Reader Request: Shopping for Quality and Longevity

Bubu asked:

I wonder if you might do a post on shopping for quality/longevity. I find some stores, like Ann Taylor or L.L. Bean, have pretty good and consistent quality in construction and holding up to washing, etc, or really good return policies. But the Gap, for example, is much more uneven, and I’ve just stopped shopping at Old Navy because everything loses its shape after a wash. Especially when thrifting or buying at a place like T.J. Maxx, which have a hodgepodge, how can you assess how the piece will hold up with wear and tear and washing?

First, the bad news: The best and most reliable way to find out if a brand or garment will last is simple trial and error. Quality tests can fail, great brands can create dud items, and there is no foolproof way to screen for durability.

Now, the good news: You CAN train yourself to spot shoddy construction, identify cheap materials, and make informed decisions. It takes time and personal experience, but the investment is worthwhile. Especially if you thrift or hit discounters like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Here are a few things to look for when you’re considering a purchase:

Seams: I’m no seamstress – and I’d bet my life that you sewist readers can give more detailed, informative input – but even we laypeople can generally spot shoddy seams. Look for loose threads and broken stitches, for starters. Also remember that a higher density of stitches per inch is generally better, and stitching should be relatively tight. (Though not so tight that it prevents the garment from moving fluidly and freely.) Serged seams or double straight seams are generally stronger and, therefore, preferable to single straight seams.

Lining and reinforcement: Certain types of fabric reinforcement are hard to spot, but take a peek regardless. Look inside – especially blazers and bottoms – to see if you can spot any facing around zippers, buttons, or other high-use areas. Also check for lining: A lined skirt, jacket, dress, or pair of pants is usually a better investment than an unlined one. Lined garments glide on easier and layer better, so they’re worth more.

Material: Everyone has her own material preferences, but in my opinion natural fibers are always a good bet. Wool, silk, cotton, and linen beat out nylon, polyester, and acetate any day. Especially if you’re thrifting, give fiber content the once-over and spring for natural fibers over synthetics. They’ll last longer and launder easier.

Weight: Obviously there are silk blouses that feel lighter than air and are well worth purchasing, but I generally subscribe to the idea that heavier is better. A wool blazer that weighs next to nothing likely lacks a lining, real pockets, and quality notions. It may also be constructed from a flimsy textile. Heavier cottons age better, dense linens last longer … not foolproof, by any means, but if you pick up a garment that SHOULD feel heavy and dense but doesn’t, keep looking.

Brand: I’m reluctant to condone label obsession – especially since I frequently fight the urge to thrift a designer garment simply because it’s designer – but the fact is that clothing brands earn their reputations. They won’t stamp their names on garments that don’t meet their standards. So if you’ve got two pairs of jeans in-hand at Marshalls, one Levi’s and one an unknown-to-you brand, you’d be safer going with the Levi’s.

Care instructions: No matter the situation, ALWAYS check care instructions. A “dry clean only” garment will cost you far more in the long haul than its retail price. But bear in mind, too, that repeated trips to a crappy dry cleaner can ruin a garment – stiffen, shrink, or otherwise alter its original condition. The flip side is that shoddily-constructed washables will often come undone in the machine. So examine care instructions and construction with the same rigor.

Stains, rips, and other obvious damage: Yeah, I know. But garments can get ruined in department stores just as easily as they can get ruined in thrift stores. Don’t forget to give every potential purchase the damage-once-over.

Again, none of these tests are foolproof, but if you want to train yourself to shop for quality and longevity, they’re a good place to start!

How do YOU test a garment for quality? Any other construction-related tips from those who make their own clothing? How do you feel about garment weight? Natural fibers? Do you have a go-to brand that you’ll trust to create and sell quality clothing till the end of time?

Image courtesy kellyhogaboom.

