In this episode, we talk about why finding high-quality clothes is so hard these days, and what you can do to build a long-lasting wardrobe.
Lessons from Linda shares the story of a woman with an outfit for everything.
The Word of the Week is “Bi-Strech”–it’s Ponte’s dressier sister.
In Philosophy, I share 3 Spring 2020 trends every woman can wear
In the Style Lecture, we talk about the challenge of buying high-quality clothes. It’s not in your head, quality has gone downhill. But, you can still build a long-lasting wardrobe. We’ll show you how.
Your homework for this episode is to identify the high quality pieces in your own wardrobe, and use what you learned from the show to identify the quality markers. Also, look for the low quality pieces in your wardrobe, and see if you you can tell what made them low quality. This exercise will help you identify quality when you hit the stores!
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Read the full episode transcript below! Ep 38 – Building a High Quality Wardrobe
Hey There! Welcome back to the Everyday Style School podcast where we believe style can be easy, and getting dressed should be fun! I’m your host, Jennifer Mackey-Mary, and in today’s episode we’re talking about building a high quality wardrobe.
I had a message from a listener who told me she loved the episode about creating a wardrobe that’s kind to the planet, but she struggles with finding affordable items that will last a long time. I think this is a challenge a lot of women struggle with, and we’ll talk about why, but instead of doing an office hours episode, I wanted to dig a little deeper and tackle the quality challenge so many of us face.
Also, In lessons from Linda, I’m going to share the story of a client who had an outfit for every occasion. Literally.
Our word of the week covers Ponte’s dressier, lightweight sister, and in current events, we’re talking about 3 big trends for spring.
Before we get started, your homework from the last 2 full episodes was to go get a professional bra fitting, and we’ve heard from lots of you in the Style Lounge about the results–some great, some not so great.
I think it’s worth mentioning that your fitting is only going to be as good as the knowledge of the person fitting you, and if you feel like it wasn’t a success, go back and try again–with a different person. I usually ask for the person who’s worked there the longest. It’s’ not a perfect system, but it helps.
All right, let’s kick things off, as we always do, with Lessons from Linda.
Recently, in the Everyday Style Lounge, there was a thread from one of my ladies who had edited her closet so brutally, that she found she was left without clothes to paint in, or garden in–you know, those grubby things you don’t mind getting dirty, or even ruined. It was a great conversation, and it sparked this Linda memory, which is one of my favorites, and I don’t know why I didn’t remember it until now.
Linda and I were doing a closet edit together before she moved, which is a great time to clean out your closet. Don’t move clutter! Anyway, Linda had the desire to get rid of a lot of things and lighten her proverbial load, but unfortunately, she also had the desire to keep a lot of things, and could justify keeping just about anything and everything.
Oh, I just wear those jeans to go camping. Oh, I just wear those pants when we go hiking . Those shorts are for painting, those shorts are for gardening…and so on. Then I got to this stack of jeans on a shelf, and Linda said “I don’t need to try those on, those are just my fire pants”. Say what? What are fire pants?
Linda explained that those are the pants she keeps in case there’s a fire and she needs to change out of her pajamas. Yes, you heard that right. She had a special collection of old, crappy jeans that she kept in case of fire.
Let’s break this down, shall we? First, if there was a fire in my house, I would grab my kids, my husband, my dog, and my phone, in that order, and get the heck out. If it was winter, and I could do so safely, I’d put on shoes and grab a coat. That’s it.
But let’s pretend for a moment it wasn’t a serious fire, and you had time to think about your outfit. Why would you change into crappy things? I guess I could see changing if your town has hot firemen, and you wanted to change into jeans that made your booty look good, but why do you need grubby clothes for this situation?
Wouldn’t putting on your favorite jeans make more sense? At least they’d be safe from the fire. Linda’s favorite things would have turned to ashes, but by golly, she’d have one pair of unflattering jeans to get her through!
I pointed out the absurdity of fire pants in general, and having 3 pairs of fire pants, specifically, because one of two things is going to happen in Linda’s scenario–your closet burns to the ground, in which case your other two pairs are gone.
Or, your closet doesn’t burn to the ground, and you could reuse the same fire pants again. You really only need one pair of fire pants. Linda and I laughed and laughed. And then I threw away all of the fire pants.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned here.
