Buying quality clothing is about so much more than longevity.
Purchasing, wearing, and caring for quality clothing is in and of itself, an experience.
Don't get me wrong, affordable clothing still makes up the core of my wardrobe, and it isn't like there's some badge of honor to be earned by paying astronomical prices (unless you're writing rap lyrics).
But there's no denying that in a lot of cases, quality clothing is just going to provide a much better experience than a constant rotation of cheap items.
But first, just in case you think I'm pricing you out of this discussion…
Quality doesn't always have to be expensive
If you're willing to put in the work (reading reviews and trying things on), you can absolutely score some serious deals.
A lot of my favorite pieces were either purchased on sale, at outlet stores, or from resale shops.
The outfit above, despite consisting of all high quality pieces, didn't exactly cost me a fortune.
Here's the cost breakdown (with links to comparable pieces):
- Jacket – GUESS leather moto jacket from consignment shop, $40
- Sweatshirt – J.Crew from consignment shop, $15
- Pants – Banana Republic wool houndstooth from thrift store, $12 + $30 for alterations
- Gloves – Unknown brand from hotel Lost & Found, Free
- Sunglasses – Cole Haan from Nordstrom Rack, $20
Because I put in the time, I have a collection of items that get attention and compliments every time I wear them, despite costing a grand total of $117.
But this outfit didn't come to be as a result of a measly 5 shopping trips – it was more like 50!
Now I call that a good time, but you may think that sounds like a pain in the ass.
If that's the case and numerous shopping trips don't appeal to you, you'll have to consider parting with a few more dollars to get the quality clothing you're after.
With that said, my intention here isn't to say that all affordable clothing is garbage and you must go out and spend your family's vacation money on designer crap.
I want to help get you into an investment mindset so you can start to slowly build your perfect wardrobe out of worthwhile pieces.
Now, if you're still at a point in your life where you just don't have the funds to spend on a permanent wardrobe or you're in the experimental stage and looking to minimize losses, let Casual Style 101 be your guide.
You'll save yourself the price of the book on your first clothing purchase.
Keeping in mind that quality can be cost effective if you're willing to spend the time, here are the top reasons you should invest in quality clothing whenever possible.
How it fits
Notice the v-taper and how smoothly the body drapes.
A cheap suit jacket will just sort of “exist” around you.
It's boxy shape and rigid construction do almost nothing to enhance a man's shape.
A quality jacket, on the other hand, is cut from fine cloth that will drape elegantly and will move with you.
Its canvassed construction (more on that in here) will mold and conform into a perfect 3D model of your body.
Low dollar shoes tend to come in the most generic fit. They're essentially shaped like a football, designed to fit everyone equally as poorly.
High end footwear typically has a more contoured shape. The shoe's heel cups your own, the waist will be tighter against your instep, and the top line will close neatly around your ankle.
What's more, shoe companies that offer a more specialized shape usually offer an array of lasts (the form used to create the shoe) to ensure that everyone can find the perfect fitting pair.
Not everyone is going to be able to wear every last, so more inventory will need to be produced (which translates into higher costs).
Can it be repaired?
Shell Cordovan Longwings – over 30 years old and still going strong on new soles and heels.
High quality shoes aren't only expensive due to the designer label and prestige – they use premium materials and labor-intensive construction techniques.
With low budget shoes, the soles are simply glued to the uppers.
Due to this superior construction process, the soles and heels can be replaced and the leather they use is durable enough to be stripped and refinished.
Many cheap shoes can look pretty decent, but they've cut corners to bring the cost down.
Low grade leathers are used that could prematurely crack and flake, so they'll never develop the same sort of patina as higher quality leathers.
But even if you do manage to make an affordable pair of shoes last long enough to achieve that perfectly broken-in look, the soles will likely be worn out or separating from the uppers by that point.
And since these types of soles weren't constructed in a way to facilitate replacement, you'll have to say goodbye to your treasured shoes and start all over again.
That means more time and money invested into your wardrobe.
Is it worth repair?
Even if you do manage to make a lower quality clothing item last, you have to consider if it's just better to replace the item, rather than repair it.
Let's say that you split a seam on a pair of $20 chinos, are you going to rush to the tailor? Probably not.
You likely didn't love them, maybe they weren't the most flattering fit, and the material wasn't anything to write home about.
But imagine if a seam fails on a $250 pair of suit pants.
These pants fit perfectly, draped just right, and made you feel like James Bond when you put them on.
In this case, a repair is a much wiser choice than replacement.
It's like the case for using a Zippo over a Bic lighter.
No one on earth has ever sent a Bic lighter in for repair. If it stops working, you just toss it and grab another.
But with a Zippo, you bond with that lighter. It's your faithful companion. Maybe it was your father's or grandfather's.
When that lighter acts up, you put in the time or money to get it up and running again.
On cheaper clothing, even something as simple as losing a button can condemn that item to the trash.
With higher quality clothing, timeless style is essentially “baked in.”
More often than not, cheaper clothing is made in the flavor-of-the-month style.
