Carola Long: 'It’s possible to go down a mumsy route in a J Crew store'

Fashion speak has a clever way of inventing new buzzwords to help us to shop without guilt. There's the "forever" buy (the romantic replacement for "investment") and now the term "basics" has also been updated. Basics have become essentials.

And just as these emotive terms tend to come from America, so too do the best essentials. If Gap didn't exist I would spend every weekend in my pyjamas, and whenever I go to New York it's jeans, skinny trousers (or rather, "pants"), T-shirts and shirts that I stock up on. On a trip to the city last week, the most important stops on my essentials crawl were Madewell – the chain for which Alexa Chung has designed a collection – and J Crew, the mid-priced, preppy label favoured by Michelle Obama. However, next time I go to New York I might actually have some time to visit museums, because J Crew is now available on Net-A-Porter. The website will stock over 90 different designs from their spring/summer range.

The other good news is that it's an edited selection, because it is possible to go down a rather mumsy route in the actual J Crew stores; not everything is the right side of modern classic. The preppy vision is so cosy, and the staff so helpful, that one's judgement could be seriously impaired. While shopping there last week, I was offered a bottle of water in the changing rooms by "Felice", who was as attentive as a first class stewardess and told me the cardigan I tried on made me "look like a peach". As a result, I could have come away with some pastel dresses that would have made me look like Jane Seymour's character in Wedding Crashers. Like Banana Republic, however, J Crew does a classy line in cashmere knits, Lanvin-ish costume jewellery, high-quality T-shirts (pictured, £32, netaporter.com) and Michael Kors-style pencil skirts and tan bags.

Now that highlights of the collection are available over here there's less chance of getting too swept up in the J Crew universe, and you can always send things back. The only downside is that there's no one on hand to say, "Have a nice day".

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