Have you ever been frustrated that the basic garment you bought for regular use only lasted one or two wears?
You had planned on wearing it for at least 6 months, it was the perfect shape to wear with everything, and it was the perfect price for your budget, but things just didn’t work out quite that perfectly…
I have been.
I think the worst experience I’ve had was just a few months ago.
The great basic white tank top that I bought from 'un-named mass retailer’, 12 months ago lasted me really well. I wore it at least every second day because it went under everything in winter, and with everything in summer… By after a year, it went a bit yellow, sunscreen, deodorant had taken their toll, and it entered the under-garment only pile.
In a haste to save money before leaving Australia, I bought a new one which I knew would get a thrashing in the hot climate. It was slightly different from the first because it seemed they had changed the style a little. I was sure that it would get me through the whole year in Bali without too much of a problem.
But when I put it on for the first time to wear on the plane to our new home, it seemed my basic white tank top had other plans. It took only an hour for it to look all stretched out of shape. The straps had grown and were slipping off my shoulders, the fabric was transparent and loose across my bust and it was already coming apart at the lower hem... It looked like it was 5 years old, not one short wear old.
I was so mad. Not only did I learn my lesson very quickly - try something on before you leave the store, but also, don’t trust that a clothing store will maintain its quality standards... I decided then and there that I wouldn’t buy cheap basics again.
I’ve heard from many women that this is where they struggle most. The things that we wear most often, just do not last anymore. We have things in our wardrobes from 5-10 years ago that look almost new. And the things we have just bought new look 10 years old after the first wear.
The life-cycle of our clothes has changed so dramatically, that the garment 'wear time' is the shortest step in a long process from manufacture to biodegrade…
And seeing this as a way to increase profits and sell-through, the industry of ‘good basics’ has gone to the dogs.
It really has been a bit of a journey for me over the last 7 years to try to find a brand that produces reliable quality basic items. Every time I think I have hit on a winner, when I go back for seconds, quality has fallen off a cliff. It is no longer about finding things that last, it is all about buying something at the cheapest price and replacing it frequently.
So unfortunately there is not one golden brand that can provide the go to answer for our basic items anymore, and it is now up to us as consumers to be more educated on what to look for when shopping for those all essential items that we build our wardrobe on.
'Basic items', the low-down.
Below, I have aimed to give a little of the inside scoop of what to look for when buying basic items, so that you can have the upper hand when investing in new product. But first let me define what I mean by a ‘basic item’.
A Basic Clothing item is something that you wear frequently and additionally can be worn under or over many things. In my minimalist wardrobe (with maximum unique style of course), the basic items enable me to wear my favourite vintage dresses and other bright coloured pieces in a number of different ways.
For example, my wardrobe always has a mix of the following items (except here in Bali because it’s way too hot to layer!!):
Now, all of these things will go back with basically anything else in the wardrobe and will be worn frequently during autumn, winter and spring. When I need to replace one of these essentials, I want it to last for at least 200 wears….
'Basic items', basic knowledge:
So, how do we ensure we are buying quality items that will last the test of Australian wear and tear? We need to look for the following when we are in store and considering a purchase:
a). Fabric Composition:
Always check the care and fabric composition label of a garment you want to buy. Natural fibres are, naturally, better for the environment long term, however, this is to varying degrees. It is increasingly publicised how much water is used in the production of a cotton t-shirt, but what other hidden secrets are there about natural fibres…. This is how I would rate fibres commonly used in basics from the ‘best' to 'not the best' in terms of their lifecycle:
b). Fabric weave and thread count:
The saddest thing about fashion these days is just how THIN all the fabrics are in women’s garments… Not only have t-shirts, blouses and knit wear become sheer, but jeans have become thin and more like a twill fabric, not the heavy denim that lasts you a decade…
Thinner fabrics do not last as long as the thicker ones and will stretch, lose shape, bare holes and not be your friend for very long. The only exception to this rule is linen, where the fibres are so long and strong, that its thread count can be low, but it be much stronger than a cotton at a comparatively high count.
Additionally, the weave of fabrics is changing and many low quality garments have a loose weave which loses its shape very quickly. So before you buy an item always check the fabric in a well lit area, hold it up to the light to see how sheer it is and how much light comes in between the threads. Ideally, you want to see less light on both points. Also, by stretching the fabric and scrunching it up in your fist, you can discover how it will respond to wear and tear. Does it go back into shape?
c). Seams and finishings:
The last thing you’ll need to check before buying to ensure longevity of wear is how it has been constructed. Things like seam allowance, overlocking, reinforcements, facings, zippers, button holes make all the difference when it comes to multiple wears.
Although, manufacturers do often let consumers down when it comes to the quality and longevity of the product they sell us, we can take the power back into our own hands and be educated buyers. Looking out just for these few things, can make all the difference.
I'm sad to say that despite being on a 7 year journey to try to find good quality basics that tick all of the boxes, I’ve found no winner takes them all solution in our mass retailer options. However, there are a few Australian manufacturers that are worthy of further investigation if you are happy to buy online, or travel to a destination store.
Braintree: http://www.braintreeaustralia.com/ With a retail store in Manly, Sydney and the online option, you can check out Braintree for yourself before buying. Australia’s best known hemp clothing retailer, they have extended into bamboo and also hemp blends with cotton. Having undergone a bit of a rebrand in recent years, they are no longer a brand just for your hippy parents, but they offer classic basic styles that will stretch your dollar further.
The Organic T-Shirt: https://theorganictshirt.com.au/pages/about-us Australian owned and Australian Made Organic cotton fashion, their product is made in Sydney. Additionally, they offer a hemp product blended with recycled polyester, another great alternative to cotton. However, if organic cotton is your preferred option, then head here first.
Have you found somewhere that you buy quality basic items from? Please share the love and let us know so we can support them too.