Case File: Apparel
(MONEY Magazine) – THE LAW You might think it's all about looks. And in large part, it is. But that's no reason to ignore quality construction and a decent bang for your buck. And watch for odd words on the garment tag. If it doesn't sound like something you know, it's probably synthetic.
Do you want super 100s or super 120s? Are you shopping on a Tuesday or a Friday? Fashion may be all about inspiration and creativity, but the sales floor can be as full of red herrings and misdirections as the electronics emporium. Manufacturers can use trick names to fool customers into thinking that what they're buying is finer than it really is (viscose, for example, is just a fancy term for rayon), and outlet stores may mix high-end merchandise from boutiques with clothes made expressly for the outlets. Knowing what looks good is one thing, but knowing what is the better buy is a more stylish move.
ITEM WOMAN'S DRESS
TESTIMONY More expensive dresses will last longer. Outlets are for rejected merchandise.
REBUTTAL Really cheap stuff won't last more than a season or two. But in the mid-range and up, you have little to worry about. Big chains such as Brooks Brothers make less expensive clothes for outlets, but they unload the real McCoy there as well.
VERDICT At outlets, look for racks of assorted garments--single pieces probably came from full-price stores, while large, uniform lots were probably made for the outlet. Also, consider larger labels, which can use their size to your advantage. Anne Klein, for example, has a lot of clout, so it can get better fabric and workmanship at a better price. "You'll pay more for something from a smaller manufacturer, and it won't be made as well," says Sandra Markus, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
ITEM RUNNING SHOES
BRUCE WILK, owner of a running store in Miami
"All running shoes are basically made out of the same things: blown foam in the middle, rubber on the bottom, mesh on the upper. Adding more "gel" or "air" or "wave technology" makes a shoe more expensive (and cushiony), but there's little difference between the technologies. I'd say to stay away from visible air pockets, though, which can rupture. A high-quality shoe, such as the Saucony Hurricane Grid 8 (shown), is easy to sell: It has more cushioning; it's a plusher ride. But that doesn't mean it's the best shoe for you. If you don't need as much stability (your foot hits the ground evenly, for example), you can get a lighter shoe. You'll know after a couple of runs, and good running stores will let you bring a shoe back even if you've worn it a few times. Also know that the foam in the shoe only has a two-year shelf life. That's why if you buy the same pair of shoes a year apart, they'll feel really different. It's also why it's not a great idea to stockpile your favorites once you find a pair you like."
ITEM MAN'S SUIT
TESTIMONY Better wool suits have higher thread counts (super 180s as opposed to super 120s), but synthetics are more durable than wool and won't wrinkle. A good suit has a quality lining inside the jacket.
REBUTTAL While a higher thread count usually yields a more supple fabric, it also means that fabric is less durable. Plenty of well-to-do gentlemen are surprised to find, soon after shelling out a few grand for a super 180 suit, that the fabric is beginning to wear out in the seat and knees. Synthetics are more durable, but they don't breathe as well. As for the lining--pay it no mind. A great suit could have a ho-hum lining or none at all. Better indicators are functional buttonholes and seams that are stitched, not glued.
VERDICT Look for a slightly coarse wool--"super 100 and below," says Neal Boyarsky, a men's fabric wholesaler in New York City who recommends suits from Ermenegildo Zegna. Unlike many other fashion labels, Zegna is a respected textile company and a clothing label. Thus you're guaranteed to get a suit made from high-quality fabrics. Don't have $2,000? Boyarsky also likes suits from Jack Victor, which operates out of Canada--long a source of quality tailoring.
Additional Reporting By Asa Fitch, Michelle Kalkhoff and Ingrid Tharasook contributed to this article.