How to Shop for Quality

I can’t believe its November already! Where did the months go? With Christmas just  round the corner, I thought I’ll do a blog post about shopping for quality, since most of us is probably be gearing up to buy new clothes, shoes, presents etc. in anticipation of the coming festive holidays. It’s the happiest season of all and while most of us are happy to spend on family and loved ones, I’m sure we want to be savvy about spending our hard-earned cash as well. So, here are my tips on “how to buy quality” which I hope will come in handy when you do your Christmas shopping.

1.  Apply the Comfort Principle

The idea is to spend your money where you spend most of your time. That’s why it’s a good idea to splurge on a nice mattress, comfortable desk chair or a decent laptop, considering how many hours a day you sleep, work at your desk or use the computer. Think about it, most of us wear our clothes all day long and sometimes through the night. We wear them at work, at home, at the gym: every occasion calls for some type of clothing.

You want clothes that look good and are comfortable. Although clothes aren’t an investment in the traditional sense as they never gain value - it’s good to think of them as down payments for your daily comfort, your self-confidence and the utility of your wardrobe. My preference is to have a couple of great items that fit well, make me look and feel like a rockstar than to have a dozen of “OK” stuff that feels kind of “meh” and fall apart in a year.

2. Use the Cost Per Wear Equation

It works like this: Price of garment divided by the number of times you’ll wear it.

Example: $100 LBD that you’ll wear at least once a week for the next 3 years will cost you $0.65 cents every time you wear it. $100 designer swimsuit that you “scored” at a branded sale which you’ll wear (daily?) for the next 2 weeks of holiday, before it gets shelved for the next 2 years, will cost you $7.14 per day. If your shopping budget was $100, what would you rather spend on?

3. There’s No Escaping Construction

The most important trademark of quality clothing is its construction. An expensive dress that is made of poor fabric and badly sewn isn’t a quality item - it’s just an expensive dress. An expensive dress that fits nicely, made from a durable fabric, is well constructed may be worth the purchase price if you love it and know you’ll wear it many times.

4. Get a Frame of Reference

I suggest you start by going to a store that you know sells high-quality clothing even if it’s out of your price range and look at the details of each garment. Notice how many stitches there are per inch (more is better), what the clothes are made of and how the fabric feels (comfortable but durable), how well the buttons and zippers etc. are secured. No matter what types of garments you’re inspecting, it won’t take long for you to learn what high-quality garments look and feel like.

4. Consider Your Personal Quality Markers

What would be your acceptable level in terms of quality? You can’t expect Louis Vuitton quality with a H&M budget. Too many times, people claim to want something of high quality but cannot really explain what it is they are looking for. Once you are able to articulate what you mean by "quality", it will be easier for you to find clothing that would fit that criteria. Here are some of my quality markers:

a)     Fabric

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Check the label of the garment to determine the fabric content and care instructions. Generally, natural fibres (silk, cotton, wool) stand up better than synthetics, but some new synthetics are also worth your consideration, especially for technical or performance wear (example: dri-fit). My personal bias is for natural fibres, but I do appreciate garments with spandex for better fit and greater comfort. 

b)    “Hand-Feel” of the Garment

I’m all about touchy-feely when it comes to shopping. The clothes I buy need to pass my “hand test” – which basically means how they feel when touched. You can really feel the difference between a good quality natural fibre garment (like cotton, wool and silk) and one with lesser quality fibre content. You can also use this test on clothing constructed from man-made fibres – some will feel better, drape better and wear better than others. I understand that this is rather subjective, but most of us wouldn’t want to spend money on clothes that feel rough, itchy or stiff on our skin no matter how nice they look on us right?

c)     The “Scrunch Test”

I like to give clothes the scrunch test ie. grab a fist-full of fabric and scrunch away. If it wrinkles up right away and doesn’t “de-wrinkle”, I may walk away from the garment. However, wrinkling alone isn’t necessarily a sign of poor quality; some fabrics like cotton, linen, rayon etc. wrinkle more than others, so if like me, you hate to iron, look for fabrics that are relatively “wrinkle free” to begin with.

d)    Stitching & Seam Allowance

I look at the quality of stitching as a test of quality. This includes seams and any top-stitching. If you gently pull a seam from the inside of the garment and can see a lot of daylight between stitches, it’s a poorly made garment. Better quality garments have more stitches per inch, thus they have tighter seams and less chances for the seams come apart. Quality top-stitching should be straight, in matching thread, (unless the top-stitching is designed for contrast) and have a high number of stitches per inch. The stitches should lie flat to avoid snags (no loopy stitches).

While inspecting the seams, also look at how much seam allowance is available, especially if you need to lengthen sleeves, skirt hems or let out a waist. Seam allowance is getting very rare these days, too as manufacturers want to maximize their fabric usage.

e)     Patterns Matching at The Seams

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In better quality clothing, a pattern like a plaid or horizontal stripes should match up at the seams, plackets, yokes, sleeves etc. Obviously, matching a plaid or horizontal stripe may mean using more fabric to cut out the individual pieces of the garment, so this drives up the cost of the garment. All too often manufacturers of inexpensive garments forego matching the patterns to keep costs affordable. If you’re buying an inexpensive T-shirt with an overall pattern, find a small scale pattern to mitigate the lack of alignment with the pattern. But, if it’s a more expensive garment expect the manufacturer to do a fairly good job aligning the patterns.

f)      Check The Details - Closures, Zippers and Pockets

Always check for - and keep - extra buttons, sequins and other details that come attached to garments. These extras save you money and time searching for look-alikes should a button pop off or sequin go missing. I tend to avoid clothes with fussy details and fragile trims, but if I decided to buy something with unusual buttons, I’ll make sure that the garment comes with extra buttons.

Zippers should lie flat and be concealed. There should also be an additional closure at the top of the zipper – button, hook and eye, snap – to help keep the zipper closed and lying flat.

Ideally, pockets should be constructed from the same material as the rest of the garment, however, these days, the trend is to use lining material – to make pockets. One advantage of this is that the pocket area is less bulky, but a downside is that lining material usually lacks weight, therefore the lining rides up and tears easily.

 

I know this is a rather technical blog but I believe that sometimes, a bit more in-depth knowledge about the details that are involved in the making of quality garments will help us appreciate our clothes more and help us better choices when we next go shopping.

Here’s to smarter shopping, my friends!