Women's clothes made to last
August 27, 2017 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Two years ago I pared down my wardrobe to two tees, two long sleeved tees, one blouse, two jeans, leggings, a sweater, a funeral/wedding dress and work clothes. I love it but my ten-year-old j. crew stuff is finally disintegrating. I need new clothes but I want something built to last. I am willing to pay a little more for a quality item, but the brands I once thought built-to-last (J crew, Gap, Banana Republic, even LL Bean) are kind of shitty.

I'm 31 so I haven't quite reached Eileen Fisher.

I want to continue wearing the same things over and over and over because it's just easier for me. Since I will only be buying a couple of pieces I can afford more expensive brands. BUT what is actually worth it? If I'm going to be spending $200 on a shirt I don't want it to die in a year.

Also I want to look nice, so while woolrich makes some great work clothes it's not what I'm looking for here. I like the aesthetic of J. Crew circa 2000. Thank you.
posted by pintapicasso to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
How right you are in re J Crew, LL Bean, etc.

I've only ever gotten men's clothes from them, but Everlane makes some good stuff at very reasonable prices - on a par with or cheaper than J Crew. They say that it's all made with decent labor standards, so I assume that even if they're stretching the truth, it's at least not made by children working twelve hour shifts or something.

It is said - but I would not know - that Cos makes nice, high quality things.

It might also be worthwhile to keep an eye on the Eileen Fisher site - back when I wore women's clothes, I got a few EF things from Ebay that were more on the "youthful and structured" end that I really liked a lot. It feels like every season they have a few pieces that are sort of style outliers for them.
posted by Frowner at 3:03 PM on August 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm 28 and I have a very similar minimal wardrobe style to you. That being said mine is largely comprised of Eileen Fisher sweaters/blouses, Ever-lane/Grana silk button-ups, Cos t-shirts, and Madewell denim. This is what works for me but YMMV. It might be helpful to go to Nordstrom and have a personal shopper assist too.
posted by Marinara at 3:06 PM on August 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

I hear that! So frustrating to buy clothing that fits well and looks great just to have it fall apart. Then you have to go searching again for the same item. Ugh. American Giant t-shirts are designed to resolve this. They wouldn't have blouses or dresses but their knit items really are excellently and thoughtfully made. As for the other items, I've had good luck with Brooks Brothers non-iron shirts and Ann Taylor's suiting dresses. AllSaints has some well made sweaters (warning: narrow sleeves!) but for a lower price I've also found good items from Everlane, specifically their luxe wool cardigan sweater.
posted by belau at 3:12 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ralph Lauren's Polo brand may be a good match for you in terms of style and price point.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 3:45 PM on August 27, 2017

Uniqlo has really good short and long sleeve tees right now. Very comfy and high quality fabrics. I like pretty much everything they make.
posted by bleep at 3:51 PM on August 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you can do wool, Icebreaker and Ibex have some nonsport tees (example) that will hold up really well over time. I'm in Chicago and the lightweight ones are good year-round, save a couple days.
posted by crush at 3:51 PM on August 27, 2017

Nthing Everlane as a commonly cited source of high quality basics lately. I've also had friends mention Cuyana, whose slogan is "fewer better things". I don't have personal experience with either of these brands though. I just buy older JCrew things on Thredup :)
posted by potrzebie at 4:11 PM on August 27, 2017

I love Madewell's jeans. They're $$$ but it's a good investment, and a great thing about this company is if you bring in a pair of old jeans, they'll give you $20 off a new pair. They then recycle the old jeans into building insulation used in community building projects like Habitat for Humanity.

I haven't found a better fit anywhere else (I'm a size 10/12) and I ride my bike a lot which causes a lot of wear in the butt and crotch area, and I have yet to wear through these jeans years later. Trick is don't dry then in a dryer, just hang them up.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 4:44 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've always liked Talbot's clothes but they're very classic and restrained, though of good quality. They have a section called Work Shop which has suits and separates and dresses. Maybe you'll find something here.
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:03 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by paperback version at 5:14 PM on August 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I love Uniqlo but I haven't necessarily had good luck with their stuff holding up. How about L.L. Bean--if it wears out, you can get a refund or replacement, no matter how long it's been, and they do have some cute stuff among the frump.
posted by chaiminda at 5:20 PM on August 27, 2017

Talbot's clothes are the same quality tier as J. Crew and LL Bean. Uniqlo stuff is about J. Crew style but for a fraction of the price.