  • http://unmitigated.typepad.com/ unmitigated me

    Thanks for this post, Sal! I love the cute little things I see at places like Tar-zhay and Kohls, but I have learned that I should go with only the simplest most basic pieces there. I treat their t-shirts as disposable, almost, and grab six when they are 8 bucks apiece. That way, when they start getting yellow in the pits, or losing their shape, I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth, and out it goes. Jackets and slacks and skirts I find at thrifts for much higher quality at a fraction of the original price! A virgin wool tartan pleated skirt for 6 bucks? Oh, yeah!

  • http://skywalkerbeth.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth Anderson

    I buy at Ann Taylor and Banana Republic semi-regularly, but to be honest I’m tired of it. Good for basic work clothes, but boring. Even when they are trying to add a dash of pizzazz. I find that buying just basics there is the best. Workhorse stuff – trousers and Ts/camis. I prefer natural fibers, and I actually prefer dry cleaning (or hand washables) because it’s usually shorthand for a little more quality. Any time I’ve bought something that is allowed to be washed, typically it looks like hell after a while. The items I wear “out” (meaning work or dates) either get dry cleaned or hand washed and hung. I just got back from Paris and while there discovered Gerard Darel and went a little crazy. I now have some really excellent pieces to throw into the mix. I love your blog, it really gets me thinking.

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  • http://365outfits-aw.blogspot.com/ AW

    When I look at seams on a patterned garment, I’m also looking to see if the pattern lines along the seam. A quality manufacturer will take the time to match and line up the pattern unless it’s supposed to be a funky garment with mismatched patterns.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      TOTALLY. I often forget to check for pattern alignment and then it just irks me later.

  • http://www.georginaswan.com Georgina

    YES! Thoughtful Consumption all the way!

    I tried on a pencil skirt in Zara not too long ago, only to find that the base of the zip had completely come loose from the rest of the skirt. I checked all the sizes of that particular skirt, and they all had the same fault! I love Zara, but it was some pretty shoddy workmanship on their part.

    There’s nothing wrong with high street buys, as long as they’re good quality. I always try to invest – it makes a huge difference.

    • GG_Kitty

      I get what you mean! I am having a hard time finding good quality clothing now a days! I find that stores like Banana Republic, JCrew and Zara over price their items! I have a friend who’s daughter works in Banana Republic and she complains about the workmanship of their clothing and shoes! I’ve owned several t-shirt basics from BR and I find that they do not stand the test of time, and washing! They stretch out horribly at the neck line and the fabric just falls apart! Not to mention they are using a lot of synthetics! Where has all the quality gone! :( It saddens me sooooo!!!
      If anyone can suggest be to some worth-it brands I would appreciate it!

  • http://3hourspast.blogspot.com/ Steph

    I’m a very picky sewist and I think you hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. Well done.

  • http://StylebyIzabela.blogspot.com Izabela

    One of my big things is where the seams lie on my body; for example, on a shirt, the seam should go straight down from armpit to hip (or wherever it hits), and not towards the belly-button. Also, higher quality clothing will align the patterns near the seams, so it’s totally fluid.

    Great advice, Sal!

  • molly

    That’s another reason I thrift: If it’s gotten to secondhand (I’m assuming that most pieces were worn at least a few times) with no pilling or seam rippage, the quality is probably decent. Perusing the thrift racks I’ve found a lot of Velvet and Michael Stars with sloppy seaming and grubby color–I almost never buy it–and similarly, Banana Republic’s floppy synthetics often look way lower-rent than what people must’ve paid new. I’ve seen a lot of good-as-new Ann Taylor tops, and though I wouldn’t buy Mossimo or Old Navy secondhand, it’s often surprisingly crisp and bright. Gap is usually disappointing. Forever21 is predictably all over the place but mostly not great. Juicy shirts are good if you spot them, Theory too, and high-end athletic wear like lululemon. Some unknown/generic brands still look fine, and I’ll get them if I really like them. Lined skirts and jackets are often great; soft cotton skirts and unlined jackets lose their shape. Jeans quality is pretty up in the air…lots of jeans make it to thrift looking really good or bad regardless of brand, which may say more about how they were used than about the way they were made.

