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Apr 12, 2013

The Quantity vs. Quality Clothing Conundrum

You hear the arguments again and again:   

Buy less stuff, but better quality.  

It's cheaper in the long run to purchase the best you can afford.  

Penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Does your closet look like this?  Neither does mine.

But like many people -- Americans, in particular, I'd argue -- I feel conflicted about the less-is-more message.  Yes, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my possessions and I need to declutter, but I also like to have a lot of stuff around.  I like options.  One pair of high quality black leather shoes may make logical sense, but then how about the cheaper black leather shoes you can wear in the rain

Carmen Miranda liked to rotate her platforms.

There are many reasons why someone might prefer to purchase, say, ten $10 tee shirts instead of just one $100 tee shirt, and it isn't just because we've been brainwashed to toss every cheap item we see into our Walmart carts.


1) Having more stuff means needing to do laundry less frequently so we have time for other things.

2) Having more inexpensive clothing means that if we spill tomato sauce on our shirt during dinner (guilty!) we don't have to have a panic attack.  (Same goes for weight fluctuation-related anxiety.)

3) Having more stuff means we can put together outfits from a wider range of styles and colors.  It's like the Crayola 64-crayon box with the built-in sharpener every kid wanted in elementary school.  Why limit yourself to just 16 crayons?

Over on today, I read about the book, Lessons from Madame Chic that, among other things, tells you how (and why) to limit your wardrobe to ten items.   TEN!

It all makes sense when you read the author's argument: it's the way the chic French do it, it's easier to get dressed, you can invest in better quality clothes, blah, blah, blah.  And on one level, yes, it's true: it's easier in many ways to have fewer choices of what to wear; you're more likely to be well-dressed if your clothing is of higher quality (whether you actually look better is debatable); it's better for the environment not to be creating so much low-quality clothing (but worse for the workers).  It's just more enlightened.

It costs as much as college, but it's Hermes.

I too appreciate quality, readers.  For example, in 1987 I bought myself good quality, classic, relatively expensive Persol sunglasses in Italy, and I still wear them twenty-five years later.  But that didn't stop me from accumulating a dozen more pairs of sunglasses of widely varying quality in the interim.  Variety is the spice of life!

Do rich people with easy access to the best of the best actually buy less?  I don't think so, and nobody's suggesting they should.  It's always the drones being lectured about paring down and trading up, and the person lecturing may or may not have a vested interest in changing your buying habits, say, getting you to purchase the "luxury" brands that advertise in the magazine they write for, for example.

The other thing about the less stuff-better stuff argument is that it assumes that those who prefer quantity over quality could actually purchase the more expensive and higher quality item if only they knew better.  But many of us are much more likely to have $20 to spend ten times a year, than $200 available on a given day to spend on a single shirt or blouse.  And finding the item that warrants the high price may require a greater investment of time than just opting for the cheap-and-familiar.  We also may not have familiarity with higher quality brands or feel comfortable (or welcome) in fancier stores.

"We do not carry your size, Madame."

And again, if we do purchase the $200 shirt and later on our taste changes, or the styles change, or we snag the fabric on the corner of our office cubicle, then we're out $200, which really sucks.

Not everything cheap is low quality either.  Like I mentioned recently, I've owned a pair of white linen pants from H&M that didn't cost more than $25, and worn them for five consecutive summers.  If I'd paid ten times that amount, would I have gotten ten times as much wear?  Would I have looked ten times as good in them?  Probably not.  Knowing that if I spilled red wine on them I'd only be out $25 meant I actually wore them more and felt more relaxed in them too.

Friends, I don't mean to sound contrary; I get why it often makes sense not to accumulate closets full of crap.  But at least as far as menswear goes, you really can find well-constructed clothing at every price level.  The difference, in my experience, is often in the quality of the fabric (not that the pricier stuff is more durable, but rather more unusual) and the construction details, which are often unnoticeable to anyone but the wearer (if that).

What say you?  Where do you stand in the quantity vs. quality clothing debate?

Are you OK with wearing clothes of lesser quality if it means you have more choices in your closet?

Do you maintain the same approach in your garment shopping as you do in your sewing (i.e., sew less, but better quality stuff)?

Jump in!


  1. You said:

    "If I'd paid ten times that amount, would I have gotten ten times as much wear? Would I have looked ten times as good in them?"

    Those are the questions I ask myself. I prefer to make my own "nice" clothes just because fit is such a bugbear for me. But for everyday wear? A pair of Old Navy jeans bought on sale for $15 and a funky tee from ThinkGeek or SnorgTees and I'm good to go.

