Tagged: quality

My Closet: Ask & You Shall Receive

This I Wear | Ask and You Shall Receive
A few weeks ago, I had a hunch that if I put out the idea of my ideal sandal to The Internet, it might magically send the sandals I had been looking for my way. It was a crazy idea that somehow a pair of properly made, high quality, non-disposable shoes might enter my life and save me from my minimalist lifestyle-induced problem of having only one pair of sandals that were on the brink of death.

So if you’re looking at the above photo and asking yourself “how is it possible that she had these shoes made from a sketch in the three weeks since she posted the illustration?” you would be asking a very reasonable question. Except that these shoes were bought straight off the rack. And very fortunately in this case, on the sale rack.

After I wrote that original post, I ended up purchasing a pair online from a reputable brand that were way too big and way too much “foot exposure” for work, so I headed back to the department store in person to return them. Now shoeless again and needing to kill some time, I popped over to the sale racks that seemed overflowing with shoes. In that moment, I realized that I never go to department stores – there were so many options in one place – for better or worse. But I also had no expectation of finding anything.

I did a once over and then was somehow compelled to walk through again. That’s when I found these shoes. It was the exact shoe that Mike had helped me draw out a few weeks ago. And on top of that, they were the last pair in the store and they were in my size.

I looked around expecting that someone was playing a joke on me. As if the people in the store follow my blog (pfff!) and they had planted this shoe here for me. But this was a fancy department store, and there are no jokes there.

After 20 minutes of walking around with them on and searching the Internet to learn more about the brand, I decided to embrace that this was serendipity.

So how do these actual shoes stack up against the criteria I laid out in my “Ideal” post? Actually, pretty good.

Timeless, work-appropriate design – Yes! In fact, these are made by a very traditional British brand known for their men’s shoes, so they do simple, classic design really well.
Vegetable tanned leather – Yes! I actually sent an email to the company’s customer service once I got home with the shoes to get the full details since I couldn’t find the pair anywhere online. And yes, the leather is vegetable-tanned, though I had no way of knowing this in-store.
Stitched insole + Leather sole – Yes! These shoes are sewn, rather than having the pieces of the shoe glued together. This means more durability and less toxic glues for the makers. It also means very durable construction, and the leather sole lends itself to infinite repairability.
Conflict Mineral Free Hardware – Not sure. I did not ask this question and actually I’m not sure how many brands could answer this. So for now, this remains unanswered.
Comfortable – Yes! I’m not sure how or why, but these just feel great on my feet and I knew it instantly.

A little something extra:

Made in Italy – While this is a historical British brand (who knew that Northampton has a tradition of shoemaking?), the customer service representative confirmed that the brand makes all of their women’s shoes in Italy (the men’s shoes are still made in England). Ok, it would have been cool if they had been made in this historic town known for shoemaking, but Italy has some higher standards than other countries, and they have a tradition of making leather products that count on highly skilled labor.

And with that, I promise not to talk about shoes again for a really long time.

If you’re feeling lucky, tell the Internet what you really really want in the comments section and maybe your dream _____ will find you too.

The Ideal…Sandal

This I Wear | The Ideal Sandal
Summertime should be spent out on the beach or eating popsicles on your stoop. But I have a confession that I’ve been very distracted lately by my search for the perfect summer sandal. In fact, I admittedly have spent an excessive amount of time online and in real life looking for a new pair of sandals, mostly out of fear that my favorite pair is going to break beyond repair any day now.

The silly thing about it is that I’m not being indecisive. It’s just that I know exactly what I want.

So the lightbulb came on that maybe if I told the Internet what I wanted, it might miraculously find me. It also occurred to me that this might also be a helpful visual guide for you if you’re curious about what qualities to keep in mind when shopping for a well-made, ethically produced shoe.

I’m not a shoemaker, so I’m not 100% certain that all of these fantastic qualities can exist in a single sandal. But I’ve done a little homework and I think this is a great place to start. But I’d also like to know: what ideal qualities would you look for in the perfect shoe?

P.S. If you want more details, you should read what happens to be my most popular post of all-time, How to Invest in Your Shoes Like A Pro.

A million thanks to the very talented Mike Brown (@mchlbrwn) for the beautiful illustration!

 

Thoughts on Why We Don’t Understand Quality

This I Wear | Why We Don't Understand Quality

Your mother may have had a sewing machine; but if she didn’t, her mother definitely did. It wasn’t that long ago that home economics classes still existed in schools and sewing your own formal dress for your high school dance was the norm.

But today, the only peers I know with sewing machines went to fashion school, and even they complain of their poor sewing skills. However, they have one up on the rest of us, because regardless of their ability to sew a suit from scratch, they can tell a quality garment from one of lesser quality. They’ve seen and touched it firsthand.

