An Actually Practical Guide to Shopping for High-Quality Clothes

The Practical Guide to Shopping for High-Quality Clothes

I never cared for Louis Vuitton bags. But a few weekends ago I visited the fashion house’s exhibition, which showcased the heritage of the brand and the early iterations of its iconic pieces. I was floored by the impeccable craftsmanship, care and detail put into the bags and trunks from over a century ago.

I left the exhibit feeling inspired, but also sad. Browsing all those creations built to last for decades, the same thought kept popping up in my head:

Things just aren’t made the same anymore.

I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself. Maybe you have a J. Crew sweater from six years ago that’s still going strong. But the modern-day replacement has somehow sprouted holes in only a month.

In a recent mini podcast, my friend Britt lamented about a pair of beloved boots whose quality went downhill, while the price stayed the same.

And I still remember the first time it happened to me, too.

I’d been wearing Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers since I was in middle school. Right before I went to college, production of the shoes had moved to Asia from the US (hi, globalization). The pair I bought not long after made me wonder if I’d had a brain transplant and bought the wrong shoes. Not only did the shoes feel stiffer and less comfortable, but the core Chuck Taylor feature, the toe cap, was a totally different shape. All the subtle differences added up to an unsettling feeling like I was wearing knock-offs on my feet. These were not the Converse I used to know.

I haven’t bought Chuck Taylors since.

When it comes to clothes, I don’t think anyone can deny that quality is declining. In our global economy, our priorities have changed. In the old days, our belongings were built to last, because we had fewer options for replacements. Now we anticipate new trends every few weeks. We expect clothes to be cheap. In fact, we get annoyed when they’re not. I was on a forum recently, and someone was asking for recommendations for a shirt that’s durable, made in the US, and less than $40. I’m sorry dude, but that stuff costs money.

So it’s not hard to see why quality is such a mystery these days. How exactly do you spot it? And without having to be some kind of fashion expert? Because nobody likes spending money only to feel cheated soon after. And when out shopping, it’s not practical to inspect every single detail without looking like a weirdo. You need the most effective ways to be able to spot quality when you’re out and about, so you can be a more informed shopper.

In this post I’ll walk you through the main features I look for in high-quality clothes and shoes. I’m not an expert, but I’ve shopped long enough and at various price points to be able to discern differences, and I’ve been sewing and drafting my own clothing patterns for years. I also own a mix of both high-quality and lower-quality clothes, and where I can, I’ll try to point out the differences between each.

What Does Quality Mean?

Everyone likes to throw the word ‘quality’ around, but no one ever actually defines what “quality” is.

The first rule of quality is that it’s subjective.

When most people refer to “spending more for quality,” they want their clothes to be more durable than cheaper alternatives. But they can’t explain exactly how those more expensive items will last longer.

To me, quality is all about the fabric and the construction. When nice fabrics meet excellent construction, you get a garment that tends to last longer and age gracefully.

Now that we’ve defined quality, let’s talk about the common myths about quality.

Quality Myth #1: The Higher the Price, the Higher the Quality

Conflating price and quality is the biggest mistake I see. Most people will see a $30 pair of shoes and automatically assume they’re higher quality than a $10 pair of shoes.

But prices can be deceiving.

In general, higher prices do mean higher quality, but there are just as many instances where more expensive items are only expensive because of brand perception and marketing. For example, is this $175 T-shirt really going to last 10 times longer than a regular Hanes T-Shirt? And at a certain level, there comes a point where the more expensive item no longer provides tangible value, but minute details that most people won’t recognize or value. There’s a reason why I didn’t mention quality in my post about why I buy expensive things. Because expensive does not always equal quality.

Quality Myth #2: There are Go-To Brands that Are Always High Quality

Be careful about associating quality with certain brands as a whole. I see it a lot on forums where people recommend brands that are “known for their quality.” But they never mention which types of clothes held up well. The type of garment matters.

For example, with J. Crew, sometimes you get a great quality pair of jeans, but then everyone throws shade at their cashmere sweaters.

Every brand or designer has their strengths and weaknesses. Think about it. Is there anyone you know who’s really awesome at everything?

If you make your purchases based on brand alone, then you’re bound to be disappointed.

Quality Myth #3: All Fabrics Are Created Equal

The last mistake I see people make is thinking that all fabric types are created equal. “Cashmere is cashmere, and cotton is cotton.” So if you grab an $80 cashmere sweater from Uniqlo it’s the same as a $1,125 Loro Piana one, right? I mean, both sweaters say they’re made out of 100% cashmere.

Not so fast.

Just because two items are both made from 100% cashmere, doesn’t mean they’re the same fabric quality. I actually got into an argument about this online! There are different grades of cashmere, and the better cashmere will be made out of longer fibers, which makes it ridiculously soft.