  2. I think a lot has to do with how many times you intend to wear the garment. In my case I live in the Northeast where it is advisable to get a more expensive winter coat because they are pure wool or down and warmer so I do but I'd never spend $100. for a t shirt to wear on an outing in the summer, that and some trend that will probably blow over at the end of a season is probably better bought at H&M or another cheap store

  3. I try to buy good quality at sale prices! (or as my husband says 'the prices they are really worth!')Some things I bought years ago are what i could afford at the time; but I still wear them. So, to conclude I buy what I like, from where I like (often Charity shop/Carboot sales) as often as I like! :)

  4. Well, I declare, Peter! What ever has gotten into you this week!
    Love it!

  5. I have a lot of underwear and socks, because I don't want to do laundry every other day.
    I have lots of dress shirts because I need plain for wearing with a suit, and otherwise, COLOURS!
    ...real colour, not pale blue, grey, olive and navy...which is all some manufacturers think men need.
    ...but I buy quality, on sale...not cheap shirts.
    ...and they do last a long time.
    I have more clothing than I need, because some days I like to have fun with what I wear, other days, I have to be a gentleman in the way I dress. ...and I need warm clothes and cool clothes.

  6. I own a lot of cheap colourful socks because I love wearing bold prints inside my winter boots. I also own a lot of underwear since we don't do laundry all the time in this house. I don't pay a lot of money for things like socks and t-shirts since I wear those things out so quickly, regardless of how much they cost. I do invest in a proper, high-quality bra once in a while... I think that's something really worth splurging on. If I buy clothes that aren't basics I'll often buy vintage so I get the better quality for a better price. H&M used to have the occasional great thing but nowadays I REALLY have to dig to find something decent...

    My sewing used to be the equivalent of fast fashion: I tried finishing my garments as quickly as possible, and often went for cheaper fabrics to save some money. But after a while I realised how ridiculous it was to make your own clothes to get better quality and still be so cheap... So now I spend a lot more time on doing things properly and some more money on decent fabric.

    As for the French and their ten item wardobes: not from what I know...

  7. I cannot even imagine limiting myself to 10 (TEN!)items - I am far too eclectic for that. Certainly I have more clothes than I need, but most of my purchases are made at thrift shops since for me it's the ultimate in recycling and you don't come out looking like everyone else.
    I loved your take on this, by the way.

  8. I would much rather have 10 or 15 things I wear and love than a closet and dresser full of stuff that looks cute but never gets worn. I am a stickler for quality, but quality isn't always insanely expensive. I have bought quality from Target. I am also a big fan of thrift stores for finding good quality for next to nothing. It is like finding a needle in a haystack, though. I see thrift shopping as a treasure hunt, so it's fun to me.

    With my sewing I buy the best fabric and supplies I can afford and try to make the finishing look amazing. I have a very hard time with fitting garments to my body so after all that work it better not be crap when I'm done.

  9. I think you have some great points. I myself have quite a bit of clothing because I live in a cold climate in the winter and crazy hot climate in the summer.

    But I can't help but think that if I'm getting something 'cheap' somebody somewhere else is paying the true cost. Either the environment is taking a hit and/or the people getting paid crappy wages are. I guess I want to be 'ethical' in how I shop for clothes even if I have to put up with inconveniences (eg. getting a new shirt if I ruin one with tomato sauce). Just my two cents...

    1. I am inclined to agree with you, Tiffany. But high price doesn't necessarily reflect labor costs.

      Yesterday I tried on these sunglasses --

      They are designed in California but "hand-finished" in China and retail for $375.

    2. Good point about the climate. It's the same here - freezing winters (sometimes) and almost always crazy hot summers so one must have at least 3 complete wardrobes just to be able to dress for the weather. Make that 4 if you want to wear appropriate colors for spring and fall.

    3. A higher price doesn't necessarily reflect higher materials costs or higher wages to workers either. One example is the retail cost of what is called "premium" denim.
      Just lately I was reading up on those jeans brands that sell for $250-$400/pair. (Ouch!) Seems that there is a 40-50% profit margin on them. It would appear that neither the workers who weave the cloth nor the workers who sew them are reaping the benefit of these higher prices.

  10. I find that saying all or most French people have a small wardrobe is a bit odd, because all the French people I know have more, much much much more. Do I know all French people? Of course not, but neither does she.

    I think we Westerners (it's not just a problem for the US, both the UK and Australia have similar issues) should start thinking more in outfits and complimentary colours. Also my closet could do with a good clear out and declutter, because I probably only wear 10 items (excl t-shirts, underwear etc) in rotation, but the space is filled up with other stuff

  11. 10 things!?? In what climate? That would never work in Oregon where it can go from warm and sunny to chilly and hailing in 30 minutes. My new motto with clothes is that if its not love I don't buy.

