clothes shopping tips

Today I’ve got a really useful guest post from Jessica Berentson-Shaw, a New Zealander with a passion for ethical clothing and social justice.  Jessica blogs over at Muka Kids – where she’s documenting her adventures in setting up a kids ethical clothing enterprise.  Jessica is sharing with us her clever clothes shopping tips for buying kids clothes that will help you get the most out of your money and the clothes that you buy.

A lot of the clothing we buy these days is of the cheap, and what I call, ‘uncheerful’ variety (lets face it no-one was smiling while they were making them).  Cheap clothing may not have a long and fruitful life & therefore will have a heavier footprint.  However, sometimes spending more does not always equate to a long lasting garment either.

It’s a bit of a minefield, so to help you out here are 9 clever clothes shopping tips to ensure the clothes you buy (new or old) live to a ripe old age and tread much more lightly on the earth.  I have focussed mainly on kids clothes here, but these tips apply equally to all clothing.

From fabric choices, to considering buttons, and more, these shopping tips will see you right!

environmental impact of clothes

1. Look for quality fabric

Look for heavier, thicker, fabrics with closer weaves or knits as these tend to be more durable. Avoid polyester components as these will pile and be scratchy within months.  Give it a feel: does it seem like a quality well made fabric? Ask the shop about the weight & density of a fabric if you buy online.  Expect a sensible answer.

Types of fabrics that tend to have a longer life include denim & corduroy and heavy knitted cotton fabrics.  Those with a small component of ‘elastic’, for example lycra, can also be beneficial for retaining the shape and longevity of clothes.

2. Is the fabric is fit for purpose?

Look for clothes where the use of the clothing is well matched to the fabric it is made from. Have the designers even considered this issue during it’s making, or perhaps tested it with wearers?  Lightweight denim for kids winter trousers is never a good choice unless you live in a hot country!

3. Certified organic fabrics are better quality

There are two reasons for this.  The first is about the way the cotton is grown, the second is to do with the treatment it receives during processing.  Studies have shown that compared to conventional cotton, organically grown cotton has longer and stronger fibres, with better quality yarns being produced from organic cotton.

Organic cotton is not put though chemical treatments during cleaning, processing, dying and printing, many of which are petroleum or acid based and can break down the fibres at a molecular level.  In the final stage of production, clothing is also often given a Teflon, polymer or formaldehyde based coating to reduce creasing and give a smooth feel,  These chemicals may weaken the fibre, and reduce the life of the item.  So certified organic cotton clothing is likely to be better longer lasting product, and better value.

4. Look for clothes that allow for growth

Where kids are concerned a longer lasting item often equates to one that still fits after a growth spurt.  Most kids tend to grow up not out a whole lot, so cuffs on arms and legs that can be turned up and then down are a good buy, or looking out for hems that you can turn up or down.  In waistbands look for elastic AND drawstrings for both a stretch and a pull in.

5. Account for the weak points

Have potential weak points been considered and perhaps reinforced, maybe with patches on the knees and elbows?  How about reinforced stitching in places like the crotch or underarms?

6. Look for clothes that have multiple functions

Multifunctional garments means you can get more wear and more value from clothing.  Reversible coats & jackets; pyjamas tops that double as t-shirt (only you will be the wiser!); leggings that can double as tights, the list goes on!

7. Know a thing about kids heads

Mini adults they are not: kids have heaps to learn and a big head to match.  So check out that neck line – does it look a tad small for that extending neural development, or a not particularly stretchy fabric?  A good ribbed fabric around the neck will help with stretch.

8. Transverse the seasons and fashions

‘Fast fashion’ (and cheap clothing) is a cash in on the idea we always need the new next best thing.  Here is a tip: great design lasts years not weeks.  A good stripe, or a single colour will never go out of fashion, whereas character based clothing will be out as soon as the new Peppa Pig comes along!  Look to the long term item and clothing will still look appealing in the wardrobe next year (or on the next child!).

vintage kids dress

Jessica’s  daughter in a dress  she wore as a child

9. Buttons & Zips

There is nothing worse than all the buttons on a garment falling off within a few days of wearing.  Don’t be afraid to give them a tug to test the quality of the stitching of them!  Buttons do offer one benefit though – they are an easy fix.  Zippers on the other hand wear out, and are hard to fix, so are not always the best choice for longevity: though if you make friends with a good repairer they can replace a zip in a jif!

Got any tips on what to look for when buying for years not seasons? Any particular pet peeves in kids clothing? I’d love to hear them.

Top photo by Flickr user LeAnn, licenced under Creative Commons 2.0.