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Can You Recognize Quality

In the sea of fast fashion and ever-changing trends, it may seem that spotting quality garments is a daunting task, but if you know what to look for and you keep a keen eye out, you’ll soon spot them.

Check the Label

Before heading to the checkout, check the labels on the inside of your garments. While it’s easy to assume that all natural fibers such as 100% wool, cotton, silk, and cashmere are always the way to go, synthetic fabrics also have their own benefits. Polyester, rayon, or blended fabrics sometimes have the benefit of being wash-and-wear as well as being easy to maintain. However, natural fabrics can always be relied upon most especially when it comes to cold weather clothing. Wool sweaters will stand up better than knitwear made of acrylic fibers.

Checking fabric labels will also help you discern whether the fabric the garment is made of will suit your purpose. Synthetic fibers like Lycra is the best for athletic wear, while natural fibers are best for dressing for the weather. Blended fabrics are very common these days, and for good reason but try and look for at least 80% natural fibers to ensure the best quality possible. 


Hold the garment against the light

Unless a piece of clothing is expressly supposed to be sheer, it’s worth holding it up to the light and inspecting it for flaws and transparency.  While all the lovely ladies below purposely wore these outfits (go figure), there’s nothing worse than finding yourself exposed when do didn’t mean to. Cheaper fabrics are often thin and contain many minor flaws.


Loose threads and uneven seams are a no-no

A quick close look at a garment can reveal loose threads and uneven seams, which is always a tell-tail sign of low quality. Look inside the garment and gently pull the seams apart and if the seam pulls apart it means the stitch tension was too lose or the stitch length too long. Likewise stitching can be too tight or close which can cause buckling along the seam.  Either way the garment’s seams will be weak and likely to tear open after just a few wears.

Serged seams or double straight seams are generally stronger and, therefore, preferable to single straight seams.

Also look at the hemline; uneven hems are one of my biggest peeves. 

bad seams, loose threads

Look for lining and well made button holes

Closely stitched and reinforced button holes are signs of good workmanship and while it may be a trend that some items are unlined, a lined garment improves the look of the garment, slides on more easily and will hide lumps and bumps if  the garment is a little on the small side.

Another quality sign is the addition of extra thread and a button and also indicates that the manufacturer, brand, or designer cares about future wear.


Matched Patterns at the Seams

When buying a piece of clothing with a pattern or print, take the time to double check whether the patterns match up when it meets at the seams. This may seem trivial, but it is precisely this sort of detail that separate poor quality from good quality garments.


Zip and Unzip

At times, something as simple as a zip can make or break a garment. When trying on something, pay close attention to the ease that it zips and unzips. A quality garment will also have a quality zipper and closures that make getting in and out of the garment an easy task. Scrutinize the alignment and placement of the zipper as well.


Seam Allowance

Lastly look at how much seam allowance the garment has. Better quality labels have seam allowances that allow for letting the garment out without compromising the garment. The seams are also better reinforced.  Skimpy seam allowance especially when teams with poor over locking is a recipe for a wardrobe malfunction.

Seam allowance

There you are. Next time you hit the stores you should be a little wiser.


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Thank you.
Ann Reinten AICI CIP


  • Adrienne Murray says:

    Great info, thanks looking at the hem and quality of the seam allowance is something that I would not have thought of. I have a friend who is a seamstress and she goes over ALL garments with a careful eye. Sometimes gets a bargain for a minor fault that she can correct

  • Michele says:

    Hi there, just wanted to say that I love reading your posts, always some great information. As a sewist of over 50 years, I always love to read about what to look for in a quality RTW garment. And my degree is in textiles. Regarding fibers, unfortunately it isn’t always possible to tell if you are getting a good quality garment by the fiber content. Some manufacturers use cotton, for instance, but it is very short staple, meaning short fibers. When new, there is no way to tell, but when you start washing and wearing your tee shirt, for instance, it immediately starts to pill. Longer fibers are much more resistant to pilling. I’ve bought tee shirts from a reputable ladies’ chain clothing store, (no names) and been really upset that a tee shirt I paid $30 for, started to pill after a few washes and wears.
    I’m a fan of blended fibers because I think you get the best of both worlds. I love it when they mix acrylic and cotton for a sweater, even a 50/50 blend. A 100% cotton sweater gets extremely heavy in the wash and can stretch out of shape. The acrylic content reigns in the cotton that wants to stretch and it holds it’s shape better. It also cuts down on shrinkage. Acrylic has come a long way over the years. You just have to remember to use low heat in the dryer.
    I know what you mean about making sure plaids and stripes match. That is one of the first rules of sewing and my pet peeve. It takes a lot of extra fabric to match plaids and stripes, so fast fashion manufacturers don’t bother. I’ve seen some examples of this out in public that have made me cringe. Regarding the red, white and blue top where the stripes don’t match at the top, I think this was more an example of not matching your fabric to your design. There is no way those stripes are going to match at the top with those darts radiating from the armscye. Stripes and darts are a tough combination. If they had rotated the darts to the side seam, then the side seams would be off. You have to decide if you want that trade-off with darts and stripes.
    If only manufacturers gave us women any kind of seam allowance. For reference, I will pay up to $100 for pants, and up to about $75 for tops, blouses, sweaters, etc., not designer, but not cheap, either. I haven’t seen a seam allowance in anything I’ve bought for the past 20 years, at least. Everything is serged now. Again, extra seam allowance is extra fabric and even mid-priced clothing manufacturers are not going to pay for extra fabric. It doesn’t seem like much until you consider how many thousands of garments are being made. I could go on and on about the shortcuts manufacturers use, buttons, oh, the horrible buttons we see today. Retailers are in trouble, at least here in the US of A. Women of all ages are wearing spandex because it’s comfortable and it “fits” Unfortunately, at least I think it’s unfortunate, this is a sign of the times, it’s not going away.
    Ah, well, that’s my opinion, which with $2.69 will buy you a cup of coffee..

  • Virginia says:

    This is great information not only when buying garments, but also when you are purging your closet and determining what stays and goes. I’ve used other blogs of yours regarding style to decide whether or not I’ll give something away. You have helped me become more discerning.

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