Evaluating Quality

I'll admit it. I'm a snob about quality. I know this isn't as big a deal to some people who just want to have fun with their clothes and don't mind a quality issue here and there, but I go a little crazy when I spend my hard-earned money on something and it just doesn't hold up. If there's a team for this, then I'm clearly on the team that would rather save up for a high quality garment that will last me years than the team that enjoys buying a trendy item that will only last a season or two. This doesn't always mean I'm comfortable with high price tags either. I often thrift shop or sew my own clothes when that fails me.

I'm not judging people on the other team at all, since I love to see what they wear and enjoy their creativity. It's just not for me.

On the off chance that this will be helpful to others, here's a draft list of factors I check when considering buying a garment. Am I too darned picky or what?

1. Fabrication

a. Natural fibers are often, but not always to be preferred over synthetic fibers. They tend to be more “breathable.” Polyesters are not breathable and tend to build up static, which is uncomfortable.

b. Natural fibers tend to be more malleable and will stretch out when worn. They do not always recover their original shape very well. Everyone has had the cotton t-shirt that stretched out beyond belief and the jeans with baggy knees. Consequently, it’s often preferable to look for natural fibers blended with more resilient fibers. Spandex and lycra can help garments recover their shape.

c. It’s nice to find nylon blended with some yarns, like wool or cotton because they improve the garment’s durability.

d. When evaluating printed fabrics, check to see if the pattern carries through to the reverse. If you find a pattern printed on one side and the reverse is plain white, that’s a sign the fabric is poorer quality.

e. The softer a yarn is, the more prone to pilling it will be. Softness is often due to a halo of long fibers that surrounds the yarn’s core. This is what makes it feel soft, but it’s also what pills. Consequently, you’re going to have to make a choice between softness and durability. If you love soft yarns, invest in a sweater comb/stone.

2. Workmanship

a. Nowadays, most commercial garments feature serged seams. For the most part, this is ok, especially on casual garments like jeans, t-shirts, etc. Just check to make sure all seams are nicely finished and none are left raw. (see image 1)

b. Sheer or thin garments are nicer when they aren’t serged, but are assembled using what’s known as French seams. (see image 2)

c. Seams should be smooth. There shouldn’t be any puckers. This is especially noticeable in satin garments and in stretchy fabrics.

d. If you’re evaluating a stretchy garment, the seams should have some give to them so they don’t “pop” or break when worn. This is when serged seams are preferable.

e. Regular patterns like plaids and stripes should match at key points, e.g. side seams. Sometimes, pattern mismatches are unavoidable, e.g. rounded seams like shoulders.

f. Patterns should be placed in a flattering manner on the garment. Check to make sure large polka dots and florals aren’t placed over your bust apex or you’ll be attracting some unwanted attention.

g. Buttons should be sewn on securely.

h. Zippers should open and close smoothly and not cause puckering on the garment.

3. Linings

a. Garments with linings tend to be of better quality than garments without.

b. Linings help garments fit over your body in a smoother and more pleasing manner.

c. Linings help prevent garments from catching on layering pieces worn under them.

d. Linings help garments retain their shape.

e. Polyester linings are prone to static, so make sure they don’t cling in an unattractive fashion.

f. Rayon linings are very nice to wear, but they tend to wrinkle. They’re best in skirts, dresses and pants where the linings remain concealed from view. They’re not the best choice for coats and jackets where the lining might occasionally be visible.

g. Silk linings are luxurious.

h. Coat linings should be durable. If they feel like they’re going to snag, run, etc. every time you touch the lining, then it’s not worth it.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Claudia replied 10 years ago

    I love and prefer silk but find that it turns very static-y on me. Amy, do you have any tips for this?

    ETA: This is a great list.

  • missvee replied 10 years ago

    Great post Amy. I sewed all of my own clothes through high school and university and I got used to good fabrics and well made garments. Sometimes people think that the higher the price the better the garment and that's not true as you know. I just got back from Costco and they had women's long sleeved cotton blend tees - nice fabric, made in Canada, and priced at $9.99 each. I think quality is available at most price points, but it takes a bit of digging sometimes to find it.