And don’t get tricked into thinking cashmere from the same factory is the same, either. The quality variances for cashmere also exists for other natural materials, like cotton and leather. For example, when I’ve bought leather skins, I usually am offered choices ranging from skins with noticeable imperfections to ones that are nearly flawless. Better materials cost more money.

So if higher prices aren’t a guarantee, and neither are brands, then what’s the best test for identifying quality?

The Easiest Way to Discern Quality

The easiest way to recognize quality is by experiencing it yourself in person. Go to a high-end store, like Barneys or Saks, and feel the clothes. Note how heavy and sturdy the fabrics feel, and how they drape. Try some of them on. Then go to less expensive stores and compare similar items, noting the differences. Clothes are super tactile, so by handling higher-quality clothes yourself, you’ll be able to recognize those same qualities in the future.

So not everyone lives close to a high-end store. In that case, go to thrift store and dig around for the real vintage clothes (pre-1970s). For the most part, true vintage items are built like tanks, and the differences between those and lower-quality clothes from today are unmistakable.

But the tactics above won’t work if you’re shopping online. Next, let’s talk about the specific features to watch out for.

The Three Things I Look for in High-Quality Clothes

The three things I look for in high-end clothes are natural fabrics, good construction, and where they’re made. Let’s dive into each.

1. Natural Fabrics

When it comes to fabrics I’m a total purist, and the number one thing I check is whether or not a garment is made out of 100% natural materials. If I see an item made out of synthetic materials like polyester, rayon (except if it’s vintage), nylon, etc. I’ll probably put it back immediately. From my experience, natural fabrics feel better against the skin, wash better, and last longer. Of course, there are exceptions for things like hosiery and exercise clothes, when synthetic materials are used for functional reasons. Still, I’ll only wear cotton and merino wool tops for running. I tried to wear a polyester “exercise shirt” from Old Navy and I hated how it felt.

Sometimes designers use synthetic materials for design reasons, but for the most part, checking for natural fabrics is a solid 80/20 test for quality. If you have crappy, flimsy fabrics, the best designs and construction won’t save it.

Now let’s talk about specific fabrics and how to tell if they’re good or not.

CASHMERE

Barneys New York Grey Cashmere V-Neck Sleeves Close-Up

Cashmere should be super soft, because the nicest ones will be made of longer, thinner fibers. The fabric should also feel thick and densely woven. To test the strength of the fabric, pull on it a little. A higher-quality cashmere will bounce back. Also check the tag to see if it’s two-ply or one-ply, as one ply will be more prone to developing holes. Have you ever been at a fast fashion store and thought you found a deal on cashmere? Well, someone had to cut corners to keep the price down. I’ll bet that the fabric is thinner and the yarns are woven much more loosely. Neither of these features will do much for the garment’s longevity. But on the other side, even expensive cashmere can be a rip-off, developing holes in a matter of months. So again, don’t assume something is higher quality just because it’s more expensive. Because cashmere is such a gamble, I actually won’t buy any cashmere new. Instead, I’ll look for vintage versions on eBay or in thrift stores where I’m more certain the quality will be high. I have a vintage-y one from Barneys that doesn’t seem to ever pill or grow any holes. The best part? It cost $30.

Cashmere checklist:
-Is it 100% cashmere, and not a blend?
-Is it two-ply?
-Is is super soft and not itchy?
-Is it woven tightly?
-If you pull it slightly, does it bounce back?

WOOL

Vintage Grey Wool V-Neck Sweater
Technically, cashmere is a wool because it comes from an animal, but I’ll refer to wool as any non-cashmere material used for sweaters and coats. I’d take wool over cashmere any day of the week. Wool as a material is less delicate than cashmere, so already it’s primed to last longer. Wools can come from a bunch of different animals, and there’s a lot more variety in terms of texture. The highest-end wool will be merino wool, which will feel really fine. The finer the wool, the higher quality it is. That’s why you’ll see names ranging from ‘Fine Merino Wool’ to ‘Ultrafine Merino Wool’ (the highest). But for any wool sweater, there are general tests you can do to assess the quality. Again, check the label. The fabric should be made out of 100% natural materials (a blend with cashmere, etc. is OK). The wool should be thick and should bounce back when pulled slightly, and the weave should be dense and tight.

Wool checklist:
-Is the fabric substantial?
-Is it woven tightly?
-If you pull it slightly, does it bounce back?

SILK

Equipment Slim Signature Black Silk Button-Down Shirt
Ah, my favorite luxury fabric. Silk quality is determined by momme weight. So, if a shirt’s momme weight is 16, that means 160 yards of the silk weighs 16 pounds. The heavier the momme, the sturdier the fabric, thus the higher the quality. But most brands won’t give up their momme weight, so you can learn to judge silk by feel.

