A Salute to Jenna Lyons, Who’s Leaving J.Crew After 26 Years



Business of Fashion broke the news today that Jenna Lyons is leaving J.Crew after 26 years: “‘Jenna and I got together and we both agreed it was time for a change,’ J.Crew chief executive Millard ‘Mickey’ Drexler told BoF in an exclusive interview. ‘That being said, she’s got plans to do other things. It’s been a great run. There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jenna and me.'” Below, a tribute to the woman who made J.Crew cool.

I legitimately did not know you could wear a ball skirt with a sweater until Jenna Lyons did it at the 2011 Met Ball. It was both revolutionary and obvious, the type of pairing that makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it first. To Jenna, who manipulates clothes like an agile chef crossed with a psychic, it was just another day at the office.

You see a button-down; she sees a wardrobe unfold. Cuff the sleeves, pop the collar, tuck half the hem (the side without buttons) into your pants and suddenly you’re not just the opposite of topless, you are dressed.

You see a cargo jacket; she sees a juxtaposition — a khaki-colored savior of an otherwise too-prim pattern.

You see sequins. So many sequins. A sea of sparkle you’re pretty sure has no life outside of New Year’s Eve and eighth-grade eyelids. Jenna sees a neutral that can be paired with anything.

You say “black tie” and Jenna responds, “denim.”

You panic about a bad hair day. Jenna introduces you to the low bun.

You see ballet flats and almost fall asleep. Jenna pairs ballet flats with gigantic pants and suddenly, they’re new again.

You see a sweatshirt; Jenna sees a multitude of layers: What can this go over, under or tie across?

You ask Jenna that question in italics and she answers, “All of the above.”

You see a shirt that would look better without a bra; you see Jenna in the same shirt and realize she’s not wearing one.

You see a pair of eyeglasses. Jenna sees a cherry-top accessory.

You see cigarette trousers and Jenna sees a uniform, a timeless silhouette, a savior of un-dress-able days.

You see a men’s blazer and Jenna tells you it’s meant for anyone.

What happens after enough rounds of this game is that you start to find your style through Jenna — a business-savvy role model who brought individuality to the mass retailer as a proponent of self-truth and self-expression. You start to realize that not everything has to be as it seems, as it’s shown on model, as it’s shown on a mannequin or online or in the past or “historically.” You start to see turtlenecks and cable knits as solutions.

Suddenly blazers are fair game for all. Cigarette trousers solve problems. Eyeglasses are as fluid as earrings. Bras are optional, layering is mandatory. Shoe height is not dependent on your height, but on refreshing proportions. Dirty hair can no longer dictate whether or not you’re polished. The stress of black tie diminishes, sequins stop being scary, cargo jackets save outfits and a button-down shirt becomes a shape-shifting, game-changing styling opportunity.

The student has become the master…but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss the teacher any less.

Remember that time Leandra and Amelia tried the J.Crew Model Diet?

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  • Samantha Lee

    Love love love your commentary on what we see vs. what she sees. Genius. Man Repeller is always spot on, which is why y’all are one of my very favorite sites!


  • Rebekah

    WHAT. I’m going wherever she leads.

    but WHAT.

  • kjrobot

    They clearly stopped taking her directions a few seasons ago. J crew has gone back to boring, badly fitted clothes. Apparently because that’s what middle america wants and their profits weren’t amazing under her direction. She went too high-end, they’ve now gone too low. J crew is so bad atm.

    • Eva Skewes

      But even the “boring” clothes are all over the place in terms of quality. It’s really troublesome when wardrobe staples can’t be depended on. JCrew’s quality control standards are especially bizarre when I’ve never had a problem with anything I’ve gotten from Madewell. Madewell certainly nails its aesthetic, but it also delivers on its name.

      • kjrobot

        I agree. And madewell is doing what so many brands are not doing which is having an overall style or aesthetic. It’s pretty safe and bland, but it does have a look and still have basics. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t shop there. I know plenty who have stopped buying j crew. I wonder how their sales and growth is comparatively to J crew. Gap (under Drexler) did the same thing. Everyone talked about him like he’s a wunderkind but gap both rose and then fell under him. J crew is doing the same.

