How To Choose Quality Clothing

You want to look good in the clothes you buy and wear. And wear and wear and wear­­—which is why quality matters.

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about the surplus of cheap, poorly made fashion that’s constantly all around us. While the price tag for these items is very appealing, their long-term commitment to you is often not. The material becomes rough or faded after one cleaning, a rip soon appears in the seam, the shape goes from fitted to a giant box or baby wear, and suddenly, that gorgeous new piece that looked like a million bucks at the store is now looking better as a cleaning rag for your bathroom.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just low-priced clothing items that this happens to. More expensive brands can be guilty of producing poorly made items as well. We expect that we’re going to get a better quality piece by shelling out the extra cash at J.Crew and Banana Republic over Gap and Old Navy, and a lot of the time we do, but not always.

So, let’s throw labels away for a second and focus on the guts of a garment. No frills, just construction, execution, and details. Understanding what defines quality equips you with the skills to shop anywhere, from big chain stores to high-end designer boutiques to thrift stores, and pick out the gems that will stand the test of time. And with all those wears you’ll be getting out of your high-quality items over the years, you’ll not only be saving money, you’ll continue to look amazing while you do it.

Material: Natural fibers always win out for durability and fit over synthetic ones. The four basic natural fibers are silk, wool, cotton, and linen. Others include cashmere, alpaca, vicuna, ramie, and hemp (though these aren’t seen as often since they are more difficult to work with). Manufactured fibers (from cellulose) include rayon, acetate and modal. Synthetics ones are nylon, polyester and acrylic.

Stitching: The general rule is the more stitches per inch, the better made the garment. Look for about eight to twelve stiches per inch.

Seams:  Make sure the stiches are not too tight and causing the material to bunch up or pull in any way. Check for loose or broken threads that may break quickly and cause a rip or hole.

Hem: You should barely (if at all) be able to see the stitching from the outside of a hem. A generous hem allowance is always a good thing to look for as well in case you need to let it down.

Lining: Lining is a tell-tale sign of quality as it improves the way an item will hang on your body. Lining fabric should be smooth to touch. Silk or silk-cotton blends are top notch. Wool items should always be lined.   

Patterns: Make sure patterns line up at seams (unless the item is supposed to look funky and not meet perfectly). Stripes and patterns that are off are a giveaway for cheap construction (they were reluctant to use more fabric or take the time to make things line up).

Buttons: Buttons sewn on in an X rather than = are better reinforced and less likely to fall off. Buttons covered in fabric are usually an indication of a higher quality garment as well.

Check “built in” accessories: If the item comes with a belt, check to make sure it’s not made of cardboard or soft plastic. This is an indication of poor quality for the accessory and the item itself. 

Zippers: Check to make sure they work properly. They should easily slide up and down.

Manufactured in: Personally, I try to choose items made in the United States, Italy, France and Spain over those made in China and Vietnam. I find the quality from factories or producers in the U.S. and Europe is better, as the designers tend to work more closely throughout the construction process with the producers. This results in better attention to detail and execution. Additionally, I’m not a fan of sweatshops, so anything I can do to minimize the risk of supporting one is good in my book.