On quality

Today I did a pile of ironing. I had silks, cottons, linens, cotton-linen blends, and a viscose top. From various makers, from Zara to Ann Taylor and J. Crew to Equipment. 

And wow. If ever there was a lesson on why I prefer wearing some of my tops to others, here it was. In all fabrications. 

The silk of the Equipment shirt has a beautiful weight and drape; the silk front Zara shirts and the light silk Banana Republic top from last year are so light that they barely hang properly. The Zara ones are saved by being mixed-media. But they will not last more than a short season or two at most. The Equipment shirt will be in my closet for years if I care for it. And I will probably cry when I have to donate it. 

(Of course, the price tags reflect this difference). 

Two cotton linen shirts offered another good example.  Same fabrication blend (65% linen, 35% cotton). But one (from Banana Republic) has a sort of rough crispness to it. Getting the wrinkles out was difficult, and even freshly ironed it feels a bit scratchy. The other (from J. Crew) was soft, easy to iron, and it drapes well. 

Nicest of all was the beautiful Thomas Mason tux shirt from J. Crew. Ironing is a breeze because the fabric is just such a lovely quality. 

Are you moved by the quality of some of your pieces? Do you reach for them more often? Are there items of clothing where higher quality matters more to you? Can you sacrifice quality more easily on others? 

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.

32 Comments

  • CocoLion replied 6 years ago

    Oh yes, there is something wonderful about good fabric.  Vintage items frequently are made from what now appears to us as the finest quality.  Price often but not always, correlates with fabric quality.  I have tops from Gap that wear better than ones from Vince.

  • CocoLion replied 6 years ago

    appear

  • Mo replied 6 years ago

    Oh, if I could have a crystal ball that would tell me which fabrics would stand the test . . .  
    Still the hands down winner in our household is Arizona tees from Penney's for five bucks.  Who knew?

  • Suz replied 6 years ago

    Yes, I've noticed that, Denise. Sometimes you can get extremely lucky in a place like the GAP or BR...just depends. I have another silk top from BR last year that is every bit as well made as the Equipment one. (I don't like it as much for style reasons, but that is not the fabric's fault). 

    And the cotton shirt I bought from Zara the other day, while not as lovely as the expensive tux shirt, is a very nice feeling cotton in its own right. 

  • Adelfa replied 6 years ago

    I agree with you about the quality of Equipment silk. At two years and counting my shirts look new. So far my Two by VC is doing just as well. My J Crew silk shirt bit the dust pretty quickly. Right now I'm wearing a pricey linen tee--but such a tee. It is soft and has a gorgeous drape.

    I don't mind lower quality if it's bargain basement like my ON tees for $7.50. It's the mid price stuff that makes me crazy. So not worth it if the quality is poor, so worth it if it's good, so hard to tell at the time of purchase.

  • lyn* replied 6 years ago

    I definitely find myself reaching for my nicer fabrication things, and in the past I used to be okay with cheap fabrics - "OH hey, what the heck, I'll wear it a few times." - now it's like my skin breaks out in rash whenever it's close to something cheap (I spoiled myself!!!)

    I have a few nicer cotton dresses that I love to wear; but my cheaper ones kinda just have to sulk it out, I guess...

  • Lyn D. replied 6 years ago

    Fabric quality has become increasingly important to me in recent times- it is a great way to slow down my spending too!
    I am hoping that reading labels and having better knowledge will help, but it is disappointing when items don't live up to expectations.
    I am certainly finding that since replacing my pleather jacket with a leather one just last week, I have so far worn it more than I wore the old in 2 years :)

  • Beth Ann replied 6 years ago

    Growing up in a sewing household, I learned to feel everything.  That said, I have trouble indulging myself in quality fabrics, because of the cost.  This is the one thing that tempts me to sew again --- if I can find the space and time!

    I'm with Jody thought, it's the mid-range that's most frustrating.  I tried on a pair of BR skinny boyfriends yesterday, and, while they fit fairly well, the white denim was see through. 

    Hats off to you for ironing!

  • Joy replied 6 years ago

    Suz, anything that needs to be ironed is apiece where quality matters to me. Fit and drape can be influenced by quality. I also want the classic pieces that are the backbone of my wardrobe to be quality and last several seasons. The quality of trendy refreshers isn't as important although it can't look Junior Dept. either at my age. Quality is important for footwear so that there is some support and soft leather that will not cut into feet. Jeans don't matter as much although I want a pair or two of going out jeans.

