Dueling Clothes: J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere Topcoat vs Express Wool Topcoat

I’d been looking for a topcoat for a while, but finding a good topcoat is hard. Some of you might be asking, what the hell is a topcoat? And how is that different from a regular coat?

As always, Wikipedia to the rescue! A Topcoat, or overcoat is a coat meant to be worn over your suit, or to more formal occasions. The main difference between an overcoat and a topcoat is the material, but pretty much the usage is interchangeable for the most part…in fact, I’d say the topcoat usage is more widespread in retail. Exhibit A: J. Crew:

jcrewtopcoatterm

The sad fact is that a lot of topcoats out there just plain suck. The main issue with most of them is that they are just plain ugly. The biggest sin is that they are just incredibly big, followed up by the insanely long “80’s stock broker” look that just looks bad. Nordstrom, I love you, but you had a lot of both of these:

Uglytopcoats

Oh yeah, one more thing, many of these coats are just crazy expensive. Check out the Dolce and Gabbana for a cool $560 – after 50% off! Fortunately, J. Crew offers the Mayfair topcoat that has a really modern cut, good make (wool/cashmere mix), nice style (single breasted with proper collars, and a reasonable starting price ($375). Post-Christmas these coats went on sale and I managed to snag mine for $246 after tax and free shipping. Happily, Express also had a crazy sale and they had their wool topcoat on sale for…$79.99. I’d been lusting after the J. Crew Mayfair for many a week, but the price on the Express coat was so good that I had to compare the 2. What follows is a sartorial death match with only 1 winner and the other returning to the store, sad and broken.

The Contenders

J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere Topcoat

J. Crew is both an online behemoth and a series of brick and mortar stores. This in itself is not uncommon as most clothing retailers have both web and physical outlets. What is weird is that J. Crew the online store operates almost wholly separate from the physical locations. That means that the online store will have both stock AND sales that may not exist or be honored at the physical location. This makes it particularly difficult to shop for men’s items because ONLY the Seattle J. Crew location has what they call a “Men’s Shop”. This means they carry suits and topcoats in addition to the normal assortment of garments. The Bellevue location is just a travesty with respect to selection for men and the less said here the better. The upshot of all this is that it’s better to order from J. Crew online than it is to buy in person. With that all said, let’s see how J. Crew sent the coat to me:

Jcrew topcoat box shot 1Jcrew topcoat box shot 2

This type of packaging is pretty standard for J. Crew, as I got the same kind of packaging when I ordered my J. Crew Ludlow fine-stripe cotton suit (review forthcoming!). Let’s open it up and take a look inside:

Jcrew topcoat unboxing 1Jcrew topcoat unboxing 2

Nothing too special here, notice the J. Crew logo on the bag, and also note the nice job they did folding the coat to prevent any creases.

Express Topcoat

The coat was purchased in-store, so there are no unboxing photos. As a sidenote, Express actually carries 2 different versions of its topcoat: regular and fitted. The in-store version will almost always be the regular version and you can verify this by checking the materials. The regular version is partially polyester whereas the fitted version is 100% wool. I didn’t get a chance to try out the fitted version, but if unless you are particularly slim, the regular version is already pretty tight.

Round 1– Construction, Materials, and Interior Details

In round 1, we’ll go over the construction, materials and interior details of the coat. A good topcoat is a lot like a suit jacket, so many of the same things that make a good jacket also denote quality in a top coat.

Interior Lining

The interior lining of the J. Crew coat is satiny, but is all black. The Express jacket has a black satiny lining for the body, but surprisingly, they manage to have a striped contrasting lining in the arms. Take a look! The Express is on the left and the J. Crew is on the right:

Express coat details 1Jcrew coat details 5

If you click on the J. Crew though, you can see that the stitching is especially fine. I unfortunately don’t have a picture of the Express stitching, and while it was more than adequate, the J. Crew coat impressed me here. I would take the better stitching over the contrasting sleeve lining, but it is a nice touch, and makes this kind of a wash between the two coats.

Construction

One thing that really surprised me about the Express coat was the prevalence of pick-stitching on the pockets as well as the lapel. This is a REALLY nice detail that I would not have anticipated on a cheaper coat. This is a clear mark above the J. Crew which does not feature any pick stitching.

Express coat details 2Express coat details 3

You might have to click on the pictures, but to the pick stitching is clearly visible on the jacket. The only thing that might be mentioned in J. Crew’s defense is that the material of their coat is heavier and the coat seems to function more as an overcoat, rather than the Express which feels lighter and seems more intended as a jacket replacement. Nonetheless, it would have been excellent to include the pick stitching if possible and I applaud Express for including it here.