  • Transcona Shannon replied 10 years ago

    Personally, I want to thank you for this list Amy. I'm just starting to turn towards the Quality Team. I'm discovering through this whole style process, that poor workmanship and fabrics result in me not feeling good in the garment, no matter how pretty it is.

    I don't think you're picky - I think you know what you want and you don't want to waste your money or time. Nothing wrong with that!

  • Amy replied 10 years ago

    I'm glad this might be helpful to some :)

    Claudia, I have the same problem with silks, especially in the winter when buildings are heated and the air is dry. This article on ehow suggests a method for controlling static in silk; however, I haven't tried it and would definitely test this on a hidden portion of any garment before subjecting the entire thing to the conditioner...


  • JennyAnne replied 10 years ago

    Oddly (for a seamstress), I don't inspect things too closely before buying. I really check out the fabric, but beyond that, if it doesn't look wrong in the mirror, I just dont notice it.

  • fern replied 10 years ago

    I kind of have this in my head, but not so clearly stated - Thank you.
    I am going to try sewing my own clothes this year - I have a wrap skirt that I loved to death, to use as a pattern.

  • replied 10 years ago

    Right on! This is a great list. If I were paying top dollar for a suit or a dress I would be right there with you. This must be a real problem with fashionable professional clothing.

  • Astrid replied 10 years ago

    Great list! I knew most of these points in theory, but I don't always pay attention to them when I go shopping. I'm definitely part of Team Quality too, I feel best in things that I've worn in and want that minimalist wardrobe, so that's a logical conclusion. I also got my own sewing machine for Christmas and want to learn how to sew my own clothes, at least to some extent.

  • Suz replied 10 years ago

    Great list, Amy. I'm on your team, too. My grandmother was a wonderful seamstress and although I do not sew myself, I remember her lessons very clearly.

  • Angie replied 10 years ago

    KILLER post!

  • MsMary replied 10 years ago

    Amy, thank you for this!! Some of this is new to me and I'm going to find it very helpful as I move towards assembling a higher-quality wardrobe!

  • Isis replied 10 years ago

    Great post!!! Thank you!

    I've heard that polyester has improved in quality. Do you think this is true, and do you have any idea of how to judge "quality" polyester?

  • Amy replied 10 years ago

    Isis, yes, there are some nicer polyesters out there. I don't turn my persnickety nose up at all of them. The citron Ann Taylor blouse I tried on the other day is polyester and it feels very similar to a crepe-like silk. The only thing I can suggest is to feel them. If they feel nice to you, then you're good to go. Icky polyesters just feel icky...plastic-like, stiff, slimy...LOL. I don't have an educated way to explain this.

    The other thing I can tell you about polyesters is to be EXTREMELY careful when touching them up with irons. You can actually melt the stuff. I've done that a couple of times... *blushes*

  • Isis replied 10 years ago

    Thanks Amy! Yikes @ your picture!!!!!

  • bionda replied 10 years ago

    Amy, thank you for this comprehensive list! My mother sewed and was a perfectionist when it came to garment construction. I learned a lot shopping with her! I usually don't examine the inside of a garment (and your post has reminded me that I should do that) but I'm a stickler when it comes to what shows. Things like crooked stitching and mismatched patterns are a deal breaker for me, and if a costly item has cheap looking buttons I'll pass it up. I sometimes change out buttons on bargain priced items if they otherwise meet my standards.

    I second missvee in saying that price doesn't always equate with quality. I've been sorely disappointed by some higher end clothing brands, and pleasantly surprised by the fit and performance of some lower cost brands.

  • shipskitty replied 10 years ago

    Thanks Amy! This was really useful and educational for me. I knew some of the points but others were new to me and will definitely be helpful.

  • Vicki replied 10 years ago

    Amy, you are one quality woman and this is one quality YLF post. Thank you. If polyester and rayon linings aren't the best for their particular reasons, are you saying that silk is the best choice? I, too, prefer natural fibers and really like the newer additions of Lycra and Spandex. Great post.

