If ever you need proof that fashion’s quality promises should be choked down with a fistful of salt, look to the recent revelation that Louis Vuitton’s Made in Italy-stamped shoes are anything but. According to research from The Guardian, each pair is in fact crafted mostly in Transylvania – not a region known for its shoemakers – before being shipped to Italy to have the soles attached.
These are facts that the LVMH Group’s £3.5bn marketing spend are designed to obscure. Because in fashion, price is so divorced from quality that it’s spent the last 40 years driving round the Riviera in a convertible beeping the scantily clad. To figure out whether what you pay is what you get, the modern shopper needs to be savvier. Here’s how to separate the silk purse from the sow’s ear.
How To Spot Quality
We’re going to let you in on a secret: many ‘luxury’ brands use the same factories as their high-street counterparts, meaning that price is not always a guarantee of quality.
To separate wise investments from bum deals, look to these easily identifiable details instead.
- Hardware: Zips, buckles and buttons are an easy way to save cash, so brands often skimp. The result if they do is a coat or bag that falls apart quickly. Look for respected names like RiRi or YKK, or play with them to make sure they feel robust.
- Fabric: Natural materials like cotton and wool tend to be better value than anything man-made (unless they’re performance materials in sportswear). Check the labels – the more it’s cut with unpronounceable chemicals, the less it should cost.
- Construction: Check the seams and internal stitching. The neater the work – that means even stitches, no trailing thread and hidden, rather than exposed, hems – the better the build quality. That said, if a garment claims to be hand-made, there should be some deviation in the position of the stitches. If they’re too straight, chances are it was done on a machine.
- Matched Patterns: It’s tricky to make sure patterned fabrics line up at the joins, but any brand commanding a high price tag should put the work in. If the checks or stripes are misaligned at the shoulders or pockets, it’s a sign the product has been rushed through production.
- Extra Fabric: Often on more expensive clothes (and particularly on tailoring), extra material is tucked away in the hems to allow you to have them let out if the size is wrong. On cheaper, mass-produced clothes, nothing is leftover.
Items You’re (Probably) Spending Too Much Money On
A bespoke suit is a beautiful thing. It’s probably the only garment you’d ever own that’s cut to precisely your proportions and, as a result, will fit better than anything else you ever buy. At least, until you start going to the gym. Or stop going to the gym. Or fix your posture.
Bespoke suits are sold on the premise that they’ll last more than a decade. But the odds are, in that time, you’ll change either shape or taste. Which is why it’s rarely worth being wed to a suit for longer than most marriages last. If your body isn’t too far from average – that’s a waist within 10 inches of your chest circumference and arms of roughly the same length – then a tailor can work raw materials into something most people can’t distinguish from made-to-measure.
“You should pay at least £200, which gets you decent fabric,” says Luke McDonald, a stylist at men’s personal styling service Thread. Ideally, you’ll fork out around £500, which gets you a half-canvas (rather than ‘fused’, i.e. glued) construction, allowing the suit to mould to your body shape.
You’ll also get a better country of origin – look for somewhere European in the label. “Places like Romania are more affordable than Savile Row, but they still know how to tailor better than the Far East.”
A luxury watch is like a luxury car; you buy one with your heart, not your brain. Sellers might claim that an expensive timepiece is an investment, but besides a Patek Philippe or Rolex, almost every other brand loses money the second you put it on your wrist. Nor are they especially functional. Though they are marvels of engineering, so was the Titanic. And both are now outperformed by cheaper, simpler alternatives.
If what matters to you in a watch is punctuality, then a quartz movement is more accurate, more affordable and more widespread. If you’re the kind of guy who appreciates mechanical timekeeping, then you don’t need to spend a house deposit to get something with soul. Just look outside Switzerland – that Swiss Made stamp is as much a barometer of price markup as quality.
“There are some well-regarded Japanese movements under £500,” says McDonald. Brands like Seiko, Edifice and Orient do similar things to their European equivalents, for a fraction of the price.
“It’s also worth looking at the vintage market for lesser-known marques, like the defunct Welsh company Smith’s or Cabot, who used to make watches for the British army.” If you’re going to buy a redundant technology, get one from an era when they weren’t.
Menswear nerds geek out over denim more than almost anything else. Which is fair enough, if you’re the kind of guy whose heart flutters whenever the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘artisan’ are in close proximity. But that language tends to signal at least one extra zero on the price tag.
“There was a time when there were only a handful of brands doing authentic, 1960s Levi’s-style selvedge denim,” says McDonald, “and you paid a premium for the privilege.”
But the industry’s mid-2000s obsession with workwear means there are now brands making versions that look almost as authentic, but at much more attractive prices. “Uniqlo does a solid selvedge jean for as little as £34 and Marks & Spencer has been quietly making respectable jeans with denim from Japanese and Italian mills for around £60.”
Whether you spend £100 or £1,000, just steer clear of anything bootcut.
There aren’t many fashion products that can claim to have kickstarted an entire industry, but the Achilles sneakers from New York label Common Projects did just that. The quintessential minimal trainer, its arrival coincided with menswear’s shift away from prim and proper towards something more relaxed. This made a clean, crisp, goes-with-anything casual shoe the ideal thing to wear with a suit or a pair of jeans, once brogues felt a touch passé.
But unlike brogues, which you can polish and resole for a couple of decades, even luxury leather trainers have a limited shelf life. “If you’re susceptible to freaking out over stains and rain, you’re better off with [something more affordable],” says stylist and photographer Chris Tang, who has worked with the likes of Liam Gallagher and Theo Walcott.
Particularly since minimal white trainers all kinda look like minimal white trainers. There’s only so much you can iterate on the bare essentials, particularly now the ubiquity of CPs means the brand’s signature gold barcode isn’t as eye-catching as once it was. For something with more character, try brands like Superga or Novesta. For something you can beat up, every high-street store has you covered.
Like “fake news”, “athleisure” is a term that would have made no sense a decade ago (and which perhaps shows just how much society has crumbled in that time). At the centre of both is Vladimir Putin, a man who not only fiddles with elections, but also pumps iron in a £2,000 tracksuit crafted from cashmere and silk. We can endorse neither behaviour.
“As interest in luxury sportswear has increased, brands have put a premium on their clothes,” says Tang. “But the quality of the product is inconsistent.” There is, after all, only so much you can do with cotton and loopback jersey.
“A little bit of cashmere or silk is nice, but it’s hardly a necessity,” adds McDonald. It’s also a big investment in what will doubtless prove to be a trend that eventually passes. Particularly since there are now viable options between the poles of Sports Direct and Brunello Cucinelli. “You can get your hands on sleek, low-key sweats from the likes of Uniqlo or Arket, both of which do brilliant sweatshirts for around £35.” At that price, you could even wear your sportswear for, you know, sport.