I used to love shopping for new clothes. I worked in retail for long enough to know how to spot the best deals. And while I still get some enjoyment out of buying new clothes, it is for different reasons. No longer do I hunt for the best deals so I can get the most clothing within my budget (usually cheap fast fashion). Now I look for better quality, more sustainable items that I will wear for years – that’s where I find my joy. While most of my choices aren’t 100% the most sustainable options out there, it’s what I can afford and will get the most use out of. So what do you look for when buying new clothes?
I keep a pretty minimal wardrobe these days. Each item of clothing has earned its place here. Shopping more intentionally, purchasing items I am certain I will wear is far more sustainable than shopping every chance I get. Taking great care of our clothing makes them last longer so that we do not need to replace them as often.
These are the things I’ve learned about finding quality items over the past few years of our minimalism journey. Quality has ultimately become more important than quantity. These quality indicators are just a few of the guidelines I follow when I’m shopping. If you look at other things when finding quality clothes, let me know in the comments below!
A quick note on sustainability
This post is in no way meant to be a one-stop-shop to find sustainable brands or where to buy the best clothing. My goal is to highlight what to look for when you need to purchase something new. Of course, if you can purchase from a high quality sustainable brand, please do. But for those of us who don’t have the “sustainable price point” in our budget, this is what to look out for.
Quality, sustainably and ethically made clothing is just more expensive – and that’s okay! It should be more expensive to pay the people making them a living wage. (Watch The True Cost on Netflix if you want more information – it’s hard to watch for the first time if you don’t know where our clothing comes from!)
You can use this list at the thrift store, Target, Nordstrom’s, or online shopping. Thrift store are a great place to start shopping for quality pieces! But it doesn’t matter where you shop if you are buying an item you truly need and will wear for longer than just one season.
And remember, the most sustainable item of clothing is what you already own.
What to look for when buying new clothes
Looking at clothing labels to see what the garment is made out of is new to me. I honestly didn’t care what my clothing was made out of as long as it felt nice (which is still important). As my wardrobe has become smaller over the years, I now realize how important it is to check labels.
While it is hard to stay away from man-made materials (polyester, nylon, etc.), natural fibers with a small percentage of them blended in is okay.
Fibers to look for:
- Wool – merino is commonly used for its odor resistance, durability, and wrinkle resistance
- Cashmere – two-ply cashmere is of higher quality than single-ply
- Cotton – the garment should be soft, not scratchy (scratchy cotton means shorter cotton fibers were used)
- Leather – real, higher quality leather generally won’t have the “Genuine Leather” stamp on it – only lower quality leather at a cheap price point will
My Wool& dress that I’m wearing 100 days in a row is a 80% merino wool and 20% nylon blend. Why am I able to wear this for so many days in a row? Because of the composition of the fabric and the construction. It is okay for a garment to be a blend of natural fibers and manmade fibers – just make sure the natural fiber is of the higher percentage.
These natural fibers wear less over time, even after washing. They also have properties (like odor resistant merino wool) that are beneficial!
Garments should always have a materials tag stitched in or printed directly on the fabric. This shirt that I’m using as an example is 100% (and needs to be ironed!).
Quality construction consists of a few components: inside stitching, cut of the fabric, and topstitching (finishing)
Cheap Target t-shirts cost so little for a reason – the fabric is cheap and the construction is poor. Most t-shirts have a serged vertical edge. All this means is that the factory worker who sewed your garment together used a serger – a sewing machine that sews and trims fabric at the same time. It’s ultimately the quickest way to make clothing.
If you are purchasing a shirt or other garment that has this serged edge, take a close look. Are the stitches loopy? Is the thread frayed? Are there gaps in the stitching? If you answered “yes”, then walk away.
Flat felled finishing is what you’ll find in jeans and higher quality shirts. This is a sturdier way to construct clothing. The shirt I’m using as an example here has both serged edges and flat felled finishing. The flat felled edges should truly be flat – no wrinkling of the fabric between stitches. This shirt is only stitched over once on the flat felled side. Look for shirts and pants that have double stitching for extra durability.
Cut of the fabric
Let’s keep using this theoretical Target t-shirt as an example. I used to love, I mean love t-shirts from Target because of the cut. Since they switched manufacturers several years ago and did away with my beloved Merona, the cut of the “staple” t-shirts is quite different… and terribly ill fitting. The shirts went from slightly curved and feminine to boxy and formless.
When looking for new clothing, the cut is very important. It determines how a garment is going to fit on your body. Because once you cut fabric, there’s no going back!
If you hold up a shirt and it looks like a square – don’t do it. Unless that’s the look you’re going for. Because when you put the shirt on, it will fit like a box and will generally be shorter than what you were expecting. Look for garments that are cut to fit your body (curved slightly) rather than garments with completely straight and boxy structures.
Great fit or a fit that can be easily altered
Not every piece of clothing we’ll find is going to fit us perfectly. Our bodies are all different that’s awesome! But you might fall in love with a pair of pants that gaps just a little in the back or are just a little too long. What then?
If you can’t find clothing that fits perfectly, the next best thing is to have them altered. Find a local tailor or do it yourself. Altering clothing to perfectly fit your body is a must if you’re looking to hop off the fast fashion train.
Clothing that is well constructed, even if it doesn’t fit perfect right off the rack, will be easy to alter.
Here’s an example.
My husband purchased a lovely suit from eBay for just under $100. He tried it on and the fit was just okay. Instead of living with an “okay fitting” suit, he took it to a tailor to be altered. It now fits perfectly! The tailor’s fee was about $30. That’s well worth the price if you plan to keep a piece of clothing around for a long time. And really, isn’t that the goal here?
Remember that fast fashion is really only meant to last one season, but…
Fast fashion is really fast. New styles and trends come out every week. They match the color of the year. Clothing influencers sell us is fast fashion, but they look great? So shouldn’t we buy it? No!
If fast fashion clothing is the only option for you, then that’s okay. But buying cheaply made clothing because it’s trendy or someone “influenced” you to buy it, isn’t all that awesome. These garments are only constructed to last one season, and by the time this season rolls around next year it will be out of style!
But what if we bought less fast fashion? Perhaps we purchase all of our clothing secondhand or purchase from sustainable, ethical brands. Maybe we just take better care of our clothes so it lasts longer.
My closet still has fast fashion. Actually, the majority of my clothing is fast fashion. But I’ve taken care of it. I thoughtfully purchased these items either brand new or thrifted. My favorite pieces are from Target along with my Wool& dress. I’ve mended and taken good care of them so that have lasted well past the one season they were meant to live for.
Very intentionally purchasing clothing that isn’t the high quality sustainable ethical item that we wish all clothing was, is okay. Looking for these quality indicators, buying only what you need, and taking good care of them will help you clothes last longer. You’ll find yourself more satisfied with an intentional, quality wardrobe.
What’s one piece of clothing that has lasted you much longer than expected and still love?