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The decline of mid-range clothing

plaid-dress-close-up

This is one of my favorite vintage dresses.

Some of you might recognize the picture from Instagram.

I bought this Mad Men era beauty about five years ago at the Alameda Flea Market, with the original department store tags still attached.

It’s constructed of a soft and cozy blended flannel that never wrinkles or clings. The top is cut on the bias, which adds both an interesting design detail and allows the dress to fit snugly but comfortably. This of course, required more fabric from the manufacturer. It’s shaped with two curved French darts, a difficult thing to sew but extremely flattering. The skirt has two double welt pockets. It closes with a lapped zipper. The sleeve and skirt hem are both finished with a blind hem. These are some of the signs and details of a well-made tailored dress.

I’ve worn this dress regularly for five years and it pretty much looks the same as when I bought it.

So what department store did this lovely dress come from? Was it Saks? Macy’s even?

It was Sears. Your very basic, middle class source for serviceable clothing.

Today, this dress would cost a bundle.

Nowadays, those details that I mentioned are not just signs of a typical well-made piece of clothing, they are signs of an expensive piece of clothing.

Clothing that lasts, fits well, and employs interesting design details (not merely flashy surface embellishment) is almost entirely the domain of high-end labels now.

Not that a high price tag is any guarantee of quality either. At my favorite independent boutique here in town, I’ve seen $500 silk dresses with runs in the fabric, and a $400 blazer with fake pockets (I hate that). I’ve seen $800 coats with acetate linings.

Nevertheless, if someone who doesn’t sew really wants a quality garment, they almost always have to either pay through the nose for it, or find something made 50 years ago or more.

In other words, you won’t find bias cuts and french darts at Sears anymore.

Good design for the masses?

There is a lot of talk about how cheap manufacturing can bring good design “to the masses.” I think that, at least as far as clothing goes, it’s done exactly the opposite. It’s dulled our sense of good design and totally transformed acceptable levels of quality.

I think we can look at mid-range, moderately priced clothing today and think, “sure, the quality seems fine”. It’s only when you compare it to what mid-range stores were selling decades ago that you really get a sense in the shift, and how much the way we dress has changed because of it.

Do you think really high-quality mid-priced clothing still exists?

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On , Jamie Grace-Duff said: | jgraceduff.blogspot.com

They really don’t make ‘em like they used to! And you are right, some of the things are such little things – an embellishment or contrast stripe that actually goes ALL THE WAY around a hemline, not just the front, even having a lining let alone not being acetate, and my favorite – bra tenders! LOVE bra tenders in old garments! Such a simple little thing. When I suggest it for costumes or even garments I make for friends, they are like “such a thing exists!?” I have even added them to some of my boat neck t-shirts etc to give that casual cool look with out the peek a boo effect. Sigh. Even the big name fashion designers who do collections for Target etc, they have those cheap shortcuts everywhere.

On , Erin C said: | beyondthehourglass.com

Ahh, bra tenders… yes, I love them, but… I’d like to know why when I do find them, they’re only half an inch wide?!!

On , Diane said: | vintagezest.blogspot.com

I had no idea that they had a name! Bra tenders! Is it just me or does it sound like it refers to the body part that goes into them as well?

On , fancystephanie said: | fancystephanie.wordpress.com

OK – I googled “bra tender,” and I can’t for the life of me figure out what that is! Can you help me out? :)

On , TeddyC said: | theadoracarter.deviantart.com

I second this. What is a bra tender. Google offers no relief.

On , Kai Jones said:

Try looking for “lingerie straps” or “lingerie keepers.”

On , Caroline said: | 4-sisters.blogspot.com

You are so right. I used to LOVE Trina Turk. I’d consider her “mid-range.” But lately I’m always disappointed in her clothes. They don’t quite fit, the fabric isn’t that great, and they seem more expensive than they should be. Ditto for DVF who used to be a reliable “go-to” designer for me.

Thank the Lord I sew!

And those mass market “designer” collaborations are the worst. They get people used to the idea that bad fabric, poor manufacturing and crappy presentation are acceptable.

Love your Sears dress!

On , Jane said:

I just read Overdressed, and I totally feel this. While I do sew and knit, I don’t make things quickly enough to really fill in my entire wardrobe (although I’d like to get to that point!). Even so, my retail shopping has dropped off precipitously in the last few years (other than ebaying brands I like for prices I think they’re actually worth now) because I’m tired of all the crappy stitching, polyester everything, and poorly fitting junk in most stores. Even stores with mid-price points! I feel kind of sad and pessimistic because I don’t see things reversing on a large scale unless US economics totally reverse themselves. Sigh.

On , jamie said:

I don’t know much about the history of the garment industry, so I’m just speculating here. I wonder how much the worker who made your dress was paid for it, how many hours a week she/he worked, and whether she/he was a member of a union. I have the same questions about the person who made the fabric, and I’m wondering whether they were ever injured by the machines they operated. Not that today’s garments are usually made by well paid union workers either, but often high quality at affordable prices means that you’ve got a highly skilled worker whom the industry is taking advantage of. Low quality at affordable prices doesn’t solve this problem.

On , Ashlee said:

During the time period that dress was made, a job as a union member in the garment district WAS a good job, people were compensated, they were protected by their union. Same goes for the quality of the fabric that used to be produced in this country. Like any of the manufacturing industried that used to be based in America, and Europe, once the tide turned in favor of volume coming out of Asia, a landslide that started in the 1970’s, there was no stopping it. It’s a good point you make about the relativity here…whenever I engage in these conversations, as a person who works in the garment industry, I cannot even begin to educate the people on every single factor involving costs. We are easy to jump on the argument of profit margin as the major culprit. However, even on the topic of enviromnetal concerns alone, the end cost of fabric that has been produced within current industry standards, free of formaldehyde and similar chemicals that are toxic to consumers but used to be commonly found in the end product, is an expense that eventually passes to the consumer. As any economic structure is not simple, the supply and demand of fashion, at any price, is not simple and is overwhelming for the individual, small business owner, or major corporation to contemplate effecting on the scale necessary to really change the staus quo.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Ashlee, your points are great ones and remind me of what I’ve often read about the airline industry.

Consumers say they want flights to be comfortable, seats to be roomier, food to be better, etc. But what the airlines know is that people aren’t actually willing to pay more for these things as a whole. Most people are looking for the cheapest flight, and that’s what the businesses respond to.

On , Ines said:

I’m not so sure about that. I think people are ready to pay more, as long as it is reasonable. But in so many occasions it is not, just like you mentioned “a high price tag is not any guarantee of quality”.
I remember not so long ago a discussion about exorbitantly priced items available at J.Crew’s online store. How those were just a marketing technique to make the rest of their not-cheap items seem reasonably priced and part of their repositioning as a more luxe brand. Big part of that strategy was pricing items well above previous price tags even if not better quality was involved.
But as a rule I cannot agree more with you. My father still wear a coat that belonged to my grandfather, a medium quality coat, and is still like new but also is so full of wonderful details, like access to the inside pockets from the outside so you don’t have to unbutton the coat if its cold to get your wallet…..

On , Mandy said:

It is the same in the UK too. Like Jane, I really wish I had the time and the skill to make all my own clothes. I buy few clothes now because the fabric is such poor quality, the cut and design leave so much to be desired.

On , Liz Simmons said:

You all are going to convince me to start sewing. I really LOVE high quality fabric, but hated being the kid without name brands when my mother sewed our clothes. But I really hate the flimsy blouses and other clothing available for women. I’m willing to wear classic styles far longer than the fashion designers expect, if they are well made.

On , Kim said:

I totally agree with you on this one. When I was a twenty something I could go to a store and get a reasonably priced garment with nice details in a nice fabric. Now at those same stores (if they are around) I have trouble with fit, fabric content and one of my real irritations – clothing that is not cut straight with the grain if it is intended to be so. I am so glad I sew and I too treasure my vintage things. My daughter even wears the ones I can’t get in to anymore.

On , Phoebe said:

Since you said the dress still had its tags, did that include the price? And have you figured out how much it would have cost in today’s dollars? I’m curious because I wonder if this dress would have truly been “mid-range” by today’s standards? What I mean is, people used to have *much* smaller wardrobes, so each individual piece in that wardrobe was probably comparatively more expensive. They didn’t have “fast fashion” back then, so everything, including the clothes at Sears, would have been pricier, so maybe it *was* mid-range by those standards. My guess is that Sears as a brand has gone downhill, and that you’d have to shop at Nordstrom to get an equivalent dress nowadays, but I bet it wouldn’t have been any cheaper back then.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

This is a good point, especially regarding people buying less overall. From what I recall, the price on the tag was around $12 (I could be wrong, but I have a really good memory for numbers for some reason). According to an inflation calculator, that would be about $91 in today’s currency. I’d say that’s pretty mid-range today.

From what I understand, Sears has always been a rather middle class, utilitarian department store. People often point to Sears catalogs as examples of what average people were wearing, it seems.

On , LaurelLaurel said:

Wardrobes were smaller precisely because clothing was better quality and also relatively expensive so each item was kept longer and maintained well. Clothes were passed down too. I still have some of my grandmother’s, mother’s and aunt’s garments and both my daughter and I wear them regularly. In my childhood, I had new “good”dresses at Easter and Christmas, plus school clothes. My mother made almost all of those dresses and my grandmother made endless camp shirts and shorts for play clothes for my brothers and me. The next year the “good” dresses became ordinary school clothes (if they still fit). If I’d sprouted too much, they’d go to a smaller neighbor child and I in turn often got clothes from a bigger neighbor girl. It was just what was done. Now it’s a Clothes Swap! Still a great idea.

On , Phyllis said: | coudremode.com

I think I can shed some light be cause I’m old enough (54) remember buying well-made mid-range clothing . In 1989 I worked at Ann Taylor and we sold a knee length wool skirt with a raised waist, very classic, with a matching wide belt for $88. Good quality wool, rayon lining and it came in something like 6 colors. We sold *hundreds* of them because the pattern was well drafted and it fit many different body types. At the time $88 was considered high mid-range and that same skirt would be $164 today adjusted for inflation. I really wonder how many women today would pay $164 for a wool pencil skirt.

On , meredith said:

J Crew, which I think is fairly mid-range, typically sells wool and wool-blend skirts in the $120-$180 range, and women do buy them all the time. And as much as J Crew is attempting to push themselves into a higher-range market, I think they are still fairly equivalent to Ann Taylor in the quality of the merchandise and their price points. (Sure, you can buy the “Collection” items for a lot more, but I think it’s their more ‘regular’ items that are selling the most in malls and the majority of their stores.) So I think people are still paying around the same for the clothes, however the clothes themselves are not as good. There are some good items to be found at places like J Crew and Ann Taylor, but I haven’t seen very many french darts and bias cuts in their offerings and the knitwear & cardigans do not look good for more than a few years, max.

