To start the second area of interest for this blog, I thought I would comment on various popular (mainstream) brands that I’ve had experience with; more specifically, what their quality is like relative to their price point, which is a subject I find fascinating.
For a bit of history, I grew up very squarely ‘upper-middle’ class, with two educated and hardworking parents. I discovered the Gap at age 9 or 10 and quickly became a diehard fan of the ‘casual-Americana’ urban look. Chinos, jeans, comfy hoodies, bold colors and nice leather accessories…I loved it all. I actually still have Gap belts that have been around for 10+ years…I only just purchased some newer, more contemporary and exciting belts from Cole Haan and Filippa K. In any case, I grew up with the Gap, so its aesthetic had a great impact on my future tastes.
Since then, I have spent a ton of time and money shopping for and purhasing clothes from a variety of brands. I loved Diesel for a couple of years, wore a lot of Lacoste during high school, and discovered Ruehl 925 (the Abercrombie ‘young-professional’ offshoot that just closed its doors, or will soon) and American Apparel during my college years. More recently, I seem to spend most of my money at J.Crew and Brooks Brothers, although that is largely due to my change in daily activities (work vs. school).
A quick note about me…I tend to get bored easily with clothes and hairstyles (although I often come back to items or looks after a period and ‘rediscover’ them). I never stick to one look for long, although they morph and change and some are consistent across years, others are fleeting.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on the brands I know well:
J.Crew – generally high quality and reliable to be long-lasting. I have had good experiences with their clothing, save for a cashmere sweater bought online that ran unexpectedly small (and was nonreturnable). I like that J.Crew integrates various luxurious detailing on the heavier items…like horn buttons or silk linings. I think for the money that you spend, items from the brand are a good value.
Brooks Brothers – shirts, pants and other clothing seem to be of very high quality relative to the price. Leathergoods and shoes I’m not crazy about. The briefcases and wallets I’ve seen just seem very arbitrarily thrown together. And in many cases, the leather itself is stiff and not particularly illustrious (and this is for something costing $600+).Â I did however just buy a pair of the Peal & Co. for Brooks Brothers monk-strap brown leather shoes, on sale 50%. I can’t speak to their longevity or durability over time (yet), but I will say that they are both gorgeous shoes that look to be of very high quality, especially at a slashed price. They are my first real work shoe, and I’ve taken the steps to ensure they last as long as possible by using cedar shoe trees and brown shoe cream, so we’ll see what the verdict is in a year.
Burberry – I think Burberry is excellent at design and execution, but struggles sometimes with the details. Almost all of the RTW I’ve seen lately has been very interesting, or beautiful, or playful (or all three), but in most cases I could easily find a frayed edge, a stray thread or a nick in the metal hardware. I also don’t care for the interior lining of Burberry’s leathergoods…often it is a nappy ‘check’ fabric that doesn’t fit in a $1500 bag.
Nonetheless, I recently purchased a blue windbreaker/rainjacket from Burberry (also on sale) and it has a very high quality tactile feel, although there are some small odd details (like a sticky zipper and a loose thread along the bottom edge). Even so, I’ve enjoyed wearing it and it seems to have lots of nice details, like heavy buttons and toggles and an easily-stowed hood. Like the Peal shoes, I’ll have to update on its quality verdict sometime in the future.
Diesel – Although I don’t purchase clothing from this brand anymore (just too busy for me), I will say that I have a short-sleeve cotton button-up shirt that has lasted years and still looks the same way as when I bought it long ago. It’s a bit tighter now, but it still looks great!
Polo Ralph Lauren – I find this brand to be extremely overpriced for its quality level. Over the years I’ve probably had five or six “Small” polo shirts from Polo and all have varied in size and fit. Too, most of them have faded quickly and have lost their vibrancy of color much quicker than any of my other clothing. I don’t even bother spending money on this brand at the outlet mall.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label – I only have one piece of clothing from this line (a polo…big surprise) but it does seem to be of higher overall quality (as it should!). The weird thing is – it’s beautiful and attractive and well-cut, but the fabric itself is very scratchy and irritating, which often dissuades me from wearing it. Just another reason to avoid this brand and its ridiculous price tags (for reference, I purchased this item on GILT, so I didn’t spend a ton of money to get something I don’t wear).
Uniqlo – Someone gave me a tee shirt from Uniqlo several years ago and I wasn’t crazy about it (the neck was too loose) and didn’t think much of the brand until I went abroad to France in the Spring of 2008 and I found their store while in London. I bought a couple of polo shirts, a black brushed-cotton blazer and two pairs of jeans and I was immediately hooked. The polos were (and still are, amazingly) in great condition, still as nice as they were when I bought them. The blazer stretched out and ended up being a little too large for me, so I gave it away. And the jeans were great for a couple of months before they started to fade and their color was rubbing off on my lighter-colored clothing.
Overall I’d say the quality isn’t all that, but it certainly is when you consider its pricing. The jeans were the equivalent of $80 (but only because the exchange rate sucked), and the polos were each about $30. In New York last fall, I bought a purple cashmere sweater from there for $100 and its definitely not been as high quality or durable as my J.Crew or Ruehl cashmere sweaters (but for $100, not all bad).
James Perse – Recently bought a couple of shirts from this brand and honestly, I haven’t yet worn any of them yet. To be fair, they are for cooler weather and it has been so hot here (in Florida), but they seem to be very soft and look like they may be very comfy during the winter months. Will update on that next spring…
Theory – I am consistently unimpressed with this brand. I think the designs are alright, but the quality leaves much to be desired. Sizing and cut seem to vary widely and I feel like after the first wash, the piece starts to deteriorate. Not going to spend any more money on Theory (even though it goes on sale every season at Saks).
Lacoste – I used to love Lacoste and from time to time, I fall into loving it again. But mostly, I buy something, wear it four times and then it starts to look ‘old.’ I bought a premium slim-stretch polo in France while there (at the equivalent of $150) and it immediately shrank, even though I washed it cold and hung it to dry. More recently I found a ‘vintage’ polo on sale at Saks and bought it, thinking it would be useful for work. Instead, it faded quickly (more so that I felt a ‘vintage’ polo should), the sleeves are an odd length and the body of the shirt seems to be extra baggy. I should have been more dilligent in my shopping so the shirts failure for me is partially my fault. However, I still feel that Lacoste has some quality assurance/consistency to work out with fit, color and durability.
Hugo Boss – A similar case to that of Theory. I feel like the design is strong, but the execution is lacking. I’ve had several tops from Hugo Boss and all have been great for a time, then they’ve essentially fallen apart or faded (or both). For the price, the brand is definitely overrated.
There are more but I’ll write about those another time.