Quality vs. Cheap Clothing – When Spending Money Is Worth It

Classic Trousers from Nordstrom

Classic Trousers – Nordstrom


I recently read an article about the 5 things you should never buy from Old Navy. I wasn’t surprised to see the article. And none of the items mentioned were things I would consider buying at Old Navy anyway – sweaters, t-shirts, shoes. Junk! If you’ve been in to a discount store lately you know what I’m talking about. No hems, just a surged edge. Ultra thin fabric that is almost sheer. To me it screams CHEAP! Cheap clothes may have a purposes, but for most things they’re more a waste of money.

Really, though, what kind of clothing should I expect for $5? I look at it as disposable clothes. And it saddens and frustrates me that the garment industry has come to this. That we, the consuming public, have been so loud about our demand for low cost clothing that we’re now given craptastic things and we’re joyously stocking up.

Disposable clothing has its place, like when you’re painting or scrubbing the grill. You just have to be willing to part with the clothes if they get ruined. On a daily basis, though, I don’t see my clothes as disposable. It’s not how I grew up. I know times were different ‘back them’ – yah, I’m talking about the 70s and 80s. Clothes were more expensive (well, from my perspective as the kid begging my mom for money to shop) and I was expected to take care of them so they would last.

There was no shopping at Old Navy, H&M, Target or Walmart. We had JC Penney and Sears for the most part, until I moved to southern California and the world of the mall opened up and all those specialty stores came to life. Wet Seal was ‘the store’. And everything was. so. expensive! But it was well made and it lasted. Well, at least for the school year.

As I was growing up I learned about ‘investment’ clothing. My Auntie Emma would take me shopping at Bullocks, Buffums, and Nordstrom. Shoes and clothes there were considerably more than the Sears or even Dillard’s prices I was familiar with. But, oh, the difference was so noticeable. I’m not talking about the service. I’m just talking about how the clothes were made. Not itchy fabrics, no bulky seams.

Auntie Emma dressed impeccably. She didn’t have a closet overflowing with clothes but she had plenty. She knew her basic style and built up on that. Start with the basics and buy the best! I can’t tell you how many times I heard that. She gladly paid $50 for a pair of shoes for me when cheaper ones could be had. But not only did I take good care of those shoes, my feet didn’t hurt and they lasted much longer than my less expensive and more cheaply made ones.

My closet is a mish mash of things. As you know, I am not good at shopping. I get overwhelmed and confused. Do I go for the more expensive well-made piece or do I just plunk down what already seems like a lot of money for something that won’t last very long? And why would I pay $12 for a blouse that is ‘Dry Clean Only’ which would end up costing me more to care for it? Sure, if that $12 is the sale price for a $90 blouse I can see it. But if I’m buying BabyGirl a dress at Costco, does it really make sense to then pay more to care for it than the dress costs? Confusion!

I know that there really is no such thing as ‘investment clothing’. That it’s a misnomer to get people to spend a ton of money on designer names. What I’m really focusing on is classic, well-made, clothing. Clothing that will remain stylish over the years because it’s well-made and will actually last more than a few months.

Old Navy never has been a store I shop at frequently, but the article was more of a sign about how clothing stores have been lowering the bar. Overall, I feel clothing quality is going down. But prices keep going up. What to do?

How do you shop? What are your ‘go to’ pieces? Does anyone else seem to think clothing quality is going downhill?


Author: Sara

Sara is a life-long dreamer, creating a list of things she wants to do "someday". Realizing there is no "someday" on the calendar she's taking the steps to make her somedays a reality. Between saving for retirement and college and paying for all the usual things, many women find that they're often putting their hopes and dreams on hold. Saving For Someday is Sara's way of encouraging women everywhere to find ways to save on the ordinary so they can do the extraordinary. Sara is also a licensed attorney and writes about legal issues affecting bloggers, content creators and online professionals. This blog is for informational purposes only. You can also find me on Google+

9 thoughts on “Quality vs. Cheap Clothing – When Spending Money Is Worth It”

  1. Clothing quality has definitely gone down. I used to be a loyal shopper at NY & Co. I loved their cotton v-neck shirts. One summer, I needed a new white one. I decided to buy 2 because they happened to be on sale! I didn’t try them on because I knew my size, so I grabbed 2 from the rack, paid and went home. The following Monday, I was going to wear one to work (we have casual summers here, so cotton v-necks are acceptable) and it was SO see through, I couldn’t wear it without a white tank top underneath. I was so disappointed!! I discovered on another shopping trip that ALL of their cotton shirts were that thin, even the “dressier” tops. So, I have not shopped at that store since. Particularly because the cost of the clothing there has certainly gone up over the last few years, and I don’t think the quality justifies the cost.

