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The Style Edit: My revised garment shopping guide
As I head into my last week at my current job, it’s crazy to think that a week from now, I’ll be somewhere else. The ‘somewhere else’ has what looks like a similar office dress code. All of my current work clothes will transfer with no issue - good news for my newly built workwear capsule - and no one at my new job has seen me wear the same five outfits on repeat. Despite that, I’m on the lookout for a few things to round out the workwear capsule. The office I’m leaving behind is a tundra even in the dead of August, and it was quite a bit balmier at my new workplace during the interviews. If nothing else, I need more workwear options with short sleeves!
With some shopping to be done in the near future, I’ve revised and updated my series on finding a quality garment into one big garment quality extravaganza.
How to Recognize a Quality Garment
Here are the key markers to look for when purchasing a new piece. It’s important to note that higher price does not always equal better quality. I’ve found some long-lasting, high-quality pieces in unexpected places. A K-Mart cashmere sweater I impulse bought in grad school is gone now, but it did manage to outlive K-Mart by several years. I’ve also had higher-priced finds bite the dust within two years. Give garments a good once-over, no matter the price point!
Proper seam and hem finishing: If the garment is thrown together with loose serger stitches, it’s not a keeper. Likewise, if the hem is tacked up with a stitch here and there. One of my favorite and longest-lasting skirts is hand-hemmed with hem tape. Pro-tip: if you stretch out the seams and see daylight between the stitches, put down that cheap garment.
Garment is made from a quality fabric. How can you tell if it’s a quality fabric?
First, do the light test - Hold the garment up to the light. Can you clearly see the room in front of you? Unless the fabric is intentionally sheer, this gets a hard pass. Something else I do is hold my hand inside the garment and see how much of my skin shows through.
Next, check the fiber weave - We all know about high thread count sheets, right? You want high thread count clothes, too! Of course, you’re not going to see a rack of button-downs with a ‘600 count’ label. The light/hand test above can help determine the weave density. The higher the weave density, the less daylight/skin you’ll see. This is even true for lighter materials like silk.
*A quick note about fabric types - ‘knits’ aren’t just sweaters - these include any T-shirt type material, too. ‘Wovens’ are linen, cotton, etc. Generally speaking, you’ll be able to pull knits on and will need buttons or zippers for garments made of woven fabrics.
Now, search the label to find the fiber type - At least 80% natural fibers are best. Natural fibers breathe better, last longer, and require less washing. Linen, cotton, cashmere, silk, and wool are some examples. Synthetics to avoid include polyester and acrylic. Acrylic is commonly used in sweaters, and there’s a popular ‘preppy’ brand of higher-priced sweaters that are 70% acrylic! Read those labels or click that ‘details’ tab when you’re shopping online. Those 30-70 wool-acrylic blends are ITCHY, btw.
Finally, rub the garment between your fingers - This is such a basic test, yet very important. A quality fabric will have heft to it, feel smooth, and feel weighty (see weave density above). If you rub the fabric of a couple of cheaply made garments in your fingers and then find some better-made pieces for compare, you’ll learn the difference quickly.
Was the garment made with attention to detail? For example, are the buttons attached securely? I’ve read that fast fashion factories don’t tie off buttons after attaching, which sounds true enough. You want your buttons to stay on and spare you either extra sewing or trips to the tailor. Some other marks of quality are metal, wooden or self-fabric buttons and metal zippers - all as opposed to plastic, of course. If the garment has beadwork, be sure they’re sewn on securely, never glued! Embroidery such as monograms should be tight against the fabric and never pull loose when rubbed with a fingertip.
Check for quality stitch work! Here’s how:
Stitches should be close together and tight. More stitches per inch = better quality. Fast fashion cuts corners and keeps prices low by using less thread. More thread means a garment that won't fall apart. Stretch the seam to make sure you can't see through it.
Pattern matching. A surefire way to tell a garment was cheaply made is the attention paid to pattern matching. For example, did the manufacturer take the time to align the lines of the plaid on the front and back of the skirt? This not only looks better, but is a good indicator of the care taken in creating it.
Correct treatment of seams/hems. Seams should be straight, even, and pressed flat. Seams that aren't pressed open are uncomfortable, too, because they rub against the skin. Note: I'm talking about woven fabrics here (linen, Oxford cloth) and not knits (stretchy fabrics like T-shirt cotton). The seams on knits can unravel easily, so make sure they're secure at the ends and taut.
Seams should contour correctly on the body. This is assuming you're wearing the correct size, of course, so be sure you are. I could do a whole post about vanity sizing (maybe I will someday), but please read the size charts of the brands you're buying. I’ve also found those True Fit calculators on various retailers’ websites to be fairly accurate. Focus on measurements and not the highly subjective dress size number. If a few simple tweaks by the tailor won't make a correctly sized garment a perfect fit, there may be something wrong with how it's made. Major red flags are a size chart that doesn't match the actual garments’ measurements and/or no two garments from the same maker fitting the same way.
No imperfections: Ensure the garment is put together well, with no mistakes in the sewing, such as bunching on the hem. My personal pet peeve with clothing and table linens is having to clip dangling threads on a brand-new item. There shouldn’t be stray threads on your investment pieces.
Are there any other markers you look for when shopping for garments? Let me know!
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