style notes: buying for keeps, pt. II // budget-friendly go-tos

source: H&M x Conscious Exclusive

in my last post on the quality issue, a number of readers chimed in with questions and thoughts for further discussion. it seems that a follow-up (or several) is in order. in a marketplace seemingly littered with more misses than hits, which stores/brands stand out for quality, stylish pieces?

my recent experience in the last few years has yielded some interesting (and, in some cases, surprising!) go-tos. i'll start with the budget-friendly, 'house-label'/chain store category:

COS - aka 'The Row for the rest of us'. great selection of work-appropriate essentials. the clean tailoring and minimal silhouettes mean purchases go far in terms of timelessness and multi-seasonal versatility. fine detail finishes + a lot of natural fabrications (and luxe bonuses like full cotton linings on jackets and coats) are a revelation in the increasingly polyester and acetate-dominated marketplace. and they now have e-comm and a NYC store! for once, a highly-anticipated European chain debuting in NYC that actually lives up to the hype.

H&M - the big sister to COS may have a fast-fashion rep, but H&M actually makes some excellent basics and unique/colorful/statement pieces. i loved their latest Conscious Exclusive collection filled with dreamy prints and ethereal linen-silk. sizing runs quite true, which is immensely helpful. in general i've found that pieces (like the Yohji-esque sweatpants from last year) wash and wear well.

Everlane - great go-to for basics like cotton tees and everyday silks at a very friendly price. for anyone looking to build or re-build an edited wardrobe, this is a great place to start. (some of my reviews on everlane here, here and here.)

ASOS - excellent source for the occasional, 'non-everyday' purchases (ie: the house label makes surprisingly luxe faux fur pieces and there is always a huge selection of inexpensive, glamorous party dresses). my favorite faux leopard/vintage 1960s-inspired coat was a lucky ASOS sale find.

Madewell - i have a favorite chambray shirt (now discontinued, alas!) and the high riser skinnies, and after about 2+ years the jeans and shirt have held up nicely to regular wash and wear. the selection skews 'weekend', and in recent seasons the aesthetic seems to have evolved towards a cleaner, slightly French vibe.


i hope this is helpful for those of you who participated in the earlier discussion, and/or are looking for a take on what's still good these days.

what do you think? what has been your recent experience with shopping for quality wardrobe pieces?

p.s.: more style notes here.


  1. I think there is this misconception that everything from a certain store can be good or bad. I have had Isabel Marant fall apart. And APC's madras collection looking like rags after a year of use. And H&M's tshirts lasting me a while.

    And poplin does not last like say oxford does. Denim Chambray, linens and silk age better than anything cotton.I disagree with the quality attributed to price or brand.

    Here are my list of hits from certain brands so far :

    Madewell's denim hasnt let me down. Actually, their dresses are going strong too, in my case. They do make dresses with lining from time to time.

    Jcrews linens and Equipment linens ( x4 price ) seem to age similarly.

    I am really impressed by Everlane's silk selection. Their cotton tshirts haven't been wearing well. No, I don't use the dryer and gentle wash everything.

    French connection makes excellent dresses that last long after everyday use. So does anthropologie, but gotta be careful and look for quality fabrics.

    Zara premium leather has been holding up great. And almost everything I got from &otherStories has been a pleasant surprise.

    American Eagle pants - going strong after 3 years of every day wear. I am still in awe.

    Agree with you on ASOS. They made a blend of natural and synthetic fabrics, which i have grown out of, but they really last.

    A question : Do you think it's high quality if the fabrics last long ? Because synthetic blends do better in this category.

    - Archana.

    1. Archana - thank you for this thoughtful and detailed contribution to the discussion!

      re the quality/fabric question, i do think durability really matters, but it's also a balancing act of durability + fabrication aesthetic. i'm not against synthetic blends, but i do prefer my clothing to be mostly natural fibers for the texture/comfort/breathability. so if a tee has a bit of poly (ie: as many sweatshirts and grey marled knits do), that's totally cool. what i and many readers have been seeing more and more in recent years, however, is just flat out substitution of poly or predominantly synthetic materials in lieu of a natural, higher-grade textile, and sometimes with an incredibly high price point. i don't think that's right by the customer.

