Years ago I went to an outlet mall outside of Baltimore and saw a J. Crew store. This was exciting news for me at the time since i was in high school and working at a minimum wage job part time and didn’t have the money to be buying seventy dollar button ups. I have been in several J Crew stores including the flag ship one in New York so I was familiar with the layout and the design of their stores look. When I first walked into the store I quickly realized a difference in the look and the setup of the merchandise.
This article is not about the design or setup of the store though. It’s about the clothes and the quality. I was excited to get right into trying on shirts, pants, maybe a pair of shoes so I ran over to the men’s side of the store and started browsing through the button ups. I saw a rack of sweaters as well and ran over to look through them. I found this amazing grey cashmere/wool blend V-neck sweater and had to have it. I found my size and without thinking of looking at the price, because I am in an outlet store, put it aside to purchase once I was done looking around. I grabbed two button-ups and debated on a sports jacket but put that back. At the counter the lady let me use a 20 percent off coupon, which I was happy about, then the cashier gave me the total. I was blown away when she told me the price was well over two hundred dollars.
I wasn’t willing to part with any of the items so i just purchased them, a bit mad at myself for spending this amount at an outlet store instead of the flag store. When I get home and put the clothes away, I hang the shirts up and fold the sweater and add it to the pile in my closet. For no reason other then pure curiosity I pull the sweater out again and pull out an older one. Immediately I can feel the difference in the material. Compared to the one bought at the flag store it felt rough and the cut was different. I thought the material must be different so I looked at the tags to compare fabrics. They were listed as the same fabric, same care, but made in different locations. I didn’t think this could be the reason but I went to the internet to look it up, to see if there was a comparison somewhere on the difference’s in fabrics in different factories.
What I discovered outraged me, this sweater, and the two shirts I bought were not overstocked or last season merchandise, they were made of lesser quality to be sold directly to their outlet store. I felt so ripped off. I saved a total, with the coupon, maybe twenty five dollars. I felt betrayed by this company that I had grown to love, a brand that I tried to embody. I pulled out the shirts and started inspecting them, looking for some difference in the shirts. The stitching was different, the fabric was different, the overall quality felt somehow cheaper. I don’t know if that was just a mental thing after finding out they were made of lesser quality or if they really felt of lesser quality. I wanted to return them but I was in love with the sweater. I had been searching for a grey V-neck sweater for sometime. I vowed never to shop at an outlet store again.
The shirts lasted maybe a year before the buttons started becoming loose, the fabric started to thin. I have flag store shirts twice as old and are still holding up. The sweater held up a bit longer. I wore it out properly. What I learned from this betrayal is what I had heard my parents tell me for years, you get what you pay for. I tried to boycott the brand for a bit but J Crew is my style, from the shoes to the coats, the cuts and the collaborations with brands like Nike.
I am no longer bitter about it, but I still won’t step in an outlet store. This experience ruined all outlet shopping for me. When I hear friends or even strangers talk about how much they saved or how cheap it is, I think back to this moment and remember “You get what you pay for.”