On , Phyllis said: | coudremode.com

I must admit that French darts and bias cuts didn’t appear in the clothes I sold at Ann Taylor in 1989 either, although the stitch length was shorter than today, the construction overall was better and zippers were certainly better and they didn’t break like they do today.

On , meredith said:

I totally agree with you! I have good number of Ann Taylor skirts & dresses from the 80s/90s (found in thrift stores — I’m guessing at the age from the styles) which are still in good condition, despite having been worn & washed many times. The fabrics have faded, but the zippers and seamlines are still much better. You’re right about the stitch lengths and just overall construction. And to be fair, I’ve only bought those J Crew skirts when they go on sale — I can’t help but think that the sale price is a lot closer to the actual value, though I see other women buying at full price. I’d pay full price if the quality was better, but I can see how only buying at reduced price points is contributing to the overall “cheaper=better” cultural shift. (And at this point, I sew all my skirts — it’s the pants-construction process that still needs work!)

On , Jeri Sullivan said: | mymodernvintage.wordpress.com

I am in complete agreement regarding the quality of today’s offerings. I do try to make my dresses but haven’t gotten on the trouser making bandwagon yet so I still purchase them. I personally am willing to pay MORE for good quality items but am not willing to pay more just because it is a higher priced department store.

I often see high priced goods that still show they were manufactured in India or China. Whether completely true or not, this always turns me off. The fabrics are not necessarily luxury types so why is the price so high? The labor is certainly not as much as what it would cost in the UK or US so my assumption is the store is basically marketing in a bigger profit!

On , Lauren said: | lladybird.wordpress.com

Oh yeah, this is definitely something I’ve noticed over the years. It makes me cringe so hard when I hear my non-sewing friends talk about what they consider to be “quality” – to them, quality means it has held up for a couple of years’ worth of washing and wearing. Ridiculous!

I also have a Sears dress from the 50s – when I researched the label and realized it was from Sears, it blew my mind. The dress is a shirtwaist, silk blend, and there are tiny holes at the hem (probably from cigarettes)that were painstakingly darned. I can’t imagine someone putting that kind of repair work into a dress from Sears now.

On , Rebekah said:

Unfortunately most people wouldn’t even know how to repair holes like that now. Another part of the disposable nature of our society is that we don’t bother to repair, just replace.

On , Elle V. said:

When I saw the Dior 2012 Pre-Fall collection, one of the dresses’ lining was puckered. Horribly puckered and attached all wrong…and this was from one of the most famous fashion houses in history, whose most well known for their couture! It wasn’t even the first time I’d seen it. If high fashion isn’t even making it like they used to, why would everyone below them? It’s all about quantity these days, not quality. I don’t make a lot of my clothes, because of time and what not, but I do shell out extra cash to get quality garments. I shell out even more to get US-made garments. I think quality would improve if we stopped outsourcing the work.

On , ladykatza said: | peanutbuttermacrame.blogspot.com

My husband’s grandmother worked as a garment factory worker her entire life, in Georgia(USA). She was poor, country, not well educated, and a member of a seamstress union. Her entire life earnings in a factory added up to about 25,000. Granted, she retired in the 70’s. That’s probably only slightly better than what is done overseas, but the quality was still that much better.

On , Faith said: | lady-audley.blogspot.co.uk

The thing is that, as most people don’t even sew occasionally nowadays, they don’t even realise how things CAN be better. Fashion lovers today have grown up on cheap tat and think that, because it’s bright and sparkly, it’s good. Shopping is just depressing to be honest – it’s so hard to find anything truly exciting, especially within a limited budget. And now vintage is getting stupidly expensive too (especially here in the UK) so those of us who don’t have large sums of money are stuck with mediocre – or worse – clothing.

On , lori said:

If it exists, and anyone knows where, I would love to find it!

On , Rhiannon Macbeth said:

Buying modern clothes is always a struggle. Basically the best is try for designer on sale, or just shell out the bucks. I hate to say that even mid to high priced Antropologie clothes are cheaply constructed. Mod Cloth stuff is as cheap as Old Navy. I’ve long been very selective with my clothing and it’s quality. I refuse to buy polyester which is more than half of clothes these days! If I am “investing” money, I want it to stay in my wardrobe for years, be heavy duty and breathable fabrics! I used to depend on Rebecca Taylor clothing about 8 years ago for style+quality but a high price. Now I turn to Lena Hoschek and Odd Molly, but I’m paying designer prices. and Every day I am more and more sold on the wonders of vintage.

On , kate said:

I am constantly confounded by what poor quality people will pay for. The downside of sewing knowledge is that you can examine garments and see how poor the quality and fit is or how simple they would be to replicate for a fraction of the price (if I was better at fitting..). I am also a stickler for natural fibers and amazed at how hard it can be to find clothes made of good materials even if I an willing to splurge. If only my skill level and productivity was up to par…. the result is that I have a tiny wardrobe…I would rather have some good quality clothes for years than have to constantly replace items in my wardrobe that pill, wear down, etc.

On , Jenny said:

Part of the problem here is actually a substantial shift in expectations. A couple of the other posters (phoebe and jamie) have noted that “mid-range” was more expensive, comparatively, than what we expect “mid-range” to cost. Most of the clothes people bought were made here, in the states, and there were an astonishing number of regional clothing manufacturers – I’m thinking Lilli Ann and Koret for accessories here in the bay area. Women of some means still sometimes had dressmakers make their clothes, copied from magazines – many of my paternal grandmother’s day suits and evening dresses were made for her by a dressmaker. By the 1950s and 1960s, many of the garment workers were unionized. People paid more, had less, and kept their clothes longer.

For example, for high school dances in the mid-to-late sixties, my mother swapped dresses with several of her cousins (who lived in the same city but did not go to the same schools) – for my mom’s family, one such formal dress per girl was a stretch – so they didn’t have to wear the same dress over and over. While there are fewer formal dances to go to, no one I knew would have thought about doing such a thing when I was in high school, and none of the teenagers that I know now would either.

Between my collection of vintage and sewing, I’ve gotten much picker about the clothing I buy. I don’t buy clothes at Target or Forever 21, for example, because I don’t like the hand of the fabric or the quality of the workmanship or the fit. I buy less, I pay more, and I keep it longer. And I still have a lot of clothes.

As for your question, I would again agree with Phoebe – to get an equivalent “mid-range” dress, you’d have to buy at a place like Nordstrom. And even then, it’s quite possibly not going to be as good.

On , Charlotte said: | seamrippedblog.wordpress.com

My questions echo Jamie’s. I think that part of the reason why mid-range clothing has gotten expensive, is that we have improved labor standards. I’m sure you’ve read the now-classic New York Times article on what goes into a $550 pair of khakis (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/fashion/29ROW.html?_r=0).

It’s also partially a volume game, I imagine. If everyone abandoned Forever 21 et al, then the cost of producing quality garments would decline, as would the price. There would be no $20 cashmere coats, but maybe they’d cost $1500. This would still require people to reassess their priorities and buy fewer things.

Then again, I can find well made (or well-enough made) garments if I look hard enough at mid-range retailers like Anthropologie, J. Crew, and Brooks Brothers, and through brands like Shoshanna, Milly, and Nanette Lepore. I wasn’t alive in the 1960s, but I think we collectively might have the tendency to romanticize the past a bit too much. I’m sure there was poorly made clothing in the 60s (no one is saying that there wasn’t), but those pieces just haven’t survived. The same way a really crappy knit from J. Crew would die, but one of their better items might survive fifty years on.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

You make some excellent points, Charlotte.

I’m not sure I believe that the higher cost across the board can be attributed to higher labor standards. I’m sure that’s true in some cases (like the Band of Outsiders story you linked to), but I don’t think a high price necessarily indicates higher wages or better working conditions.

I don’t think that’s what you’re saying though, and I agree that those are things worth paying for, certainly. The problem is, in most cases, consumers have very little insight into what they’re paying for, both on a quality level and ethical level.

I also agree that you can find well-made stuff at those retailers today, and that shoddy stuff was made decades ago. But I still think there has been a substantial shift towards the shoddy end of the scale.

On , Connie said:

I’ve been sewing for 49 of my 58 years. I live in a mid-sized city and it’s virtually impossible to find decently made clothing in good quality fabrics. I find myself constantly remaking older garments to have clothing I’m comfortable wearing. Even shopping the vintage clothing stores, it’s becoming harder and harder to find things I like. There’s just been so little good quality clothing being made to have to resell. Even the fabric stores are selling the fast fashion fabrics that I just can’t make myself buy and wear. And, unfortunately, I am allergic to (and unable to wear) wool. I rarely donate or sell quality clothing anymore–I’m always looking for a way to recycle them.

On , Toby Wollin said: | kitchencountereconomics.com

Part of the quality issue is that the same factories in China and SE Asia making clothing for WalMart, Target, and Kohls are making garments for the high end. Yes, one difference will be in the fabric, buttons, etc., but the skills and the quality control people are …all…the…same. No one sends out an order one morning that says, “Oh, we’re making tee-tops for WalMart today, so you can shoddy it up.” or “Today’s run is for Ralph Lauren, so everyone must be on their best..” It really is all the same now – the only difference is that the manufacturers on the high end are making a lot more in terms of profit margin than the brands at the low end. The other part of the quality issue is that consumers have gotten used to buying on brand rather than quality. If you look at advertisements from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, stores such as Sears would differentiate garments in terms of good, better and best with details so that consumers knew that they were getting, for example, 100% wool, versus a blend, or it was based on xx-ounce wool versus a different weight of wool, or genuine leather versus bonded leather and so on. Now, we have been ‘taught’ to buy a brand, thinking that the price for that brand is an indicator of quality. Those of us who sew know differently.

On , Sheryl said:

Since I have been making some of my own clothes,buying off the peg clothes is always a disappointment now. In fact, I hardly buy anything at all because the quality and fit just isn’t up to my particular requirements!! I would pay more if I thought it was worth it, but more than not it isn’t.

On , janeray1940 said: | janeray1940.blogspot.com

I don’t think commercially-made “mid-range” clothing exists at all any more. There is couture; and there is everything else. I look at clothes at places like J. Crew (which I would have once considered mid-range) and I don’t see it as being any better quality than, say, Old Navy.

My theory is that while fabric quality may vary – a J. Crew blouse may use real Liberty-print fabric, while the Old Navy knockoff uses a lesser quality cloth – the actual construction does not. After all, for the most part it is all coming out of the same overseas sweatshops – it just gets a different brand label sewn in, and this more than anything determines the price.

I’m in my late 40s, and I’ve been buying vintage since my teens. I still have Penney’s “Brentwood” dresses and Sears “Kerrybrooke” dresses that were made in the 1940s, bought by me as a teenager, that have survived all manner of abuse – packed in storage boxes while moving up and down the west coast; commercial laundromat washing and drying; somewhat inappropriate wear while, say, hiking or riding motorcycles, you name it. A few of my favorites, which have gotten the most use, still look great. Can you imagine being able to say that about any garment purchased at Sears or Penney’s today? Probably not.