    Hm…I think I’ll go to the thrift store today.

  • http://rubybows.blogspot.com Leiah

    Another thing that might be worth considering is the STYLE of the piece you’re about to buy. If you trust the brand name, but it’s a brand new cut / body style of pants or shirt, it might not hold up as well as a style of jeans they’ve carried for years. When a brand carries a specific style longer, it means people keep buying it and are happy with the construction.

    For example, I recently bought a few sportswear items from the brand Soffe, who are known for their awesome cheerleading shorts. I stocked up on the shorts (high quality, tried & true!), then sprung for a pair of capris that were a brand new style. Shorts = awesome, capris = not so awesome in their quality.

  • http://www.stylinstacy.com Stacy

    You did a great job in listing out what to look for! A few more indicators of quality are Hong Kong (bound in bias fabric) seams in an unlined lighter weight jacket and bound buttonholes. I really like the CAbi brand for quality. You can find them in consignment stores around here, too. I had to put a bunch of mine on consignment after losing weight, and I was very sad. They were really good clothes and worth the money I spent on them.

  • JennyDC

    I think you also can’t expect stuff to last if you throw it in the washer and dryer. Basically I machine dry underwear, socks, sheets and towels, pajamas, maybe the odd t-shirt if it’s too big and could stand to shrink a bit anyway. Everything else gets hung to dry (jeans go into the dryer briefly to tighten them up, then hang dry the rest of the way). Cotton sweaters NEVER get thrown in the washer, nor do wool or cashmere. I usually wear a layer underneath, so they don’t get too stinky. When they need to be washed, hand wash in the sink with Woolite and dry flat. And Sal, I have to say, I have conniptions when I read about you throwing tights in the washer (and dryer??). I have leotards and tights for ballet and they are ALWAYS handwashed.

    I think looking for quality is good, but how you care for your clothing also matters.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      To each her own! My tights have fared beautifully in the washer and hung to dry. My priority is to spend less time fussing over hand-washing – which, with my wardrobe could take up many, many hours each week – so that’s what I choose to do.

      • Kaye

        I’ve also recently discovered the gentle cycle in the washer; my tights are holding up really well, and many of the tops I used to hand-wash now get washed with woolite on the gentle cycle.

        • Karin

          For tights (and other delicates like bras and lacy underwear) I use the gentle or handwash cycle (which my machine thankfully has) and additionally put them into a washing net bag. Alternatively, you could use a thin pillow case in lieu of a net bag.

          • http://dreamygirlphd.blogspot.com/ Robin Louise

            This is going to sound weird, but to save time on handwashing, I just take my tights and other handwashables in the shower with me, and just wash them with Dove soap, and hang ‘em to dry. I shower every day or every other day, so nothing I need is out of commission too long. I love showering, so even if I am not really “saving time”, it’s a good excuse to stay in the shower a few minutes longer.

  • http://frumpfactor.wordpress.com/ Anne @ The Frump Factor

    Those are really great tips. The only thing I would add is that sometimes you get quality clues from how a garment feels when you try it on. Higher quality clothes tend to fit more smoothly — hanging better on the body — and the fabrics will feel comfortable. The cheaper ones tend to have scratchy fabrics that don’t breathe at all, or they’ll hang awkwardly on the body, collars will stick up, etc.

    I do use brands as clues, but you are right — many high end brands make lower end clothes for places like TJ Maxx. And I think the quality of Levi’s that I buy at outlets or discount stores is not the same as the quality of Levi’s bought at a department store. (Could be my imagination…..)

    • Kelli

      I agree that outlets & Marshalls, TJ Maxx do seem to carry a different line of brands I am pleased with from department stores.
      For that reason I rarely shop at either of those stores, I am almost always disappointed in my finds.

      • Gigi

        That’s absolutely true! When I wa sin college, we did a case study on Walmart, and learned that high end brands make lower end versions of their clothes for the discount stores. Exc blog..and great comments too! Thx everyone!