I have a 100% silk shirt from Equipment and a 100% silk dress from Boy by Band of Outsiders. I bought a silk button-down from Everlane, but returned it because I didn’t like the quality or fit. And once I bought a silk dress from Zara. Here are the differences I’ve noticed between the silks I own and the Zara one: The shirt and dress feel luxurious, thick and heavy. This is most likely due to the sandwashed finish, which makes the fabric extra soft, and almost suede-like. The fabric is super fluid, so if I draped it over my hand, you’d see the outline of my fingers underneath. To contrast, the Zara dress was also 100% silk, but felt much thinner, less densely woven, and didn’t really drape much at all.

Silk checklist:
-Does it feel super soft and drapey against the skin?
-Is the fabric thick and substantial?
-If you hold it up to the light, is it fairly opaque?

COTTON

Rag & Bone Classic T-Shirt Thread Close-Up
Cotton is one of my favorite everyday fabrics, because not only is it so much easier to care for than the other natural materials, it’s also the most affordable.

Cotton should feel soft, not scratchy. The longer the fibers of the cotton, the softer they’ll feel. That’s why sometimes you try on a pair of jeans and they feel scratchy. The cotton is probably made of shorter fibers that are poking your skin. Lots of people will also tell you to avoid thin fabrics because they tear easily, but high-quality fabrics can still be thin, as long as they’re densely spun. When you hold it up to the light, you shouldn’t see much light coming through the holes. Since cotton is used for a wide variety of garments, I’ll go through how I assess quality for each:

For denim, I’m super picky about the fabrics. I’ll only wear 100% cotton or jeans with a slight stretch, composed of 98% cotton and 2% elastane. I’ve found that jeans with more stretch than that will tend to be thinner. I like denim to feel like denim, not like spandex. I also like a heavier weight cotton, since jeans are my workhorses. However, this is my personal preference.

Woven button-down shirts can be thick or thin and still be high-quality, although I’ve noticed that my higher-quality shirts tend to be made out of noticeably thicker fabrics.

For T-shirts, I look for 100% cotton–no blends with polyester or spandex. I’ve had good luck with T-shirts made out of cotton from Peru.

Cotton checklist:
-Is the fabric thick and substantial?
-Is it soft against the skin?
-Stretch it slightly with you hands. Is it densely woven?

LEATHER

Leather quality is determined by the type of grain. The best leather is full-grain leather, which retains the imperfections (like bug bites) of the hide without any sanding or corrections. It’s basically like the top layer of your skin, so it will be flexible and durable. The next best is top grain leather, which is when the full grain leather is sanded away to remove the imperfections. Top grain leather is thinner than full grain, and less durable. Most of the products (handbags, shoes, etc.) we see in stores will be made out of top grain leather. Both types are durable, but full grain leather will age beautifully, developing a nice shine, or patina, and top grain leather will feel plastick-y over time. The last type of leather is bonded leather, which is basically leather scraps all mashed up to create a new sheet of leather. Avoid bonded leather at all costs!

Aside from grain types, like wool, there are so many different types leather to choose from–calf, lambskin, deer, etc. Some are naturally thick and hearty, and others are thinner and more fragile. It all depends on what you’re using the leather for (garments will use thinner leather), so it can be hard to generalize quality for leather. One consistent thing I look for in nice leather is a natural high sheen (as in the picture below). I own leather shoes, so here’s a side-by-side comparison to show the differences in quality. The sneaker on the left retails for $410, and the one on the right cost $80. Both have wrinkles, but you can see the shoe on the right has aged worse than the one on the left.

Common Projects vs Spring Court Side-by-Side Comparison

Oh, and if you want the full lowdown on leather jackets, read this post by The Essential Man.

Leather checklist:
-Is it soft and supple?
-Does it smell like leather?
-Scratch your nail against it. Does it create a mark or disappear?

2. Construction

The quality of construction depends on how well fabric pieces are stitched together. An initial test could be holding the garment up to the light and stretching one of the seams to see how much light comes through. If the thread is really tight and even, this is a good sign.

FINISHING TECHNIQUES

Have you ever turned a garment inside out and checked out what the inside looks like? There are actually different techniques for finishing the raw edges of the seams, and some are considered to be more high-end than others. First, let’s look at the technique that you’ll probably find in most of your clothes: the serged edge.

To create a serged edge, there’s no real manual work involved, besides feeding the fabric through a machine called a serger. It sews the seam, finishes the edge, AND cuts off the excess fabric for you.

Check the vertical seam on this shirt. The serged edge is the loopy-looking stitch along the edge. The stitching on this shirt is CRAZY. It looks wobbly and overall plain messy.

Red Plaid Shirt

All of my high-end shirts use more complicated methods. For example, the flat felled seam in the example, which you’ll recognize as the common seam finish on the inside of your jeans. It not only looks nice and clean, but it’s a more durable finish than a serged edge. The raw edges are totally enclosed, and the seam is pressed and sewn down so it’s flat. This type of finishing technique requires more steps than a serged edge, taking longer to complete.