Our culture has gotten a lot more disposable, and what retailers are offering reflects this. Nobody expects to wear a garment for more than a season or two, either because it will fall out of fashion, or just fall apart. The fact that we as a culture accept this makes me very, very sad.

On , Lisl Rezaee said:

To echo the above, Thank God I Sew! I grew up in the 60’s in Portland and remember wonderful mid-range quality clothing. Meier & Franks, Lipman’s Fredricks & Nelson to name a few wonderful places to shop for clothes. Now it is a desert of polyester.

On , Chris said:

I just read a great book by Elizabeth Cline called “Overdressed:The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” It was about the cheap labor in factories around the world, yes, but even more about our expectations concerning the quality of the clothing we buy. We are so used to shoddy construction that we almost expect it in the clothes we buy. We wonder why our clothes fall apart after a year or two of wearing..or less ! I have been buying higher quality clothes at consignment stores for years now, and sewing alot of my wardrobe. I am content to have fewer pieces of clothing, but better made and classic designs. Not frumpy, in style but not too trendy.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Chris, we just published an interview with the author a few weeks ago! You may be interested in taking a look: http://www.coletterie.com/books/overdressed-a-conversation-with-author-elizabeth-cline

On , Nina said: | toftsnummulite.blogspot.co.uk

My great-grandfather worked at the Burton menswear factory in Leeds, England, but he was a traditionally apprenticed hand-sewing tailor. He was the last hand-sewing specialist they employed, so I suppose his retirement was part of the decline you’re talking about. I’m told he was appalled when they brought in a machine that imitated his careful hand-top-stitching on lapels and collars!

On , Rachel B said:

I definitely have noticed this trend, too. I appreciate that fuel, cotton and labor costs have risen dramatically in the past decade, but I still expect more in the $100-250 price point than polyester blends and patterns that don’t match up at the seams. I think there’s something to be said for learned helplessness: My grandmas and my mom would copy store dresses if the price was too high for the category, like a formal evening dress. As a beginner sewer, I would probably buy a substandard dress on clearance and complain about the fit.

On , Evie said: | pendlestitches.wordpress.com

Looking at expensive clothing always makes me realise that my sewing skills are better than I think. I saw a £2000 dress (yep, that Pounds Sterling, not Dollars) from a very popular designer, where the zip finished at different lengths at the neckline. I’ve seen £800 jackets without any lining at all. And hems…good grief…it’s crazy. And people buy this stuff! And even High Street staples, such as Marks & Spencer, which used to be renowned for quality, seem to have cut corners on fabric quality and construction to enable them to keep their prices stable but not reduce profits. I can understand why so many of us are working towards sewing more, if not all, of our clothing. At least we can control all aspects of construction and fabric…we know what we’re getting!

On , Ines said:

I was once invited to a Hermes presentation and was amazed at the difference in quality among the items. The leather goods were fabulous, so buttery to the touch. Same goes for some night gowns and scarves beautifully done. But there was a silk skirt so badly done I couldn’t stop gigling, and the silk was so bad comppared to the scarves. It just didn’t make any sense.

On , christine said: | christinehaynes.blogspot.com

I think there’s a misconception about all levels of garments in the world today. Fast fashion is on the runway during fashion week, implying it’s nicer than it really is (H&M, Topshop); fast fashion disguising as high fashion is luring shoppers into thinking their getting high-end quality but they really aren’t (J Crew, Anthropologie, Banana Republic); and low-fashion retailers are convincing shoppers that they are getting high fashion design at discount prices by offering designer collections (Target). But none of this is true. It’s all made of lesser-quality than it used to be and with fewer design lines to streamline production and save money.

It’s sad that it has changed so much over time. I have an all-time favorite dress that is from Montgomery Wards and a couple others from Sears and JCPenny’s. They are all labeled “made in USA” and are all still in brilliant condition with lots of design details, like your dress. The dress from Wards has piping in nearly every seam. Can you imagine that today? I guess all of this is exactly why I buy vintage, or make it myself!

On , romney said:

I wouldn’t necessarily judge the past by the clothing that has survived – thats a self-selecting group. This was available for you to purchase precisely because it did last. If Sears also made rubbish, it didn’t last and is not around now for us to judge. That said, I still think you’re right overall.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Fair enough… though maybe not in this exact case, since the dress was deadstock and could just as easily have fallen apart after one wear. But it’s still anecdotal. It’s more interesting to hear the perceptions of older readers who bought clothes like this in the 60s.

On , Jewell said:

” It’s more interesting to hear the perceptions of older readers who bought clothes like this in the 60s. ”
Vintage clothing/made in USA/union shops really was better made than any of today’s stuff imo.
ie: I have a sleeping bag “Montgomery Ward” – “middle quality”…..lasted grand dad his lifetime, storage and then my son’s usage as a Boy Scout….. This thing was so well made…. I always wondered what top quality would have been….using a scale of good/middle-better/top-best.
I have several of my mom’s dresses (not enough fabric for fba) and the dress making was better. How I would love to find those items in my size………..
and btw: just what is a “bra tender”? I googled and only found a website…no explanation.
I’ve enjoyed this thread….thank you so much.

On , Tasia said: | sewaholic.net

I think the difference here is between design and construction – in which ‘design’ is referring to drawing the picture of the garment, but good construction is how it’s made. Sometimes I think this happens because designers don’t know how to sew. You don’t have to know how to sew to start up a clothing company, it’s easy to draw a picture and get a factory to make it. Real, true good design considers both construction and appearance of the final garment. How it’s made is as important as the end result. I hope this makes sense! It’s often a cost-thing, factories will say ‘this hem is cheaper’ and the clothing company says ‘great! what else can we do to cut costs?’

On the good side, this is why sewing pattern designers can create good designs, by taking into account how the garment is constructed as well as what the final design will look like!

On , Rarer Borealis said: | rarerborealis.com

We don’t have ‘mid-range’ clothing any more because companies have been playing a zero-sum game for years. Every corner cut, every cent the price goes up, becomes profit for a company with razor-thin margins due to every other company doing the exact same. As previous commenters have said, even companies branding themselves as mid-range (J. Crew, Anthropologie, etc.) offer the same shoddy sewing. The best example is Anthropologie’s ‘Made In Kind’ series, where young designers’ work gets sold through their stores. I’ve been fortunate enough to see past participators’ work in person, and the cheapening their designs go through is terrible! Fake silk instead of silks, shoddy sewing in place of small details…

Fortunately, there ARE plenty of younger designers who feel similarly. While their work is still pricey ($250-$500 for a dress, or more), many are working on such a small level they can and do pay attention to detail. Hopefully actual ‘mid-range’ clothing will make a comeback in the next few years.

On , Lashell said:

I think we also have to also take into consideration that when your dress was made most women were sewers so they knew what quality was and knew what to look for in a well made garment. Many women today look at the trend and not the workmanship. They think price equals quality. There are quite a few moderate to high end designers whose clothes workmanship do not match their price tag. If you are using quality fabric but cheap labor to assemble them doesn’t that still make your clothes cheap?

On , April said:

I think that such a thing is mostly dead. It isn’t just the way things are manufactured but also the fact that the way the consumer thinks has changed. Here in the US we have become a people that look at everything as disposable. Not many people care about high quality because everything is easily replaced. Once upon a time when a toaster broke you either tried to fix it yourself or you got a repair man. Now if the toaster breaks we just toss it and go buy an new one. Clothes are the same way. When a clothing item got a hole in it someone would fix it. Or if a button fell off most people knew how to sew it back on. Now I know so many people that can’t even do such a simple task as sewing a button on. I think if we are to get back to well made things we as consumers need to demand higher quality.

On , Isidore said:

Am I the only person who does see a difference between mid range and low end clothing nowadays? When I go to Old Navy or Kohl’s, the fit is all over the place from style to style, but at Ann Taylor or J Crew it is consistent – the same size of pants fits me the same in different styles. The tailoring is better, the collars always lay right instead of not rolling properly, and the knits I buy don’t pill as fast. I have items I’ve been wearing frequently for 5-10 years. Occasionally I do get a dud where the fabric pills right away or a button falls off, but I’m guessing that’s more of a quality control issue.

Also, I think there is more polyester now because people want it – they work full time and don’t want to have to take something to the dry cleaners or iron it. Polyester was a big selling point when it was invented! For example, I like wearing sheer floaty blouses over something else, and in that case I prefer polyester over silk. It’s sheer so it breathes fine, it’s not going to be next to my skin so some of the luxury of silk is lost, and I like being able to throw it in the washer and dryer.

Maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate too much, because I DO agree that quality overall is on the decline, but… Sometimes I think the nostalgia for the vintage details we appreciate in a garment clouds over the fact that what the average person prioritizes in a garment has changed over the years with people’s lifestyles. Quality does not mean the same thing to everyone. I oooo’d and aaah’d over your dress, but I know most of my friends would think “blind hem? welt pockets? what is that, who cares?”

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I actually do think there is a difference between Old Navy and J. Crew. I also think (as Charlotte said above) that you can find good stuff at these retailers. I’ve had dresses from Anthropologie in the past that were quite well made. But I do think that overall, there has been a decline in quality.

Your point about polyester is interesting. I think there’s a bit of a balance here between the cheapness of manufacture and the convenience to the consumer. I’ve thought the same thing about the prevalence of knits and stretch in clothing today. In part, it’s what people want. Knits are comfortable. I wear and love them. But simple knits are also easy to fit and cheap to produce. It’s a cheap thing that people like (myself included, I adore wearing knits), so it’s everywhere.

I’d say the same probably holds true of polyester.

On , Jennifer B said:

I recently pulled some 10+ year Old Navy shirts out of my messy projects clothes box. These old cheap cotton t shirts are at least twice as thick and better made than anything I could find shopping today. I had thrown them in there a few years ago when they faded and forgotten about them. After going shopping, I realised it was worth redyeing these junk shirts for everyday tshirts. I can’t buy anything like their quality, for whatever price. I was shopping at Nordstroms – I don’t know where else to go for decent everyday stuff and they don’t have it anymore.
I would like to buy clothes, but the poor quality is just depressing. I wish I was faster at sewing!

On , Carly said: | awaywesew.tumblr.com

Agreed. I have a dress from Anthropologie with french seams. Not every item there is perfectly made, but there’s still nice stuff available if you look for it. I have skirts and sweaters from Nordstrom that are 7 years old and still beautiful. And I’m still new enough to sewing that the J. Crew No. 2 Pencil Skirt fits me better than any of my continued failed pencil skirts I’ve attempted to make.

I have a few pieces of clothing I’ve made that I love, a few vintage pieces that I love, and quite a lot of modern clothing that I love. If you’re buying clothing that’s poorly made or doesn’t fit, that’s a problem on the consumer end.

