I try to buy clothes I love and make them last. I realize that lots of folks, of all ages, think of fashion as expendable: “nothing lasts these days” so we might as well buy new every season. I have nothing against fun looks and the novelty of the new, but for those of us who keep a minimal or “permanent” wardrobe, read on! I will outline how to buy, store, clean and wear clothing you love so that it lasts as long as possible. I thought I knew a lot about this topic, but I did some research and uncovered things I didn’t know!
This post is specifically for those who have a consistent style, want to “invest” in good clothing, are paring down their wardrobes, creating a minimal or capsule wardrobe, and/or don’t expect any major life changes that would impact their clothing needs.
Keeping a minimal wardrobe depends on good quality items. Quality is not always about expense, but about suitability to purpose.
Part 1 of this series is about buying clothes you’ll love enough that you’ll want them to last.
Here is a series of questions to ask when making a clothing purchase. Working through this question list should only take about a week per item, LOL! But eventually, the process becomes internalized. You probably do most of this already.
What are my ethical guidelines? Vegan? Organic? No sweatshops? If I am committed to any of these principles, they will completely guide my shopping. For example, I might do little to no mall shopping, and more at independent shops or online.
What are my must-haves for this item? If I need a warm winter jacket for sub-zero days, a cute and short little poly-fill parka won’t cut it. I have to stop myself! If I’m looking for wash-and-wear sweaters, no-iron shirts, or pants (trousers) with pockets, I’ll regret it if I compromise.
What am I expecting this garment to do? If I want an outfit that makes me look professional, I’ll consider the colour, cut, coverage and fit for a work environment. I have to take into account that the office is always over-air conditioned.
How often will I clean it? If I wear uniforms to work and can only afford two, I have to wash them three times a week. So I would opt for better quality uniforms that stand up to a lot of wear and tear.
What are the fabric care instructions? I have been known to regret buying clothing that is Dry Clean Only or Hand Wash / Dry Flat!
Are you likely to carry out the fabric care instructions? If I were super frugal, I might be tempted to wash a Dry Clean Only piece. If I’m going through a busy stretch, I might resent having to hand-wash a sweater. I need to be honest with myself: I’ll stop wearing the hand-wash sweater because I don’t like washing it. So it’s no longer an active part of my wardrobe.
Fabrics have their own properties. Some fabrics are more durable than others. A poly/cotton blend T-shirt keeps its shape and colour longer than an all-cotton T-shirt, which may be heavier and softer. What is my priority?
What shrinkage or stretching is likely? Natural fibres will shrink, often dramatically, unless they are hung up or laid flat to dry. Both heat and tumble-dry action contribute. Check if cotton garments are pre-shrunk. If not, you may need to buy 15-20% larger. Other natural fibres include linen, ramie, hemp, wool and silk. Synthetics and knits are more likely to stretch, especially when hung up. Synthetics include polyester, nylon, rayon, microfibre and spandex.
Look at the finish of the garment on the outside. Do the button holes have tight stitching? Do the pockets or flaps lie nicely, or do they stick out? Are any visible logos or labels acceptable? Do I like the top-stitching in a contrasting colour?
Look at the construction of the garment from the inside. What is the quality of the seams: are there any gaps or fraying? Loose threads? Will the lining stand up to regular use? (my pet peeve with handbags!)
Look at the condition of the garment. New clothing off the rack often has flaws from manufacturing, imperfections from shipping and handling, or stains from being tried on. Inspect inside and out before buying.
Inspect used clothing. Unless an item is being sold with tags still on, a used item has probably survived the wash and dry process and I am seeing its true colours. Check for wear and discolouration at all the stress points: under arms, elbows, crotch, knees. Beware of strong odours – will they wash out?
Is the pattern matched? A stripe or plaid should line up at every point that pattern pieces touch, such as side seams. See if you like how the pattern is lined up on pockets, cuffs and other trim.
Does it fit – today? Does it gap at the waist or does it pinch? Do I like the level of clinginess or swinginess? Can I reach high and bend low while wearing it? Will it feel better when I lose 5 pounds? I try to do my “investment” clothes shopping when my weight has been stable for a while!
If it needs alterations, can I do it or afford it? Is there enough of a seam allowance to let the seams out? Will any decorative trim be lost if I hem the item or take it in? If I buy a top-quality item on sale but it’s two sizes too large, how much will it cost to have it tailored? Or are my sewing skills up to snuff?
How does it feel? Is it scratchy? Is it staticky? Does it make a sound when I walk? Personally, I can’t wear flip-flops because I don’t like the feeling of having something between my toes!
Is the piece just what I want – except for one or two annoying details? Is it worth upgrading? A set of buttons is easy (but not always cheap) to change. On the other hand, if I don’t like the shape of a collar, I am unlikely to replace it.
What is the return policy? Is postage a factor? 50% off a cashmere sweater is no deal if I have second thoughts the next day, but the item was Final Sale. And if I order a piece of clothing online and have to exchange it for another size at my own expense, it might surpass the cost of buying it locally.
What will you wear it with? Will this add to your costs? My work wear mainly consists of items that go with black/charcoal. If I buy a pair of brown pants, I will need a couple of tops to go with them, and at least one pair of new shoes. So I don’t change colour groups unless I can afford the whole shebang!
Beware selling tricks. Synthetics are usually coated with a resin that dissolves after its first washing, making the item vulnerable to wear and pilling from that point onwards. Clothes that are supposed to be shiny, fluffy or sleek often lose those qualities as soon as they are cleaned.
If I’m spending big bucks on an item I’m hoping will last (like my recent rubber boot purchase), I really do think through most of these points, or at least have them at the back of my mind.
Which clothing purchases feel like big decisions to you? Do you agonize over them or just “go for it”?
Next post: Caring for Your Clothes