I am committing to a less is more approach to my wardrobe. So far so good and my no- buy-2017 is going strong. When I do, eventually, introduce new things, they are going to exceptionally good quality clothing. I may have to spend a little more, but I think it’s important.The clothes in my wardrobe should last years and years. I have no interest in being part of the fast fashion cycle any more.
But how can you tell if a garment is going to improve through wears and washes or whether it’s going to lose all it’s shape and loveliness?
This post is all about how to assess good quality clothing before you purchase it. Clothing quality can ascertained across three distinct areas: design, construction and materials.
But before I get into all that, a word on the price tag. Price can be an indicator of quality. A ridiculously low price ($8 jeans for example) means that the product is likely to be a loss-leader, made in huge quantities with inexpensive fabric. The ethics of how to achieve that price are worth thinking about. However, just because something has a high price tag doesn’t mean it’s automatically well or ethically made. Price is just one factor in judging the quality of a garment.
A well-designed garment fits and flatters. There is no awkward puckering. Seams sit flat. It’s comfortable to wear. The sizing is relatively true. You should be able to get a sense of well-designed garment the moment you try it on. I don’t think it’s possible to assess quality without checking fit, so I stand by my mantra – don’t buy before you try on.
Much of my knowledge about design comes from sewing my own clothes and it’s so useful. Even if you don’t want to make your own clothes, familiarising yourself with construction is a great idea. I find the Burda Style website term glossary very helpful for ascertain how things should be designed properly.
The other thing to think about is trend-driven pieces. Of course it’s lovely to have something that nods to the current trends, but I don’t think it’s where large investment should lie. A timeless, classic design is a hall-mark of a good quality garment that will last for years and years.
Fabric is an area where manufacturers try to find savings. Cheap, fast fashion stores are full of substandard fabric, designed to last a few washes.
To understand what good quality fabric feels like, go into a high-end clothing or fabric store and pay attention the weight, the weave and the feel of it. Not all fabric is made equal. Even when the labels refer to the same fabrics.
100% cotton in one store can look very different to 100% cotton in another. The make-up of a fabric doesn’t indicate how fabric itself is constructed. If you hold cotton up to the light, you will be able to see if the threads are of consistent length and closely woven. Where there are irregularities and gaps, then the cotton is of a low-quality.
To judge the quality of a knit fabric, pay attention to the bounce of the stretch – does it snap back to shape immediately? If it doesn’t in store, it won’t in wardrobe either.
Finishings like zippers and buttons also give clues as to quality. Do they look they will last the distance? YKK zippers have stood the test of time and if you see the little YKK stamp it’s generally a good sign.
A quick note on linings. Linings can be a signal of quality. But not if the lining material is cheap and nasty or won’t allow you to move. Is it paper thin and crushable? Does it look like if you lit a match it would go up in seconds? It’s not a good quality garment.
Again, my sewing experience helps a lot here. I know what a well-crafted seam should look like and how different garments should be hemmed. It’s worth reading and learning about these things (it’s a little too complicated to go into here). Again, the Burda Style website is a treasure trove of information.
Seams that experience high stress – like the crotch of trousers or anything worn by a child – should be reinforced. Stitches themselves should be short resulting in tight seams. When you gently pull a seam from the interior of the garment, you don’t want to see sunlight streaming through. Cheaper garments need to be quick-to-sew garments and lengthening the stitches is one way to save seconds.
All threads should be neatly clipped.
Patterns should match up at the seams – this indicates care has been taken at both the construction and cutting stages.
Seam allowances themselves will be more generous on a more carefully crafted garment.
Really it’s about asking – has this garment been made in the quickest, easiest way possible with the least and cheapest fabric as possible? Or is care and attention evident?
I am also trying to ensure that I buy ethically. There is a co-relation between an ethically-made garment and well-made garment. The app “Good On You” is very useful when trying to ascertain whether a clothing company is doing a good thing.
But those types of apps can forget about the little guys. So don’t forget about markets, op-shops and supporting young and up-coming designers.
I have decided I don’t want my fashion fast, I want it to last.