  • lyn* replied 10 years ago

    Thank you very much for the information, Amy :)

  • MsMaven replied 10 years ago

    Thanks for reminding me of many points I learned in my own sewing days. It is so easy to be seduced by fashion "bargains" and settle for poorer quality. Many brands are holding prices steady by reducing quality of fabric and fabrications. (I'm talking to you, BR.)

    One of my goals for 2012 is to look for quality over quantity, so your post is timely.

  • Ana replied 10 years ago

    I love this post, Amy! I'm favoriting it. Thank you!

  • Amy replied 10 years ago

    I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I hope I'm not coming across as an annoying know-it-all, because I'm not an expert. I'm just an interested hobbyist. I wouldn't claim that this list is comprehensive by any means.

    Vicki, polyester, acetate and rayon linings can all be nice. As with a lot of things, HOW they are used is what matters. I really love rayon linings except for their tendency to wrinkle. They feel lovely against the skin. I haven't had static problems with rayon, but I have had static build up with silk and polyester; however, if I were to invest in a Chanel jacket, or some other couture piece, I'd expect it to be lined with silk. All of these fibers can be woven/knitted in various ways and that also affects how they behave.

    Some other tidbits you might be interested in:

    When thrifting, pay special attention to garments with polyester linings. If they smell bad, you might not be able to wash that smell away. For some reason, it's hard to get bad smells out of polyester.

    Silk linings are nice because they are mostly stain and wrinkle resistant and they breathe well. Also, silk adjusts to your body temperature, so it feels cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

    I agree with Bionda and misvee that price doesn't always indicate quality too. You need to use your eyes, hands and brain to evaluate that. Prices can be inflated due to many factors that have nothing to do with quality.

  • san replied 10 years ago

    Love this, thankyou! Great information for us.

  • goldenpig replied 10 years ago

    Great list! Thank you so much for writing it out! So helpful.

  • CocoLion replied 10 years ago

    Thank you for this great post. It is a good reminder to check garments carefully before buying. Do you have any suggestions for getting rid of static with silk blouses. I have a yet-unworn Tucker silk blouse, it was pricey. It is so static-y!

    ETA: I agree you can find quality at a low price, Lands Ends turtlenecks are a good example. Lands Ends makes what I consider good basics, not fashion forward or big on innovative design. If you're talking about great, on trend design mixed with quality workmanship, I find you almost always have to pay a fair amount. Unless someone can prove me wrong. However this kind of apparel also gets marked down after a few months, if it hasn't already sold.

  • stringy replied 10 years ago

    Thanks so much for this post! I'm on Team Quality, but I don't always know what to look for when I'm buying.

  • Mochi replied 10 years ago

    Fascinating post, Amy! Your knowledge is extensive, and your writing style is clear and easy to read. I know we're ultimately concerned with how the clothes look, but knowing about construction is incredibly interesting too! I'm absolutely on Team Quality. I wrote here recently about a coat order from yoox.com and how disappointed I was in it. Not even being able to sew the (cheaply-made) buttons on snugly? That's not right. And these are designer price points (with some discount...but still HIGH).

  • sarah replied 10 years ago

    GREAT post, Amy. I just returned some inexpensive items that ordered from the Nordie's Jrs dept because I decided their quality was not up to snuff. I'm not sure I would have done that a year ago, but I'm trying to be more careful, and not waste my money on poor quality clothing. That said, I have bought several polyester blouses this year that I'm happy with. I prefer silk, but I have such a horrid time finding blouses that fit and that I like that I've "settled" for polyester.

  • mrseccentric replied 10 years ago

    Amy - i have found my Quality Twin (even to sewing my own)!!! Brilliant brilliant list, especially since i know how hard it is to organize this topic when there are so many factors to consider. !!!!KILLER POST!!!!

