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Ask Sherry: How to look for quality in clothing – some general guidelines

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I am interested in a career consultation if you have advice. I currently work as a nurse and part time as a financial analyst but want to switch out of nursing. Thanks!

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Hi! How to determine which items are quality items and worth the price, if it’s a luxury item?

Headed to Europe and I want to buy something luxury, but honestly I don’t see how they are quality. And there are a lot of cute non luxury or brand boutiques, but still searching for quality.

To be honest, this is something I only know from years and years of trial and error in shopping and making mistakes. The only glib rule I can give on what quality is, is to buy secondhand vintage. The work they did on the clothing before the 1970s is just impeccable.

Other glib generalizations?

Look at the fabric – is it as natural as possible? Modern fabrics are a wonder to be sure, spandex gives stretch and bounce to a fabric that could otherwise not be achieved without it being in the blend (think: jeans), but if you look for a fabric tag as 100% cotton or linen as possible that’s a great start.

Look at the thickness of the cloth – thick cotton, linen, will look thick. You can put your hand underneath as a quick test, and if you can see through it, it isn’t thick. You can then decide to buy it or not because who knows, maybe sheer-ish light cotton is the look you’re going for.

Look for matching patterns – Great quality is when designers take the time to match up patterns to make the item look as seamless as possible. When you look at a print, if it looks like it’s just been sewn with no care taken to make the print match to each sewn section, that’s low quality (even in designer clothing I see this)

Price is not an indicator – Designer clothing can be expensive, and trash. Mainstream clothing can be cute and well-made.

…and yet price is also an indicator – Anything too dirt cheap, like 1 EUR or 10 EUR, is not good quality. Think Shein, H&M, Dynamite, Wet Seal, Zara…. not sure what your frame of reference in stores are, but those come to mind as being not that great. After a few washes, the items will pill, lose lustre and colour (they put chemicals to make it look smooth and nice), or simply not hang as they should.

Look at the seams – Do they pull apart easily with a light tug? Poor sewing job. Did they take the time to finish the seams on the inside to make the raw edges sewn up, or did they just do a quick stitch on the inside seams and leave it hanging?

Look at the details – Did they put a reinforced stitch or piece at the back of a skirt where the slit appears, to make sure it doesn’t rip easily? Did they think about covering the zipper at the end with a piece of leather? There are so many details.. it is hard to name them all, but care for the garment finishing screams loud and clear.

Look at the lining – Is there even a lining? A lot of cheap clothing has none. Did they line it in polyester or cotton? Poly is very common, but when you see something lined in cotton or linen, you should perk up (as I do), because it means something. Even in boots, most don’t bother to line boots in leather again but use a synthetic or nothing at all. My secondhand pair of boots from Hermès are lined in leather, despite being leather on the outside as well.

Lightly crumple it – If it comes away looking wrinkled and disheveled, that will be your look for the whole day after steaming and ironing it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (think: linen), but something to consider.

Look at the weight – High quality isn’t always super heavy. People think for instance, super heavy coats are an indicator of quality when I find the opposite – very light, well made but not ridiculously heavy coats, are of the better quality as they are made out of lighter fabric like cashmere which is more expensive but warmer.

Without seeing the item, that is the best I can do as generalizations.

I wholly recommend vintage and secondhand shops, you will find the best deals in there, hands down. And once you start touching a lot of cashmere sweaters, you will be able to immediately tell which ones are cheap (scratchy, very lightly woven, fuzzy), and which ones are of a higher quality (thick, soft loft, thick weave..)

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