Pretty Good Seams: How to Know You’re Buying Quality Clothes | life and style
I’m tempted to start this column by writing: a well-made garment can be elusive, but we all know it when we see it. Unfortunately, I think saying it is about as useful as the advice, “you do yourself”.
The reality is that the quality of our clothes has steadily declined since the late 1990s, when fast fashion drove up production and consumption and drove prices down.
Despite this, well-made clothes do exist, if you know what you are looking for. Here, in the first of a two-part series, experts explain how to tell if a garment has been made with care and skill before bringing it into the fitting room.
The initial check
Shop Bruce vintage consignment store owner Dan Neilsenbeck says, “The best way to gauge the quality of a garment’s construction is to look inside.
When you do this, the first thing you should check is if the hem and seams are sewn properly. According to Max Sanderson, lecturer in fashion design at Parson’s Paris, a loose hemline is easy to snag with your thumb or big toe.
Next, Sanderson says to examine the seams. He looks for small stitches because they are stronger than long ones, indicating that a garment was made quickly. Finally, he inspects the assembly for flaws to make sure there are no loose threads or obvious signs that it has been damaged or pulled.
Check the tags
The labels inside the garment will tell you where the garment was made, what its fabric composition is and how to care for it – essentials in deciding if something is going to suit your needs. For example, if you’re looking for something to wear everyday, you’ll probably want to avoid clothes labeled hand wash or dry clean only.
Likewise, the composition of the fabric tells you how the garment is going to wear. Anything made of a protein fiber like wool will keep you warm when it’s cold but will also breathe when you’re hot. It also has a waxy coating so it doesn’t need to be washed frequently and resists wrinkles, so it’s good for travelling.
Fibers made from plant-based materials, including cotton, linen, or viscose rayon, are breathable but won’t keep you as warm. They are easy to wash, making them comfortable to wear close to the body, but wrinkle easily.
Synthetic fibers such as polyester or nylon are more delicate. They don’t breathe and trap body odor, so if you wear them against your skin, you might notice they make you sweat and smell. But Sanderson says synthetic materials may be necessary for performance requirements such as waterproof or windproof jackets and sportswear.
How to choose a good quality fabric
According to Neilsenbeck: “A high quality fabric will feel better against your skin and generally fit, drape and wear better.”
To judge the fabric quality of a garment, you need to have some idea of how the fabric feels or feels. To test this, designer Bianca Spender tugs the fabric between her thumbs to see if it stretches or holds its shape, then rubs it gently to see if it pills.
Sanderson recommends rubbing the cloth against a part of your body that’s more sensitive than the palm of your hand, such as the side of your neck or forearm, where the skin is more delicate.
where something is made
While it was true 20 years ago that a Made in Italy label indicated a higher level of craftsmanship and quality, this is no longer necessarily the case today. Knowledge and expertise vary greatly from factory to factory and country to country, and some of the most advanced technologies and skilled labor are found in China and other southern regions.
But there are other things to consider depending on where something is made, including environmental protections and labor laws. Spender says, “You should always ask yourself if the price of the clothes reflects the work that goes into them.”
A more technical way of judging the care and attention that has gone into making something is the stitching. Spender says she will “always check to see if the seams are bubbling and if the side seam is straight, to check that the fabric isn’t out of grain.” If a garment is made of a patterned fabric, Neilsenbeck says to make sure the patterns match along the seams.
The finish of a seam inside a garment can speak volumes about the time and care that went into making it. A good rule of thumb is that there should be no raw edges. One way to cover the raw edges is to overlock the seam. Overcasting is a type of stitch that goes to the edge of the fabric and extends in tight zigzag lines from the edge to about half a centimeter.
According to Sanderson, an overlock seam is the fastest way to sew a garment and can be more fragile. But in some things like jersey t-shirts or sweaters, that’s not necessarily an issue. “It’s about the right finishes for the right materials,” says Spender.
Generally, higher quality garments will have bound seams, so the raw edge of the fabric is covered. Or flat seams where there are no exposed edges, so the fabric has been folded over twice and sewn on both sides. A French seam is similar to this but is less conspicuous and typically used for high-end sheer garments.