Be ShopSmart: How To Recognize Garment Quality

April 11th, 2005

Part of being smart about shopping is knowing how to discern clothing quality.

You may wonder why the clothes at, say, Forever 21 can be less than half the price of those found at Club Monaco. One word: Quality.

The higher priced Club Monaco shirt will likely have more expensive detailing—say rows of topstitching, or the addition of higher-priced fabrics. More care will have been taken in “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s,” so to speak, and you won’t find large numbers of unsnipped threads hanging off the shirt. Any zippers will have been put in correctly, and they’ll likely zip and unzip better than their counterparts at Forever 21. The garment from Forever 21 may have slightly mismatched seams and/or loose threads hanging off it, and it will likely be made of lesser quality fabric.

Perhaps most importantly, the Forever 21 shirt, while probably cute, will likely not last more than one or two seasons. The Club Monaco shirt, however, will likely be sticking around in your closet for more than a few months.

That’s not to say that there’s no place for value-priced clothing—sometimes it’s nice to hop on the trend bandwagon with a low-priced investment. I do it all the time. I just think it’s important to know what you’re paying for each time you make a purchase. After all, nobody wants to invest a lot of money in a piece of “quality” clothing that’s going to fall apart after a couple of washings.

What do I look for in a quality garment?

  • No Loose Threads: Loose threads hanging off of a garment are a red flag signal of poor quality in a garment. If the manufacturer couldn’t be bothered to finish the sewing job by cutting off the thread ends, what else did they skimp on?
  • Stitch Length: In general, the shorter the stitch length on a garment, the better the quality.
  • Linings: The very presence of a lining tends to signify a garment of better quality. However, not all linings are equal, so check the quality of the lining, just as you would check the rest of the garment.
  • Seams: In general, the greater number of times a seam was sewn, the better the quality. I generally look for topstitching and/or interesting seam treatments. I also pull on the seams in the store to test their strength.
  • Patterns: Patterns should match at all seamlines. For most garments, patterns should be parallel or perpendicular at the seams. If the pattern matching looks haphazard, and not in the “I meant to do that” designer way, put down the garment and walk away.
  • Fastenings: Zippers should move smoothly—it’s a good idea to test them in-store. Buttons and buttonholes should be sewn tightly with plenty of thread.
  • Pockets: They should lie flat and not pull or pucker in any way.
  • Seam allowances and hems: Seam allowance is the width of fabric extending from a seamline to the raw edge of a garment. For items like suits, in particular, wider seam allowances are preferable because they allow for greater flexibility for alterations. Wider hems are also preferable for the same reason.

FYI: Starting this week, I’ll be adding to my men’s fashion coverage. Look for men’s fashion ideas on Wednesday and Thursday this week!

Entry Filed under: How To, Men's, Women's

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