Interior Pocket

Since these are meant to be dressier coats, the exterior pockets won’t be used generally, so the interior pockets are very important. Both coats don’t disappoint, with the J. Crew going above and beyond with a hidden third pocket on the exterior of the left hand pocket.

Express

Express coat details 5Express coat details 6

I did like that there was a flap for both pockets to seal it, but I’m not a huge fan of the pen pocket. I think they put it there because they don’t expect the wearer to have another jacket underneath (see below for further notes regarding this), but it’s sort of an extra unneeded detail that doesn’t appeal to me.

J. Crew

Jcrew coat details 1Jcrew coat details 2

The first picture isn’t a great picture of the pocket, but you can see the closing flap. When I originally took the pictures, this article wasn’t intended to be a duel, so I was showing off the extra buttons included with the coat. Ditto for picture number 2, I was showing off the very nice size and materials label, but you can see the third pocket in the shadows there. There is NOT a flap the close the 2nd and 3rd pockets, but that doesn’t really bother me too much as there is at least 1 pocket with a way to fasten it shut. My preference here is for the J. Crew configuration as it gives you more space.

Lapel Tailoring and Materials

In cold weather, these types of coats need a scarf to cover the upper chest, and it’s not uncommon to “flip up” the collar to help hold in the scarf and ward off the cold. This means the tailoring done on the collar will be exposed, as well as helping to maintain the lapels’ shape when switching back and forth between the two configurations. Take a look at how each collar was done (again Express on the left, J. Crew on the right):

Express coat details 4Jcrew coat details 4

The color is a wash here, because although I like the contrasting material on the J. Crew, I doubt that they change that color to match the coat color, so if the coat I had purchased was grey instead of black, it would also match like on the Express. However, what one can see is that the J. Crew stitching is MUCH higher quality here. The stitches are smaller and there is no excess fabric crudely folded over like on the Express coat. I also felt a difference when wearing the coat, as the J. Crew lapel folded up and down much more smoothly and when I turned my head and my chin encountered the collar, the collar moved more smoothly out of the way on the J. Crew.

Material wise, if you went just by the numbers, the J. Crew wins hands down. It’s 95% wool and 5% cashmere and it’s soft as hell. But frankly, for something only 80% wool, the Express topcoat was pretty damned soft. And at 1/3 the price, it’s kind of shocking how good a job Express did there. Would I expect the J. Crew to hold up longer and retain it’s softness, sure. But at $80.00, the Express could be replaced several times over. I’m giving the win to the J. Crew because at the end of the day, it is softer, but it damn well SHOULD be softer.

Round 1 winner: J. Crew barely edges out the Express

Round 2: Fit

So even though Round 2 is only concerned with fit, don’t let that fool you: this is the make or break round. All that other stuff is nice, but if it doesn’t fit it’s going back to the store. That said, let’s take a baseline comparison with both coats (unbuttoned) front and back. As usual, the Express is on the left and the J. Crew is on the right:

Front

Express coat unbuttoned front 1Jcrew coat unbuttoned front 1

Back

Express coat behind 1Jcrew coat behind 1

So a few things to note right off the bat. From the front, both coats look about equal in fit, but the Express is clearly quite a bit longer. It’s not the camera playing tricks on you as I’m standing at around the same distance. Also, if you look at the behind pictures, the J. Crew coat is actually slimmer. You can tell because the light from the front of the house can be seen in the gap between my body and my arm whereas on the Express coat it’s completely obscured. Both have a center vent of about the same size in the back and while it’s tough to tell in these pictures, the J. Crew has a ticket pocket AND a chest pocket while the Express does not. Not that you’d ever stick anything in the chest pocket, but the ticket pocket is a classy and handy touch. At this point, the J. Crew is the clear winner to me based on length and general look. It’s looks dressier and it’s shorter so it definitely looks trimmer to my eye. Let’s take a look at the coats with the front buttoned:

Express coat buttoned front 1Jcrew coat buttoned front 1

The Express coat continues to look a bit bulkier here. The J. Crew coat in most of the pictures has the collar flipped up, so it’s hard to compare, but the large lapel of the Express contributes to the boxy look. Let’s take a look at me with my arms held up to see how these coats fit when stretched in the worst possible scenario:

Express coat buttoned front  2Jcrew coat buttoned front 2

Notice both are pretty slim in the body, but look at the shoulders. This is pretty telling; the Express coat is heavily structured in the shoulders compared to the J. Crew. I believe this to contribute significantly to the boxy look. In these pictures, the collar was flipped up the  on the Express but it wasn’t too comfortable (part of the reason why it’s folded down in most of the other pictures). Another small detail to note is that the J. Crew buttons are hidden. Take a closer look at the button flaps that cover them:

Jcrew coat details 3

No real improvement in function, and it’s really up to you what you prefer visually. I think the Express coat looks better with the buttons showing, but that’s also probably because it doesn’t have a chest pocket, or a ticket pocket to break up the front visually.

