Help me be a better online shopper
October 2, 2012 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about fabrics to help me do better online shopping.

I've heard that asos, who I've just discovered, often results in clothes that look a lot cheaper in person than they do online in photographs. I'm very comfortable discerning what a 'nice' fabric is in person- what will hang well, wash reasonably well and not be see-through....and just generally look like nice fabric. I know that's a bit vague, but I'm hoping that people will be able to tell me anyway- what fabrics produce high quality- or probably more moderate quality, really,'clothes? And what looks cheap? I would like to use this knowledge to help me shop better-e.g what is a desirable make up of fabrics for a good pair of skinny jeans? A dress for work? Tops?

I know that things like cashmere and silk and I think wool are desirable and expensive. But is that it? I don't think so. But of the rayon/polyester/cotton world, I know basically nothing. Please help!
posted by jojobobo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Any type of fabric can be cheap, really. There's no substitute for touching a fabric in real life.

However, when I was still buying clothes online (I've been sewing my own for a year now, precisely because the fabrics used in readymade are getting so much crappier), I had decent luck with two criteria:
- Is it see-through on the model? I.e., can you see her skin, underwear or clear shadows of her legs through it? If yes: probably super-lightweight, which means "cheap". One of the reasons I stopped buying at all was that these cheapo-weight fabrics seem to have become de rigueur, while prices keep going up and they market it as "for trendy layering". (These are my eyes, layering back into my head.)
- Is it super-drapey, or does the fabric seem able to hold a shape on its own? You can especially see this in non-skin-tight trousers, jeans, and skirts. If the skirt or trousers droop, see above: flimsy, cheap fabric. But if they have body, then it's more likely to be a fabric with a good weight to it. Exceptions to this would of course be items you want to drape, such as silk and rayon.

Rayon is actually a fabric derived from wood pulp, so it's natural in a sense – there are many different qualities, though. Online the first test (is it see-through?) is good there, since see-through rayon has a high likelihood of falling apart. It's still better to be able to feel in real life, when possible.

Unfortunately, even 100% cotton, silk, and wool/cashmere can be bad quality, and I've seen that increasingly these past few years. With wool and cotton especially, the thread will be spun from the shortest fibers, then woven loosely (cheaply), and you can feel it fall apart – actually disintegrate – in your hands, leaving them covered with lint. Except it's not lint, those are the cheap leftover fibers they actually used to make the whole thing, ugh. What's worse, if you'll allow a bit of a digression, is that on top of all that, fabrics for readymade brands often mean unfair and unsafe labor practices for spinners, weavers, dyers, and seamstresses. The Atlantic recently had a bit on modern slavery where there was a photo of silk industry workers whose whole families were held as slaves. So on top of the other criteria, it's best, if/when possible, to look for organic natural fabrics, which will hold up better than synthetics such as polyester and acrylic anyway. (Some stretch is fine, hard to avoid nowadays. But even for the fabric's structural integrity, there shouldn't be more than 5& stretch, and that's already a lot; 2-4% is more the norm.) Organic gives a better chance of the labor practices being fair, but doesn't necessarily guarantee it. (This is THE main reason I finally started sewing all my clothes, since I know fabric stores that do in fact visit their suppliers to ensure workers are being paid and treated fairly.)
posted by fraula at 3:45 PM on October 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

The problem is that fabric content is probably not going to be the sole determinant of quality. There are cheap crappy silks that will fall apart at the seams. Natural fibers -- silk, wool, cotton, linen, cashmere -- are probably good signs of high quality but the quality of the cloth and construction are what it's all about. Is the garment lined? What's the thread quality like? Does the hem seem nice and tight or is it already unraveling? I'd rather have a exquisitely made polyester dress than a cruddy silk dress. And they can do amazing things with synthetics these days, it's not all 70s greasy double knits anymore.

I think your best bet is to find shops that have good reputations for high quality and stick with them, regardless of fiber content. (FWIW I like Boden, Garnet Hill, J Crew, Madewell, Fossil, Eddie Bauer, and Pendleton for affordable quality).

Another thing to be aware of -- if a garment is listed as something like "georgette" or "chiffon," know that that is probably synthetic. These terms are taken from silk but are applied to the synthetic versions of these constructions. If a garment is genuine silk, the store will certainly want you to know that!

Also, look at the labels of your favorite garments and use those as your guide for looking for the fibers/blends that work for you and appeal to you.
posted by kmel at 3:56 PM on October 2, 2012

I agree with the other posters that fabric content is no definite indicator of quality--but one thing that is useful when catalog shopping is looking at the position of the model. Is the model in an odd position? Can you clearly see how the garment actually fits? If yes/no, there's a good chance they're hiding a weird flaw in the cut of the garment (of course, everything in catalogs is pinned anyway, but I've found this generally to be a pretty fair way to gauge the fit thing. Of course they also Photoshop the hell out of everything so you can't tell, for example, which shirt is going to leave you with a horrendous bra line even if you have 2% body fat.

If you're concerned about quality (and it sounds like you are--personally I'm sometimes just looking for throwaway fashion stuff), it's a good idea to just order from places you know are at least reasonably good quality (J. Crew, Land's End, etc.) You can always order a bunch of stuff, try on, and then return. Oddly, I have found to periodically offer a stylish, quality find now and then, especially on swimsuits.
posted by supercoollady at 6:02 PM on October 2, 2012

This isn't really answering your specific question, but I've found the "see this garment on a catwalk model" video feature to be really helpful in this regard when shopping on asos.
posted by catch as catch can at 6:20 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never had an acrylic garment that looked or felt good, or held up well. Acrylic yarns for home knitting seem to be fine, but decent workmanship and good fabric quality just don't seem to go with acrylic when it comes to ready-made. There are probably a few exceptions, but in general acrylic clothes tend to be on the cheap and junky side. Acetate is even worse than acrylic.

I'm rarely happy with cotton-polyester or wool-polyester blends unless the polyester content is below, say, 30%. Polyester adds strength and cuts down on the possibility of shrinkage, but it really doesn't feel good (and often even smells bad, and hangs onto body odor. Yuck.). If a fabric has more than 20 - 30% polyester, they're just adding it to cut costs. (I'm not defaming 100% polyester fleece, here -- that stuff is a miracle.)

I avoid anything that's described as "easy care." The real definition of "easy care" is "will itch and make you sweat." Real fabrics wrinkle, and breathe.
posted by Corvid at 7:03 PM on October 2, 2012

Well bugger. But thanks anyway. Additional complication is that I'm Australian so I don't know j-crew etc. But the catwalk suggestion is a good one, and I will accept that it seems that the fabric-based approach will not really help!
posted by jojobobo at 7:32 PM on October 2, 2012

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