First, and I can’t believe I have to say this, but if there’s a fire in your house, please don’t be concerned with fashion. If you’re naked, throw on a robe, but this is not a time to be accessorizing, or searching for the outfit you’ve been saving for just this moment. By the way, Linda’s fire pants were at the back of the closet. Her emergency wardrobe preparedness skills needed some work!
Second, two things were going on in Linda’s closet. First, compartmentalizing her wardrobe so that each piece had a purpose, and one purpose only. When I asked if she could go camping in all of those hiking pants, she was like “Yeah, actually, I usually take those anyway”.
When I asked if she could garden in some of her painting clothes, and vice versa, she was like “I’d never thought of that’ Every closet needs some activity specific things, or some grubby things, but if those items can do double duty, you don’t need them all.
Look for ways to make your clothes do more, rather than having more clothes. The second thing was saving tired, worn out clothes for occasions that don’t actually require tired, worn out clothes. Fire pants are an extreme example, but I saw this all the time with clients–they had a collection of “grocery store clothes”. Oh, I’ll keep that old dress, I can throw it on in case I need to go to the grocery store. I just wear those shorts to the grocery store.
Again, there are two scenarios here…either you’re already wearing shabby clothes, in which case, why not just wear the clothes you’re already wearing, and save yourself the time of changing into other shabby clothes. Or, you do legit need to change–maybe you’re just getting dressed for the day, or you literally can’t wear what you’re wearing out in public.
In that scenario, why can’t you put on something nice? If you like wearing casual easy dresses to the grocery store, why not have a cute casual easy dress in good condition?
The easiest way to look good all the time is to have nice things everywhere you go. Notice, I did not say expensive, or dressy, just nice. You don’t have to frump around in worn-out shabby things–trade them for decent versions and watch your style soar.
Ok, let’s move on, to the word of the week!
Today we’re talking about bi-stretch. That’s B-I -stretch. Bi-stretch is a fabric, and you might have already guessed, it’s stretchy. Bi-stretch is used a lot in work pants, and stretch suiting.
What bi-stretch means is that the fabric stretches in two ways- you can take it, and tug it, and it stretches two ways–either north-south, which is vertically, or east-west, which is horizontally, but not both
Often, when I am extolling the virtues of Ponte pants to someone, which happens quite a lot, they’ll say “Oh, that’s what I’m wearing” and they’ll hold out their leg for me to feel. More often than not, they’re not wearing Ponte, they’re wearing bi-stretch. Bi-stretch doesn’t feel like yoga pants, it feels more like suit pants, even though it does have stretch to it.
Ponte pants are a 4-way stretch, which means you can stretch them north-south and east-west–4-way stretch fabrics have a very soft feel and very little structure, while bi-stretch fabrics have a more refined feel and more structure.
Now that you know what bi-stretch is not, what should you know about this fabric? First, bi-stretch tends to be more polished and professional-looking than Ponte. I would wear a bi-stretch suit to a professional event, whereas I wouldn’t wear a Ponte suit.
Also, bi-stretch can be lighter weight, making it a good choice for your summer work wardrobe. There are thicker bi-stretch fabrics, especially when cotton gets involved, but a lot of professional pieces for the warmer months are made from bi-stretch because you can have the polish you want, but still retain some structure.
Finally, a lot of bi-stretch fabrics are incredibly easy to care for. If you do a search for washable suiting, or washable dress pants, 9 times out of 10, you’re going to get bi-stretch. Be careful though–there are some dry clean only bi-stretch fabrics, and I don’t want to lead you astray. This fabric can be a great choice for those of you who don’t want to bother with the dry cleaning game, but still want to look put together.
And now, it’s time for Current Events-
Today we’re talking about 3 spring trends. If you’re in the style lounge or following my Facebook page, you’ve heard me say that this is a bit of a weird season, when it comes to trends. There are so many, and they’re so diverse, that it’s hard to pinpoint what’s big this season.
I would say that this is a season of a lot of micro-trends, rather than a few big ones that are dominating all the stores. I find this so refreshing because there’s truly something for everyone, and really, anything goes.
One fun trend that’s popping up is tie dye–I’m seeing it in sweaters and sweatshirts, tees, blouses and leggings. This isn’t the rainbow tie-dye we think of when we think of people who are following the Grateful Dead around the country. This is more low key, pastels and white, subtle patterns, and infinitely more wearable.