Ok, last 2 pictures with me trying my best to look cool:

Express coat unbuttoned front 2Jcrew coat unbuttoned front 2

Frankly, I think the J. Crew looks better here with the shorter length. It also happens to lay better because the material is softer and doesn’t lay as stiffly as the wool of the Express. Not shown here, but the thing that really clinched the fit for me is that fact that the J. Crew coat fits well with a suit jacket. It’s obvious that was a design consideration for them and it shows. The Express coat is a fine coat by itself, but for me it is impossible to wear it and a suit jacket unless I switched to a Large (which I did in-store). The large version of the coat is MUCH larger and looks terrible on me. It could be me, but I’m not especially muscular or large (5’ 10” and 181 lbs.) so I have to chalk this up to how they made the coat.

Round 2: J. Crew wins hands down

Conclusion

Winner: J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere coat by unanimous decision!

So the J. Crew wins a clean victory. It’s definitely the better coat, but at double the price normally ($375 vs. $250) and 3 times (!!!!) the price during heavy discounting ($246 vs. $79.99 + tax) it had better be! If price is an issue, it’s hard to go wrong with the Express. I chose the J. Crew because it was really important to me that the coat truly function as a topcoat and be able to be worn over a suit jacket. Plus I had the extra bucks to spend on the coat. But for those who are less demanding in quality, or less prone to wearing a jacket, or whose budgets cannot accommodate the expenditure, the Express coat would make a fine addition to the closet. For the money and style though, in my searches I don’t think any coat can compare to the J. Crew.

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18 thoughts on “Dueling Clothes: J. Crew Mayfair Wool-Cashmere Topcoat vs Express Wool Topcoat

  1. Well well thank you my friend. I have been wanting a Mayfair topcoat for a while now and this article helped. I was looking at jcrew.com and they have the wool-cashmere one on sale for $180 + 30% off!!! They have black, khaki, and navy. I think I am drawn to the khaki one though. I appreciate this post and share your same enthusiastic view on fine threads. I love jcrew and am never dissapointed. Plus how much cooler can you get than wearing a topcoat. Come on right. Even if you throw it on with a nice jcrew tee underneath with jeans or chinos. Thanks again.

    • Stephen,

      Thank you very much for the kind words! I noticed they had dropped the price even more while writing the article, but I’m ok with getting the coat for the price that I got. Of course it would be nice to get it for the price that you can get it for. 🙂 I had no idea that they would drop it even more. It’s really funny that the price of the coat even with the mark down is still twice the price of the Express coat.lol. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad that you found the article helpful.

      Huong

  2. thanks for this review, i just ordered the j crew topcoat….you mentioned you were 5’10 181, what size do you wear for the j crew coat? I am 6’2 190 and i ordered the tall medium and I am not sure if this will be a good size for me.

    • Scott, thanks for reading! I wear the large regular. I think the medium tall would be fine on you, the reason I went with the large was so that I could wear my coat over a suit. The medium was definitely too tight for that. I’m wondering where your length is, the tall may look a little more traditional on you. I like the slightly shorter but of the regular drop, but if you want the longer look, I think the medium tall will suit you fine.

      Huong

    • Scott: how was the tall medium on you? I want to surprise my husband with this coat. He’s about 6’0 and 160pounds. He will probably wear the coat over suits and sweaters.

  3. Thanks for writing this review; I am actually thinking of this topcoat and it’s useful to hear about its fit and construction. I have found jcrew to be hit or miss (but usually hit), but sounds like this is exactly what I need. Question (after a statement): I’ll be wearing it over a suit too. I’m usually in between small and medium, do you recommend sizing up at all? I’m 5’8″, 150. I definitely don’t want it to squash my suit underneath. Thanks again for this post!

    • It depends on your build…I’ve got like 30 lbs on you but we’re the same height and the large is a smidge too big without a jacket but fits perfect with a jacket. I feel like the small might be very tight on you, but it’s work a shot if you’re VERY slim. My chest is a 40-42 jacket size, so if you’re the same, you may even have to step up to a large since the shoulders/arms/back + jacket are going to be your primary constraint. If you are substantially smaller (like 38 chest) than the medium might work well. Thanks for reading Ben and let me know how it turns out!

      Huong

      • Thanks Huong!

        I actually just picked up the coat during the 25% off sale last weekend. I had been thinking about the houndstooth (the navy one is on sale), but the feel of the cashmere blend on the solid is amazing. A medium works well for me. Looking forward to wearing this once it cools off!

