You want to wear quality clothing that’s going to last for more than a season, so you can save your wallet and your wardrobe. But not all clothing is made to last that. Some don’t persist past even one wash or wear. You’ll get a pull in your thread, holes in the crotch, color fading, or a change of shape. The quality of the clothing industry is in decline along with the rise of “fast fashion.”
But you’re a smart consumer. You know that investing in quality clothing is the best thing you can do for your wardrobe.
Why buy quality clothing over disposable fast-fashion?
- Designer clothing is made with quality in mind, so it looks better and feels better than the cheap stuff.
- It will fit your body better, which will make you feel more confident and sexy when you wear it.
- Better quality clothing means it lasts longer in your closet, which saves you a lot of money in the long run.
- You’re helping to protect the environment by reducing your textile waste, which is a serious problem in the U.S.A.—with the average American throwing out nearly 81 pounds of clothing per year.
- Quality clothing is also made with fewer chemicals than the disposable stuff, so it’s actually healthier for you. You want to be mindful of the products and garments you’re putting on your skin, which seeps into your body and impacts your health.
But it’s hard to know what quality clothing really looks like. There’s so much more to “quality” than just the price tag.
In this guide, we’ll give you everything to look for in your quality clothing—just like top-notch designers and consigners do.
1. Look at the label.
The fabric of your garment is what matters most. Synthetic (man-made) fabrics are becoming more and more popular, but they also tend to be less durable than the natural stuff. Synthetics also are often made with a lot of plastics and petrochemicals, which you don’t want to expose your body to on a regular basis.
Natural materials hold up better, last longer, and feel healthier. Natural fabrics to look for are made from plants and animals, including cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Synthetics to be aware of are polyester, spandex, rayon, and acrylic.
This doesn’t mean you need to avoid synthetic fabric altogether. A lot of technology is making synthetics have a better texture and fit than in previous years. If there’s a garment you love that has synthetic fabric, get it! For example, some spandex can last for years if you take care of it.
This simply means that when you’re looking at the clothing tag, you want to notice how much is made from natural materials over manmade ones.
However, you do want to try to avoid blended natural with synthetic. Blended fibers can’t be laundered like natural fibers. For example, cotton-polyester blends are common. In the dryer, though, the two materials heat and shrink at different rates. This can alter the shape of the garment after just one wash.
Although natural fabrics are usually better quality, this doesn’t hold true all of the time. Even garments made of 100% cotton or cashmere can have low-grade fibers, be over-washed, or have poor craftsmanship. So make sure you look at the label as the foundation before checking out the other aspects of the garment.
2. Feel the garment.
You can usually feel quality instantly. The garment should have a substantial weight to it. This doesn’t mean it’s heavier, but it does mean that there’s a strong density to the weave. Even lightweight clothing should feel durable and strong. If the garment feels flimsy, weak, itchy, or rough, it’s likely made with a lower quality fabric.
Be mindful, though. Some synthetic chemicals, like starch, are used to make textiles feel more substantial. This is especially common for button-downs, suits, and business clothing. You especially want your professional attire to tell a story of sophistication and high-end value, so make sure you’re paying attention to overly starched skirts, blazers, and slacks.
3. Hold it up to the light.
You can get a better sense of a garment’s density when you hold it up to the light. The light will show how tightly the weaving is. You want the yarns to be tightly spun together, which creates a more substantial weight and greater quality.
Put your hand inside the garment. If you can see your hand through the fabric, it’s likely a thin fabric with low quality. Even lightweight, breathable materials shouldn’t be fully see-through.
If the goal of the garment is to be sheer, this test doesn’t always apply. However, holding it up to the light is still a good way to determine how weighty the fabric is.
4. Stretch the fabric.
On a discreet part of the garment, gently stretch the fabric. It should fall back to its original shape in a few seconds. If it doesn’t return to its original shape, then it’s definitely not going to bounce back after wearing either. You don’t want clothing that will be stretched and misshapen after just one or two wears.
5. Do the wrinkle test.
You can use the same part of the garment to do the wrinkle test. Ball up a section of the fabric in your fist and hold for a few seconds. When you release, does it stay wrinkled or do the wrinkles fall out quickly? If it can’t withstand being wrinkled for a few seconds, it signals a low quality fabric that won’t hold up long term.
6. Pull at the seams.
One of the weakest parts of a garment is its stitching. This is where you can determine the craftsmanship of the fabric. Look on both the outside and inside hems (and especially on the inside crotch on a pair of pants). The stitch should be flat on the surface of the garment without any bubbling, pulls, or loose stitches.
