Today I want to talk about clothing quality. In the main because there has been a recent push for people to buy fewer, higher quality garments that last longer. In principle I totally support this; I have a small wardrobe, and as anyone who has seen me more than twice in the last two years will know I tend to wear the same outfit all the time. In fact, it’s the one in my author pictures (and strewn throughout the blog) which a canny conversationalist recently picked noticed. What can I say – it’s my favourite.
Just as there are different kinds of capsule wardrobes, there are different types of quality, though these are less easily categorised than capsules because there are as many types of quality as there are people.
So, what makes a garment good quality?
Form and Function
A good quality garment is one that fulfils the requirements of its form and function. The argument that form follows function is quite common in the design and architecture fields where the shape of something should come from its purpose. Essentially, clothing should:
- keep you warm/cool, safe, and healthy
- permit free movement
- be sufficiently “decent” to permit social activities (there is enough for a whole other post on this)
So any garment that does not fulfil these functions is automatically poor quality. Additionally, if it not well constructed, with straight unpuckered seams, pattern matching, zips that move easily, and buttonholes that are flat and even it is poor quality. If the fabric is not suitable for its purpose or has manufacturing defects, it is poor quality. Don’t buy these clothes.
Just to make it more complicated, the forms clothing takes also have functions, albeit social ones. There are many books and scholarly articles that explore this in huge detail, so I’ll just mention that the textures, colours, shapes and brands you choose (because you like them) all put you into a tribe. Consider that Nike adherents generally wouldn’t dream of adding Adidas to the mix and that you probably prefer the look of some brands because they speak to who you are. And confirm that you are not your mother.
You can see this in the 100 Years of Fashion video (which has sound and starts as soon as the page comes up). Ah yes, that brings back memories; not all of them pleasant!
The Characteristics of Quality
Once you have decided a garment fulfils your form and functional needs, you need to consider what characteristics of quality are important to you:
The pattern, colour and texture. For example, fine smooth fabrics are good for business suits, but not so useful on a building site where you would probably want something in a rougher more sturdy texture.
The ability to withstand wear and tear, and cleaning without shrinking, discolouring or changing shape.
How it feels on your skin.
Whether you are aware of it or not, every garment that you own prioritises one of these characteristics above the others. I suspect that your underwear is very comfortable. If you are in business, your work clothes probably prioritise appearance, and of course, our construction workers look for durability.
Quality Is Not Fixed
Your interpretation of quality depends on what clothes are appropriate for the life you lead, what you think makes a garment stylish, and which quality characteristics are important in which garments. My feeling is that quality needs to be at least a little but flexible as well; dress up/dress down or wear to work/for casual lunches sort of thing.
Assuming that you meet your conditions for form and function today, as your life changes your quality needs change too. There’s that promotion at work that means you can “upgrade” to cashmere. And when you decide to be a stay at home parent you might “downgrade” to more practical acrylics. Or move to the country get rid of your stilettos.
So with the latest trend of abandoning “fast” clothes for “slow” ones, and some stores like Tom Cridland guaranteeing their sweatshirts for 30 years, I have to remind you to build generational change into your wardrobe (etc.). Don’t become one of “those people” stuck in their glory days.
And as someone who wears their favourite clothes in high rotation, until they suffer catastrophic wardrobe malfunctions (within two to three years), I agree with Alison Gary (who seems to follow a capsule supplemented by cluster approach) when she says that you need a backup plan to deal with wardrobe malfunctions. But I would take it a little further and call it a transition plan and of course, suggest that this needs to come from your experience of managing the replacement cycles within your wardrobe plan.
When You Are Shopping
Aside from garments that will play well with those you already own, look for:
- fabrics that are appropriate for your activities
- colours that suit you, make you happy and aren’t too fashionable or too conservative
- styles that fit, move well, flatter and are comfortable.
And if it doesn’t work, don’t bring it home.
Does this make any sense to you? Which characteristic of quality is your priority?