Pendleton has exceptionally high-quality fabric and construction at their higher price tiers. Look for it to be made from US-woven fabric or silk.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:25 PM on August 27, 2017

My Uniqlo pima t-shirts and merino sweaters have held up really well, although I mostly air-dry the sweaters so YMMV if you're a dedicated dryer user. Most of their other clothes aren't very durable though.

I am not into most of Hanna Andersson's adult clothes but the t-shirts and tanks are very high quality (as are the rest of the clothes if the aesthetic works for you).

Wolford for tights and leggings.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:28 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've heard really good things about LaFleur.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:29 PM on August 27, 2017

I'm a lot older than you, and I might be way off on style, but since Lands End went low quality, I've liked Duluth Trading Company and Decent Exposures for clothes that last. Decent Exposures was recommended to me when I submitted an Ask looking for high-quality skirts with pockets. They don't actually make your clothes until you order them, which means that things take a little longer - and also that you can make specific requests.
posted by FencingGal at 5:38 PM on August 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just here to say that I wear almost exclusively Merino wool tops (layered in the winter), for my physical job (surveyor) and my hobbies (running and rock and glacier climbing) and everything in between, and I own all the brands, and Ibex and Smartwool stuff just literally falls apart after a year. Comparable weight fabrics made by Icebreaker have been way, way better in my experience. Ibex tends to be better fitting andb more stylish, but given the life expectancy it's unfortunately not worth the price.

If you're going for the hiker aesthetic (North Face/Arc'teryx/Outdoor Research etc.), some brands make a lot of neutral-looking and even flattering clothes that come with a lifetime guarantee. They replace it if it doesn't hold up, no questions asked. Downside: logos on your clothes.

For socks, Darn Tough Merino wool socks with a lifetime guarantee. (Yes, they send your a new pair when you mail in your worn one. Seriously.)
posted by halogen at 6:03 PM on August 27, 2017

Tailors are amazing, and underutilized. Take your favorite disintegrating current jcrew clothing to a reputable tailor.

Especially if your wardrobe is minimalist and you have an existing piece you enjoy, it can be quite cost effective to get a tailor to make a pattern for you, and get a few copies made of it. Copies can be made with slightly different colors of fabric, or even different fabrics altogether (at the advice and care of your tailor). This works best for work clothes.

For burly t-shirts, I would hit up Alternative Apparel. They're what happens when you start a company like American Apparel, but have adults at the helm.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:59 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck with Land's End.
posted by Ahniya at 7:42 PM on August 27, 2017

Bean still works out if you are picky about fabric content -- their modal junk is junk; their waxed cotton vest is indestructible. If you stick to the things they have been churning out for ages you're safe (though some need a trip to a tailor for de-boxification), and I have had some good luck with the "Signature" pieces. (Visiting a friend recently I noticed a sort of flannel/chamois cloth-like shirt in a beautiful cobalt draped over a chair. It was so clearly a superior garment that I had to take a peek. Bean Signature! I would totally have that cut down to my size and a more feminine shape; it was lovely.)

Lands' End is a write-off except for odd bits like the pricier parkas. That really sucks; I have been shopping there since 1987 -- I even still have a pair of shoes from them from then! -- and they are a radically different company. Very frustratingly they launched a line called "Canvas" a few years ago, and it was all awesome, well-styled, natural fibres of a good weight, and reasonably priced. Totally inexplicably it nearly disappeared and what "Canvas" pieces remain on the site are not worth looking at. But gently used "Canvas" is worth ferreting out; it has a sort of 'modern prep' aesthetic that I think would work well for someone who misses J. Crew of 2000. (What, you don't want a tissue-thin thing for $150 with a gaudy $75 "statement" necklace? How odd!)

Most of my current strategy is based on hunting through thrift stores and having the good fortune to know a superb seamstress who doesn't overcharge. I will buy a 1980s silk dress, in a lovely thick silk, for $7, and have her re-model it for $20. Just go hunting for good fabrics, work your social network like crazy for a recommendation for the alterations (my town's postmistress kindly tipped me off), and pay little attention to style, and, for some things, sizes -- a skirt can easily be cut down; more structured things, not so much -- ask your seamstress what she does and does not recommend there. If you don't have luck in thrifts, look for dated stuff going cheap on eBay from the pre-made-in-China era with plans for alterations. Do not overlook classic British brands: Jaeger, Pringle, Ports, and, dammit, I have a fever and am blanking out even though I know a tonne of those names. Look at high-end UK dept stores on-line, look at the brands that want £500 for a skirt, and then look for their older stuff on eBay; the quality will be excellent. Same for a lot of Italian brands. Before Joan and David sold the company -- ugh -- and started putting out cheap stuff, their shoes were amazing and a vintage pair with little wear is a solid buy, and they also had a clothing line, which was made by Gruppo GFT, who also did Armani's stuff at the time. Old J&D clothing in good shape is definitely "snatch up and take in for modernising alterations" stuff -- excellent fabrics and workmanship.

