This Let’s Talk topic is from a reader:
…I don’t know if you’ve already talked about this, but I’d love to get your opinions on clothing quality. Since you shop at such a large range of places, are there specific stores you’d recommend for specific items (for instance, the store that has the best quality jackets or pants or sweaters that don’t pill after two wearings)? Of course F21 is more likely to be for “disposable” clothes, but what stores have clothes that are made to last?
I ask this because my old standby Ann Taylor (and the Loft too) seem to have both gone down substantially in quality over the last couple of years, and with a limited clothing budget, I don’t know where to go now.
Thanks for the topic, Sarah. I find that I go to certain stores if searching for very specific items. I really like the Ralph Lauren trousers that I purchased 3 years ago now in chocolate, black, tan and grey. I specifically went to Macy’s petites w/the belief that I’d find a high quality pair of trousers to fit my needs. They’ve been perfect, except for a small moth hole I recently got in the black pair, which is not the pants’ fault. At the time it was psychologically difficult to pay $118 each, but the cost per wear now has to be around $5 or less. Even less per wear for the 2 pair I got with a $25 off coupon. I wish Banana Republic would get their fit together. It used to be a huge winner for me in bottoms, but not anymore. I’ve tried sizing up or down depending on the item and they’re just not hitting the mark. On the other end of the price spectrum, I am not so quick to say that Forever 21 is only good for disposable clothing. I have a F21 coat like this one that has lasted for a couple of years, I believe. I don’t wear it everyday, but it’s not so cheap that it fell apart after a couple of wears. But back to looking at specific retailers…if I am looking for a specific item I decide how much I want to pay and then visit retailers that I expect to fall within that price range. I don’t expect items that cost a lot less to hold up better, but sometimes they do. I’m not really hard on my clothes, so I very rarely have things fall apart on me no matter what I paid.
I think another factor about clothing quality to consider is our lifestyles. How do wear your clothing? Are you hard on them? Maybe they’re not meant to withstand some of the activities we wish to do in them, even if we think they should. There was a period where I was heavily involved w/my grandmother’s care. So much so that I felt like I should just wear scrubs. Fo’ reals. The J Crew clothing I had recently purchased at that time just wasn’t working. At all. J Crew clothing is something I really don’t want to wear when I’m interacting w/small children either. Spit up on silk? It only takes one time to leave a lasting memory. Of course J Crew’s rumpled terry cardi is sheer perfection for a situation involving kids, but overall, I don’t want to get down and dirty in their gear. On the other hand, I love their pieces for work. Personally, I’m not ‘hard’ on my clothes. I was raised in the school of school clothes vs. play clothes. We had to change into weekend clothes when we got home. I guess the habit has stuck with me as I often wear 2 outfits in a day. I almost always change at least my bottoms when I am driving home from work. If I have short days, I am only in my clothes for a few hours. I also follow the washing instructions, washing things on gentle and I air dry quite a bit. Even though I’m not ‘hard’ on my clothes, I have been very conscious to reduce intake of the Crewlade, and mix other retailers back in. I am convinced we are paying for the experience we have with the store.
It’s often mentioned on blogs that things are made in China. I hope this is no disrespect to the men & women sewing in the factories there. Period. New sentence. The reality is that a large percentage of goods are made there and, my opinion, the difference between garments made for Old Navy vs. say J Crew, become fewer. Both companies mass produce product. I think the workers are being pressured…errr…encouraged to go fast. If they happen to be working w/cheap product on top of it, you’re going to get dropped stitches on that garment and other errors. We’ve all phoned it into work or gone on auto pilot at one time or other.
We’ve all seen retailers offer a less expensive version of a bow top, boyfriend blazer, etc… seen for a higher price elsewhere It’s easy to say so-and-so knocked off J Crew. I have often thought it doesn’t work that way. For one, J Crew (specifically) is delivering far fewer brand spanking new ideas than they are recycling the ruffle. Secondly, my imagination sees clothing patterns held at warehouses and adjustments made to them for different retailers. But I’m just guessing based on some of the stuff I’ve seen in-stores (swan butt skirt) & on Ebay. I haven’t a clue. What I can comment on are my store experiences. I recently saw a beautiful 7-foot piece of salvaged wood in Anthropologie. It had milk bottles attached, with wire, in perfect rows from top to bottom. You know how everything is for sale at Anthro? If memory serves, it was $2800. Could I make it? Probably. Am I gonna? Probably not. Who made it? A wonderful, creative & talented artist — maybe even someone w/a Master’s in Art. What does that mean? Money. It costs money to hire good, smart, talented people, esp ones who have a formal education. Now if you didn’t get a higher education, don’t get all mad at me and my opinion. I never really even thought about degrees and retail until I called one retailer last fall about a return — I won’t name names because I like some of their things — anyway — she struggled to put her thoughts together. She was doing her best, bless her, but I that’s precisely when I thought higher education doesn’t live here. They must not pay enough for that. Although I referenced a telephone conversation here, I’m thinking more of in-store experiences. I’ve noticed the conversations I’ve had with associates at J Crew & Anthro, to name another, are vastly different than I’ve had with employees at other retailers. I’m reluctant again to name ‘other retailers’ in this particular contrast because I definitely have great experiences in other places. They’re just different experiences than J Crew. Do all J Crew SAs have degrees? No, I know they don’t, but I invite you to think about the Crewlade and if there is another retailer that comes close with the experience you get. And this — I realized — is one difference between retailers I like (many) and retailers I love (few). Degrees aside, I’m paying for an experience that costs J Crew more than it does say…I dunno….another retailer. Ola, Portugal! Not every retailer goes on location for their catalog shoots.
In buttoning up my thoughts I’ll point out Anthro’s Man Shops Globe, where one of their buyers travels the world to find unique items for the company. There were probably sponsors to defray the cost of the camera crew & post production of some of his journeys. *lol* Come to think of it, Keith Johnson may have purchased that 7-foot milk bottle piece for a low price from an artist outside of the US, but I’m sure he makes a good salary for what he does. So therein lies the high cost of goods. It’s easy to think of the cost for the garment you see hanging on the rack, however, it’s not a one-for-one transaction. Costs for the garment also includes everyone else on the payroll that it takes to to run the company including warehouse workers, customer service reps, etc… My main point is that there are more people on the payroll than those than sell us clothing or package it to send it to us.
Those are my long winded thoughts. What are yours? What do you think about clothing retailers & quality? Who do you go to, depend on, look to for reliability, etc…
ETA — please include your thoughts on shoes, where you purchase, etc… per jcrewmommy’s question in the comments. And Jemma Ruby has created a post on her blog about this topic.
Oh….and check to see if you’re a winner of The Plaid Purse Giveaway. I have received email responses from 6 of 10. If you don’t respond by 8:59 tonite, I’ll pick new winners.
p.s. If you have something you want to hear a variety of opinions on, well…Let’s Talk!
You can email your topic to me at gigiofca at gmail. I run the series on Mondays.