Judging quality of clothing at a glance

You are attending a function where men are in suits, women in dresses or gowns or maybe just nice suits also. Can you tell, without touching fabric or seeing labels or logos, the difference between a high-end, tailored, designer garment and something off the rack from a department or specialty story? If two men in similar dark suits stand side-by-side, could you pick out the suit from Men’s Wearhouse just by looking? Do you know women’s designers well enough to distinguish it from a nice, mass-produced outfit?

I never followed fashion, apart from the gawd-awful lime green miniskirt I bought back in the 60s. If something was “in style” and I liked it, I’d buy it, but I never felt compelled to keep up with what was in or out. I recognize some names of famous designers, but that’s as far as that knowledge goes. So unless a man is dressed a la Herb Tarlek or if his suit just doesn’t fit, I don’t know that I could spot high-end or off-the-rack. And unless the fabric is obviously the shiny polyester of WalMart garments, I don’t know that I could pick out the fancy name from the rest.

This question was prompted by a conversation my husband and I had yesterday while clothes shopping - he read somewhere that when going for an interview, a man should wear a very expensive tie, even if his suit wasn’t. Do you notice a difference in quality? Do you know anyone to whom it makes a difference? Not asked out of snobbery - I’m truly perplexed that it seems to make a difference to some people. As long as the appropriate bits are covered…

I don’t know if the casual, non-fashionista could, just at a glance, distinguish between, say, a Tom Ford and a Hugo Boss suit. So I suspect the best visual cue is the fit; does it hang neatly, does it contour to the man’s body, can he move easily in it? Conversely, is it blocky or bulgy or saggy? Do the shoulders not match the wearer’s shoulders, do the pants bag or bunch at the crotch, does the suit appear to bind anywhere?

Not to say, of course, that a high-quality suit can’t have these issues - I bought my first (and only) suit when I was about 50 pounds heavier, so when I wear it now I look like Harpo Marx; but in general, the better-quality suits will simply fit better and look nicer.

Womenwear, I got no idea. Although I’d guess the same principles around fit hold there, too.

From what I’ve observed the richer people get the less they wear logos on their cloths and tend to wear things that obviously are of higher quality. You can tell a good suit by the fit on a man, the style of the patterns used and the color shades and tones. Certain shades of color seem to be only available on more expensive cloths.

For women its more hit and miss for me to determine if something is high end. If a gal has the right build just about everything looks good on them. It then becomes more about accessories, shoes and handbags being big ones. And of course jewelry, most people do not use high end jewelry with a cheap outfit or vice versa. It comes off as tacky.

Right, fit and drape are easily noticeable from across a small room, and generally someone who bothers with tailoring will bother looking for good quality to begin with. That said, well cut and fitted mid-tier clothes will look better than ill fitting expensive.

I have not done any blind testing on myself or anyone else, so take all this with a huge grain of salt, but you can sort of tell when people are expensively dressed. Even if you do not know anything about fashion or style, when they do, it shows in the way clothes are tailored, how they fit, materials of course, etc. even when you cannot articulate exactly why.

It would also be a good exercise to train an AI classifier to distinguish cheap prêt-à-porter garments from expensive clothes and see how accurate it is.

Of course people who are highly fashionable in and of themselves can create their own stylish outfits without necessarily buying something from a designer. I know somone who would wear, and also sell, jewelry she made herself, and some of it was papier-mache, lacquer, etc. Also know someone who is, well, a fashion designer. It’s a lot of work to design and sew a dress, but the materials are not necessarily that expensive, even if not cheap. If you wanted to buy something from her, though, you would pay $8000, or $10000, or whatever she felt like charging you.

I do wonder how much it matters in certain circles. If you have well-fitted clothes in good condition that adhere to the accepted color palette (no tan suits, right???) to what extent, for example, might your prospects for promotion or for landing a client be influenced by whether your clothes are expensive and/or the “right” label? And since jewelry was mentioned, will a Rolex mean more than a Timex? Is there an obvious difference between real gems and good quality colored glass?

My brother has been a business exec for a lot of years, and he does wear a Rolex and drive a luxury car - I need to pose these questions to him. Is it so much frippery, or does it really matter depending on your social stratus? And are $500 jeans really better than the ones you can get at WalMart for $25??

Speaking of mens suits only here.

Proper fit and “drape” is somehow obvious. I think other people have said this, but beyond the cheapest fabric, a properly tailored suit (either bespoke or expertly customized) will trump quality fabric.

I can’t even describe how I know.

When I was working in Sales Finance (regularly meeting clients and prospects) the Sales Managers gave me a thorough instruction in how I needed to upgrade my wardrobe to fit their standards. I was introduced to $300 shoes and $100 belts! But that was 25+ years ago.

Now I’m on the buying side and we have salespersons coming in dressed in chinos, even jeans.

I can usually tell a more expensive suit, and a better men’s dress shirt, from a cheaper one. Years ago, my boss sent me to make a presentation to a regulator. When i got back, he asked how it went. I replied that i didn’t think the guy was much of an actuary, but boy, he was wearing a really nice shirt.

I find it much harder to tell with women’s clothing, as i don’t follow fashion. But when clothes have patterns, more expensive garments will have a pattern i haven’t seen before, and will be sewn so the edges match. But mostly i can’t tell.

I can tell real from costume jewelry. But there’s some very nice “costume” jewelry, and I’m not sure that’s very meaningful. (It’s not so much the gems that are different, but shaped gold has much cleaner edges and finer details than gold-colored base metal.)

Well to me wearing a Rolex dates you as an old man, I don’t see many younger dapper looking guys wearing Rolex’s. More likely to be wearing a Tag Heuer or Movado watch these days, if they bother wearing a watch at all. But yes, a Rolex trumps a Timex every time.