  12. I am with you... somewhere in the middle. I like to have things I love wearing some are pricey and some are not. and you are totally correct, I wear some things more, precisely, because I will not be out 200.00 if I snag it.
    I have paid a lot for stuff that ended up being junk and nearly nothing for things that are fab.
    I still don't sew enough for my own wear....I aim to change that this year!

  13. Netherending discussion :-) Still I think less but good quality is better the a lot of garments with no quality at all. Event with a lot of garments with less or no quality you can stand at the mirror and claim you have nothing to wear :-)
    Making own cloths makes possible to have a little more of good quality garments - and it is an art to take care of your garments. You respect the work you put in creating it.
    The pleasure of wearing good fitting, high quality, uniqu garments is much higher then possessing the full wardrobe of cheaper stuff.
    And still - you can get cheap cloth which you adore and you are happy with it.
    Just be aware what you do, enjoy - do not spend money just for the sake of spending/shopping.

  14. Are you OK with wearing clothes of lesser quality if it means you have more choices in your closet?

    Yes. Totally. I don't come close to buying the "buy more expensive stuff" line at all.

    I have one shirt that I paid $100 for -- I only wear it on special occasions. OTOH, I buy cheap white t-shirts often, so when they get stuff on them, I can toss them & still have another to wear.


  15. I have lots more than ten things,but everything has a purpose. I work at home so I have many casual options. The weather here goes from winter to summer immediately,so essentially I need two wardrobes. I have things that are 20 years old and newer things. My rule is I only make or wear what I know will work for me. That ten things only myth is a fairy tale. I've been reading that since the sixties.

  16. Frankly, there is really nothing outside of underwear and stockings that I don't buy at thrift shops; I can hardly remember the last time I bought something retail that wasn't a pair of leotards! I simply can't STAND to drop a chunk of cash on ONE item, the same amount of cash that would mean an "retail orgy" at Value Village- and include a "new' pair of shoes, to boot! [sic]

    I will admit: it has to STOP, and soon!; I have an absurd amount of clothing; it would take FIVE lifetimes to wear them out; I am getting dangerously close to having enough clothing around to be able to open my OWN thrift store!! *shakes head* (I know there's treatment for this condition, but they will tell me to GET RID of my stuff and I just can't do it! HOW could I EVER let go of my fab-U-lous skirt collection?!)

    1. Haha! I'm not that bad with the amount of my clothes, but I definitely have more than I have ever had. Thrifting for the win, but sometimes for the loss of space...
      The best thing about it are definitely the shoes. Most of my shoes now are second-hand, styles I would not be able to find in shops because they're not on trend, but happen to be perfect for me.
      Oh, and the aqua lambswool sweater...

      That's the good thing about thrifting - you can get those higher quality items for a fraction of the price. So you can more or less stick to the "better less of higher quality" maxim without having to restrict yourself to so little that you'd have to launder all the time. My limited finances (student) and limited space still stop me from buying too much. Hopefully.

  17. I constantly waver on this topic for the very reasons you've stated. Once in a while I try to pare down to the bare minimum closet, but I don't get very far. Admittedly, I have magpie tendencies. I love collecting pretty things!
    But I really do have good reasons for accumulating so much stuff. I maintain partial wardrobes in 3 sizes for unavoidable weight fluctuations, and it would be foolish to get rid of too much of any one of these collections, only to have to replace it! Also, I not only engage in apparel-endangering activities (gardening, sewing, Home repairs, cooking, pet care), but I tend to be accident-prone, so a day does not go by that I don't get a stain, a snag, or at the very least, add something to the repair pile.
    So while I might wish for my wardrobe to be "quality, not quantity", I have to be realistic about the fact that my lifestyle requires a large supply of clothing that is, if not disposable, at least not something I will mourn if it is destroyed.

  18. My husband never buys a watch or a pair of sunglasses that cost more than $15...because they're the two everyday sort of items that through constant use are mostly likely to be accidentally lost or broken. One of his $10 pairs of sunglasses lasted him seven years before it got bent out of shape and had to be replaced!

    As for clothes, when I was in fifth grade my family was going to move, but then the deal on the new house fell through at the last minute. Through a complicated set of occurrences that I still don't fully understand (I was ten, after all) my dad took his new job in the new town, and took most of our stuff with, leaving my mother, brother and I living in a hotel for the few weeks remaining of the school year. Since I only had enough clothes to fit in a kiddie suitcase, I wore the same five outfits every week until school ended...which lead to a lot of teasing, because of course if you don't have a lot of clothes, as a kid, it must be because your family is poor. I know it wasn't true, but the whole experience was pretty awful, and I can't help but remember that whenever I consider paring down my wardrobe. My closet isn't bursting, by any means, but to some degree, I do consider more = better.

