How can I train myself to have an appreciation and eye for the quality of higher-end clothing and accessories?
November 12, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

How do I judge the quality of luxury clothing and accessories?

After many years of schooling, I can finally afford to wear things that aren't Ross circa 2004. The only problem is I don't have the knowledge or skills to adequately judge quality. I am looking for your help to point me in the direction of books, websites, or other sources to learn how to judge the quality of:

-leather goods

In this vein, I have taken on a little hobby of updating my wardrobe. I do not mind buying designer labels for these goods, but do not want to be paying for brand so much as quality. As a side note, I've been pretty out of the loop when it comes to fashion and design for, well, ever. So anything, even if remedial, to get me started will be appreciated. What is the equivalent of a cookbook or Haynes manual for higher-end goods?

Similarly, are there brands/labels that you would point me to for the foregoing categories that are more focused on quality manufacturing and materials than on the lifestyle/branding component of consumer goods? A few that come to mind as possibilities are Rag & Bone for clothes, Randolph Engineering for sunglasses, and Frye for shoes. Companies where the mission really is on making fantastic quality goods, hopefully with dedicated manufacturing facilities. This will allow me to look at sample items and compare them to what I already know to be lower quality items.

Thanks so much, Meficuses.
posted by letahl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One thing that has helped me is simply following a few fashion blogs on a daily basis. I like Tom and Lorenzo for updating several times daily, and for focusing on everything from runway shows to new collections to red carpet gowns to celebrity street style. Without even consciously meaning to, just by following this blog and a couple others more focused on street style, I have now gotten to the point where I can instantly spot the differences between cheap and expensive clothes/shoes/bags without seeing the label, and also without being able to articulate exactly HOW I know the difference. I'm also much more able to spot trends and to know when someone is really on-trend, really avant-garde, or really behind the times. (Living in NYC and having a broad range of street fashion to practice on is helpful!)

You could make a little project for yourself. Go window shopping in a Payless, check out the shoes and bags- really touch every part of them, examine them from every angle inside and out, feel the material, feel the seams and how they connect to each other, try on the shoes. Maybe even just focus on boots, or on strappy heels. Then go to a high-end shoe store and try on a bunch of different labels, of varying prices. I think you'll be able to trust your own eye much more once you've done this- the differences are actually pretty glaring.

Obviously there are differences in quality even among the high-end brands, but this is a first step that will make you more confident in your ability to assess quality based on your instincts and what you personally like, rather than what is 'supposed' to be good. Then your more in-depth comparisons of brands will be more meaningful to you. That's how you become stylish, rather than just fashionable. (It's a work in progress for me, to be sure!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, also: it would be easier to recommend brands if we had an idea of your style- could you link to some photos of outfits you would like to emulate?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:52 AM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: Hi! So glad to be answering this question.

I agree, it helps to figure out what your style is.

My style is old-school prep with an alternative vibe. I have an hour-glass shape so a lot of the preppy stuff looks horrible on me due to my curves.

So I find styles and pieces that I know look good on me, and then tweak them to fit my style. Then I funk it up with a statement necklace or my Liberty Peacock scarf. (Trust and Believe I'm going to wear that scarf!)

So go through your wardrobe and find the stuff you LOVE to wear. What is it about the item/outfit that makes you feel so amazing? Is it the color, fit, the funkitude?

As for quality. Yes.

No unlined suits. No see through dresses. Eschew Dress Barn and other places that consistently have crap quality. Go to upscale places, Banana Republic, Macys, Lord and Taylor. I find that while Nordstrom has good basics, their stuff is pretty dowdy in my size, although the Foxcroft Blouse that never needs ironing is a really good bet.

If you want to know if a fabric will wrinkle. Crinkle it in your hand and then see if it falls back wrinkle free. If not. It stays. Put a dark piece under the fabric to see if it's see through. In most cases this is not desirable.

Tug on buttons, they should feel tight. If you see loose threads in buttons, leave the item, they didn't anchor it properly and you'll gap open.

Unless the bottom of the dress has a voluminous skirt, don't wear dresses that button or snap all the way up the front.

Look at seams. They should be even, and finished. And deep. Little tiny seam allowances, especially in knits, spell disaster.

Find brands that work for you and that consistently have good quality. You'll find that going back to brands you like is like meeting up with an old friend.

If you must buy something trendy (and every now and then you should) make it the most disposible piece of crap around. Those short, pleated, chiffon skirts at Forever XXI, or some goofy thing at H&M, or something wildly adorable, but expiring before your eyes at Love. Don't spend more than $20 on it. And when it finally dies. Donate it.