On , meganleiann said:

The first rule of cooking is that good ingredients are the start of good food. Why shouldn’t the same be said of clothing design. Can it really be good design if there are structural integrity issues? if it won’t last? Design is IN every element that goes into a garment. That is why I am learning to sew.

I am frustrated with low-end quality in mid-end stores. I just bought a sweater at Ann Taylor that fits me beautifully, has gorgeous details and a high end texture and color, but has started to pill- even without washing. I can say right now that I will never knit an entire sweater with what must be size two needles so making it myself isn’t an option. I’m irritated…and glad that I at least bought it on sale.

On , Angela said: | bonnechanceblogspot.blogspot.com

There has definitely been a decline in quality over the years, but I think there are still some decent options out there, I have been pretty happy with the quality of a few Madwell items I have purchased. That’s n0t to say if you bought a lined jacket from them it would be made with the same attention to detail as one of 50 years ago, and I am sure they are exploiting badly paid workers.

On , Paola said: | lasartora.blogspot.com

The lack of an alternative to mass market shoddydom and high end designer stuff sent me screaming to my sewing machine a few years ago, and I’ve been there ever since. Also no one in the market here in Australia seemed to be designing for me anymore – that is, a forty-something person, who has a figure but doesn’t want to flash gratuitous bits of skin, prefers natural fibres, and is looking for quality construction, but doesn’t want to pay for some designer name.

On , Claire said:

I totally agree. I am 38 and curvy and I don’t want to dress like a stick thin 6 ft tall teenager. I find most dresses look like the wearer outgrew a school dress. Here in New Zealand where the market is extremely limited (there are only 4.5 million of us) I really struggle to find good quality clothes, with the result that my wardrobe is full of ‘make do’ items that don’t tick all the boxes but I know I won’t find anything else. Hence I too have started sewing and knitting my own clothes so I can get exactly what I want. Even so, it is a challenge to find good quality natural fabrics. Polyester has spread like the plague to all levels of the market.

Most vintage here seems to be home-made as I don’t often see items with labels. The quality of these garments makes me want to weep for what this generation are missing out on. Once I examined a good quality garment it made me realise what a waste of money mass produced tat is.

I have really enjoyed reading all the comments here. Now that most manufacture is from eastern countries, we are all facing the same issues whereever we are. It is up to us as sewers to maintain standards and lead the way when it comes to quality. I have tremendous respect for all of you.

On , Cari Homemaker said: | susiehomemakerdeservesacocktail.blogspot.com

I agree that there is an overall decline in quality. Even at “mid-point” stores such as Ann Taylor, there is a creep toward more and more low-end items being mixed in with the nicer stuff. Unfortunately, this seems like a “vote with your wallet” conundrum. Too many people have become accustomed to $3 shirts and $10 skirts. Even when we go to mid-point retailers, we might pass over the “expensive” but better designed item in favor of buying 3-4 cheaper items to replace the items we have at home that are falling apart. It’s a vicious circle, one perpetuated by a societal expectation that a “well-dressed” person wouldn’t be wearing the same thing over and over, so we start to think that we “need” to have a closet stuffed full of clothes. To that end, we also accept wearing the same bland “basics” as everyone else, perhaps hoping that no one will notice that we don’t own 365 pairs of pants/skirts and do wear things repeatedly.

On , Milena said: | thehomeblues.blogspot.com

Sarai, let me begin with telling you how much I enjoy your posts. Every time I read you, I enjoy your thoughtful analysis and cannot agree more. In Israel, most of the population shops in big chains, and I feel that the consumerism is only growing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the H&M only opened their branch her a few years ago. People are not “full” yet. Those who live in TA and the center shop more independent designers (not an easy thing to be in such a small country), and collect vintage items. I did too some time ago, before I started sewing myself. Now, knowing much more about dressmaking, tailoring and couture, I feel my eyes have opened, and I cannot go back (nor do I want to obviously). I used to like Zara, for relatively good designs and what I though was good quality of fabric. Now I look on the tags and can actually read them, we are paying a lot of money to wear plastic and oil. I don’t even wanna think what is is doing to our health, but even just from a quality of garment’s point, these clothes are “junk food”. I wrote a few post on that, and it’s really a drop in the ocean. Thank you for being you and giving the home sewing community also an ideological ground.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Thanks Milena, those are really sweet and kind comments.

On , Jenn said:

I agree with everything that has been stated. I am so frustrated with paying big buck for so called top of the line quality clothing but have to re-sew the buttons before it can be worn! Recently, almost everything I have bought with buttons on them, have them sewn on with a thick thread that has not been secured in any way and may go through the button once. This is on both mens and women’s clothing from many different retailers.

One of my friends works as a tailor for a well known department store and is extremely frustrated with the construction repairs she has to make on garments before they can even be put out for the public. She has also stated how embarrassing it is for a customer to bring back a garment because of poor quality and they are mad at her as if it is her fault.

This is getting to the point where the function of the clothing is put aside, which effects style and fashion. How can you put your best look forward if you are missing a button or have stitches coming out? Oh, now that’s hot!

On , Rachel Marie said: | raywuwei.me

The thing I was recently surprised to see was how a Sears catalogue c1919 listed a dress fabric as Silk Georgette. That was unheard of me today because a) Sears would never use that quality of fabric and b) their customers wouldn’t know what the heck it was! I mean, I wen’t to FabricDepot and asked about silk georgette last year and THEY didn’t know what it was. Ack!

I think that manufacturers can get away with the crap they make today because no one sews anymore. We here on this forum are shocked by it because we’ve studied fabric types, we invest time in quality construction, and as such we expect more of our clothing. Other people are sadly oblivious.

On , kate faerber said:

No! That is why I have chosen to start making my own dresses.

On , tuesday said:

Yes, today’s clothes are a far cry from what the standards were some time ago. Younger people do not even realize because clothes have been devolving for a couple of decades. Cheap looking and ill fitting are the only things that they know.

On , Taryn said:

I think that high-quality mid-priced clothing is a thing of the past – unless there was a higher demand for it. Unfortunately there must be a big enough consumer demand for it if we want to see these quality garments return to large stores like Sears, etc. And for something completely different! Even Glenn Beck (you heard me right) sees the loss in American garment manufacturing and started a jeans/work clothing company because of it. I believe EVERY item and step is performed or made in the USA, down to every thread and rivet. Obviously the theme is very patriotic, hard-working old America…… but despite differing political reasons, it is nice to see appreciation (and more importantly – demand) for the high-quality garment of yesterday.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Wow, I had no idea.

On , Shannon said:

This is exactly why I sew. I get so upset when I pay a lot for clothes and they shrink or the colors run because the fabric wasn’t even pre-washed. Clothing stores are awash in cheap synthetic fabrics and clothes that don’t fit correctly and that fall apart. Ugh!

The elimination of pockets from women’s clothing– even in pants!– is also driving me bananas.

On , Tracey said: | makeandshowandtell.com

This subject particularly peeves me in the formal/cocktail/evening gown department. Stores will charge $600 and up for a dress that is made of polyester!! With back zippers!

On , Jacqui said: | hazelnutgirl.blogspot.com

I agree absolutely, but I’d also add that the decline seems to be more marked in womens’ clothes than mens’. Often when I’m ironing my husband’s clothes (well when I occasionally iron them!) I’m amazed at some of the details on his shirts that you’d just never find on a woman’s shirt for the same price. His pants are much better constructed too. I guess it’s the same old story, charge women more for their clothes than you do men, and to double your profit, don’t make them as well either.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Yeah. Men’s styles tend to be much more stable and classic, so the clothes tend to be less disposable. In my experience, men also tend to have a lot of loyalty, so if they like a shirt they might buy it again and again. So quality becomes more important than novelty, in that case.

On , Christine said:

I’ve started looking for better quality clothing, and I have found just a few examples. Most of the time what I consider expensive is not well made or made from nice materials. I have spent $80-100 several times on nice silk jersey shells for work, which I love and wear to death (and machine wash in lingerie bags, for the most part). The best example I have of a higher quality top is actually a BCBG silk crepe-de-chine blouse I got on sale. It must have been $200 to begin with, but I got it for $60 or $80, I suppose. Anyway, in addition to the nice fabric, the yoke and collar facings are the same pattern and same fabric as the outside, the blouse has French seams, and self-fabric covered buttons. It has become my example of a well-made blouse at a not-so-outrageous price. Which brings me to my question….what prices would we be paying for “mid-range” clothes? Haven’t we gotten used to paying next to nothing for clothes? What’s the inflation-adjusted price of mid-range clothes from the mid-1900s? Apologies if the question has already been posed… I’m not calibrated! :-)

On , Anna said:

There was a clothing line called Freeport Studio, an offshoot of LLBean, around 2000. Reasonably priced, everything I’ve bought from them I’m still wearing and it looks new. Unfortunately they were short lived. I wish they’d start that line up again.

On , Jill said:

I am in total agreement that mid-range clothing is disappearing. I am 52, having learned to sew out of necessity-i’m 5 feet tall and petite departments didnlt exist when i grew up! The decline in clothing quality has been especially pronounced ove the last 5 years. I’ve noticed how cheaply items are made-I especially see it in knits that pill after a few washings, as well as size inconsistencies, even for the store labels that have been mentioned, such as Nordstom and Bloomingdales.
Sarai, thanks to your recent blog post , I am currently reading Overdressed. I feel validated that my impressions of the quality of clothing in the stores are not all in my mind (as my husband suggested)
I would like to begin sewing some of my own clothing again, but find that locating quality fabrics can be as difficult as finding quality clothing. Hoping that by following posts such as this, I’ll be able to find the resources to help me!
Thank you for this.

On , martinamaria said:

thank you for mentioning. (excuse my poor english ). that is exactly my problem. I want to sew to not support an industry that exploits workers and the environment. but it is incredibly hard to find fair trade and organic and beautiful fabric.

On , Nickey Robo said: | fashionration.wordpress.com

I agree with what a number of folks have said regarding price- people are not willing to pay as much for mid-range clothing as they once were. But what I’m surprised no one has mentioned is how this, presumably, relates to overall wage stagnation over recent decades. In the 1960’s, middle class families made more money and housing costs were lower, compared to today. Folks only bought a few items of clothing for the season, and they generally paid more for them. (I can’t remember- does Overdressed have any info as to what percentage of an average person’s budget was spent on clothing over the years? That seems like it would be a telling statistic. I’m guessing it’s gone down, despite how much more stuff people are buying.)

On , Diana Marlow said:

I think that standards have been lowered due to the fact that so many people do not sew anymore. They do not know what is quality sewn clothing looks like. It’s a shame that we have such a throw away mentality when it comes to clothing now. Clothes used to be kept longer even repaired. Classic clothing was kept for years and even handed down. I miss that. Our closets are stuffed with clothing that are cheaply made and mass produced. In China they throw clothing away. There are no resale stores. The thought of wearing someone’s else’s clothing is a strange concept there. I like to sew my own clothing because it makes me happy to express me. I am so glad that so many younger women are coming back to quality sewing! Handmade button holes anyone?