  19. I'm trying to go minimalist but it's a battle. 10, though, is ridiculous. I've been doing more sewing, which is great, and my homemade clothes are easily more than half of my wardrobe but this is adding to my excess. For example, I love to sew dresses but honestly how many can I actually wear? I wear pants to work (and am just beginning to sew some successful ones) and shirts. Just this month I've done 3 dresses and 3 skirts , but probably should be sewing pants and shirts. The classic wardrobe items for women, as for men, are more of a bitch to sew and fit and not all that fun/creative to construct.

    Also, I like lots of color and my wardrobe isn't especially color monotonic. I do not want to be one of those people who only wear black and things that go with black.

    I'm working on letting items go --I tend to hold on to clothes I stop wearing. Going to be sending more to Big Brothers/Sister, to find a good home, feels better than just throwing things out in the trash.

  20. About the French thing - I was in the hospital about to have my last baby, and 1 brother and his now X came to visit me. His wife was usually very plain with clothing, and was wearing some amazing pure wool cropped pants, in navy. I love those, I said. Well, she told me laughing, A., (another soon to be XSIL) put her clothes out in garbage bags, and I went throught it, and she has amazing clothes!!!!!!!!!! Now for me, I love luxury, but at affordable prices. I sew the best quality we find, at charity shops, and I drool over luxery patterns. last haul was 10 cents each. To-day was reading some (oh, bliss). My treat, especially when I need a lift. Cathie, in Quebec.

  21. "Buy one fabulous thing. If you really love it, it's better to have that one thing than ten others." Trouble is, I don't know if I will love it at home, after laundering, with my other clothes, etc. If we could know for sure in advance the things that would be indispensable and perfect, of course we would buy them, even if they were more expensive (to a point). But it often takes time for clothing to show its true value (like your H&M pants), so I have difficulty investing so much in something that might turn out to be a turkey. Oh! Something comes to mind. The most expensive clothing item I ever bought--a gorgeous deep green alpaca coat from Akris. I thought it was classic and warm, which was true. But it turns out the stand-up collar rubs my chin (short neck!), so I can't wear it without a scarf. That adds a whole layer of complexity to leaving the house, so I almost always grab another coat. If not for that, the coat would have been worth the price, but I just didn't foresee it in several trips to the store before I purchased it.

    1. Psst! Why don't you ALTER THE COLLAR? Carve it down a bit? It could make all the difference between a coat that never gets worn and one that gets worn all the time!

    2. Another easy fix might be a wide piece of silk or satin ribbon handsewn on the inside of the collar. I fixed a winter white wool jacket for a friend who couldn't wear it except with turtlenecks and she hated turtlenecks. Quick, simple fix! I used matching ribbon so its barely even noticeable.

  22. We all enjoy the power of self-expression through dress. Until that evaporates, fashion will carry on.

  23. Besides looking at the quality of the fabric and the construction details, I want to know about the working conditions of the people who made it.

    This is nigh impossible in most cases and so I find myself - when needing to purchase clothing - going to the op shop instead.

    However, I struggle with this purchasing dilemma every time I buy new fabric, as well. Documentaries showing men up to their calves in toxic dye swishing around cloth is forever in my mind.

    For these reasons, and for the fact I'm not in a social circle that puts much emphasis on looks, my wardrobe is tiny. 1 pair of summer pants, 2 pairs of winter ones, 5 summer dresses, 1 woollen cardie and so on.

    Mind you, as a teenager and through my early twenties, I certainly felt deficient if I had to be seen in the same outfit too soon after my previous wear. I imagine this was all in my head; no one ever said anything but I was worried about being labelled poor, as Lizzi mentions, which was true but not something I wanted bandied about.

    You spark great discussions, Peter. It's one reason I really value your blog and writing.


  24. Handing the cash or the plastic across a store counter takes only a minute. And we seldom calculate the amount of time worked to pay for what just caught our fancy in the store. But it's very different for those of us who sew. There is no ignoring the amount of time and work involved in creating even a simple garment. Isn't it worth a few dollars more for good fabric that may well be easier to sew? Isn't it worth a few minutes, or even a few hours more to use the best construction methods one knows? Time and money are both valuable. One should not waste either. I have learned that it is impossible to explain any of this to someone who cannot or will not understand the concept of price versus value.

  25. Well, you knew I couldn't resist here!!!! I think Mme. Chic is more referring to 10 ensembles per season (10 for summer, 10 for winter) rather than just ten things on a hanger. And this does sound rather drastic. As a matter of fact it sounds unreasonably drastic.

