, the changing times and rise of cheap, fast fashion hasn’t been too kind to the company. Its stock was selling at a ridiculously low price, like 11 cents, before the big announcement.

That one of the more popular teen retailers from the 1990s should die just as the styles from that era are coming back seems a bit ironic. But, it makes sense when you think of it. The catalog (and later store) was iconic then, offering creative, quirky looks that no adult would touch and for that reason made me and other teenage girls go nuts. Today, the stuff on offer is, to put it nicely, a bit bland. Take this a look at the pants at dELiA*s today, for example. They’re all just a little bit dullsville, especially when you compare them to these amazing pants (which I totally owned). (There are exceptions: Take a look at these glittery shoes, marked down to $21. They’re man-made and probably won’t last long, but they are kinda awesome. I would get them if I didn’t know any better)

As much as I miss my old dELiA*s clothes, the company’s lost what made it so magical back in the day. It’s not entirely its fault, there’s a lot more competition out there, not just at the mall, but on the web, too. dELiA*s changed with the changing times, but found that all that change wasn’t necessarily for the better.