Garment quality is a constant topic of discussion in my work. It's something I place a lot of importance on in the garments I produce. For many consumers, defining quality is difficult in a market saturated with inexpensive clothing. In this multi-post series, we'll evaluate some of the factors that characterize the garment quality spectrum. We'll start with the textile doozy:
Determining fabric quality in a finished garment is complex. While synthetic fibers generally cost less than their natural counterparts, context of their application is what matters. Feel, longevity, and appearance are all ingredients in the recipe. Some manufactures create astounding blends that bring out the best qualities of each fiber used. Others use blends strictly to bring cost down, or to address fit issues in woven garments.
Here's a good example: I don't like the feeling of fabrics with a high percentage of spandex, but you'd better believe I want a little of it my yoga pants, lest they stretch out and not recover their original shape (BLECH). However I don't want a trace of it in tailored garments that are pressed repeatedly. The heat and steam required to get a crisp dress shirt can wreak havoc on a spandex-infused cotton. Ever had a shriveled hem or seam that just won't press out?
Touch can be a great indicator of textile quality when comparing fabrics of the same weight and weave or knit. It became the most important factor when I sourced silk chiffon for a project a few years ago. Silk is spun from silkworm cocoon fibers, which undergo a process called 'degumming' to remove the sticky substance (sericin) that keeps the cocoon together. Chiffon is a fine, sheer weave with a soft drape and slightly rough texture. Too much sericin left in the fibers can exacerbate the rough texture and bring an undesirable, papery quality to the drape.
That's bug spit for you.
The takeaway is that each fiber has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. My advice: understand the qualities of what's available, read clothing labels, and figure out what works for you.