5 On Your Side

Behind the Seams: How to Spot Quality Clothes

Posted February 18, 2008 3:19 p.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2008 10:11 p.m. EST

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.