    But that said, I'm sitting here today with about 10 suits for each season (OK maybe 12)! I teach class in a variety of outfits, own and manage a commercial real estate property and have to appear fashionable and pertinent when I'm out (after all I'm supposed to know about fashion as well as sewing!) But I manage because everything goes together, and before I make something for my wardrobe, it's thought out so that I know I'll be wearing it twice or three times a week. I know that sounds like I'm destitute and that I can't afford any more than 12 outfits per season, and that I must be in a miserable way. But it is exactly the opposite.

    And I'm not sure how to convince a soul of this - it's really hard, because it does go against all reason. Hell for that matter, it goes against my reason, except that I'm living it.
    This is a picture of my closet and I clearly have more than 10 or 20 items (even though this is all seasons). There's about 25 items here, but this is what works for me and what I'm wearing. More than this, my closet isn't that crowded anymore and I can actually see what I have.

    And for some folks who don't have a plethora of time to sew or shop, having less in their closet is an option that can very well be a workable solution.

    But as we know - Cathy is a secret clothes diva - eey?!!! ;-)

  26. I think it is not so much expensive versus cheap, but do we buy more than we really need. I have 7 or 8 summer outfits and 8 or 9 winter ones. Of course, I do not work outside the home. I haven't bought a coat in over 20 years and my 5 sweaters are all at least 5 years old. I have all that I need. I sew things to replace what gets old and raggedy.

  27. I'm one who flip-flops madly on the issue of quantity vs. quality, so can't offer anything to the discussion that I won't wish to revoke next week. But on quality and home sewing: I have just done the first knit item in ages where I didn’t overlock the seams (because my overlocker was out of action) and what do you know, the seams look better to me! Not sure what this means, but it suggests that I need to think about 'quality’ in terms other than the 'neat inside as well as out’ paradigm that was drummed in to me at school.

  28. SeamsterEast@aol.comApril 13, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    Generally, people buy/wear clothing for social wear as it fits their social group, with some people deliberately dressing down as a statement towards the alpha leaders of the social group.

    In that case, "buy cheap, but buy more" doesn't work, yet neither does "buy dear, but not able to buy as many". One can't wear K-Mart jeans to the country club, but neither can one wear worsted wool trousers in the pickup truck.

    "Buy best quality even if it means fewer items" is good advice for social climber wannabe's (who are going to buy the wrong color anyway). Still, it is excellent advice for those in customer-facing jobs in the corporate world, as long as one doesn't overdo it.

    There seems to a comfort level people have regarding the number of items in their closet which is unrelated to the price of individual items. "Buy dear" tends to fill the closet as full as "buy cheap".

    My ex-wife had 60 wintertime blouses hanging in the closet (I counted when the bar broke), yet was seriously upset when I bought her a truly expensive but deeply discounted on sale blouse for Christmas.

  29. I worked at a law office where they provided a clothing allowance two times per year. One had to wear these clothes in particular colors for six months at a time. I still have a few pieces in my closet, but when you wear Macy's pants that often they wear out quickly. I don't think you can get clothing that will still look good after ten years at a major department store anymore. I'm sewing most of my clothes now and they last as long as any that are purchased. I would never limit myself to ten pieces of clothing in my closet. It would make me feel like I was living in abject poverty.

  30. Actually, Mme. Chic is referring to 10 items, not 10 ensembles. However, according to the author/blogger, many "extras" are not included in those 10 items: coats, blazers, basic t-shirts, etc. What are included are dress pants, skirts, blouses, fashion knitwear, and dresses. The items from the "10" that she has shown from her closet in her videos are generally designer brands.

    So, she has 10 core pieces and a bunch of extras.

    My own issue with tiny wardrobes is the laundry problem. I need enough clothes to last me through a couple of weeks.

    Still, I do tend to repeat outfits often and I don't care if anyone notices. What matters to me is how I look on any given day, not how often I have been seen in something. So I will wear the same sweater twice in one week, but it needs to be made of nice fabric and a flattering cut.

    As for sewing, yes I do use nicer fabrics simply because they are more pleasant to work with, and the resulting garment is more special.

    My better quality clothing wears better than my cheap clothing. It lasts slightly longer, but it still has to be replaced periodically, especially pieces that are frequently worn. Still, I think they look better throughout their lifetimes than do cheaper pieces.

    1. I just had to jump in because I came across that Mme. Chic blog the other day and noticed the same thing--there are categories of clothes that aren't included in the 10 items. As you say, "So, she has 10 core pieces and a bunch of extras." I am sorry, but this just seems nonsensical to me! After all, I too, have only 10 items of clothing with the exception of all my other clothes.

