In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post about how you can start loving every piece of clothing you own. For real! Today’s post is all about quality and flattering clothing, and how to find them. You’ve probably heard this saying before: “choose quality over quantity.” But do we do that more times than not? What does quality even mean at the end of the day? Is higher quality clothing generally more flattering? Finally, is there anything wrong with having lots of quality clothes? So many questions on a hot topic! This post aims to provide some direction in answering them while helping you determine how to best flatter yourself in clothing.
There are many definitions for quality, but I’m focusing on the positive adjective form.
What constitutes good quality in terms of clothing?
Every field of industry has standards, set methods, or best practices that they use to create products of good quality, and the fashion industry is no different. Pressing seams flat before sewing, using renewable, ecologically friendly fabrics with good shape retention and safe, long lasting dye methods are only a few of these practices. Garments made with best practices are considered to be good quality. Just because a piece of clothing costs $2000 does not necessarily qualify it as good quality.
Why does quality matter?
When you invest in something, you don’t have to repurchase it for a long time. It can actually save you money in the long run.
I actually wear a few items of clothing from middle school if you can believe it, and I still get compliments when I do so. I also remembering wearing a few pieces that were my mom’s when she was in high school during my own time in middle and high school. In particular, there was a black, cowl neck dress that draped so beautifully that had been my dad’s mother’s in her twenties (she’s in her late 80s now) that I borrowed from my mom on a couple of occasions–it still looks amazing. Good clothing can mean something.
Persuading people to this viewpoint isn’t hard when you can actually get them to experience good design. Experiencing something that has worn well in a good quality material that gets better with age, that makes you feel fond of it. It’s like getting to know a person you really like – you don’t just dispense with them. – clothing designer Margaret Howell
From a global standpoint many people, economies, and environments are involved in making an item of clothing. Being connected as we are, harmful labor and manufacturing processes elsewhere will eventually come back to us. Just considering how much clothing is thrown into landfills should make you sad, and concerned. Others have to deal with the massive landfills and their future issues. If we continue, how much longer until it becomes our issue as well?
High consumption rates don’t bring you happiness, and retail therapy is no different. It is a momentary high that soon ends in a financial low. Even if you can “afford” to spend whatever you’re spending on cheap or high volumes of clothing, how is it making you feel at the end of the day? Do you ever enjoy feeling truly “satisfied” with your wardrobe and or life? I can honestly say that since trying to buy quality over quantity, I have had more satisfaction and much less angst.
When a garment suits and fits the body of its wearer, it further enhances the nature of its quality. Quality flatters. Throughout history, people have sewn their own clothing, or if wealthy, had it made for them. These days, our society tries to demand such a high number of varying clothing, and the cost of special skills like sewing have increased in keeping with fair labor laws, such that it is impractical for the majority of people to buy custom-made clothing. Performed by quality fashion manufacturers, fit tests allow for less expensive ready-made clothing to suit multiple body types in various associated positions (i.e. business suits are not going to be tested in the same ways as a yoga outfit). Because fit testing is a 3-stage process requiring trying a garment on multiple sizes, body types, and in various positions associated with how the outfit is assumed to be worn, it takes time (Cornell.edu). And time is money. So guess which manufacturers aren’t going to spend that extra time? Lots of them…especially those that specialize in “fast fashion.” Fast fashion is seen as a negative term by many of the companies that make their bread and butter from it, but what else would you call taking a look from runway to your shopping bag in a month or less (and usually for a fast-food price)?
This instant gratification society we live in has created a consumption monster that binges on catalogs as specific as “early spring 2016” and “mid-fall 2017” compared to a forgotten and tamer animal that revolved around a two-part fashion diet focusing on warm and cool weather styles.
But now that retailers have whetted customers’ demand for novelty, they have to keep their products affordable — a big challenge. That means manufacturing in low-wage countries like China, but it also means using cheap, synthetic materials and rudimentary manufacturing processes.
The simple fact is that much fast fashion doesn’t survive more than a few washings. Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design, likes the way fast fashion has brought a level of style to the masses, but he laments how poorly made it can be.
“You see some products and it’s just garbage. It’s just crap,” he says. “And you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you’re going to wear it Saturday night to your party — and then it’s literally going to fall apart.” (NPR.org)
How to check quality in clothing
Summarized from co-author of Zero Waste Fashion Design, Timo Rissanen (via QZ.com).
- Check the label: natural fibers such as cotton, wool, linen, or silk get better with age. But even 100% cotton can be cheaply made from short cotton fibers, when longer fibers are considered stronger and more desirable. “Blended fabrics often don’t improve with repeated laundering the way natural fibers can. When you dry a cotton-polyester blend garment in the dryer, for example, the two materials can shrink at different rates, slightly changing the shape of the garment.”
- Look for density of fibers: a material doesn’t have to be thick to be good quality, but higher levels of threads per inch (density) give you the best indication of longevity.
- Sometimes topical agents can be added to make an item feel smoother or more dense than it is, so hold an item up to the light to ensure what you’re feeling matches what you’re seeing. Also, try stretching a knit garment in an inconspicuous place to see if it bounces back. If it doesn’t retain its shape, it won’t after it’s been worn by you either. This doesn’t apply to very gauzy knits, which expensive or not, will not be tightly woven and may become stretched and/or get holes. You’ve been warned.
- Check the seams of the garment (inside and out) for straightness, evenness, and that they lay flat. Seams that bubble, even if it’s only on the inside of a shirt means uneven tension applied by the thread that may cause the seam to break when washed or worn.
- Look for other shortcuts such as non-reinforced crotches (“the best way to construct a crotch seam would be to use two stitches of different lengths, one run over top of the other”), flimsy or fraying button holes, fabric not cut along the grain or on a defined bias (45 angle), and a lack of interfacing on dress-shirt collars and cuffs or waistbands on pants, etc.
