My good little sister, Lauren, brought me a J.Crew shirt the other day. “My roommate threw it away because it ripped,” she explained. “I know it’s the fabric, not the stitching in the seam, but is there a way to fix this? It’s a good shirt.”
It was a cute shirt — pretty fabric, charming little rows of tucks running down the front (a nice design touch, we’ll give them that). But it was not a good shirt. It had a couple of fatal problems that led to its demise.
Here is our lovely little rip along the armscye.
Make that a really BIG rip. And would you like to know why? I’ll show you. (Oh, and pardon the wrinkles, by the way. This critter had been crumpled in the trash, and I didn’t feel like steaming it.)
Please note the construction of the back. You know how men’s shirts always have that cute little pleat in the back? And every single button-down in my closet with a yoke construction (that’s the section across the top) has very slight gathers across the entire back. That is what makes it possible for you to move your arms. Now look at the back of this shirt. See how the plaid on the yoke lines up perfectly with the plaid of the shirt back (again, kudos to J.Crew for their accurate pattern matching, but we all know what road is paved with good intentions). That the plaid on the yoke matches the plaid on the shirt back, means that there is no wearing ease here. So when Jane put her arms forward, that ease had to come from somewhere. And the fabric just up-and-decided that the ease would come from the armscye seam. RIP!!
Not only that, but I’d also like to point out the quality of the fabric — or lack thereof. Now, I’m all for a cute sheer shirt that’s supposed to be a cute sheer shirt. But yes, that is my dressmaker’s form that you can see through this supposedly not-sheer shirt (thanks to my long-suffering husband for helping me out with the pic).
So let’s talk about how you can make sure you’re buying a good-quality garment. Because, as this beautiful little story illustrates, man cannot live by brand name alone.
One major hallmark of a good-quality garment is attention to detail. (Although, as the charming little tucks on the J.Crew shirt demonstrated, nice details don’t automatically mean it’s a good shirt.) Are the buttonholes nice? Is everything pressed properly? Do the seams lie flat? Do the patterns match? Are the stitches small and tight? (Generally, the smaller the stitching, the better quality the garment.)
The other surefire sign of a good garment is the quality of the inside. My neighbor back home, Mrs. Barbara, taught me that the back of your embroidery should always look as nice as the front. It’s the same with a garment.
Look at the lining (does it even HAVE a lining?). If it’s a sleeveless dress, check for lingerie guards in the shoulders (an ingenious little invention to keep bra straps from peeking out). Check the hem. The hem is a biggie. On a nice hem, the stitching does not show on the outside. And if the fabric has any bulk at all, it had better be finished with hem tape (see below).
French seams (above, on a silk blouse) are another great detail only found on a high-quality garment. They’re better than regular seams because they cannot ravel (as all the edges are enclosed) and they don’t chafe.
Finally, check the fabric quality. If it’s supposed to be a solid fabric rather than a sheer, make sure that it really is. Check the fiber content — natural fibers (silk, wool, cotton) and cellulose-based fibers (rayon, bamboo, and modal) are usually the most comfortable to wear. And by all means, avoid fake leather and fake fur. Quality issues aside, they’re just tacky. And no good Southern girl wants to be tacky.