How to spot quality in garments.
Do you ever wonder if the price you pay for an item of clothing is worth it? Do you worry about the quality? Or do you perhaps enjoy Op-shopping and want to figure out how to spot the better quality pieces?
My motto in life is: quality over quantity – with your clothes, your home-wares, your friends… pretty much with most things in life.
As a dressmaker and tailor, I have come to notice the difference between good and not-so-great quality items over the years. A lot of it has to do with the quality of fabric used and how the garment was cut.
So let’s get in to it. I’ll explain the problem, how to check for it, and the solution if there is one.
Not all fabrics are created equal. I personally prefer natural fibres wherever possible. They are more breathable, feel better on your skin and are generally better for the environment. However, synthetic fabrics are made to last since they are not biodegradable, but just because it won’t disintegrate in landfill doesn’t mean it’s better. A lot of synthetic fabrics aren’t breathable, so you end up feeling sweaty and sticky inside your clothes.
You can check what the fabric is made of when you look at the care label inside your clothes.
Fabric with a higher percentage elastane/lycra in it tends to lose their stretch and shape more easily than fabrics with a lower percentage elastane. To test if the fabric will hold its shape, take a small piece of the fabric and stretch it with your finger. If you let go and the fabric has lost some of the shape or forms a type of bubble, it’s best to let that garment go.
One way to take better care of the fabric, especially if it’s made from delicate fibres, is to wash it by hand in cold water. Also try to avoid bleach. Bleach damages the fibres that result in a more brittle fibre that will break over time.
Image via Reddit.
Have you ever washed a T-shirt for the first time, and then end up with your side seams twisting to the front and back of your body? Or a sleeve that twists so the seam ends up spiralling around your arm and pulling at the shoulder?
That is because the fabric has not been cut correctly. Most big fashion brands try to use as much of the fabric on a roll as possible to minimize production costs. This means they will try to fit the pattern pieces of a garment on the fabric like a puzzle. The problem is; fabrics are woven with a warp and weft (the direction of the yarns) and each pattern piece should face the same direction when placed on the fabric. When you fit the pattern pieces on fabric like a puzzle, they are all facing different directions, which means the fabric will pull in different directions once it’s sewn or washed.
Fabric should be cut on the straight grain or bias (45 degree angle). Have a look at the diagram to see what I mean.
It’s difficult to spot this on a new garment when you are shopping. The best way to find out is by trying it on and to feel if the garment is pulling anywhere. If it’s a loose garment, have a look at the side seams to see if they hang down the side of your body, or do they start to pull to the front or back.
It is also a good idea to look at the hem of loose items. If the hem is uneven it could mean that it hasn’t been cut in the right direction.
Does the stitching look like a rushed job? Does it break or come loose when you are lightly pulling the seams apart? Are there any loose threads sticking out? Is the thread the same colour as the garment? Are there any puckers in the seams or gathering where there shouldn’t be?
All of these are signs of a rushed job with little to no attention to detail. In most cases a seam can be fixed, but if you are paying for quality, then none of these things should be an issue.
You get different types of seams and finishes of raw edges of the fabric.
Overlocked/serger finish French seam Bias binding
The most popular finish is an overlocked/serger edge. Make sure the overlocking thread is the same colour as the fabric and that there are no lose overlocking thread sections that haven’t been cut.
French seams are quite sophisticated. It is where the seam has been sewn twice: one inside the other, so no raw edge is visible and it results in a soft edge. It is most often used on delicate fabrics and on straight sections.
Some items might be finished with a bias binding. It is when a raw edge is enclosed in bias binding and is often used as a design feature. It is especially popular to finish necklines, armholes and hems.
Some garments need a lining, but not all linings are equal. A lining is a second layer of fabric on the inside of a garment, usually made from a silky, smooth fabric that minimizes friction to the skin or garments underneath. It makes the garment fall better on your body and it will last longer because you are minimizing wear and tear on the garment’s outer layer.
Image via Mood Fabrics.
