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How to: Judging clothing construction and quality

Lyric Culture President Hanna Schmieder
Lyric Culture President Hanna SchmiederDAMIAN DOVARGANES / AP

Poorly-made clothing can have one very unfortunate side effect: it can make the wearer look sloppy and unkempt. Well-made garments, on the other hand, can go a long way in giving the wearer a polished, impressive appearance.

When shopping for clothing, the ability to judge the quality of workmanship in a garment’s construction is key. Well-made clothing not only looks better when worn, but also lasts longer, thus giving the buyer much more value for her money.

So, how can you evaluate the quality of a garment before buying? Quality is determined by every detail in a garment, from its fabric to the final finishing details. When you learn how to properly examine a garment in store, you can become confident in your ability buy items that will look better and last longer.
 

Fabric

The fabric used to make a garment absolutely determines the end-line quality of that garment. High-quality pieces are made from high-quality fabrics.

All fabrics are made from fibers. There are many different types of fibers, each of which has positive and negative characteristics. Always read the fiber content label of a garment to learn the exact percentage of each fiber present in the garment. This information is extremely valuable in determining the quality of the garment, as well as the amount and type of care it will require. Additionally, the fiber content label will provide you with information about the specific characteristics of the fabric and the construction method used to turn the fibers into the fabric used. Both of these factors are invaluable in determining fabric quality. For example, thread count is directly correlated to fabric quality, as higher threat count translates to higher-quality fabric.

Of course, even the best fabrics can be crafted improperly, so the fabric quality is the not the only indicator of garment quality.


Thread and Stitching

The thread used on a garment goes a long way in determining its appearance. Thread color should match the color of the garment’s fabric. Beware of transparent thread, which is often used to save money, because it is of a much lower quality and has a tendency to unravel. Also notice the thread size. Heavier fabrics, including wool and denim, require thicker threads. More delicate fabrics, including silks, must be sewn with much lighter threads.

Always examine the stitches in a garment. In general, small stitches indicate high construction quality. However, there are certain fabrics that require the use of longer stitches to avoid puckering in the seams. Stitches should be of even length throughout an entire seam. They should be taught, but not pulling, and there should be no sign of loose thread. Stitches should not be overly visible on the outside of a garment, unless they serve a decorative purpose.
 

Seams and Hems

A garment’s seams should be secure, with no signs of unraveling. Seams should be straight and smooth, without any puckering . No amount of pressing can undo the damage caused by puckered or uneven seams. Always check the ends of seams to ensure that they are finished neatly and securely. Poorly finished seams will quickly come undone.

Hems should be invisible on the outer side of the garment. Like seams, hems should be sewn straight and should have no signs of puckering. As a general rule, high-quality garments have wide hems, which make alterations much easier. If a garment has a hem at least two-inches wide, it is a good indication of high construction quality.
 

Grain and Pattern

The grain of a fabric is the direction of the yarns in the fabric. Fabric should always be cut and sewn along the grain, or in parallel with the grain line.

When buying a patterned or striped item, check the seam lines of the entire garment. Patterns should match and stripes should align perfectly at the seams. This may seem like an unnecessary, maybe even nit-picky, aspect. However, pattern and stripe matching provides an indication of the amount of time and care that went into a garment’s construction. In the end product, matching seams are one of the small details that increase the overall polish of a look.


Lining

Linings should be securely attached to the garment. The fabric used in the lining should be dense and opaque and should have compatible care requirements to the fabric used in the actual garment. Lining should never be too tight in its fit. Instead, it should have enough give to prevent ripping and tearing.
 

Fasteners and Closures

All fasteners should be properly placed and well aligned. They should also be securely attached.

All buttons should be facing in the same direction and should follow a straight line, unless dictated by design. Buttonhole should be properly placed and sized to accommodate buttons. Bound buttonholes are generally of better quality. Any stitching around a buttonhole should be secured to prevent unraveling.

Check all zippers to make sure that they are properly sewn into the garment, with no signs of pulling or unraveling. Unless a specific aesthetic choice, zippers should generally be invisible and should be covered by the garment’s fabric. Test all zippers to ensure that they move freely and without hesitation. You should also inspect the zipper tracks for any sign of damage or pulling, which will cause future problems.
 

Finishing Details

All finishing details, including appliqués and trim, should be secure. There should be no sign of unraveling in appliqué threads, and trim should be evenly stitched and properly attached throughout its entire length. Sequins and beads should be firm to the fabric and should not show any signs of pull. The thread holding beads and sequins should be virtually invisible.

The finishing details of a garment should enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of the garment. Improperly handled finishes easily detract from the visual appeal of a garment and make the wearer appear less polished.
 

Taking the time to learn the elements of good clothing construction will make you a much more savvy shopper and will increase the durability and staying power of your wardrobe.

Remember – price is not an indication of quality. Certain items can carry a very high price tag, but can have underlying construction issues that make their shelf life disastrously short. Conversely, it is quite possible to find well-made clothing for relatively low prices. Of course, the amount of money you invest in any item is a personal decision, but spending money on high-quality that will last for years to come is the most intelligent way to spend any size clothing budget.

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