If the thread is too tight or loose, it might look fine but it won’t actually be stable. So pull on the seams gently and notice if the threads are thin and pliable or if they’re strong and resolute. The tighter the seam, the higher quality the fabric.
You should also look for “crotch reinforcement.” The crotch is the weakest part of the pants. The best garments will have reinforced crotches with stitches of two different lengths, one run over top of the other. This helps reinforce the seam in such a high-stress area. No ripped pants here!
Tip: If you see one or two stitches that look off, that could actually be a good sign! Hand-sewn garments won’t always be perfect.
7. Look at the hem allowance.
While you’re looking at the seams, check out the hem allowance at the bottom of your pants, skirt, or dress. This is where the garment producer leaves a little extra fabric near the hemline that you can use to lengthen or alter the garment if necessary.
Quality garments will have a hefty hem allowance. For example, a professional pencil skirt should have 1 and 1/2 inch to 2 inch hem allowances, so you can make sure it falls on the right spot on the leg.
If there’s no hem allowance, it’s telling you that the company is cutting corners on fabric and it’s likely not good quality.
8. Check out the zippers.
Exposed zippers can be a sign of low quality, unless it’s a part of the design element. High-end clothes have zippers that lie flat and are covered with a placket (a piece of fabric that hides the zipper). The stitching along the zipper should also match the fabric unless the contrast is specifically used as a design element.
If the zipper is loose or exposed, it was likely added quickly and ineffectively to a low quality textile.
9. Look at the buttons.
Buttons and buttonholes are an instant sign of quality clothing. If a buttonhole is breaking or has fraying threads, there was little craftsmanship in its creation. You want tight stitching, because this area gets a lot of wear and tear from the button movement. The button should also be tightly sewn on and not wobbling around.
10. Check the patterns.
If you have a patterned garment, you want to make sure the pattern matches at the seams. For example, stripes should be going in the same direction and should be aligned. If the pattern is mismatched, it likely means there wasn’t any thought or care into the production of the garment.
11. Know your fabrics.
Different fabrics have different levels of quality. Here are some basic tips to make sure you know you’re getting the best quality fabric:
- Cotton: tightness is most important, so do the light test (#3)
- Linen: wrinkles easily, so do the scrunch test (#5)
- Denim: weight and durability is key, so look at stitching and seams (#6)
- Leather: should smell like leather, and the label should say “full grain”
- Wool: lots of types of wool, so look for the highest quality merino, angora, hogget, camel hair, and cashmere
Pro-tip: Cashmere actually softens with age. So, you don’t want to buy cashmere that is too soft at the time of purchasing. If it’s extremely soft, it could mean the manufacturers over-washed lower-grade wool to make it feel soft like cashmere. You can instead tell the quality of your cashmere based on its tight-knight, heavy, substantial structure.
12. Look at the price tag.
In our fashion world today, you have to pay a premium for good quality. You can count on quality clothing always costing more than cheap clothing.
Inexpensive clothes are cheap for a reason. Factories cut costs by using lower-grade materials, less fiber, and cheap threads and materials. They also cut labor costs by underpaying workers and ignoring basic standards of safety in order to churn out more clothes per hour. When you buy fast fashion, not only are you wasting money on cheap and disposable clothing, you’re also encouraging bad labor practices in unhealthy factories.
Note, though, that while cheap clothing always means cheap quality, expensive clothing doesn’t always mean good quality. Some companies will cut corners and raise prices to try to trick consumers. But if you use the tests on the rest of this list, you’ll be able to tell the good stuff without even looking at the price tag.
13. Buy consignment.
Our culture of constantly wanting more new stuff creates a system of low-quality, disposable clothing. But what if there was a way to constantly buy and update your wardrobe… without killing your closet, your budget, or the environment?
Consignment clothing is the solution. Secondhand clothing is proven to last, because it’s already made it through (at least) one owner, the consignment inspection, and a thorough cleaning. Only the best quality garments can make it through this wear process to reach the hands of the consignment consumer.
Consigners spot good quality, and you get the product of their hard work. So if you want the easiest way to find quality clothing, look no further than your favorite consignment shop.
You can tell a good quality item based on its look, feel, and durability. If it looks clean and finished, it shows the item was made with care. If it looks like there are parts that are slightly off, it’s likely that the entire garment was made cheaply and hastily. A lot of companies cut costs in sneaky ways, like using inexpensive thread and sewing techniques. Quality is in the details.
Look better. Feel better. Save your budget. Save the environment. All by shopping for quality, secondhand clothes.
Learn how to make your high quality clothing last with proper care techniques here!