Last month, in my article Making the Most of Your Shopping Dollar, I talked about how you don’t have to pay top dollar for your clothing, & how I think it’s possible to find great clothes which will last at any price point. I wanted to delve into that a bit more, & give you some tips & tricks to help you weed out the good stuff from the crap.
First, the bad news: really, the only true test of quality is trial & error. You could buy a piece from a brand you know & love, take perfect care of it, & have it fall apart on you in an instant, or you could go with an untested brand & be really rough on a piece & have it last forever. Sadly, because of the nature of the clothing industry, brands sometimes change their manufacturing practices (going where they get the best prices), so a company that was excellent six months ago might not have the same standards quality today. However, since brands do work hard to maintain their reputation, this doesn’t happen very often unless they are undergoing a major shift in management.
So all is not lost! You can protect yourself whether you’re shopping at a thrift store, boutique, the mall, or consignment shop—protect yourself with knowledge. You can train yourself to identify poor construction & feel out cheap materials. Here are some things to look for that will help you make informed choices.
Try quality on. Perhaps the easiest way to get to know what quality clothing feels like is to surround yourself with it. Spend an afternoon at a high-end boutique or two trying things on to get a sense of how expensive clothes are made. Consider it a test-drive.
Seams. The seams of every garment shouldn’t have loose threads or broken stitches. Generally, the more stitches per inch the better. The stitching should be fairly tight, but not so tight that the seams of the garment appear stiff compared to the rest of the fabric. You don’t want to seams to disrupt the flow of the garment. When looking at the seams of a garment, grip the seam on either side of the stitching & pull the sides gently apart. If you can see through the stitching, the seam has not been sewn properly & you need to pass that garment by. The types of seams are important as well. Serged seams & double topstitched seams are better than single straight seams. In fact, top-stitching in general is a good sign of a quality piece of clothing; top-stitching on seams helps ensure they will lie flat & not shift around in weird ways while you’re wearing them.
Facings. Facings are a second layer of fabric that you will find in high-traffic areas (like around zippers, buttons, & necklines) in better-quality clothing. These help reinforce the garment & it will last longer.
Linings. Lined garments are a better investment than unlined. They drape better & generally last longer. When looking at a lined garment, note that linings shouldn’t be tight, they should give. While you’re looking at the linings, make sure clothes that have pockets have real pockets. Even if you leave them stitched shut, none of that fakey-fakey business for you!
Buttons & fasteners. Are they sewn on securely? Give ‘em a little tug. If they look like they’re going to fall off in the store, do you imagine that a lot of care was put into the construction of the rest of the garment?
Hems. Try to buy pants with at least a two-inch hem, so you can let them down if need be. Hems should be sewn straight, & be finished on the inside, not left with a raw edge. If the hem isn’t topstitched, it should look like it isn’t stitched at all. They should also be beautifully pressed with no puckering or curling.
Fabrics. Natural fibers both wear & launder better over time. The more durable the fabric, the longer it will keep its shape. Adding 10% synthetic to natural materials helps them to wear better in the long run (both nylon & rayon are known for their durability). The fabric should hold its shape if you bunch it up in your hand, hold it for a moment, & then let it fall. When you’re looking at leather goods, quality leather looks soft & supple, never shiny. Also, make sure your clothes are cut & sewn on grain. Patterns and stripes should match at the seams.
Weight. If a garment that should feel heavy doesn’t (like a coat, blazer, or formal gown), then put it back. Chances are that steps were skipped on the inside that will ensure it won’t hold up over time.
Remember: cheap clothing is more expensive in the long run. You could replace a cheap winter coat every year, or spend a little extra money on one that is going to last you for the long run. Quality lasts. Plus, when you seek out quality, you won’t be so tempted to get a cheap quick fix. You’ll cut down on your impulse shopping and save yourself some agony.
Avoid trends, or at the very least don’t spend a lot of money on them. Maybe give yourself a “trends budget” once a season.
Try things on whenever possible. Know what you’re looking for, go slowly, & enjoy the process of building an amazing, long-lasting wardrobe. You will find it so very rewarding to build up your treasure trove over time!
Do you have any tips on finding quality that I may have missed? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!