With my fashion design background, I’m often asked how to identify high quality clothing. Most people assume that if you pay more money, you get more quality. But in today’s world of thrifty reselling, that isn’t necessarily the case. Others will swear by only certain brands. While identifying designers that personally work for you is valuable, brand names alone don’t denote quality.
In this post we’ll identify elements that will clue you in to high quality clothing. While generally slightly more expensive, higher quality items will last longer. Quality clothing is also easily recognizable as such, though perhaps most people won’t be able to identify the specific characteristics. But with these tips, you can.
Fabric is what the garment is made of. Fiber content is what the fabric is made from (e.g., polyester, silk, wool). Fabric construction is how the fiber is held together. There are three major categories of construction: woven, knit, and other with infinite variations of each. None is any better or worse.
- Fiber content: Many experts will recommend that you buy fabrics that are only 100% natural. While this was good advice in 1974, textile technology has improved significantly. Try closing your eyes and just feeling the fabric in your hand. Does it feel good? Make sure that it feels good.
- Construction: Does the fabric hang evenly as intended? Is the fabric as substantial as you would like? This can be a very tricky determination as some fabrics are purposely designed with inconsistencies or transparency. Just becoming aware, though, will help you to learn the intricacies.
- Resiliency: If you stretch the fabric, how well and quickly does it bounce back? If you ball up the fabric in your hand, how much does it wrinkle? (Note that some fibers, notably linen, will wrinkle no matter how high quality.)
- Printing: If there is a pattern printed on the fabric, how thoroughly does it cover the fabric? Are there any areas where the print is spotty? A good trick to determine the level of pigment saturation is to look at the wrong side of the fabric and see how much of the print is visible on the reverse. The more the better
Construction refers to how the body of the garment is put together. Garments may need alterations that require additional fabric. And the seams must be strong enough to hold up to your movement. No wardrobe malfunctions here!
- Seams: Make sure that each seam is stitched thoroughly (no gaps if you pull it). The seam should lie flat without any puckers. When you look on the inside, see how much fabric is in the seam allowance. More fabric is generally higher quality.
- Pattern matching: If there is a stripe or a plaid, do the lines continue with minimal interruption to the pattern? Look especially at the side seams and any seams in the front or back of the garment to see that they line up. Places like shoulder seams will be difficult to gauge because you’re dealing with dimensional shaping.
- Hem: Just like you did with the seams, look at how much fabric is in the hem. Hems are found most commonly at the bottoms of shirts, pants, skirts, and dresses. However, hems are also at the ends of some sleeves.
- Pockets: Are the pockets big enough for your hands? To me this seems like an odd place for manufacturers to save fabric, but I’ve seen it. And it’s annoying. Make sure your hands fit comfortably in the pockets!
- Interfacing: Certain parts of the garment should have an interfacing (or stiffener) to help the garment hang properly. Make sure that 1) it is not bubbling and 2) that it is there. Typical locations for interfacing include collars, plackets, cuffs, and waistbands.
Trims are the little things that go into a garment. They include the fasteners that secure your clothing (e.g., buttons, zippers) as well as decorative embellishments (such as ribbons, beads, or embroidery).
- Coordinating elements: Most garments have elements other than just the fabric that are the same color. Getting these to match well takes a well-trained human eye. Inspect how well the buttons and zippers match with the main fabric. How about other fabrics such as linings and rib cuffs?
- Fasteners: If appropriate, are there spare buttons or extra yarn (usually for sweaters)? Are all of the fasteners secure and operational? Do buttons line up? Before you buy, go through and test everything. Sometimes you’re doing this anyway just by trying it on.
- Decorative elements: Do design details continue throughout the garment? Maybe a trim is only at the front neckline but not the back. If embroidery or patches are added, how secure is the stitching?
Applying Your New Knowledge
As you pay closer attention when selecting clothes, you’ll learn more. In addition to quality, there are other factors that will help you to decide whether to purchase an item. These include affordability, style, and purpose which we’ll discuss in future posts.
Use these tips as a guide, not requirements. Your goal is to incorporate these considerations into how you think about acquiring a garment as part of your wardrobe. That comes with practice. But you don’t even have to go out into the stores to practice. Just go to your own closet.
Do you have any questions about points not mentioned above? Please post your comments below so that everyone can learn.