JC Penney is coming after your money. Hard. The redesign of the floorplan and display style of their stores has made them look much less like a Kohl’s-ian garage sale, and more like a J. Crew / Apple store hybrid. They’ve still got a ways to go, but gone is the cascading merchandise puking itself off overstuffed shelves. Space seemed to be the enemy in the late 90s and early 2000s, with mid to low priced retail trying to shove 5 lbs of sh*t in a 2 lb bag. Now JCPenney’s stuff, and you too, have room to breathe. Even better, that bag is no longer filled with stuff that’s aesthetically excremental.
That new look of both store and product has to do with the direction of Ron Johnson, Mike Fisher, and the oft-talked about Nick Wooster. Read this GQ article for who’s who. Wooster as the Vice President of “Brand, Design and Trend” has already made an impact. As Magic Johnson is to the LA Dodgers ownership group, Wooster is to this new take on JC Penney. He might not be the man pulling all the strings, but his influence is tangible. Proof is below.
jcp Oxford Cloth Button Down – $25.00
Holy hell, it has side pleats. It’s actually trim. It’s a medium leaning lightweight material for oxford cloth, but it’s still oxford and not a thin poplin. Body/chest is good and trim and the sleeves are especially slim fitting at the forearm/wrist. If you’ve got pop-eye forearms it might get a little tight, but overall it’s an unbelievable off the rack fit for twenty five bucks. Reminiscient of a Bonobos Oxford, only this one is twenty five bucks and not made in the U.S. Overall, an A+ on this one.
jcp All Wool Grey Blazer – $100.00
This one is a project, but a worthwhile one for most. It just doesn’t fit in the body like the OCBD does. My 165-170lb frame isn’t completely swimming in the torso of a medium, but it’s got way too much room in there. There’s little to no contour. Definitely a tailor job. There weren’t any small sizes to try on, and it’s worth noting that the drop of the tail was perfect. Sleeve length was a little long. But the price is absolutely right and the fabric is incredible. It’s like a half-weight version of J. Crew’s Moon Mill’s Ludlow blazer. The fabric’s texture is a great mix of soft and tweedy (yeah, that’s possible.) Try sizing down, but if you’re average to tall in height, the jacket might get a little too short. Sleeve buttons are functional, or at least the first (and only?) one is.
jcp Slim Straight Denim in Rinse (not med wash) – $30.00
This is going to start sounding all hyperbolic, but these are astoundingly good for the price. If you don’t have the cash or the patience to wait for a good sale on the new made in the USA L.E.C. denim, and you’re not a Levi’s head who’s dedicated to their 514 slim straights, well then here’s your jeans. The genius of the jcp line is that they’re filling obvious gaps in the men’s style market. Where can you find slim, straight fit, dark wash jeans with little to no branding (even back pocket) that don’t feel cheap yet cost under $30? Nowhere. Until JC Penney started making these. It’s a basic that NO ONE was making for an ultra accessible price point until these guys did the whole “why not?” thing. It’s dumb that these aren’t out there somewhere else. But they did it. Good on em.
jcp Slim Straight Chinos – $30.00
Starting to think that the creators of this line got into a conference room and said: “Forget the what can we do that’s noticeably different… what are the basics that we can provide to the cost conscious but still style aware guy?” Flat front chinos that aren’t too tight or too big or too weird. That’s the magic bullet. These are them. Medium weight cotton. Simple. Zipper is a little crunchy, but they’re thirty bucks. Available in just one odd color, the smurf blue in the upper right.
jcp 95% Cotton / 5% Cashmere V-Neck – $20.00
It’s like the torso division never met with the sleeve division Sleeves are nice and trim like the oxfords but the body of this thing is bulky as all get-out. It’s a no, and something that you cross your fingers and hope that JCPenney’s designers will work on. Fabric feels good. But you have to wonder about the entire “cotton/cashmere” thing. Is that a 100% marketing gimmick? Does it make the fabric feel better? Can they just replace that cashmere with, say, silk and save some cost yet get the strength & slimness in fabric that most guys want? Collar is nice, and price is extremely low.
jcp 2-ply Poplin gingham shirt – $25.00
Fits like the oxford, only with a little more room in the chest (at least on the shirt I tried on). Solid feeling. Great color options. Fit is more than workable. Has backpleats as well. The one drawback: It makes a bit of an audible noise as you move around. That’s the thickness of the cotton that might ease up with wear. Like a Timex Weekender’s “tick”… it’ll bother some but not be noticeable by the vast majority. Bottom line is that GAP/Old Navy is not doing this at this price. That’s key.
jcp long sleeve dress shirt – $25.00
If this would only fit as well as the oxfords and the patterned poplin. No back pleats or pleats of any kind on this one. So it fits a little big in the chest. Collar is also slightly smaller than one who adheres to the tieless-is-okay philosophy would like/ French placket so you could do this with it. Nice seams, well built, very cheap, no chest pocket… but the fit and collar (beef it up) needs a little work. A pass when the ultimate dress shirt from Target is so readily available. Size shown = Medium.
The Bottom Line
Yes there are some issues. But out of the gates, this line is almost scary good. Good enough that Wooster and the rest of the guys at JCPenney just might make their budget conscious (but not style conscious) customers think a little differently about clothes. And more power to em’. Dappered could always use a few more readers.