On , Xenia said: | xeniat.blogspot.com

Yes, the “throw away” mentality (as mentioned by Diana above) is so disheartening in our age. I mean, thrift stores used to be fairly low-key. My small town only had 3 very small thrift stores, most run by volunteers/ charitable organizations. Now, when I walk into Goodwill (which, I admit, I love!) and see the racks of brand-new Target “leftover” products, plus the droves of cars going in and out, unloading tons of donated items, I realize our culture is indeed very disposable. The fact that we have Goodwill Outlets is just further proof. When we donate unwanted clothes, we supposedly feel “good” about ourselves, and it gives us as excuse to run off and by MORE. When will it end??

That said, once in a blue moon I do enjoy “studying” the clothing in stores, whether it be Wal-Mart or Anthropologie. I think that basics, like 100% cotton dresses or skirts, with clean lines and–if you’re lucky– a simple lining, are always good finds and usually end up lasting. On the other hand, it’s usually something I can easily make myself now.

Sadly, today’s “mid-range clothes” (or what is considered to be) are still fairly expensive to me! If I didn’t sew and only bought high range garments, I’m pretty sure my wardrobe would shrink… which probably wouldn’t be a bad thing!

BTW, your dress is incredible! What a great find!

On , Marion said:

I think one thing that has changed is that nowadays it is all about brands. Back in the 60s most of my clothes came from independent retailers and made by manufacturers tha tno-one had heard of. Now the high-street is dominated by mega-brands and so there is less competition. Incidentally, even back in the 60s the stuff my mum made was way better than anything we could buy in the shops.

On , Signe Marie said: | studio.signemarierichter.com

What a great dress, I wish I could see the curved darts!

Excellent points in this thread. I agree that it’s hard to find good quality clothes today. But I have noticed that when I do find a good quality brand, I will buy more from them, maybe we are moving towards the men’s tradition of brand/model loyalty?

I have turned to smaller european-made boutique labels from Spain, Italy or occasionally France. I have found that I get much more quality for the same €100 than I would in a high-end department store in Paris – especially in Spain. Last year, I got a lovely bottle green silk/wool gauze skirt for €120 with a hand-stitched (!!) hem. It makes total sense due to the delicacy of the fabric, still, my heart sank when I saw it. And I have never seen hand-stitched anythings on expensive RTW.

What is really disheartening is that people in general (based on my friends and family) just don’t have the skills (lacking better word) to see if a garment is made to last for years or just months. I have friends who thinks it’s normal when their new coat loses a button after just a few months of wear…

And don’t even get me started on the chemicals used on cheaper materials to make the end fabric softer. I mean, there’s a reason the girls at H&M wear gloves when they hang the clothes – and I don’t believe it’s to protect the clothes.

On , Kessem said: | dinosaurgirlfashion.blogspot.com

I really don’t! maybe if you buy clothes from independent designers and so on, but definitely not from a store like sears!
One of my friends has a vintage jacket that cost less than a average priced new jacket and it has BOUND BUTTONHOLES . I’m not kidding. I saw it and I was so excited! Of course she didn’t understand what the big deal was because she doesn’t sew but she was happy to hear she got a good quality garment. Bound buttonholes from a store bought garment! Heaven!

On , Claire said:

The thing I notice most in the UK is the change in the way mid range knitwear is sold. I can remember when Marks and Spencer always had lots of different styles in Botany wool (aka Merino). Now they sell cashmere – more expensive. Some cashmere mix, at around the price merino used to be. Then cheap acrylic. Would have to hunt out merino.
First it was just ladies clothes, but now the same with menswear.
It took me years to decide I would just buy some cashmere in John Lewis, and it has done pretty well – but really it is more pricey.
The cynic in me thinks that the cashmere doesn’t wear as well so they will sell more…

On , Molly said:

I think that while there has been a dramatic decline in the availability of mid-range quality clothing available for general purpose, I don’t think that it’s disappeared entirely… That being said, I think that my perspective is skewed by the fact that I’ve worked for most of my adult life as an EMT with my local fire department- and so not only do I buy my work clothes from companies that have typically catered to men, but the clothing companies that I frequent have been subjected to a very different selective pressure than the general apparel market.

These companies serve individuals (in many cases with relatively low incomes) who preform manual labor with intense physical demand on their clothing- clothing which in many cases provides a significant amount of protection to their bodies from both the materials with which they work and the physical elements (for instance, at an average winter work day, I may have to go to the scene of a car crash where my clothes need to protect me not only from the cold winter wind and rain or snow, but also broken glass and twisted metal). Thus while the majority of the clothing market can increase their profits by making flimsy, thin products with poor construction techniques (and lure their customers back to buy again and again with rapidly changing color schemes and surface embellishments), this marketing strategy is antithetical to the needs of the manual laborer, who needs to have access to not overly expensive clothing that has the structural integrity and quality of construction to do the job that he or she needs to do, and not fall apart at the first physical stress.

Unfortunately, in catering to these utilitarian needs, you’ll see no mention of fashion or style, and while the type of company I shop at have made tremendous strides to offer shapes & sizing more suited to women, the majority of the market is still dominated by clothing sized and designed for men. I’ve noticed many men who do not work in physically intensive jobs taking advantage of these markets (eg that guy at the office who wears Carhartt pants, or really well made work boots instead of loafers), and I think that it’s yet another hold over from a time when women were expected to preform the sole task of homemaking that we are not yet able to access this market with the same kind of ease that men are.

On , Tasha said: | blog.bygumbygolly.com

I have refreshed this page about a dozen times since yesterday, this is such an interesting discussion! Thanks for making us all think about this topic, Sarai.

I’ve spent more than half of my teen through adult life shopping for secondhand and vintage clothing than current trendy fashions, though I have certainly had my share of time in normal shops and disposable culture is sadly so apparent. The constant rotation of fashion styles in shop windows is almost dizzying. Women in particular are being fed a message that what was old is no longer good, we need to buy more to stay current with this season, etc. And the quality seems to go hand-in-hand. If the fashion magazines (not that I read them any longer) tell us something from 2 seasons ago is totally out, why should women *care* if it lasts longer than 6 months? However if you look at old catalogs, trends seemed to change much slower. If you could see the same dress style (with slight, if any, variations) over the course of 3 years, you would presumably expect that your clothing would better last you through those years, too.

On the other hand my partner buys men’s clothing, some vintage and some new, and I have definitely noticed better quality in the new as compared to women’s new, even in mid-range, as echoed by a few people above.

I’m so glad that I’m getting to the point where I’m sewing more and more of what I wear that isn’t vintage (and I’ll eventually even get to t-shirts and bumming around clothing, too). However in the last year or so I had occasion to buy a couple of garments from a British-based (but not made, or at least not all made) mid-range company, Boden, and I was pleased. I ordered a raincoat last fall for about $170 and was stunned at some of the small details on it, including–yes!–bound buttonholes. It was made in China, so presumably at these same factories above, but I have to say I was impressed with the quality and sturdiness, although I would suspect perhaps that’s more common in outerwear (though I’m not sure as most of mine is 50+ years old).

On , Phyllis said: | coudremode.com

I don’t think made in China is inherently bad either, we live in a global economy and as a few people pointed out, garment factory work is grueling and on the lower end of the pay scale. Polyester is also not inherently bad, in fact I just bought a Nanette Lapore jacket that is a stunning polyester twill, beautifully made, beautifully drafted (it even has those nice vertical darts at the shoulder that we see in vintage patterns) and I just love it. Nanette is known for her ethical production practices and i got this jacket from her web site for $128, marked down from $498. It was only the 2nd major fashion purchase I’ve made for about a year, the other one being a pair of Dylan George jeans that are 100% made in the US. I think the key thing is to buy less and be more satisfied with the things we do have. I feel the same way about the things I make because really fabric mills can abuse their workers just as much as garment factories. A SABLE size fabric stash feels wasteful to me.

On , Elspeth said:

I definitely agree with much of what has been said up-thread. My sewing skills are not to the point where I can really make all of my clothes, or where I can reliably make clothes that look and fit quite exactly the way I want them to every time. In general, I do wish there were a commercial source of reliably well-made, mid-range clothing. I’ve had mixed results with the Banana Republic and Ann Taylors– but at least I can reliably find those second hand, so I’m not out too much money if they don’t quite live up to expectations. (Or hopes, rather, if we’re honest.)

That said, I will play devil’s advocate and say that there is a place in my wardrobe for “fast fashion” of the H&M variety. My office is immediately above an H&M, a Forever 21 and a Zara, and 99% of the time I am not tempted by any of the offerings there, but every now and again there is a Halloween party, or a New Years party or whatever it is, and I want a sweater with sequins, or a pair of bright fuchsia tights, or something else that I know I will not wear regularly and that I don’t want to spend a lot of money on. Do I sometimes feel bad about buying “disposable” clothing? Yes. Do I do it anyway? Yes.

Summary version: While I too would like to see more mid-range options out there, and while I could wish that more people understood what quality means in a garment, I do think there is a (limited) place for cheap fashion, too.

On , Mugsy said:

Hard to beleive it can be found (Toronto, Canada), but I know it can in independant shops. I think mcuh of it in North America might have to do with the “dollar store / Walmart /H & M” mentality of most shoopers nowadays. If it’ll last for one season (or a couple of washings, whatever destroys it sooner) then people consider themselves lucky (!). God forbid they should have to save money for a paycheque or two for something they really want and treat it properly so it’ll last…

But no, I don’t have a strong (and bitter) opinion about this topic! *LOL*

On , Erica said: | crafty-magpie.blogspot.com

I’m in Toronto too! Where do you shop?

On , Mugsy said:

Hey there, sorry to take so long replying to you…

Generally, at almost any thrift shop or second hand shop (along Queen Street, and Spadinda Ave. or Road is amazing! Check out Kensington Market too – shop around for some great deals), as well as some of the independant shops in the “PATH” system (aka The Underground) right downtown – but save your money if you shop at the little places, it costs quite a bit in some cases but the quality is there if you look carefully (e.g Bee Bee Joon in Commerce Court – under CIBC – is a fantastic place for original stuff, but it’ll cost you *lol*)…also at Value Village – yep, I know that the stuff there is still considered “mass market” but if it’s still in good enough shape to donate, I look it over if it catches my eye.

Hope that helps – and terrific to see a fellow Torontonian hanging out here! :)

Love,
Mugsy

On , Therese said:

I have been very happy with the quality of the clothing I’ve gotten at Ann Taylor and the end of season sales are great.

On , Kyra said: | kyraweinkle.com

I find it interesting that no one had mentioned Banana Republic as compared to Jcrew or Ann Taylor; I tend to find better details and fewer blended wools at BR. I most certainly notice a decline in overall quality in clothing, but it seems to extend to do many other realms as well! Many of my older appliances out-function my new ones as it seems like they are planned for quick obsolescence. I try to live by quality over quantity but it can be tough- Sarai’s recent post on the “constant craving” from the bombardment of “pretty things” coming at us from all directions really hit home for me!