Garments that need a full or partial lining are coats, blazers, pencil skirts, A-line skirts from heavier fabrics and skirts or dresses made from a more translucent fabric or a heavier fabric that sticks to the skin. Some trousers may come with a lining, but shirts or blouses rarely come with a lining.
2 things to look out for when you are looking for a quality lining:
The composition – natural fibres will be better than polyester. Polyester will make you sweat and the fabric starts to smell bad a lot faster. Since the lining will most probably be on your skin, it’s best to stick to natural fibres or a blend of natural and artificial fibres made of cellulose such as viscose and rayon. There is no point in buying a 100% silk, linen or wool garment if the lining is polyester.
Quality of sewing – You should not be able to see any raw or overlocked edges anywhere. The lining should never stick out from under hems or at the cuffs and it should never pull the outer fabric. The lining should have little give so there is room for movement without pulling the outer layer.
Buttons and beading:
Dress: Elie Saab, Spring 2011
Have a look at the buttons. If the buttons are starting to come undone or the buttonholes are starting to unravel, it might be a sign that you should investigate the rest of the garment in more detail. Also make sure that the buttons and buttonholes are even.
If the garment has beaded details, make sure the beads are not starting to come undone in areas or hanging loose. Usually beads are attached through a chain stitch, so if a bead is loose, it may cause a whole section of beads to follow.
Better quality garments will always come with a spare button or two, a few extra beads if the garment has beaded details and sometimes even spare thread.
Patterns and prints on fabric
A lot of garments have a pattern or print woven into or printed onto the fabric.
Make sure these patterns line up around the seams. When there are stripes on the fabric there should be an uninterrupted flow throughout the garment.
Check the side seams, centre front, centre back, and waist seams. Are the prints and patterns matching up?
Also make sure that prints aren’t rubbing or peeling off.
These might be small details, but the more attention to detail there is, the better chances of it being a good quality garment.
Denims should feel heavy and stiff at first. This means it has a higher thread count and so will last longer. Denims will always stretch out a little bit and soften over time, so make sure they fit snugly around the waist when you try them on.
If denim is soft from the beginning, it means it has a lower thread count or it’s been treated with chemicals to soften the fabric, but it will decrease the durability over time.
A lot of women have issues with the waist of their jeans gaping at the back. If you love the rest of the jeans, I would suggest investing in getting them altered around the waist for a perfect fit.
There are a lot of other small details to look out for when you are looking for quality garments.
A few other things to look at:
Wonky hems – everyone’s body is different, so dress and skirt hems might not always be perfectly even, but if it’s obviously wonky, I would steer clear.
Fit – This isn’t necessarily a problem with quality, but if a garment doesn’t fit right and you cannot get it altered, you will probably not wear it as often. It will only take up space in your wardrobe.
Zippers – Check to see if the garment’s zippers are running smoothly and make sure the invisible zippers on dresses can close at the waist once you have it on. The bulk of fabric at the waist seam can make it difficult to close an invisible zipper.
Zippers should also have a hook and eye at the top so you can hook the top of the opening before you close the zip.
Back yoke on collared shirts - A back yoke on a collared shirt makes the shirt more durable since it’s an extra panel to strengthen the back of the shirt where the most tension and friction will be.
Embroidered patches & other decorations – patches and other decorations such as bows should be sewn on, not glued on. Leather should always be sewn. If there is ever a necessity for glue, you should not be able to see it.
Image via Nordstrom
I know this is a lot to take in and consider, but if you think about it: you will hopefully be wearing that garment for a few years, so the better the quality, the longer it will last.
One last thing I need to point out: just because the quality of sewing is bad or a rushed job, doesn’t mean the people who made the clothes are bad at what they do.
Fast fashion factories run non-stop. People working there work under a lot of stress with crazy and sometimes nearly impossible deadlines, and not under the best working conditions. Whenever any of us need to rush to get something done, we can’t give our best work, and the same goes for factory workers.
Just some food for thought…