    2. Very good point, Sarah. I find this whole Madame Chic stuff a scam - and very annoying. Also, I think I have her beat: I only have 5 items of clothing... and a bunch of extras (all my other clothes).

  31. P.S. I think most "good quality" clothing these days is ridiculously overpriced. Which is why I sew. :)

  32. Reminds me that Teri did a six item challenge for 40 days to support Labour Behind the Label....

    She blogged about the experience quite a bit - this is the link to one entry.

  33. What an interesting and thought-provoking week it’s been at Male Pattern Boldness. There’s a definite struggle between my conscience and convenience in a consumer-driven society. After reading a number of books, including Overdressed: The Shocking High Cost of Cheap Fashion, I do have issues with throwaway clothes such as Old Navy, Forever 21, or Target.
    One of the ideas that Overdressed points out is that we believe that the clothes we donate are going to some person desperately in need. In reality, there are warehouses crammed with donated clothes and nowhere, or no one, to take them. At the same time, have I stopped shopping at these stores? No. I just try to buy pieces that I know I’ll wear for long periods.
    A solution in Overdressed is to sew. But again, what the author doesn’t mention is the waste also involved in this. Is there a simple solution? Of course not. It’s a matter of personal decisions that balance doing what’s tenable to what’s convenient – and what works for one person may not for someone else. Considering that the average credit card debt per household is $15,799 ( , how much “stuff” do we need and for what purpose?

    1. Very true, Rory. It sounds like what most of us really need is more money!

  34. Interesting discussion as usual. I find that I need winter clothes, summer clothes and travel clothes. I have more than ten things, but a lot less than the closet pictures. Functionally, I have to actually be able to see everything at one glance. I can't use drawers, I need shelves, with things folded up so I can at least see the edge. For travel clothes, they have to be things that fold up easily and don't wrinkle, and enough of them so I can wear them in almost any combination (and therefore get more outfits out of them).

  35. Peter, you never fail to inspire and provoke, how's this for a return provocation; if we consider clothing a necessity, like food, what would happen if we bought and wasted food the way we waste and discard clothing? That said, you've inspired me to thrift, re-style, remake and sew, love your site and hope to make it to NYC for MPB Day one of these years!

    1. I think we DO waste food the same way, restaurants in particular. That's why there are so many non-profits that try to donate the food to shelters, at least here in NYC. Plus all those "Consume Before DATE" labels that force stores to throw out perfectly good food in many cases.

  36. One winter my entire "indoors" wardrobe consisted of a sleeveless dress that doubled as a jumper (it was years ago), a blouse, a pullover, and a pair of semi-smart pants. They took me everywhere I needed to go, and I felt comfortable in them, both physically and psychologically. What wasn't on the body was in the wash. Oh, and there were some accessories - chunky long beads, a scarf. Two pairs of shoes. Emphasis on black. Nor were these expensive clothes.

    I think it worked because my life was fairly restricted - the office, the occasional dinner with friends, museum visits, home. You know what they say: "Beware the event that requires new clothes. "

  37. I think there's a big difference that needs to be stated when it comes to cost vs quality. Designer clothes that are heavily marked up due solely to name brand are not really the best value for money. The same thing can be said for articles of clothing that are inexpensive. I can't tell you the number of items I used to buy at stores like H&M, that never looked as nice after the first wash. Collars that went limp 3 months into owning them, seams that were weak and would fray, etc. More than that, the material itself was never nice to wear against the skin, and didn't do much for ones self esteem.

    We who sew are actually at a great advantage to most consumers because if we're vigilant and thoughtful we can find out how clothing is made, and the calling signs of quality material and construction.

    I'm currently finishing up my first button down shirt, and through the process of cloning another garment, and looking at others available, I have to say that there is a narrow margin for quality. At retail stores I see price points from $15 for a shirt on sale, all the way up to $200+ for designer. After you take into account a higher quality of fabric, clean stitching, and properly reinforced (interfaced) collars and cuffs, there really isn't much else to differentiate one shirt from another.

    I find the best value for clothing is buying higher end goods on sale,(avoiding Designer labels unless heavily reduced) that are made from nicer materials that feel good on and wear well. For instance, one of my favorite button downs from Scotch and Soda I've owned for a year and a half now, feels great on, cuts my body properly, and still looks crisp and new. It cost $135 (Canadian) and feature things like petersham reinforced button holes, hidden collar buttons, bar tacking at places of stress, and elbow patches of a slightly heavier material. All signals of well made goods that are designed to last. All the sort of things that I want to think of when I make my own garments.

    One question I like to think about when buying clothes is "If this were to wear out, would it be the kind of garment that is worthwhile to repair?"

