How to Spot Quality in your Clothes

We all know quality reins over quantity when it comes to clothes, but just how do you spot shoddy construction and cheap fabrics? Here are the expert tips you need to know.

By now, most of us have realized that cheap fashion isn’t really that cheap after all. That $10 bargain you bought at a fashion chain after a few washes has pilled, pulled and is now fit for the rag bin, and perhaps you’ve realized that if only you’d put that money towards an investment piece – you might have had it for years to come. Internet shopping has caused a fashion revolution, but it means that we have even less connection with our clothes. We won’t see the button hanging by thread, a crooked hem or a lazy seam until we’ve already paid for it to be shipped.

Well-made clothes don’t necessarily have to be expensive – in fact, a hefty price tag is no indication of a ‘quality’ garment. But in order to get something well-made at a good price it really does pay (literally) to know how to spot it.

And once you start investing in beautifully made clothes opposed to cheap throwaway clothes, you’ll see something amazing start to happen. You’ll have less clothes, but more to wear. You’ll always look polished and well put together. You’ll transcend trends and because you’ve chosen your buys with thought and consideration, they really say something about you, and are something you’ll treasure – and care for, for years to come.

You can teach yourself to spot shoddy construction and cheap fabrics that won’t last the year. Here are some rules you should follow every time you go shopping.

1. It’s all about the fabric

Spotted the perfect dress? Before you even bother to try it on, the very first thing you should check is the label – this will tell you what the fabric is made of and determines how well it will fit, drape and how many washes it will last.

As a general rule, go for natural fibres such as silk, cotton, hemp, linen, cashmere and wool and avoid synthetics such as nylon, acrylic, viscose rayon, polyester, and acetate. Why? Not only will synthetics not wear or wash as well, they’re full of nasty chemicals, and terrible for the environment and the factory workers that make them.

That’s not to say you should avoid blends. A cotton or linen blend means that your garment won’t crease and crush minutes after putting it on, and sometimes a bit of latex will mean those stretchy jeans fit snug. As a general rule, try to go for at least 60% natural. For investment pieces you’ll get a lot of wear out of, such as a winter coat, jeans, a business suit or a classic white blouse, you want to get as close to 100% as you can. It will be expensive, but it’s worth springing for the real deal.  If you’re shopping online, most retailers will have a description of what the garment is made out of.

2. Get a feel

Once you start feeling around fabrics, you’ll start to see how a better quality fabric will wear better, drape better and feel better. Leather should feel soft, supple and warm. Cashmere will feel soft breathable, fluffy and rich. Another sneaky trick (especially handy when travelling and someone is trying to sell you something they claim is 100% cashmere) is to pull a small thread and burn it with a lighter. If it balls up then it’s a blend with synthetic fabric, but if it crumbles away like powder, then it’s pure cashmere. Most proprietors who are selling the real deal will have no problem with you doing this – but always ask first.
Wool will create static when you rub it and feel breathable and light despite being thick and textured,

3. Make sure those patterns match

We’ve all seen those dodgy counterfeit handbags where the print doesn’t quite match up at the seam, and this is also a great yardstick to spot a well-made piece of clothing.

Have a good look at the seam, plackets, yoke, sleeves and pockets – if the pattern matches up, it means the manufacturer has invested in more fabric to cut out the individual pieces of the garment – which drives up the price.

Inexpensive manufacturing will use every piece of material available to keep prices down.

4. Don’t go against the grain

Ever had a pair of jeans that move around your leg as your walk, a shirt that refuses to sit right or a skirt with a rippled hem that will never iron flat? Then there’s a good chance it was cut ‘off grain’.

A term that sewers will be familiar with, the grain of the fabric is the line formed by the individual threads which make up the fabric. Without getting too technical the grain affects which direction the fabric will stretch and the lengthwise grain should be perpendicular to the floor (the exception is the bias cut) – but all you really need to know is if something cut off the grain you can generally tell because the seams will sit askew – and is a clear sign of shoddy, cheap manufacturing. In fact some seamstresses say being cut ‘true to the grain’ is one of the most critical aspects of garment quality so it’s worth knowing the basics!

5. Sturdy stitching

So you’ve checked your fabric quality, checked the fabric grain and the pattern matches perfectly. But before you go racing to the checkout, inspect the stitching. The easiest way to do this is give the garment a gentle pull by gripping the fabric on both sides of the seam. If the thread pulls apart slightly, you know it’s not going to last the distance.

Also look for loose thread, broken stitches and the density of the stitches. The more stitches per inch, the better quality it is.

6. The devil is in the detail

The little things make a big difference. Your buttons and fasteners should be sewn on securely, the button holes should be clean and be the right size for the buttons. If an outfit comes with spare buttons or spare thread, it’s a good sign that you’ve found a quality item.  Embellishments are another detail to be wary of – if they’ve been painstakingly hand stitched on, that’s going to be reflected in the price. But if they’ve been sewn onto a $10 shirt by machines, there’s a good chance that in a month or two, there will be a few less than what you started with.

A zipper should always lie flat and unless it’s a design detail, should be covered with a plackart. A good quality garment will almost always use a metal zipper (this is also a good way to tell if something is vintage – plastic zippers didn’t become commonplace until the 70s). There should also be an additional closure like a hook and eye or snap to keep the zipper closed. And the stitching should always match the fabric.

Also pay attention to the lining – it should be made of quality material and stitched in well – be sure to give it the ‘squat or stretch’ test if you’re buying pants or a jacket – you should have enough room to move comfortably.


Flip the garment inside out and look at the seams. Unfinished seams are a sure sign of poor quality – whereas French seams, flat felled seams and bound seams are a true mark of quality. Always choose pleats over gathered seams.

Shoes, bags and accessories

These rules should also apply to your accessories – why it can be tempting to buy that cheap vinyl bag or belt, it’s not going to last nearly as long as leather, suede or other quality fabric. Same goes for shoes – its far better to spend the money and one two or three pairs of quality items then be messing around with a dozen pairs with broken heels and lifted soles. And once you have your beautiful leather bag, shoes and belt, be sure to look after it with leather conditioner and water proofer.

Online shopping

Online shopping has revolutionized the way we buy fashion, but it also means we’re even further disconnected to the quality of our clothes. You won’t know if something has a wonky seam, a puckered dart or a mismatched pattern until after you’ve paid for it, waited for it to arrive and opened it. And if you do discover something is wrong, you have to go through the arduous task of sending it back and getting a refund. This is where knowing your brands can help.  If you’re out shopping, peruse around the different stores and check out the make and quality of the clothes, and take note of the brands that pride themselves for quality. Then look out for the sales!

A final note…

As we’ve mentioned, a hefty price tag doesn’t mean you’re getting quality, and a bargain doesn’t mean you’re buying rubbish. If you’re smart about it, you can get true investment pieces for a little more than what you’d pay for a piece of high street fast fashion – it’s about knowing where to look.  
The price of fashion comes down significantly once its second hand – and while true quality will hold some of its price, you may find that you can pick up last season’s buys for almost a quarter to half the price – and that goes for accessories too!

Go to car boot sales or second hand clothing markets, trawl vintage and second-hand shops, charity shops and look online at sites like ebay.

What’s your tips for picking quality? Let us know by commenting below.

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