Friday, March 21, 2014

Review & How to: Find the Perfect Pencil Skirt

As someone who used to do lots of sewing (before I started working in BigLaw), in this series I'm hoping to pass on a bit of what I look for when shopping for high quality professional clothing by reviewing a popular work closet staple and describing how to find the perfect one for your closet.

Scoring: I use a five point system, where a 3 is the average. For an aspect of the garment to receive a 3, that means that the garment has met what I would consider the average standard for a garment of that purported quality level and price range.

Today's review: the J. Crew 120's pencil skirt
Available for US here, for UK here
Overall Score: 3.5

About this Piece
A basic pencil skirt is definitely a wardrobe staple for anyone who works in an office. J. Crew offers their pencil skirt in four basic colors (black, navy, light grey and dark grey), and always issues one or two additional colors based on the season (the brown color shown here was a spring color in 2012). When buying a pencil skirt, you want to look for something that is not too tight and made with a high quality material, because pencil skirts can quickly go from looking professional to looking overly sexy if they are too tight or made out of a cheap, stretchy fabric. This is definitely a piece where you should look for good quality, as a well constructed classic pencil skirt can last in your wardrobe for many years.

Fabric - 4/5
When picking suiting pieces, I always try to buy 100% wool. To me, wool pieces look more crisp and elegant than blended-fabric pieces. In addition, wool does not have the stretch of rayon or polyester, which means the manufacturer has to take time to actually fit the piece properly and cannot rely on the fabric's stretchiness to make up for design flaws. Finally, since high-end men's suits are almost always 100% wool, wearing a 100% wool suit makes me feel like I fit in better at my male-dominated office.

J. Crew advertizes their 120s merino wool fabric as being extremely high quality with a "silky-smooth finish and refined drape." While the fabric is definitely smooth, it feels a bit thin given its price point. 4-season wools are supposed to be light enough to wear in the summer, but still maintain the sturdiness of a wool fabric. The fabric itself is woven very tightly, giving the garment a nice glossy sheen to it, but the actual threads that make up the fabric feel a bit thin - as though the thread itself was spun too thinly before the fabric was woven. In comparison, when I have had pencil skirts custom-made, the 4-season wools that the tailor had available were all slightly sturdier than what J. Crew offers here. What bumps this skirt up to a 4 in the fabric analysis is that it is the only 100% 4-season wool pencil skirt at this price point out on the market at the moment. So far, it appears that other comparably-priced pencil skirts are all made of, to some degree, wool blended with a synthetic in order to allow for some stretch. The downside of such blending is that the fabric does not have the same high-quality look and feel of a 100% wool garment.

Construction - 4/5

The skirt is constructed well, though to be honest there isn't that much you can mess up on a basic pencil skirt. Seams appear to be straight and there are no loose threads. The waistband has been reinforced with slightly thicker cotton fabric (you can see it in the picture above, as it is cream). This is a nice touch, because the slightly thicker fabric keeps the waistband from rolling or pulling. Also, having cotton on the waistband means the wool does not rub against your skin.

The skirt is appropriately lined and the lining is fitted well to the main garment. I did not detect any lumps or irregularities where the lining and the garment had not been properly matched.

There are two darts running down a couple inches from the waistband at the back of the skirt. When you are trying the skirt on, make sure those darts are going straight down the middle of each rear end "cheek." The darts should also lie perfectly flat. If the are not in the middle of each cheek and they are puckering or bubbling, the skirt probably needs to be tailored a bit.

Detail - 3/5

As a basic pencil skirt, there is not much detailing, but J. Crew has added a few nice touches that I would expect to find on any well-constructed skirt. First, they have attached the lining to the skirt with a length of twisted thread (as you can see in the picture above). This is a nice touch to ensure that the lining of the skirt does not ride up underneath the skirt. Second, J. Crew has added tapes to the skirt so that it can be hung without using clips on the waistband. This is a nice touch, as it preserves the integrity of the skirt and avoids the chance that the waistband will develop indentations from where the clips rest. I do not actually use these tapes, as I simply turn my skirts inside out. That way the hangers' clips are on the inside of the waistband. However, if you prefer your skirts to hang right-side-out, I would definitely recommend using these hanging tapes.

Fit - 3/5

Overall the fit of this skirt is decent. I had to get it shortened about two inches, but that was the only tailoring that I found necessary. Even if the length is correct on you, I would recommend taking the skirt to a tailor and having it tapered in a bit towards your knees so you really get that 1960's pencil skirt look. Most clothing manufacturers today make their pencil skirts as rectangles, because they will fit the most customers that way. In order to get the true pencil skirt look, however, the skirt should be tapered down towards the knee beginning at the upper thigh. Be careful when tapering, however, because you will still need to be able to walk!


  1. Great review! I look forward to more of this feature in the future!

    The links don't go to the right place it looks like. The US one goes to Macy's

  2. Thank you!! Links should be fixed now.


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