How much do we really know about the clothes we buy? Few of us give much thought to how our clothes are made. Learn how to determine quality and you’ll buy better, dress better and look better.
Why Quality Matters
When you lift a hanger off the rails and head for the changing rooms. Or unwrap a parcel after a spot of online shopping. What are you thinking? Most probably you’re wondering whether the promising pile of cloth will fit, flatter and do its job?
After all, anything you buy has to fulfil these three basic functions. Must Fit. Must Flatter. And must do its job. Whether it’s a party dress designed to stop men in their tracks, tongues lolling like a wolf in Zoot suit, or a pair of wellies for keeping out the muck.
But beyond a glance at the label and scan of the care instructions, how much thought do you give to how a garment is made, or what it’s made from? Do you give it any thought at all?
You should. Because the quality of a garment is fundamental to how it will fit, flatter and function. Essentially how good you look.
A cheap pair of jeans with a low thread count might pass muster in a changing room but after a few wears and washes they’ll be sagging and bagging like an elephants knees. Not looking good.
Equally, a miserly seem allowance can lead to puckering, and crooked seams. Both of which entirely spoil the cut and fit of a garment.
So what are the quality indicators? What should you look for?
The quality of the fabric determines how well a garment will hold its shape and how durable it will be. The best way to determine a garment’s quality is to touch and examine it.
Touch – natural fibres (cotton, linen and wool) should feel soft and strong. If the fabric feels at all rough it is an indicator that it was spun from shorter fibres and will not be as durable, or hold its shape so well.
Density – Check the density of the fibres by holding it up to the light. The weave, even on fine fabrics should be tight and even with no gaps.
Weight – the weight of the fabric should be appropriate to the garment’s function. It should hang well and bounce back into shape if pulled slightly.
Comfort and breathability – how does it feel against the skin?
Synthetics – synthetics are not a bad thing in themselves. A small percentage of synthetic can add to the durability and elasticity. Form fitting jeans often use a percentage of lycra or polyester.
Seams, Tailoring and Lining
How well a garment is made and the quality of the tailoring determine how well it will fit, how well it will wear and ultimately, how good you look.
Seams – examine the seams carefully. Seams should be straight, neat and flat. With no loose threads, or stitches. Patterns should match at the seams. Check seam strength by pulling on either side of the seam. The thread should remain tight.
Tailoring and Fit – examine the fit and tailoring carefully. On structured shirts, dresses and jackets, darts, back seams, and yokes, front and back should ensure that the garment fits well. Pools of gaping fabric below the bust line, over the shoulders at the back or around the waist are all indicators that either the item doesn’t fit well or is poorly tailored. Check that the garment does not ride up when raising your arms above your head (jackets and shirts), or when you walk (trousers and skirts).
Lining – jackets, coats, structured dresses and transparent fabrics should all be fully lined. The lining should be well constructed (see seams), feel good against the body, not ride up and have the same, or compatible care instructions as the outer fabric.
Zips, Buttons and Details
Zips – zips should run smoothly, lie flat against the body and lock at the top.
Buttons – buttons should be evenly spaced, strong and secure. The holes should be of sufficient size to keep the garment secure but easy to use, strong and reinforced. An extra button with spare thread is a sign of quality.
Pockets – check seams and stitching, all pockets should be strong and lie flat without interrupting the cut and fit of the garment.
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