Good Design is Valuable

I’ve written before about the value of broad shopping searches. Especially if you’re seeking something extremely specific or scarce, you’ll have more success if you look EVERYWHERE. Including stores you don’t typically frequent and websites you don’t typically use. But another reason to consider broad searches has to do with design, and it’s central to my own wardrobe-building practices.

I believe that good design is valuable, regardless of its source. If I want a full, pleated, cobalt skirt I will look at thrift stores, on Etsy for handmade options, on eBay for used and vintage, at Target for bargains, at department stores, at mid-market mall stores, and occasionally at designer discounters. I don’t care if my full, pleated, cobalt skirt is new, old, used, untouched, made by a famous designer or made by an unknown artisan. I don’t care if it’s a brand that generally targets women older or younger than me, if it’s a brand that has gone out of business, if it’s a brand that doesn’t work for me aside from this single item. If it’s well made and if it’s exactly what I want, it’s valuable to me. It’s worth money. It’s worth wearing. While many expensive, fancy label goods will be designed and constructed with tremendous care, good design is not the exclusive domain of high-end designers. Good design is everywhere, and means different things to different people.

What does good design mean to you? Where do you seek and find it? Are you a design omnivore, willing to look for what you want just about anywhere, or do you limit yourself to trusted (or available) sources?

P.S. My full, pleated cobalt skirt came from Florence Adams. And it took me months to find it.

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  • I have. Several stores, brands and cities that flatter my taste and figure. Really: I used to fill my wardrobe from different travels since I didn’t find what I wanted from Finland. I used to think I don’t like clothes and shopping until I started traveling more. Heureka, I love it! It’s just that I’m in trouble now since I don’t gte to travel so often because of the kids…

  • I’m with you Sally–I don’t care who made it or where I get it from–if I like a piece of clothing I’m going to buy it and WEAR it proudly 🙂

  • mary

    it’s beautiful—eager to see how you style it.

  • Katharine

    Of course I’ll look anywhere. It’s pretty surprising, the places where one will occasionally find good design AND good construction together.

    On the flip side, sometimes expense and a label and great design does not in fact mean good quality. I was looking at a dress on Saturday, which I spotted in the window of one of our local Exclusive Boutiques. This dress had a brilliant and beautiful arrangement of folds and tucks, in grey and black plaid. Seeing it on the mannequin, I thought, “hey, I might actually pay whatever couple hundred they’re asking for that thing; it looks like something I’d get a lot of wear out of.”

    Then I went in. Cost of dress: nearly $400. Material: thin, bodiless cotton flannel. Finish: interior seams all serged, sometimes sloppily, with hanging tails. And the plaid wasn’t matched, even on key areas like the upper bodice and sleeves. It was ridiculous. I’ve seen better quality at H&M.

    (This is why I don’t actually like looking for my great design online. Inspired shape and cut is nothing without construction and fabric, and even very expensive lines are cutting a lot of corners these days.)

  • Now if only I could find that cobalt pleated skirt in a plus size. I love the flat waist panel.

  • D

    I am definitely a design omnivore when it comes to brands- if it is sturdy and/or interesting or beautiful, I will jump in. I do prefer to see and touch the garment though, so I’m probably more willing to take risks with brands I don’t have experience with when I’m at the thrift store or walking around a mall. Online I am still willing to take some risks, but usually I am more inclined to do that when I can read reviews, and I definitely go to a few trusted sources first.

  • Oh, I DO look everywhere … but not as much on line as in person. I want to touch and try and consider. I limit myself considerably by this, as I live in a very rural area, and the local big-town is not so much of a much. So looking at every available source is a must. I also tend to go on quest ( fixating on a single specific item ) and that’s the time when I run into other, great, unrelated items!

  • I do all this and more when I’m looking for the right thing. I’ve even been considering ordering custom because I want a certain color combination in a pair of shoes – but blues and greens are not “it” right now. It’s a pipe dream to do custom, but there are ways!

    The hunt of ebay/thrifting is always much more satisfying for me though. It’s truly a great feeling to go “OMG finally!”

  • Very well said, and a good philosophy for building a wardrobe. I once bought a pricey “designer” blazer b/c of the name, and was not really in love with it — it wasn’t made too well either! I’ve done better by ignoring the brand and focusing on the quality of the piece.

  • I love thrifting because what is used is also tested. I love what my friends would call “old lady clothes”, stuff my grandmother would look at. Though, of course, I wear it differently. Sturdy materials that age well, can be mended and washed, that´s my thing. Unfortunately, I´m allergic to viscose and wool, but there are great cottons and polyesters out there. Much of the time, I end up thrifting stuff that wasn´t used much because it was bought for grander occasions, exept I use those clothes for every day. Last week I bought a 70´s denim dress that looks like it´s never been worn, made in Sweden (while we still had a textile industry). It´s gorgeous, and flawless!

  • Shaye

    When shopping new, I tend to stick to trusted brands simply because it’s a shorthand for style, price, quality and fit that works for me. Sometimes I’ll branch out and find something unexpected, but then that retailer normally goes on my list until such a time as it stops meeting my needs/wants/expectations. (This explains my Dress Barn phase. I’ve stopped buying synthetic fabrics if I can help it, so I don’t shop there much any more, but I was shocked at how cute their clothes were when I first went in several years ago because a dress in the window caught my eye.)

    Of course when I’m thrifting I’ll try anything, except maybe pants in a brand I know never fits me. “Anything” includes browsing racks that aren’t my size, since sometimes things get misfiled and sometimes things are mislabeled.

    When I’m looking for a really specific garment, I’ll go anywhere my search takes me, although I try not to get too hung up on finding my dream garment right away. Experience has taught me that the exact thing I wanted will eventually come my way, often thrifted, if I’m willing to be patient.

  • Aging fashionista

    Great post and comments. Agree with all. Takes time tho,,and confidence to experiment. Gotta love the journey!

  • In theory I agree with you, that good design can come from any brand/source at any price point, but oddly enough thrifting has led me in the opposite direction. I’ve observed that garments from certain brands (especially fast-fashion like H&M and Forever 21) might seem appealing when my thrift goggles are on (oh come on, you know you wear them too), but they tend to get rotated out of my wardrobe again within months, having been worn once or twice or not at all because they’re cheap looking/too juvenile/just somehow off. So I tend to focus my thrift-rack combing on a handful of brands (mostly mid-range stuff like Gap, Banana Republic, Loft, etc., though I always take a look at higher-end garments when they show up, and also vintage) that have proven reliable workhorses in my wardrobe. True, label isn’t always a guarantee of quality, but I think paying attention to fiber content can often lead you in the right direction–I pretty much won’t buy acrylic sweaters anymore, I hold out for wool or cashmere.

    I also don’t think there’s anything wrong in theory with secondhand pieces of fluff that rapidly rotate in and out of one’s wardrobe (as long as you are able to afford it, etc.) but for me having that stuff in my closet makes it harder to get dressed! Seriously, it’s like the not-quite-right stuff overwhelms me and then I can’t pick out an outfit. Weird, I know, but I’m hoping being more careful/selective will help.