In the age of fast fashion, it can be tough to tell the difference between a genuinely top-quality piece of clothing and an inferior one.
Even high-end brands sometimes still use cheap materials and labor.
Without the right know-how, it’s far too easy to get tricked. I’ve seen too many guys pay for a designer label or misunderstand a product description, only to watch that piece of clothing fall apart way too soon. It hits harder when you learn you could’ve paid less for a longer lasting garment.
I’ve got you covered with 7 ways to spot high quality clothes, so you can look good and shop with wisdom.
7 Signs of Good Quality Clothes You Need to Know
1. Look at the Stitching
Fortunately, you don’t need to take a sewing class to know when you’re looking at quality stitching.
Look at the seams inside a piece of clothing. Whether the stitching is in rows or zig-zags, they must follow a uniform pattern. If there’s observable inconsistencies in the stitch pattern, this means the garment lacks the reinforcement needed for long-lasting wear.
How tightly it’s sewn is equally as important. Run your fingernail over the stitching as if you’re lightly scratching it. If you can see or feel the threads moving like guitar strings, that’s a no-go.
For pants, flip the cuff at the end of the pant leg and look at the inseam that combines the two pieces of leg fabric. In a cheaply-built pair of pants, neither piece features extra fortification.
For a strong, high-quality pair of chinos, joggers or jeans, the manufacturer will also stitch the ends of both separate pieces of fabric, in addition to combining them. This prevents each fabric from unraveling.
As you can see with the Public Rec Stadium Jogger, both the seat and inseam feature double stitching. That extra reinforcement will pay dividends as this pair of pants will last much longer than other pants with just a single stitch.
The Public Rec Stadium Joggers are lighter and more breathable than the brand's All Day Every Day Jogger. This makes it a go-to in the warmer months and for any gym sessions you have planned.
Stitching is a telltale sign of quality when it comes to dress shoes and boots too. Look at the bottom of your shoe. You want the outsole to be lined with sewn thread close to the edges, all the way around the perimeter.
This means that the upper is attached to the sole via Goodyear Welt stitching or Blake stitching. Either are preferable to cement-soled shoes, which won’t last nearly as long. In fact, a Goodyear Welt stitched shoe can technically be resoled forever.
2. Check Out the Finish
Related to stitching is the garment’s overall finish, inside and outside. Look for any loops, loose ends, or any stitching that isn’t flush. Make sure nothing is sticking out.
The state of button holes is a great at-a-glance
If the shirt is patterned, check to see that the patterns are perfectly lined up at the seams. Let’s say your dress shirt has some nice blue and white stripes on it. Make sure each color stripe is matched up where the top shoulder fabrics are stitched to the arms.
This is actually less about visuals than it is a litmus
3. Buttons and Zippers
When you’re going for an automatic watch, you want Swiss. When you’re looking at a zipper, you want Japanese. Specifically, you want Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha, otherwise known as YKK.
If your garment has a zipper and it’s engraved with the YKK marking, you’re gold. The world’s largest zipper manufacturer, YKK has such a lock on quality control that they even smelt their own brass. Unlike cheaper zippers that become abrasive or tacky over time, YKKs self-lubricate the more they’re used.
As far as buttons go, you can easily deduce if they’re securely fastened by lightly tugging at them. If they’re poorly sewn on, but you love everything else about the piece, you can always have a tailor tighten them.
With a suit jacket, always make sure that you have “kissing buttons” on your sleeves. This means that the sleeve buttons touch each other, instead of being spaced apart. Bonus points if they are overlapping, since this is associated with high-end Italian suits. This composition is called “waterfall buttons.”
Kissing and waterfall buttons are a sign of a bespoke suit, while sleeve buttons that are too spaced apart might get you labeled as undiscerning.
Style and protocol aside, having waterfall buttons can be practical. Sure, they’re more difficult to fasten, but in the event that one of them were to get loose, the button wouldn’t just immediately fall off since they’re all so close to each other. I’ve saved many sleeve buttons thanks to the waterfall arrangement in my day.
4. Fabric Quality, Look
The highest quality of cotton is the extra-long staple variety, or ELS. It’s resistant to fading, pilling, tearing, and wrinkling. ELS cotton, such as pima and Egyptian cotton, is more durable, softer, and more comfortable.
Since cotton is spun, you can actually just look at the individual threads of a shirt to discern the quality. Make sure that the threads are even, gapless, and that there’s a regular pattern of rows.
Some brands will incorporate ELS cottons into their blends for a high-value garment that’s accessible in price. With these premium blends, the smoothness of their thread patterns won’t be as flawless as a 100% pima shirt. However, there won’t be any huge gaps or pattern imbalances.
Here’s a trade secret: Hold the piece of clothing up to the light. If a lot of light shines through, it’s likely poorly woven and will lose shape quickly. Even the thinnest fabric shouldn’t become transparent when held against the light.
5. Fabric Quality, Touch
If a shirt looks like cotton, but feels exactly like silk, you’re feeling 100% ELS. The softer it is, the more of the good stuff is in it.
For us budget-buyers, look for the high-end blends previously mentioned. Public Rec is a great example of a brand with thoughtful cotton blends that are premium but practical.
