Help me find durable high-quality clothing basics for small women
April 18, 2011 12:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for well-cut, simple, durable, high-quality clothing basics for women.

I hate throwaway clothing -- the kind that can't stand up to ordinary washing without shrinking or twisting or developing holes. (Think H&M, Club Monaco, Zara, Mango.)

But I find myself buying it anyway because I am slim, small and boyish in build, and cheap young-women's fashion fits me perfectly. High-end designers fit me too, but I find their quality really variable, and much of it seems designed to be dated after a single season. I'm happy to spend a lot, but I want the clothes to last.

Athletic stuff fits, but I hate the branding. I've tried companies like Patagonia, Lands End, Tilly and so forth, but the cuts are too full-figured for me. And my style is minimalist rather than conservative, so Brooks Brothers, London Fog, Pink etc. won't work.

I love Nau, and I would love the European brand Cos if it were just a little better quality. Please help me find more like that. I just want simple high-quality basics that will fit me :-)

(I've read all the related questions, but none seems to hit on exactly this problem. Thanks in advance for your help.)
posted by Susan PG to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
There is an Australian brand called Country Road which does good quality basics. You should be able to buy it online although if you're in the States the seasons will be backwards.
posted by Jubey at 12:41 AM on April 18, 2011

If you're in New York, I think the standard answer is Uniqlo.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:41 AM on April 18, 2011

Try J Crew's "Perfect Fit" tops. Also, I have some tops from The Limited that have held up well, but I bought them in 2006, so the quality may have changed since then.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:57 AM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: How about T by Alexander Wang, A.P.C., or Elizabeth and James (link 1, 2, 3). T is a diffusion line known for amazing basic T-shirts; A.P.C. is French and extremely well-made. Elizabeth and James is made by (don't stop reading) the Olsen twins but it's actually gotten rave reviews especially for its simple separates. For instance, Ellen Degeneres wears Elizabeth and James on her show all the time. Plus, the Olsens are itty-bitty so you know the clothes are good for small ladies.
posted by acidic at 4:34 AM on April 18, 2011

Brooks Bros. Black Fleece line is very well-made, and not stodgy, but pricey. It's not carried in every store, though.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:50 AM on April 18, 2011

For some reason, the clothes I buy at outlet stores always seem to last longer than what I find at the mall version of those stores. This could, however, be confirmation bias, since the options at outlet stores are often either basics or styles from three seasons ago, plus I often only drive out to the outlets if my wardrobe needs a serious boost.

Talbots is usually my go-to if I need something basic and work-appropriate that I know will last, and they have a wide range of sizes. Lululemon usually has a few casual pieces at any moment, and everything I've bought from there has held up phenomenally well.

I have really wanted to try Ibex and Icebreaker but their prices are just high enough to give me pause, so I haven't yet.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:59 AM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: Seriously agreeing with APC. Also, if money's no object, try The Row, Rag and Bone, Steven Alan.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:39 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you seen the Lands' End Canvas line? Goes down to XXS and 0s, much less boxy than the LE stuff. I have ordered tonnes as it fits these requirements so well -- quality/small/basic -- and the majority is great, washes up wonderfully and lasts, and the minority that is not just goes back under their 'Guaranteed. Period' return policy. LL Bean Signature is also worth a look though (1) often overpriced, (2) only goes down to 2.

Have you tried boys' departments? The cuts can be a bit meh but sometimes it works out. Gap and LL Bean have sturdy boy basics.

Roots stuff is usually made to last, but the sizing may be an issue.
posted by kmennie at 8:15 AM on April 18, 2011

Someone pointed out recently that many of the clothes that have made it to the thrift store have already stood the test of time.
posted by aniola at 11:04 AM on April 18, 2011

Have you checked out agn├Ęs b? Not sure if it's your style and I haven't bought anything in a couple of years so can't speak to current quality but it might be worth a look.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:38 AM on April 18, 2011

Banana Republic and J. Crew would probably work very well for you. Eddie Bauer usually has some cute stuff. If you want to go more high end, Theory is usually pretty lovely. Also, I just got a catalog for LL Bean Signature and was surprised by how cute some of their stuff is. No clue on the sizing--LL Bean tends to run a bit curvy but it might be worth a shot (free shipping, too).
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:12 PM on April 18, 2011

whoops, Theory here:,default,sc.html
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:13 PM on April 18, 2011

Eileen Fisher is starting to make slimmer cuts than they used to - and their fabrics are always exquisite. Expensive but made to last, both in style and materials...
posted by marlys at 9:00 PM on April 18, 2011

Petit Bateau I've heard good things about - they design for children but slimmer women wear their tops. Muji sound like your kind of style but I can't vouch for them myself.

I like Uniqlo a lot, although I am a very different shape from you - they do have cuts which seem designed to flatter smaller women in some items, though.
posted by mippy at 8:00 AM on April 19, 2011

Best answer: I second the Icebreaker and Ibex recommendations above, if you like Nau. I have pieces from all three which get weekly wear and years later remain in excellent condition. Icebreaker is all athletic cut and although it's branded, the branding is generally a very subtle stitching on the hem. (You can see the logo on the breast of this shirt). It's all-wool, but I wear it year-round here in Chicago.

Theory is also a good choice. James Perse seems to fit the aesthetic you're talking about as well. I have always thought of it as "expensive for what it is"--most things are made from a lovely weight cotton fabric that's very soft and durable (I've got a couple that still look new a couple years later), but ultimately, it's just a cotton t-shirt.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:44 AM on April 19, 2011

Also, if you're still looking, I was recently directed to John Smedley for this very question. There are a handful of US stockists, but you can also mail-order from Stopstyle.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:39 AM on May 3, 2011

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