  38. I feel that you can never have too many choices. I sew most of my own clothes and I sew more than I really need but still, sometimes I look in my closet for something to wear and wish I had something else - a blouse in a color I don't have or a certain style of jacket, etc. I don't feel that quality vs quantity is an issue for me because I don't believe that a $200 dress from a department store is really better quality than dresses I make for $30 or less.

    On the other hand there is one area where I go for quality over quantity, and this seems to be very unusual for a woman, and that's shoes. I own fewer than 10 pairs of shoes and actually only four pair that I wear regularly. That includes my walking shoes and gardening shoes. I go for comfort, foot health and quality over fashion. I typically spend $75 - $100 on a pair of shoes, except for the gardening shoes. Those are just cheap sneakers from Walmart.

  39. I totally agree with Tiffany. Buying lots of cheap clothes is fun for me, but for the workers making them, there isn´t a lot of fun involved. I recently decided to only buy clothing made in the EU (I try to buy as little as possible, and make most stuff myself) and shoes made in Spain (where I live) to support local industry and to make sure that the workers have been paid properly. I find it astonishing sometimes that in one store you can find a dress made in Spain, priced at over 200 EUR, hanging next to a dress made in China or other low-cost countries, equally priced at 200 EUR. I think the real debate shouldn´t be about cheap/quantity clothes vs expensive/quality clothes but should be about fair work circumstances, environmentally friendlier production and supporting your local economy vs exploitation of workers, sponsoring foreign economies and polution.

  40. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I own a lot of clothes, I want choices, I shop at thrift stores and high-end boutiques, and I knit and sew. However, I keep my clothes for decades, am not interested in 'trends' and mend and alter A LOT. Just the other day, I finished 'Overdressed' by E. Cline and if there is one essential thing I took away from there, it is that I am now aware HOW MUCH of used clothing ends up on the landfill.
    I'm not sure how this will alter my shopping, but it sure made me think.

  41. Brilliant post, Peter! I read your blog every day and I am always very impressed with your talent on writing (as well as sewing, of course!)Unfortunately as far as I know, expensive clothes are not guarantee of higher quality, better paid workers, or concern with the enviroment...xoxo fm Brazil, Carina

  42. Never invest in skin layers, since those are the ones you'll actually have to wash over and over, and anything you clean repeatedly will fall apart, unless you're very good at hand washing. I buy cheap skin layers (camisoles, t-shirts, slips) that I wear under a small number of very nice pieces. If I drop something on myself, I spot clean it. This leaves you with very little laundry to do, and with good quality clothing that will last indefinitely.

  43. I love the fact that clothing evokes such a passionate response from everyone... After all, the wardrobe we stare into is inevitably a reflection of the people we are, the life we lead, and the things that are most important to us in life.

    So - if creating a 'capsule wardrobe' of a few items makes us feel more prepared, secure and stylish - then why not..? The problem that would instantly stare me in the face is one highlighted in a few responses already; I am so many different things throughout the year (or even week!) - and don't even get me started on seasons..! Who knows WHAT I'll feel like wearing; or even, to a certain degree, 'who' I'll feel like being, this time next week.
    Yesterday - as an exercise in being organised - I assembled six outfits (with accessories hanging off each hanger with the clothes) so that I'm ready for each day next week... but I was left looking at each choice thinking "What if I just don't FEEL like being that person on Tuesday?!" - am I alone in that..?!

    And with regards to pricing and quality - who hasn't felt amazing in an expensive garment ONCE in their lives... but maybe accompanied by feelings of guilt (and a fear of ruining it)..? The thing that turned me to dressmaking in the first place is to have that magical power at my fingertips; of creating something that fits perfectly, that makes me feel wonderful (and a little proud), without any of the guilt. That's my goal, anyway! For now I'll just perfect the 'Very Easy' Vogue pattern... and continue to glean inspiration from all of you more seasoned dressmakers... baby steps!!

  44. A coat, yes. Shoes and slacks and bras. yes. But t-shirts? No way. Sweaters, too, I have a hard time investing in things I'm likely to wreck. So I too go the middle route. Few investment pieces, some high quality stuff from the thrifts, and then t-shirts and whatnot from JC Penneys or Old Navy or whoever.

  45. your arguments here. My personal argument for "more stuff cheaper" is that I'm just too darn fickle to spend $200 on a fancy something-or-other that I'm probably going to hate next season. Heck, there are some garments I've bought that I've worn twice and gone, "What the hell was I thinking when I bought this?" And it doesn't really matter if the salesperson, your best friend, your mother-in-law, or your pet dog tells you that you just look great in it; if all of a sudden you notice that the $200 jeans you bought last week give you massive muffin-top when you bend a certain way, you're probably not going to wear them very frequently (at least I wouldn't.)

