Saturday, June 1, 2013

Clothing Quality Decline

Unlike many of the personal finance bloggers I read, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to clothes. I prefer to wear natural fibers, in high quality, durable materials. In the winter I wear wool skirts and stockings, and cashmere and wool sweaters. My scarf is cashmere, my gloves are leather. In the summer I prefer to wear linen and cotton.

Increasingly our clothes are made from synthetic fibers, which are much cheaper, and much easier to care for. In general, I find they make lousy garments which pill, wear out quickly, cling, and look cheap. Wool had remarkable abilities to wick moisture, retain warmth and age well. Cashmere is up to eight times warmer than wool. Linen breathes and can absorb a large percentage of its weight in water without feeling wet. With the exceptions of nylon, modal and viscose, which are useful in limited quantities, I try to avoid synthietics.

In the last few years, a spike in the price of cotton and the global recession have accelerated the trend toward synthetic fibers. Even Old Navy used to sell t-shirts that were over 90% cotton, now they are all poly-blends. Even expensive jeans now include not only a bit of spandex for stretch, but also polyester, elastomuliester and other similar abominations. It's increasingly difficult to find garments made of high quality materials, even at high end brands.

Which brings me to the subject of today's rant. In the past I've patronized Boden because they were bricey but produced consistently high quality clothing of mostly natural fibers. I have lovely cotton dresses, wool skirts and cashmere sweaters from them. They released their fall collection for pre-orders and I am not impressed.  This lovely dress is $200 and made of 100% viscose (rayon) lined with polyester. In fact, most of their dresses have high percentages of synthetics than in years past, with no change in price.

They aren't alone in this. Last year, J Crew released their updated Lady Day coat, a coat they have made every year for nearly a decade. There's just one small problem. The coat is now 75% wool. 25% nylon, instead of 96% wool, 4% nylon, as in years past. Naturally, this change, which makes the coat less warm, was not mentioned anywhere. In fact, it's nearly impossible to find a real, 100% wool coat any more.

I appreciate that manufacturing garments in natural fibers is costlier, and I'm willing to pay the price difference. I'd rather have fewer, nicer pieces. Unfortunately, my views must be out of step with the mainstream, as more and more clothes are made from petrochemicals, synthetics, anything that wasn't once part of an actual plant or animal. If Talbots quits making clothes from natural fibers, I'm going to make good on my threats to learnto sew.

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