How to tell good quality clothing

How to good clothing

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.

Design

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.

Materials 

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.

Construction

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.

How do you assess clothing quality?
Is it something you think about?

22 thoughts on “How to tell good quality clothing

  1. Kat says:

    I didn’t know that 100% cotton could be different on two different garments. It seems strange, but I think I understand what you mean. The way the fabric is created is different?

  2. Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid says:

    Such great tips and thanks for the heads up about the app, that will come in very handy. I was listening to a podcast the other day where they talked about this very subject and that buying quality clothing is very minimalist; good for us and good for the planet because it won’t wear out so quickly and need to be replaced. If you can’t afford to buy quality items new, they can always be picked up second hand and you can be safe in the knowledge that they’ll last a long time. Now I want to go through my wardrobes and do the woolly strech and seam test…
    Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid recently posted…The Ultimate Rabbit Hole #110My Profile

  3. jess says:

    This is a topic I definitely need to consider. I have several higher end brands that I buy from, and then mix up with a lot of cheaper clothes…but they often fall apart and have a short run!

  4. Carolyn says:

    Fantastic article Robyna. I’ve been losing some weight so it’s time to invest in some new winter knits, and I’m going to be giving them the stretch test in-store now before I buy definitely.

    • Robyna says:

      That sounds exciting! I tend to have fairly good quality things – not because I buy high end but I think I just naturally look for it due to growing up with sewing.

  5. Jenni @unclutter my world says:

    Since seeing the doco True Cost a couple of years ago, I am much more mindful about the brands that I purchase from and where their items are sourced. It is not always the higher end designer brands that are the more ethical, taking the time to do the research has brought up some interesting results. Quality of clothing is something that I’ve been brought up to check. I was taught from an early age about doing the quality of fabric, stitching and pattern matching check before purchasing. Only a few weeks ago the teen techie decided to purchase a quality 2nd hand suit for the school ball, rather than a cheaper, inferior quality one. In the end he spent less in total than his mates, even after having it professionally altered. As we head into the winter season, i’ve become inspired once again to become an avid op shopper, finding treasures that will last the distance.
    Jenni @unclutter my world recently posted…MY COMPANION ‘PCOS’My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      It’s such an important to think about – just our general consumption and ways that we can curb that while maintaining quality and artisan craft.

  6. Shari from GoodFoodWeek says:

    It’s funny, the other day I was popping on a t-shirt and thought ‘look at that little hole, what poor quality’ and then I realised that I had been wearing that t-shirt almost twice a week for 4 years…Maybe not such poor quality after all. The hole was worn where I wear the baby carrier too – so the garment was under stress in that area. Thanks for linking up with the Ultimate Rabbit Hole xox

  7. Jan Wild says:

    Great advice and information Robyna. My Mum always told us to buy the best quality we could afford. I have never forgotten that advice. FYI for others on Android, the app is also in the Play Store.

    • Robyna says:

      That is good news re the Android version. My mum was the same. Well, she generally looked at things, sniffed and whispered that she would do a much better job if she had sewn it.

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