        • grace

          my thoughts on drexler exactly.

          it’s an unfortunate byproduct of our short-sighted brand of capitalism. jumping for growth quarter after quarter in to heed shareholders’ demands, publicly traded companies are forced to cut costs to keep up with wall street expectations. they chip away at quality in favor of quarterly profit margins, killing the brand in the long term. it’s sad!

      • Kattigans

        So true! Madewell is dependable, J.Crew is not. Madewell can really miss the mark sometimes, but the majority of their stuff is on the mark with fit, cut and material. I can go in there, buy some stuff that looks safe but can be personalized, and know that I’ll leave happy. J.Crew on the other hand is a dressing room of misery. I went in today to get new white jeans and every single pair I tried was awful! Same thing with Gap too. All awful fits and cuts. It was like who the hell are these pants for? And the denim was all see through! Urrgh it makes me so upset because my mom would buy me J.Crew pieces in high school and I used to drool over the catalogue. Everything she got me I would wear to death and it lasted and lasted. Makes me really sad that staple American brands are just falling apart.

        • Kattigans

          One thing though, is that J.Crew men’s clothing is so much better quality than the women’s. It’s definitely gone downhill in its quality control, but not as bad as the women’s line. Anyone know why that is?

    • THIS! I wore almost all JCrew in my early 20’s until I actually learned what a good fit was. They need to go back to basics. I can’t stand the boxy cuts, they feel cheap and unattractive. Give me tops that actually fit a woman’s shape, and skirts that do more than go straight down. The clothes would be much better if it weren’t for the dowdy nature in which their sewn. Also think they’re cutting corners on quality – it shows. None of these things have to do with Jenna’s taste, which was always excellent and brought me back to the brand. I think she’ll be onto much better things either way!


  • Melissa

    Still in shock. Need to know what she’s up to asap.

  • Katy

    I’m so bummed about this! She is such a genius. And though J. Crew has had it’s ups and downs I’ve loved what they’ve been doing recently for the most part. One bright side is that this article is a flawlessly written tribute.

  • me

    [Begin Rant]
    JCrew quality has plummeted over the past several years.

    I wore some wool sweaters and silk skirts that I purchased in the late 90s for more than 10 years–they wore like iron. In contrast, I recently had to get rid of badly pilled merino sweaters after one season due to poor quality of the fabric.

    Also, the wildly inconsistent sizing that cropped up in the last few years made online shopping a constant guessing game of Russian roulette.

    If quality is mediocre and prices continue to rise, there’s no hope for JC …. with or without Jenna. [End rant]

    Separately: Jenna’s smarts as a stylist were unparalleled. Thanks for highlighting her memorable highpoints ! JC definitely wont have the same cool factor without her ….

    • Adrianna

      I still wear clothing I purchased from a J Crew outlet mall in 2004. The items are in perfect condition. Comparatively, the same location is full of polyester now.

      • Senka

        I think it’s not just the case with J Crew, but many of the companies. Pricing however rarely follows the drop in quality.

        • Adrianna

          I agree 100%. My European mother loves labels like Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and Lacoste, so she jumped at the chance to own those labels when we moved near an outlet mall. The Lacoste merino wool sweaters would have giant holes in them just after one or two uses.

          • Senka

            Quality just doesn’t hold, it’s true, and the fabrics are getting a bit worse with each season. It get’s a bit frustrating to see a blouse in the shop wndow, with a hefty price tag only to discover it’s a polyester blend.

          • Adrianna

            I worked at INA NYC, a high end consignment shop in New York City that sells Hermes bags and vintage Chanel. I had to examine the pieces closely and was shocked that the majority was polyester. A Dolce & Gabbana dress that looked like silk was in fact 100% polyester. The oddest and most synthetic fabrics were pieces from The Row.

          • Senka

            That makes it a bit easier for me, not being able to afford D&G. Love their design though. And The Row? So disappointing, because their stuff looks luxurious.

    • Anne Dyer

      Yes! Oh my mock neck zip up winter white not quite a sweatshirt piece I bought and wore for 10 years was my best friend. I recently ordered a truck load of tees and they look terrible after just a few washes. I wonder – who is the new J Crew? Is there a brand doing basics as well as they did?