    I have a couple of additions and some pictures to illustrate one point (how passionate am i about this topic? i read the thread, ran to my husband's closet to find the tee i had in mind, and started snapping pix at 8:30am!)

    re:polyester. There are some nice polys out there these days which are very comfy to wear. They have some advantages over silk, especially in terms of durability. Softer, floatier weaves (crepes, chiffons) are much more durable in poly than in silk. This brings up another point - quality does not *always* equate with durability. The same with soft, loose knits - they are more likely to pill and get snagged whether high or low quality than harder, closer knits. To educate your hand on 'nice polys' go feel poly blouses in Nordstrom - Bobeau, Plieone, Tahari, Halogen, etc. reliably choose high quality fabrics for their items.

    re: prints. prints with more individual colors tend to be better quality than those with fewer colors. prints with a larger dark/light range tend to be better quality thank those without. re: stripes, dots, etc. check that the prints lines up with the grain of the fabric.

    which brings me to Fabric Grain. i found one link which explains grain and why it is important for the beginner -

    A garment may be beautifully constructed in every other respect, but if the fabric is off grain it will all be for naught. Look at picture one - the tee is placed symmetrically on the hanger, shoulder seams straight on the hanger arms. I'm sure this has happened to tees you own - the hem is very uneven and the seams twist from the sides towards the front of back of the garment. Needless to say, this looks awful.

    I've included a couple of close-ups where you can see how much the seams have distorted. Here's a nice discussion of finding the grain in completed garments (with pix):

    Fashion Incubator is a great website for anyone interested in quality, as well as seamstresses. The author has worked designing patterns in the garment industry for decades and has an incredible wealth of knowledge. Many thanks to Vildy for turning me on to this site!!! One additional tip is to check the fabric threads against the center front and center back of the garment - all threads should either be parallel to the center or at 90 degree angle. If they are not the garment was cut off grain and there is no saving it.

    re:seams - great explanations and pictures Amy! On serged seams, generally you want more thread. The seams on the pictured tee are crummy, not wide enough and could use 'more thread' or more stitches per inch. Of course, with serged seams the more stitches per inch, the more it costs to make. I found a technical but brilliant piece on 'SPI' here:

    Very worthwhile reading for anyone interested in quality!

    Thank you again Amy for providing very valuable information in an easy to understand and very succinct fashion!! i am just "wowed"!!! steph

  • Amy replied 10 years ago

    Ooh, Steph, those are great additions, thank you!

    The off grain thing drives me nuts, but I didn't know how to explain it. You did a great job and that's an excellent illustration.

  • mrseccentric replied 10 years ago

    Thank you Amy! again, your post is awesome! i think this has inspired me to get off the behind and try a video about grain in garments - as you say it can destroy a garment and i can't find any decent non-technical explanations.

    Happy Sunday!!! steph

  • bionda replied 10 years ago

    Steph, I didn't know anything about fabric grain, so thank you for your detailed explanation! Twisting seams is one of my biggest peeves. I can't count the knit tops I've had this happen to with their first washing, and for me they're ruined. I won't wear them again. Is there anything to look for in a knit to know if it is off grain?

  • Lantana replied 10 years ago

    Superlative post, Amy, and the additions from MrsE resonated strongly with me.I was in the middle of making a garment and needed to widen it across the bust. By some happy chance, a random visitor, who just happened to be a professional seamstress, explained the centerline principle to me. I then made the alteration without compromising the centerline and the garment drapes beautifully. Phew, it was a close shave.

  • Patty replied 10 years ago

    Great info Amy and Steph!!
    Thanks sooo much for writing it all down and getting links and pics!

  • Aida replied 10 years ago

    Ooooh this is a wonderful post, thank you so much Amy (and all responders)! GREAT list, now I've got some new quality elements to look out for :D

  • Fruitful replied 10 years ago

    Thankyou so much Amy (and Steph), I was looking for a guide to assessing quality and found this - mwah! <333333

  • ManidipaM replied 10 years ago

    As someone whose first reaction to an eye-catching garment on a hanger is to turn it inside out for an examination of the care label (for fibre content) and seams --- even before I check for size! --- I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to Amy for this post and to Steph for her explanation of fabric grain.

