Choosing Pre-Owned Designer Wear

The quality question

If you are an experienced buyer of high-quality garments you probably know ‘good’ when you see it.  What if you are new to this though?  You know what you like the look of, and you know that certain labels can be relied upon to provide good quality clothing.  But what if you are hunting for pre-owned designer gear and you’re inexperienced and want more information on what separates ‘special’ from ‘mediocre’?

A designer explains how to judge garment quality

We despatched a team member to talk this over with Vita Gottlieb, a fashion and textile designer now living in the Mendips, who was delighted to share her expertise and had a large selection of items ready to help explain garment quality to hunters of pre-owned designer wear!

Seams and stitching

She said “The first thing I’d look for when judging pre-owned designer gear is the seams.  Seams are extraordinarily important when it comes to garment production. You can produce an adequate seam very quickly and economically – an ‘overlock seam’ – with a large machine that uses several threads at once (see left for an example!).  They are perfectly ok and you’ll see them on lots of clothing but they are not an indicator of high quality.  The best example of a high-end seam is the French seam.  A French seam has more stitch lines, more processes, more ironing, more cutting table time.  Where an overlock seam might take ten minutes a French seam instead is probably at least half an hour.  It is a precision seam; the default seam in high couture, and if you are looking to produce items as cheaply as possible in a factory in Vietnam or Bangladesh you would not choose a French seam.  Remember that every garment is essentially hand-made.  Yes, with machines but the machine operation is labour intensive.  We have to pattern cut.  Every piece of fabric is made by human hand, so cutting down labour time is important to budget manufacturers in a way that it’s not for designer garments.  So, when you’re checking out pre-owned designer items, take a look at the seams.

“Fabric is also very important.  Look at silk, wool, cashmere etc.  A 100% silk item is vastly more luxurious than a 100% polyester one so it will be chosen by manufacturers who prioritise luxury over quick, cheap production but there are some extraordinary natural and man-made hybrids that offer high quality at low costs.  Obviously man-made may not biodegrade, and that’s an important consideration but other really interesting things are coming; fibres from hemp, pineapple, bamboo and the coffee plant for example.  Right now though, choose the traditional natural fibres because manufacturers that prioritise cheap production will not use pure wool and silk etc”.  And it’s easier to look at the type of fabric than to guess at how good it is if you haven’t got an expert eye”.

In the next feature, coming soon, Vita Gottlieb continues the explanation and we look at some examples.