1.21.2015

style notes: buying for keeps

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is it just me, or is this so common that it's becoming a cliché? [insert designer name here] builds loyalty and acclaim around gorgeous, great pieces, customers flock to the brand, brand buzz builds to the point of hype, prices increase, and...quality decreases.

this exact sequence of events seems to happen so frequently these days, across so many brands (mid-range all the way up to the luxury level), that one wonders if this has become a business model.

a number of bloggers (Amanda at assembled hazardly, Belle at Capitol Hill Style, and Sarai at Coletterie) have already written about declining quality in women's clothing. my own experience over the past few years echoes theirs. for me, shopping these days is more like a negative exercise in weeding out than a positive foray into design and inspiration. meanwhile, it seems that the number of sales never ends; the constant influx of sale emails no longer corresponds to any meaningful seasonal promotion. didn't a sale use to mean something special, something to look forward to?

i've more or less stopped shopping at certain stores due to their hit or miss or consistently 'off' quality. case in point: i have returned pretty much all of my recent orders from Zara due to flaws, tees with crooked seams, shrinking abnormally after one wash, etc. in contrast, i still love and wear as much as possible a lovely silk organza blouse i bought on sale from Zara 6 years ago.

on the other end of the spectrum, it seems that the declining quality of some brands only boosts the desirability (and price) of others that have a reputation for high levels of craftsmanship (an established brand like Hermès, or a newer label like The Row). a number of my wardrobe staples (ie: Current/Elliott jeans, Rag & Bone leather and tux jackets, Isabel Marant scarf and dicker boots, etc) were all purchased 3-5+ years ago.

what do you think? what has been your experience with quality over the years?

41 comments:

  1. totally agree. I have two black merino wool sweaters from Banana Republic that I got many years ago (I don't know exactly, maybe 6-7 years?). I wear them alllll the time and they still look beautiful. it's kind of amazing. but I pop in there now and again and every time - EVERY TIME - I buy something there now it falls apart, pills, doesn't fit right, whatever. It's so disappointing!
    Also agree about Zara - 75% of the things I order go straight back.
    It's probably not a terrible thing. My closet is slimmer these days as a result, and I am wearing what I do have more often!

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    1. i hear you, Laura! i have a camel coat from BR from 2007 that is beautiful and well made. been years since i've been back in a store...:P

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  2. In the last couple years I can't begin to tell you how many times I have seen an article of clothing on a blog or Instagram, went in person to check it out at Topshop, Zara etc....only to be astonished at the poor quality and the price tag that comes along with it. I guess if it looks good in photos it doesn't matter? Eek - I am so picky, I need things to feel good at first touch, which is why online shopping can be hard.

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    1. amanda - i wonder how much $$ is wasted via The Instagram Effect :P

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  3. There is this thread on PurseForum on 'designer bags you will never buy' and answers in terms of brands. I was surprised reading the answers. The discussion was about names. Instead, it should be about style, quality for price, design, etc.

    I am also surprised about how we talk in terms of brands. Instead the focus should be on inspecting the quality of clothing from every store ( including Zara ). And upkeep ofcourse. My clothing doesnt fall apart after a few washes. And i dont shop at APC. I have clothing from all price ranges. I dont think brand or price equates quality anymore.

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    1. this is a great point - and i totally agree, one can find excellent quality from F21 sometimes, and yet a $900 sweater can pill and develop holes quickly...

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  4. I completely agree with this sentiment, especially with Zara. When I shopped Zara in Korea I came away with some very good quality items, but Zara in the states has extremely poor quality in comparison. Everlane, actually, is one brand that began with poor quality and has increased with my recent orders.
    xx Abby a geek tragedy

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    1. i've been getting most of my basics from Everlane since the last year and a half as well. also 'a geek tragedy' = genius! :)

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  5. In 2002, my husband and I each purchased wool pea coats from United Colors of Benetton for about $200 each. Both coats have had heavy wear since; yet the lining on both are completely in tact, original buttons still sturdy, and no sign of pilling whatsoever. Only last year, when I started reading about the decline of apparel quality did it occur to me to head to my closet to check out the tags on the coats. High wool content and Made in Italy. No wonder. Back in 2002, we had purchased the coats simply because we liked them. Who knew we had hit a quality gold mine! How things have changed in the industry since...