Nili Lotan Gingham Shirt

TOPSTITCHING THREAD

If the thread is visible on the outside (called topstitching), that will give you a clue to the level of quality, as well. Look for thick thread with a hint of shine to it. The thread should be smooth without a ton of fibers starting to fray.

K. Jacques Ponyhair Sandals

STITCHED SOLES VERSUS GLUE

When it comes to shoes, look at how the upper is attached to the sole. Have you ever had a sole just come right off on you? That’s probably because the sole was just glued on. Quality goods will be stitched together, which will provide a much stronger bond.

In the $80 example below, you can’t see any stitch marks, so the leather and the rubber are joined together by glue.

Black Spring Court MId-Top Leather Sneakers

In contrast, look at that nice stitching on the $410 shoe.

Common Projects Achilles Stitching

3. Where It’s Made

I’ll always look at the tag to see where the item was made. Good manufacturing can happen in any country, but I’ll use the country to determine how much I’m willing to pay. For example, I know labor costs in the US is expensive, so I’m willing to pay more for an item made here. But if I know an item is made in a more cost-effective country and the price is still high, then I’ll think twice about that purchase.

Tip: If you see a product page online, and the country of origin is NOT listed, or it says ‘Imported’ it means it’s not made in a “well-regarded” manufacturing country like the US, UK, Italy, Spain or France.

What to Watch Out For

Here’s a list of quick watch-outs for when you’re shopping. Retailers are masters at manipulating copy so you’re in the dark about what you’re actually buying.

Fabric blends. For example, if you see the fabric listed as ‘cashmere blend,’ don’t get tricked into thinking that’s full-on cashmere. It could mean it’s 1% cashmere and 99% garbage.

When there’s no fabric composition at all. Lots of online retailers will leave out information like the fabric percentages. Instead, you’ll see ‘polyester/elasthane’ so you won’t have a real sense of the actual proportions of the fabrics. For example, there’s a big difference in how an item feels if it’s made out of 99% elasthane versus 10%.

‘Genuine Leather’ labels. Real quality leather goods don’t have to declare themselves as genuine leather. Only cheap leathers will have this label.

Outlets and TJ Maxx. I know lots of people find designer deals at these stores, but remember that some items are made specifically for these stores, using lower-quality materials. If I find a good deal, I usually do a quick Google search to see if the designer or brand actually sold the item on their own website.

My Favorite Go-To Brands

So wait–I just said that there aren’t any go-to brands. That’s true, but I’ve had consistent experiences with brands for specific types of garments. Since people ask me this type of stuff, I’m adding it here.

Acne Studios
Denim, particularly the Hex and Hep fits, which never sagged out, even after wearing them dozens of times without washing them. I can’t vouch for their newer styles, though.

Common Projects
Love the super soft nappa leather. I haven’t seen any other sneakers that are nice as these. Sneaker heads–correct me if I’m wrong!

Falke
I consistently have good luck with their socks and hosiery. I’ve had a pair of wool tights that have lasted for years and years, and I haven’t had any of their socks start to sag on me yet.

Lotuff
The vegetable-tanned leather is thick and sturdy and feels like it will last for decades. Sure the smooth, thin lambskin of a Celine bag is nice, but sometimes you want a bag you don’t have to baby as much.

Should You Buy Higher Quality Clothes?

Fun facts:

I own plenty of clothes that are made in China.

Ones with the run-of-the-mill serged seams on the inside.

And shoes made out of so-so leather.

So do you really need higher quality clothes?

Not necessarily.

I wanted to write this post, because sometimes I feel like when people say they want to buy higher quality, they don’t know exactly what they are in for.

They are the people who think the only reason to buy more expensive things is because of quality. If that’s you, then stick with the cheaper stuff.

Because buying based on quality is just part of the equation. If quality was the end-all, be-all, then we’d all be shopping at LL Bean because they have a lifetime guarantee on all their products. In theory, that stuff could last forever. Or we’d have people buying the highest quality parka known to man, even though they might live on a tropical island.

Buying based on quality alone is not rooted in reality. There are lifestyle questions to ask yourself, like: Are you somebody who’s detail-oriented about everything you do? And: are you ready to care for your clothes?

Lastly, emotional reasons can’t be ignored.

We buy clothes because they make us feel a certain way.

We buy clothes because we want to control how others perceive us.

We buy clothes because they’re exactly what we dreamed up in our heads.

So if you’re someone who appreciates finer details, and you have the lifestyle for it, then higher-quality clothes could make sense for you. But if you don’t value high quality, then don’t sweat it, because there’s nothing wrong with that.

Earlier in the post, I said quality is subjective. Quality means something different depending on who you are. And at the end of the day, the very best quality is the kind that suits exactly what YOU need.

