There’s a somewhat confusing – some might say cloak and dagger – relationship between price and quality when it comes to clothing.
Bulging marketing budgets, elaborate shop fittings and slick ad campaigns can whack a hefty premium on top of what you buy, with many big-name brands marking up their products by up to 500 per cent. Add to that a staggering array of fabrics, finishes and details and it’s little wonder we can’t tell if what we’re buying is actually worth the money.
The golden rule to not getting caught out? Never use price as a guide. Chances are you’ve worked hard for the cash so what’s the point in coughing up for subpar wares? This is our bible for finding top-notch clothing and accessories that are built to last.
Materials: Know Your Stuff
While a punchy colour or tongue-in-cheek print might draw you in, fabric is the first thing to check once you get up close and personal with a potential purchase. What a garment’s made from is one of the major factors in determining the number that ends up on its price tag, so if you’re about to shell out over £100 for an acrylic cardigan or pleather bag, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
When it comes to knitwear, quality sheep’s wool, cashmere, linen and silk are all worth splashing out on, while acrylic, nylon and viscose should be avoided if you’re spending top whack.
A quality cashmere jumper will always be a wise investmentWHISTLES AW14
Cotton sits somewhere in the middle; it’s best to feel the fabric in person, as value for money can vary hugely between brands. For unbeatable softness, look for fine gauge knitwear and keep an eye out for Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton (which has longer fibres and won’t bobble or break apart as easily) and Sea Island cotton (one of the softest and sturdiest cottons available). James Perse, Sunspel and John Smedley are just some of the key brands which specialise in knitwear and tees crafted from these high-end fabrics.
Egyptian, Pima and Sea Island cotton pieces are supremely soft and durableSUNSPEL SEA ISLAND COTTON T-SHIRT
Also keep an eye out for: mercerised cotton, which has a finer feel and is more lustrous and resistant to shrinkage due to chemical washes, and merino wool, which is fantastically soft as well as temperature-regulating and moisture-wicking.
Synthetic fabrics – being specifically developed to withstand wear and tear – shouldn’t be automatically shunned. Ideal for coats and jackets made for braving the elements, outerwear crafted from synthetic materials is often lightweight, wind and water-resistant, breathable, and even reflective. Which would you rather brave a British storm in: a cashmere overcoat or a hooded nylon jacket? We rest our case.
Look to the likes of Moncler, Stone Island and Arc’teryx for man-made materials that are worth the expense.
Man-made fabrics are ideal for tackling the elements, making them great for outerwearSTONE ISLAND AW15
Don’t Shop Blind
Ultimately, when it comes to materials, bricks and mortar shopping will always have the edge over buying online. Go into stores, touch fabrics, see how they hang on you, and hold them up against each other to compare and contrast.
Yes, purchasing online is convenient but filling out a returns form and waiting in a post office queue isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun lunch break. Unless you already have a good idea of how an item fits and its fabrication, swap cyberspace for old-school shopping.
Touching and inspecting garments in store makes it easier to gauge quality
Try deploying the ‘scrunch’ test: use your hand to scrunch up an area of the garment and then release. If the wrinkles that initially form don’t disappear and the fabric doesn’t return to its initially smooth appearance, there’s every chance that the quality might not be up to scratch – though bear in mind certain materials (linen, rayon) will crease more easily than others.
And if you’re buying leather, try giving it a shallow scratch with your fingernail; if the scratch holds (it can still be rubbed away with a slightly moistened finger afterwards), then you know it’s going to be soft and pliable.
The ‘scrunch’ test is a good indicator of fabric quality
The Importance Of Provenance
Few of us really know how or where our clothes are actually made, and the country of origin tag can be a clue as to whether the item was mass-produced in a factory, or hand-shirred by artisans. ‘Clue’ is the operative word here – just because something was made in the Far East doesn’t mean it’s bound to fall to pieces. Consider country of origin a rule of thumb, rather than one that’s hard and fast.
For tailoring, shirting, shoes and leather accessories, Italy is in many respects the padre of manufacturers. The brands that produce their clothes there, from Prada to Bottega Veneta, make use of premium raw materials that come out of the country’s mills, supported by years of production expertise.
VITALE BARBERIS CANONICO ITALIAN FABRIC MILL
But just because something’s dall’Italia, doesn’t mean it’s always artisan-crafted in an atelier. The region is also home to well-known yet secretive suppliers such as Staff International and Pier SPA, who make clothing for multiple top-tier brands (Staff famously manufactures for luxury labels Margiela, Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs) which, while good quality, might be more mass-produced than the price tags would lead you to believe.
In contrast, the UK has lost much of its manufacturing clout over the years, with only a small number of larger factories still in operation. This means if you see a ‘Made in UK’ label, you can rest assured it probably hasn’t been produced in vast quantities – not that this alone is a guarantee of quality manufacturing.
Many labels such as Private White V.C., Alan Paine, Hiut Denim, John Smedley and evenDr. Martens and New Balance still produce top-notch wares in these isles.
PRIVATE WHITE V.C. AW15
Likewise, a ‘Made in the USA’ label often means quality, from the excellent woollen wares of Pendleton to Schott’s buttery soft leather biker jackets. Thanks to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) strict policies on the usage of the ‘Made in the USA’ label, brands really need to prove their provenance to (legally) use the tag on their wares.
Other renowned US-made brands include Filson, The Hill-Side, Quoddy, Red Wing,Wolverine and Rag & Bone.
SCHOTT NYC AW15
Elsewhere, Japan and France boast legions of craftspeople, while Spain and Portugal are proving to be globally successful purveyors of quality shoes and accessories.
As you might expect, China and India – especially when coupled with a suspiciously inexpensive price tag – is often still a marker of subpar craftsmanship, not to mention unethical working conditions for factory workers.
That said, there are plenty of exceptions, with brands like Feit and even US luxury playerCoach using exceptional Chinese craftsmanship to produce at a fraction of the price it costs to manufacture in the west.
Is It Well Built?
To the untrained eye, there might not be much separating a plain black £10 cardigan from a plain black £100 one. But the seams should give something away. Try lightly tugging or pulling at them to see if there’s any give; if there is, it’s a bad sign that the garment might’ve been hastily or cheaply constructed.
Generally, you want to hunt out items with tighter, closer, evenly spaced stitches, as this usually means they’re better made and will last longer. Similarly, if there’s any fraying threads on an item before you buy it, step away swiftly.
On items with ribbing, like sweatshirts, bomber jackets and the collars and cuffs of knitwear, give them a gentle tug; if they stretch or sag and don’t spring back, you might want to think twice.
And if the piece in question is patterned, the pattern should match up at the seams; not only does this look a lot better, but it shows that adequate care has been taken in producing the garment.
Always pay attention to the stitching
Don’t Be Tempted
It’s easy to get dazzled by an in-store celebrity endorsement, one-day flash sale or a limited time offer, but buying on impulse isn’t great logic for making sound investments.
If there’s something you’re dying to get your hands on, try stalling for 30 days and then re-evaluate. If you’ve forgotten about it, then you probably don’t need it. If you’ve decided you definitely can’t live without it, then make sure it’s worth the money.
Ask questions (where was it made? Can you find a similar, better-quality item elsewhere?) and do your homework by scoping out the style online if possible. Googling the item, or similar pieces from the same brand, can help you find forums (like our own) or site reviews chock full of insight worth taking into account.