Why are these shorts $400?


I was doing some research on shorts for my Spring Palette Challenge when I came across these shorts on J.Crew.

Let’s leave aside the fact that they are a love-it-or-hate-it chartreuse green (personally, I love chartreuse, but it’s a divisive color). Let’s also leave aside the fact that they are shiny silk shorts. And that they have a potentially unflattering little peplum tutu over the tummy. With pleats under it. And that you can see the hem of the tucked in sweater in the back view, suggesting to me that these would be extremely unforgiving of any natural lumps and bumps. Or that they say the shorts have “pintucks” at the waist (huh?).

All of that aside, these shorts cost $400. Why?

They must use about a yard of fabric. With production cutting methods, in fact, it’s probably less than that. They don’t say where they’re manufactured, just that they are “imported.” What justifies this price?

My theory is that these shorts are basically a marketing gimmick. Here’s why:

  1. They are “editorial,” as they say. They look good on the model, and that’s what really matters. They are meant for the blogs and magazines. It doesn’t really matter what they look like on a size 8, 12, or 16. In fact, they appear to only be available up to a size 6. It doesn’t even matter if people buy them.
  2. They are $400 because who knows? Some people may buy them. It’s always smart for a retailer to have something very expensive for sale, because you never know.
  3. High priced items make other items appear like bargains. This is a pretty well-known psychological effect used in marketing.
  4. It makes J.Crew appear more like a “luxury” brand, which helps justify higher prices elsewhere.

What do you think? Are $400 silk shorts a marketing ploy, or could there be something that justifies a price like this?

PS: I am not intending to insult anyone who likes these shorts at ALL, because I actually do like aspects of them a lot. I think they’d be super cute minus the ruffle, and that’s a matter of taste and my own body type. I mostly mean to point out why these are not an item most women would feel comfortable in.

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 63


definitely a marketing ploy, and your reasoning is completely solid. Way to call J.Crew out!


Ha! I don’t mean to call them out specifically. A lot of companies use these tactics. I just think it’s interesting, and helpful to be aware of.


I reckon they would look MUCH better with the peplum at the back .. but on all other counts, I agree with you. If they were made in the far east, then maybe £5.00 to make?


Yeah, I’m assuming that there is nothing unusual in the manufacturing that would cause higher prices, or they would say so.

Austin Storm

Industry-wide averages: it costs 1c per garment in asia, and 3c in eastern europe. Assuming they made them in small quantities, and the quality of the workmanship is exceptional, perhaps they cost $2/ea to make.


Wow, thank you for reminding me that I want nothing to do with supporting these industries overseas unless they pay a comparable wage to what someone would get here (and I have not seen a program like that). Disgusting to pay $398 directly to J Crew’s shareholders and senior management. Ugh.


I would’ve totally paid $400 for them. Too bad they’re only up to size 6. Am I being sarcastic enough?

I’m with you…marketing. I hate that my teens will want to buy something…ANYTHING…from some stores just so they can show they shop there. They can’t afford all the super fashion stuff like chartruese shorts, but they can get that t-shirt. And you know the store is making most their money off those t-shirts!


Yep, exactly! These items are like brand advertisements to sell their really profitable items.


As you know, that’s how couture lines are used. Maybe a couple of hundred women can afford the clothes, but they create an image that’s helpful to sell much cheaper goods for which the company has granted licenses, like perfume and pantyhose.

As I don’t find those shorts alluring (look at the wrinkles), I can’t get worked up about this one (not that you were trying incite anyone).

I agree: It’s probably a one-off brand advertiser. Having said that, it does fit in with my idea of high-end J. Crew. So it’s successful in that respect.


Excellent analysis on why they are there!

Also for my two pence on the matter – I think there are a lot of styles out there right now that are not really flattering for anyone – even skinny, perfectly proportioned people would look better in something more classic. But skinny, perfectly proportioned people CAN get away with wearing something like this, whereas anyone who is not extremely thin – even if they are beautiful – would look awful in it. So it is a means of distinction. It’s not that the clothes are the most flattering for skinny women – but they say to the world “I am skinny enough to wear this!” more than other styles, and that is valued in our current culture.

