Buying new clothes can be a time-consuming, expensive chore. There’s nothing worse than watching a favorite piece fall apart after a few wears because of poor workmanship or shoddy materials. There’s another reason to avoid mediocre duds: too often, cheap clothing is made by starving children laboring in sweatshops in abjectly poor and unhealthy conditions. Clothing made in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia, however, is best, as these regions have labor laws against the worst abuses in the fashion industry.
When buying clothes, think of them as a long-term investment in the future. Below are some tips for choosing quality clothing that will last a lifetime:
Choose Natural Fabrics
Natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, leather and silk — when cared for properly — can last a lifetime. Avoid flimsy blends made with synthetics like polyester or acrylic, which are not only cheap in quality, but also environmentally damaging to produce. Also, blends of natural and synthetic fibers tend to wear poorly over time, as they will age differently. Feel the weave of the fabric. Is it dense and substantial? Even a lightweight fabric should feel durable and well-built. “The more fiber there is, the more likely it’s going to last longer,” says Timo Rissanen, assistant professor of fashion design and sustainability at Parsons School of Design in New York.
Patronize stores that not only offer high-quality clothing, but guarantee its workmanship with a lifetime return policy. I’ve used this feature more than once at Lands’End, which offers excellent winter clothing options. Filson products are shockingly expensive, but their pieces are so well built that they last for not just one lifetime, but end up being passed down from generation to generation. Again, they stand by their workmanship without question for a piece’s entire life, no matter how old or abused it may have been. I have a heavy wool cape from the original Banana Republic that I’ve been wearing for thirty years – it’s built like a tank. When I managed coffeehouses, I spent a lot of time on my feet. After tiring of replacing expensive running shoes every six months, I spent around $40 more and got a pair of Dr. Martens oxfords with their famous “air soles.” I still have them today. It’s much better to spend a bit more for something that will last, instead of constantly throwing away and replacing cheap, shoddy garbage.
Invest in clothing with classic styles, cuts and colors that will never go out of fashion. Let’s stop filling landfills with discarded trends that go out of style within weeks of their purchase. Classic pieces can be paired in mix-and-match fashion to create limitless looks. “First and foremost, it’s important to choose pieces that flatter your body and suit your style, and are not trendy,” advises Sass Brown, interim dean at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s School of Art and Design.
Examine the Seams and Check the Insides
Check that the stitching is regular and tight, even and straight. Check places where seams meet, such as where a sleeve meets the body of a shirt. If there is a print or pattern, a well-made piece of clothing will align those patterns so they meet neatly at the seam. For example, a striped shirt will have stripes going all the way around, not running off-center at the seam. Look at the insides, too. Well-made clothing shouldn’t have jumbles of threads where stitching meets or ends. Finishing work, even if it’s unseen, should be neat and attractive. Look for inner linings and extra buttons with matching thread for repairs.
Recycle, Repair, Embellish and Enhance
There are lots of resources out there to help people stretch their clothing’s lifetime. My own “green mom,” Marie Woodruff, has published How to Keep Your Wardrobe Updated, a resource guide packed with 250 original illustrations.
As she loves to point out, even the Queen of England has her clothes recycled into new, “never-worn-before” looks for her public appearances. Like most of us, the Queen has a budget to consider. The book covers topics like choosing quality materials and cuts, how to let dresses and pants out with colored panels, how to mix and match classic accessories, and how to embellish clothing to create one-of-a-kind fashion statements. One page shows fifteen different ways to wear scarves. It’s a great guide for mothers of growing children — kids never want to be seen wearing last year’s fashions. Check out her introductory video here.
I can’t tell you how many high-end haute couture pieces I’ve found for next to nothing at Goodwill. I’ve found top brands like Ralph Lauren, Charter Club, Polo, Calvin Klein and Kate Spade; designer handbags from Coach, Brahmin, Dooney & Bourke, and even Louis Vuitton; a stylish boutique leather jacket that I adore, and even a white shadow fox fur coat! You don’t have to break your bank account to find pieces that would be otherwise unaffordable. And it’s a super fun treasure hunt finding these plums — the best stores are the ones in tiny neighborhoods where local rich ladies replace their entire wardrobes every season. I have a black cashmere overcoat worth hundreds that I snapped up for thirty bucks at a garage sale in a nice neighborhood!