On a bit of an aside, Sarai, are any of your patterns suited to create a dress in similar shape to this one? I’m just starting to graduate from a few oliver + s dresses for my niece, some interesting self-designed dresses from tutorials for myself, and home goods/ bags into making actual nice garments from patterns. (First up is your sorbetto blouse this weekend! :)

On , Angelina said:

I think the Peony pattern is the closest match!

On , Laura said: | thehandworkshop.net

Love this post. It is very thought provoking and has sparked such an interesting discussion.

On , Alice said: | sidewalkstyledirtroaddigs.wordpress.com

I was wondering the other day when knit fabrics became more commonplace? I feel like that may account for some of a lack of good fit–knits don’t really need to fit well in the same way that woven fabrics do.

Overall, I don’t really shop new very often, mostly because as a poor college student, even “mid-range” is out of my budget and I don’t want to pay even thirty dollars for something that is anything less than remarkable. I do have one denim dress that I got at Macy’s about five or six years ago. It was on sale for forty dollars, which seemed like a fortune to me, but it fits me well and is still in excellent shape, even after being my go-to dress all through high school (I left it home for the first semester of college just to see if I could live without it, and I found that, yes, I could, so I don’t wear it as often as I used to anymore). Apart from that most everything in my closet was second-hand or vintage.

One thing I do find frustrating, is that it is not, in fact, cheap to sew your own clothes, especially out of new, quality material. A pattern will run about fifteen to twenty dollars, even cheap fabric is rarely less than six dollars a yard if you buy it new (nice wool is usually about thirty, it seems), and then the hours put into making it are, well, a lot. I sew because I like it, but I cannot say that it is really any cheaper than buying clothes, and as I am a beginning seamstress, it is also no guarantee of fit or quality.

On , lbrundage said: | wonderfullymade1.blogspot.com

Just now reading “Overdressed” which is causing me to look at clothing in an entirely different way. The sad thing is, low priced is such poor quality and mid-priced is not that much better when you compare it to the dresses of the era you are wearing. While “mid-priced” is a subjective term for individuals, many of us can’t afford the J Crew/Ann Taylor type lines unless they are on sale… and then they, too, become part of that whole cycle of cheap clothes.
The more I read and recognized what’s happened in the industry, the more I am grateful that I can sew. But then, I believe that even in the world of fabric, we can get trapped into buying poorly manufactured, poor quality fabrics! Oh, good gravy.

On , Erica said: | crafty-magpie.blogspot.com

Just to chime in on the accessibility of mid-range apparel in the 50s and 60s…

Some of my favourite resources are actually Judy Blume’s teen novels from the early 60s. For example, in Jean & Johnny, Jean comes from a fairly typical middle class family. She can’t afford much RTW clothing so she wears hand-me-downs and is learning to sew. There’s a funny scene in which she laments the mismatched plaid of her skirt, and she feels envious of the richer girls who get to buy all their dresses. She eventually gets to buy a dress for the school dance (I think it actually might have been from Sears or something similar, can’t remember), but it’s a big deal and she’s saved up for quite some time to do so. It’s also tailored for her at the shop, and she gets pumps dyed to match her dress.

I love, love, love Judy Blume’s books (I’m lucky enough to own several original hardcover editions – the illustrations are beautiful). They offer such a nice look into the time, and can help speak to some of these questions about the economics of fashion.

On , meredith said:

Ah, the mismatched plaid skirt! So unlike her sister’s carefully planned sewing! Mine was a paperback copy with the plaid skirt featuring in the cover illustration.

Nothing more to add here, just another Judy Blume fan. :)

On , Erica said: | crafty-magpie.blogspot.com

I have this one (ex-library edition):

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Jhue-TVQ9QA/TtRBGQr0_xI/AAAAAAAAALI/fUCBHCXDoRQ/s1600/Screen+Shot+2011-11-28+at+8.36.56+PM.png

I also love it when she goes to buy her dress for the dance, and she realizes that she shouldn’t just copy what all the other girls are wearing, and finds something different that suits her much better. Such a good lesson!

On , Erica said: | crafty-magpie.blogspot.com

PS: Oh my god, I must have been more tired than I thought I was yesterday… How did I manage to write Judy Bloom over and over when I meant Beverly Cleary! How bizarre…

On , Erica said: | crafty-magpie.blogspot.com

*er, Blume. Apparently I am also very tired today!

On , meredith said:

haha, oh you’re right! I actually really love both Beverly Cleary (who doesn’t love Ramona?) and Judy Blume so I didn’t notice the mix-up, either !

On , TeddyC said: | theadoracarter.deviantart.com

Ramona the Pest and Romona Quimby, Age 8 were my two faves. I love Beverly Cleary too!

On , Annie Sharkey said: | tulleandtweed.com

Not sure if this comment has been made previously as I haven’t read them all. My point is that the population at large have no idea what constitutes a well made garment. There is a generation who have never seen one, and wouldn’t know what to look for. The tide is already turning in the garment industry with China now becoming more expensive to manufacture and as such prices are on the rise. Other countries are now being looked at where there is a dearth of cheap labour to be plundered and people will pay what they pay now for even shoddier goods. I find that mid range garments might deploy the same manufacturing techniques and resources (China) but the fabric and finish they use is a lower standard than would have been acceptable in the past. I have even seen designer garments which are poor quality, many rely on the “emperors new clothes” principal. The mark up is nothing short of extortion! All we can do is keep making clothes, often quite simply designed but with beautiful fabrics and with a high finish and when someone asks where you bought it you say its handmade, that way turning more people on to making their own. Cheap shouts, quality whispers.

On , Suvs said:

Sarai, I just love your blog. Everyday I look forward to a new post on your blog.

I couldn’t agree with you and everyone more. Clothes that cost $$-$$$ are really not worth the price. I feel its really the cost we pay for the brand.

I come from south east asia. Sewing is slowly becoming a dying art in households. But people still get custom clothes made from tailors which are cheaper than mass manufactured retail clothes. These clothes are beautifully constructed. People love to choose different fabrics for their own clothes and then provide useful feedback to the tailor in designing the garment.

I feel sewing is empowering me to understand what is a quality garment and what is not.

On , Pegy said:

I so agree with you. My mom loved clothes and used to take me shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin, Joseph Magnin, Macy’s (the OLD Macy’s), and Bullocks in the 60s and 70s. She taught me all about quality – but then again, everything back then was high quality and we didn’t spend an arm and a leg for it. I can’t believe the junk you get for $100 now. When I started seeing polyester everywhere three years ago I started sewing again. I refuse to buy that stuff. I might as well burn my dollars. I am so happy to find a community of like minded people.

On , Viper said:

Not to mention the sizing! I am very petite and find it difficult to fit into even some stores’ idea of what constitutes as a size 0, and am often forced to shop at even LOWER quality “teenage/tween” stores like Aeropostale and Limited Too/Justice. It is very easy to find vintage pieces in my size that don’t assume that because I’m a child’s size, I must also be a child’s shape.

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On , sarah said: | elnaonly.blogspot.com

it is sad to think that our generation will have no ‘vintage’ and if we do it will be VERy high end articles of clothing. i have not come across many good quality mid-range clothing options. but i believe a lot of that is because we have no concept of mid range. j.crew is not quality (most of the time) but is triple the price of ‘affordable’ clothing.
once i get the skills i want a totally handmade wardrobe!

On , Linda said:

Back to an earlier comment/question…what is a bra tender?

On , Sheila said:

Hi Linda,

Since no one else seems to have answered you yet, I’ll jump in.

A ‘bra tender’ is also called a lingerie strap holder – it’s a short ribbon or thread chain sewn inside the shoulder of a garment with a snap on one end. You slip the ribbon under your bra strap (or slip strap) when wearing the dress an it helps keep your straps from shifting around and peeking out at the neckline (and/or shoulders if the garment is sleeveless).

Hope that helps!

On , Erica said: | crafty-magpie.blogspot.com

Oh my god, that’s genius! Why do these not exist anymore?

…Off I go to sew bra tenders into all of my dresses!

On , Rita Demarinis said:

Is anyone else annoyed by the low quality and almost no variety of fabrics at Joanne fabrics? I wish we could bring back Fabricland. Joanne’s took them over years ago because they didn’t like the competition, then things went immediately downhill…I think a lot of people don’t know quality fabric now because they never see it! You have to go to Mill End Store or Fabric Depot to see any interesting or quality fabric. Or shop online…

On , Kit said:

As a former Fabricland employee (in Canada, where they remain the dominant fabric source), I can assure you that Fabricland is now much the same as the other major chains. Little variety, nothing high quality, and a shocking amount of fabric comes in with major flaws or (ewww!) major mold. And I know that Fabricland has an 80-90% markup on everything in store. It’s hard for me to say it’s worth it.

A lot of people above have discussed how employees making clothing and fabric are treated, so while I’m posting: much of the time, the people selling you this fabric or clothing are also being treated poorly. Having seen both sides of the cutting table I’d be cautious about trusting what a fabric sales person tells me these days.

On , Ginny said: | darlingadventures.com

I feel the same way. I cannot bring myself to buy fashion fabric from JoAnn’s or Hancock. Once I started quilting a couple of years ago, I quickly learned the value of quality fabric. Now, with garment sewing, I don’t want to put all that effort into making something just to have it shrink or stretch or pill or fade because the fabric was low quality.
For me, 2013 is the year of sewing-my-own-clothes thanks to getting Sarai’s “The Colette Sewing Handbook” for Christmas. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced so far is buying fabric. I’ve found some great resources online, but I’m not yet comfortable with buying fabric I can’t touch. Any suggestions?

On , Robin said:

My sister and I both order on line, and we have radically different agendas. She mostly quilts contemporary art pieces using high quality fabrics. She know exactly what she wants and won’t shop anywhere if she can’t examine a swatch first. I look for fabric that inspires me, and I sew mostly for my own wardrobe. I have no idea what I want, so I look for what’s unusual or novel, that I haven’t seen elsewhere, but mostly I want natural fabrics and small pieces, and preferably on sale.

So I suggest you figure out what you think you want, and try a sample order to see if you like the fabric and the service, from one company at a time.

I now love ordering “mystery” bundles because it’s exciting to see what you get when it arrives, the cost per yard is super low, and I make it up into clothes very fast because I have no emotional attachment to the fabric…plus, it’s a challenge especially if I’m not crazy about a particular piece I received in the mystery bundle. It’s great fun, low cost and no pressure.

On , Rita Demarinis said:

They do have some good fabrics at Joanne’s, but you have to know what you’re looking for. It is a good place to go when they have pattern sales; I never pay full price for patterns.

