Where do I buy menswear that will last lifetimes?
September 30, 2010 7:16 AM   Subscribe

What brands or types of men's clothing will last me a long time or a lifetime?

I like to invest in men's clothing that will last. But over time, I've noticed that the durability of clothing doesn't necessarily equivalent to its price or area of manufacture. I have a pair of five-year-old H&M jeans which still look beautiful, compared to my Levi's which have all exploded after equivalent use. My excellent elegant dress shirt from Suit hasn't stood up as well as a less-expensive shirt from a Brooks Brothers outlet.

So, I'd like to gather some anecdotal data. MeFites: What brands of clothing, or, better, specific items, have given you years or decades of good use?

Bonus question: If you know about this stuff, what should I look for as a sign of an item's durability?
posted by voronoi to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (47 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Filson has a rep that they haven't quite lived up to in my personal experience. Try Carhartt maybe.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:18 AM on September 30, 2010

I have had good luck with Chinos. Tons of different good brands out there, I have a few pairs that I've had for years.
posted by archivist at 7:27 AM on September 30, 2010

Army fatigues tend to last a while.
posted by box at 7:30 AM on September 30, 2010

Steve Madden shoes do not last. If you have a pair, only wear them once in a while.

Unless you have $500+ to spend on it, don't get anything other than a London Fog trenchcoat.

Doc Martens last forever. However, they do not look good forever.

The stitching on H&M (dress) pants is not fantastic.
posted by griphus at 7:31 AM on September 30, 2010

Brooks Brothers/J. Press (prep and work clothes), Red Wing (shoes), Carhartt (jackets, shirts, work pants), Pendleton (flannels), London Fog (Jackets)

As for jeans, jeans always wear out. It's part of the game with jeans, especially if you wear them all the time. Get high quality jeans and look for them to be made in the 1st world (Canada, US, Japan) and to be made with heavyweight denim (14 oz and up). Then they'll last 300-500 wears, and that should be good for 2-5 years, depending.

I'm sorry if wearing all these clothes makes you look like a streetwear hipster. They just happen to be what lasts for a while.
posted by Michael Pemulis at 7:33 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have some shirts from Pink (bought used) that have held up over time. My shirts from H&M tend to fall apart after a year or two.

My rubber-soled Gucci loafers wore through a lot more quickly than they should have. Same with my Kenneth Cole loafers. By contrast, the soles of my Ecco shoes seem nigh-indestructible, so much so that I replaced them because I got bored of them not because they had completely worn themselves out, which is what I usually wait for.
posted by deanc at 7:35 AM on September 30, 2010

The wool Filson vests we bought from David Morgan in several colors look great for all but the most dressed-up business wear and have lasted for several years without any signs of deterioration. We mothball them in the spring and dry clean them occasionally. They look great over khakis and an oxford-cloth shirt, or with flannel shirts and jeans. They are not cheap, but are really worth the money. They are also great to wear from October through March, with or without a jacket, according to how cold it is.
posted by Jenna Brown at 7:38 AM on September 30, 2010

Nthing London Fog trenches. I periodically wear my dad's old LF - purchased circa 1961 - and it still looks stellar to this DAY. I intend to give it to my own kid when he's big enough.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:41 AM on September 30, 2010

I've found Ecco shoes to last way longer than other brands in the similar price range.
posted by Perplexity at 7:44 AM on September 30, 2010

I'm a big, big fan of Carhartt pants. They were described to me by a friend as "bombproof", and I got a pair. They're what I wear 95% of the time now, and they last for years.

To keep them from fading, follow care instructions for regular denim (e.g. wash them inside out).
posted by Alt F4 at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2010

Certain LL Bean outerwear is bombproof. The waxed cotton down vest, the Maine guide wool parka. Their stuff that looks like it could've been made fifty years ago, looks like it is designed to be hung near the barn door, etc, tends to live up to that image. There are exceptions but the return policy is sterling.