The majority of us have no idea what quality looks or feels like in clothes. I think I audibly sighed when reading a section in “Overdressed” when a young woman touched a dress from Forever 21 and said the fabric felt nice. This is not a good sign.

To me, this is the equivalent of kids not knowing that oranges grow on trees and potatoes grow in the ground. It is the equivalent of eating Taco Bell and thinking you’ve experienced real Mexican food.

We are totally and utterly separated from where our clothes come from. And many of us are only slightly aware of this ignorance.

And because of this, in just the last few decades as the vast majority of sewing jobs moved overseas and fabric stores shuttered in our local communities as demand plummeted, we don’t know how our clothes are made.

And just to clarify, we don’t know where the fiber comes from (the farm vs. the lab), how the fabric is made, and how (and by whom) the clothes themselves are constructed. Though to give us some credit, the system is so complicated that many in the industry might not be able to tell you either.

This is a problem for many reasons, but namely that (1) we are buying cheap poorly made clothes because we don’t know better and (2) we won’t pay higher prices for quality clothes because we can’t understand the skill and better materials that make them more expensive now but guarantee that they will last and fit us well.

So how do we start to understand quality?

One reason I personally advocate for “Made in the USA” is that perhaps more local production will help us understand our clothes again. Local production means local skill development. Bring back exposure to sewing skills and the materials that go into a garment, and you bring back understanding of what quality is and how much quality costs. And then maybe consumers will start questioning how a pair of jeans could be $10, and just maybe they’ll start telling companies that poorly made fashion isn’t good enough anymore – whether vocally or through their changed shopping habits.

How can we learn the difference between cotton and polyester or how to tell the strength of a seam? In order to change, we need information, and proximity to information is a huge help. Like many of the clothing designers I know, we don’t need to have professional level sewing skills to begin to understand what we buy and wear everyday. But just as urban farms have taught kids that a potato grows in the dirt, bringing back local clothing production to our communities could spark a revival of these skills and a demand for knowledge. And that’s where change can start.

Do you feel like you know where your clothes come from? Share your stories in the comments below or tweet @ThisIWear.

My Closet: The Emerald Skirt + Infinite Alterations

This I Wear | The Emerald Skirt + Infinite Alterations

When I was really little, my favorite color was supposedly pink. As my grandmother will tell you repeatedly, I was sort of aggressive about it, insisting that my cherub-faced little sister had to like blue as pink was off-limits. I have no idea when the transition occurred, but I remember loving blue as a kid, sticking with the cool hue for nearly everything I owned. But as of a few years ago, I subconsciously made the switch from blue to green. And I don’t just like green; I love green. Say what you will that I’ve been brainwashed by Pantone’s “Color of the Year” (Emerald for 2013) and Meryl Streep’s rant on cerulean in The Devil Wears Prada about how colors trickle down from a small group of industry leaders, but I think my choice to love green was my own.

In my green collection, I have an emerald-hued skirt, bought some unknown number of years ago for its gorgeous color, lightweight textured wool fabric, and quality construction. But as much as I loved the skirt, it didn’t quite suit me at first. The original longer length overwhelmed my petite stature; so after a few attempts at pulling it off as a knee-length skirt, I enlisted my personal seamstress, my mom, to chop a few inches off the bottom. Perfection…until I lost a little weight. Another visit home included some strategic re-positioning of buttons to take in the waist. Again, perfect…until I lost a few more pounds. But this time, I was already at home, having relocated closer to my family. So a short afternoon with my mom, and the skirt’s fit was perfect again (along with that of many other garments as well).

This skirt is perhaps my wardrobe’s best example of a piece evolving with me. It’s been through as many changes as I have; each new “alteration” was a trial-and-error process to find the “perfect” fit, only to realize that my needs and wants will always be evolving and so “perfect” is never permanent. Instead, the goal was to figure out how to make my clothes, and specifically this skirt, meet me where I was at that moment in my life, in my weight, and in my taste.

Right now, the skirt hugs in all the right places and draws me in with its vibrant color. But perhaps my favorite color will change again, or perhaps my body or style will first. At that point, I’ll be sad that I am no longer a short drive away from my mom or the rest of my family who have helped me in each of my life’s “alterations.” Instead, the skirt might be hemmed or re-sized by someone new, or maybe I’ll boldly take a stab at tailoring my own clothes. But one thing is for sure, this skirt isn’t done evolving, and I’m not done either. And as long as I don’t forget to remember how me (or this skirt) reached this moment today or that change is just part of the process, I think we’ll both be just fine.