Also: Etsy. I can personally vouch for Moonseats and Sandali (perfect workmanship and fabric from the first, well-priced, minimalist, and totally indestructible for the second). Read reviews carefully and inspect photos -- if they couldn't even get it to hang right on the model, move on, but if there are a slew of people raving on about OMG BEST DRESS EVER you are in pretty safe territory. Definitely look for makers who want to tell you about the fabric they are using -- if someone is blowing a wad on heavy linen or silk etc, they will want to tell you; if they are cheaping out, or just not very fabric-savvy, move along.

Also, looking for new cheap stuff on eBay -- I do not want to pay $20 in a mall for basic cheap leggings when eBay will send me a comfy pair direct from China for $5 -- and this sometimes works out way better than expected, too -- I discovered that some amazingly good stuff is coming out of Turkey. I used to be a fan of Indian cottons, but am slowly shifting loyalties to Turkish cottons. An eBay purchase of six pairs of 100% wool socks from Turkey saw me giving everyone I knew Turkish wool socks for Xmas that year. So thick! Such nice non itchy wool! SO THICK!! A sock like that in a hipster shop/site would easily be $40+; these were more like $7. The only problem is that it is hard to track those things down, but, worth it, even for basics like socks.

Do not overlook the Swiss for your undergarments, or us Canadians for your winter boots (also: most Roots items -- top quality leather and cotton fleece). Filson's womenswear is very very limited, and pricy, but bombproof. Flax is worth every penny if you like the style, a little bit Eileen Fishery but sturdier...

Beware of modal; only the priciest of it does not pill, and "bamboo" -- "bamboo" is just cheap rayon and kind of a scam. Hemp is scratchy. Thick silks, linens, wools, and quality cottons cost $ for sound reasons. But if you want a thick silk shirt which will hold up, try to find one that was in the back of someone's closet for a quarter century, not flying on eBay because it is boxy, and get it cut down -- it will be the same if not nicer than the $200 one, and extremely well-fitting to boot.

J. Crew's thick pants are still good, but so common (and slowly getting incrementally thinner) that it is pretty easy to eBay previous years' khakis etc.

Also, don't overlook men's and boy's stuff, which has often not cheapened to the extent women's stuff has. And, kind of a common bit of advice, but, best to splash out on basics like a black cashmere cardigan, and alleviate boredom with the basics via accessories. (After not touching it since a beloved colour was discontinued c. 1992, I just re-discovered nail polish thanks to my kid, and, wow, short red nails and red lips and pearls or fake tortoiseshell bracelets with a basic whatever make it a very different whatever than more restrained makeup. I wish someone had told me that years ago; when I read "accessories" I had not been thinking of stuff that goes on and comes off skin/nails.)

Finally -- wow -- I am in awe of your clothing decluttering skills.
posted by kmennie at 9:49 PM on August 27, 2017 [26 favorites]

2nd Duluth Trading Co.. They have a lifetime guarantee on all their clothes-- Replaced for any reason whatsoever no questions asked (although you have to pay shipping).
posted by luvmywife at 7:39 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might want to check out brands that identify themselves as "slow fashion" (which includes brands like Everlane and Eileen Fisher). The term seems pretty loose, but encompasses ideas like sustainability, clothing made to last, and classic (as opposed to trendy) styles.
posted by ourobouros at 4:41 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

SInce you are so pared down (congrats!) have you considered having clothes tailored specifically for you? A good seamster could make your entire wardrobe to your specifications! You pick the fiber content, colors, add/remove pockets or even copy your old standbys. Plus it would avoid the frustration of shopping and employ a local craftsperson. It may take this person some time to produce each item, but it would save YOU time in looking around for the proper items.
posted by vividvoltage at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2017

I bought two Madewell shirts secondhand and they will last me YEARS. very good quality. Thank you!
posted by pintapicasso at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2017

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