Ways to save on quality clothing purchases
- Shop at consignment stores. The clothes look very new or even brand new and are in great condition. I have a few in my neck of the woods that specialize in higher end labels and often, the quality difference shows. I have bought some designer pieces for about 1/8th of their original prices at such stores.
- Shop at yard sales in nicer neighborhoods. Plenty of wealthy people shop at crappy clothing stores, but the odds are that in certain areas, the yard sales are going to give you better results.
- Shop at thrift stores. You’ll have to do more digging and sifting at a thrift store, but sometimes the hunt is worth it. I remember living in Lexington, VA for a couple of years and there was a GoodWill store there that on more than one occasion had a pair of size 11 Louis Vuitton flats. I wear a size 6, so it benefitted me nothing, but it was shockingly incredible! Whomever bought those $6 (??) shoes made off like a bandit!
- Shop eBay.com or other online consignment and thrift shops. Here’s a fabulous list. If you know what brands, styles, and sizes you’re looking for, the worry of not being able to return something is greatly eased. Check the return policy to be sure!
- Stalk discount designer stores like TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack for deals on pricey brands from last season (or two). Once you start dressing in quality pieces that flatter you and worry less about trends, chances are you’ll look more fashionable than ever. Looking confident and well never goes out of style.
- If you keep a running list of items you’re looking to add to your wardrobe, keep your eye out for SALES, but don’t get rabid over them. Stick to your shopping list and always make sure you’ve checked an item for its ability to flatter and its quality. One website I use to price check is Shopstyle.com. You can type in a specific item you’re looking for, “Theory white blouse” and then see which website has the best price on it. You can also type in a more broad phrase like “classic trench coat” and sort by size, brands, and price. I LOVE that site when I’m looking for something specific…
What is The Flatter Factor?
If an item flatters you–meaning that makes you look and feel your best as you currently are–then it’s got The Flatter Factor. The industry standard for an item being flattering to a person is that it makes one appear taller, leaner, and more balanced from shoulder to hip–just look at a runway model. If you want that standard to be your flatter factor criteria, because it makes you feel good, then you do you. If that criteria doesn’t make you happy then you decide what flatters you, because it makes you feel confident. I love Already Pretty’s summation of this. She says, “flattering clothing lies flat against the body…doesn’t pull, pinch, or subdivide…works with your eyes, hair, and skin tone…creates a silhouette that pleases your eye” (source).
Resources to emphasize your Flatter Factor.
Keep in mind that these will be based off of existing body type with a goal of achieving the industry’s visual standard of long, lean, balanced, but there are still great tricks for creating a desired silhouette if you learn the principles.
- The Body Shape Bible
Once you determine what items flatter you, you can speedily knock out a dressing room of items in mere minutes. There is simply no agonizing over a dress that has a couple inches of slack in the zipper, when you have decided “I don’t buy clothes that have any gaping in them.” Likewise, you can quickly walk past a table laden with different patterned boat neck sweaters (NO MATTER HOW CUTE THE PATTERNS ARE!!!) when you’ve told yourself, “I don’t buy boat neck tops, as I don’t feel confident when emphasizing my shoulders.” It might seem like you’re limiting yourself, but what you’re actually doing is giving yourself permission to only wear what makes you feel flattered, happy and confident. And I call that: F-R-E-E-D-O-M.
Resources for Complementing your Coloring
Coming from a design background, I know that color is one of the easiest ways to make an impact in any visual situation–florals, interiors, an outfit…etc. When you wear an outfit that complements your own skin, hair and eye colors, you are going to make more of an impact visually, and look healthier, because you have created a complementary color situation. Complementing colors sit directly across from one another on the color wheel and contain all of the basic hues (red, yellow, blue) between them. For example: red and green are compliments. Red is red and green is made from blue and yellow. When red and green are paired together, your eye is actually seeing all of the most basic wavelengths of light, which is visually pleasing. There are many types of color schemes, but a complementary color scheme is one of the easiest and most dynamic ways to make a visually pleasing impact.
In the 1980s a trend called “getting your colors done” came around, based on the concept of creating complementary color schemes with your clothes against your skin, hair and eye’s coloring. No matter how dark or light our skin is, we all have different undertones or colors that tint the overall hue of our skin. The 4 seasons analysis (winter, spring, summer, fall) in the 80s tended to leave out women of color, because it focused on dark vs. light skin and hair, without allowing for all the subtleties that exist within all ethnicities’ skin tones. The system further developed into a 12, and most recently 16, season analysis–4 main seasons, each containing 4 sub-seasons to allow for further personalization. Here’s a pretty decent post to determine which specific season you are. This website allows you to figure out which of the 16 seasons you are and gives you a free download for an eBook that helps you know which colors work best with your seasons. Finally, this link gives a very detailed color theory view on all of this information.
Once you know what season you are, it’s much easier to know which colors are going to complement you. Once you’re armed with this information, shopping will get so much easier. You can swiftly walk by items that just don’t go with your coloring and leave them for another buyer. You can get rid of all the cute items taking up real estate in your closet and yet are rarely worn. You can narrow down what you buy and what you keep to only items that make you look good. That sounds extremely good to me!
Well…these are my numerous thoughts on quality and flattering clothing. I’d love to know what you think! Please leave a comment and thank you so much for reading. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Also in the Dressing Like an Adult series…
- Demystifying & Simplifying the Capsule Wardrobe
- Solutions to Get Ready for the Day Faster
- Care & Keeping Solutions
- Quality Matters + The Flatter Factor
- Shopping Strategies + Personal Style Development
- BONUS: The Page I took from the Midcentury Housewife’s Book