What about you? What’s your threshold for quality? How do you spot quality when you’re out and about or ordering something online? Anyone in the fashion industry–chime in with your insights, please!

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • Adventure Rich

    As a complete newbie in the fashion world, this is incredibly helpful! Haha- I find myself at a loss when trying to find good, quality items… I have no idea what to look for. Thanks for this guide, I will be using it in the future! 🙂

    • Hey Mrs. AR,

      Glad you found this helpful! I had a feeling that lots of people are in the same boat as you, not sure what to look for, and I couldn’t find an article about it online, so I thought, OK, I’ll just write one!

  • Yes! Thank you for diving into my brain and explaining way more eloquently than I could the quality debate. My biggest factors for quality are place of manufacture and fabric type. I tend to by most of my clothes online from Etsy (i.e. they are vintage), and I’ve had really good success buying things made in Canada, the US, or the UK that are natural blends. Buying second hand for me satisfies the quality component, but it’s also important for me because of the reduced environmental impact compared to buying something brand new (but that’s just what I value). Thanks for such a great guide, Luxe!

    • Thank you for inspiring me to write this! It’s something I had marinating a while in my brain, but obviously, putting the work into writing this was a bit of a roadblock. I think it’s my longest article yet! Vintage is a great way to increase your chances of buying something made well, and like you said, one of the few ways to actually be sustainable. I know there are lot of companies that tout themselves as sustainable, but I honestly feel many of them are just marketing tactics. Secondhand and vintage is the way to go!

  • Very helpful post! I can’t believe there are people who would seriously debate that not all versions of every fabric are created equal. I’m generally just fine with some of the cheapest versions of, say, cashmere that are out there, but, well, it’s just not the same!

    It is pretty disappointing when beloved items aren’t the same even a few years later. I’ve had a little experience with this recently with my Sam Edelman Petty booties. (I bought a pair on sale last year because they’re such a staple in my wardrobe, although my first pair, from December 2014 or so are still going strong.) The new pair is stiffer, which makes one of the design elements (they’re not good/a little tight and may not fit for people with high insteps) more noticeable. I’m not usually someone who has that issue with shoes, but they’re even a little hard to put on when I wear thicker socks or tights. They still work, and I’m hoping they’ll soften up the way my other pair did, but the other pair was definitely better (100% comfortable out of the box). Alas!

    • Thanks! Yeah, so basically the girl cited an article from a Uniqlo rep that said their cashmere was basically the same as a higher-end brands. And I was like, umm, don’t you think this article would be biased??? But at the same time, I think the Uniqlo stuff is totally fine for most people’s standards. Not everyone needs the best of the best.

      I feel like the decline in quality happens in everything! It almost makes me wary of waiting for a second or third generation item. For example, I think the PS1 bags look and feel a lot different from earlier generations. Anyway, I think the changes make sense when I put my business hat on–brands feel a pressure to increase sales year over year, and one of the ways to do that is to find a way to cut production costs. But still, it’s hard not to feel cheated in a way. Sorry your booties were part of the declining quality parade! Sometimes when that happens I try to see if I find the “older” version on the secondhand market somehow. I would def try eBay, if you haven’t already.

  • Read through this post and I’m so far away from high quality. I never even heard of those brands you listed. I think people in the Pacific Northwest just aren’t that fashion conscious. We’re low key or something because the thrift stores near me feel limited in any and all traits you listed.

    We’re going back to Cali during the holidays and there’s a luxury consignment store near Jared’s parents house. It only has 2 reviews (good reviews though) on Yelp but I’ll try it out with these helpful hints in mind. I think the average Californian and New Yorker will have higher taste than the Upper Left USA like Oregon and Washington.

    P.S. The serge stitching is mad ugly! One of my pink Angora sweaters sheds like crazy. It was $80 on Anthropologie or something…kinda disappointed…unless that’s suppose to happen and then it’ll stop? I’m leaving pink fibers all over the place.

    • Don’t worry about not knowing the brands I listed–not everybody cares about that stuff! Not sure if I would say fashion consciousness is a regional thing. I mean, I know plenty of people here in NYC that don’t care about it, and people in small towns in the midwest who do. But I feel you on the thrift stores lacking merchandise. Years ago, I used to be able to find real vintage stuff pretty easily. But not anymore. Now it’s H&M castoffs from three years ago. It really makes me sad!

      Oooh, the luxury consignment store sounds like a good find. Maybe it’s a hidden gem if it only has two stars!

      Haha, and yeah the serge stitching is not nice, but it’s the most common way to finish shirts, at least, in what I’ve seen. And I have an angora sweater too, but I got it from a thrift store. It’s pretty nice, but still sheds a little. I heard freezing it for 24 hours can help stop the shedding?

  • Done by Forty

    I know less about clothing than almost anyone, but really found this useful, and sent the link to my SO, too.