With the lower quality materials and manufacturing techniques making up the sum of the garment, cheaper clothing has an inherent expiration date.
So really, there's no need for the manufacturer to worry about timeless design.
These older individuals are often established in their career, have an existing sense of style, and have played around with trendy pieces.
So you can see how up-to-the-minute fashion doesn't really appeal to this consumer.
There isn't anything wrong with trendy items – I actually think they're essential to having fun with your clothes.
But if you have your eye on building a timeless wardrobe, spending some time combing through the higher end manufacturers will naturally steer you down the right path.
Leather gloves are leather gloves, right?
Not if you're ever owned or handled a pair of cashmere lined premium leather gloves.
Despite serving the exact same function, some clothing items just feel vastly superior.
Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint the visual difference between a cheap and expensive pair of sunglasses, but the feel is completely different.
Cheap sunglasses will be flimsy and carelessly thrown together. Maybe one hinge is tight and the other flops about. And then there are the rough edges from the injection molding process.
But quality sunglasses have smooth, beefy hinges, the frames are strong yet pliable, and everything just fits together nicely.
You'll know what I'm talking about if you've ever worn a pair of Ray Ban Aviators. They feel springy, taught, and weightless on your face.
This parka has so many great features it almost makes winter pleasant.
I've detailed the perfect example of functionality in this article where I talk about the differences between cheap and quality parkas.
In summary, they're both big, puffy, and warm. But the expensive parka will provide a level of true functionality that will make your life so much easier.
On a cheap parka, the pockets and zippers may be difficult to operate with gloved hands.
The fur on the hood sticks to your eyeballs because the depth is too shallow and the pockets may have odd orientation or be missing all together to save on production cost.
Higher quality parkas will have big pull tabs on the zippers and velcro on the pockets instead of impossibly small buttons.
The hood depth will be appropriate for an adult head so the fur stays out of your eyes and the pockets are cleverly arranged.
Mine even has an “inside” pocket that can be accessed without unzipping the coat (genius!).
This purpose build nature is a hallmark of quality clothing in general.
The little details
Johnston & Murphy Conrad, $155 Allen Edmonds Larchmont, $385
Lower quality dress shoes will have seams on panels where there shouldn't be any because it's cheaper to join together two pieces of leather than it is to use a continuous piece.
The pair of quality shoes will have genuine leather soles, a stacked leather heel, and Goodyear welt construction.
The cheaper pair will possibly have a leather sole, but will most likely have a hollow plastic heel and glued construction garnished with a fake welt around the outsole.
Of course, these details aren't life altering, but they do detract from the overall look of the shoe and are indicators of a shorter lifespan.
On high quality shirts, you'll notice that the pattern is matched, meaning the stripes and checks will align at the seams.
This requires more material waste and time to produce, so the cost will naturally be higher.
It doesn't contribute to the shirt's durability or performance and it may not even be immediately apparent, but it does contribute to the overall look and feel of a garment, and as an extension of the overall outfit.
You should be excited to wear your clothes!
This is the case where the experience is greater than the sum of its parts.
A suit isn't just a collection of thread and fabric much in the same way a work of art isn't just paint and canvas.
When you buy quality items, they feel special. They make you feel special.
Just because you may not wear a suit everyday doesn't mean you shouldn't have that same visceral experience when getting dressed.
Your jeans should make you feel like a tough guy, your sweaters should make you feel classy and sophisticated, and your wingtips should make you feel like a true gentleman of yesteryear.
Your favorite clothes make you feel your best and make you want to wear them as often as possible.
It isn't just the color, it isn't just the fit, and it isn't just the functional details – it's the overall experience that makes you reach for them over and over again.
Yes, durability still counts
$30 wasted on “bonded leather.” Should've bought quality the first time around.
After all that is said and done, “quality” clothing is generally more robust.
Even though fabrics may look and even feel the same at first, they aren't exempt from the same cost-cutting attempts seen in any other manufacturing industry.
Down to the individual strands of fabric, different fiber lengths and weaving techniques result in radically different wear characteristics.
Cheaper fabrics tend to wear more quickly at high friction areas, such as the crotch, underarms, and elbows.
Low dollar sweaters pill before those knit from premium wools.
Straps from backpacks and messenger bags will wear out the shoulders of a budget jacket more quickly than ones of better quality.
When it comes to clothing that you're going to wear consistently and develop a relationship with, it's best to shop around for the best quality you can find so that your enjoyment doesn't get cut short.
Obviously, quality clothing items often come with substantially higher price tag.
But if you're willing to pound the pavement (and the keyboard) you can still curate a quality wardrobe on just about any budget.
When you do decide to spend a large chunk cash, make sure to first invest in the wardrobe essentials.
These are the items that are going to stick with you for the long haul and you'll get the most wear, and thus the most value, out of them.
If you're still in the beginning stages, don't feel that you have to spend every dime you have on clothes you may or may not like.
Stick to affordable wardrobe pieces for the learning and experimentation phases, and replace them with more expensive pieces once you've solidified your personal style.
And most importantly, enjoy the journey!
All the best,