Be picky about fabric -- quality construction is not wasted on thin crummy fabric. Wool, sometimes with a little nylon blended in for durability, is wonderfully durable. Wool, with viscose or acrylic for cost savings thrown in, not so much. Thick cotton twill before thin weaves. Do read through Why is clothing getting crappier?

I am mostly anti-artificial-fibres but I admit that Tilley does good things with blending polyester and cotton; that stuff can take a serious beating.

(Speaking not as a dude but as a thrift store junkie and occasional eBay seller of thrifted vintage whatnot. Vintage is a very good way to find durable whatnot; also very instructive in what brands/fabrics to avoid. The stuff still looking good in a thrift store is going to stay that way for decades, and it is quickly apparent what brands are repeat offenders for making junk that puckers, pills, shrinks.)
posted by kmennie at 7:48 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am just starting down the same road you are. My Brooks Brothers clothing has worn very well so far. I have a pair of Bill's Khaki's that I have only had for a while, but they feel like they will last forever.

When it comes to shoes, I have heard good things about Allen Edmonds, Alden, Red Wings, and Danner. I have a pair of Danner boots and a pair of Red Wings that have lasted forever. I have a couple pair of AE and one of Alden. I love them, but I haven't had them very long. I can say, when you look at shoes, make sure they can actually be reconditioned. A lot of shoes have stitching to make them look like the soles are replaceable, but in fact it is purely cosmetic.
posted by Silvertree at 7:50 AM on September 30, 2010

Maybe I'm way harder on my pants than the rest of you Carrhart wearing folks, but I tend to wear holes in them over the course of about 2 opera seasons. If you can find the ones from a number of years back, before they moved their production to Mexico, those are absolutely bomb-proof. But the pants they've manufactured in the past 5+ years just aren't the same.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:54 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bonobos.com. They use high quality materials that stand up to all kinds of abuse, and if something starts to wear out, they'll replace it. Phenomenal customer service.
posted by kryptonik at 7:59 AM on September 30, 2010

Dickies last pretty long
posted by fozzie33 at 8:02 AM on September 30, 2010

There've been a number of threads about men's clothing here recently, and I recommend checking them out. Put This On is highly recommended too. And generally, outlet mall store clothing is of lesser quality than their mall counterparts.

Silvertree's comment on shoes is a good one. In my experience, shoes from Allen Edmonds and Alden will likely last forever. I've had great success with Merrell (not forever, but certainly quite long given the price) and Birkenstock (Footprints and other shoe lines - little rough to find, definitely more casual.) Put This On's episode on Shoes definitely helped me understand what goes into a quality shoe and how to shop for one.

Don't count out thrift shopping. At Goodwill, I picked up a pair of (old, well-made) Johnston & Murphy shoes for $3 (needed new soles and heels, but that was easily done by a cobbler) and a pair of Allen Edmonds for $5 (needed new sole.)

In the clothing department I've found H&M's stuff to be nearly disposable; if you're okay with that, then that's cool. OTOH I have a Lands' End oxford that is about 7 years old and still looks great. I generally go to them for classic dress wear and some casual stuff. I've had mixed success with Banana Republic; a lot of things seem like they should be better quality for the price, but then my fall jacket from them is just about perfect.
posted by hijinx at 8:12 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Allen Edmonds and Alden shoes last forever, and when they start to get beat-up looking you can send them in to get recrafted.
posted by electroboy at 8:16 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Dickies--it's the only brand of t-shirt I buy. I have a 15-year-old London Fog trenchcoat and 25-year-old Duckhead khakis, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:21 AM on September 30, 2010

Filson has a rep that they haven't quite lived up to in my personal experience.

That's been the opposite of my experience at least for their rugged outdoor gear. I just sold a ten year old pair of Filson overalls [oil finish, double tin] for $140. They have a lifetime warranty which means you can send worn stuff back for repair, or at least you used to be able to. Agree with kmennie about LL Bean. I've had good luck with Redwing for boots as well. A lot of the problem that I've noticed is that older versions of some of this stuff are better made because the company has been bought and crappified in the intervening years. So an old pair of Doc Martens will actually last you longer than a newer pair.
posted by jessamyn at 8:24 AM on September 30, 2010

Blundstone boots are very long-lasting.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Johnston&Murphy make good shoes.

