How to purchase quality garments… for cheap

I recently had a request from probably my most loyal reader about how to choose affordable, quality pieces that will last.

Obviously, not everything in my wardrobe is super high quality, but these days I try to invest in pieces that aren’t going to fall apart on the first wear.  Also, because everything here in NZ is expensive, I might as well buy the quality pieces to begin with.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my biggest pet peeves is pilling. I absolutely despise pilling. It transforms a garment from cute and new to old and ratty in the blink of an eye. Yes, I’ll admit to having some truly atrocious pilled garments in my wardrobe at this very moment. They are nearly impossible to avoid, but here are some tips on how.

  1. When buying jumpers/sweaters, avoid blends whenever possible.  This is tricky as many fabrics now are blended, but I personally try to avoid any blend that includes viscose or rayon.  I try to stick to 100% merino these days if possible (which, when you’re on a budget is nearly impossible).  This is where Witchery is amazing – I have never had a piece of their knitwear pill on me ever.  However, Witchery is expensive, with most items retailing full price for $150+.  Hence, I only buy items on clearance or on sale. [In the US I know it is nearly impossible to purchase a 100% wool anything, but as a general rule of thumb, I suggest going for the highest wool content possible].  Also, the softer and fluffier a sweater, the more likely it is to pill.
  2. Buy natural fibres whenever possible.  Wool, cotton, linen and silk.
  3. Go to the expensive stores and shop the clearance racks.  I personally would rather buy a sale or clearance item from an expensive/quality store than a full priced item from an el cheapo store.  El cheapo retailers have their place – maybe a cute trendy item that you’re only going to wear a few times (i.e. cute seasonal top or skirt) or an accessory.
  4. Wash your wool and silk items separately from the rest of your laundry using proper wool detergent.  This will make them last much longer.  Or have them dry cleaned.
  5. Invest in mesh laundry bags.  Put your delicate items in them when you wash them in the machine – again they will last much much longer.
  6. Invest in basics.  If you are like me and you wear cardigans all the time – buy nice quality (wool!) cardigans.
  7. Buy vintage.  Vintage wool skirts are reasonably easy to find and often very cheap.  They have lasted for 30 or 40 years because they are good quality.
  8. Nothing looks cheaper than a cheap handbag.  Buy a nice leather bag on sale or on clearance.  Basic is better (but not boring), and also a neutral but dark colour.  If your handbag is starting to look like a dead animal, replace it.
  9. Leather shoes.  Mostly this is because I find they are way more comfortable than PU.  These are an investment piece so I am willing to pay full price, but I definitely shop around to buy the right shoes, and I still keep to a budget.
  10. Make sure it fits!  If it doesn’t fit – get it tailored.  If you are not willing to commit to getting it tailored – don’t buy it.  Not sure if it fits?  If it is too small, there will be obvious signs of pulling.  Also look for bagginess vs. an intentional boxy shape.

How do you know if you’re shopping in an expensive store or a cheap store?

  • If the store is crammed full of stock and you can barely move – it’s a cheap store.  They are trying to sell on volume.  The more empty a store is, the more expensive it is.

How can you determine that your garment is high quality?

  • Is it lined?  Are there any loose threads?  Are there pockets?  Are they functional?  Does it come with spare buttons, etc.?  Before you purchase, I suggest giving it a once over to look for any major flaws.

How can you determine if the fabric is high quality?

  • Ah, this is a bit trickier.  I think it comes largely from experience (years of handling fabrics).  I don’t want to say that a thicker fabric is always a higher quality fabric (there are always exceptions) but often this is the case.  Also, look at the fibre content in the label.  Hand feel is also a good indicator.

Any other burning fabric questions?  Just let me know and I will do my best to answer!

Happy shopping!


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