By Roxy Rowton
It’s a new season. You’ve been ferreting around your favorite fashion brands for updates to the seasonal closet. You have just found the garment that is going to ramp up the style volume in your wardrobe. But there is one teensy hitch—the price tag will set your wardrobe budget back a pretty penny or two.
How do you know when an item is an ideal investment or just too pricey? This is an important question, considering the fashion and apparel industries skillfully design an insatiable appetite for a constant compulsion to modernize and update the wardrobe from one season to another. Apparel and fashion marketers spend lots of money to ensure that idealized visions of fashion influence wardrobe purchases and make it into the closet. Seasonal fashion trends and updates are the wheels that keep the industry in motion.
Most of us spend a substantial amount of our hard-earned wages on garments for the seasonal wardrobe. The best place to get some frame of reference on the price of a garment is by examination under the microscope. It can instruct us how to interpret that price tag and decide which clothing items are worth the investment.
Begin the microscopic examination by looking at the label inside the garment. A garment’s label can provide lots of information to assist in determining monetary value.
Fabrication should be one of the first considerations when making a clothing purchase. It determines breathability, comfort, cut, proportion, drape, hand, memory, setting, personality and maintenance. Check the garment’s label for its fiber content. Is the garment fabricated from natural or synthetic fibers? Is it a luxury fiber? Is it soft or scratchy to the touch? Does it have the ability to hold its shape and move with the body? Can it be machine laundered? Or does it require professional dry cleaning? These are just a sampling of questions for consideration when scrutinizing a garment’s label for the fiber content.
Check the label for the manufacturing origins of the garment. Often the origins of manufacturing can provide clues about the craftsmanship of a garment. If a garment has been manufactured where labor is cheap and quality control is not a priority, then the general construction is likely below standard. On the other hand, if a garment has been manufactured in a location known for superb sartorial craftsmanship, then the overall construction is likely above standard.
In addition to checking the garment’s label, there are other telltale details that can also reveal the craftsmanship of a garment. Start by examining the closure details of the garments such as buttons and buttonholes, zippers, hook and eyes, snaps and buckles.
Buttons and Buttonholes
Wherever there is a button, there shall also be a buttonhole. Most buttonholes are machine-sewn on contemporary mass-marketed garments; some high-quality garments still make use of hand-sewn buttonholes. The best of machine-sewn buttonholes have a keyhole which assists the button to set higher. Better quality tailored and leather garments often use a worked buttonhole (a bound or piped button hole) to create a clean, elegant finish. As per the orientation of the buttonhole, there are two openings — horizontal or vertical. Horizontal button holes can handle strain and pull quite well. Better made garments, such as blazers, suit jackets, dresses and shirts, will have a horizontal buttonhole.
Early prototypes of the zipper were manufactured from metal such as brass, steel and aluminum. They were very bulky and unsuitable for tailoring and dressmaking. Plastic replaced the metal zipper in the 1970s. The ready-to-wear market of the apparel industry began to construct garments with zipper closures. Modern clothing continues to use the plastic zipper with the exception of jeans, trousers and outerwear. Check zipper closures for a clean, neat finish, as well as the ease to unzip.
Seams are undoubtedly the most basic step of garment construction and the backbone to a garment. Today, most ready-to-wear and mass-produced garments are constructed with serged seams. While the serged seam is not a fine finish, it certainly is a viable option and keeps the seams of a garment from fraying. High quality garments are stitched with finer methods of seam construction. French seams fully enclose the raw edge of the seam. These are especially used with lightweight and sheer textiles and are a beautiful seam finish on any garment. Bound seams are an eye-catching seam finish when a contrasting color binds the edges. It is often used in fine quality unlined blazers or jackets. Check seams by examining the interior garment. Look for evenly spaced, tight stitching with no gluing, fraying or unraveling at the seams.
Clean finishings are a distinctive feature of fine tailoring and dressmaking. Lining is key to the interior appearance of a garment, making it opaque and easier to put on. It also functions as a stabilizer to shape the garment and keep it from stretching. The use of linings in garments has changed dramatically over the years. Fast fashion, in pursuits to manufacture garments both more rapidly and inexpensively, has removed most of the linings in garments. Quality ready-to-wear garments are lined in silks, Bemberg rayons or cupro, a “regenerated cellulose” fabric made from cotton waste. Contemporary fashion is most often manufactured with synthetic linings, such as acetate or polyester.
Rather than trying to catch the tail of every fashion trend that sashays down the runway, tether your wardrobe to the dependable classics that continue to define a modern sensibility and prove their essentiality. Assemble an investment wardrobe by building from dependable classics that go the distance from morning to midnight and never seem to age. Invest in a classic foundational wardrobe and then spruce it up with a few fashionable items. Clothes worth spending well-earned wages should not be expendable.
Invest in meaningful masterings of thoughtful design features and materials that guarantee beauty and utility. These are reliable, cut-above garments make one look good and feel good. Thoughtful features woven into the design and materials provide comfort, mobility, stretch, abrasion resistant. They are water-shedding or repellant, have convertible sleeves, are moisture wicking, stain resistant, temperature regulating. They provide ease of movement, arewrinkle resistant, feel-good fabrics, with invisible closures and organizational elements. Practical and dependable clothes for wherever one goes and whatever one does.
While many of us may always be influenced by the price of a garment, it is equally important to consider the value of a clothing purchase. Removing the focus from the cost or the brand label to placing emphasis on the elements of garment construction and fabrication can help evaluate a more accurate cost of bringing a new garment into the wardrobe mix. Concentrate on purchasing clothing pieces that have longevity both in wear and time, are a better grade of construction, have meaningful masterings of design features and materials and suited for varied occasions of life. We can shop more smartly and economically for our wardrobes by investing in pieces of quality, versatility and longevity.
Roxy L. Rowton has spent three decades assisting women transform their wardrobe from a random assortment of garments into a curated collection of functionality and individuality. She shares her expertise on the Fashion Files at Prince William Living and “build a better wardrobe” blog at everydayrefinement.com.