It happens to the best of us: You wander into Uniqlo or Zara or H&M for a pair of socks, but distracted by the reams of shiny sweatshirts and ribbed turtlenecks, you’re pulled in. Fifteen minutes later, you leave with $100 missing from your wallet and a bag of clothes that probably won’t last a year.
But fast fashion isn’t always terrible, as long as you’re being mindful with what you purchase. There are ways to tell if clothes will go the distance—or just fall apart after the first wash or be rendered obsolete by the shifting sands of trends.
A recent New York Times feature went deep on the phenomenon of “slow fashion”—the idea of calming down on our voracious clothing consumption by purchasing longer-lasting duds in smaller amounts.
They suggest looking at several factors when considering an item of clothing, including the likelihood of wearing it more than once; its material and construction; and how difficult it will be to maintain.
First off, perform the so-called “tug test.” Boiling it down to basics, consider whether the shirt you’re thinking of taking home is sewn well. There should be about eight stitches per inch on the average garment; this is hard to measure while shopping, but when in doubt, you can pull on stitches and buttons. “Not too hard, you know, but just to pull on it and make sure that it’s not going to fall apart,” Sean Cormier, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told the Times.
Similarly, keep in mind that thin fabrics generally won’t last as long. If you’re shirt or sweater shopping, slip your hand inside the shirt. If you can see your hand through it, it’s too thin. Of course, this doesn’t apply to shirts that are intentionally transparent, but it’s a good rule of thumb for general purchases.
Here’s one that my mother taught me when I was younger: If the pockets on a patterned shirt don’t match up with the rest of the shirt, it’s a sign the shirt was made cheaply. There should also be a bit of extra fabric along the seam.
“If it was a cheaper fabric then they would just flick it to one side and put the overlocker through it, whereas if it’s more expensive than they would be to either side of the seam,” Elaine Ritch, a senior lecturer in marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University, told the Times. “When you buy kind of cheap fashion from H&M the seams never lie right, and they just don’t seem to fit you as well.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Some of the guidelines the Times suggests are straightforward at first glance, but require a bit of soul-searching. For example, next time you’re shopping, ask yourself if you’ll really wear the garment you’re contemplating more than once. Moreover, is it comfortable? It can be tempting to buy jeans that are a bit tight in the waist but fit perfectly everywhere else, or a wool sweater that’s a little itchy, but let’s be real: You’ll never choose those items in the morning over other more comfortable clothing. Leave them on the rack.
In terms of durability, Pima cotton actually tends to last longer than regular cotton (what?!), because most cotton clothing is apparently made from shorter-strand cotton, which can pill. Steer clear of synthetics and stick to natural fibers as much as possible, and tighter knits over their loose counterparts, to avoid unnecessary pills.
All of this isn’t just a fashion choice: For the health of our planet, we need to chill out on our clothing waste. The U.S. generated 11.9 million tons of textile waste in 2015, which translates to about 75 pounds per person, as the Times reports. We’re all for shopping (duh!), but we’re going to keep these ideas in mind next time we have the urge to indulge in fast fashion.
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