A question I get a lot from people who wear clothing is, “Where can I buy clothes that don’t cost too much, but won’t fall apart after the first wash?” As a former vintage clothing reseller and a long-time fashion podcaster, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the very very ugly when it comes to clothing quality.
Sadly, there are very few hard and fast rules to help you figure this out. That’s why I was so pleased to find author Anuschka Rees’ guide to judging the quality of clothing you’re considering buying. You don’t need to be a fabric or sewing expert to apply this guide to your next shopping trip, whether you’re shopping at a vintage boutique or just running to Target. You just need to be able to examine each piece. Here’s what to do:
Look closely if you want clothing that lasts
Rees’ number one tip is to look at a garment you’re considering in person. I know, that’s not exactly easy for someone who’s shopping online. “You might be able to decide whether you like an item visually just by seeing images, but to really assess its quality you need to be able to inspect it up close, to feel it, check the seams and try it on,” Rees writes.
For some people, the answer to that conundrum is to shop at online retailers that have generous return policies. But others may want to skip the online shopping guessing game and do more of their shopping in person.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t have good stores where I live,” that probably isn’t as much of a factor as you’d fear. I’ve heard from several stylists recently that brands that were once their go-to choices for clients seeking quality are no longer a guarantee — instead, they too have to inspect seams and stretch fabrics garment by garment to judge quality. The global scale of clothing manufacturing means that your $5 t-shirt from one brand might be made in the same factory that makes your $80 khaki work pants from another brand and your $280 wool pea coat from yet another.
So think like a stylist and examine every piece before you decide to buy it, or, if you’re shopping online, decide to keep it.
Rees offers a two-part guide to assess garments: one about fabrics and a second about seams, tailoring and other details. Both are worth a read before your next spin around your local shopping center.
But before you do, keep in mind that you don’t need to whip out a magnifying glass every time you go shopping just out of principle. “Not every single thing in your closet needs to last 20 years. Not every single sock you own needs to be made from merino wool,” Rees says. “Decide which items you do want to invest a bit more time (and money) in and which you don’t mind replacing after a couple of seasons.”
In the meantime, Rees also has a cheat sheet to basic questions to ask. Check it out below (you can download it as a PDF, too).