J.Crew, the haute prep retailer in the midst of a menswear renaissance—the chain was sold for $3 billion in late 2010—makes dozens of styles of dress shirts. Its most popular: the Thomas Mason fabric point-collar dress shirt in white, which accounts for a fifth of its top-of-the-line shirt sales. Why are people going nuts over a simple white button-down that sells for $135? It’s complicated.
① Pick a Fabric. At the 215-year-old Thomas Mason mill in Albino, Italy, J.Crew menswear chief Frank Muytjens and his staff winnowed a plethora of white swatches down to about 10 favorites, then ordered enough of each fabric to make tailored samples.
② Narrow the Options. Once the sample shirts arrived several weeks later, Muytjens’s go-to model tried on each as a part of various outfits—with a suit, with a T-shirt underneath, with jeans, with slacks. The staff narrowed the pool down to three.
③ Let the Boss Weigh In. Chief Executive Officer Mickey Drexler helped pick the winner: a two-ply Italian cotton shirt that would become known as the “Thomas Mason fabric point-collar dress shirt in white.”
④ Nail the Details. J.Crew designers then worked to put a distinctive mark on their variation of an old staple. This included adding genuine mother of pearl buttons, a gusset finish in the side seams, top-stitching in the armhole and collar, and a bespoke-inspired signature tag with the Thomas Mason insignia.
⑤ Figure Out Why It Worked. The shirt became popular because “it was just the perfect storm in terms of fabrication,” says Muytjens. “Masculine but not too heavy, lightweight but not too flimsy. The collar’s not too big, but not too small. It’s tailored, but not too much.” Then there’s the price. “It almost feels like a custom-made shirt,” says Muytjens, which justifies the $135 price tag.