    2. also i agree with you that the days are gone when one can categorically equate 'X brand/store' = quality. currently i feel like one can just pinpoint certain brands/stores that are mostly consistently offering quality goods.

  2. I am a big fan some key pieces from Eileen Fisher. The silk cotton interlock cardigans are luxe and can be found at the company store or on ebay. I also love the linen tanks and other linen tops. It takes some searching for styles I like but the quality is great.

    1. i have a pair of jersey harem pants from EF and it has held up nicely :)

  3. I agree that price point doesn't always indicate quality/durability. Case in point, I've started to feel let down by Rick Owens Lilies diffusion line. I do realize, with RO, one pays for an ideal/"anti-fashion" aesthetic and the way his clothes are meant to quickly develop that wabi-sabi, worn-and-torn quality. But I don't feel like buying into that anymore, or at least not at the moment. A $250 tank top really ought to last more than a year, right?! (Especially when washing on delicate, no dryer.) I also own a few items from his main line but they don't seem to wear much better. Onward..

    I've started shopping at some old favorites again for wardrobe basics: Gap, which seems to have up their game in styling, fit and quality recently; J.Crew for shorts that fit nicely (I hate most shorts but I need them for working outdoors in the heat); Target for decent quality tees that feel and look nice; and I've had great luck with fit, quality and durability of Victoria's Secret...now if they'd ONLY stop making those stiff, over-the-top, molded-cup bras in garish colors... I miss their pretty lace lingerie from eons ago.

    1. Stephanie - i've only got one RO leather jacket which i love and is exquisite, it's a shame that some of the Lilies line is so delicate!

  4. "i think quality & crap can be bought at all price points" - totally agree!

    re Zara, their poor customer service and the recent news of the lawsuit makes me wary...and quality + feel-wise feel like nothing compares to great natural fabrics.

  5. Great post on a topic I always struggle with (that and ethical production, but that's another story...). I love reading about other people's good and bad experiences with brands, so here are my two cents:

    As much as I want to get the best quality for my dollars, sometimes it's the shopping experience that dictates where I'll part with my money. The thought of digging for the needle in the haystack that is H&M (or even Zara) is too exhausting for me to even try. It's interesting how curation -- in addition to price -- can imply quality. It's so apparent when online shopping, too; I'm more likely to shop at Everlane than Asos.

    As for the actual quality of clothing, I've had a mixed experience with Madewell. After a pair of jean shorts literally fell apart on me, I've been wary of their denim, especially when they are inching closer to the price of "premium" brands like J Brand and rag & bone (which, by the way, have held up amazingly well). I love me some Uniqlo for solid basics like button downs, socks, and shirts, as long as you buy natural fibers. I have a sweatshirt from there that I wear all the time that looks better than one from Everlane that pilled after a few wears. Sadly their jeans, which used to be amazing quality for the price, are now garbage.

    1. i'm like you too when it comes to H&M in store! i find shopping online at H&M to be much more efficient and pleasant.

      agree with you re uniqlo jeans - when they first debuted years ago they were a great cotton/Japanese denim, now most of it is thin and all elastane :P

  6. Great discussion, and good point about image curation---it seems like photo quality and presentation drives a lot of the sales, I often find Zara's presentation utterly amazing, but when I go to the physical store and see the actual items it becomes evident that you have to pick out a gem out of the stack---I just placed an order with &Other Stories (a line owned by H&M and is somewhat closer to the price and quality of COS, I read) and will see how that one is. I was impressed with COS when I checked out the New York outpost, though the fitting room line was insane so I didn't get to try anything on.

    1. I do agree about Zara! Awful stores, cheap seams but great presentation online. I would not compare &OtherStories with COS quality wise. Cheaper fabrics, awful seams and sometimes sloppy pattern design. Stories are more like Zara and Topshop.

  7. Along with COS, H&M, Gap, Muji and Uniqlo provide most of my long-lasting budget friendly clothes. I find it constraining to purchase online so Everland, ASOS and Madewell I just look at. In general, clothes I pick have to be mainly made of natural fibers. I don't mind a bit of synthetic but to me the thought of wearing clothes entirely made of hydrocarbons -whatever the price point- on my skin really bothers me.


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