  • Deborah replied 6 years ago

    Suz, I really wish I wore classic shirts because I would LOVE to buy an Equipment blouse. They look stunning and I can imagine just how beautiful they feel and wear:). I am a firm believer in quality being available at varying price points. I was reviewing my wardrobe a few days ago, and realised that over the past few years I have only bought quality footwear. Once I would happily buy cheap non leather but I can't do that anymore. The quality of my footwear is important to me. I have a theory that quality footwear and handbags can make a huge difference to an outfit. With my clothing, jackets, blazers and coats need to at least "look" like the are quality garments :). What I mean is I have a few jackets that were moderately priced but look "expensive" i.e. Lovely fabric, well cut and great fit. YLF has spoilt me and I really do look for quality in all my wardrobe pieces. I want a wardrobe where I reach for things equally so even if it's a pair of track pants for the weekend I want them to be "my" best track pants. I also favour fabrics that don't require ironing:). But I do often walk into my robe and just run my fingers over my clothing and just take a moment to enjoy how they feel :). I know...I need some other hobbies lol.

  • Suz replied 6 years ago

    Deborah, I do the same thing!!!  :) 

    No wonder Angie calls her bags her "wardrobe pets." 

    I find I am similar -- it needs to look like quality (even if the price point is low). But also, it has to feel like it against the skin. Or I probably won't wear it. And even a "nice" fabric (i.e. silk) in a poor quality is not a good purchase. Better would be a less expensive but higher quality cotton. 

    Joy, that is a good point -- items that require ironing. In the past, I was more like Debs -- it was footwear and jackets (and coats) where I could not compromise. Now I have an additional area! 

    Beth Ann, Jody -- I hear you on the frustrations of mid range. It is pretty much what I can afford, and it can be absolutely wonderful. But it can also be so much less than wonderful. I guess that's why I have come to depend on Angie's picks so intently. 

    Lyn, I can't abide pleather. I want to like it, for ethical reasons, but I just can't. I can do a bit of pleather trim on a coat or jacket where I won't be touching it much -- but for a whole jacket, it has be leather or fabric. 

    lyn, LOL - I feel like that too about the rash sometimes. And it literally does happen to my daughter, who has super sensitive dry skin!!

    Mo, Jody -- this is the thing. We really can't know in advance how well stuff will wear. It's not just the durability, though -- it's also how much pleasure it gives you in the wearing. And that is equally difficult to calculate, it seems! 

  • Angie replied 6 years ago

    I'm big on quality generally, especially as I get older. Fewer better-end things always. 

    But my guilty pleasure - for close on 20 years - is Zara because their stuff is sooooooo fun, and fits me really well. They are the only retailer I make an exception for because I love their style sensibility, the company culture, what they stand for, and their ethics. 

    Suz, those JC tux shirts are sooooooo beautifully made - it's no wonder I have three of them. YES. They are a joy to iron. 

    (I'm sitting here in my turquoise silk Equipment blouse wishing I was wearing one of my tux shirts......)

  • April replied 6 years ago

    Yes, the quality really makes things special.  You're so right, Suz -- this really shows up in things that need ironing, and also in things that have linings.  I absolutely love a piece (usually a coat) that is beautifully lined.  

  • Suz replied 6 years ago

    Oh, April, that is so, so true!! My Elie Tahari jacket has the most beautiful lining ever. The fabric feels like magic against the skin. I look forward to the way it feels! 

    Angie, those tux shirts really are special, which is why I have a second one on its way to me. I decided I could not do without a blue one, so pounced with the sale and free delivery. 

    You know I am with you on Zara. And the quality can be surprisingly good in some items, even there. For me it is perfect fast fashion -- with the free returns and easy online ordering. The service is the fastest of any retailer in Canada, at least to my place; it helps that they ship from Montreal and I am only 3 hours away. 

  • deb replied 6 years ago

    I started designing clothing for my dolls when I was five. By the time I was ten, I had a small business and by the time I was 12 I made all of my own clothing. Through these experiences I learned to value the quality of fabric. When I lost the use of my hands I could no longer sew and depended on ready made clothing. I hated it. Poor quality fabric and construction was a hard pill to swallow. I appreciate the review process provided her at YLF. This has increased the quality of my closet immensely and I no longer dread going shopping.

