How to Buy Less and Choose Well

Kowtow produce certified ethical organic cotton clothing.

Over the past few years the fashion industry and the public have become more aware of the importance of buying well and not buying as many clothes. Since the garment industry is one of the most polluting on the planet it’s important that steps are taken to get it under control, which isn’t helped by the fact that consumerism is more rampant and people often buy far more than they actually need leading to a lot of waste. While I know it probably sounds ironic to be hearing this from a fashion website, there are many fashion businesses that support the idea of making good, conscious choices and not partaking in as much fast fashion.

After her Spring/Summer 2014 show in September 2013, designer Dame Vivienne Westwood was quoted as saying “Buy less, choose well, make it last. Quality not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.” She went on to explain “It doesn’t mean therefore you have to just buy anything cheap. Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don’t keep buying just for the sake of it.” I’m sure you can see the logic in her thoughts and while it’s important to buy well, how do you know if what you’re buying will last? While price can be an indicator, I know from personal experience that price doesn’t always match up to quality, as I’ve bought items for less that lasted well and items that were more expensive that fell apart at the seams. Whatever your budget the trick to buying well is choosing garments that are well-made.

Let’s start with fabric; firstly look at the quality of the fabric, which is sometimes hard to determine so if in doubt check the care label. Natural-based fibres are generally preferable like cotton, silk, wool and linen, as they breathe properly and wear better. However, natural fabrics like cotton are sometimes blended with polyester for strength and these blends are preferable to entirely synthetic fabrics for most uses. Synthetic fabrics like viscose, polyester, nylon and acetate are made from chemicals and the processes used to make them are also particularly harmful for the environment not to mention they don’t breathe well. Beware of fabrics other than denim that contain spandex as it’s rubber-based and holds onto heat and perspiration, which can make you uncomfortable when you get warm. If you can buy organic fabrics that’s even better, and brands like Kowtow produce certified ethical organic cotton clothing that is a reasonable price. Spending a little bit more is worth it on garments that last.

Moving on to construction, have a look at the inside of the garment and check if the seams are straight and not puckered or twisted. They should also be even and means that the garment hangs well and straight on the hanger. Check that the overlocking on the seams is even and tidy, without any loose threads. If the garment is lined, the lining should stay within the garment and not be visible on the outside either hanging down or moving around as it should stay put. The top stitching should also be even and tidy with no loose threads either. Have a look that the hem is straight and even as well as any cuffs or collars. Buttons should match up with button holes exactly and zips should sit straight and flat in their seams. Delicate beading and embroidery should have firm stitches to keep things in place and should sit flat against the fabric.

The fit of the garment is also important and comes down to how well the garment is cut and what it’s meant to look like. Choose a style that flatters you and make sure that the important measurements like the waist, bust and hips are right for your size and shape, not being too tight or too loose, obviously this also depends on the style of the garment and your personal preference. Avoid anything that digs in too tightly or doesn’t sit well on you. A well-cut garment will move well with you and if you choose something that you look and feel great in you’ll want to look after it and wear it season after season. Choosing garments that are locally made also means that you can often get them alterated to fit you as many local designers such as Ingrid Starnes, Amber Whitecliffe and Celine Rita offer this service.

There are a few questions to ask yourself when you’re out shopping as well, the first being ‘Do I already have anything like this?’ you would be amazed how many people often buy quite similar garments and end up with a wardrobe full of lots of the same kind of things. If you know you have a thing for blue dresses and already have a few, do you really need another? The next question to ask yourself is ‘Do I have anything that would go with this?’ and if the answer is no ask yourself if you would be prepared to buy a whole outfit to make this particular piece work for you? There are many people that advocate the cost per wear ratio which I personally don’t use but it is a good idea to ask yourself ‘How often would I wear this?’ and if it’s an expensive garment that you’re likely not going to wear much it might be an idea to reconsider the purchase. However, sometimes it is nice to have an amazing dress that looks great on you to have on hand for special occasions that pop up.

Fashion is all about personal choice and expression, choosing garments that are well-made and suit you will help you build a great wardrobe of clothes that will serve you well for seasons to come. I hope you’ve found the above advice useful and have learned how to tell if clothes are well-made so every purchase you make is a good one. If we all make better choices and buy only what we need then we can help create an industry that is smarter and more sustainable going forward.


Image from Kowtow

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