  • Roberta

    I’m a sewer and I always look for seams that don’t pucker and neat buttonholes (no loose threads) and buttons sewn on in an “X” not and “=” (they stay on forever).Keep an eye out for crap linings – acetate, for one. A heavier poly, especially in a pattern, is a sign of quality. Are the cuffs of a jacket a true cuff with a placket, and not just a turned up hem and buttons stitched on.

    Extra seaming for fit is another clue: princess seams in the front, vertical seams in the back. This is the main reason I still shop at Talbots despite the relative lack of trends. I have Talbot’s pants that are ten years old and still wearable. Boden is another fantastic brand for great workmanship. And you don’t see every other woman wearing it.

    that said, I buy cheap white shirts and tees because they all stain at the underarms eventually. And print out pics from your blog to copy from my my own pieces! Seriously, you’re taped to my closet door as we speak. You and Sheila and Kristin and the gang. :-)

  • shari

    I think with the downturn in the economy, one can no longer depend on brand names as an indication of quality. I think quality has gone downhill almost across the board. That said, I have great items from Old Navy and Target that have stood the test of time, and I have had much more expensive items from brands that used to be good quality fall apart (Hello JCrew).

    I agree with Sal, one must do to an item by item examination. Clearly if it already looks pilly and droopy on the hanger you should pass.

    Some of the old standards have excellent quality but may be a bit short on style. I’m thinking Lands End, LL Bean, Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers. I’ve taken to getting more basic pieces and dressing them up with accessories. I feel I get more bang for my buck. Also, don’t ignore store brands. Often their quality equals higher end brands. For example, most of my cashmere is Charter Club from Macy’s bought on sale for about $30 per sweater. It’s not quite the quality of my Lands End cashmere, but it’s close.

    I also agree with the poster who commented on the quality of vintage items. I am old enough to remember when clothes lasted long than you wanted to wear them. Cheap, throwaway fashion really started in the 90s with the increase in wealth and the opening of China for manufacturing. IMO.

    • malevolent andrea

      Oh, I was going to commend JCrew. Everything I’ve bought from them over the past year has held up far better than stuff I’ve bought elsewhere. Maybe I’ve just been lucky with the particular items.

      • Gigi

        I’ve been a devotee of J Crew for years and they are definitely a yo-yo right now in terms of quality. I have cotton sweaters and jeans from 10 and 8 (respectively) years ago that hold up well to gentle machine washing and line drying, but some of their newer stuff is way too see-through, and arrives new with buttons falling off. So, I pay attention to their descriptions, check the fabric label and really get to know the line, because some of their pieces are still great (blazers and bridesmaid dresses they seem to do well, as well as jeans and certain sweaters. Jersey-type cotton and tees I stay away from. (I like RL and Hilfiger for those).Last fall, I bought a belt from JCr that I was terribly disappointed with – the leather lining was rough and clearly cheap quality, and it was made in China. I bought one this spring which was USA made and had good quality, smooth leather lining, so I am hoping they may be upgrading their quality again. But time will tell.

  • http://droppedpins.wordpress.com/ Moeno

    Great tips Sal! As a seamstress I can also point out that lining are especially essential for good quality materials (like silk) to protect it from sweat and other wear. Hems are also a great way to check quality, cheaper quality will just be serged and sewn, whereas better quality ones are serged, folded over, and sewn invisibly which also makes it so you can lengthen them if necessary.

    It difficult for new clothes but for consignment goods you should look to see if the armholes and neckholes have stretched at all which would be a sign of bad seam finishing and lack of stabilizer. Another thing is to check how well pockets have been finished, it’s a pretty good sign of how good the workmanship is.