Do you have a piece you’ve altered or changed many times? Comment below or tweet a photo to @ThisIWear #InfiniteAlterations to share your piece’s story.

The Monthly Mend: 3 tips for recognizing quality clothing

In this series, I’ll be featuring a new topic every few weeks on how to make better choices when shopping and how to take care of your favorite items once they find a home in your closet.

This I Wear: Stitching Samples

How do we shop? Each of us has different priorities, but I imagine that for the average shopper, it goes something like this: (1) a fabric or style catches your eye, (2) you look over the whole garment for cut, (3) you check the price tag, and if it has passed the test so far, (4) you try it on. For those of us without extensive garment construction knowledge, we just want it to feel good and fit our budget. But there are actually a few things you can look for in a garment to make sure you are heading home with something that will last, whether it is from the Gap or Bergdorf’s.

I’ve recruited our resident sewing guru, Lisa, to teach us how to look under the hood of a garment before we commit. So find your garment’s care label and follow Lisa’s tips:

1. The Fabric
Look for breathable long-lasting natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Synthetic fabrics—polyester, nylon, acrylic, Spandex, and more—are less breathable. Often these fabrics simulate a natural fabric counterpart, but the quality and enjoyment of wearing is rarely the same. While Spandex is the necessary evil to getting my skinny jeans on, it can change the fabric’s overall quality and wear. Designer labels do slip in synthetic fabrics in some form in their collections, though I could argue that these synthetics are better quality that what you would find at a mass-market store. You as the consumer can tell by touch: the hand (meaning how it feels when you touch the fabric) is usually of higher quality. If you are still unsure, think about when you will be wearing the item. If you’re headed to an outdoor summer event, opt for cotton or linen rather than polyester to keep you cool. When purchasing a winter coat, an investment in 100% wool over acrylic is wise—wool is naturally water (and snow) resistant, great at regulating heat, and very durable.

2. The Details
What we don’t see is often more important than what we do see. The stitch length, thread quality, hem type, and seam finishing all come together to create a better garment. The better the details, the longer the manufacturer spent on that garment, raising its quality.

  • Stitches should be tight and close together for maximum durability; larger stitches are reserved for topstitching (the stitching you see on the outside of the garment). Thread should not be too thin or too shiny. Too shiny indicates 100% polyester or nylon thread, which can melt when ironed, particularly when the garment’s main content requires a higher iron heat than the synthetic thread.
  • Hem style depends on the type of garment. Casual pants usually have topstitched hems, but nicer pants and skirts should have invisible hems, which means you should not be able to see the stitching on the outside of the garment.
  • Look for shirts that have flat-felled or French seams. These seam finishes not only take longer to create, but they are also sewn 2 to 3 times, so that the seam is more highly reinforced. Check out A Fashionable Stitch for additional styles.
  • Finishing details are one of the simplest indicators. “X”-shaped tacks that keep slits in place show care for the garment. Same with stitches that hold pockets together. The manufacturer took the time to add these temporary stitches, so that pockets don’t stretch and slits don’t rip before they get to the consumer. Just make sure to remove these stitches when you get home! Using scissors to remove just the first stitch should make it easy to pull the remainder of the thread out by hand.

3. The Fit
Fit is vital to how we look and feel in our clothes. Many people go through life with ill-fitting clothing, not realizing that small alterations or trying a different brand that fits their body shape better could make a big difference in comfort and style. While sizing seems universal, every brand has its own exact size measurements, and this can vary by style. A woman’s size 6 in one store could be a size 4 or 8 in another. Use sizes as a starting point, but don’t rely on them to determine fit. Instead, look for key construction aspects to indicate fit:

  • Women should pay special attention to where darts (fabric tucks to shape the garment to the body’s curves) hit on their bodies: a bust dart should end close to, but not at, the apex of the bust.
  • Shoulder seams should hit at your shoulder, not below or above. (Note: I do confine that to traditional button front shirts and T-shirts, as different fashions of shirts may alter the shoulder seam placement.)

Utilizing the services of a tailor can also help with fit. If you find something you love but the fit is off, consider having it altered. I will say, having performed my fair share of surgery on garments, tailors are not miracle workers. There are things they cannot resolve, and good ones will tell you that before they accept your money. Better to return the item than to have a garment you can’t wear and have paid for twice. Quick tip—Tailoring doesn’t have to be expensive: the Japanese brand Uniqlo hems all pants bought in store for free, even for a cheap pair of jeans. Nordstrom offers free alterations on select full-priced merchandise. Make sure to ask about tailoring services when you’re shopping, especially if it is an investment piece.

Tweet your sewing questions to Lisa directly @lisammagee #themonthlymend. Photos by Lisa Magee.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...