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On , Robin said:

Great discussion! I too have found local fabric stores (chains, specifically Hancock Fabric) now reflect the sameness and low quality of most RTW. The one closest to me pushes fleece, quilting cottons, polyester…and now also sells household decorator items and even RTW clothing and jewelry. For a while, they sold odd lots of decorator fabrics, and I would buy these pieces and make some interesting and very durable jackets and pants. But recently I finally made the leap to shopping for fabric online, and have had some sucess with FabricMart. This after swearing I would never buy fabric I couldn’t touch. I’m now completely over that!

I have a great source for resale in a franchise store named Hut 8. Fortunately for me, other shoppers leave the good stuff on the racks, because they only know what they have been told by the marketplace what is desirable, and not what real quality is.

I’ve found some quality items at Stein Mart, but I have to try everything, and I do mean everything, on at least once, and look beyond the emotional appeal to really evaluate a piece based on its quality. It’s now a game determining fast fashions’ latest attempt to cheapen garments, such as cropping sweaters, so that after one washing they shrink and are too short to wear comfortably. Or sleeves made so narrow that my average size arm won’t fit into them. The loud, flashy embellishments are really tacky. I feel sorry for people who don’t sew, and applaud young people who are saying to themselves, there must be a better way, and then acting on it.

On , Karen judge said: | mikalane.com

Not to pick on J Crew but they are a great example of declining apparel quality. Their catalogues are beautiful and yet every time I go into one of their stores I am massively disappointed when I see the clothing in person. Poor fit, inexpensively made. And yet they are popular at a cult-like level. Their creative director is a minor celebrity for her “brilliance!”

On , Barbara said:

I agree with you regarding midrange clothing . this is for the Book Worm have you read Olive Kiteridge by Elizabeth Shrout. I like it and Olive is a regular at Sew-fro in Crosby, Maine

On , Kathi sorensen said:

I am a playground monitor at an elementary school and yesterday a little girl showed off her cute little print elastic waist mini skirt with a face shining with pride ” I sewed it myself, Mrs. Sorensen!” She even showed me the spot where the sewing on her hem was a little wobbly. I was so affected that I nearly hugged her and I assured her that the more she sews, the better she will get! She told me that there are over 20 kids in her sewing class in a nearby town! Now, doesn’t that make you feel better about the future of home sewing? I think that there are kids out there who are hungry for the thrill of accomplishment, who recognize quality and want it. Each one, teach one!

On , Jessie Kwak said: | bicitoro.com

I work for a childrens catalog company, and as a seamstress myself I’m always poring over the details. There are quite a few brands where the quality is just stunning: intricate design details, french seams, full linings—I’ve even seen hand picked zippers and top-stitching in some pieces. The prices run from $150-300 for a dress on the better-quality items (which to me seems crazy for something your kid’s just going to grow out of in a couple months).

The main thing I’ve noticed, though, is that almost every time I’m oohing over a construction detail and then look at the label, it says made in India. (Or Eastern Europe—there are a few Dutch and French brands that make some exquisite pieces in Bulgaria and Hungary.) Sadly, the made in USA stuff is generally no better quality than the stuff that’s made in China.

Like most of the commenters here, I sew a lot of my own clothes or hunt through thrift shops because I’m unwilling to spend money on cheap, poorly-made clothes.

This is a fascinating discussion—thanks for bringing it up!

On , jan said:

I am old enough to have been buying clothes from Sears and Penney’s in the 60s with my babysitting money. I usually bought off the sales and clearance racks but the quality then was like sewn by me now. I lament the loss of quality in our fabrics. Recently bought some hefty Tshirts from Hanes for my daughter to replace those bought 4 or 5 years ago. The new ones are all twisted off kilter and hems that curl and the fabric has shrunk like Hanes never has before. Joann’s fabric falls so far below what could be purchased from local fabric stores just 20 years ago, that I am thinking it is not worth buying. I have been sewing from my stash and what I bought years ago is so much better than anything I could find today. Only a few fabrics at Joann’s even comes up to acceptable. Since they bought out their competition and then sold out to a corporation, where do I go now?? Perhaps if we taught sewing to all our children, suppliers would pay attention.

On , Rita Demarinis said:

Eddie Bauer and Columbia Sportswear are still making quality clothing. If you go to their outlets, you can get some good deals. They have quality fabrics and their clothing is very well made…When they have sales, you can get t shirts for $9.99; and they are good quality fabrics which don’t shrink and come in great colors. If you can get into the Columbia employee stores, they have some really good deals . I’m lucky, I have a relative who works at Columbia!! Before, I only bought Columbia for ski jackets, because I thought they were too expensive. For fabrics, look at the ads in Threads magazine, they have a lot of good quality fabric sites..Fabric.com has a lot of sales, although I haven’t bought anything from them, so don’t know how the quality is..It’s worth a try..Love Threads magazine, by the way..I’m 62 and have been sewing since jr high when we made an apron. I took Home Ec in high school…Luckily my Mom sewed, because our Home Ec teacher knew nothing about sewing..I was making an a line skirt with an inverted pleat in the front, and she was telling me to gather the fabric to the waistband, because it was too big..Luckily my Mom knew what she was doing…When my Mom took Home Ec in high school, her teacher was a tailoring expert. They made a wool suit in high school!! My Mom made all my banquet and prom dresses and did an expert job…Now I have 2 daughters, and neither one is interested in sewing!! It’s something I’ve always been glad that I learned…I do think that a lot of younger people are taking up sewing again.

On , Autumn said:

Yes, Rita, I agree that more young people should take up sewing. I am 19 and have been sewing since the age of 4. I made my first frock with my grandmother at the age of 7. Personally, I have found that my stash of vintage fabric drapes and curtains in the attic has proved better quality than the fabric stores these days. I am also lucky to have some of my Great Grandmother’s fabrics and notions from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. She took very good care of her materials, so they are well-preserved. I have several male friends who sew, knit, and crochet. They believe that there is no use spending tons of money on things you can make yourself, especially on a tight budget. When I was 15, i began sewing my own school dresses. When I was 17, I made my dress for prom with couture techniques I had learned from my Great Grandmother. When she passed away, I was halfway finished with my dress. Luckily, she willed me her original copy of the Bishop Method of Sewing. I was able to finish and alter the dress to fit just right thanks to all the sewing wisdom she imparted to me. I had been trying to teach friends to sew in High School. Now, it is my job! Although it may be surprising because I am so young, I am currently a Fiber Arts instructor and an independent knitwear designer/spinner/dyer in conjunction with the shop I work at. Thanks to Great-Grandma and Grandma, I have knowledge and skills that have helped me find a great passion for creativity and teaching.

On , Rita Demarinis said:

Yes, you have to recognize quality at Joannes, because a lot of their fabric is crap..Hancock’s is even worse…I haven’t been there in years…You’d probably have better luck at the independent fabric stores, although they are more expensive..Here in the Portland, Oregon area, we have Fabric Depot and Mill End Store..We also have a Pendleton Woolen Mills fabric outlet in Milwaukie, although I haven’t been there lately..These stores are on the east side of the Willamette River, and I live about 20 miles out on the west side, so I don’t get over there often..I’d like to, I could spend weeks in a fabric store!!

On , Autumn said:

Personally, the only places I can find well-made, quality vintage garments at affordable prices are Good Will and thrift stores. This saddens me because first, this means that the classic and vintage garments I find are being dropped off from estate sales in the area all sad and alone, and second, (from observing other thrifters) the modern woman is not typically looking for classic styles, but gravitates toward trends. The trends are outweighing well-made classics so that the supply of and demand for cheaply made clothing in the current market economy reflects this. Perhaps if we, as sensible women, demanded the well-made garments we desire, the market would reflect this… However, we all know that to do something right, you must do it yourself. That is where the fun of garment construction comes in! In truth, when I take my younger sister shopping, I think of how I could make each garment ten times better and at twenty times less cost than what we see in retail. The same goes with knitwear. Although the process takes much longer, knitting myself a jumper from my own pattern on my great-grandmother’s tiny steel needles using my laceweight handspun yarn gives me a product that I desire and will cherish compared to the $40 machine knit retail jumper that unravels or has buttons falling off before it reaches the wardrobe. Provided that this jumper will not be the fourth that my sister fulls in the dryer, the result will be well worth my time.

On , Constance said: | galantier.com

I’ll be a bit contrarian here — given the median annual household income of $6500 in 1965, a $12 dress was a significant price, and the lack of cheap credit made that a tougher sell. If that dress was marketed to working women, it was even more expensive, because a female head of household had a median income around $3500. If it was marketed at married women, the price tag came with emotional strings regarding who controlled the household money and how she could access the marital assets. Today’s $200 dress may be poorly made, but today’s buyer of it probably has her own bank account, her own credit, and her own money. As a trade off, I’ll take economic independence and wage parity.

But I won’t be much of a contrarian, because that dress proves that it could be done, and it isn’t being done. I’ll even argue that low fashion is suffering — one of my favorite skirts is a knee length top-stitched box pleated black poly-rayon twill about 12 years old. It has bias bound seams, an invisible zipper and an invisible hem, and given the poly content, it’s totally washable and rarely requires even touch up ironing. It gets worn weekly, and other than a button repair a few years ago, it still looks perfect.

I got it as dead stock to fill out my On The Road 30 Weeks of the Year wardrobe, but the label tells me it was made for the Evil W Empire. Which was shocking and would not be found now.

One factor I’m noticing in the fabric market is the lack of Federal Trade Commission enforcement. Multiple times in the last couple years, I’ve bought fabric that said 100% cotton, only to find that a burn test shows polyester. My suspicion is that since the chain fabric stores import in bulk, their suppliers are mislabeling some percentage of the bolts. With cotton running several magnitudes more per pound than polyester fiber, a 30% substitute in 10% of the yardage would significantly improve the cloth manufacturer’s profit. The manufacturer knows that the chains buyers can’t check everything, and the potential fines are so low and so rarely enforced that there’s no reason to comply. It’s not like we’re going to start a trade war over a single container ship of mislableded bolts of greige goods. If it’s happening in the retail fabric market, it is probably happening in garment manufacturing, too, since the volume of finished garments vastly exceeds fabric. Both buyers and manufacturers know that we have lost a lot of institutional memory of hand, drape and weave.

On , Rita Demarinis said:

You’re right, it’s really hard to find classic clothing. That’s the type of clothing I like to wear..About the only way you can get it is to make it yourself. Classic styles made in quality fabric are timeless and expensive looking. They are classy looking and definitely not boring. I’m 62, by the way, and I don’t want to dress like an old lady…I love natural fibers and not much polyester…Polyester fleece does have its place, but Joannes is obsessed with it…It’s good in the cooler weather, but not once it gets warm out…And you have to stay away from the hay, so don’t wear it when feeding the horses!!

On , Bonnie N. Clyde said:

As a middle-aged, middle-class male who has never sewn and has little insight into what makes good clothing, I must say that this post and the comments are surprisingly interesting. Obviously your focus is on changes in women’s clothing, but I suspect similar changes could be seen in men’s clothing. The focus on quality clothes is just gone, and has been for essentially my whole life, although I definitely did see a difference in my mother’s attitude towards quality clothing. She understood something of what has been lost.