I know a lot of women listening are thinking “I’m too old for that” and to that I say nonsense! If you just don’t like it, that’s one thing, but I always encourage women to look at stores that cater to your age, or your style and see how they’re interpreting the trend.
For this episode, I did a little research, and by that, I mean, I typed tie-dye women’s top and hit the google shopping result. I found pieces at American Eagle, Target and Old Navy, but I also found tie-dye at Nordstrom, Talbots and Chicos–which tells me, there’s tie-dye for everyone.
Another trend I’m seeing a lot this season is feminine details like chiffon, ruffles, and wrapped waists. In general, spring is usually the girliest season, but this year takes it up even more.
Finally, an accessory trend that’s cropping up everywhere is jewelry made of links. We’re seeing this mostly in gold, but there are silver link pieces out there as well. I love this trend because there’s a way for everyone to do it. You can do a short chunky link necklace, or a long, thin link necklace. You can do a statement link cuff bracelet or a pair of earrings.
I’m especially loving the flat, more rectangular links that are out there. You can search for them by looking for a paperclip chain necklace, or bracelet. They don’t actually look like paper clips, just the same shape.
Those are 3 spring trends for 2020 that every woman can interpret in her own way and still look current. Head to the show notes above for links and examples of all three.
When we come back, we’re going to talk about quality clothing–what is it, why is it so hard to find these days, and how you can build a high-quality wardrobe.
The Spring Capsule Guide is available right now and if you’ve always wanted an effortlessly stylish, mix and match wardrobe, this is the easiest way to get it. The ebook shows you pictures of what to buy, we give you links to show you where to buy it, and then we give you 20 pages of how to put it together.
The Capsule Wardrobe Guide shows you how to do more with less. You’ll have more style, more confidence, and more fun getting dressed than you ever thought possible.
And if you want an entire year of style, along with video masterclasses, weekly advice from me, and support from hundreds of fellow Style Sisters, upgrade to the All Access Membership. You get all my best resources to help make style so, so easy.
The Spring Guide retires March 31, so don’t wait.
And now, back to the show.
Ok, Ladies, let’s talk quality. One of the biggest conversations I see happening in the Everyday Style Lounge is where to buy “quality fill in the blanks”. Quality jeans, quality tees, quality shoes. It’s clear that women everywhere want a quality wardrobe.
But, in case you haven’t noticed, quality isn’t that easy to find anymore. Today we’re going to define what “quality” actually is, talk about why high-quality clothing is so hard to find, and then I’m going to share some tips on what you can do to build that quality wardrobe you’ve always wanted.
First, let’s define quality. I know you’re thinking “I know what quality is. It’s a well-made product that lasts a long time”. Yes, and no. The definition of quality is actually really subjective. Quality is the degree to which a product meets or exceeds YOUR expectations.
Here’s what I mean– If I buy a top from Old Navy, and it still looks good after 3 years, I would consider that a high-quality piece–because it exceeded my expectation that tops from Old navy really only look good for a season.
However, if you bought that same top, and expected it to look good after 5 years, and it looked worn after 3, you would consider that to be a low-quality top. So part of building a quote-unquote “quality” wardrobe is managing expectations, and understanding where we are in the retail, and textile landscape, which we’ll look at in a minute.
But, for the purposes of this conversation, we’re going to be talking about quality as construction (meaning the materials used, and how the item was put together) and durability, meaning how the garment holds up when taken care of properly–in relation to the cost of the item. Got it? Construction and durability–in relation to price.
I want to talk about current materials and how they affect our perception of quality. A lot of the fabrics used to make our clothes feel as nice as it does are not very durable. Let’s take t-shirts–everyone wants quality t-shirts, and they remember back in the day, when t-shirts held up, right?
Well, back in the day, t-shirts were these thick, boxy stiff things that if you scrunched them up in your hand, stayed wrinkled when they were released. Not anymore! Now they’ve been made thinner and drapier, and there are fabric blends and stretch put into them–they feel nothing like the tees of 20 years ago.
They feel good, but they’re not as durable. But our expectation hasn’t changed, and we still expect these things to hold up for years.