Think about staples in your wardrobe, items that will always be in style and you'll always want them in your closet.

1. Black skirt. This year it's a pencil, sometimes it's a trumpet, mine is an A-line. You can throw on a cotton blouse and go to the office. (With your Liberty Scarf, or a statement necklace, or a jacket.)

2. Black Pants. Good pants take forever to find, mine came from Target of all places, and I've had them for 7 years! When they die, I'll cry like a baby. To this day, I regret not getting a second pair. They were only $20!

3. White shirt. Goes with everything. If you don't eat spaghetti you can wear it twice a week. Just put a different sweater over it.

4. Jacket. I look hideous in jackets, but they do smarten up an outfit. I think the classiest one is a navy-blue double-breasted jacket with brass buttons, ala Brooks Brothers. Once you buy it, as long as you stay the same size, you'll never need another. (Don't spend $400, Lauren makes one too, and you can get it at Macy's on sale, with a coupon.)

5. Jeans. Don't worry about being too trendy. Worry about fit. The new skinny jeans, even in my size. Forget it. I'll stay with my wide-leg jeans and I'll look smart and put together.

7. Little Black Dress. You can make it fancy for the opera, or put some funky accessories on it for dancing. Mine is made from that jersey/sproingy stuff. Packs great, machine wash, ready to go at a moment's notice.

8. Gorgeous overcoat. If you live in a climate where coats are a thing, pick out a good one and wear it forever. My Russian Cossack coat looks great on me and has lasted for about 15 years. It's classic, it fits well and it keeps me warm and toasty.

9. Bras and panties. Buy the best you can afford. Cheap won't cut it, and well-fitted bras make your figure amazing!

The idea behind these workhorses of your wardrobe is that if you buy excellent items, they'll last a long time. What you spend on them doesn't matter, it's how well they're made that matters.

Now when you buy something, you're adding to your wardrobe. Not rotating things through it.

For inspiration I like In Style and Real Simple for wardrobe layouts. They often feature different body types and different styles, and they show you how to wear new trends.

Go to Bed, Bath and Beyond and get proper wooden hangers. They're cheap and much better for your clothes than a sad assortment of cheesy plastic or wire hangers. You can get 20 for about $10. (give or take).

Buy very little that needs dry cleaning. Use less detergent than you think you need. If you see foam, you used too much. Wash as cool as you can to preserve colors and fabrics. Don't leave the laundry but check for things frequently and yank them out as soon as they're dry.

I love answering these kinds of questions!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2012 [15 favorites]

Go shopping. Try on high-end stuff, even if you're not buying. Then, you can see what's good for you and how the better stuff fits and how it's made. Basically, my rule of thumb is that any shoe marked "Made in Italy" is going to be better quality than any shoe made in China. Cole-Haan shoes are usually good quality, and I'd had good luck at Madewell, as well.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:50 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, guys, for your interest!

On my recent shopping trip, I really liked some things from Theory, Marc Jacobs, and Rag & Bone. In terms of a style, I like clothing tailored to make the most of my hourglass figure, but I only want to buy classic cuts. For my good clothing, I like solids in black, dark blue, and gray and, to a lesser extent, white and tans/browns. I am into texture, and the contrast of texture.

I tend to like pieces that bring to mind European socialites of the mid-20th century, somehow combined with a military or perhaps even a post-modern bent. I'm not even sure what post-modern means in that context, so if it's not helpful, pretend I didn't say it.

Well, here are a few pieces I'm in love with at the moment: Burberry Funnel Neck Wool/Cashmere Coat (but in gray, exclusive to Saks), Rag & Bone RBW 9 pants (but not the outfit), BCBG perforated suede jacket (the outfit generally is great, except the purse), this Jack Germaine lambskin clutch (wish it was black), this Nicole Miller dress, this incredible leather/jean jacket from R&B, this badass jacket from Burberry (don't mind the skirt, either), an RL leather-trimmed dress, and for shoes, why not these from Modcloth or some Pikolinos Parma booties (love the red, but I'd probably get the black). Then there's always this bag from Monserat de Lucca.

I can tell you that I think a lot of the more "fashion-y" higher-end clothing that has bling is really not my style (D&G, Louboutin, Prada, Louis Vuitton). Products advertising their brand immodestly puts me off, as does faux leather (I'd go with textile first). I like some of the more classic stuff from brands like J Crew and RL, but then they jump the ship for me on some of their newer designs, so I am reluctant to say I like either generally.