Of course there is the novelty value too of wearing something that catches your eye because there is not a lot like it out there.


I hadn’t even thought about the status issue of being skinny enough to wear shiny ruffle shorts. That’s a really interesting point.


This is definitely a thing. J.Crew already goes to a top size that is smaller than other clothing brands–I can wear Gap for instance, but not J.Crew. It definitely is about catering to a certain market to create status. After all, the high luxury brands have the, well, luxury of only making clothes for people of certain sizes so J.Crew is working to align themselves in that way.


I so loved this comment, Woolcat. I completely agree. A lot of the fashions these days (harem pants, skinny cargos, swingy trapeze style shirts made from clingy, thin fabrics, etc.) don’t really flatter anyone. BUT you can at least kind of pull it off if you are a size 00. It’s not that those styles flatter those women as much as a nice tailored, classic cut would, but at least they can pull it off without looking completely awful.

Which means the rest of us have to choose between dressing for our body type and not being trendy or follow the trends and not look our best. I personally choose to just dress for my body regardless of the trends, but it’s hard when all the shirts out there are designed to give me a pregnant belly bump!

I used to love J.Crew back in the day when they were known for great classics, but they’ve been a big turn-off for me the last couple of years. It seems like their prices have gone up and up, they’ve been trying too hard to be “fashiony,” and their styles just don’t flatter me anymore. And they are notorious for pinning. I know that everyone does it, but they seem especially bad. I mean, if you have to pin the shirt to make it look decent on the model or mannequin, you would think they would realize that they need to make some alterations and adjustments before selling those clothes to the public!


I do kind of love the colour though. Not on me. But in theory I like it.


Funny and insightful analysis. Definitely in the category clothes I love until I actually try them on.


Maybe other people are too polite to say it, but I will: these are ugly, unflattering and will give one the shiniest panty line ever.


Ha! I wasn’t sure if it was VPL in the photo, or the line from the tucked in top.


haha, that’s so funny. It should have been photographed without any undergarment or having a photoshopper perform some magic. You should take some effort for $400.


I definately think it’s a rip off. Like most items from J Crew, I’m sure that they are made in China or a smaller Asian country where a worker is paid next to nothing to sew the garment. I think they are just a status symbol for body shape…a definate waste of money.


I think there are two questions here: 1) Are these shorts worth it? and 2) Is any small garment worth it?

Clearly, the answer to #1 is no; it’s a marketing ploy. But I do think that the answer to #2 is yes. However, the value of that garment is entirely dependent on the material cost and the quality of construction. In other words, neither the item nor the materials can be made in a sweat shop somewhere, and they have to have been well and conscientiously made, with lots of hand work and attention to detail.


I’m glad you separated it out like that, it makes more sense than the way I asked it.

I do agree that a small garment can be worth that amount, at least to the right person. I would not be shocked to see prices higher than that on a small couture garment, even if I can’t/won’t pay for it myself.

Maybe another part of the problem is that inflated prices like this only further mask the difference between products that are expensive for a reason (hand crafted, top quality materials, etc), and items that are expensive merely for status or marketing power.


That is totally ridiculous and anyone who pays that should have their head examined. It is such a great feeling to know that I could make those for a fraction of the price. I love some of JCrew’s clothing, but I always get is on deep discount or I try to sew a knockoff.


J. Crew priced these shorts at $400 because they can. The company views itself — and positions itself accordingly — as a luxury brand.

That said, I don’t care if they were Gucci shorts and sewn by Tom Ford’s own hands (yes, I know he departed Gucci), what on earth could make them worth $400?

Someone will pay it.


I just don’t see j.crew as couture or high end so there is no way to justify that price. I agree, I think it’s a marketing ploy for editorial attention.

I do like the color…


I love the color and then I have nothing else positive to say about them and I think you’d be pretty much guaranteed to get your period wearing these….

Cara Cesarik

I think JCrew is trying to become more of a luxe brand with their new Madison Ave shop, which has a lot of awesome (but very pricey) clothes and jewelery you can’t buy at the other shops. I think you’re a genius though because it would have never occurred to me that something that costs so much would trick me into thinking $89 for a sweater isn’t that bad….


