In May, J.Crew opened their first stand alone bridal store on New York’s Upper East Side. On a Monday afternoon visit, there’s an atmosphere of hushed excitement as families arrive for retail communion. They come in groups, slightly better dressed than you would see relatives or girlfriends shopping on Broadway. It’s as if everyone knows this is an important day. They’re here to choose the wedding dress; the bridesmaid outfits; the flower girl frock and the mother-of-the-bride gown. Everyone agrees these clothes will live forever in photos on the mantel piece so they must be chosen carefully.
It’s fascinating and perhaps logical that brides-to-be would choose a chainstore for their big day. J.Crew markets tastefulness to the masses and weddings are big business. As the institution of marriage is on the decline (there are fewer married couples in 2007 than in 1970), there seems to be an inverse relationship to the amount spent on nuptials (the average cost of an American wedding is between $21,000 and $24,000).
Six years ago J.Crew began selling wedding dresses in just three styles. Today, there’s an entire J.Crew bridal look thanks to Jenna Lyons, J.Crew creative director and Tom Mora, head of wedding design; it’s an appealing throwaway mix of chambray shirts, cashmere and strapless gowns piled with paste gems.
At the Madison Avenue store, customers are greeted by a J.Crewite behind a reception desk. To the assistant’s right, is a selection of vintage baubles and costume jewelry by Lulu Frost, propped on antique books and housed in glass cases.
To the left are leather couches where families bide their time before going downstairs to the spacious appointment-only salon. In the ground level space the racks hold J.Crew’s 769 collection of cocktail dresses in coral and mint. There’s another rack of black gowns, Victor Victoria suiting and women’s tuxedo shirts.
In the middle of the shop floor, the drawers of a faux-ostrich skin counter are filled with knickers and sequined camisoles. On the counter, there’s a neatly folded array of sorbet-colored cashmere cardigans ($158) and silk throws ($75), as well as sparkly Dorothy-like heels ($350).
I pick a peach and black-grosgrain ribbon dress ($600) and close the heavy Bedford gray door of a change room. I could imagine Karen Elson wearing this dress. Alas, I’m not Karen Elson. The gown doesn’t quite fit and without an appointment, the shop assistants don’t offer to find another size. I won’t be saying yes to this dress. But if I was about to be wed, I would explore this store some more.