What’s the number one prerequisite to building a high-quality wardrobe? Exactly: You need to be able to recognize a quality garment when you see one. You need to be able to tell the difference between a durable, well-crafted piece and one that looks pretty on the rack but won’t last more than half a season. You need to know a) which properties distinguish high-quality garments from low-quality ones, and b) how to recognize these properties when you’re out shopping.

To help you do just that, this post and the next one will give you a broad introduction to assessing the quality of garments. We will start with fabrics in this first part and then cover seams, tailoring, linings and details like buttons, zippers and pockets in part II. I will also include a downloadable one-page cheat sheet that summarizes the most important facts in the second post.

Most of this stuff is quite technical, so don’t feel like you have to read through it all in one go. Instead, use these two posts like a resource that you can refer back to whenever you are planning to add a new piece to your wardrobe.

Please also bear in mind that most of the points below are best practices, not hard facts. When I did my research for this post I came across lots of different opinions on the best type of seams, the right way to hem tailored skirts, the best type of denim, etc and did my best to summarize the key points in these two posts. If you are a sewing or textiles pro and have anything to add, feel free to share your tips in the comments.

1. what is quality?

Before we get into all of the different criteria that you can use to assess the quality of a garment, let’s go back to basics for a moment: What is quality? And, more specifically: What distinguishes a low-quality garment from a high-quality one?

In general, when we say quality, we mean quite a few different, but related things :

We want our clothes to be durable, to last more than a couple of seasons. We want sturdy clothes garments that we can move in without having to worry about ripping seams or popping buttons. We want our clothes to keep the same shape they had when we bought them, and to neither stretch out nor shrink over time. We want things that fit the shape of our body, not distort our silhouette or restrict our movements. We don’t want fabric that pills or fades after wearing or washing it a couple of times. We want our clothes to feel good on the skin, so we can enjoy wearing them instead of taking them off as soon as we get home. And lastly, we also want our clothes to look like high-quality garments. A smooth fabric, neat seams, beautiful detailing. Not something that is about to fall apart.

Whether a garment ticks these boxes or not depends on all of its different components and how they work together: the fabric, the seams, the lining, the tailoring and even smaller details like buttons and pockets.

What distinguishes high-quality from low-quality manufacturers are the extra steps they took to make sure a garment not only looks the part now, but will continue to do so after multiple wears and washes, that it feels comfortable on the skin and is well-fitted. All of these ‘extras’ take time and money. That’s why it’s so easy to find pretty pieces at budget stores that end up falling apart after a week: To cut costs the manufacturer chose to focus on making the garment look good on the hanger instead of its quality, because that is what brings in the sales. Pretty much every shopper makes purchasing decision based on what a garment looks like, only very few will take the time to assess the seams, quality of tailoring etc.

Now, what’s important to note is that the quality and the price of an item are not always related. Some types of items are easier to manufacture and get right than others, which is why it is totally possible to find certain well-made items at affordable shops. At the same time, just because an item is very pricey, that sadly does not always mean that the manufacturer used all of that extra money to up the quality of the garment.

So … how can you make sure you are buying quality? My number one tip is to always look at the item in the flesh, i.e. not online. You might be able to decide whether you like an item visually just by seeing images, but to really assess its quality you need to be able to inspect it up close, to feel it, check the seams and try it on.

In the following two posts I’ll give you lots of pointers on what to look for when assessing a garment, but before you start, you should do one thing: set priorities. Not every single thing in your closet needs to last 20 years. Not every single sock you own needs to be made from merino wool. Going overboard is never practical so make sure you first decide on your general approach/strategy to quality. Decide which items you do want to invest a bit more time (and money) in and which you don’t mind replacing after a couple of seasons.

2. fabrics


The hands-down most important component of a garment is its fabric. No matter how beautiful the details or how well-crafted the seams are, a garment made from a flimsy, scratchy or pilling fabric is never a good addition to any wardrobe.

When assessing the fabric of a garment you need to look out for two separate things:

The first point is about figuring out how good the quality of the fabric is compared to other fabrics of that type, whether it is cotton, wool, denim, etc. This should be a pretty objective thing: There are certain properties that distinguish high-quality cottons from low-quality cottons, for example, and in this post you’ll find a quick intro to the most important ones, for six popular fabric types. The second point is about deciding how well-suited the fabric is (regardless of quality) for that particular item, i.e. for the activities you plan on wearing it for, the weather, etc. Even the highest quality cashmere fabric won’t be a good choice for active wear, just like you probably should not pick a delicate silk piece if you are looking for a warm, low-maintenance winter coat.

This also relates to my next point: There are no inherently good or bad fabrics. Every type of fabric has its advantages and disadvantages (yes, even synthetic fabrics). The key is to become aware of them, so you can confidently pick the best fabric for the job at hand.


Cotton is a super popular type of fabric for good reason: it’s soft, versatile, durable (when high-quality) and comparatively affordable. The most important quality property of cotton is its staple length, i.e. the length of the individual fibres the fabric consists of. Fabric made from long cotton fibres is generally considered to be of a higher quality than fabrics made from shorter fibres. Here’s why:

Here’s how to estimate whether a cotton garment was made with long-staple fibres or not:


Linen is made from flax fibres which are naturally smooth but not very elastic. Linen is a great fabric for summer, because it is breathable, dries fast, has a cooling effect, and is lint-resistant. In general, there are fewer quality differences with linen than with cotton and if a garment already has a high linen component that is a good sign. Here are a few more things to look out for when shopping for linen items:

2.4 WOOL

The quality of wool can generally be determined by the diameter and the quality of the individual wool fibres that make up the fabric. These in turn depend on the breed of animals that produced them, their diet and stress levels and how the fibres were handled during the manufacturing process. The diameter of a wool fibre is measured in microns. Wool fibres that are finer than 25-30 microns are typically used for garments, while thicker/coarser fibres are used for things like outerwear, blankets or rugs. Finer wool grades are usually more expensive than coarser wool fibres, because they are softer and trickier to manufacture. Here are some tips for assessing wool:


The web is full of denim connoisseurs and a huge number of different opinions on what makes denim good or bad. Here are some notes on properties of high-quality denim fabrics that most sources tend to agree on:


Leather is not technically a fabric but a material. The quality of a leather piece mainly depends on what type of “grain” it has. Full-grain leather is generally considered the highest-quality type and refers to leather that has not been sanded, buffed or corrected to retain the skin’s natural fibre strength and durability. Top-grain (also called corrected grain) and split grain leather have been more heavily processed (the top layer of the skin is usually removed), and are therefore not as durable as full grain leather, and also won’t develop that coveted natural patina of high-quality leather over time. One way to check whether a leather item was made from full-grain leather is to look closely at the tiny grains on the fabric. Do they look natural or printed? Full-grain leather contains all the natural imperfections from the animal it came from. Brands that use corrected leather will sometimes print marks back on to the sanded leather, to add authenticity. Some more notes on leather quality:


The short answer is no. Although many people will consider even small amounts of manufactured fibres in a fabric’s composition a negative, synthetic or semi-synthetic fibres do have their advantages and can make a great alternative or addition to natural fibres. Here’s why:

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