Their Go-To line is a mix of super soft Tencel, which is their proprietary wood-based textile, spandex for performance, and yes, actual fancy pima cotton from Peru. Soft but strong blends like this will keep their shape in the long run.
When it comes to jeans, you want something strong and resistant to damage. If it feels loose or soft to the touch, move on to the next.
Japanese brands like Momotaro and Oni serve up some of the strongest selvedge jeans out there. They’re woven on old shuttle looms using premium fabrics and natural dyes. These jeans actually get darker with age, instead of fading.
You can identify selvedge jeans by using the previously-mentioned inseam
Denim mills use all sorts of colors and designs for the inseam’s finished edges to indicate which jeans are selvedge.
6. Good Leather vs. Bad Leather
As much as I love the smell
Sometimes, top-notch leather takes time and wear to reveal itself when compared to just decent leather. The former will last longer and develop a handsome patina, but the two may look pretty similar straight from the shelf. Whether it’s boots or a jacket, checking the label can go a long way.
“100% Full-grain” is the best, while “Made with Full-grain” suggests there might be some low-quality fillers in there. “Top-grain” is the runner-up and the most common, and “Genuine Leather” is the lowest quality and widest ranging.
If the leather feels hard or thin, it’s likely low-grade or fake. It shouldn’t remind you of plastic. If the edging is blue, that means it’s chrome tanned, which isn’t always a negative, but the blue edges indicate it was done quickly and cheaply to save money. Many brands will cover this with paint, so look closely for any marks or discoloration.
The natural-looking edging of this leather belt is what you want.
7. Where It’s Made
First-rate cashmere often comes from Scotland. Certain Scottish rivers have naturally low-mineral soft water. It’s used during production and allows the cashmere to soften as it’s washed and worn.
Japanese denim is highly-regarded because they’re woven on rare antique looms that require a lot of skill and a lot of time.
When it comes to suits, if you like aggressively sharp lines and light weaving, go Italian. If you like military-level structuring and stiff shoulders, go English.
If you know the exact style and material of the garment you’re looking for, find it’s mecca and start there.
3 High Quality Clothing Brands to Check Out Right Now
1. Public Rec
Too often, hybrid performance wear falls short. They’re either high-performance but too athletic-looking for everyday wear, or sleek-looking but not stretchy enough.
Launched as a kickstarter campaign in 2015 by founder Zac Goldstein, Public Rec gives the best of both worlds. Their products include pants, shirts, hats, and backpacks.
Their cotton blends are purposeful and meticulous. For example, the All Day Every Day Jogger is 88% nylon for optimum flex and recovery, while the Weekend Jogger is 83% pima cotton, that fancy stuff we mentioned that feels like silk. Public Rec also sizes based on waist and inseam, resulting in exceedingly comfortable fits.
Our Favorite Item: Public Rec All Day Every Day Pant
Public Rec’s first and still most popular product is the All Day Every Day Pant. Its nylon and spandex construction is definitely comfortable enough for busy weekday commutes. Yet its lines are so clean, you can even style it for smart casual situations. It comes in a wide range of colors including heather, burgundy, and navy.
While its price places it at the premium end of the Leisurewear market, we think the All Day Every Day Pant justifies its price tag given its innovativeness, quality construction, and luxurious comfort.
Pro-surfer Kelly Slater started Outerknown in 2015 with the purpose of creating relaxed beachy styles while keeping sustainability in the forefront.
Today, the brand uses 90% organic and recycled cotton, boasts Fair Trade USA-compliance, and even a Fair Labor Accreditation for upholding fair labor practices in all its supply chains.
Outerknown offers every kind of casualwear including sweats, jeans, t-shirts, and beach trunks.
While serious about the environment, the brand is laid-back about style, offering fun colorful patterns, coastal-inspired hues, and universal neutrals.
Our Favorite Item: Outerknown Blanket Shirt
Made from 100% organic cotton twill, the Outerknown Blanket Shirt is soft and cozy. It’s also slimmer than the average flannel-style shirt giving it a flattering and handsome look. Regardless, its chest pockets and flexibility makes it a practical piece, perfect for actual outdoor activity.
San Francisco-based Everlane was founded in 2010 as a direct-to-consumer men’s clothing brand. Their mission was to raise the bar when it comes to transparent pricing. Even today, Everlane discloses cost breakdowns on their website. For example, their modern loafer costs $18.25 in materials, $4.75 in duties, and so on.
The brand creates classic styles with a modern touch, seeking out specific manufacturers from particular places depending on the piece. Their offerings include Italian shoes, pima shirts from Peru, and high-grade cashmere sweaters.
Our Favorite Item: Everlane Slim 4-Way Stretch Organic Jean Uniform
One of Everlane’s top sellers, the Slim Organic Jean offers an impressive amount of motion thanks to its 4-way stretch construction. The cotton was also organically farmed and milled in Turkey. These pants are wash-tested a whole 50 times to ensure strength, fade-resistance, and stretch-recovery. It comes exclusively in classic black and blue, but with nuanced shade options.
Fashion can be intimidating in an industry dominated by labels. At least now you know which ones are important to look at.
Now that you’ve got the arsenal to make the right choices, go forth and shop confidently.
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