        Ben

  4. Love the review, Thanks! I’m not sure if the current Mayfair jacket for sale is identical because I noticed the new one is all wool and in herringbone (according to the website that is, the tags on the coat may show the true fabric content). Regardless, it looks awesome and herringbone is exactly what I’ve been looking for in a wool coat.

    My question though, is I normally wear a small (approx. 5’10”, 135 lbs) but not sure if I should go the extra mile and get the Slim version. I won’t always be wearing it with a suit so I fill on those occasions the Slim version would look very nice. I don’t have too much experience with J. Crew’s clothing line so any help would be appreciated!

    Also, of course I ran into this coat the day after their 30% off all topcoats/overcoats ended… just my luck!

    Thanks, Nick

    • Nick,

      Thanks for reading! I just went over to the site and the way it works (same as last year) is that the normal mayfair topcoat is a wool-cashmere blend but the herringbone is just wool. If you dig the herringbone look then I say just roll with that – the cashmere is very nice, but if you’re looking for the texture, then you gotta go with your eye.

      As far as the slim fit vs regular – I inherited a very fitted topcoat from my dad and I would say that if you never plan on wearing it with a suit, than the slim fit should be fine if you already know you fit the regular. You’ll mostly notice the tightness in the shoulders, so that might limit you from wearing any bulky clothing under the topcoat. If you do plan on wearing it with a suit, then you might want to consider just going with the regular fit. I don’t think it looks or feels very good to have a topcoat too fitted when you’re wearing a jacket. If you are really on the edge (especially since you’re paying full price) I would just order both and keep the one you like. I do that with almost all of my suit purchases and it’s well worth the trouble. You can just hop on over to a J. Crew store to return the unwanted item and even though you missed the 30% off, they very often run free shipping.

      Also, if you can wait, I would consider just holding out. I remember last year they ran the 30% off outerwear/all merchandise multiple times prior to christmas, and once again in the spring to clear out the wintercoats, so if you can handle the uncertainty, it’s well worth your while to wait. In fact, even if you plan to wait, just order both coats to try out the fit and then return them (with free shipping of course). My opinion is that it’s really not worth it to pay $400 for the coat, as much as I love it. Best of luck, and let me know how it turns out.

      Huong

      • Wow, having tried on this jacket it’s even nicer than I originally imagined. Both the regular and slim fit seemed to have the same shoulder issue, when raising my arms it’s a bit tight underneath the arms. Wish they would have made it easier to raise your arms, but then again I’m no expert, perhaps all topcoats/overcoats are created like that to look better. Since that was identical I ended up going with the Slim since it seemed to fit a little better in the chest and waist area. The gray herringbone wool looks amazing. Maybe someday I’ll pick up a cashmere black one as well.

  5. Thanks Huong!

    Saw that last night just as the other sale ended and jumped on it. I went for both the regular / slim version and will just return the one that doesn’t fit as well. Thanks again!

    – Nick

  6. I always have wanted a mayfair topcoat. I kept on skipping the purchase. And then two weeks ago completely out of surprise I bought myself a Brooks Brothers Saxxon wool topcoat. Fits well and ita really soft but it costs a lot of money and I bought the coat using the brooks store card. Later I regretted my purchase because I couldnt afford it without the credit card and ended up returning it. I ordered my j crew coat today and i am really excited about it. I am looking forward to wearing them. This article made me feel i made the right decision 🙂 so thank you soooo much for this wonderful post!!!!

  7. Hiya — I bought this coat (in black) and when I unpacked it I noticed something funny. Because of the way it was folded up in the box for shipping, there’s nearly a crease about an inch from the bottom of the coat, running along the bottom that you can see from the outside. I think this corresponds to where the lining is sewn on the inside. I’m wondering if they’ve started making the coat out of extra-thin material? Has anyone else seen this? I left the coat to hang up and un-wrinkle for almost a week but no luck so far.

    • Rob,

      Sorry for my late reply, I haven’t noticed any seam and I (like, just now!), went and looked at my coat to verify there isn’t a crease or bulge on the bottom hem of the coat. It’s possible they modified the construction of the coat and induced the seam? Let me know if you want to see a picture of my hem and I can update the blog with it. One possibility is that you got the thin-sulate and it has more material in the coat causing the bulge? I did NOT get the thinsulate.

      Thanks for reading,
      Huong

      • I picked up the herringbone thinsulate version and I didn’t have any crease. I know this reply is way late but I only found this post a little while ago.

  8. Hey there, my name is Noah and I’m a fellow blogger out of Le Mans, France. I’m glad to see the
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