  • doubleh replied 6 years ago

    Like Deborah and a few others mentioned, I go for quality in footwear- because I'm a shoe person, because an untrained eye still can see/feel the difference between cheap/quality and finally bc shoe brands are much more dependable and consistent (not always, but mostly).
    I do seek out the "good" coats and swimsuits for interior structure.  Especially swimsuits; I would feel completely naked in a cheaply made suit.

  • shevia replied 6 years ago

    Yes! It really shows with me with Zara items (I am totally with Angie and Zara is my main retail outlet). Their designs are often terrific, but sometimes the shoddiness of the material just kills it for me. The cotton rumples, the polyester is too shiny, etc. On the other hand, I have some Zara items that have survived multiple washes and years beautifully. And also totally agree that high prices don't guarantee high quality.

  • Classically Casual replied 6 years ago

    A big YES from me.  For me, the inexpensive fast fashion stuff ( I'm lumping several retailers here)  are briefly satisfying, but then they just hang there limply in the closet saying to me, "what do I think I am, 12??"

    And not to mention my other complaint of having to play the game of the online price vs the in store price, such as Sveta's  earlier post.  Not doing it anymore, no matter how many kittens are on the blouse...

    Other women can wear these clothes flawlessly however....

  • replied 6 years ago

    Amen, amen! I have Theory white button front that is also a joy to iron. It's so well cut and constructed that it takes no time at all. My husband's "easy care" cotton blend uniform white shirts are so much more difficult and I dread ironing them. I also have 2 silk blouses (Theory and Equipment) and the fabric is just gorgeous as well. You're right there's silk and then there's silk. My only other button front is a heavy, drape-y tencel which also has to be ironed, but remarkably resists wrinkling afterwards. 

    My very small wardrobe allows me to have a few nicer things instead of the bunch of junk I had before. So many of my best things are second hand, because I can afford better quality that way. Whenever I shop retail, I'm always so saddened at (most) of the quality out there. Often fabrics are flimsy or the jacket linings are polyester. Even if at first glance the item looks awesome, there is something about it that makes me put it back. I have to realllllllly love something to buy it brand new, but like you said, sometimes you find great quality that is affordable. It's like searching out a treasure! 

  • lyn* replied 6 years ago

    Oh! That reminds me ... I didn't know how good nice leather feels until I got my Kate Spade bag ... now I occasionally pet it and admire the leather. My pleather bags have been given away.

    My Zara tote in oxblood has held up really well! Tons of compliments all the time; I need to learn what looks high quality so I know how to replicate it.

  • Lisa replied 6 years ago

    I adore the feel of certain fabrics (especially silks) but I always seem to ruin finer pieces.  Or the dry cleaner seems to ruin them.  So I am very cautious about many materials that require special care.  I just haven't seemed to figure out how to care for most materials yet. 

  • Ledonna N. replied 6 years ago

    I have not always valued quality. About 7 or 8 years ago I started to look for the difference. Being a thrifter I would find that the rayon spandex items were sometimes priced higher than the cotton silk items. Now I can touch a frantic and tell what type it is and if it will last. I guess the answer is yes for mst things I am moved by quality. For basics for me I don't mind the cheep, like white tee shirts. I'm not about to pay 100$ for one.

  • Suz replied 6 years ago

    LadyWone, I agree. I am not going to spend a lot of money on a white tee, either. But then again...it's not really an "essential" in my wardrobe -- I use them more as layering pieces so they don't stand on their own. I think I'm willing to pay more (or look harder for) really great quality in an item that stands on its own, in a way, or one that is more visible to others. Hmmm. Interesting. 

    Lisa, I think I must be very lucky. I wash everything except coats and wool blazers. And so far, I haven't ruined very many things. Anything that has been ruined has been a kind of fluke. 

    Claire, what is that with the "easy care" stuff? I agree -- sometimes it is tougher to deal with than supposedly regular stuff. I also concur about the older clothing. My thrift options are not as superb as yours, but whenever I shop vintage or consignment I see the difference in workmanship and fabrication. Of course if you think about it, there may have been some shoddy stuff around back then, also -- but that is the stuff that has already bit the dust! 

    Classically Casual -- I hear you on the online vs. in store discount issue. And also on the buyers' remorse. I am getting a little better now at realizing when something will prove unsatisfying too quickly to justify any price tag, even the lowest. But I still have a ways to go on this. 

    Shevia, it's true about Zara. But sometimes the quality is at least as good as the mid-range manufacturers at a much higher price. 

    Doubleh, that is a really good point about swimsuits. 