Thanks for your thoughts!
posted by letahl at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2012

To judge quality, look at hems of skirts and pant legs...and sometimes at the wrists. The stitching shouldn't be noticeable on the right side, unliess the stitching is a feature.
--A jacket with a lining hangs a lot better, and it's easier to pull it on over a layer that has sleeves.
--Check inside the shirt in front, where the buttons are sewn on and the placket (the strip that has the buttonholes). A lot of shirts and blouses curl up underneath necause there's fabric that isn't tacked down. If that flap isn't sewn down, it should have some kind of stiffener fused to it to help it lie flator else the curled fabric will push the placket away from your body. You definitely can iron those areas, but with shirts that don't need ironing, you really don't want to deal with the problem.
--On prints, look at seams, darts, pockets, and the area where a shirt or jacket meets in the front.. The pattern doesn't necessarily have to match up, but the mismatch shouldn't look like a mistake.
--If everything else is fine, I don't worry too much if the buttons need reinforcing. But I do make a few passes with a needs and thread if I'm not sure. It's so much easier to do that than to sew buttons on once they've fallen off.
--One way to learn about quality is to look at some brands that are generally very good, like Jones New York or Ralph Lauren. Even if these labels aren't your style, you'll easily be able to see the differences from the store brand.

Buy only from places that have a good return policy. You can't always tell how a garment is going to wear and how it'll do in the wash. You need to be able to return it if the collar curls or the seams don't lie flat.

Some things have pockets that can gap or sag. If the pockets are sewn closed, I consider whether I really need to open them. I've also sewn some open pockets closed to maintain the lines of an item. Cardigan sleeves are notorious for sagging, which is okay ony if you like a slouchy look.
posted by wryly at 11:15 AM on November 12, 2012

In terms of quality: Are the jackets, slacks and skirts lined? Does the lining have a tight weave that looks and feels like something other than rayon? Look at seams and hems, is there redundant stitching so that a loose thread won't cause the whole thing to come undone?

It used to be that synthetics were a sure sign of low quality, but that's no longer universally true. But clothes should feel like they are made of something *real* -- cotton, wool, linen, etc., even if they do contain large amounts of synthetics.

If you're looking for pants-like leggings, look for "ponte" fabric. It's heavier than what many skinny leggings are made from and offers more support.

When you find an item you like, hold it up to the light. Unless you're explicitly and intentionally going for the see-through look, clothes should be made of a heavy enough or tightly woven/knitted enough fabric to be opaque.

Feel the fabric against your fingers. Is it soft, smooth, comfortable to the touch? If you rub it against itself, does it seem likely to pill or wear away quickly? Quality fabrics should feel good to wear. They should not itch or rub. They should not make you feel sweaty.

If you are prone to sweating, be careful of shirts with too much nylon/rayon in them, as they seem to hold on to odors and be more likely to develop white deodorant stains.

When you try on a skirt or slacks, what happens when you take a full long-step? Does it constrain you or does it flow to accommodate your gait? Bend down while standing with knees relatively straight, and then with knees bent, and then sit with legs crossed and uncrossed. Pay attention to how the fabric moves, how it feels and how it looks. Does it seem likely to turn the pleats that form when you sit into wrinkles when you stand up? A skirt or slacks that looks good when you're standing still should still look good when it's in motion and when you're seated.

When you try on a shirt or jacket, reach up, bend down and reach for the floor, put your arms behind you and clasp your hands, cross your arms. Does what you're wearing constrain your range of motion? Do the sleeves bunch at the elbows or shoulders in strange or unflattering ways?

Don't worry about the size number on the label. You will look better in an embarrassingly large (or small) size that fits you well than in clothes chosen because you like the number on a label that nobody but you can see.

Finally: Get to know a tailor. If you find something that seems almost right, but the hems are too long, the bust is too big, etc., a good tailor can make a big difference at improving the quality of already high-quality attire.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:22 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

OMG I love those modcloth shoes.

my tastes run somewhat similar to yours (rag and bone, theory, jcrew), but as a tall person, I end up ordering most of my basics from since they have tall sizes. I add interest with cheap costume jewelry, and then nice pieces from department stores.

I like to comb the sales racks at Saks Fith Avenue and Barney Coop- a lot of the stuff that ends up on the sales rack is in the larger (normal people) sizes (and the number doesn't matter- I wear everything from a size 6-14). Bloomingdales is particularly good for theory sales.