    I lost forty pounds last year (done having kids, was ready to take care of myself better again) and threw out my entire wardrobe and had to start from scratch. Being rather frugal, I couldn't bare to spend money on crap that would fall apart. I've settled into a near-exclusive uniform of Everlane/Uniqlo/Equipment/Vince skinnies and basic tops; none of it all that expensive, most of it at rock bottom sales prices. I keep it interesting with shoes (my weakness) and accessories--both which must last.

    Glad to hear the dickers are going strong. I've been eyeing them for quite some time now and just may go for it.

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    1. my go-to brands are pretty much the same as yours these days for quality (and well-priced sale finds) pieces! the dickers are great. i love my taupe suede pair so much i got another pair on sale last year :)

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  6. In 2002, my husband and I each purchased wool pea coats from United Colors of Benetton for about $200 each. Both coats have had heavy wear since; yet the lining on both are completely in tact, original buttons still sturdy, and no sign of pilling whatsoever. Only last year, when I started reading about the decline of apparel quality did it occur to me to head to my closet to check out the tags on the coats. High wool content and Made in Italy. No wonder. Back in 2002, we had purchased the coats simply because we liked them. Who knew we had hit a quality gold mine! How things have changed in the industry since...

    I lost forty pounds last year (done having kids, was ready to take care of myself better again) and threw out my entire wardrobe and had to start from scratch. Being rather frugal, I couldn't bare to spend money on crap that would fall apart. I've settled into a near-exclusive uniform of Everlane/Uniqlo/Equipment/Vince skinnies and basic tops; none of it all that expensive, most of it at rock bottom sales prices. I keep it interesting with shoes (my weakness) and accessories--both which must last.

    Glad to hear the dickers are going strong. I've been eyeing them for quite some time now and just may go for it.

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  7. Agree. I think designers might fall under the spell of becoming "big" (it's hard to resist). But that also means losing control of the actual product, including the manufacturing process. If you've got tight deadlines to meet and a huge order to fill for a big department store, you might have to cut corners unless you're very savvy. Plus, as consumers we've all become so used to rock bottom prices on clothing we forget what that actually means in terms of manufacturing and quality in the long run.

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    1. i think you're right on about the gap betw what people 'want to pay' vs what it costs to produce real quality. however, there must be a mid-range quality standard...i think that used to exist in the 90s and early 2000s.

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    2. The mid-range question is key. As I've been trying to buy fewer, but better pieces, I'm often shocked at what I find -- same crappy seams, cheap polyester, etc. Makes me wonder what, exactly, I'm paying so much more for.

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    3. @Sempre Libera - yes! the worst is when i'm browsing a high end designer's wares and find a $950 price tag attached to a 100% polyester shirt.

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  8. Absolutely echo your experiences especially with Zara. I tell you I have a linen dress from about 2000 that I can still wear. I literally only buy pants once every 2+ years and a few kids' stuff from there which remain good quality.
    I feel it is the fast fashion mentally that they want us all to subscribe to and I simply try to resist as much as possible.

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    1. yes! a 14 year old wardrobe staple is practically vintage. i think the oldest thing in my closet that i still wear regularly is a gorgeous silk (silk!!) chiffon dress from Express bought in 2004. beautifully made and still looks fresh.

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    2. I remember when express had good quality clothes.

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  9. The Row is completely out of my price range and the price has only gotten more ridiculous over the years. That said, even brands that I used to love (and still have a soft spot for) like Band of Outsiders and Rachel Comey seem to have clothing quality that is inversely correlated to the price. I've resorted to shopping at Mill Mercantile mostly - I find that a lot of small batch, American-made Japanese labels are still pretty much top notch (Engineered Garments & 6937 for example), and I've also started shopping more at Nordstrom just because if there's ever a quality issue, I can get a refund without a problem.

    It just strikes me as so odd when people wax lyrical about brands like Black Crane and Raquel Allegra when half their clothing are made from polyester and extremely thin cotton. I've stopped shopping at stores like Totokaelo (and to some extent La Garconne) for that reason because nothing holds up well and I don't want to pay $300 for a t-shirt that looks like I picked up during a dumpster-dive trip.

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    1. ha, even on sale The Row is way beyond my price range as well. and yeah, those prices at the best of the luxury end will only rise every season. :((

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  10. ah, the poor quality in so many clothes drives me crazy - and it doesn't matter if it's zara, a.p.c., isabel marant or carven: i've seen so much crap - for sometimes a ridiculous amount of money. i'm so fed up.
    in 2014, i didn't buy much, some pieces by cos, but most from acne - a label of great quality in material, cut and manufacturing (most pieces are made in europe). very expensive, but i buy sale items only.