    For me, clothing’s pretty much a commodity but I still do like having a few nice items to wear. I’m super casual as a WAH employee, but would benefit from having more nice outfits to wear on the rare occasion that I want to look spiffy. 🙂

    • Oh, hey, this is the best compliment–when someone who isn’t necessarily interested in a topic I write about, but finds it useful anyway!

      I totally understand viewing clothing as commodity. I mean, everyone has different interests, right? I just don’t like to see people getting ripped off on expensive things that are actually bad quality.

  • Bookmarking for next time I’m at a thrift/consignment store or yard sale! Thanks Luxe

    • OK, cool! Just make sure the stuff is real vintage and you’ll be golden!

  • Jane W.

    Second your Falke recommendation. Their socks rock.

    I’ve given up trying to judge quality online–brands that I relied on for years have become very changeable. A sweater that I bought from Pendleton in 2012 is still going strong, while last year’s cardigan is already looking shabby. Both have received the same frequency of wear.

    In person, I look for “fit and finish,” a fabric’s heft/drape, and natural fibers.

  • Former New Yorker

    Such an informative post. I honestly hadn’t thought of any of this stuff in regards to clothes. I’m admittedly not great at taking care of clothes these days. I’ll look for stitching on my shoes now, but I can see why the cheapo shoes I bought lately just fell apart.

    Re: Lotuff. Don’t forget about Frank Clegg! Lotuff was once Lotuff & Clegg. Frank Clegg designed the bags and Joe Lotuff was the business mind, but the two business partners split a few years back and both companies still sell some of the same designs. There’s post about it here: https://www.permanentstyle.com/2016/04/frank-clegg-bags-five-years-later.html

    Both make quality bags, but I’m a Frank Clegg fangirl because the work tote I bought from him years ago has stood up to all the grossness of my toddler. Also, Frank signed my invoice with a personal thank you — I still have that invoice slip!

  • Yes!! I love examples here, especially the photos you took. It can be a lot to think about and look for, so examples are great (also love how you encourage people to physically go into stores and see the differences in quality first hand — you really can’t beat that).

    Do you think it’s gotten trickier to look for quality? My biggest pet peeve is shoes that look like the sole has been stitches on, but actually it’s just decorative. 😥

    • Yeah, I thought it was better to show real examples to compare and contrast–there are too many articles that are just theory, which I’ve found to be not as helpful.

      I do think it’s harder to look for quality, because overall, quality has declined. And for younger people, they probably grew up knowing only fast fashion stuff, so I sometimes worry that people just don’t know that there’s anything different. Plus, the marketing has gotten much smarter, so I’m always wary of exactly how brands describe their products.

  • Dr. Curious

    I am bookmarking this for when my kids stop puking and spilling food on me.

    What is your opinion on Uniqlo? You mentioned their crappy cashmere, but what I have been liking their “Extra-fine merino” sweaters the past few years because they are WASHABLE! And I have to tell you they hold up to multiple, multiple washings so far, with only mild pilling.

    Have fun in NZ! We sky-dived over Lake Taupo, and it was incredible if you have the inclination. Also, Sauvignon Blanc.

    • Hey, Uniqlo lover over here! I find their basic innerwear (intimates, socks, shirts, Heattech) are great but their outer stuff aren’t as good. And Peter Nguyen, the blogger of The Essential Man who’s also a stylist, agrees with my take.

    • You bring up a great point, which is, that quality has to fit in with your lifestyle. So yeah, if you’re getting dirty all the time, it probably doesn’t make sense to invest in nicer stuff.

      Ha, I didn’t say the Uniqlo cashmere was crappy, just that it’s not exactly the same cashmere as a more expensive one. Lots of people think the differences are simply marketing and brand names, and that’s just not true. The Uniqlo cashmere will be totally fine for most people. Although I find them to be scratchy. I’d look on the vintage market, especially as there are more options for men. And awesome that their merino wool sweaters work for you. If it meets all your requirements, then that’s a perfect buy!

      Thanks for the well wishes in NZ! We’re not doing any of the adventure stuff (we’re indoor cats), but luging may be up our alley…And yes, can’t wait to try the wine here!

  • Woohoo, you are so so right that this is a mega-post! I’ve learned to pay attention to the quality of my clothes but I got a lot of helpful tricks off this post, so thanks!

    For fabric, the tropical climate I’m in really puts them to the test. Like, I’m leery of cheap cotton and wool blends just because they always stink at the end of the day. Bad leather cracks when it gets plastick-y (seriously, I’ve had a bag fall off its strap less than a week after I bought it!) and linen… My mom who shops mostly in fast fashion outlets – like you said, nothing wrong with that and I agree it’s a very personal decision – got into an argument with me about how she wouldn’t wear linen cause of the scratchy feel. In the end, I wore my Isabel Marant shirt over and let her feel it, and she was amazed. I also introduced her to the wonders of merino in NZ, and she loved it!