If you have time for a long read (but well done!):

Profiles the head of J. Crew. According to the article, at meetings where staff decide pricing of clothing, he always asks, “Are we getting the value we’re worth?” i.e. are we charging enough? Um … YEAH, J. Crew, I think you are. But apparently he doesn’t think so. So I’d expect this trend to continue, unfortunately.


I read this article over the weekend, and it was fascinating, not to mention cringe-inducing.

I felt that the use of the term “perceived value” made the point very clear. Of course, we already knew this, but it’s obvious that they are trying to build design cache. And not just with their products, but with associations with brands that have a reputation for quality, like Red Wing and Ray-Ban.


Marketing ploy, of course. I loved your analysis though, I wonder why some things are ridiculously expensive anytime I pass by a shop window and see a simple garment that costs fortune. It may sound silly but I kind of feel insulted… I sew and so I know how much a piece of clothing in any fabric would cost to make, and so I feel insulted they would expect me to pay say 400$ for silky shorts…


I like your analysis, very interesting. And another reason for disliking all this branding? Not in itself maybe, but it’s hard to put a finger on it where my discontent comes from. But I think I understand Branka saying she feels insulted.
And I think those shorts are hideous, not because of the colour but to me they look “overdesigned”, if that makes any sense.


Well, they certainly look like grandma panties from the rear.

These are what Kathleen Fassanella would call “coffin clothes.” (Her term for garments that are only interesting in the front–IOW something you would look fabulous in at your own wake.)

As far as why they are $400, I’d go with explanation #3.

I don’t think these are actually intended to be purchased by anybody. I don’t think even the First Lady could move these babies.


I nearly spit out my tea when I saw the price! :-) And the construction doesn’t look that great anyways, though it does make me want to go and examine how they were constructed!!

Mary Beth @ Yarn U iPhone app

This fabric is a great example of something you see a lot on RTW but sewers seem to be afraid of…get it in a stretch variety and it’s really hard to go wrong. Jut use the right tension, thread, etc. for great results.


No doubt, J. Crew is trying really hard to suddenly be very lux. Curious though, if you sit around in a boardroom and ask…. are we getting what we’re worth on this $400 pair of ugly shorts, then why in the world do they push their sale crap so hard dedicating specified floor space in every store to heavily discounted merch and send out loads of sale emails every week? Uh, probably because you’re not getting what you’re “worth” for regular priced stuff. Everyone under the sun waits for J. Crew to go on sale. I’d imagine that’s not what J. Crew as a newly branded luxury retailer actually wants people to do but still lets continue. Sorry, back to the topic at hand. They look silly and were designed for the marketing/photo shoot deal.


Another factor is manufacturing minimums.. when J.Crew makes a pair of basic black pants they’re probably ordering thousands or tens of thousands, so the cost to manufacture is lower! Probably, they’re producing less chartreuse silk mini-shorts so there’s less of a volume discount. Just another thought! When I worked in apparel production, it was the basic white shirts that you could buy tons of, and get a better price on. It’s the ‘special’ styles that you end up paying more for because you only want to make 100, or 300 not a hundred thousand :)


agree with above poster. There is definitely an upcharge on this garment b/c j crew didnt met the factories minimum order. They probably made 15 pair of these shorts, not 16,000


I’m sure that’s true, but to my mind the larger question is why they would make that business decision.

Vanessa B

*Woolcat*, I think you’ve got something with the idea of exclusiveness based on not only $ but size as well, after all “they” do say “you can never be too rich, thin, or tan.” Clearly you’d need to be all three to pull off wearing those shorts.

I like what *Gaidig* had to say about some things actually being crafted in a way that brings high value to them, while others do not.

Has anyone seen the movie “The Joneses” with Demi Moore? Interesting take on marketing, and wanting to have what other more beautiful and presumably successful people have. I don’t want to spoil it, but this post reminded me of it. It was worth watching on DVD I thought.


