5 On Your Side

Behind the Seams: How to Spot Quality Clothes

Posted February 18, 2008

Consumers expect that high-quality new clothing won't have wardrobe malfunctions – torn hems, ripped seams and popped buttons.

But don't run straight to the high-end clothing store yet. Consumer Reports shows that if you know what to look for, you can find well-made clothing for reasonable prices.

Consumer Reports tested the staples of a woman's wardrobe: a jacket, tailored pants and a crisp, white shirt. Staffers bought the outfits from Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, H&M, J. Crew and Talbots. The items' prices ranged from $94 to $372.

The clothes were either laundered three times or dry cleaned twice, and most held up well.

The measure of quality, however, is often found in the details.

"Look at the seams. More stitches per inch are better than fewer," Consumer Reports tester Pat Slaven said. "The tighter the stitching is, the lower the chances are that the garment's going to rip at the seams."

Both the Talbots and Banana Republic trousers had good, tight stitching.

The white blouses each had a superior element, such as Anne Taylor's thicker fabric. However, Banana Republic's double-lined yoke and French seams gave it the best quality.

The blazers – all made of wool – had a quality touch: a pleat in the lining that enhances the fit, giving the wearer more room to move.

"A little construction detail that you as a consumer never see is interfacing," Slaven said. "Interfacing is usually laminated to the fabric. It gives support, strength, without a lot of bulk."

With generous interfacing and fine tailoring, the Ann Taylor and J. Crew blazers tied as the best-made ones in the group.

Consumer Reports found the most expensive clothes were not always the best made. That makes it worthwhile to know how to spot quality-made clothing before you buy.

To keep your clothes in good shape once you get them home, follow these tips:

  • Hang jackets correctly on the hanger or they can lose their shape. Hang them at least a quarter of an inch apart on the rack.
  • Line up pants at the bottom before you hang them, and use a wood or plastic hanger.
  • If they are washable, turn pants inside out before laundering them. That will help keep them from fading.

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  • Willow Wysp Feb 20, 2008

    turkeydance, I'm sorry I disagree with your reasoning. The upkeep for my expensive clothes that I have is fairly low as I do the whole @ home drycleaning (and it works wonders!)

    If you have to purchase the "trends" then is the only time to buy the least expensive (on sale) clothes. Buy the basic/classic pieces in the more expensive items. These won't have to be replaced as often and stay in style a LOT longer! I have a beautiful skirt that I bought for $50 and have been wearing it for almost 4 years now and still get a lot of complements on. The only reason I still wear it is because it's not a "trend" item, but a classic item that doesn't go out of style as much as the "trends" do.

  • turkeydance Feb 19, 2008

    the most cost-effective solution is to only buy the least expensive (on sale) clothes. here's why:
    1. expensive clothes last longer, but upkeep is too expensive.
    2. styles change. keeping an expensive 3-year-old skirt shows.
    3. the only exception is men's shoes. upkeep of expensive or
    cheap is the same...and men's DRESS shoe styles don't change
    that much.

  • garden Feb 19, 2008

    Using baking soda along with less detergent in the wash gets clothes cleaner and fresher. Clothes last longer with less detergent also.

  • always concerned Feb 19, 2008

    Vinegar in the rinse cycle is great for keeping dark colors, especially black from getting a washed out look ;-)