Spreading Misinformation: Buzzfeed’s “14 Expert Ways to Tell if Clothes are Well-Made or Super Cheap”

What is High-Quality Clothing?

What is high-quality clothing? The answer is complicated. There are many factors, including the quality of fabric, construction, design, and finishing processes and manufacturing to name a few. It can be overwhelming to think about!

As the issues of fast fashion are increasingly exposed, there is more of demand for information about quality apparel. We appreciate when experts share insights on this topic. However, we were very disappointed with Buzzfeed’s “14 Expert Ways to Tell if Clothes are Well-Made or Super Cheap.” Reading it left us concerned about the spread of misinformation, and some of the listed tricks were too broad to serve as real guidelines. 

Our Creative Director, who has designed for some of the world’s biggest and adored brands, wrote a response to set the record straight so that you can make stronger and more informed buying decisions.

“The thicker the material, the higher the quality.” - NOPE.
This is a blanket statement that is simply. not. true.

The only bit of truth is that thicker fabrics are generally denser, therefore using more raw-materials in the weave, but that does not say anything about the quality of the fabric, which depends very heavily on the type and quality of the fibers, and multiple steps in the weaving, dyeing, and finishing process.  

“‘Scrunch Test’ - Higher quality clothes stand up to the scrunch test and do not wrinkle” REALLY?
This is another sweeping generalization. Similarly to the answer above, this is dependent on the type of fibers & finishing process.

Synthetics (ex: poly’s & rayons) as a whole, do not wrinkle as much as natural fibers (ex: cottons, linens, silks).  And while there are many advancements in technology making some synthetic fibers very high quality with special functions, they are still the vast majority of cheap fibers used for cheap/fast fashion (take a look at the tags in F21 and H&M).  

“Tug test” -  DON’T DO THIS!
Please don’t go into a nice boutique and do this to their silk blouses/dresses!  

Different materials are made to withstand different occasions and activities. Many luxe fabrics are delicate, and should not be stretched and tugged. Again, this is light vs heavy fabric issue -  but overall it does not denote the quality of the fabric.
Additionally, following the trend of activewear, spandex is in almost everything, and that will certainly give great stretch and recovery, but that doesn’t mean it’s “high-quality.”

Exposed Zippers - WHAT?
The author’s point is just confusing.  There is not really too much labor difference in the setting of an exposed or flat zipper. The flat covered zipper shown in the example looks home-sewn, and if the point is to make the zipper invisible, an invisible zipper should be used. Exposed zippers are usually metal, molded or another type of novelty zipper and are actually more costly than the regular coil zipper shown in the example.
A better zipper test:

  1. Look at the stitching around the zipper
  2. Look at the color matching of the zipper tape
  3. For metal zippers, scan the quality of the metal for fading and corrosion.
  4. Test the zipper by opening and closing it.  A high-quality zipper will be very smooth and glide easily.  

Large hem allowances” - NOT. RELEVANT.
This really just depends on the style and the fabrication.  You simply would not have a large hem allowance for very light-weight fabrics (chiffons, georgettes, etc). Think of a flowy, chiffon skirt: if it had a large hem, the increased weight of the garment would completely change the flow of the skirt and ruin the airy effect.  Additionally, anything that has shape and is not straight (think of an a-line or flared skirt) cannot have a regular turn-back hem.  The example shown in the article is not a turn-back hem, it is a separate hem facing, meaning this will be of no use for tall people who will need to add length.  

“Well-made pants have french seams”- NO.
Please note that denim has it’s own separate set of rules, and is not included in this discussion.
French seams only work well on lightweight fabrics, and most pants are medium to heavier weights. French seams vs merrowed seams may be a way to assess quality for blouses (chiffons, georgettes, crepes de chine) but not necessarily for pants.
A better way for checking for pants, is looking for bound seams as opposed to merrowing. Bound seams are more labor intensive, and looks cleaner, but it does have drawbacks as the binding will add extra bulk to the seams.  

Natural vs. Synthetics - NO. AGAIN.
This is a generalization that you simply cannot make.  

There are many grades of the same types of fibers. Different cotton bulbs, different silkworms, and different sheep are going to produce a vast range of fiber quality. The same can be said in the synthetic fibers manufacturing process. Synthetic fibers have come a long way since the itchy/scratchy polyesters of the 70’s. There are many treatments and processes that can be done to synthetics that mimic, and oftentimes, surpass their natural counterparts. Conversely, low quality cottons & silks can be produced and woven very cheaply.
Synthetics can be much more durable than natural fibers of the same weight. Nylons and Polyesters are known for their durability. They are also resistant to bugs (cottons, silks, wools can all be susceptible to various bugs since they are natural).  

Button Holes - A MISSING PIECE.
The writer states “Buttonholes should have tight stitching and a neat slot for the button to go into,” which is not incorrect–but it’s not the whole picture: Expensive buttonholes won’t actually have thread stitching–instead, it will be bound. It looks like 2 mini welts where the button-hole is.  Additionally, look for a tiny ¼” backing button for coats and jackets on the inside of the garment, underneath where the button is sewn. This helps distribute the stress from the button thread, and helps retain shape of the fabric. Lastly, buttons SHOULDN’T be sewn on too tight.  If it is a flat button, there should be a “thread shank” underneath the button so that there is room for the button-hole side to fit under.

A well made jacket should be lined. But for design purposes, some jackets are unlined and the seams are bound. Instead of making a blanket statement of lined is good, unlined is bad, instead, look for these signs:

  1. For lined jackets, if the self fabric of the jacket has stretch (many do these days), make sure the lining has stretch, otherwise it defeats the whole purpose of the stretchy self fabric.  
  2. See that the sleeve and body lining is the same, often, brands switch out the sleeve lining to something cheaper because it’s not seen.  Although, sometimes, a “slipperier” fabric will be used for the sleeves to facilitate sliding in and out.  
  3. For unlined jackets, check to see if the seams are bound or merrowed. Bound seams are more labor intensive, and requires more material, so they are more expensive.  Merrowed seams are run through the merrow machine, and are much more economical.  Also check to see if the seams are pressed open or closed. Closed seams are merrowed once, open seams have to be done twice, you do the math.

Summary: Become an Educated Consumer
What makes clothing high-quality is a tricky subject. There are many variables and details to consider. In the future, we may start to address more of these variables in detail.

We can’t summarize in one post the indicators for quality in fabric, because there are different points for different fabrics. What we can do is open up the conversation and continue to explore this through through our own content and responses to articles such as the one mentioned here.

For those who value high quality clothing but don’t know what to look for or where to start: We recommend investing time to read deeply about the brands that capture your interest. Review their values, processes, and fabrics. You’ll become a better educated consumer and make buying decisions that are right for you, your beliefs and your lifestyle.