Simple ways to check you're buying quality clothes

Here’s a few insider tips for choosing quality garments. Shopping for new quality clothing means asking some key questions such as: 

  • What did it cost to make?
  • Will it lose its shape when washed?
  • Which fabrics shrink?
  • Will it pill?

Let’s start with price, because that gives us an idea of how much it cost to make.

And yes, it’s true: most times you get what you pay for.

Retailers of new clothes use lots of ways to calculate their selling price and this is just one of them. 

As a rule of thumb, deduct sales tax from the original retail price then divide this by four.

This gives you an indication of what the garment cost to make. It's referred to as the 'make cost', and usually includes wages for cutting and sewing, factory overheads, the fabric used, and a profit for the manufacturer. It may also include international shipping and other related costs. 

The make cost is the first indication of the level of quality you’re about to try on. 

There are a lot of other costs that need to be covered before the retailer makes a profit, such as marketing, shipping, design costs, rent, wages, and merchant fees etc, but we’re only interested in the make cost.

Here’s a simplified example of finding the make cost of clothes:

Let's say it's a $55 top, and then we deduct  the sales tax of $5.00

Therefore the make cost is approximately $50.00 / 4 = $12.50

We'll also assume the factory makes a profit of around $5.00. According to these calculations the top was probably made for about $7.50. 

That's the fabric, wages for the sewing staff, and factory rent, machinery and overheads. 

You can imagine what sort of fabric you get for around $3.00 per meter can’t you. And what about the working conditions of the women (it’s usually women) who made it. 

As a comparison, most fabric used in Chasing Springtime garments costs between $10 and $20 per metre. And we manufacture ethically in Australia. 

 

Do Plus Size Clothes Cost Extra to Make?

Plus size clothes generally use more fabric than straight size clothes. I say generally, because it depends on the garment.

So if you wear plus size clothes, they will cost more to make than straight sized clothes. The more fabric that’s used the higher the cost. But retailers don’t charge by the size. Whether you wear a 14 or 26 you’ll pay the same price.

Any clothes that are more difficult to make (e.g a fully lined jacket) or have more extras e.g. zips, buttons, frills etc will cost more. Although it does depend on the quality of the accessories used.

Also, making a large selection of sizes can be more expensive. Cutting seven sizes is always more expensive than cutting four sizes. 

Fabric is layered on a large table and the pattern pieces are placed on top. For seven sizes, like we have in our range, the fabric would need to be laid out and cut at least twice. If there are four or five sizes in the range, this would only need to be done once.

Of course volume affects the price, and brands who do fast fashion have large economies of scale in their manufacturing and distribution.

 

Now we’ve discussed price, how else can you determine quality when shopping?

 

Will it maintain its shape? 

 

Check the label for the fabric content. If you’re buying jersey fabric (like a tee-shirt) look for elastane, spandex or Lycra on the fabric content. If this is mixed with the main fibre it will usually bounce back when washed, worn or stretched.

Now you know more about how price is an indicator of quality, you can factor that in too. 

Cheap fabric can twist or lose its shape after just one wash. This can be the fault of the poor fibres used to make the fabric, or the way the garment has been laid out and cut. 

When a top or dress twists and the side seams end up at the font or back near the hem it’s referred to as spiralation.

Elastane, spandex and Lycra give fabrics stretch . Often these terms mean the same thing, however Lyrca is a brand name and the other two are generic terms. 

Regular stretch clothes usually have one way stretch (side to side). But athletic wear often has lots of Lycra and a two way stretch - up and down and side to side.

Knitted fabrics, like jerseys are more likely to lose their shape because they’re knitted, like a jumper, rather than woven. Think of any knitted jumpers or scarves you have in your wardrobe - they stretch more than woven fabrics, e.g. your sheets or doona cover.

 

Will the fabric pill?

Those little balls that sometimes appear on clothes are called pilling.

Many fibres and garments pill, but natural fibres release these pills more readily.

When polyester pills it’s often because the fibres break, split or separate from other fibres (polyester is usually a filament – think tiny fishing lines) so it can’t release the pills and they just stay there.

Good quality polyester and rayon won’t pill. It has stronger filaments. Ask if the fabric has been pill tested or has a pill rating.

Chasing Springtime fabrics are pill tested. If they don’t get a good rating they don’t get added to the range. You’d be amazed how many fabrics fail the test. 

Is it okay for fabrics to pill?

Some natural fibres, like wool and linen may pill but if the fabric is not blended with polyester, elastane etc you can often scrape the pills off or use a pill remover comb. Some pilling will just come off in the wash.

When purchasing linen and woolens be sure to follow the washing instructions very carefully.

Will it shrink?

Is it cotton, linen or rayon/viscose?

Yes, it will probably shrink, particularly in length.

Check the label or ask if it’s been prewashed to avoid shrinking.

This is not a step most manufacturers take, so assume it’s going to be shorter after a wash.

Chasing Springtime garments are pre-washed and therefore pre-shrunk. We test fabrics before using them in the range, to see how much they shrink. Then we adjust our patterns accordingly. When the garments are all sewn up they’re washed, dried and pressed.

Once we’ve washed and shrunk our garments we  measure them for a size chart, so it’s more accurate of the true fit.

If a garment is not prewashed, make sure you wash it before getting any alterations done.

Viscose and rayon are basically the same thing. It’s cellulose (plant material) that’s been pulped, had chemicals added, turned into a liquid then extruded as a filament. 

The cellulose used in viscose and rayon can come from sustainable sources and include materials that would otherwise go to waste. Most bamboo fabrics are converted into a rayon or viscose fibre before being knitted or woven into fabric.

 

Will the print fade?

Eventually, but some fade faster than others and there are steps you can take to minimise it.

Screen printed prints usually last longer on natural fibres than digital prints. But as screen printing is so expensive to set up, many, many independent designers use digital printing. 

Digital printing is usually by the metre, so you print what you need. Screen printing can require a commitment of 100s or 1000s of metres to be printed to make it cost effective.

There are other printing methods available, such as sublimation printing. Colours and patterns can be printed clearly and last well, but only on white polyester. Many modern sports uniforms with team colours are sublimation printed.

So what can you do to make sure prints last as long as possible?

  1. Wash in cold water on a delicates cycle, or hand wash for even better results
  2. Use gentle detergent and don’t use too much
  3. Avoid ironing by using a low RPM on the washing machine and hang the garment on a hanger to dry
  4. If you do need to iron, turn the garment inside out first
  5. Line dry your clothes in the shade (on a hanger). Thus avoiding clothes dryers and sunshine.

If you’re interested to learn more about printing here’s a video I found of Liberty of London fabric being printed. Liberty’s most famous patterns are screen printed on fine cotton, called Tana Lawn. Many are designed by well known artists.

I hope you found these tips on purchasing quality clothes useful. Please let me know if there are other topics you’d like covered on the blog.