I had a great time reading through the comments on this post–so many good points! I rather like the color and some of the style details (though the ruffle I could do without), but the silk is just a bit too high maintenance for shorts, imho. But then again, I am terribly practical when it comes to these sorts of things. ;)

I really liked that several commenter’s brought up the idea of “size exclusivity” through the styling, pricing and limited size range. It’s an interesting concept–one that I haven’t really focused on with regards to rtw companies–but makes sense in light of this particular garment. I can envision a handful of gals who could pull these off, and most fit the “socialite/celebrity” criteria which also tends towards (though not always) fitting a certain physical ideal that would allow garments like this to be worn and *seen* in (the color, styling and shininess makes me think that would be another motivator–aside from the J Crew brand name–for those who would be inclined to buy it. You can’t hide in these!).

Great post, Sarai!

♥ Casey


i’ve really enjoyed reading the comments on this post! as for the shorts…i think that the “functionality vs fabric” balance is totally wrong and therefore they would always be “ill-judged” for whatever occasion you wear them. i love the colour because it’s a bit different, but frankly i think that the price is an insult to those producing couture items and setting a price reflecting the quality of production and time devoted to the construction. That is something that always matters to me when buying something expensive.


Definitely a publicity ploy for jcrew (similar the diamond bra from Victoria’s Secret a few years back). $400 for shorts is just silly, they just want their typical $80 shorts to seem like a bargain. ;)


This is a pretty interesting conversation. Clothing like this is all about marketing. Because, if it were about quality, it wouldn’t stand a chance. Quality clothing should really have good design. But, these are a very poor design.

They look like a pretty regular pair of shorts that just got a peplum slapped on the front to make them a novelty. What if the peplum went all the way around? What if the shape of the leg gave notice to what was going on at the waist? How about a proper lining so that the tucked top wouldn’t show and the wearer wouldn’t likely wind up flashing some camel toe? These could be pretty cute although still admittedly for thin, leggy women, only.


Spot on! It can’t be material costs that is for sure…

Janee Lookerse

I can honestly say as a former J.Crew employee that J.Crew is trying VERY VERY hard to “upscale” their brand. No more big, super cheap sales. And lots of WAY over priced clothes. They are trying to market to a much more affluent audience. Sad for us poorer folks.



The price of those shorts is ridiculous, though so are the prices of a number of other items on there. What kills me is the color: anyone who has spent any amount of time looking at the sale items on J Crew site will know that color well, as it’s usually the only color left when all the others have sold out. I somehow doubt that too many people will be shelling out $400 for such a non-standard design in a color that tends to be left when everything else is picked over.

I own a bunch of stuff from J Crew, but being a cheapskate, I’ve purchased almost all of it on sale. Frankly, if I couldn’t sew I’d probably have to stop buying their stuff altogether. I can’t count the number of hems that have come completely out of their jersey shirts, the number of buttons and embellishments I’ve had to reattach or the number of ‘raw’ edges I’ve had to finish because they’ve frayed beyond belief upon first wear. It’s not a big deal when you get a shirt for $8-10 to spend 5 minutes fixing stuff, but when they want $48 for a cotton jersey shirt it gets a little insane.

Bottom line: if J Crew wants so badly to be high-end, they might want to take a look at the quality and construction of their clothing. You can price things as high as you want, but if they fall apart after the first wear no one will make the mistake of paying that much for them twice.


I second the quality issues with J. Crew. I won’t buy anything for myself there any longer, but I do shop (on sale, of course) for my son, since *he outgrows his clothes* and they don’t, therefore, have to last.;)

Jenny @ Kerrfect!

I saw J.Crew representative on The Martha Stewart show about a year ago now, saying that the brand has developed a formal department where items are priced higher. From the mini fashion show it just looked like they made the same stuff out of satin, velvet or covered it in sequins and jacked the price up $100+. Supposedly these new items are so that you can have the comfort and style of your favorite brand while you are walking down the aisle or hosting a formal party.