    Deb, what a moving story -- and what a testament to YLF and Angie's expert picks. I used to sew some of my own doll clothes, too. I do think this exposure to fabrics as a child probably influences my current feelings. I am glad to think that you are enjoying your clothes more now as a result of the quality recommendations on YLF. 

  • Kiwibird replied 6 years ago

    I always go for quality for my classics (jackets, coats, work trousers) - for example my black trousers from David Lawrence that I bought about 4 years ago.  I wear them  2 - 3 times a week, hand wash them, hang them on the clothes line to dry (they never go in the dryer) and they never need ironing.  And they're still not showing any signs of wear.  My ex always used to tell me "it pays to buy quality" (that's one thing I have always thanked him for!!).  Price over quality wins when it comes to trendy or basic things for me however it can be hit or miss depending on the supplier.

  • Angie replied 6 years ago

    Wooooohoooo, Suz. Go Team Tux Shirt Multiples and Go Team Zara. 

    (OF COURSE, you were meant to have the tux shirt in blue). 

  • ironkurtin replied 6 years ago

    Agree! I think years of vintage shopping has taught me touch is key. I can run my hands along fabrics and instantly tell what "feels" quality. I refuse to buy yucky fabrics. Nice things have a shine all their own.

  • Sterling replied 6 years ago

    Quality matters to me above all else.  I am willing to pay more for a higher quality piece that feels wonderful against my skin and will last a long time.  That is one of the reasons that I tend to buy conservative pieces.  I expect those pieces to last through multiple fashion cycles and to form the backbone of my wardrobe.  

    I have admired several of your recent purchases…. especially the silks.  When I check the websites though, many of them are dry clean only.  Do you wash them?  

  • shedev replied 6 years ago

    I totally agree on quality of footwear. I have a harder time paying premium prices for tops because they are pretty much disposable to me. I stain them, they get snagged by a hyper Border Collie, and most of my washing mishaps involve tops. You get the picture.

  • Suz replied 6 years ago

    Sterling, yes, I wash my silks -- all of them. I put them in a mesh bag in the hand wash cycle of my washer, as a rule. Occasionally I wash them out in the sink by hand. I hang them up to dry and iron them afterwards. I have not had a single problem doing this. Ever. In fact, I have read that silk really does better with actual washing vs. dry cleaning. 

  • shedev replied 6 years ago

    I'm debating on how to wash the silk Joie tank. I usually say if it can't hold up to delicate cycle, then I'm not meant to have it. I spent a little more on this top though and I don't want to ruin it right away. For some of my other DCO things, I compare the fabric to similar things in another brand.

  • rachylou replied 6 years ago

    I appreciate a straight seam and good even, cutting the most. But I tell you, I give my clothes no quarter. I will walk miles, sit on the grass, and climb a rock no matter what I'm wearing. Clothes don't stop me. There's a point, I've found, where quality fabrics and fabrications behave like that of lesser of quality. It's why I don't spend more than $20 on a suitcase anymore.

  • mrseccentric replied 6 years ago

    oh, i so agree on the love of quality!  And that's why i spend so much less time in the online style world these days, since i'm using that time to sew :)  It can take a while, like months and years, in order to educate your hand to recognize quality in fabric and construction but it does happen. Just do your best to pay attention and keep it in mind, also be certain to take a look at fibre content labels as well.

    Construction methods are a big bugaboo for me, too. I hate loosely flopping facings; creepy pilling fusible interfacing peeking out; and scratchy pilling and fraying serged seams. yuck and uncomfortable too! Combined with my fit issues sewing is definitely worth my time.

    rachylou, you bring up a very important point. Quality and durability are two different things, and i think a lot of people in the fashion world confuse the two. You can have a dress made of lace of supreme quality, but if it is delicate it will still snag and fall apart easily. It's just the nature of the beast. Conversely, some really gross-feeling poly-cotton blends which pill like mad will still last for years.

    Thus, i find it's helpful to keep the two concepts separate in my mind and be clear about what is more important to me in any particular item. Many of us lead lives where we need clothing that can stand up to a certain amount of abuse, and a lot of high-quality clothing is just not built for it. I wish more designers would address this issue, frankly. Silks and linens, for example, can make up into really durable yet luxe fabrics which would be so nice in many casual dresses - what a great way to dress for everyday! And prints help to camoflage many stains, as well as being cheerful and flattering. (I need to come out with my own line in my spare time ;)  Interesting discussion everybody! steph

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