As the temperatures start to tail off, dressing in warmer clothes or more layers kicks in. But what about the quality of our clothes? If we want our clothing to last longer and be more durable, how can we tell good quality from poor? It's not simply a matter of buying something more expensive. It's possible to find really good quality items in High Street chains, but you need to know what you are looking for. As a designer specialising in clothing specifically worn to go to work, quality is a high priority. My capsule wardrobes for brands have to withstand many hours of continual wear and quite often not a very generous allocation of items to rotate, so the garments have to be made well using high-quality fabrics.
Here are my Top Tips on how to identify better quality items if you are shopping to fill any gaps in your Autumn/Winter Wardrobe this season.
Lycra or Elastane in woven fabrics. Such as denim or for trousers and jeggings. We like to be comfortable in our clothes but too little elastane yarn in a trouser fabric will mean that it can knee and not recover. Lycra - which is a brand name for a stretch yarn is still the market leader for recovery purposes and cheaper yarns labelled as elastane could potentially give you issues so check the care label. Go by feel. Just as you would a rubber band! Give the fabric a stretch and if it feels strong and pulls straight back - just like a strong elastic band then great! If it has a weak stretch and not obvious spring back it's a weak rubber band. Better to have something which feels strong and stretchy than something soft and floppy. Also how you care for all garments containing stretch yarns will significantly alter their lifespan and stretch/recovery properties. Wash on cool temperatures 30 degrees and avoid tumble drying.
Stretch Knitted fabrics. For dresses, and tops. Because these don't have to withstand you bending or sitting in them in the same way trousers do elastane or Lycra is sufficient. In fact with knitted top half garments too much stretch can be the issue. If the stretch yarn content is greater than 4% it is likely that it will show every lump and bump from through below. Not always a flattering look! It's fine for layering only pieces as you will be wearing something below but so often knitted dresses and tops have too much. I also have what I call the ring or knuckle test. If you put your hand under the fabric can you see the detail of your knuckles or a ring through the fabric? You should only be able to see the outline in a soft way rather than every edge or ridge.
Pilling. Or little balls that form on the surface of any garment. This is harder for a non-professional to judge but sometimes garments are even starting to pill (or bobble) on the hangers on the rail! Look across the surface of the garment and if tiny little balls forming with the friction of one hanger against the next on the rail then you know no way is it going to last when you wear it! Cheaper lower end viscose garments can be prone to this. It's because they use the cheaper fluffy viscose yarns to give bulk and weight but the reality is they will pill rather than the much more expensive long fine viscose yarns. If you already have garments prone to pilling remove the labels from any garments you wear over them. Don't just cut off labels though, that will make pilling worse they have to be unstitched from the side seams.
Snagging. Or pulled threads. Some brands will tell you their fabrics are delicate on the care labelling. But there’s only so many times you can pull the snags through to the back without the drag lines still being seen on the front. Open weaves such as a boucle jacket or fine gauge knitwear constructions are obviously more prone. If you wear jewellery with claws and edges be prepared for it to happen or leave it on the rail and opt for something with a more compact surface.
Yarn blends. Check composition label inside the garment. A soft yarn combined with a stronger one should enhance the durability of a garment but beware of cheaper blends such as viscose and polyester in woven fabrics as these can often pill with only minimal abrasion.
Seams - Look inside to see how your garment has been sewn. For woven fabrics. A seam which has both pieces of fabric overlooked separately and then topstitched together and pressed open will always drape from the body better than the much quicker and therefore cheaper method of garment construction which is overlocking together, one sewing operation versus three. Knitted fabrics or those with high degrees of stretch are best when chain stitched which is a closed seam. This is to ensure the seams don't crack when the garment is worn
Hems - Study the hem of a jacket sleeve, a top, a skirt, your wide-leg trousers, every garment! The hem should be straight and not droop or drop unevenly around its entirety.
Lapels. On tailored suit jackets, the front lapel creases on jackets should be soft and not a pressed in hard line. A good quality jacket will have several layers of fusible within the collar and lapel to make it hold its shape with what we call in the tailoring world a 'soft roll'. Hard creases show that the manufacturer has scrimped on the inner construction.
Grinning seams. Occasionally grinning seams are actually part of the design of a garment. Usually easy to spot as a contrast thread is used. But if in doubt check to see if the ‘detail’ is symmetrical. Eg if one sleeve onto the shoulder seam is exposed is it exposed on the other shoulder?
Prints and patterns. A really big trend going into Autumn Winter. If the print is large with a distinct pattern make sure it is positioned centrally on the garment back and front! Checks or stripes should also match on any front opening or centre back seam. On an expensive brand or high-quality item they should also match on the side seams and any pockets added. With trousers the bolder the check the more important it is for it to match up on front, back and side seam.
Buy quality garments you love then you can wear with love often.