It’s the same with jeans. Denim is one of the most durable fabrics on the planet. But, it is stiff, it is thick, it has no stretch, and frankly, it’s not that comfortable. The jeans we wear today have very little in common with what cowboys wear–we wear jeggings and stretch denim.
We wear jeans so buttery soft you could nap in them–not that I ever have, of course. We wear jeans that stretch and mold to our bodies and are not thick and stiff. But we can’t expect the same level of durability from this fabric we call denim. You just can’t.
The other thing you need to understand is that clothes are cheaper now than they’ve ever been, and I know it doesn’t seem that way when you look at price tags, but consider this. In 1980, households spent a little over 5% of their disposable income on clothes.
In 2009, that number was sitting at 3%. But here’s the kicker. People in 2009 purchased 5 times more clothing than people in 1980 did. We’re buying a lot more, and spending, as a percentage, less on our wardrobes. You simply cannot expect the quality to remain the same as the costs are going down.
A couple of things happened to get us here–fast fashion is a big one, and I think the biggest impact of fast fashion was that it set the expectation that clothes could be–and should be–super cheap. Never mind that it used to be comparing apples to oranges when comparing the quality of fast fashion to more upscale brands.
People say that clothes could be cheap, so they began to expect them to be cheap everywhere..and so began the race to the bottom of the barrel, quality-wise, to compete on price. It’s kind of like Amazon setting the expectation that anything you want can arrive at your house within 2 days. Because one company makes it happen, we expect all companies to be able to do it–at the same price.
The other thing that happened was the addition to the endless sale cycles. I remember when clothing sales happened around major holidays, and Black Friday meant something. If you wanted a deal on jeans, you hit the mall on Columbus day.
Now, those holiday sales still stand, but every other week stores have 30% off, 40% off 50% off…Raise your hand if Loft’s 30% off doesn’t impress you anymore. I know it’s not exciting for me–I’ll wait for the 40 or 50, because I know it’s coming. But when this started, Loft just didn’t say, well, I guess as a company, we’ll make 30% less. Nope, they raised the prices some, and cut the quality of materials and manufacturing some.
Once a retailer starts participating in the constant sale cycle, quality takes a serious hit used to be that lands end didn’t offer store-wide sales often–and I’ve been buying the same style of swimsuit there for years. Now they’ve jumped in the endless sale ring, and the same exact pieces feel cheaper and have different finishes–they’re not the same at all–but the price didn’t go down!
As you can see, the clothes we’re buying and the prices we’re paying aren’t the same as they used to be, and you’re not crazy, finding high-quality clothes isn’t a no-brainer anymore.
So what can you do to build a quality wardrobe? It’s not all doom and gloom and there are a few things you can do to identify quality products and build a wardrobe that lasts.:
First, you have to manage your expectations. Remember our definition of quality is the construction and durability of an item–in relation to its cost– meeting or exceeding your expectations.
I remember one Style Lounge member asking where she could get quality t-shirts. I recommended Land’s End, because, at the time, they were known for quality. She responded with “I’m not paying 19 dollars for a t-shirt, that’s ridiculous” Ok, well, I don’t know what to tell you. She had big expectations for construction and durability but wasn’t willing to pay extra for it.
Once your expectations are in check, here are some tips and tricks for building a high-quality wardrobe:
One of my best tips for getting quality items is to buy from places that don’t participate in the constant store-wide sale cycle. These stores operate more on a what you see is what you get mentality, and they’re not using price hikes, quality cuts, and sales to play smoke and mirrors value game. These stores are increasingly hard to find, but if you want a higher quality wardrobe, make these places your go-to’s
Another tip is to shop like it’s 1980, or even earlier. Spend a little more than you are on your wardrobe currently, but buy drastically less. If you want a quality wardrobe, but you don’t want to increase how much you’re spending by a lot, that’s how it’s going to have to happen.
Buy less, choose carefully. A lot of women today don’t believe they can afford quality items, but if you cut out all the things you really don’t need, and utilize a much smaller wardrobe, you could spend more on each piece.
Also, knowing where to invest in quality, and when not to bother, is important. Frankly, investing in things like white t-shirts is a little silly, especially if you’re someone who tends to spill a lot, or get messy easily. Things that have to be replaced frequently, and not because they’ve worn out, aren’t worth investing in.
