“But It’s a Good Shirt!” — An Apparel Autopsy

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.”

J.Crew buttondown 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.

Torn J.Crew shirt

Here is our lovely little rip along the armscye.

What a lovely little rip we have here.

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.)

J.Crew shirt back

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!!

Poor quality fabric.

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.)

Bound buttonhole on vintage 1960's jacket

Details:  A bound buttonhole on a vintage 1960’s jacket that I picked up at an estate sale this week.

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).

Hem tape on pencil skirt French seam on a blouse

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.

Hand stitched buttonhole on tailored jacket

An exquisite hand-stitched buttonhole on a tailored jacket.

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.

About Charity

I have an inexcusable number of cookbooks (and like to experiment with them), have worked in architectural antiques, and have been sewing most of my life. I recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Apparel, Merchandising, & Design from Iowa State University. Doing household things (except for cleaning!) and hunting for antiques are my favorite pastimes.
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6 Responses to “But It’s a Good Shirt!” — An Apparel Autopsy

  1. Love this article Charity. Excellent points, all.

  2. Patty says:

    I can’t afford to shop in high end stores, but I do like well made garments (when I can’t make my own). Thank goodness for 2nd hand and thrift shops! I love the bound buttonhole you showed, for some reason, that one makes me almost swoon 🙂

    • Charity says:

      Yeah, I can’t afford it either (let’s be honest, I can’t afford J.Crew) — but I am very picky about what I get at the thrift store! 😛 And I’m ridiculously nitpicky about the garments I make (and I’ve recently become addicted to china silk lining, as shown in that gray skirt with the blue lining that I just finished making — not good for my pocketbook!). My sister says I’m a hopeless clothing snob. But my goal now is to have fewer clothes, but better. When I’m shopping, it’s not “is this good enough?” but “is this perfect?” And if it’s not exactly right, I don’t buy it. Keeps me from making stupid mistakes most of the time. 🙂

  3. Tiffany says:

    You are so smart! I never would have thought of this stuff. Do you have any recommendations of brands that are typically made better than others, or is it mostly a goose chase?

  4. Charity says:

    Thanks, Tiffany darlin’! Anything vintage is a good bet, or often handmade items with no tags. Otherwise, I just look at stuff and evaluate it. Since I can’t afford it, I often don’t recognize the brands on the really nice stuff when I see it at the thrift store — I just buy it if I like it and then Google it after the fact (“Oh, check it out, I just bought a $300 dress for 75 cents!”).

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