    Other small things: Buttons, on coats they should have a smaller support button in the back to prevent wear and the thread used can vary in quality. Collars, really good coats have a more structured collar, you can just tell by looking at them. On dress-shirts check out the cuff area, some have absolutely horrendous seams. Most of the other things I can think of have been covered. Oh yes, and I fully agree about natural fibers! Lately the workmanship on the clothes I’ve seen, even from companies that used to be good, are getting worse and worse. Either that or I’m noticing it more…

  • http://dashingeccentric.blogspot.com/ tiny junco

    perspective from a thirty-year seamstress:
    grain is so important! here’s an in-depth article on grain:
    http://tinyurl.com/4rvoxj7
    basically, the grain of the fabric (in wovens, this is the line formed by the individual threads which make up the fabric) should be perpendicular to the floor or parallel to a plumb line. garments cut off-grain will never fit properly, they will always crawl around on your body and it will ONLY get worse with time. there’s nothing you can do to fix it. being cut true to grain is one of the most critical aspects of garment quality – if you’re interested in buying quality garments, educate yourself on fabric grain and use that knowledge. (tear threads out of fabric scraps to get a feel for how grain works).

    tee shirts that sit askew on your body, with an uneven hem and neckline? they were cut off grain. steph

  • http://labeletterouge.com La Belette Rouge

    Quality is a bit like the Supreme Court’s ruling on pornography, “I know it when I see it.” I don’t know how I know it—I just do. And my parents who were in the fashion business would be horrified that I can’t explain how I identify a garment as quality or not. But I guess it doesn’t matter, what matters is that I can.;-)

  • Eliza

    The cheaper the brand, the more I insist on natural fibers (usually cotton). Look carefully at any trims- at the very least, I refuse to buy anything with very shiny lace (sythethetic) because that ALWAYS seems to indicate cheap construction. Another problem is if it looks like they tried to skimp on the amount of trim that was needed, generally the manufacturer skimped elsewhere as well.
    Better garments will often waste more material, and use lots of tailoring to get the perfect look, so keep an eye out for matched patterns at the seams, skirts that are supposed to be full really having enough fabric (I’m finding more and more brands skimp on this) and use of bias-cut fabrics.
    One last tip- even if you don’t sew, haunt a good fabric store anyways. Recognizing good fabrics by touch is a skill I use all the time when I’m shopping, and fabric stores are the best place to learn the difference.

  • http://malepatternboldness.com Peter

    Great tips. How sad that we can no longer say, to assure you’re buying a quality garment, “Look for the union label.”

    You won’t find one.

  • http://www.sohoaccessories.com sohoaccessories

    Great tips..thanks will try to keep them in mind when I go shopping!

  • http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/ Trystan

    Something that a lot of these comments are dancing around is *when* to look for quality — the fact is, few of us can afford to buy the best of every single thing in our wardrobes, so we have to prioritize. For example, it pays to look for quality in tailored garments because quality shows. A poorly fitted tailored garment defeats the purpose of the garment, & tailored garments tend to cost more so if you invest in quality, you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck. Also, you want quality in the items you will wear the most. If you live in jeans, buy the best. If you wear suits to work, look for high quality (& get alterations if necy.). I tend to think shoes should be high quality because how you treat your feet affects your overall well-being. But then, shoes you don’t wear very often — say, sky-high heels for one fancy event or sandals you wear on a one-time beach vacation — those might as well be cheap & low quality because you won’t spend much time in them.

  • http://dashingeccentric.blogspot.com/ tiny junco

    i forgot! this ties in with Eliza’s excellent tip on educating your hand to quality fibers.

    take some time in high-end department stores or designer shops to really look at how the garments are made – even if you have no intention or ability to buy. if you’re presentable and polite the salespeople won’t mind, and there are a few who really love clothes and will appreciate your admiration.

    feel the fabric, feel ‘into’ the garment for interfacing and stays, inspect the lining, look at how the buttonholes, hems, facings, collars, cuffs, are constructed. look at fibre content labels. making notes afterward will help you remember what you learned (more so than taking pix).