As to quality- if the fabric is meant to be opaque, it should be opaque. there should no loose threads anywhere. Hems should have enough of a seam allowance for modification (either letting out or taking in). Jackes need a lining, sweaters should not sag- if you pull on them slightly they should spring back. Prints should match up. (really obvious on plaids)

For shoes, do the comparison between payless and a department store as mentioned above- that's a brilliant idea. good shoes are ones that you can re-sole, restitch etc.

on preview- we're all saying the same stuff...
posted by larthegreat at 11:27 AM on November 12, 2012

I think Modcloth shoes are junk. Fine for trendy stuff for 1 season, but really not made to last. The linked ones are fabric, made in China and I can guarantee that the snake pattern will rub off very quickly.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:56 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I wouldn't recommend buying shoes from Modcloth if you're concerned about quality. You should note that Modcloth carries 100% faux leather goods, which I really don't like to spend money on as it tends to fall apart quickly. (Their other clothes are hit-or-miss on quality, but some can be quite nice. Others... Forever21 quality.)

Shoes are actually the number one thing I'm willing to spend a lot of money on, because cheap dresses or coats don't HURT YOU when you wear them!
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:00 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree on the modcloth shoes- they're ones I'd wear in the office as effectively "office slippers" and not anyplace I need to actually walk more than a block or two.
posted by larthegreat at 12:32 PM on November 12, 2012

Response by poster: Ok, I guess I didn't effectively caveat but of course they're cheap, I was asked to give examples of styles I liked. I've gotten some things on MC that are good and some that are crap -- depends on the brand. No idea as to those particular shoes, but they're an example of something I like. Looking forward to more feedback on being an expert clothing/accessories evaluator! Tips so far have been great! :)
posted by letahl at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2012

In terms of buying high-quality shoes, it's really helped me to pay attention to my feet: What shoes currently hurt, and what causes problems for my feet?

Your feet will be different, but for me, I tend to get blisters on my toes when shoes are too narrow there, and shoes that end right at the top of my ankle are constantly rubbing me raw there. So now, when I shop for shoes I pay extra close attention to how they fit my toes. If they are tight on the toes, I don't buy them at all no matter how cute they look. If they rub against the top of my ankle, I pay attention to what the shoe is made of: If it's hard leather that's likely to continue to rub, I don't buy them. if it's soft canvas that will tough but not pressure, then that's OK. I also like to put arch inserts into closed shoes that I'll wear a lot, so I bring my inserts with me when trying on shoes to make sure they are deep enough that adding the extra support doesn't cause the laces to squeeze the top of my foot too hard.

Pay attention to your feet: At the end of a long day, where are they sore? where do you get the most blisters? Do you have a hard time finding shoes that are wide enough? Narrow enough? Will you wear these shoes with socks, vs. with hosiery?

And buy from high-quality, reputable vendors that will allow you to return shoes even after you've worn them a few times. I like stores that specifically have "walk" or "walking" in the name, since I sometimes walk the 2.5 miles to my office and need to be able to keep going once I get there. A lot of the shoes at these stores are unattractive, but keep looking. Some are cute. The ones I do like are spendy, but my feet are worth it. I can't imagine spending less than $100 on a pair of shoes ever again, unless drastically marked down.

Just as a tailor will make your nice clothes even nicer, when you start investing in nice shoes you should get to know a cobbler. A cobbler can stretch out the too-small shoe you bought even though you knew better, re-attach the strap that fell off, re-sole shoes that are worn through, add tabs to minimize wear to the bottoms of new shoes if you have an uneven gait and are likely to wear down one side faster than the other. After you make that initial $100-$300 investment in a pair of high-quality shoes, repeat $20 visits to the cobbler can keep those shoes on your feet for years to come.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tom Bihn for bags, for sure. They're not trendy or high-fashion, but they're classic and incredibly well-made (in terms of both durability and a well-thought-out, practical design), and have a devoted following for just that reason.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:36 PM on November 12, 2012

