Quality and the lack of it are hot topics in style right now, and that’s because of fast fashion. And while fast fashion gets a bad rap (and there are some really valid concerns surrounding it), I’m going to start this whole topic off with an opinion that might seem a little controversial. And here it goes:
I know that some minimalist style bloggers will tell you that every item you own needs to be handmade by sheep farmers in Uzbekistan and dropped into the U.S. by flocks of geese with minimal carbon footprints, so that you can spend hundreds of dollars on them and gift them to your grandkids in your will, but I say hogwash.
Actually, I never say hogwash, but I think I should start. (What is hogwash anyway? Please comment below and let me know!).
My point is that not everything you own needs to be heirloom quality. And yes, buying sustainable clothes that we will have for years is clearly the best option for so many reasons, buying fast fashion here and there can be a viable way to try a trend or take a new silhouette for a spin without making a major commitment. And, when bought secondhand, fast fashion becomes a lot more sustainable.
I do love quoting myself, don’t I?
Anyway, the workhorse pieces in your wardrobe are where you are going to want to spend the bulk of your clothing budget, but only on those pieces that will hold up.
A tee is not one of those pieces, especially not if it’s white. If you love the fit and finish of a higher end tee, like the Vince one from my high-low wardrobe basics video, then go for it, but know that white tees are generally only good for a couple of years.
Other items, like jeans and jackets and classic sweaters and coats and bags, can last in your wardrobe for years. And these are the pieces where paying for quality is going to pay off in your wardrobe.
So here, without further rambling, are 4 things to look for to determine the quality of an item.
Scrunch Bunch and Pull
This technique works best when you’re at the store, but the best way to determine if a garment will hold up well over time is to play with it.
- Scrunch the fabric in your hands. Does it wrinkle immediately, or fall back into place.
- Pull at the seams? Do they separate?
- Pull the garment from the bottom hem? Does it spring back into place, or lose its shape.
Take a close look at the details of the item now, and you can skip disappointment and returns later.
Find Your Fabric
The next thing you want to do when buying an item of clothing is to assess the fabric, While this is easier done at a store, there are ways to do it online as well.
First look at the fabric composition to determine the quality and also the suitableness to the type of garment. Blends are not necessarily bad, as a good blend can contain the best qualities in both types of fiber.
Next, look at the sheerness of the fabric. Even light fabrics shouldn’t be sheer, unless the item is designed to be see-through. If you can see your hand through the fabric, skip it. This means it has fewer fibers and is less durable.
Stretching it out is another way to determine the fabric quality. Better quality fabrics are more tightly woven, which gives them better form retention (they bounce back after stretching) and more durability.
Also, consider the stiffness/softness of the fabric. Good quality denim might be stiff at the beginning, but it shouldn’t feel like cardboard. It also shouldn’t feel like sweats. It should be somewhere in the middle.
In addition to the composition of the fabrics, look for the fabric origin and grade on the label of natural fibers. This is often an indicator of good quality. If you know that the linen comes from Ireland or the cotton from Egypt, and the grade (level) of the fabric, you know that you are buying a piece that will have lasting value.
Here, a few types of fabrics to consider:
Check the Construction
Once the fabric passes the test, the next thing to check is how the item is assembled. Poor construction can ruin an otherwise promising piece. Here are some of the details to look for:
- Seams should be stitched close together, and not coming apart, frayed, or with loose threads. You shouldn’t be able to see through the seam when it’s pulled apart. High quality seams include the French seam (usually used for hems and more delicate fabrics) and the flat felled seam (more durable, can be used on the sides of pants, for example). Basic serged seams are considered lower quality. A center seam on a jacket is a nice feature to look for.
- A button-down top or shirtdress should have a back yoke, which allows for greater movement and durability. Lower priced versions often skip this detail.
- Hidden zippers are a sign of quality construction and create a more polished look.
- Look for garments with finished hems, rather than raw or cut hems, and you’ll find that the rest of the item is generally better quality. Companies that cut corners often skip the finished hems.
- Unique, artistic, and well-executed patterns are more readily found on higher quality items, while lower quality items feature overused patterns found everywhere. How patterns are placed and assembled is also a key factor. Make sure the pattern lines up properly in key places like seams, over button-holes, and at pockets. Also, make sure the pattern isn’t placed in an unflattering way over the body, or highlighting a specific body part.
The finishing touches and attention to details that complete a garment are a key to its quality. FOr example, extra buttons and thread can be a sign that the item is designed to last and may need a button replacement in the future.
- Buttonholes should be neat and tight, but not too tight that they don’t work. Also, make sure buttons are tightly stitched on.
- Buttons of good quality are often made of natural materials, like wood, mother of pearl, and metal. An item of clothing can get a quick upgrade with the addition of high quality buttons. (Steal good buttons from discarded items of clothing, or pick them up at thrift stores and vintage shops).
- Embellishments should be sewn on, and not glued on.
I know that SO much more could be said about the topic of quality, so I would love to hear from you. Which signs of quality do you look for, and why? Let me know in the comments!