As does John Lobb.
posted by dfriedman at 8:33 AM on September 30, 2010

Nthing Brooks Brothers and London Fog. Very happy with the not insubstantial amount I've spent on my business wardrobe with them.
posted by kjs3 at 8:35 AM on September 30, 2010

I buy about half of my business clothing at thrift stores. It is like putting natural selection to work for you at a bargain. The garments have already withstood some wear and they are cheap. How do you beat that?
posted by dgran at 8:43 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a pair of five-year-old H&M jeans which still look beautiful, compared to my Levi's

This experience is not typical. H&M's stuff has a reputation for falling apart after the first wash (and being priced to match). Levis can be good, but it really depends on how much you spend, and where you bought them.
posted by schmod at 8:50 AM on September 30, 2010

I love Brooks Brothers stuff and have a TON of it (I probably wear something from BB at least every other day). It doesn't last forever, but it is well made and lasts longer than the cheap stuff. It does depend on the item; some are better than others. The outlet stuff I've seen is very noticeably inferior to the real thing (though I think the outlets do occasionally get a small stock of the real stuff).

Biils Khakis (mentioned once earlier) may very well last forever. I'd say they're in a different league. I don't wear mine as regularly as I should (I tend to end up wearing either jeans or dressier trousers, depending on the situation), but they're extremely well made.
posted by sharding at 8:56 AM on September 30, 2010

There's some good suggestions on brands in this thread I won't repeat, but since durable clothing is a bit of an obsession with me, here are the generic things I look for in clothing:

For pants or shirts: first feel the fabric, you want at least 12 oz fabric in pants and about half that for shirts. That's the thickness of basic jeans. It should have a good tight weave (no stretching when you pull on it) with straight threads and matched patterns across seams. If they don't take the time to match the pattern, throw it back. Next look at the seams themselves, on pants you want at the least a double row of stitching with the seam folded back on itself, and triple stitched for work pants. On good shirts the inside seams should be taped. This may seem counter-intuitive, but good t-shirts will have seams up the sides. This keeps them from "torquing" and it means they're made out of flat fabric, no the "tube" of fabric like cheap-o Hanes.

Shoes: Put 'em on, do they feel stiff or floppy? Floppy is fine for canvas and slippers, anything else should be slightly snug (so they can stretch) and feel like after a week, they might be looser. That's a basic start. Look inside them, is the tongue double stitched? Are the major stress joints near the toe riveted? Double bar stitched? Aee teh eyelets collared (little metal collars inside)? Is it lined or can you see the other side of the leather? I prefer unlined so I can get an idea about how thick the leather is. Look at the sole, is it obviously designed to be replaced (stitched or nail as opposed to glued)? Are the stitches on the welt real or fake?

Socks: buy real wool socks, replace them every two years, your shoes and feet will thank you. Some of my friends swear by smartwool. I buy generic, and do okay. In my opinion socks need to be replaced regularly, like oil or tires.

I wanted to avoid mentioning brands, but I'll do it here: for men's underwear I've had excellent luck with American Eagle boxers, They wear shockingly well if you can get around the silly prints.

Coats: I love love love my milspec pea coat. It's my winter motorcycle jacket and I wear it with a white shirt and tie to anything I need to look slightly nice at. It looks like new. If you can find one of the pre 70's versions that's unlined, buy it, try to wear it out and you'll still end up giving it to your grandkids. Those things don't die and they have a great cut. I've had good luck trolling thrift stores for sport coats. Look for anything that's unlined and custom made (they usually have a tag that says they are) and have them refitted by a local tailor. It'll look twice as good as anything you'll buy off a rack for half the price.

Jeans: If money was no object I'd own only 18-16 oz Japanese Dry Selvage. Unfortunately, it is so I buy whatever raw selvage I can afford and break it in myself. In short, the bluer the jeans, the longer they last. In general Levi's shink-to-fit will wear longer than the trendy ones with all the whiskers and whatnot.