    I make one exception, however... a good purse is worth dropping the bucks for. My sister bought me a Coach purse for Christmas and the thing is so well made it could serve as a bomb shelter for a small dog, ferret, or guinea pig... or whatever else your 'accessory animal of choice' happens to be.

    Other than that, I'll stick to the $10 tee shirts, please!

  46. These is a great explanation of the flip-side of this argument. I was reminded of an article in the NY Times recently, in which a dot-com success boasted about his tiny apartment, his few possessions, and his subsequent peace of mind. It sounded delusional and out-of-reach for an ordinary person... he wrote that he spends most of his money on travel, experiences that are usually worth far more than any nicely tailored jacket!

    I think we learn what we might want to save on, and what we want to splurge on, as we get older. Although I'm pretty new to sewing, I'm already purchasing less RTW clothing because I believe I can make everything in a higher quality in my own home for cheaper. That leaves me more of my clothing budget on things that need to last like purses and warm winter coats.

  47. My mom was raised during the depression and I grew up having enough clothing for 10 girls. I continued that pattern in my twenties and thirties. Then, I had four kids, nothing has fit well since and I have a very limited wardrobe. I find that even with the small amount of clothing, I wear the same few items.


  48. 50% of my wardrobe is thrifted, 10% is hand-made, and the other 40% is Walmart based (I know it sucks), but this is where I get my bras, t-shirts, socks, and etc. But then on the otherhand, I rarely can't afford it either designer brands anyway, and things made in the USA or locally for that matter are expensive, and although I'm paying for better quality, I can just make it myself.

  49. I cleaned out my closet this fall after acknowledging my mid-century figure is NOT getting slimmer anytime soon. I unloaded 3/4 of the closet to friends and charity! I replaced only 1/3 of the empty space with moderate to better quality basics from Dillards, Macy's and Dress Barn. A mix of synthetic fabrics and Pendleton woolens. The seasonal fashion trend items which are worn out by the end of the season, maybe two, cotton shirts and cardigans, come from Target. High end jeans from a thrift shop, and every day jeans from Dress Barn. So far, the lesser volume works for me. However, I have a bra for each day of the week, lots of socks and underwear, and a different t-shirt to wear with jeans or shorts each day of the week. I would LOVE to make those better quality clothes on my own. There is one holdup: FABRIC. We only have available chain fabric stores, with much of the floor space devoted to decorating, fleece, juvenile flannel and quilting, and local quilting shops. So much of the apparel fabric is polyester; great for washable durable blouses, but not for the dresses, skirts and wool and linen slacks I'd love to make. *sigh*

  50. There are only certain places where I feel the quality vs quantity matters. Those places are: bras, purses and coats. I have a $400 Zara coat I bought 5-6 years ago that really only got worn this past winter, but when I made the purchase I was investing in a timeless coat that would always be in style and a quality material. Now for the life of me, no one can figure out how to sew buttons on. But I've sort of accepted my fate of perpetually sewing buttons back onto new clothes.

  51. For me the question isn't more or less, cheaper or more expensive. Cheap or costly, a large percentage of the clothes we buy were made in less that ethical conditions for the workers, people giving up their very lives trying to make a living so I can either have 10 cheap Walmart t-shirs or one very expensive t-shirt. I'm looking at the sustainability of the cloth, where it came from, how it was dyed. There are more choices today in those areas, and some still tend to be pricey. So I'll do with less, mindfully purchased clothes in order to not to support death trap working conditions or environmentally damaging products. In the end, me having lots of choices isn't an important enough reason to devalue worker's lives or the planet I count on for my survival.

  52. This is a great post. I like the idea of "quality" clothing but the few times I have "invested" the item has gone out of style, I have grown (sigh) or I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would. Buying less expensive items doesn't make me weep if I have made a mistake.

  53. I hear you on the laundry comment! That's the biggest impracticality of a capsule wardrobe and one I always wonder about. Especially if some of the high-quality pieces require drycleaning.

  54. I AM FRENCH and I can tell you that Lessons from Madame Chic is a load of cr*p!

  55. If you were to limit your wardrobe to only a few items the amount of washing would kill even the expensive items. I have also found that more expensive clothing equals hand washing and dry cleaning. I do not have time to hand wash everything and dry cleaning is absurdly expensive. This is why I mix my wardrobe with high quality (like Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic, or designers like Calvin Klein and Michael Kors from TJ Maxx) with slightly less quality (like Target or Kohls) to keep my good stuff from getting too worn out. I never pay full price for my high quality items which makes me feel less awful if I ruin them.

    Also, in the Midwest a limited wardrobe won't work. 2 weeks ago we went from 40 degrees to 85 the next day.


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