    For construction, I like to turn it inside out and if the seams don’t look as good the other way round, I just assume the construction’s bad. I notice if I care for my cheap clothes though, they still last pretty long (think 3-5 years).

    And ahhh, Louis Vuitton! I don’t buy bags from that brand anymore for exactly that reason. If you can believe it, one of the bags from their 2014 fall collection leaked glue over my clothes! I think that’s unexcusable for any brand but particularly one that’s considered pretty high-end. An older one I use is still going strong though; they definitely don’t make them like they used to!

    • My general experience is if a fabric is itchy, then it probably isn’t quality fabric. So yeah, your mom totally needed to be schooled! I had a vintage linen skirt that was the loveliest and softest fabric. Good linen won’t be scratchy!

      I didn’t mentioned the inside of the garment, because I don’t think it necessarily has a bearing on the longevity of a garment. But yeah, I’m a finishings nerd, too. I didn’t mention every single seam because there are too many, but I love French seams, and they’re fun to make, too! And agree that you can make lower-quality clothes last longer, too.

      Yeah, I feel so wary of buying things that aren’t first generation. Brands are always finding a way to cut costs and that’s bound to show up in the production. But I don’t know if that can really be avoided unless you never buy anything ever.

  • Will

    Excellent, indepth quality-assessment guidelines.

    Totally agree on leather goods. The first time my mentor told me buy a pair of “real shoes” I never understood. That was, until I walked into the shop.

    Now, after 3 years of constant wear, the first pair (Crockett Jones Westbourne) I bought has developed an amazing patina. (Took a while to pay him back from my part time job, I don’t like owing people) It still doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of needing to be resoled, and run my shoes hard.

    On the other hand, I got gifted a Burberry Kensington Stone Trench by a friend. Those things cost an arm and a leg! Although nice, I’m not sure how to assess it. I kind of feel, since you’re paying that much, to have everything up to standard would be a basic requirement. It is pretty versatile, light enough to wear in English summers; layer with a gilet and something woolen in the winter.

    If you’re ever looking out for heavier denim:
    Pure Blue Japan
    Momotaro
    Ironheart

    My Momotaro 18oz have a nice weight, and a slim-relaxed fit. Ironheart 25oz is heavy enough to stand up by themselves, pretty cool to see in person.

    • Hey Will,

      Thanks, appreciate the compliment, especially from clothing expert like you!

      How awesome to have a mentor introduce you to nicer stuff! Patina is soooo dreamy. I made my husband a wallet out of vegetable tanned leather, and the jeans dye and general wear has developed a really unique look!

      I know the feeling about expecting a certain level of quality once you hit a certain price point. For example, for my recent expensive dinner, the expectation were sky high!

      Thanks for the denim brand recs! I tried on Blue in Green recently, and the jeans fit me really well, but weren’t exactly what I was looking for. Looking for slim fit black denim with no decorations on the pockets.

  • tonia

    Thanks for the great guide! Do you have any insights to share about linen? Also, I’m a newbie and embarrassed to ask, but how do you know if your shoes can be resoled? Do the soles have to be stitched on?

    • Hi Tonia,

      I used to have a linen skirt I bought from a vintage shop in Berlin. The linen was thick, felt super sturdy, tightly woven, and didn’t feel scratchy at all. Whatever you do, good linen will feel nice against the skin. I think most shoes can be resoled–definitely take them to a cobbler and see what they can do. And no, I don’t think the soles have to be stitched on–they can re-glue stuff.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • This was so helpful, Luxe! I always feel so frustrated and confused when something that’s labeled 100% cashmere feels so itchy, but now I totally get it. Labels really can be so so deceiving in what they leave out. I recently discovered how soft alpaca is but also it sheds like crazy so definitely not the easiest fabric to wear especially with black clothes. I’ve been eyeing the Acne studios fringe scarf for a while, I’m thinking it’s going to be my buy now-wear forever purchase 😉

    Hope you’re having a blast on your trip 🙂

    • Yeah, not all 100% cashmere is the same level of quality! And it’s so true how deceptive labels can be. It makes it a lot harder to shop online when you can’t tell exactly what you’re getting. Awww, alpaca is soft and warm–sorry that it shed so much! But yeah, some fabrics have natural properties that just aren’t that practical unfortunately. I think Acne scarves are good buys, because they release them every year and so the demand is there in case you ever want to re-sell 🙂

  • Great guide, Luxe!

    I have a minimum level of acceptable quality. Beyond that inflection point, I don’t really go out of my way to optimize quality, but focus instead on cut and proportion to my body. I feel like the pick 2 of fashion is always cut, price, and quality.

