Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Answer me this

Why are we supposed to care about the 'quality' of the clothing we purchase? Short of items that fall apart when washed or worn a lot (something that is at least as true of delicate designer items as of those purchased at Ye Olde Navy), how durable must clothing be? When realistically it is all once drip of pizza grease away from imperfection. And I know from personal experience that clothing in the Gap price range lasts for years; given that sizes and styles change, what's the use in clothing lasting for decades? Or is quality about fit? That is probably too case-by-case, and some women may well fit best into H&M. Or is it knowing that a garment was hand-stitched? Is a slight difference in texture that you alone can detect worth paying so many times the price of the knockoff or equivalent? Would one shade of denim or length of handbag handle be subtly better than another if the opposite shade/length was the one possessed by the more costly item? In other words, it could be that 'quality' is just a hoax that convinces clothes-shoppers that they are doing something other than tossing away money that could have gone to something useful, including one Forever 21 outfit and, say, a house. But if it brings the consumer pleasure to believe she has the 'best' of whatever item exists, and that this is for a reason that goes beyond a superficial preference, so be it.

I know Rita also questions the concept of clothing as an "investment." But Julie Fredrickson and Amber Taylor argue in favor of investing in--as opposed to just buying because it's nice-- the occasional purse. Amber gives some concrete examples of poor quality, but these strike me as easily avoidable if you purchase clothing in a store rather than online, and give it a good once-over before heading to the register.

Don't get me wrong, I understand why quality matters in other areas of life. Poor food or water quality and you're left with at best a bad taste in your mouth and at worst a stomach issue. And high-quality cheese is a different food from processed. In fact, it is entirely possible that I only understand quality when it comes to cheese.


Anonymous said...

Everyone should read "Cheap Chic" by Carol Troy. Cost-per-wear, what sorts of items worth spending lots on.

Btrooks Brothers, of all places, has some fantastic stuff--"Black Fleece". I want it all.

Amber said...

Good questions. I have plenty of clothing in the GAP range that has lasted for years; this weekend I finally tossed a dress that I'd bought from Clothestime when I was 13. That's why it's especially frustrating to deal with items that cost much more that don't last. Quality makes dressing easier because you can shop less.

I couldn't speak for Julie, but when I say "quality," I mean:

- Natural fibers instead of sweaty polyester or weird crinkly acetate.

-Well-stitched seams (not necessarily hand-stitched). Weaknesses in this area are not always obvious to me. It should be able to hold up to washing or dry cleaning.

-Linings: it's obvious when something isn't lined at all (then I don't buy it; why purchase a shirt that requires buying another shirt?), but sometimes after wearing something for a whole day you find that the lining creeps down in a way that a five minute dressing room session didn't foreshadow. I hate having my "slip showing."

-Sizing: partially my fault. Ideally, you would be able to go to a store, find a brand, try on clothes to determine your size, and then be able to purchase other items in that size online. Instead of this, I buy a size 2 skirt that's perfect and then end up ordering a pair of pants in the same size that billow like a sack.

Fashions change, sure, but I'd like to be able to invest in something like a pair of black pants with the knowledge that the side seam won't rupture within six months, the cuffs won't unravel, and the buttons won't pop off the first time the garment is cleaned.

Amber said...

Why I don't just buy GAP range:

-Stuff in the GAP range tends to have edges that flip up due to poor sewing, unmatched patterns, sizing issues, and quickly-fading fabrics,. Often it has cost-cutting shortcuts like prints instead of weaves and thin, clingy jersey in place of something heavier that drapes better. There's nothing wrong with knock-offs and cheap clothes per se (I have a Zara dress and a sale rack Ann Taylor cardigan on right now), but you should be able to avoid the minor inconveniences assorted with less expensive construction by paying for better workmanship.

Miss Self-Important said...

Isn't the whole point of shopping for an item to find something that fits well and looks good? So if you happen to find good jeans at Express, why shell out for (probably equally good but 5x costlier) Sevens? Nothing that Amber has said precludes paying less for non-designer goods, provided you can find quality stuff.

I agree that most people would be willing to spend slightly more for important basics, like a nice suit for interviews, because landing a good job will determine how much money they have in the future. But particularly in these cases, because these clothes don't go out of style very quickly (or ever), you can find something of good quality from a previous season at Filene's for a reasonable price. And for other basics, it is always possible to find the quality Amber describes without ever buying designer items or paying designer prices. Even Target's clothes are mostly cotton, rayon, and wool, and all the skirts I have from H&M have linings. I don't have a problem admitting that clothes from, say, Banana Republic look nicer than the stuff from Forever 21 (although better fit varies), but the cost=quality is only true to a point. And that point is probably well below the Gucci threshold. Beyond that, it just seems to be about social signaling. At $5000 for a dress, you're not talking about fit anymore. You can afford a tailor.

For the record, I bought my black pants at H&M three years ago, and they are still completely intact.