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    1. that's heartening to hear about Acne. i only have two of their wool scarves which i ADORE and a lot of their RTW seems a bit too 'avant' for my lifestyle. but good to know and i do like their outerwear :)

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    2. I second the quality of Acne. I've been buying their jeans and knits for years and the quality has been consistently good. They do have a lot of avant-garde stuff, but also really good reliable basics (check out the raya cardigan.) It is expensive but more reasonable on sale. Also (after a painful breaking-in period) the pistols fit like a glove, are super-comfortable, and still look good after 3 years of constant wear. As I pretty much avoid my previous go-to Isabel Marant, most of my wardrobe is now comprised of Acne, Dries and Margiela (the latter two of which I usually buy only on super super sale or after selling some older items on ebay). In fact, my favorite and best quality sweaters are Margiela and about 5 years old now. Seriously they look like new. No pilling whatsoever. Unfortunately prices are only going up for Margiela as well.

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    3. mel - i love Margiela, i find the quality of their shoes and boots to be superb! :) perhaps a good follow up to this post is a shortlist of great go-to designers and brands...

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  11. Excellent post! After reading Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline, finding quality clothes has become my mission! Like many people have said, the quality of brands like Banana Republic has really gone down in recent years. Cline talks in length in her book about how price tag, brand, and store do not guarantee high quality. Now when I shop, I look at the material content and the overall construction. I'm always surprised when I find a 100% polyester blouse selling for $100! I prefer natural fabrics now, such as silk, cotton, and wool. My clothes are more comfortable and made with better fabrics. If price is an issue, I highly suggest shopping at consignment stores. You can find high quality clothes in like-new condition. I'm currently wearing a 100% cashmere cardigan and 100% wool dress (lined), both bought for $30 each at a consignment store.

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    1. i've always been a proponent of natural fibers...even still, it's becoming more and more of a scavenger hunt, even for an experienced shopper.

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  12. It's funny, I just bought a Christophe Lemaire dress at the Net-a-Porter sale and I couldn't stop marveling at it for days because it had a beautiful lining and a wonderful spun, wool knit of a quality that I hadn't seen for years and years. The only problem with buying things of quality is that they spoil you for buying everything else!

    It's really less about the brand -- a year ago I got a fabulous cotton coat at Zara, and also returned a batch of pilly sweaters to Everlane, a brand I normally I love -- and more about the individual piece. Sometimes a well-made piece somehow slips through and it's about being able to recognize it. That's where it helps to know what seams should look like and how fabrics should feel.

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    1. love love love Christophe Lemaire. such sumptuous elegant pieces!

      i think it's a real shame that one has to scour for 'quality that slips through' when shopping nowadays. it used to be the other way around.

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  13. This piece is so spot on. I'm in the midst of a Marie Kondo-inspired closet purge, and I've been surprised to see what has held up and what hasn't. Price is not always a bellwether of quality at all - my blue Annabell Ingall Jojo (the trio) had a strap that ripped right where it connected to the bag (and this was an exchange they gave me when my first bag broke at the snaps). My Everlane sweater developed a hole after the first wash. Conversely, I have a $10 F21 black jersey maxi dress that has held up for years, and $40 genuine leather Target boots that I've worn so much I have resoled them. With Zara, I just learned to dry clean everything, to the point that the upkeep ironically usually ends up costing more than the original garment, but if I love the piece I just put up with it. What has struck me, especially since having a kid, is how much women's clothing seems designed and fitted without thought to the fact that it actually has to be lived in. A weak snap on a Rag and Bone dress that sends the whole thing flying open. A Mara Hoffman swimsuit your boobs come spilling out of if you bend over. And I'm a standard size. Can't imagine how plus-size ladies feel.

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    1. yep. the refrain of "it's fashion, it's not supposed to be comfortable or practical!" is just lame. it's like trying to hide behind 'aesthetics' when it's really just an excuse for lazy/careless design...

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  14. Lots of random thoughts..

    1000% agree with Zara- every time I get clothing from them and keep it- I am terribly disappointed, the exception is Massimo Dutti leather (same parent company, but nice quaility), Oysho (same parent company, nice quality underwear)..