    & while early synthetics are just gross, ones produced nowadaysy are much nicer and have their place in quality garments. some acrylic added to cotton or wool knits adds loft and increases wear without necessarily causing pilling, 2% lycra added to silk makes the hand even more luxurious and improves the wear of the garment. steph

  • http://nosignposts.blogspot.com The Waves

    I don’t think I have anything in particular to add to your list and to what the others have already said, but it is really shocking to see how much worse the quality of clothing is becoming all the time. I read recently that in order to make minimum wage, a Forever21 seamstress would have to sew an entire vest in less than a minute. That really makes one think, you know? How can we even expect quality when the reality is that most high-street brands have their clothes sewn in such conditions? Grr, the whole thing makes me angry!

  • GG

    I don’t know if what I’m going to add here will be of any help, but I’ve learnt that pricier/branded goods does not always equal quality. I bought expensive pieces from Ann Taylor and Calvin Klein during my US visit last summer – they both had pilling the first time I wore them. Same goes for a Monsoon cardigan I bought recently here in the UK. When I pay more, I expect the garment to look like new at least until after a few washes, and when I’m let down, the disappointment is greater. I’m not disagreeing that you generally get what you pay for, but unfortunately sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. On the flip side of the coin, I’ve picked up lovely items for less than £10 in places such as Primark, ASDA and Tesco which have lasted me ages. And I get the most number of compliments on my Primark items. I recently bought pricey court shoes that I could go shopping comfortably in, but despite their reputation for comfort, I find I cannot walk for long in them. My shopping shoes now are a pair of cheap boots costing £9 from Tesco – they are so comfy I have shopped in them all day without any problems. My new year resolution was to buy less but better quality items, but now I don’t know where I stand. Am I the only person to have experienced this?

    I have to add that of course I have expensive items that have lasted me forever and cheaper items that have let me down, but of late I’ve found so many quality brands have let me down.

  • Michelle

    Am I the only one who buys nice dry-clean only pieces from the thrift store, subjects them to the washing machine, and then hangs them to dry? Only things I buy on half-price days, mind you, and I put them in a lingerie bag, but…dry cleaning kinda weirds me out (in terms of the chemicals used), and I can’t afford either the less harsh kind of dry cleaning or the normal one, these days. But I still find pieces I can’t pass up. So far, so good.

    So of course I throw my tights in the wash, in lingerie bags, and hang them to dry. I’ve had tights washed like this last for years.

    I am a big fan of tailors and tailoring: I still appreciate the tailor who once told me about something I took to him for some major tailoring, “This clothing in not worth getting tailored.” Looking back, I can see that the quality of the garment was pretty sad. At the time, though, I had no clue.

    I am with the commenter who observes that the pieces of clothing an individual owns are most likely going to vary in quality. :-)

    • recalcitrant

      You most certainly are not! I do this all the time. Wool sweaters from the thrift store marked dry-clean only immediately get a good soak in Eucalan. I’m convinced that many wool items are marked dry clean only because so many people don’t know how to treat them to avoid shrinkage (heat and agitation are your enemies). Obviously some items really do require dry cleaning (blazers, for example), but with depending on the fiber content in some thrifted items, I am willing to take a risk and avoid the dry cleaning bills.

      • Le-Anne

        as someone who had worked in the dry cleaning industry for many years I would like to let you know that just because it has Dry Clean Only written in the tag does not mean it is a quality garment. We often hand washed silks and some woollens as some dry cleaning methods can be too harsh. They came up beautifully. We used shampoos with a neutral pH for this as hair, silk and woollens are all protein fibres. With this experience and knowledge, I even wash the dance kilts and woollen hose which we use for highland dancing (very expensive items) as it is better for the care of the kilts/hose.

  • c.

    This is why I LOVE thrifting. I feel my way down the rack. Not even looking at color or anything. You can FEEL good fabric and good fibers. I can tell an imitation from a natural fiber any day of the week. I hate most the rayon/linen blends. They don’t breath.

    I buy washed out or stained silk and take it home and overdye it. I ALWAYS buy dryclean only items at the thrift story usually 1-2 sizes larger than my “normal” and then I take it home and wash it on cold and hang it to dry two or so times. If it shrinks below my size it’s not for me. If it doesn’t shrink I give it to someone larger than me, if it fits me perfectly “oh look I got this awesome wool/dryclean only jacket, skirt, etc. etc”

    People are amazed that I don’t dryclean anything and don’t pay the money for it and look awesome. You’ve just got to buy a couple of sizes larger and be willing to be out that 5 or 8 dollars if it doesn’t work out for you. To me, this is WAY cheaper and healthier than the alternative of drycleaning.

