A £5 T-Shirt should wear out more quickly than one that costs £45, right?
Well, no. This wasn't the case in a new study from researchers at Leeds University, where 65 items of clothing from £6 - £150 were rigorously tested for their durability.
Some of these results were surprising. After all, you'd usually expect a more expensive brand to better quality and last longer than the cheapest brands.
But the price of clothing tells you less about quality that you might think.
Does Price of Clothing Show Quality?
When Price ACTUALLY Equals Quality
Higher quality clothes can cost more because they take longer to make, use premium materials and have Organic and/or Fairtrade accreditations.
Usually the advice, whether you're buying new or preloved, is to buy more expensive brands because they will last longer. Often vintage clothes of certain designer brands are good to buy because they have already stood the test of time.
Items like denim or leather jackets or boots are well-wearing and can still fetch high prices even as second hand items.
But again, the idea is that if you spend a bit more on clothing, you usually earn it back because the garments stand up to more wear and tear.
There are other benefits from buying more expensive clothes, especially if they are certified as Organic or Fairtrade. It's better for workers in terms of pay, working conditions and exposure to chemicals from synthetic dyes, pesticides and fertilisers.
Fast Fashion Vs Designer Fashion Which is Better Quality?
You only have to watch a show like the Sewing Bee to see just how long it takes to create a quality garment. A trench coat had 30+ pieces and the sewers had 5 hours to make them. If you paid them the living wage for this, the coat should start from £54.50 - that's without factoring in any overheads, cost of shipping, packaging or cost of materials.
Of course, the sewers on a competition programme are not sewing for their livelihoods, and mass produced clothing can be made faster through repetition or division of labour.
Shein (at time of writing) are selling trenchcoats from around £15, with a deal for 50% off when you buy two. £7.50 even for 2.5 hours work is peanuts. Of course, you do have to think about the relative cost of living and the value of the pound vs other currencies.
Let's compare that to one of the founding brands to develop the trench coat - Burberry. They are a designer fashion brand, right at the other end of the spectrum to Shein. Their trenchcoats take around 4 hours to make - stitching only. The cheapest trench coat we could find direct from Burberry on their website was the Tropical Gabardine Waterloo Trench Coat at £1690.
There's likely to be a whole different complexity to each trench coat from Shein to Burberry. The latter is said to use 80+ pieces to create their coats. Garments can be simplified, pockets removed, buttons reduced, linings or panels swapped out to make them cheaper to make.
Where Are Your Clothes Made?
But what about a mid-range item, something that you could still buy on the high street?
We usually love talking about Patagonia for their stance on sustainability, making items that last so you don't buy twice etc.
But even they recently came under fire for how their clothes were manufactured in the same factories as fast-fashion brands Primark and Zara.
For balance, it is important to note that there is a lot more to this story and Patagonia's explanation of the complexities of it's mission to ensure a living wage for all workers making their clothes is a must read.
Nevertheless, the lines begin to blur. It is not always true that fast fashion is poor quality. And vice versa.
New Study Unearths Questions About The Quality of Clothes
The new study from Leeds University brought up many questions.
To start with, how does a £5 T-Shirt last longer than a £45?
In fact, the £5 T-Shirt was ranked as the second most durable out of 17 T-Shirts tested - including one that was £50.
If clothes are made in the same factory with similar materials, then often marketing and profit margins are the only differences between two garments.
Another additional finding was that "Only negligible differences in durability were found for a pair of women’s jeans priced at around £15 compared to a pair retailing at more than ten times the price."
Digging deeper into the study, Leeds University's research was commissioned "as part of a wider project by environmental charity Hubbub and Primark". This raises another question of reliability.
It is great to see Primark commissioning research into making clothes as durable as possible compared to leading brands. Is this greenwashing?
After all, while it is great that cheaper clothes can be as durable as more expensive ones, that should mean Primark discourage any sales, turn their marketing efforts purely to focus on looking after clothes, rewearing, reusing etc rather than selling even more brand new fashion; in other words, if clothes last longer, why buy brand new fashion if your old pair of jeans still serves you well?
The bottom line is that the price tag on a garment DOESN'T always represent better quality.
How to Spot High Quality Clothing (Without Shopping Expensive Brands)
Fabric: Look for clothing made from natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, or linen, which are generally more durable and breathable than synthetic materials.
Stitching: Check for tight and even stitching, especially at seams and hems. Loose or uneven stitches can indicate poor quality.
Seams: Quality garments often feature well-finished seams, like French seams or flat-felled seams, which enhance durability and prevent fraying.
Details: Make sure patterns line up and zips are inserted properly.
Go by Feel: Run your fingers over the fabric. How does it feel?
Buttons and Fasteners: Check buttons and closures are working.
Lining: Look for lined garments, as linings add structure and durability.
Fit and Drape: Quality clothing tends to fit well and have a flattering drape. It should neither cling awkwardly nor hang loosely.
Read More About Finding Quality Clothing