  • I found this out during my shift at Madewell and all my managers were in shock 🙁 I’ll miss her but I’m glad she’s on to other things!!

  • Grace

    People are understandably shocked/sad about this announcement but to be honest, I think it’s about time. I’m excited to see what she does next.

    • kjrobot

      I keep agreeing with you!
      I want her to do a line called “Lioness” because I’m cheesy. In any case she needs to do her own thing, she has one hell of a following.

  • shoppingcelle

    Great article that sums up so many of my feelings exactly. Absolutely crushed!

  • tmm16

    I love her and can’t wait to see what she does next. She’s been an inspiration for me as a young woman gearing towards a career in fashion. She’ll be missed, but on to bigger and better things!

  • bicoast

    She is so my spirit animal!

  • Vana

    Great article! It tickled me and took me down memory lane about how effortless and innovative Jenna’s style is. Wishing her all the best. Also I’ve stopped being sad to see people “go”. When it’s time it’s time, she’s done amazing work and I’m sure wherever she’s headed her dopeness will follow.

  • Kimberley Boehm

    Sorry to hear this news, but I hope she’s off to someplace where her talent will be better appreciated. I’m wearing a ’90s white JC suit in my avatar (I was off to vote and I needed a suit). I agree that the quality has waxed and waned of late, but it’s the same elsewhere.

  • ALEX

    really well said.

  • Pamela

    I’m excited for her next move! I love madwell more than I do jcrew these days and after 26 years, she NEEDS change! bravo to her

  • I love her! I’m so sad she’s leaving J. Crew. She made them relevant again for sure, is a definite style icon, and is the sole reason why I’ve shopped there in the past few years. I can imagine that she needs to do something else after so long, but she will be missed.

  • emmsy

    I used to work for J. Crew for 4 years and I can’t remember anything that wasn’t inspired by Jenna Lyons. Thank you for this post! It really made me smile and brought back memories of wanting to be her everyday (still do)! I don’t think I’ve been in a company where every co-worker, man or woman, admired their boss so much. Wherever she goes, I think I’ll always love her!!

  • this is poetry and jenna is the best muse i could ever think of


  • Clave

    Beautiful! Love this tribute to her and can’t wait to see what she does next. x

  • I admire her style and her intelligence so much. I’m pretty sure that she will shine in whatever field or path that she chooses.

  • Tess

    I have so much love and respect for Jenna, I really hope her decision to leave was in fact hers, and not simply JC giving her getting the boot. She’s so intelligent and talented, I’m sure whatever is next in store for her will be incredible. Looking forward to it!

  • diane

    I really admire her and what she did for quality- and design-driven affordable fashion. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with on her own volition. And I am so glad to hear I am not the only one confounded by JC’s sizing. I own the very same pair of pointy ballet flats in 3 different sizes, all bought in the same season, so I now only purchase their stuff in a B&M store if at all.

  • jil

    Can not believe how perfect her style sense is – I love every one of the outfits in these photos. She seems like a fascinating person, would love to know more about her story.

  • Senka

    To me Jenna Lyons is the true American style icon. When I think of a trully stylish American I don’t think of a super made up celebrity or an actress, but her. She single handedly changed my perception of American female folk, but not by attempting to look like french or british, but creating a style that is very much her own, very much personal and intelligent, not too focused on trends, and also very beautiful. I dare say, she is the sole reason I keep trying to incorporate some more color into my usually monochrome wardrobe, because she wears and styles colors like no other. I can’t wait to see what she doesn next.

  • Julia Fuller

    THANKYOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! Loved this. We mourn and celebrate together, can’t wait to see where she goes. Great minutes with both of you!

  • Ché Hot Chocolate

    I aspire to her level of cool.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    In order to keep prices reasonable, companies cut quality. I’d rather pay more and have a quality piece that I can wear for years. There are no sizing standards in rtw. I sew, so I make many of my clothes, which means they fit, and they last forever. I buy quality fabric, because it’s not worth wasting my time sewing with junky fabric. I try to stay away from cheap-looking synthetic fabric.