This is the first feature in an ongoing series that will examine local alternatives to specific retail giants. Think of it as a sort of Pandora station for shopping; insert a big name store and we’ll provide some indie options. Whether these suggestions get a “thumbs up or thumbs down” is up to you, dear consumers. Get a’shopping and let us know your reviews!
First Up: J.Crew
Founded in 1983, J.Crew originated as a catalogue-only company (remember those?) and didn’t actually open its first retail space until six years later in Manhattan. As it has grown steadily over the years, the brand has become synonymous with preppy chic, offering more affordable items in the same relaxed Americana style propagated by higher-end labels like Ralph Lauren. Able to attract multiple age groups—featured in the current ad campaign: 67 year-old model-turned-GILF Lauren Hutton with a young child on her lap, both outfitted in J.Crew—the brand has built a reputation on providing consumers with practical yet modern clothing for every occasion, workplace, and weekend activity.
Since Barack Obama became president in early 2009, the brand has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the first lady’s penchant for the brand’s signature separates; specifically bold colored cardigans and pencil skirts, preferably belted at the waist and paired with kitten heels. Mrs. Obama has boosted the company’s sales so much that many of the items she has worn have sold out in hours online, leading the New York Daily News to dub her “the best thing that ever happened to J.Crew."
Who wants to argue with Mrs. O? If you’ve seen the woman in any of her J.Crew ensembles, it is clear that she knows what’s up when it comes to looking confident and composed. Even before FLOTUS’ winning endorsements, the masses flocked to J.Crew because of their practical, classic aesthetic, dependable selection, and killer sale rack. It is a “one-stop shop” kind of store where you could literally buy an entire outfit head to toe in a single visit if you wanted.
For someone who seeks the benefits of shopping at J.Crew with a touch of Portland charm, look no further than these local retailers.
Pin Me Apparel ***CLOSED***
Sure, J.Crew loves sensible earth tones, but many of the items are available in a rainbow of colors and patterns in addition to khaki and olive—pretty sure we even saw a leopard print scarf (gasp!) near the downstairs register. Pin Me Apparel, found on a corner of prime real estate on N Mississippi Avenue, provides a selection of dresses, skirts, and oh yeah that’s right, rompers, in multiple colors and patterns akin to the selection you know and love at J.Crew. Whether you desire a frock featuring bold, geometric shapes or one that is covered with intricate, multicolored needlework, Pin Me has plenty of options. Also spotted: an adorable seersucker—a classic J.Crew pattern—skirt with gold snaps down the center. Be afraid, retail giant. Be very afraid.
More J.Crew-esque choices at Pin Me: denim shorts, basic black dresses and skirts, hats, and a selection of jewelry that is entirely from locally based brands.
When you’re done shopping, head next door to Ruby Jewel Scoops for a treat.
Pin Me Apparel, 3705 N. Mississippi Avenue, 503.281.1572
If you’re more likely to take a trip to the Crew in search of basic layering items—think long tanks and cardigans—that are ideal for any season, then SW boutique Covet is the shop for you. Don’t let the fact that you could probably squeeze five Covets into the two-level space inhabited by J.Crew in Pioneer Place Mall deter you; the shop is full of easy-to-layer separates and comfortable dresses that can be piled on in winter or worn alone in summer. A collared shirt dress with a tie belt by local line Idom Designs is the perfect “day to night” choice on a workday in any weather; wear it with flats to the office and change into heels and add bold earrings after 5 p.m. The same dress will work in the winter with tights, boots, and a cardigan sweater. Something tells me Mrs. Obama would approve of such versatility.
More J.Crew-esque choices at Covet: solid colored dresses, jewelry that incorporates both urban and beachy vibes, lightweight scarves to accompany you on cool summer night strolls along the waterfront
Covet, 429 SW 10th Avenue, 503.222.6838
abrahams & duffy
Ladies know that J.Crew is always a reliable source for a fête frock. Even if you wait until the last minute, chances are you’ll be able to breeze through the store and come out with a dress that will not only fit the bill for the occasion at hand but can also be re-worn many times in different incarnations. We see abrahams & duffy, a newbie women’s boutique on NE Alberta, developing a reputation as a shop that can be counted on to deliver. The shop is sparse in decor, letting the racks of garments lining the perimeter do the talking. Although dresses and skirts dominate said racks (not a problem), check out the short-sleeved plaid button-ups by local brand Bridge & Burn. A classic J.Crew staple with a PacNW signature print, win!
More J.Crew-esque choices at abrahams & duffy: navy & white striped tops, solid colored cardigans, knee-length skirts with pockets (!)
abrahams & duffy, 2215 NE Alberta Street, 503.505.7074
If you turn to J.Crew for great-fitting looks for special occasions (J.Crew Wedding, anyone?), but desire even better quality and an individuality unachievable from mass-produced garments, consider a custom-made ensemble from Portland designer Adam Arnold. Inside his SE studio and showroom, Arnold creates items for men and women that are guaranteed to garner compliments on every outing. Uninspired by trends, Arnold’s designs are quirky and cool, extremely high quality, and totally lust-worthy. To get started, visit the designer's website to see past collections, see something you like, and make an appointment to discuss with the designer himself. Each garment is a unique creation made exactly to your specifications. Try and get that from a catalogue!
J.Crew-esque details in Arnold’s designs: bold colors, patterned ties for men, shorts, party dresses
Adam Arnold, 338 SE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., 503.234.1376
When you’ve spent your formative shopping years with a mall as your predominate retail destination, you come to expect a certain amount of variety and affordability, thus the appeal of J.Crew and the like. However, don’t let lack of awareness keep you tied to the big guys. Now that you have some comparable local options, see what sort of unique spin you can put on the classic J.Crew style.
Up next in the series: Anthropologie. Are you seeking local options for other big-box retailers? Sound off in the comment section.