If you’re super hard on shoes or bags, no matter how much you spend on them, they may not be worth investing more in.
When you’re shopping, recognize that different stores are better at some things than others, and even in department stores, different brands are better than others. There’s no one-stop-shop for quality. For example, I’ve always been impressed with Lucky brand jeans, not so much with their tops. So, is that a place that sells quality clothing? Well, yes and no.
Remember, too, that not all materials are created equal. Let’s take cashmere sweaters. How can one store sell a cashmere sweater for $50, when another store sells it for $250–surely the more expensive one is just a rip-off, or you’re paying for the label, right? Not necessarily.
Good quality cashmere uses long strands of wool, whereas inexpensive cashmere uses the discarded short hairs, linked together to create long strands. The result is a sweater that pills easier, gets holes faster, and is a little scratchy. Also, when it says one-ply, or two-ply–that actually means something.
One-ply cashmere is a fabric made from knitting single strands of cashmere wool. Two-ply, is two threads twisted together, creating a smoother, more durable fabric. This goes back to fast fashion teaching us that all things should cost $10 because stores sell things for $10. But you’re not comparing apples to apples.
Speaking of materials, it is easier to invest in quality in natural fibers. Yes, there are differences in quality in a very inexpensive polyester blouse and a very expensive polyester blouse–but those differences are minimal compared to the differences between a super cheap wool sweater and a very expensive wool sweater.
Now, this is not to say that inexpensive things are always low quality, while expensive things are always high quality. Not at all…but what I’m saying with this one is that there is a bigger difference in quality when it comes to natural fibers than synthetics. Also, high-quality natural fibers hold up better over time, so materials like silk, wool, linen are worth spending a little more on.
When you’re shopping, you should turn everything inside out and give it a thorough once over. One of the oldest quality control tools in the books is this phrase–when in doubt, turn it inside out. What that means is you can tell a lot about the construction of a garment when you turn it inside out. Look at how the seams are finished–are there hanging threads, crooked stitches, wonky seams.
Is the item fully or partially lined? Do things like sleeves and collars have interfacing sewn in. Give the seams a little tug–do they look loose from the inside? These are all things that can give you clues to the item’s construction quality, that you may not notice from the outside.
Finally, look at finishing. There are a few things to look for:
First, buttons and buttonholes. High-quality buttonholes are finished well with no hanging threads–buttons slip through easily, but the buttonhole isn’t too big that the button will come undone. Speaking of buttons–are extra buttons provided? Higher quality items include extra buttons when appropriate because they expect the garment to last long enough to need them. The buttons themselves should look and feel high quality, and should be sewn on tightly.
Next, Go back inside and look at seam and length allowances. Could the item be let out, or made a little longer? Lower quality items offer very small seam allowances to save money on materials. Check the seams from the outside to see if fabric patterns match up.
Look at the zippers–exposed zippers, or those that feel flimsy, are a sign of lower quality materials and construction
It’s details like these that tell what kind of construction went into making the item and can go a long way to building the high-quality wardrobe you’ve been wanting.
Let’s recap real quick: First, the quality of yesteryear has changed. Manage your expectations accordingly. If you want to have a high-quality wardrobe, shop like it’s 1980–or even before. Focus your quality efforts on things you can control, and learn what quality clues to look for when you’re shopping.
Your homework this week is to identify the high-quality items in your own wardrobe. Head to your closet and find the things that have stood the test of time, or have at least exceeded your expectations. Turn them inside out, and check out the construction. Look at the fabric content, and the finishing.
See if it matches up with what I’ve shared today. Another fun one is to find the low-quality things in your closet–the things you were disappointed by, and do the same exercise. Can you spot the quality markers there?
I’d love to hear your experiences in the Style Lounge.
That’s it everyone–I’ll see you Monday with office hours, and we’ll be back in a couple of weeks with the next full episode. We’re going to be talking about 5 Ways to Look Your Best, No Matter what your body shape! It should be a fun one!
Class is dismissed for today, but the conversation doesn’t have to end.
And if the Everyday Style School podcast is helping you love getting dressed again, it would make my day if you would subscribe to the podcast, leave a review and share it with your friends, so women everywhere can have more fun with style. Thanks, Style Sister.
I’ll see you next time, and until then, Stay Stylish!