    If I’m shopping in person, I take notice of: fabric type, hand feel, fabric weight, presence of lining (if applicable), lining fabric, nice fabric-consuming details in cut (e.g. plackets on button-up shirts), seam allowances, and hardware quality. Shopping online, I’ll take note of all those as much as I can from the garment’s listing (obviously not hand feel), but mostly rely on the brand’s reputation for an item. Since I shop mostly mid-tier premium brands, I can go on /r/femalefashionadvice to look for comments on a brand’s quality for a particular style.

    • Thank you!

      Yeah, I have another idea for a post: should you save or splurge? Where I’ll talk about the features you get, and how it costs more when you want stuff that checks all the boxes. I don’t really optimize for quality, either. I go for designs, point-of-view, and fit, and quality usualllllly follows suit.

      It sounds like you have a solid system for shopping in person that’s really similar to how I shop. And that reddit sub is a treasure trove of info!

  • I felt a little guilty buying Falke invisible socks, but they truly do add elements that make the socks fit your feet better, like little grippies on the heel, so they do’t slip off.

    I feel you on subsequent generations of items becoming noticeably different in quality. And sorry about that Pendleton sweater! It’s unfortunately a sad reality, so sometimes when I really like something I’ll buy multiples, but of course that strategy is a gamble as you’re never truly sure if you’ll still like it long enough to use the duplicates. But it’s worked OK for me so far ( I usually do it with jeans).

    Heft and drape is so important in terms of quality–I think those are big factors in how long something will last.

  • I think about this stuff because I care a lot about value–what I get in proportion to what I pay. There’s way too much stuff these days that’s supposed to be affordable, but are actually horrible quality. To me, that’s a bad deal. So I think we do need to start assessing things individually versus relying on go-to brands, etc. Although I understand not everyone has the time to do that.

    Yes! Frank Clegg! My only thing is I haven’t really seen his stuff being sold anywhere where I shop, so I haven’t seen many of his bags in person. I can’t really attest to his stuff like I can with Lotuff (I have a bag from them), but I do generally agree that the person who designs the bags should be valued more over the business person!

    Very cool that Frank sent a personal thank you–that’s totally the type of service you’d never get even with bags that cost twice as much!

  • I love how thorough you are Luxe. The examples you gave are incredibly accurate and easy to follow. In high school the our costume design teacher taught us to look at the seams, to look for quality vs fast fashion. That has stuck with me forever.

    https://kerielaine.com
    Keri Elaine

  • Ana

    great post! I generally avoid synthetic fabric too- but viscose is actually a “man made” natural fiber and is much better than polyester in terms of how it feels against the skin.. my skin is pretty sensitive and revolts against polyester, but can breathe in viscose. maybe worth a try for those with similar problems 🙂

  • I related with this through to the very end hahaha I love going into high-end stores and touching literally everything to kind of learn what a high-quality feels like. but then I buy some of the cheapest things ever LOL… especially since I’ve gone back to school. I guess my goal is just to not overspend on something that isn’t even worth what they’re charging (no j crew cashmere etc). Btw, I absolutely love the construction of common projects but I usually need a wider toebox for shoes. even after trying to wear them in, there are just way too narrow for me. And it’s such a shame I know that no other band is going to make anything similar since the narrow toebox of the shoe is part of the reason that the silhouette is so good ☹️

    • Hey Alice,

      Yeah, you can totally love and appreciate high-end stuff and still buy cheap things. Sometimes cheaper stuff just makes sense! Like, if I only wear a suit once a year, I’m not going to invest in that, you know?

      I feel like the mid-market stores like J. Crew, Banana Republic are the worst in terms of overcharging for the quality they produce. No way would I touch a J. Crew cashmere. They also try to trick you by saying their cashmere is made in Italy at the same factories as nicer cashmeres, but they don’t tell you their cashmere is worse quality and not constructed the same at all.

      Yes, love CPs, but I feel you on the narrow toebox. Although I think that’s what makes them look good with skirts and dresses. If you need a wider shoe, maybe try Spring Court? I liked them ever since I stopped wearing Converse. They aren’t nearly as nice as CPs but really comfortable! And John Lennon used to wear them 🙂

  • Hi Keri,

    Thorough, or over-explainer? How lucky you are to have had a teacher show you what to look for in clothes. I think lots of people don’t get that, and so they end up basing quality off what’s available in their local stores (which could be bad), or from price alone.

  • Thank you, Ana! You’re right, viscose is kind of in the purgatory stage between natural and synthetic. I’ve never liked how it felt on me, but yes, it can be great depending on your preference 🙂

  • Hey Sarah,

    I’ve looked at Material World before, but at the time their merch was seriously limited! Has it expanded since? I think I saw one skirt on there, but then later I saw it on eBay, too. So check their eBay account because you might find a better deal there. I’m sure if you’re very diligent you’ll be able to find some gems there!