January 6th, 2021 / posted by paularath

Before shopping for a quality garment, there are a few helpful questions to ask yourself:

How does it feel?

If it feels rough or scratchy or it pokes, squishes or prods your body, don’t buy it. A wool sweater may itch. A sexy bra may cut into your shoulders or boobs. A polyester shirt may cling. No matter how cute or flattering it is, just resist. The plain truth: If it’s not comfortable, you are not going to wear it and it will be in the landfill far too soon.

Sadly, you don’t find garments made like this – with perfect round edges and twill tape finishing – very often. But GORDON dresses are the welcome exception. Bravo to designer/maker Leah Redmond!

What kind of stitching was employed in the making of this garment? 

Here’s a really easy test: tug it. If you see it pulling with one tug, imagine what it will do after you wear it a few times. Really well made garments aren’t sewn so loosely that they can’t handle a tug. A really well made garment will have French, Hong Kong, bias-bound or maybe turned-and-stitched seams.

It’s rare these days to see a garment with seams that are bias-bound. I have one: It’s a palaka dress designed and hand made by Leah Redmond, a Punahou grad who went on to work as a seamstress in New York theatres and the Metropolitan Opera. She now has her own line called GORDON out of L.A.  Check out my blog about Leah’s line here:

My COS tunic from the back, see-through.

Can I see my hand through it?

We all probably remember the incident of the see-through Lululemon leggings. It was widely publicized and embarrassed the firm that is usually recognized for its high quality and durability. (I have a pair of Lululemon leggings I have worn hundreds of times for eight years and they still look and act new.)

It’s so easy to make mistakes. Although I know a lot of the rules of fashion shopping, and try to stick to them, I have been known to, ahem, make my own mistakes. While shopping at COS in London, I fell in love with a simple white tailored tunic. I tried it on and loved the flare, the sleeves, the collar. I bought it, adding to my beloved wardrobe of Great White Shirts.

Alas! when I got it home, I realized that the back was made of a completely different fabric from the front. While the front is a crisp cotton, the back is a see-through T-shirt knit. Auwe! I still love the tunic, but I have to wear a cami under it, which isn’t always ideal in our climate, thus limiting its use in my closet.

How many stitches per inch?

One way to tell if the stitching is going to hold up well is to count the stitches in an inch. About eight stitches per inch is the norm for a shirt or blouse.

Where is the fabric from?

It’s still true that the finest fabrics come from Europe: Italy, France, Austria. If the label says simply “imported fabric,” it’s probably from China.

India is coming along with its cottons and its embroidery, which many European fashion houses are now commissioning from India’s embroidery ateliers.

I am a great believer in feeling a fabric before I buy it. I won’t shop online for anything I’m not already familiar with. And that goes for every garment, from lingerie to jackets. (And shoes too!)

Look to local designers!

In any story about shopping, I must mention the importance of supporting local designers. You can find high quality garments here. Ari South, for example, was the first local designer that Neiman Marcus ever brought on board without making a single change to the quality of her garments. Every seam was perfect, every detail attended to.

My current go-to designer is Rumi Murakami. The quality of her fabrics and perfectionism of her construction are exemplary. She has just opened a new studio, and I will be writing about that soon. So please stay tuned….

In the meantime, please shop smart. You’ll be glad you did.

Paula Rath

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