Lena Zell
How to find and buy quality clothes that will last a lifetime

How to Buy Quality Clothes: A Beginner’s Guide

22 June, 2018 3 Comments

Quality over quantity – we hear this all the time, but have you thought about the actual factors that go into buying high-quality clothes?

At one point in time, I thought quality meant buying Zara instead of Forever 21. Later on, my clothing purchases alternated between fast fashion impulse buys, and relying on misleadingly-steep price tags or name brands as sole indicators of quality.

I was absolutely clueless.

Like many of you, my lack of understanding left me with a draining bank account, overflowing wardrobe, and “nothing” to wear.

This guide only skims the surface on what to look for when shopping, but it’s a great starting point if you’re just beginning to build a high-quality, long-lasting wardrobe.

Keep reading to discover how to buy quality clothes that are truly worth your money!

 

Why Buying Quality Clothing Matters

Long Story Short:
Ultra Cheap Price Tag = Ultra Cheap Garment Quality = Clothes Not Lasting = Buying Way More = Spending Way More

Fast fashion giants (think Zara, H&M, Primark, Forever 21) cut corners to make clothes initially cheaper, leading us to buy poor-quality items impulsively and far more frequently.

After a single season (or wash), low-quality fabric pills, seams rip, buttons fall off, and dreams are temporarily crushed… Until we throw it in the garbage and head back to the same exact store to buy more, then repeat.

This way of buying ends up being far more expensive in the long run, and fast fashion brands know it.

I highly recommend the film, The True Cost, which goes into great detail about how fast fashion is hurting everyone, except corporations. At the time of this writing, it’s available on Netflix.

We’re all on budgets. I understand that a $25 shirt is much more tempting than a similar-looking one for $85.

But when you consider how poorly the ultra-cheap garment likely fits, and the fact that it will probably A) fall apart, or B) sit in the back of your closet after wearing it once (or never – how much of your stuff still has tags?) – you’ll see that fast fashion is costing you thousands more.

I want you to save money – and that’s why I’m telling you to buy more expensive, higher-quality clothes that you can keep forever.

 

The True Cost of Cheap Clothes

The true financial cost of your clothing is not the one time purchase price, but how long the item lasts before needing to be replaced, and how often you’ll wear it.

A popular formula is to take the original price of the garment, and divide it by the number of times you’ll wear it for the duration of its lifetime (i.e. until it rips, you get rid of it, or forget about it).

For example, a $400 winter coat that you wear 60 times per season, for 4 seasons, actually costs you $1.67. (And most good coats last significantly longer than this.)

On the other hand, a $35 shirt that you wear once, costs you $35.

 

What It Means to Wear Quality Clothes

  1. It won’t fall apart no matter how many times you’ve (properly) washed, or lovingly worn it.
  2. You feel good in it – the fabric is comfortable against the skin, it flatters your shape, you can move around comfortably, it doesn’t ride up or require constant re-adjusting, and you envision yourself using it often enough to justify the price.
  3. It’s worth the long term investment – if a button were to become loose, would you spend the money (or time) to fix it? If it’s not worth repairing, it’s not worth purchasing.
  4. It’s timeless – a good way to determine this is not only whether it would look good 10 years from now, but 10 years ago.

 

Fabric Quality

Fabric quality is half the battle of determining how well your purchase is bound to hold up. Not every company is transparent about the types, percentages, and source of their fabrics, but arming yourself with basic knowledge will help greatly in finding the best quality clothes you can buy.

Disclaimer: This is highly simplified, for the sake of being a beginner’s starting point. I will link to a separate guide solely about fabrics in later weeks.

Fabric Types:

Natural Fibers: wool, silk, cashmere, cotton, hemp, and linen tend to be more breathable. Organic is best, especially for cotton.

Synthetic Fibers: typically less breathable. They should be highly limited in my opinion, both for environmental and health reasons.

Natural/Synthetic Blends: Synthetic should be no more than 5%. On one hand, intentionally adding a small amount of synthetic fibers to natural ones can make the garment more stretchy, durable, and properly fitted. On the other hand, it’s a way to cut costs. Natural and synthetic fibers shrink at different rates and require different care, which is why some garments change shape.

Attributes of Quality Fabric:

Tightness of Weave: The more tightly woven the fabric is, the higher the garment’s quality and longer it will last (this is significantly more important than fabric thickness). Hold the fabric up to the light and stretch it. How opaque is it? 

Softness: How soft is the fabric? Especially for natural materials, long fibers indicate greater softness, less pilling (small balls on the surface), and greater durability. Short fibers poke out, feel scratchy, and will form more pills over time. Be mindful that fibers can be chemically treated to feel softer (and better quality) than they really are.

Comfort: How does the fabric feel against your skin, drape on your body? Is it itchy, clingy? Wear the item in the store for a few minutes. Do you feel sticky or sweaty?

Garment Construction

Patterned Fabric: If the clothing is patterned, does the pattern align at the seams? If not, it’s a good indicator that the manufacturer cheaped out – the contrary uses more fabric in order to cut it to continue, therefore costing more.

Lining: Does it have a lining, if it should? And if it does, what quality is the material? Check to see if it’s sewn in properly, and has a sturdy interface (fabric in between lining and outer that gives structure, to hold up over time). Think jackets, coats, leather items, certain lightweight/sheer/crocheted items, skirts, dresses.

Seams: Are the seams even, flat, and straight both inside and outside?  If you gently tug, does it begin to separate, or stay firmly in place? Are any threads poking out, messy, loose? Are the hemlines even and clean? Does the seam come to a tight, neat finish at the end, or is it sloppy, crooked, beginning to unravel?

Zippers: Does it zip up and down smoothly, without getting stuck (particularly at the waistband, if a dress)? Are the “teeth” even and aligned? Is it plastic or metal? Does it lock correctly when fully zipped up? Pull slightly on either side of the garment. If it slips down, it’s cheap.

Buttons: Are all buttons attached securely by multiple threads? Do any appear loose, crooked, or unevenly-spaced? What thread thickness is used to reinforce the button hole? Is the button hole properly sized, not too large or small? Does the garment come with spares?

 

And there you have it! This is by no means fully comprehensive, but if you begin looking for these factors when buying clothes, I guarantee it will make a huge difference in the overall quality and satisfaction of your wardrobe.

Do you have any tricks for spotting a quality item when shopping for clothes? Is there anything here that surprised you? Share below!

lenazell

3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Christine Nguyen

    22 June, 2018

    Love this post! For the longest time, I was confused about clothing in general. For a while I wondered why I felt like why I have so much clothes but nothing to wear! Then after college when I literally could not wear anything to “work” was when I was like “ah it’s because I bought trendy and cheap clothes” that’s when I noticed that I was rewearing clothing pieces that were more timeless and less trendy and spent a little pretty penny more on. This post will definitely be helpful for those who are conflicted on quantity over quality! Keep up the great work!! Sending love from MD, USA. XOXO 😘

  2. Reply

    Keemia

    22 June, 2018

    Love it! Thanks for sharing all the major differences about the different qualities of fabric!

  3. Reply

    Clemens

    16 July, 2018

    Love the post! I am looking forward to hear more from you, especially about your life in Paris! Sounds challenging but rewarding!

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