Best answer: I love your style choices. You shouldn't worry so much.
My grandfather always told me to spend on shoes first, then the rest. Both for my own sake: good shoes are good to wear, but also because good shoes signal good style more than any other item. (And he was a man!)
Joke aside, one of my graduate students has been studying this for her thesis and knows a lot about it. It turns out there are luxury brands, and then there are real luxury brands. The ones we know best have several levels of products, and the bottom levels are actually quite crappy; made in Asia and then just finished in the US or Europe to get the right text in the label. Among the brands you mention, Burberry and Ralph Lauren do this. So does Marc Jacobs, but they are open about it. Still, at the higher price levels, they do produce quality stuff. As far as I understand my student correctly, you might often be better off with more local brands, with a smaller output (even if some of the stuff is made in India) because they tend to supervise the production more carefully, and if they are not world-known, they can't go too high on the prices.
I have some brand-name bags and purses, but my favorite and most envied is one I bought at a small store in New York 10 years ago. I'm too fat for jeans, but my daughters wear some amazing Swedish ones (they are not here now, but maybe google can help?) Most things can be found online.
One thing I have good experience with from big brands is woolen coats. I have a 25 year old Jaeger which fits right into the new oversize thing, a wonderfully classic Max Mara which is nearly twenty years old (bought as vintage), and a small store one which looks completely unused at ten years. Your Burberry pick looks great. Maybe this an item where the big brands would otherwise get too many complaints? Though if you look at leather or fur, I've had bad experiences with several brands, whereas a leather jacket a designer-friend made for me looks fresh and funky at 15 years old now.
You should think a lot about maintenance. Can you afford regular dry cleaning? At a point my cleaners' budget was larger than my clothes budget. Not good. Is the item reparable? Some of the old stuff I have, I get remade or repaired every five or six years. Quality of material and good details are important for that. I don't mind if an expensive leather jacket looses a special button, but I am still offended now 10 years after I was told that the company didn't feel obliged to repair it for me. Good stores/brands will offer services, even if you haven't kept the receipt.
Also, I nth all of the specifics mentioned above, except one. Again, my granddad, a very stylish gentleman and with a huge interest in elegant ladies, has some advice: "if you can't afford real jewelry, you will look more elegant without. Spend those money you would have used on costume stuff on your hair and manicures..." he was quite stubborn about that
posted by mumimor at 2:12 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You want to buy clothes and shoes that are well-constructed.

To determine their quality, turn clothes inside out and look at how they're put together. Look for signs that effort was made in their construction: precise pleats, not sloppy gathering. Loops with snaps to hold bra straps in place. Mother-of-pearl or metal buttons, not plastic. Linings, pockets, bound buttonholes, French seams and bound seams are all signs of higher quality.

Read the fiber content tags. You want natural fibers: cotton, linen, silk, wool, cashmere. Rayon is acceptable if it's a heavier, better-feeling rayon; cotton is unacceptable if it's tissue-thin. Avoid polyester wherever possible. Fake leather shoes aren't worth it, no matter how cheap they are.

Good sweaters don't pill, because the yarns they're knit from are spun from longer fibers, and hold together better in the face of friction. Turned inside out, a good-quality sweater will be made of pieces knit individually and sewn together, not cut and serged-- if the sweater has serged seams it's probably cheaply made and won't last.

Also consider fit. Every brand has a fit model that they base their designs on, scaling up or down from that shape. If you're shaped like the fit model, that brand will look great on you; if it doesn't, that's not the brand you should be wearing. Particular cuts and styles look best on particular body types; figure out your body and dress to flatter it.

Honestly, I rarely wear clothes made after the mid-1960s because most modern clothing is constructed to unacceptably low standards. When I buy modern clothes, I stick to a couple of brands and am extremely picky. I also have a body type that's ill-suited to current trends-- I'm built for the 1950s, so I wear a vintage silhouette even in modern clothes.

(If you want to know more about the history of clothing construction, I can go on for a while: there's a reason Edwardian whites are still wearable and three-year-old cotton T-shirts are disintegrating.)
posted by nonasuch at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Great question. Forgive this wall of text but my tastes are like yours, and I've thought about this a LOT! (I once made a spreadsheet analyzing three years of clothes shopping.) Bear with me :-)

* The first important thing is that the concept of investment dressing is nonsense. All clothing and accessories degrade, even pearls. And styles change. Try to buy for what you will wear now and for the next ten years, but don't kid yourself that things will survive longer. With very rare exceptions, they won't.

* I read fashion blogs, but only so I know what to avoid. Every season there are a few new industry-wide details that signal current-season fashionability, and I want to educate my eye so I can avoid them, because they will date. Current or recent examples include exposed back zippers on dresses and tops, over-the-knee boots, embellished and ruffled and waterfall cardigans, blazers with piping, and anything dip-dyed, photo-printed or variably sheer. Black-and-white tree scenes are big right now too. I skip all that stuff.

