The college mates of the narrator were "emotional box turtles, skulking around in baseball cups, shrugging the primary colors of their J. Crew jackets, lift tickets flipping from zippers".
What did they do with the primary colors of their jackets?
They were wearing J. Crewe jackets and shrugging their shoulders.
I have no idea what a J. Crewe jacket is, but I assume it comes in primary colours.
This is how I understand the sentence, but I could be completely wrong.
This use of shrugging and primary colors makes no sense to me. J. Crew men's jackets don't come in primary colors for one thing. And I can't think of a poetic sense for shrugging colors. Makes no sense.
Damn, they were emotional box turtles, skulking around in baseball caps, freshly beer-bloated, all pent up, shrugging the primary colors of their J. Crew jackets, lift tickets flipping from zippers. Which Brings Me To You: Julianna Baggott, Steve Almond
Oeco's comment about J Crew (sorry about the extra /e/ earlier, I don't know where that came from) has rather scuppered my explanation.
It's a pity, because I had a rather vivid picture of these guys slouching about in some kind of jackets, either primary coloured or with primary colour stripes across the shoulders and down the sleeves. They would have to be somewhat odd to keep lift tickets attached to their zippers, but I supposed that to be some kind of ski-nerdy college boasting badge.
Are you sure they don't do brightly-coloured ski jackets?
In the U.S., urban gangs supposedly (I have no direct experience) have theme colors, and they wear various articles of cloth or clothing (hats, headbands, shirts, etc.) in their gang's color to show that they belong to the gang. Where they operate, anyone who is not a member of the gang but wears a gang's color is liable to be taken for a gang member, and perhaps even assaulted or murdered by members of a rival gang with a different color.
Although I've not seen reference to a gang's "primary colors," perhaps the author is making a rather strained and puzzling metaphor, suggesting that J. Crew jackets in a certain color are a kind of gang clothing for these probably middle to upper class (they can afford to patronize ski resorts who issue lift tickets) . . . what? High school or college students?
By mentioning J. Crew, I think the author is attempting to describe them as the type who buy their clothes at J. Crew (they're trendy, preppie types rather than thugs), not specify that the jackets themselves are necessarily from J. Crew.
"Primary color jackets" (let's ignore J. Crew) suggests to me sports teams, letterman's jackets, etc.
I've seen poetic language saying the colors of the flag wave in the wind, so I don't see why shrugging can't cause the colors of your jacket to shrug with you.
Ski resorts issue lift tickets for the ski lift - it's like an all-day pass and you attach it to the zipper of your jacket with a lanyard through the hole in the zipper pull. Leaving the pass attached after you leave the resort is a way to brag to people that you went skiing and where you went (like having stickers for the destinations you've visited on your steamer trunk ).