    I strongly dislike shopping, and spending a lot of money on clothes and shoes especially. But I am starting to learn that at times, more money = better quality. So I’m biting the bullet a bit more, and spending the extra money for better clothes. I used to avoid department stores like Macys like the plague, now I am finding better quality and having better luck. Go to items are black pants, a few flattering tops and a couple really cute pairs of shoes. I have a very minimal wardrobe right now as I purged my closet a while back after my son was born. I need to go shopping. Boo.

  2. Hi Sara, interesting post and very timely.

    This is nuts but I’ve been hankering after some expensive jeans for years. I just cannot bring myself to spend $400 on jeans though even though in winter I wear them literally every day.

    I am a GAP girl. You can’t get Gap where I live in Aus so I stock up. I’m wearing Gap jeans right now as I type:) I think Old Navy is part of them but I’ve never tried that brand.

    I love Gap because the clothes last. The t-shirts never bobble and hold their shape.

    It is worth spending more on quality esp. for day wear that you wear all the time.

    But back to the jeans. $400 for jeans? I can’t go there. But this week I spent $198 on a pair of J Brand jeans. Pricey yes, but they are unique in color and shape.

    As they’re new I don’t know yet if it’s worth the extra spend. I hope so though! I think so:)

    Oh, and I also got some expensive shoes ($150) but I am borrowing the rest of my outfit from a friend:)

    I recommend that and clothes swap parties are fun too.

    x A

    1. Annabel, a clothing swap party sounds like fun! I’ve never been to one but maybe one of my friends will have one and I can see what it’s like. I think good, well-made shoes are worth it. I have some pretty pricey shoes but they feel good and look good. More importantly, they’re so well-made that they’ve lasted many years.

      I’m not a jeans girl, so I couldn’t ever bear to spend anywhere near that kind of money. But if you wear them and they look and feel good and will last then they’re so worth it. A $30 pair that won’t last but a few washings is worthless, compared to a $200 pair that will last years and years.

  3. I have become more of an online shopper over the past couple of years. I have my favorite sites but now I am loooking for unique styles.

    1. Online shopping at new places can be a bit intimidating. Many shops have good return policies which helps to try new things out.

  4. I grew up being taught that you should buy quality or quantity. If an item of clothing, like a coat, costs a lot of money, but looks great on you and you can wear it everyday, then the cost per wearing is small. But if you buy an expensive item that you only wear once, to me that’s a waste of money.

    1. Hi Jackie,

      I’m a ‘cost per wear’ kinda gal too! I have a jacket I bought almost 15 years ago and, at the time, it was pretty expensive for me. But, here I am all these years later and I’ve worn it and have taken good care of it and it still looks terrific.

      As a matter of fact, the sweatshirt I wear around the house I got at Target in 2002 and it’s still terrific even though I wear it every day. Oh, the days when clothes were made better.

  5. Definitely correct in my opinion. It’s been ages since I’ve bought new clothes, and I’m stuck right now with a pile of misshapen t-shirts and holey jeans. 😛 I don’t have much available cash, but I don’t want to plunk down $20 for a sweater that I know will be a disappointment in a month. My question: where do you go these days for well-made beautiful clothes? (And I don’t mean Armani.) For example, I check out gorgeous dresses on ModCloth, but the reviews note that they aren’t lined — which is just cheap! Is there a source for stylish clothing that doesn’t sacrifice basic quality?

    1. Hi Kate,

      I have a few holey things my husband has just taken and put in the trash on pickup day so I won’t be able to do anything about it.

      I’m a horrible shopper. I hate just going in and looking. My friend is great at it though, although she’s single and is able to carve out time whereas I am always feeling like I’m wasting time.

      I try to shop the sale racks at upscale stores and recently started doing more shopping at the upscale resale shops. I live in an area where people turn their wardrobe pretty frequently. Although, it takes so much time to dig through all the stuff. So I like smaller resale shops.

      I’ve also found that the sale/clearance section of higher-end online stores often have super deals.

      You mention the dress not being lined, I was out the other day and saw a really pretty dress on a lady and as she turned around the zipper looked like it was sewn on by a home-ec student on the first day of class. The whole zipper was visible. It wasn’t hidden or demure in any way. And then I started seeing it more and so that must be the new style. To me, that’s just cheap because it takes less time and is so unfinished looking.

      We’ll just have to keep looking! There has to be a place for us!

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