This season's offering from Frank Muytjens and his team at J.Crew felt less narrowly constrained by backward glances than it sometimes has in the past. American menswear overall has had a long moment of historical fetishism, dredging up antique workman's togs and factory uniforms for inspiration (if not facsimile re-creation). It's a fine and fitting homage to the past, but when overdone it can leave a regular guy feeling like a Civil War reenactor.
There was still a historical reference to this collection: the great (and under-sung) American realist painter Fairfield Porter, who worked quietly in his homes in Maine and Southampton, New York, where he also played host to the poet James Schuyler for long stretches. Porter's paintings are, for the most part, sweet, domestic scenes. There are portraits of famous friends (besides Schuyler, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and many of the other great mid-century poets), interiors, and landscapes brightened by soft but vivid color. This gave J.Crew license to bring in sea-foam green, lavender, and lemon. Porter's mode is gentility, both in the gentleness of his aesthetic and the genteelness of his quietly upper-class background. And here, gentle works. After several seasons of war games from designers across the board making militaria, a little peace sounds very fresh.
Vintage still provides the model, and you can see where Muytjens and co. drew on old barn jackets, windbreakers, and, yes, military parkas, for their standout outerwear. The calico print that shows up on shorts and a utility shirt could've been a curtain in the Porter home. The 484 slim jeans that J.Crew has been making (and making very well) for several seasons are here in a beat-up, all-American indigo. Muytjens showed them with a gold-buttoned blue blazer, an oxford, and tie, and in a more modern approach that great, racing green barn jacket. Those little touches pushed what could have read plain old trad into the present tense.