Even though some people may not consider J.Crew to be a luxury brand, there are other who will. Where I grew up in NY, J. Crew was something you might wear to school or have for you summer play clothes. When my father relocated to Northern, FL when I was in HS, few people had heard of J. Crew and the height of fashion was the Gap… or if you didn’t have Guess Jeans you were poor. Someone asked me if my Benetton clothes were a Walmart brand, lol in contrast I had never heard of Walmart before I moved to FL. LOL.

Jenny @ Kerrfect!

Sorry, when I clicked reply to a post further up the screen jumped (probably my old crappy desktop) and it pposted it own here….


I will third the quality issues. My friend has a bunch of tees and cardigans from J.Crew. She accidentally put holes through several of them just while putting them on! Example: She’d be pulling a tee on over her head, and her finger would slip and punch right through the fabric. Or she would be buttoning a cardigan and her thumb would go through the fabric and create a whole new buttonhole! And these were not worn out tops that had been worn several times. In fact, it happened once with a shirt that was brand new.


It appears this is a marketing ploy. They list these shorts as part of J. Crew Collection, so it seems there are several items on their site that have obscene prices (imo).
I think J. Crew would claim you’re paying for the design in this case (which is a shame, clearly my taste is not up-to-date). When I looked this morning the only size left was an 8. Apparently someone thinks these are worth $400! Unless that’s another marketing ploy…


Personally, I wish JCrew would take some of the funds they put into Marketing themselves as “Upscale” and address the fit issues of their pants and skirts. Even though they sell petites and tall and whatever else, I think their fit is awful. If they updated their pattern cutting once in a while, they would have more sales and translate as more readily as upscale.


Wait wait, everyone – they are officially sold out! “We’re sorry. This item has been so popular, it has sold out. We’ve got other great ideas–just call us 800 562 0258, we’re here to help.” Seems as if they either didn’t plan to sell very many (or they’ve been pulled for some reason).

Interesting post & comments!


Wonder what we’d think if we saw these shorts at Wal-Mart for, say, $14.99?

Or at Target for a typical Target price?

Jennette Nielsen
Check out this article and see what you think. Quite telling…

Jennette Nielsen

“and the integrity of J. Crew’s goods (“What the customers are paying for is the perception of value. Stitch by stitch, fabric by fabric, we offer the most value”), all by way of advancing the idea that, as he put it, “our name is worth more than we internally think. Clothes can talk, you know what I mean?” What the clothes were telling him, apparently, was that J. Crew may not be charging customers enough for them. He mentioned some competitors and said, “They sell at five times cost. We sell for three times cost.”

Read more


Yep, Jessica linked to this article above as well (earlier in the comments), and I also zeroed in on the phrase “perception of value.” They set prices based on what they think the customer will pay, not the cost of the goods. With a pricing model like that, increasing the perceived worth of the brand name means you can set higher prices.

Jill Flory

I totally agree with you! They will probably be ‘sold out’ after the first purchase too!!!


This is so interesting, and I love everyone’s comments. It reminds me of an art exhibit I saw in The Hague last spring, Voci Paris. You can see the Museum’s write up about it here:

It was so interesting because it was all about couture and how it’s gone from something that was expensive but wearable to something that is no exorbitant and more art then clothing. It quoted the number of people in the world who actually wear and own couture garments and that number is something in the hundreds, which is amazing. It just gets you thinking about all of the fashion out there is made not to be actually worn but to send a message.

That being said, I could make these shorts. So I’m not paying 400 dollars for them. And amen to all of the comments about JCrew’s shoddy workmanship. I like their design sometimes, but it all falls apart in your hands. No vale la pena, as the spanish say.


I have had garments made for me, and a fitted lined suite cost $400, made in the USA. I have heard of people going to Hong Kong on trips and coming home with custom wardrobes for very little. Using these to data(ish) points, your idea that this is about marketing and buzz is, I think, correct. I wonder if Mrs Obama will still shop at JCrew if the prices go up?


I too have found this discussion very interesting!

I have another idea as to what they are trying to do with these shorts:
encourage us all to sew our own, far more flattering to our individual figures and for a fraction of the price, and if we are too practical for slithery silk shorts, in a more suitable fabric for the style.


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