    That said, learn what a bias cut looks like an a french seam is. Both, often, but not always, indicate a better piece both by cut and by assembly. Bias cut is an expensive use of fabric so the manufacturer will ask for a higher price on a good bias cut and that means that you’re going to get something assembled with a bit more care (even in the low-end brands). This is a generalization but can be useful when sorting at a thrift store.

    Did I mention I LOVE thrifting. :D

    • Anna

      To C. and Michelle, re dry cleaning: Years ago I heard a lecturer on clothing say that the “dry clean only” label is put into far too many garments that can easily be washed because of pressure from the dry cleaning industry.

    • AJM

      I also read or head the manufacturers put Dry Clean Only tags in clothing to protect themselves from liability if something is washed and falls apart.

    • http://Frida1234.blogspot.com Frida

      How do you identify fibers by touching them?

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  • http://sundayofsummer.blogspot.com catlover

    This is a wonderful post, such an important style topic!

    I don’t know if I necessarily focus on quality as much as I worry about the experiences I have had in the past with certain brands and fabric types.

    I’m not one to go for synthetic stuff (viscose, rayon, polyester, etc) mostly because I have had a hard time getting many of those fabrics to hold up for multiple seasons. However, I do love knits. I think a knit dress is just about the best item of clothing I’ve ever invested in.

    I buy middle of the road jeans (Old Navy, Ann Taylor) and I don’t worry about them holding up for a really long time. Usually after a couple of years, I just go out and replace them. I’m more interested in fit and wash with denim. Also, I’ve noticed that something funky seems to happen with every brand of jeans, no matter how well I treat them (shrinking, fading, holes). So I don’t stress about it.

    Usually, when I’m thrifting, I’m looking for clothing with a classic shape and a nice natural fiber like cotton. I tend to save my junkie purchases for new items and I stick to tried and true pieces at the second hand places. This usually helps me sift through the impulse buys pretty well.

    I do sew, so I know a bit about what to look for in terms of structural quality. But unless I’m making the item myself, I usually don’t think much about it, since most retail stuff from the stores I can afford is not that well made. I guess it’s about finding a balance between clothes that look nice and clothes that will last through several washes.

    • Anna

      Hi Catlover (I too love cats…and also sew). Just a little picky comment about rayon. It is a natural fiber, not synthetic. It’s made from wood pulp. I am very fond of good quality rayon, which takes color beautifully and drapes very well. But you gotta look for the good stuff.

  • http://www.alterationsneeded.com/ Alterations Needed

    Such a great topic! Since I have to tailor a lot of items, I’m very concerned with garment quality. If any more money is going to be invested in a garment by way of tailoring, then the garment must be worth it in terms of fabric, cut, details, style and longevity.

  • http://line4line.blogspot.com K-Line

    Sally: I love this post and the comments. I do have to disagree with one point – while natural fibres are fab, they’re not the ones that often wear the best from a vintage/thrift perspective. Some of the longest-lived (and best preserved) pieces are polyester. It was, after all, the “indestructible fabric of the future”. And, depending on the quality of the synthetic (there are lots of terrific ones from now and days gone by), you can score a piece that will last up and wash well into eternity. All the other guidelines apply – good workmanship, straight seams, nice finishes, good drape etc. Just don’t avoid poly on principle.

    • Gary

      I agree with K-Line to not instantly discount the value of synthetics.

      When I was a kid in the 80’s, my parents always insisted on all natural fibers. These days, I have found that high quality synthetics have their place – highly functional “underarmour”-style base layers for sweaty activities or quick-dry travel underwear come readily to mind.

      Active wear is probably subject to far more stress (abrasion, washing) than everyday office business casual, so shopping high quality should matter for synthetics, too.

