Poor-quality clothing and accessories are pretty easy to spot. But what separates a perfectly average garment from one that will really go the distance? 

Of course, outstanding clothes can be made in all sorts of ways, but we thought we’d share a few technical features that we look out for to indicate properly-made garments. Take a look at these tips for finding pieces you can depend on year on, year out.

Turn it inside-out

You can tell a lot about how well a garment is made by looking at the internal stitching. Brands know that the average high street customer will only be looking at the outside of the clothing, so many don’t bother with finishing them well.

Turn cheap clothes inside-out, and you’ll likely find a mess of loose threads and rushed, wonky stitching. A well-crafted garment will look neat through-and-through. Look for dense, straight stitches that provide real strength, and neatly matched edges. French seams are a particularly good sign of durability.

Know your fabrics

Robust, natural fabrics such as linen and wool are usually our first choice when it comes to durability. But it’s not just about what the yarns are made of - heavyweight cotton will of course last much longer than low-quality see-through cotton. When you feel the cloth, is it thick and dense? Is it opaque, or can you see your hand through it?

Whilst it’s natural for many fabrics to bobble, this can happen more quickly with low-quality fabrics. Look for ‘long staple’ fabrics, such as Supima cotton and linen - they have longer thread fibres, meaning no pilling. Thin, bobbly fabrics will be made from threads with short, fluffy fibres.

Selvedge denim

Selvedge denim, pictured, is considered the best in the world. You can spot it in the cuffs of jeans - the selvedge edge is usually white with a coloured yarn in the middle.

YKK zips

Have you ever noticed the lettering ‘YKK’ embossed on a zipper? This actually stands for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushiki gaisha (which you’d likely struggle to fit on there). YKK is a Japanese company that makes roughly half of the world’s zips, and they're well-known in the apparel industry for their dependability. 

When you think about it, a zip is an incredible feat of precision engineering. And if it goes wrong, a garment is often rendered unwearable. Keep an eye out for those three familiar letters, and you’ll know the brand has opted for a quality choice. YKK zips tend to be repairable too, so if it does pop, it’s not the end of the road.

Secure buttons

Whilst we’re on the topic of fastenings, buttons are often one of the first things to go on a piece of clothing. That’s because it’s a point that comes under a lot of stress, particularly on heavy garments such as coats.

Often, buttons are sewn on with minimal care using just a few loop stitches. It’s a good idea to give buttons a gentle pull to feel how secure they are. A great sign is the use of a backing button (a smaller second button for reinforcement). 

Double-breasted jacket buttons

Take note also of the buttons lining up perfectly - especially important on a double-breasted jacket.

Resoleable shoes

Most shoes can be resoled by a good cobbler, but it’s a whole lot easier if they’re actually designed to be. It’s common for soles to be glued on, which makes resoling the shoes difficult (and thus expensive) and it isn't the most robust method. Ever had the feeling of a sole peeling off and flapping about?

Soles that are instead stitched onto the upper are both secure and easy to replace. Look out for shoes that have a Goodyear welt or a Blake stitch. They’re two of the best-known methods of stitching, and signs of a good-quality shoe. Vibram® rubber soles are also known for their durability and quality.

Full grain leather

Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in leather, whether it’s for shoes, bags or belts. Something touted simply as ‘genuine leather’ tends to be low-grade and thin. Instead, look for ‘full grain’ leather, which uses the full thickness of the animal hide. Only the hair is removed - some characterful blemishes may remain.

Full grain leather will last and last, but it can be heavy and stiff. The next best leather is ‘top grain’ leather, which only has the very top layer of the hide removed. This removes blemishes and makes the leather more workable. 

Full grain leather bag

Full grain leather isn't just considered robust - it's thought to have more character and depth, which only develops with age.

Specialist craftspeople

The best clothing and accessories are often made by people who have a passion area - who stick to one thing and do it well. Whether it’s jeans, leather shoes, socks or waterproof jackets, look for the people who are nerding out about honing their craft.

Specialist makers tend to stick to timeless essentials. That means you’ll see them offering the same products year after year instead of being influenced by fleeting trends. We love to see traditional craftsmanship kept alive in the form of top-quality garments.

Does it make you feel good?

Although we've spoken about the technical aspects of long-lasting clothes, it’s worth remembering that the clothes that stick around are the ones we love. If the new piece you’ve got your eye on is going to stay out of the charity bin for years, you should thoroughly interrogate yourself before buying it.

Ask yourself: do I really love this item? Does it look the way I hoped it would on me? Does it flatter my body? Do I feel comfortable and confident? Is it still comfy when I sit down, or bend over? Will it combine well with my existing wardrobe pieces? If the answer to all of those is yes, it’s a keeper!

We hope you’re now feeling a little more clued up about how to spot quality garments. Interested in slow fashion? Read our article all about how we define buy-once clothing.

September 24, 2021 — Jasmine Vorley