Real high end diamonds will be set in a nice platinum or white gold setting, while fake gems almost never are unless they are designed to deceive. That said ruby’s and sapphires are mostly man-made anymore and the quality is high.

I used to write ads for men’s clothing, so I learned a few things from the buyers.

It’s really a lot of little things. The collar fits right around the neck (you’d be surprised how many manufacturers can’t get this right,) the waistband in the pants doesn’t pucker, the seams are straight, the coast buttons are carefully sewn, etc. If you get close enough, you can fairly easily tell the difference between a wool/polyester blend, and between cheap wool and good wool. I picked up a cashmere jacket from Goodwill, and several women friends of mine could tell from across the room.

It depends on the circle. Real estate agents who primarily work middle-class neighborhoods want to look middle-class. If they look too prosperous, clients will think they’re getting ripped off. When I worked with political types, I noticed quickly that not only did all the male state legislators and the lobbyists tend to wear pretty much the same suits, but they all had their hair cut at the same place. I couldn’t tell the difference, but I guess there was some sort of secret handshake thing going on. There’s also a look that suggests you’re a part of “old money” and some professions, notably lawyers, like to cultivate that look, perhaps because it suggests they charge high fees because they’re good, not because they need your money.

I was reading a US lawyer mag some time ago, and it had an article about clothing in it. The article emphasised the need to dress to the jury. If you were arguing a case in Manhattan, you needed a high-end suit, well-polished shoes, good hair-cut, because that’s what Manhattanites expected from a good lawyer. But if you were arguing a case in Montana or North Dakota, better to wear a jacket and tie, lower end shoes (maybe even cowboy boots), because that was what the jury would relate to.

(Doesn’t make any difference up here in Canada, because we all wear court robes.)

I’m not sure how much it really “matters” anymore as even banks and law firms have moved to a more business casual look.

I used to have to wear suits all the time in my job (management/technology consulting in Manhattan and Boston before that). There was a bit of fashion-mongering among my work friends. Mostly sharing tips on where to buy suits or have them made and comparing watches. So a lot of times, I could judge the quality of a suit because I recognize a specific pattern or style. I tend to wear Brooks Brothers because I like the fit and classic style (I’m basically a perfect 44 regular and need almost no tailoring). Another guy only bought Hickey Freeman. One of my friends like Armani, but mostly wore blazers instead of suits. One guy only bought bespoke suits when he would travel to Hong Kong. The younger guys tended to shop at Charles Tyrwhitt because the shirts are high quality and very inexpensive (although the distinctive patterns tend to make them stand out as all shopping at the same store). The senior partners (who had a lot more money) tended to dress a lot better. My manager had a thing for wearing suspenders.

We also had a penchant for watches. I wear a TAG. Some of the other guys wore Breitling or Movado.

Now as to how much it ever actually mattered, I think that ultimately it depends on how much you want to look like someone who is wealthy, successful, and put together vs someone who is there to fix the copier and is only wearing a suit because he has to.


And that could explain why I fit in so well in the Navy, where we all pretty much dressed the same. I’m not aware of different uniform designers. :wink: But obviously, for some people, the “uniform” of a successful business person is recognizable within that group. Were I dropped in a room full of men in suits, unless one looked slept-in, I don’t know that I could distinguish high quality from lesser.

It is rather funny to me that it matters in some circles, but then I look upon clothing as an environmental necessity.

I don’t have $500 jeans, but I can tell from experience that the $100 to $200 jeans I use are way better in every way than the $25 jeans. The same goes for shirts, underwear, shoes…upscale versions look and feel much better, and last much longer. That’s been my consistent experience over the past 30 years.

Yeah, I buy $60 jeans on sale for $40, and pay another $40 to have larger pockets put in my a local tailor. And my $80 jeans are a hell of a lot nicer than the $25 jeans I once bought at Walmart. They fit better, the elastic is much less visually obvious and holds up longer, and of course they have useful pockets.

Yeah I think like for most things, there’s a huge increase in quality going from the $25 jeans to the $100 jeans, however the difference between the $100 and $500 is much less and then it’s more about the designer name.

The price isn’t entirely based only on the designer name. The $500 jeans might be made of selvedge denim, which is apparently more expensive than regular denim and as I understand things, costs more to turn into a pair of trousers.

And previously I linked to this twelve-year-old article from The New York Times (gift link), about a pair of men’s khaki trousers by the brand Band of Outsiders and why they cost $550 (and remember that was twelve years ago). Two yards of fabric at $27 (including import fees), four hours of domestic union labor at $13 an hour, and the manufacturing cost is up to $110. Double that for the wholesale price, and multiply by 2.5 times for the retail markup and the trousers cost the consumer $550.

I can tell if a men’s suit is well fitted and not cheaply constructed. I couldn’t tell anything about the quality of the fabric though, unless it greatly resembles some kind of food wrapper I really wouldn’t know.

Was there a mention of the tie above or was that another thread? Anyway, men’s business suits tend to be dull, varying from grayish to gray to dark gray (I don’t perceive the color blue well so that’s how it looks to me). Suits do draw focus to the tie though, it’s men’s version of cleavage. So a good looking tie can get noticed. Some people think there are clear signs of quality in a tie, like the number and width of stripes or some such stuff I never paid much attention to. I had a really nice looking light gray tie with a lightly colored sort of image on it, sorry just can’t describe it well, but it had a pleasant non-robotic look to it that people seemed to notice more than typical power ties and other such things.

Yes, moving up from a $25 shirt or pair of chinos to a $100 one most if us will see impressive improvement, go on to $500 and we will say, yes, that’s fiiine but is it really 5 times better?

Go up to a $2K shirt or pair of chinos and it had better be borrowed for your appearance at the Ogdamn Met Gala.