Phew! Hope that helps!
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:00 AM on September 30, 2010 [10 favorites]

Doc Martens last forever.

Not always. The soles go, though they're obviously meant to wear and be re-soled, but I've also had cherry-reds that suffered from severe cracking on the uppers even with assiduous care. And that was back when they were being made in Northampton. I'd probably trust the UK-made retros, but not the current standard lines.

nthing Carhartt -- the duck work pants are still US-made and bombproof -- and some LL Bean. UK-wise, the oldest non-vintage stuff I wear regularly and still look good are t-shirts from Next and casual shirts from M&S. I have friends with Barbours that they inherited from their parents, though they need re-proofing on a fairly regular basis.

And nthing thrift trawls as a way of learning what gets clothes through decades of wear.
posted by holgate at 9:02 AM on September 30, 2010

I have to disagree with the Ecco shoes. I bought a pair and they wore out faster than anything since I stopped buying from Payless.
posted by echo target at 9:04 AM on September 30, 2010

A lot of this is a repeat from things said upthread, but it is worth repeating, so here it is:

For shoes, my go-to brands (in terms of durability) are Red Wing, Clarks, Alden and Allen Edmonds. Some of the smaller and more expensive brands around nowadays are excellent too. Quoddy boots are great, and will last forever. Minnetonka also make some really well crafted and durable boots. I also have a pair of elk leather Visvim chukkas that I can not imagine ever breaking down.

For shirts, I like Wrangler western stuff, which I regularly buy used. Mostly shirts that are 10+ years old, and I wear em for another 5 with no issues. For low-end dress shirts, I like the Ralph Lauren (Polo line) custom fit stuff, which can usually be found for under $80 if you look around. For higher end dress shirts, Brioni makes things that perfectly saddle the line between delicate, pretty and durable.

For outerwear, Carrhart is good, but is not as durable as one might think, if you are the sort who really puts clothes to the test. The best, most long lasting jackets I have found are Barbour waxed cotton hunting jackets, which not only last a lifetime, but look lovely doing it.

Bill's khakis are quite nice, too, although the fit leaves something to be desired.
posted by broadway bill at 9:05 AM on September 30, 2010

If you're after a pair of jeans which offers incredible bang for the buck, look into APC. The denim is woven like steel and they offer cuts to flatter most body types. The denim is about the best compromise between price and quality you'll find.

Sizing can be funny because they're tagged two sizes smaller than they measure, and they tend to stretch out a fair bit - but that's the only downside really. Try a pair on somewhere, and get the one that fits but is difficult to button.
posted by Ted Maul at 9:06 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jeans. Levis STF 501s are as tough as nails, if you get a pair made in the right country (I believe the Mexican ones are my preference, but without digging through my closets I can not say for certain). I have a pair of 501s that my dad shrank-to-fit in the Pacific in the mid 70s.

Most of the ultra costly Japanese denim I have bought have not lasted nearly as long as my $40 STF Levis, FWIW.
posted by broadway bill at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2010

holgate - Where do you get the US-made Carrharts? The cotton doublefront dungarees I'm wearing right now are made in Mexico. I've heard rumor of pants with a U in the model number being union-made in the US, but the very awesome and accomodating lady at my local workwear store doesn't have any information about them.

OP- Pendleton shirts. I see them in thrift and vintage stores looking pristine all the time. Very classy, classic look.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:24 AM on September 30, 2010

Nthing Brooks Brothers. I wear their Oxford cloth buttondowns and they stay looking respectable literally twice as long as similarly priced alternatives. (My grandfather gave me his twenty year old Brooks Brothers tweed blazer before he died. I wore it for another fifteen years. My nephew just took it with him for his first semester at MIT. Classic design, made to last.)
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:35 AM on September 30, 2010

Where do you get the US-made Carrharts?

Well, there's a first for everything on AskMe, and nobody's ever got me to take my trousers off before.

