What are the signs that a garment has been well made?
At The White T-Shirt Co, we pride ourselves on creating the best quality garments that will stay with you for a long time. We don't believe in throwaway fashion, which is why all our t-shirts are sealed with a marque of quality. But how do you measure quality?
We talk to our founder, Penny Jones, who will be telling us what to look for to find the best quality, long-lasting products.
MI: When you're looking for quality what is the first thing that you should look for?
PJ: Touch and feel. A well made garment will only be as good and long-lasting as the material it's made from. Whether it's new or a vintage find, the material is always the first sign of quality. It's not so much about the weight, although that's usually a good indicator, but how it feels, how it drapes or holds its shape. A good test is to give it a bit of a stretch or pull. If the material holds its shape or quickly bounces back into shape then the chances are it will continue to keep its shape. Look and see if the weave or knit is nice and tight and feels substantial when handled. A material can be very fine, but as long as the yarns are close and tight that's a good indication of a high thread count and durable material.
MI: Apart from the fabric how can you tell if a garment is well made?
PJ: I believe that there are three key things.
LABELS - look to see how the labels have been attached or seams have been finished. There is nothing more uncomfortable than a scratchy large label rubbing against your neck. Check if seams around the neck have been nicely bound and labels are attched in a considered way to maximise comfort...all details which show how much the maker is concerned about fit and feel.
MATERIALS - When you’re looking at material content don’t be misled into believing that a 100% organic garment is the best, even if it is GOTS certified. To be GOTS certified the minimum is 70% [although we are 95%] and part of the reason is that sometimes organic materials may not have enough strength to stand daily abuse. For example, the thread we use is 50% organic cotton and 50% recycled polyester…if the thread was all cotton it would be just too weak.
Details: Side vent and matching stripes on our Breton
FINISHING - look at the seam finishes. Turn the garment inside out and check the seams. Look for a generous seam allowance and number of stitches. The higher the quality the smaller the stitches; you should certainly not be able to see daylight between the stitches. Double stitching adds extra strength and helps keep a neckline in shape and little things like all our hems are finished with a bar tack to help stop untangling of the threads.
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic
MI: Is there anything you should look for on the label?
PJ: The labels can tell you a lot! Always check the label for fabric content, where it's made and washing instructions…for garments that you want to wear every day you don't want to find that they need any particular special care!
Most garment labels just have room for where the garment was made, basic material composition and wash details. This is where buying on-line has an advantage as you usually can find much more product information. Many people like ourselves give full fabric breakdown, weight, thread count and country of origin for the materials not just the manufacture so you can use the information to judge the quality or if not available you can quickly contact customer services and ask.
However, whether it's on-line or in store there are a few 'hidden' things you can look for to judge quality. Look out for quality symbols such as GOTS [Global organic textile standard], Fair Wear, Fair Trade as these symbols don't just indicate that the makers have received a fair wage but indicate more responsible retailers who feel quality and social responsibility are important.
Try and identify what type of cotton it is. For example, if a cotton is combed, Pima or long staple it means that it has long filaments that are 'combed' to align the fibres and rid the cotton of shorter filaments. This not only gives a much smoother finish but means the cotton won't pill and the long filaments will help the cotton keep its shape much better. These types of cotton are also less likely to shrink and there is nothing worse for show through than a tight t-shirt!
Try and see where the cotton is grown as this can give you an indication of quality and also sustainability. For example, the most premium cotton is grown in Turkey, California and Egypt due to the ideal balance of moisture and heat. The cotton in these areas is grown in regions of natural rainfall and water, so there is limited irrigation and no major land alteration. Even so, as we use no artificial enhancers we do sometimes notice a slight variation in our own cotton, which is purely down to the quality of the crop. It's all good quality, but some are better quality than others depending on what sort of season it's been...cotton loves water, unfortunately.
MI: Is there a specific thread count? Opaque level? Fabric mix that you should look for if you want a tee with no show through?
PJ: You tend to find t-shirts are made from either a Jersey or Interlock knit. Jersey is the most durable for holding its shape, whereas an interlock knit is much finer so gives better drape in more relaxed styles. It is not so much the knit which dictates how opaque your t-shirt is but more the weight and thread count.
As a general rule the higher the thread count, the better the quality of the cotton. For example the higher the count the finer and softer the cotton. T-shirts with counts of 30/1 and 40/1 are softer, finer, and have better drape than t-shirts made of 20/1. You should also look at weight; the higher the weight the thicker the cotton but you really need to look at them together. For example, our finest cotton has just a weight of 170 gms but because we wanted to minimal show through we also went for a high thread count of 50/1 to give a lovely soft close-knit. On the other hand, our heaviest cotton is 240 gm but that only has a thread count of 30/1 because we wanted a thicker feel for our menswear.
MI: Are there any clever ways that you can tell show through without trying on the T-Shirt?
PJ: We always recommend wearing a neutral coloured t-shirt bra as it's a lot less obvious than wearing white. A good test, therefore, is to simply put your hand under the cotton to test show through.
To find out more about the quality of our tees- visit our Production and Ethics pages, but also please do take time to watch Stacey Dooleys documentary Fashions Dirty Secret. You can also find out more about why buying quality is so important to our earth and the people working within our fashion industry by visiting Fashion Revolution, Labour Behind The Label, True Cost Movie