If you’re anything like me, you don’t have a lot of time to spend shopping for clothes. When I do I like to buy high quality pieces that will last a long time. But while there’s an obvious relationship between poor quality and a cheap price at checkout, it’s not uncommon to get caught out with a poor quality garment, even when you pay a bit more.
It’s helpful to know how to spot quality clothing and be able to identify the telltale signs of poor manufacturing and cheap fabric. To do this you need to take a look on the inside of your garment; feel the fabric, read the label, look at the quality of the seams, the weave and the way it hangs. These things will tell you how well your garment or t shirt is made, and whether you can expect to be chucking it into the bag for the opp shop after only a few wears.
One of the first things to do when looking at a garment or t shirt is to identify the fabric. By law, clothing in Australia is required to be clearly labelled with its fibre content.
Increasingly more and more clothing is made from manmade fibres, like polyester, viscose, nylon and acrylic. These fabrics are cheap to manufacture, but they don’t necessarily last long. They are prone to pilling and losing their shape. Viscose is notorious for this.
The best quality fabrics for clothes are high quality natural fibres like cotton, wool, linen, hemp and silk. They are usually more expensive. These natural fabrics should wash well, stay in shape and last a long time – if they are of reasonable quality.
It is also common to find clothing made from a mix of manmade and natural fibres. The use of cotton or wool is often used to improve the softness of these garments. As a guide, try to stick to fabrics that are made from predominantly natural fibres (no less than 80%). They should last longer.
To determine whether the fabric is good quality you need to look at more than just the label. Take notice of how the fabric feels. Is it smooth or rough and gauzy? When you hold it in your hand how thick does it feel? What about its weight? All these things are an indication of quality.
Garment weight is measured in GSM (grams per square metre). The tighter the weave, the heavier the weight of a garment and the higher the GSM. Garments designed for summer should be a lighter weight than clothing designed for cooler seasons. A good quality cotton T shirt should provide warmth in cooler weather, but be light enough for warmer weather. It will be mid weight (between 180 and 200 GSM).
Put the fabric up to the light. Can you see through the fibres? A very thin or loosely woven fabric is more likely to stretch and lose its shape. The tighter the weave, the stronger and more durable the fabric will be.
One of the easiest ways to tell the quality of a garment is to look at the way the seams and hem are sewn. Look at the seams on the inside. Clothes have different areas of stress and there are a number of different ways to sew a seam that provides strength and durability.
Are there any loose threads? Is the stitching straight and is it an even tension? Look for puckering or loose stitches. Cheap seams and hems will have a small seam allowance or ‘turn up’ to save on fabric. If the stitching is also poor, fraying and holes are likely to result. Look for seams that are neat and flat.
One of the common things that happens with poor quality garments is they becomes misshapen after only a couple of washes. This can be because of poor quality fabric stretches or because of the way the fabric has been cut.
Fabric has a grain, which is the strongest part of the fabric. The grain runs parallel to the warp threads. The bias runs diagonally across the weave and is the direction of the fabric that has the most ‘give’ or stretch. Fabric that is cut on the bias tends to drape, whereas fabric cut along the grain lies straight.
When a garment is made, the pattern pieces will be positioned differently on the fabric relative to the grain, depending on the way the designer wants the fabric to behave. To save on fabric, pattern pieces may be cut without paying attention to the direction of the grain, which can result in a finished garment that twists or drapes incorrectly. Make sure when purchasing clothes to pay attention to how the fabric behaves. Test by stretching it in multiple directions to see how it will behave when it is worn and washed.
We all have different shopping strategies to reduce waste and saving money. Tell us about yours. Do you spend a little more, buy secondhand or make your own? Do you make things last a little longer by mending your clothes?