Last year, French provocateur Vetements caused a stir when it released a replica of a T-shirt from Snoop Dogg’s 1993 ‘Beware of Dogg’ tour.
The issue wasn’t that it was a replica, but that the French label decided to charge $924 (around £740) for it. There’s no doubt that, at that point, the price tag was about the name on the label and the infamy of the T-shirt – a subtle ‘if you know, you know’ wink to anyone else with a grand to spend.
Obviously, this is an extreme example of when hype overtakes quality, but for most other pieces when does that happen?
Here’s a garment-by-garment guide of when price stops reflecting quality, and a couple of brands we think are doing each at the right price.
There’s no obvious middle ground for T-shirts. They always seem to be cheap, ill-fitting and thrown away after a couple of wears, or flashy, expensive graphic examples.
With there being so many options at either end of the spectrum, it can be hard to work out what to look for, and where to find it. “A high-quality T-shirt starts with the fabric,” says the team behind Sunspel, the 150-year-old British brand that made Daniel Craig’s tees for James Bond.
Sunspel’s T-shirts are made in the UK from the brand’s signature hand-selected long-staple cotton and come in at around £65, making them some of the best available. Meanwhile, LA-based James Perse sells a range of crew and V-necks cut from soft and lightweight cotton-jersey at the same price point, suggesting this as the top-end of the market. However, based on fabric quality alone, Uniqlo’s premium Supima cotton and AIRism offerings are not to be discounted at the value end.
“In addition to this, a high-quality T-shirt should have a great fit,” the Sunspel team adds. Each of these brands hits this criterion, making their basics worth their weight in gold in a sea of two-for-£10 deals.
Casual shirts are often overlooked; they’re usually plain and hidden beneath a more interesting suit or jacket. That’s not a pass to just go for the cheapest option, though, and in such a crowded marketplace, it’s important to be able to prioritise quality over a name.
“A good shirt needs to be well-made, with attention to detail being the key,” says Stephen Sanderson, director of Manchester and London-based menswear store Oi Polloi.
One example Sanderson gives for high-quality shirts is workwear-inspired brand Tender. However, he adds that, regardless of brand, the value and cost should be “reflected in the amount of work and skill put into the design and manufacture” of each garment.
Notable brands that exemplify this meticulous approach include Club Monaco – whose chambray shirts feature mother-of-pearl fastenings – as well as preppy stalwarts J.Crew and Ralph Lauren – the latter outfitted Mr Robert Redford in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby – all of which max out at around the £85 mark.
Shoes are where the magical shopping formula known as cost-per-wear comes into its own. When you think of how often you’ll lace up in them and how important they are to an outfit, it’s probably best not to go for a bargain basement pair. Similarly, overly expensive examples can turn out to be nothing more than just a famous name on a cheap sole.
“You’ll be hard pushed to find a decent smart shoe for under £200,” says Will Grice, editor of menswear etailer The Idle Man. “Grenson is pretty much unbeatable when it comes to price point vs quality.”
The price tag of British-made shoes from the likes of Grenson, Cheaney and Tricker’s is more than warranted when the quality and care that goes into each is considered.
As Grice points out, as a minimum a quality shoe should feature traditional Goodyear-Welted construction, “a process that attaches the shoe’s upper to the sole via heavy duty stitching”. This results in a highly waterproof and durable pair of shoes that can be re-soled over and over again.
If quality British firms can offer that, as well as a repair system at their own factories for around the £200-£400 mark, you really don’t need to be paying any more.
Season after season, jeans remain one of the cornerstones of a man’s wardrobe. This workwear staple gained ubiquity thanks to its adaptability and durability; but in order to go the distance, they need to be well made.
The key to good jeans is simple: “Good fabric and good workmanship,” according to Han Ates, founder of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, a London-based manufacturer.
With brands like Fear of God (the cult label behind Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour merch) charging upwards of £500 for a pair, it can be easy to think that these jeans are the highest quality. But you can do a lot better for a lot less.
Along with Han’s Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, names like Levi’s, Acne Studios, Edwin, A.P.C. and Nudie all produce hard-wearing jeans, often using the benchmark of premium Japanese dry selvedge denim, which breaks in and ages perfectly over time, for under £150.
The line between functionality and fashion is never more blurred than when it comes to outerwear. Every man needs a solid shell to see him through the colder months, though an overcoat works to achieve this without making its wearer appear like they’ve dressed for the great outdoors.
In order to be able to protect from the elements, the team behind Icelandic brand 66 North says a fabric that “will keep you sheltered and comfortable during the cold and wet winter days in the city,” should be the aim.
High-quality fabrics such as wool – whether boiled or blended with other premium textiles like cashmere or alpaca – set the gold standard.
This type of coat is turned out by designers and at the premium end of the high street for around £300-£400. At that price point, the money is paying for the technologies and functionalities, rather than just the logo.
It can be far too easy to pay over the odds for knitwear. A quick scout around the internet and you’ll find designers doing, granted, very cool stuff, but with prices quickly hitting the £700 mark.
Danish menswear label Soulland has made knitwear a key area of its brand over the last couple of years and as such has learnt what it means to do it well, and at the right price.
“Quality can mean so many things when it comes to knitwear,” says Silas Adler, one of the brand’s founders. “Personally, I like to see new ways knit can be used.”
Soulland is one of a number of contemporary brands using new and interesting techniques, while others like fellow Brits John Smedley and Folk utilise time-honoured production methods and the highest quality yarns to turn out equally good knits costing roughly £150 each.
Adler admits this price could be seen as high “when the market is full of high street products,” but that’s because, in his words, “good stuff costs money”.