    A few little pet peeves I haven't seen mentioned include:
    (1) scratchy care labels and brand labels that require you to take the garment apart to get them out.
    (2) hemming or sewing with mismatched thread (both colour and fibre), and not for the contrast effect(!), especially when the thread is a synthetic fibre on a cotton or linen garment --- because chances are high I'll melt the seams off when ironing them.
    (3) failure to note the presence of sensitive or fade-prone natural dyes in fabric --- I adore vegetable dyes and am happy to go the extra distance caring for them, but I need to KNOW that the black is going to go green unless I keep it out of the sun! Or that the indigo will be a slightly different hue after its first wash, which means I don't buy a matching garment to go with it just yet.
    (4) Buttons sewn on TOO tightly on a garment that uses a heavier weight material, which means you need to fight to button up and unbutton --- and ultimately the button breaks or goes 'pop'!
    (5) Shoes that bleed colour from the insole or lining!
    (6) Hems and seams with so little fabric allowance in the folds that even the tiniest alteration is fraught with danger.
    (7) Linings that aren't sewn down flat near the zipper, especially with invisible zippers, which means they tend to catch in the teeth and the zipper sticks. (There's supposed to be stitching to flatten the lining at the seam, but not on the outer fabric, where it will show.)
    (8) Vents that have not been reinforced.
    (9) Interfacing in collars, cuffs and waistbands of poor quality (or just badly attached) so that the garment warps in the wash or while pressing.
    (10) metal trim or fasteners that RUST!

  • Fruitful replied 10 years ago

    Wow, Manidipa, I really appreciate your list! I have so much to learn. Unfortunately some of these issues can't be seen until you've worn the items :(. You mention a lot of things that bother me (scratchy tags, black fading to weird colours, catching linings in a zip - yes! These have happened to me too) - I just never analysed the reason for it, just felt annoyed and mystified.

  • rachylou replied 10 years ago

    Great lists!

  • cjh replied 10 years ago

    Amy, and Steph,
    Thanks to both of you for the good lessons in garment fabric and construction.

    One thing that is difficult about evaluating "grain" in knits is that many are knit in a tube so the direction of adding to the material is generally in a spiral. So when this material is cut, it is often impossible to BEGIN straight, and washing makes the distortion worse,

    Everyone has probably had a pair of pants where one leg hangs funny or feels twisted, or a top with one sleeve like that. That is a result of being cut off grain.

    To add areas you may want to include in "quality inspection" when shopping:

    Cuffs and sleeve plackets in blouses - smoothly applied, with the sleeve fabric neatly and evenly pleated or gathered into the cuff so the cuff fits close to your wrists.

    Shoulder seams feel more comfortable if they lie just a little in front of the top line of the shoulder on your body. The garment will have a little longer back piece and more room in the back part of the upper sleeve and shoulder.

    Collar lies flat with no puckers. The under collar is ideally made of a slightly smaller piece of fabric (as are the underside of cuffs and the inside of the collar stand) so the garment forms a natural curve around the curves of your body. This is how a nicely made man's shirt is made, and women should look for the same quality.

    Still, not every quality made garment will fit perfectly as we know. Comfortable and flattering fit can be rather elusive. Quality can be found in surprisingly affordable items
    and shops. Try on any possibilty and Good luck on the hunt!

  • Fruitful replied 10 years ago

    Thankyou cjh - I am learning a lot (well, trying to!)

  • cjh replied 10 years ago

    I looked for the book I was in love with during my big sewing years when I was making complete wardrobes for myself and two daughters. This is fascinating and teaches amazing techniques in making shirts. Really worth the money and it covers many fine sewing tips for ladies' blouses, too. Amy, Steph, other experienced seamstresses may enjoy it. Taunton Press also has some books and videos teaching sewing basics, for beginners.


  • ManidipaM replied 10 years ago

    cjh: such excellent points! thanks so much for adding those. Cuffs and collars added to the checklist :-D

  • Ornella replied 10 years ago

    I have somehow managed to miss this post, good thing it had resurfaced.

    Fantastic read, thank you so much, both Amy and Steph.

  • Meredith1953 replied 10 years ago

    I have to admit I TRY to look items over before purchasing but sometimes I don't scrutinize them hard enough and end up being unhappy with the workmanship. This will help me pay closer attention!

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