Strategy J.Crew is officially not trying to be cool anymore — and it's a brilliant move

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In taking cues from a popular startup, J.Crew is showing how far it's straying from its fashion roots.

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(J.Crew)
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  • J.Crew is releasing a shirt designed to be worn untucked.
  • It shows how far the brand is willing to go to bring back consumers who may have flocked to more practicality-focused startups.
  • As customers' preferences change, so must an apparel company's products.

J.Crew will start selling a shirt that can be worn untucked.

This seemingly small move may actually have a huge impact for the brand — and it's the clearest sign yet the brand is moving in the right direction while responding to consumers' demands.

The idea of selling a shirt that is designed to be left untucked is not a new one. It has resurfaced with a force recently, however. A startup known as Untuckit has made a name for itself with this relatively simple idea.

The J.Crew shirt in the "untucked" fit. play

The J.Crew shirt in the "untucked" fit.

(J. Crew)

"Guys had a primal knowledge of what this was," Untuckit cofounder Aaron Sanandres told me in an interview last June. "Guys suffer with it. If you know, no explanation is necessary."

And it's true — too-long shirts have been a struggle for guys ever since our more casual culture arrived with the mandate that you could wear collared shirts without tucking them in. Before brands like Untuckit, guys didn't know where to turn to get a shirt with a shorter hem line that looked good without being tucked in.

That's not to say there weren't options available. J.Crew has been selling casual shirts with a shorter-than-average hemline for years, and those look fine not being tucked. My 5'9" frame has been dressed in them for years.

The problem, then, was marketing. Men didn't know where to find them, and they didn't have the urge to look, preferring to suffer in (semi) silence.

That's what has made Untuckit the sensation it is. It's speaking directly to these men that feel forgotten by mall, department, and discount clothing stores full of long-hemmed shirts. In a rare move for apparel, it also reaches across ages and body types. Untucking your shirt isn't just for old men with guts or young people who want to look casual. Its appeal crosses demographics, and it's not tied to status or cachet.

"If you go to our Soho store you'll see a 25-year-old hipster from Brooklyn next to an 85-year-old man from Florida. It's just amazing the range," Untuckit's other cofounder, Chris Riccobono, told me last year. "Anybody who's worn their shirt untucked, whether it's the old classic brands or the new brands, if you've worn your shirt untucked and put on an Untuckit [shirt], it resonates."

Guys want to see this issue solved, no matter who they are.

That small genius of a marketing move has led to sales doubling every year for Untuckit since its inception in 2011, an estimated $200 million valuation, and a $30 million investment led by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Untuckit is now in the midst of an ambitious physical retail strategy as it opens stores across the country.

It's clear there's demand for this simple idea. J.Crew isn't even the first men's clothing company to copy Untuckit. Bonobos did it last year, adding two new lengths to its casual shirts — short and long — to complement the regular length.

There are plenty of people who don't care about getting the latest trends. They just want clothing that fits well, looks good, and is a decent price. This is a steph in that direction from J.Crew, which has also reduced some prices on popular items and added hidden features, like stretch, to make items more comfortable.

If guys respond to this, it could be a new chapter of customer-centric thinking for a company that is still looking for a turnaround.