I'm wearing the B11s in sandstone, union-made label, but they're a few years old, and it looks as if production has moved along with the bulk of the jeans line. (I got them from a western/workwear shop.)

The double-front version definitely has a union-made model, though it looks as if Carhartt has discontinued the U-prefix, so get them while/where you can.
posted by holgate at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second the thrift-shop. I never would have shopped them when I was working full-time, but now that I've got time to kill, I hit the Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc, every few weeks and have found some terrific stuff. I think it's because, where I live in a semi-swank part of Florida, rich old guys die too, and leave some fine clothing behind. I've bought high-end shoes that are barely worn, a classic black wool USN pea coat from the 1050s that will last another 50 years, an Armani linen jacket, Levis 501s and, well, just a bunch of stuff. I only take the very best and the little-worn. It's actually kind of fun, and satisfying to get such bargains. I don't think I look any worse than when I spent 20 times more (maybe a little older).

As for long-lasting, I'm told that name-brand stuff sold at outlet malls, while cheaper, is much less well made. From limited experience, I'd guess this may be so. It's worth building into your longevity calculations.

But don't ever buy Ecco shoes. The soles and heels of mine (bought brand new!) literally fell apart after a half-dozen wearings.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2010

I have a pair of Dunderdon pants that I have owned for about 3 years and they still look as good as the day I bought them. The best thing about them is they are nice enough to wear to the office but tough enough to take a serious beating.
posted by swizzlepants at 10:35 AM on September 30, 2010

Not sure if this counts as long: I wear Merrel Mocs for 14months, average of 15h/day, 5.5 days a week. This is my 5th pair on this schedule.
posted by lalochezia at 1:59 PM on September 30, 2010

If you're interested in smaller brands, the Duluth trading company in Minnesota and cactus designs in New Zealand make the toughest pieces of clothing I own.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:50 PM on September 30, 2010

Seconding APC for jeans.
posted by nihraguk at 8:33 PM on September 30, 2010

I've worn Eccos for over a decade and the soles have never worn out. I've worn out the inners and the heels, but the soles and stitching have never, ever shown wear.

They're also incredibly comfortable.

I have eight pairs of black dress shoes because my Eccos don't die but I want new shoes.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:37 PM on September 30, 2010

I've got a couple of ralph lauren rugby type long sleeved tops that are fantastically hard wearing. One is fourteen years old, has been treated very badly and only now has the cuff started to wear a little. They also wash really well.
posted by xla76 at 1:19 AM on October 1, 2010

I was trying to remember this all yesterday and it has finally come to me: Philippe Starck launched a range with Ballantyne last year which was specifically designed to last a lifetime.
posted by ninebelow at 5:05 AM on October 1, 2010

As craven_morehead mentions, Duluth Trading Co. has some heavy-duty pants, called "fire hose pants", supposedly because of the material they're made from. They have both 11.5 and 13 oz. material. I've never worn them, but I am intrigued.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:18 AM on October 1, 2010

Barbarian cotton rugby jerseys are indestructible. I've been playing for about 15 years, and I still have one of the jerseys I bought in college. The buttons are torn off, but it's still mostly intact. They'll run you about $60, but you'll have it forever.
posted by electroboy at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2010

Barbarian cotton rugby jerseys are indestructible. I've been playing for about 15 years, and I still have one of the jerseys I bought in college. The buttons are torn off, but it's still mostly intact. They'll run you about $60, but you'll have it forever.

posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:03 AM on October 1, 2010

If money is no object a pair of Alden shoes will last most of the rest of your life, and a good Barbour coat will last the rest of your children's lives. Both brands take back product for refinishing when things need patching or fixing.
posted by splatta at 9:01 AM on October 1, 2010

Gitman Vintage
History Preservation
Cone Denim
Horween Leather
Canada Goose

There are more and you could always browse Style Forum.

Cone, Horween, and Millerain are all high quality materials that are used in making great garments. Each website should have a list of stockists or, failing that, a Google search would turn up plenty stuff made with said materials.
posted by fook at 11:48 AM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

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