* Avoid brands that are internationally advertised as high status, that have perfume spin-offs, and/or make stuff that's covered in logos. (You know --- Versace, Gucci, Armani, Prada, Burberry, Vuitton.) With all that stuff you are paying a massive premium for status, which means a proportionate loss in quality relative to price.

* Avoid outlets and end-of-the-line retail like the Outnet, Neiman Marcus Last Call and Nordstrom Rack. They sell the stuff nobody further up the food chain wanted, which means it skews too fashion-forward or weird or gimmicky, is uncomfortable or awkward in some way, or just unusually crappy. To a lesser degree, the same is true for eBay and consignment stories, and for end-of-season sales.

* Some specific brands: for clothes Theory is great, as is T by Alexander Wang and Akris Punto. Diane von Furstenberg's silk wrap dresses are classics that never go out of style. Eileen Fisher's stuff is mostly matronly but the fabrics are great if you can find a cut that works, and it wears like iron. You might like Patrizia Pepe and/or Nanette Lepore: both are cut well for curvy women. Shoes are very personal (because it's all about fit) but try the less trendy Stuart Weitzman styles, Tods, Acne, Rag and Bone and yes, Frye. Bags: Kate Spade, the leather Longchamps but not the trendy canvas ones, Mulberry. In general for quality aim to skew towards mid-priced European brands, especially Italy, France and Germany.

* I mostly divide my clothes-buying into three categories. First, I spend a lot on things that will or should endure: mostly outerwear, suits, jackets, and conservative versions of accessories like scarves, wraps and gloves, as well as fancy shoes I'll wear twice a year. Things I can imagine myself still owning a decade from now. Here I'm aiming for quality. I also spend a lot on neutral basics I will get a lot of immediate, near-daily use out of: simple leather boots and shoes, wool sweaters, wool trousers. Here I'm aiming for a combination of quality, durability and utility. This stuff is usually top-quality fabrics: cashmere, silk, etc. Second: I spend a medium amount on anything worn close to the skin or that is casual -- usually stuff like t-shirts, button-downs, tanks, jeans, socks, tights, lingerie, etc. This stuff is usually cotton or cotton/silk, cotton/wool -- never synthetics. And third: Rarely, I will buy, for cheap, stuff that is highly fashionable, edgy, very bright or memorable, or leaning "young" --- like something I would wear infrequently, out at night for a season or two, or to match something else for a single wedding or other one-off event.

* Never pay retail for expensive jewellery. A significant proportion of jewellery buying is gift-giving, and so there is a massive mark-up for the pretty box. Do lots of research (e.g., you can learn an enormous amount about pearls here), and then buy online: you will save a ton of money.

* There are not a lot of good sites for this kind of thing. Actually that's not true -- there are, but they are all aimed at men. Women's sites are practically 100% crazed throwaway consumerism: there's very little focused on quality. When Corporette focuses on basics, it is not terrible. For books, I'd recommend maybe The Pocket Stylist. And Home Comforts, although not precisely on-topic, is all about quality and value, and has useful sections on fabrics and clothing maintenance.

The trick is to remember that 99% of available information for female clothing shoppers is pure advertising --- you need to discard almost everything you read or are told. Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 12:24 AM on November 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I tend to like pieces that bring to mind European socialites of the mid-20th century, somehow combined with a military or perhaps even a post-modern bent. I'm not even sure what post-modern means in that context, so if it's not helpful, pretend I didn't say it.

How do you feel about repro? I find that because repro clothing is independently made, the quality is very good. (I've also had similar experiences with clothing companies that have an ethical focus - People Tree clothes are really well constructed.) I have a Bettie Page dress I bought for a wedding in December and the difference in quality between this and something of similar cost on the high street is notable. It's a shame it's not so easy to come by in the UK, but as a fellow hourglass I also find repro fits me a lot better than standard modern clothing, and I'm too tall/busty/fat for actual vintage most of the time.

If I had a lot of money - if I was getting married I could probably justify the cost - I'd look at Whirling Turban.

I also agree with Susan_PG on investment dressing. Not only do styles change, but not all 'classics' suit everyone - I've not owned a neutral-coloured coat for years because I don't suit black or camel and grey and navy are fairly drab day to day. If you're going to spend a lot of money on your wardrobe, consider first whether the colours are right on you, and whether you expect your body shape/size to change as well.
posted by mippy at 8:16 AM on November 13, 2012

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