Thank you for this interesting conversation here. It actually makes me want to take up sewing.

On , Mizjayne said:

I’ve just spent that last few weeks doing fittings for the Autumn Winter fashion parades in Melbourne, Australia & once again I am continually apaulled at the quality of the mid to high end designer garmentssent to us.
Often times these are samples that are yet to be tweaked & completely finished, but these garments are often a mess after a couple of dress rehearsals & a parade let alone a season or two of wearing.
Example of bad workmanship that I have seen this season are
fabrics in a very fitted garment that pull/fray away from the seams & darts,
poorly inserted linings that cause cuffs & hems to pucker & twist,
acetate linings,
buttons that fall off by the end of the parade let alone a seasons wear,
trims & beading that fall off or are damaged beyond repair in the same period,
uneven darts,
off grain fabric,
Real pockets that are not just stay stitched in place for shipping, but actually fully stitched closed!!!!?
unfinished top stitching that unravels,
non stretch linings in stretch fabric outers,
Straight seams in stretch fabrics that break when you pull them on, because there is no give in the seam.
fabrics that rub & pill almost on the first wear
pants so tight in the ankle a model can barely get her skinny calf into,
no hook & eye at the top of a skirt or dress zip.
Hems that come down.
The list goes on & on.

I had a plus size dress yesterday that the cross over bust pleats were stitched into the waistband incorrectly, so the the bust gaped open (not a sample, we got it off the floor as they sent us size 18 samples for our size 14 models & i couldn’t alter them that much) & a beautiful red velvet tuxedo for a man ($790 retail) that after 4 fashion parades had wear marks in the pile.

Let’s face it ladies, clothes are made to last a season if we are lucky these days.

But then again there is a family story from the 70’s when my my Great grandmother, a dressmaker of more than 40 years, took in some work with a very reputable company, Fletcher Jones, who made high range wool skirts, jackets, waistcoats & blouses. I still remember her laying out the tartan wool fabric pieces to make up pleated skirts & complaining that they weren’t ‘cut correctly’. At 6 I didn’t really know what that meant, but she took out her huge shears & trimmed them slightly, to make the cut ‘correct’.
Of course she was admonished because ‘Mrs Mills, we have more that 30 women sewing our skirts & we can’t have yours fitting better than everyone else’s ‘. She didn’t continue working for them as she couldn’t stand the idea of women wearing skirts that she made that wouldn’t fit properly.

On , El said: | thepinkhamster.com

I am a huge fan of your patterns. Also a huge fan of the name Collette because it makes me feel fine, like a perfect length of silk. The clothes you design fit a real body, and they fit well. But now to do with your question about high quality clothing? No, I do not believe there are any affordable mass produced clothing labels even on the higher end of the range. At least the high end for me. Here are a few of my own epic failures recently. A pair of jeans for $50 that got at least 3 inches shorter! I was shocked and offended! A gorgeous soft knit ankle length nightgown softly gathered at the top with the softest lace. Original price $75. I thought I could surely not go wrong. The first time I washed it, it shrank up to knee length. Now its just a horrid swingy mumu. I get so depressed with the hanging threads, the undone seams, the horrid horrendous fit! Clothes are made to look good on the hanger, not on a real body. I am a size 8 pants, and size 12 top due to being 6 months post partum and nursing my little 6 month chunker. Shirts are no longer made for women with breasts, and I do not quite understand this, because has there ever been a time in history that women were getting more artificialy bigger breasts? The main mass of women are lumpy, bumpy, and dumpy. Which is really quite pathetic because its hard on a body to have children and a lot of women do. They should be able to dress comfortably with class and pride! I have had 4 children, and the range of sizes ones body goes thru is quite astounding. And there are no clothes for us! I sew, and that is what has saved me. But not many women sew. Not many women can afford to learn to sew, or to sew their own clothes. Dont even get me started on children and mens clothing. I do not have time to sew my husband clothes, and so we spend dearly for his clothes. Some labels are quite sturdy without being at all pricy.However; having just recently had my husband switch from a blue color job (wrangler jeans and button up cotton shirts) to a white collar (business casual) job, I have been really surprised how hard it is to find polyester free clothing. Thank you for listening to my rant. I can not wait for the new pattern!

On , El said: | thepinkhamster.com

My most exciting find recently was at a little goodwill in Indiana. The most delicious collection of fullslips. I have such a bone to pick with lingerie. Victorias secret charges $50 to $150 for 100% polyester satin scraps. Any lingerie made in (what is to me high range, me being a little country housewife living on a farm) does not fit, and is made to fit loose with that cold feeling nylon. But these vintage slips look as if they were bought in the 50s and hung in a closet until someone sent them to the goodwill, where I snatched them up. The patterns are fitted and sculpted for full breasted women. The straps are real quality and do not easily twist. The lace in the bottom is built into the slip. Not just slapped on as an afterthought. I am talking about scallops and carefully outlined flowers. There were 6 of them in all different colors. They will last me for many years. They were a dollar each.

Where did all the quality go? | sally esposito

[...] the things I think about, and seek out commentary on. I recently came across this great article, The Decline of Mid-range Clothing, on the Colette Patterns site (love) that reviews this exact same question – does mid-range, [...]

On , Min said:

I think there are good quality clothing labels in the UK, but not necessarily on the High Street. I shop around and have found several small labels that are fantastic quality, both in fabric and construction and don’t break the bank. A good example is Closet Clothing, a label designed and made in London. Their prices range from £50 – 70 for dresses, with great detailing etc. So that’s approx $70 – 100 in price.

On , Miranda said:

I’m a little late to the party, but here goes:

For the highest quality these days, I go to “outdoor” stores/brands such as Pendleton, Ibex, Horny Toad, Outdoor Research and Smartwool, Some stores/brands, particularly Pendleton, carry both casual & more dressy stuff. I’m in the PNW, so I realize some of those brands would not work as well for warmer climates, though very thin wool knit is comfortable in all weather except “hot”, and Pendleton carries summery non-wool clothing in season.

One thing Overdressed made clear to me is why I can get such good clothing bargains online (including the brands listed above): Perfectly good, last season clothing must be sold to make way for the new seasons. If you go to the store website, you can get on the email lists to learn of the sales.

My anecdotes: Ten years ago I used to find cashmere sweaters at Ross, and now I just find acrylic sweaters and polyester tops with ruffles, fringe, or sequins. (I only buy towels there now.) Three years ago I found wool sweaters at Banana Republic, but lately I mostly find wool cut with acrylic, for which I have zero tolerance, since it gives me the creeps.

It’s my opinion that things have gone downhill fast in the past few years, at least for fabric quality. Yes, I favor the natural fabrics: cotton, linen, wool and silk.

I have no fabric store in town so I order most of my fabric online. I have sometimes been surprised, but never disappointed. I’ve had good success with: Fabric.com, Denver Fabrics, Harts, Superbuzzy, & FabricWorm. Yes, I miss touching it beforehand, but it’s exciting like Christmas when the package comes. Again, get on their email lists to be informed of their sales.

As for sewing your own clothes, I haven’t tried this yet, but it seems like this method could be a solution or at least help in terms of fit:

Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit: Using the Rub-off Technique to Re-create and Redesign Your Favorite Fashions.

http://www.amazon.com/Patternmaking-Perfect-Fit-Technique-Re-create/dp/0823026663/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362783485&sr=8-1&keywords=the+ruboff+technique

One could, for example, take a cheap but well-fitting skirt from the Gap, say, and either 1.) use the book to create your own pattern, or 2.) match up your store-bought pattern to your Gap skirt for a fit reality check. Then make the skirt with some really nice fabric.

Finally, thanks to Charlotte for the Brooks Brothers mention. I didn’t even know they sold women’s clothes, went there, and got a few nice skirts. A 90% wool/10% silk blend, and an 80% wool/20% polyester blend. One for serious occasions; another sporty. I was pleasantly surprised that they fit my body perfectly. After reading Overdressed, and also the Fashion Incubator blog, I realize that there are complicated fit issues that manufacturers have to deal with. From the consumer’s end it is a challenge over and above finding well-made clothing in nice fabrics.

On , Lyann said: | handmadefromethehome.com

Love that dress! Your recommendation for the Deluxe book, by Dana Thomas, really open my eyes to high end brands. I love your perception on how the we, the public, can not tell what a good cut dress looks like.

On , Angelina said:

My boyfriend dislikes clothes shopping with me almost as much as I do. It’s always so frustrating. Items are more expensive than they’re worth, even at the cheap end. I hardly ever find anything that looks and fits ok. Hemlines are too short to be fostering on me, and pockets, when there even available, are so shallow they’re useless. (I’m looking at you, Levi’s Supreme Curve jeans!) It’s equally impossible to find shoes. $150 pairs don’t seem of much better quality and comfort than pairs from Target. I have found a few decent tops and skirts from J. Crew and Banana Republic, but it’s always a crap shoot and I return far more than I keep. My boyfriend says the difference between men’s clothing manufacturing today and women’s is that women’s clothing is designed to keep us poor, hobbled, and cold. Poor because items are expensive and poorly made, requiring replacement more often. Hobbled, due to the ever increasing height of heels and difficulty of finding stylish, comfortable, well made flats and low heels. Cold, due to high hems, shoddy materials of clothing in general, and poor craftsmanship of outerwear. He says it partly in a joking manner, but sometimes I feel it’s got some truth to it!

On , Angelina said:

Damn my phone! It’s too tiny (in order to fit in the aforementioned almost useless jeans pockets) to really proofread what I’m writing. That should be flattering, not fostering, regarding hemlines, and they’re, not there, regarding the availability of pockets. Blerg.

On , Laura Duncan said:

I cannot tell you how much time I have spent correcting design flaws or just shoddy work in designer clothing. I had to completely re-sew all of the detail in a linen tunic from life and Liberty-aka- Johnny Was.. I have to hand wash everything or take it to the cleaner anymore and even then it doesn’t last.. Except the vintage and from my own hand clothing.. Sad day

Why Do You Sew? - mabelmakes

[...] own clothes is my issue with fast fashion. Clothes these days are not built to last. Sarai wrote a post on this issue a few weeks ago and it really struck me. We have become used to throwaway, badly [...]

The decline of mid-range clothing | Coletterie | Carpathia's Moon Studio

[...] The decline of mid-range clothing | Coletterie [...]

On , izy said:

I think that it can be a challenge to find good quality clothing. Paying a good price for something should last however it does not always happen. I am very happy to spend the time learning how to make a garment, that I know I will wear & last. I hope CP makes a pattern for this style of dress. It’s lovely & looks very comfortable!

The Decline of Quality | mckenziemalanaphy

[…] Sarai Mitnick, clothing designer and founder of Colette Patterns, explains, affordable, good quality clothing has […]

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