A reader emailed me this week with an interesting question: “If I’m buying expensive clothes, what should I be looking for that tells me that they’re good value. How can I tell?”
This is exactly the right question to ask. The word ‘expensive’ often carries connotations of bad value for money. But if you buy knowledgeably, the extra cost is a good investment.
Really the only two things that should mean a garment costs more are the cut (interesting design, of course) – and the cloth (and trimmings).
The right fabric
Cloth first: the performance of the fabric – the main raw material – is typically reflected in the cost. More expensive fabrics most importantly feel good, dry clean better and therefore last and look better for longer.
I was recently asked why a cashmere coat can be bought for £800 in one designer shop and £3000 in another. This is largely due to the sort of cashmere that has been used. There many different qualities of cashmere but while the actual feel of the cheaper garment can be OK, the combination of the feel, the warmth and the longevity of the better fabric is very obvious when you put the two next to each other.
I am always surprised when companies use expensive fabrics and then economise on the buttons which are often made of plastic. Although sometimes it can be quite difficult to tell a natural button which is usually made of horn, it is an economy which a true artisan would not contemplate.
The way the garment is finished inside is also an interesting tell. Many clients can’t understand why an unlined garment would cost more than a similar lined one. In fact, lining is often used to disguise cheap finishing on the seams; when each seam has to be individually bound because there is no lining to cover them, it is much more costly to produce. In summer there are some fabrics that hang better and feel more comfortable unlined or half lined; and in winter some of the modern fabrics are too thick to line and would be spoiled by a lining.
Another thing to look for when buying modern stretch fabrics is that the lining corresponds with the properties of the fabric. Some companies don’t use stretch lining, which makes the garment less comfortable to wear.
The right fit
As for cut, the actual cutting or making cost is one of the most significant elements of the total cost of a garment. The number of pieces in a good jacket can be more than 30 to create an interesting shape and fit. By contrast a jacket with very few darts and seams can be manufactured more cheaply but will not give such a good shape or fit.
You will be able to see the difference if you look closely at the garment. But you will really know if the cut is worth paying for when you try the garment on. If the fabric and the fit is right for you, you will feel fabulous. Don’t accept anything less.
In short: fit + fabric = fabulous.
The right salesperson
There is another way to ensure that the clothes you are buying are good value and not just expensive, and that is to know that the people who are selling it you are genuinely knowledgeable about why it costs what it costs. Get them to talk about the fabric, the cut and the craft that has gone into the garment – if they know the answers you can be confident in the value of your purchase.