  • http://www.magpiestyle.net Tracey

    Great post! Sometimes it’s simple to see the difference between excellent quality and shoddiness. Trying it on is vital. You can see how the material drapes and looks. A quality item will drape beautifully, won’t have uneven hems and will just feel better.

  • http://www.stylesymmetry.com eyeliah

    when ever I see ‘Banana Republic” tags I get really excited. Even once I’ve decided on my pieces I give them one more once over just to be sure they are in excellent condition.

  • claire

    Wow, this group is awesome! This is the website I decided to visit when I typed “who makes good quality clothes, I’m tired of cheap shirts that only last one wash” into my search engine. I think it’s definitely time to petition the entire industry – the crap that’s being marketed to us is just not acceptable. I spent all of last year trying to improve my wardrobe and none of the clothes I’ve bought lasted more than a few wears, thus I must now start over from scratch, thus my internet search. I suppose this is how beginners learn…

    You guys rock! Thanks for all of the tips.

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  • joy

    My mom was a seamstress and before buying any article of clothing, she always turned garments inside-out to check the seams. She also tested zippers and made sure that buttons were attached securely.

  • Kristina

    Sorry I can’t read all the comments–just wanted to add a fabric note. I am a very skilled sewist, for myself and others, and expensive natural fabrics sometimes wear out fast. Natural fabrics with a little nylon or polyester will often hold their shape better, last longer, and no one can tell from looking at them that they are not 100%. Also, dry clean only tags are sometimes a manufacturer’s copout–they have used meltable findings or bad dyes. Many, many clothes that are labeled “dry clean only” can be beautifully washed by hand in cool or warm water. I learned this from a Thai friend who also loves to wear handwoven Thai silk; it actually lasts longer if I wash it with care rather than trust my very bad local dry cleaner.

    • Viktoria

      I second this, being a die-hard thrifter. I wash everything myself, and have yet to ruin anything. You just need to be careful, use the wool setting on the machine, buy a good detergent, and stay away from spin cycles.

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  • Jules

    My mom and I were just talking about this subject the other day! Being a kid from the 80’s I remember the clothes my mom bought us would not only last more than one washing, they would often be passed down to younger siblings looking way better than many new clothing items found in various stores today! For example, (funny story) a sweater that my two brothers and I wore back in the 80’s when we were very young, is now worn by a doll that my mom dresses up for Christmas every year. Needless to say, that doll looks totally awesome year after year. On the contrary, my older child has been able to pass down very few articles clothing such as jeans to her younger sibling due to the lack of quality particularly in sweaters and tee shirts.

  • Dominique Taylor

    Hi There Sally,

    I am reading your blog for the first time, and I just thought that i should let you know that the sign of a good quality coat is definitely when it is light in weight. i thought this was worth mentioning for otherwise your readers might go out and get the heaviest coat they can find and end up with headaches and back problems.

    It is generally light weight if it is good quality because it is made of cashmere which is the hight of luxury but not heavy at all. A cashmere coat will last a lifetime and keep you warmer than wool. Also wool will get very cold and wet in damp cold where cashmere does not absorb the same way and so will not.

    This goes with jumpers as well however you are correct when talking about heavy linen and cotton lasting longer.

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  • Molly

    Thank you so much for the advice, everyone, on hand washing “dry clean only” clothing. I’m 29 and never hand washed anything until recently, and I don’t know what I was doing all my life! Since I learned how to properly wash silk, I have been going crazy on half price day at my local thrift stores, grabbing up silk and taking it home to wash in the sink, and my wardrobe has become so much more beautiful as a result. I’ve always loved silk, but never knew how to care for it properly, and I can’t tell you how many cashmere sweaters I’ve ruined in the delicate cycle in a washing machine. Never again! Goodbye to silky polyester fabrics forever!

    I thrifted a beautiful silk skirt in a size 20 for $2 and turned it into beautiful dress for myself, a size 6 or so. Can’t beat that!