    I used to love Gap basics, but the few pieces I have purchased in Europe have been miserable disasters and regretable.

    Its a sad state where fast fashion is both overpriced and poor quality...

    I tend to buy the same brands over and over- Current/Elliot denim, Eric Bompard sweaters, NDC leather shoes, Uniqlo heattec or cotton knits for layering.

    A lot of my Isabel Marant has gone to the donation bin, sadly not holding up to heavy rotation.. but I am still a sucker for some of her pieces...

    Pilling has got to be one of my hugest pet peeves in the world- and price does NOT guarantee its absence, nor does 100% natural fabric content.. Eric Bompard is normally very good and worthy of the investment in cashmere- especially during Solde!

    I'm about to dive into the waters of Everlane when I go back to the US, so nice to know that the quality is worth it!

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    1. ita- thanks for the tip re EB knits! i'll have to keep an eye out next time...

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  15. Yes! My experience has been that it's damned near impossible to find a sweater that doesn't pill (even expensive cashmere) no matter what the price or fabric. And jeans that stretch out a ridiculous amount (As though I'm going to invite my Aunt Ethel to join me in them later!). I'm disgusted, and I've been treated poorly when I've tried to return those items after one wearing. "Umm, but lady, you've WORN it." Well, how else am I supposed to figure out that the quality is sub-par?

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    1. your experience totally echoes what happened to me two years ago when i tried returning some tees to Zara that developed holes after one wash. very unsymapthetic return policy. at least jcrew has a very good return/exchange policy and they do try to remedy quality issues as best they can.

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  16. I think it's most obvious with knitwear. A vintage Gap sweater will outlast newer sweaters for sure. I think that's why I always check out men's departments when I'm shopping, especially in high-end departments stores which carry tiny men's sizes! I don't know what it is, maybe it's the stereotype than men go shopping less frequently so their clothes last longer and are more functional?? I've stopped shopping at H&M not only because of quality issues but whenever I see piles and piles of clothes during sale season I cringe just imagining all of those in landfills. Most of my clothes I buy from consignment now, it's not much but it's a little recycling I can do to make myself feel a bit better.

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  17. i've been frustrated too by how the quality of clothing has declined relative to prices. i seem to buy fewer and fewer things, and not even by choice! i tend to spend a bit more on shoes that are well made, and recent (past few years) favorites for quality are margiela, woman by common projects, isabel marant. i've had luck with sweaters from cos not pilling and am so glad they finally opened in the US. other than that, i do just pick and choose items from different brands. i never buy full price anymore - it's not worth it!

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  18. Sadly, it's an oft-repeated refrain these days: You sometimes don't get what you pay for. I was just purging my closet this weekend and found a T by Alexander Wang cardigan that I'd coveted so much when I bought it. I probably only wore it a handful of times, but it had pilled all over and the seams were coming undone. By contrast, I have a cardigan from Old Navy (!) that has still held up after years of wearing and machine washing. I'm really at a loss now about where to shop, as my old standbys have declined in quality (and sometimes imagination. Madewell, I'm looking at you).

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  19. great question to ask. my number one disappointment has to be be massimo dutti - i loved their basics, shoes, blazers and dresses for the fantastic quality and classic style when i first started work back in 2007. then it all went to hell: i have things i bought there 2 years ago that have sprung holes, but all my older stuff is in reasonably good condition. it's depressing how so many people here have the same story about different brands. i've also had issues with zara for years now.

    i'm also bummed out by my celine trio. it's fine, but compared to my sister's trio purchased a few years ago, the leather is much flimser and cheaper to the touch. it's put me off buying anything from celine. the annoying thing is that the older celine bags my sisters own are of amazing quality and are things i would willing pay good money for.

    i like that comment above about the quality that "slips through" - that's how i feel about shopping now and that's why so much of my shopping is done during sales. i feel like no single brand can be trusted to be consistent so it's better to minimise losses upfront. the problem is that it doesn't matter how closely i look at the label before i buy anything - sometimes you have to wash something a few times before the problem becomes obvious.

    this post has reminded me to stop taking a chance on new stuff and spend more time wearing my old stuff instead.

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    1. So sad to hear that your Celine bag has such a notable difference in quality from a few years ago. That definitely tempers my desire to buy those hyped-up luxury items. On the other hand, is it better to buy now before it all completely goes to hell in a few years??

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