I hate buying clothes that start to disintegrate after a few washes. I’m typically not that bothered when I buy cheap clothes that fall apart. On the other hand, I hate buying expensive clothes that end up not being worth their price tag. I’ve learned a few tricks that I use to make sure the garments I buy will remain in my closet for years. Here are a few tips to use when you’re wondering how to find clothes that will last for work.
PAY ATTENTION TO BRAND NAMES
I’m not a brand snob. I don’t care whether people know that my clothes didn’t come from Chanel or Prada or that I don’t own an Hermes belt. I’m not against buying brand names, I just refuse to buy brand name clothing for the sake of having brand name clothing. Instead, I buy for a purpose that has little to do with showing off the brand name and has more to do with the quality of the items a brand produces. This is essential when looking to buy clothes that will last for work.
For example, I refuse to buy white blouses from Hugo Boss. It’s a great brand that produces incredible suits and dresses and is typically one of the brands I look to for clothes that will last for work. However, some of their button-down blouses are just as sheer as the ones at your run of the mill fast-fashion retailer. Instead of looking to Hugo Boss for a $200 white blouse, I turn to Brooks Brothers for one that is half the price but far more opaque. Check out “The White Shirt You Need” for the one I wear constantly.
The same goes for jewelry. I stray from brands like Forever21 when I need pieces that will last. On the other hand, brands like Loren Hope spend a great deal of time ensuring that their pieces are well-made and will be a staple in your jewelry box for years. The jewelry I’m wearing in the photos at the bottom of this article is from Loren Hope and I’ve been incredibly pleased by the quality of the pieces.
TRY THE HAND TEST TO FIND CLOTHES THAT WILL LAST FOR WORK
You can probably tell that I can’t stand blouses that are too sheer for work. Sheer clothing is actually on my list of 10 items you should never wear to work. It’s not always easy to tell whether a garment will end up being see-through. Sometimes dressing room lighting can be too dim to tell what the item will look like in the sunlight.
Especially for white clothing, I use what I like to call the “hand test.” This may be a common sense test for many of you, but it may not be something everyone takes advantage of. Simply put your hand inside the garment and hold your hand facing up in a place in the store where the the light is brightest. If you can see the tint of your skin color or the outline of your hand through the fabric, it’s going to be sheer when you wear the garment in the sunlight.
I know this may seem a little remedial. However, it’s actually quite helpful when you want to find out whether a garment will be see-through before you try it on. As I mentioned, it can also be really helpful when the lighting in a dressing room isn’t great and you can’t tell if the garment will be too sheer.
CHECK FOR A PATTERN MATCH
When a clothing manufacturer makes clothes, they have to cut pieces of fabric in various shapes and sew them together. This process becomes more difficult when the fabric has a pattern on it. The challenging part about using fabric with a pattern is making sure that the pattern lines up on the seam of the fabric. Patterns lining up is a fair indicator that the clothes will last for work.
What do I mean?
You can see what I’m talking about in the photos below. In the first photo you can see the side of a pair of slacks from H&M. The windowpane pattern does not match up across the seam on the side of the pants. In the second photo, you can see the back of a skirt from Ann Taylor. The windowpane pattern lines up across the seams where the darts are (the two vertical lines on the left and right sides of the photo) and across the zipper in the center.
Why does it matter whether the patterns line up? First and foremost, it just looks better when the patterns match across seams. It’s a cleaner, more expensive look when the pattern isn’t interrupted.
Beyond looks, the pattern lining up can be indicative of the quality of the garment. As you can imagine, it is much easier to cut fabric in a particular shape when you don’t have to worry about cutting it so that every single piece has the same pattern in the same place. You can also cut more pieces of fabric from one bolt of fabric when you don’t have to worry about patterns lining up. This is true because you can typically leave less room in between each piece when you’re cutting from the fabric since you don’t have to start cutting in a particular place.
When a manufacturer pays attention to something like patterns lining up, you know that they’ve spent a little more time, money, and effort ensuring that your clothes will look good. You can typically assume that a manufacturer who has spent time lining up patterns has also been meticulous about other details. This may include neat topstitching, reinforcing high-stress areas on garments, and adding important features like lining.
FEEL THE FABRIC
I don’t mean just touch it once, shrug, and drag it to the register to buy. Examine the fabric and check for a few things:
Is this the right type of fabric for this garment?
You want the fabric that the manufacturer used in the garment to be appropriate for the garment. For example, you generally shouldn’t want a blazer made from a silky, unstructured fabric. The collar on the blazer, without some interfacing, would constantly flip over. The fabric might be so thin that you’d be able to see an impression on the sleeves from the shirt you’re wearing underneath. A blazer for work should be more structured than a silk shirt, which means the fabric used for the blazer should be a little more stiff than usual.
Is this fabric low-grade?
You want the fabric to last and to hold its shape over time. One great way to check if the garment is made from a high-quality fabric is to ball up a piece of the garment. Try the sleeve. Hold the fabric in a ball for a few seconds and release it. Once you release the fabric, high-grade fabric will generally return back to its shape.
High-quality fabric typically won’t hold many wrinkles even after you’ve balled it up. On the other hand, low-quality fabric will retain the wrinkles. This means that when you wear the fabric, it’ll hold wrinkles throughout the day. Who wants to be wearing a wrinkled, misshapen mess by 5PM?
Does this fabric have the support it needs?
If you’re buying a blazer, does it have the proper structure (i.e. interfacing) in the collar so that it doesn’t collapse? Does the blazer have lining? How is the stitching inside the garment? Are the seams reinforced in high-tension areas? These kinds of additions will ensure that the fabric lays properly and won’t fall apart at the slightest movement.
Clearly, many of these tips deal with examining garments when you have them in front of you. This is impossible when you’re shopping online. I have two tips that may help you when shopping online for clothes that will last for work.
1. Look for brands that offer video.
Check out the website or use the app for ASOS, for example. You’ll see that ASOS provides photos of its garments and a short video of the garment being modeled. This gives you a chance to see how the garment moves. You’ll be able to examine the drape, how it fits, how it lays on the model, etc. You can oftentimes spot problems in a video that you can’t see in a photo. This feature is invaluable for consumers and I wish more retailers used it.
2. Closely examine the seams in photos.
I mentioned earlier that sheer blouses, especially white ones, are a pet peeve of mine. You can typically spot when a garment is sheer by looking at the seams in the photos of the garment. This is especially true for white slacks. If the seams on the side of a garment are a much brighter color or more saturated than the rest of the garment, it’s probably very sheer. This is true even if the garment doesn’t look sheer in the photo.
For example, in this photo of a shirt from Forever21, you can see that the pocket and the fabric in the center where the buttons are attached are a brighter white than the rest of the garment. This shirt is likely pretty see-through. On the other hand, in this photo of a similar shirt from Brooks Brothers, you can see that the seams are the same white as the rest of the garment. This shirt is not sheer and is safe to wear to work without an undershirt. This method doesn’t always work since some of these problems can be edited out of photos. It is still a good rule of thumb to use, though.
Try out some of these tips the next time you go shopping. Let me know what your experience is like and how efficient you were in your search for clothes that will last for work! Also, if you have additional tips that you’d like to share, feel free to reach out to me here.
Pictured below: dress (Bebe, old), blazer (The Limited, similar here), pumps (INC International, on sale here for only $38.93), necklace (Loren Hope, available here), earrings (Loren Hope, available here).