When you buy clothes, what are you paying for?

Wednesday, January 11th 2023
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I’m often asked by readers whether a particular piece of clothing is ‘worth it’. Yet the older I get - the further along my clothing journey - the more I realise how subjective this can be. 

Also, I’m finding my particular subjectivity is changing. Once you have a wardrobe of well-made clothes, you start to realise how much you value customer service and consistency, as well as beautiful design. 

So I thought it might be worth discussing the things that contribute to the value of a piece of clothing. When readers ask with incredulity why one sweater is more than another, or dismiss all designer brands as racketeering, this will hopefully lend some perspective. 

1. Quality

This is the obvious one. There may be some debate whether you want fine, often more delicate fabrics, or coarser more robust ones, but everyone wants clothes that won’t fall apart if looked after appropriately. Strong, neat stitching; fabrics that get better with age rather than worse. 

The difficult thing with quality is often deciding how far you want to go, as there are nearly always diminishing returns: better materials are rarer and specialist labour is more expensive. 

2. Exclusivity

Doing anything that isn’t standard is more expensive. That’s why cheaper made-to-measure tailoring often looks similar - they’re not only going to the same factory, they’re using the same blocks. 

More subtly, designing a new material is expensive, as well as taking longer and requiring volume (both also more expensive). That’s why you don’t see the materials used in those Ralph Lauren jackets anywhere else. Someone like Stoffa develops its own yarns. 

For a brand that takes pride in its design, this seems obvious: they don’t want their jacket to look like anyone else’s. But for a young guy just looking for a good navy blazer, the value can be less obvious. As with menswear rules, just understand what's going on and then make your own decision.

3. Service

This is the big one that has been lost to the internet. You might be able to buy direct from a manufacturer today, but they will have as few people in customer service as they do in design.

Online customer service can be really good (as No Man Walks Alone have proved), but it’s rarely the same as having an actual shop. And the more access you want to that shop, the more of them there have to be.

Even within a shop, quality of service today has diminished. It’s now normal for a sales assistant to know little about the products. Even if they’ve had training, they’re unlikely to have much experience. Compare that with Anderson & Sheppard, where most of the staff have been there since it opened, and they'll happily do something like take a knit back to be reframed. You will value that a lot in a few years’ time.

The very top level of service must be where you get advice in person from the founder of a brand; or going somewhere like Meyrowitz and getting jusst expert advice. If you want someone of that calibre waiting in a shop every day, just in case you come in, it’s going to cost you.

4. Design

This is the hardest factor to quantify, and the easiest to think you don’t need in classic menswear. Yet anyone that has sought out a low-vamp Alden loafer, or worn a Rubato knit with that subtle V-shape, will know the difference small points of design can make. 

This is something you usually lose when you buy direct from a manufacturer, or from someone who claims to ‘cut out the middle man’: it’s the easiest thing not to spend money on. 

Then there’s design work of the type we highlighted here at Ralph, or at somewhere like The Real McCoy’s. The type that starts from scratch, requires prototypes and pattern work, yarn development and maybe two years’ lead time. All to make a pink-melange cardigan with black knitted motifs that will never be sold again. 

On the one hand, that could seem like a ridiculous amount of work to spend a single-season piece; but on the other, it does make that piece very special.

5. Styling

This is usually the one people see least need for. Location shoots, lookbooks, merchandising, mannequins: all the style and imagery that accompanies a product. In the age of street style and social media, do we really want to pay for it? 

Big brands do take it too far. One friend was on a shoot for a luxury brand recently that flew in seven different photographers and assistants from six different countries, for a three-day shoot; plus three cars, four dogs and a horse. Catwalk shows often seem to care more about the location, media and celebrities than the clothes. 

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m sure we’ve all found lookbooks from our favourite brands - as well as just displays in store - to be really inspiring; and often in ways our peers or favourite influencers aren't. 

There are many other factors of course - advertising, endorsements, discount models - but these are the main ones. 

So what do I personally want to pay for?

Today, I’m happy paying for a great retail experience, for long-term customer service and often for beautiful design. But I’m not going to buy a cashmere crewneck from Purple Label when there’s nothing discernibly different about it. I want that shop to always be there, and I’m happy to support it, but I’ll do so with more design-driven pieces. 

When I was younger, with a much lower budget, I had different priorities; but I think I should have valued quality and customer service more. I should have bought better, more versatile clothes, from people who would still be around in a few years to help me look after them.

With big brands, you can often see what you're paying for in numbers. Many are public, so their profits and costs are reported. Look up someone like Cucinelli - as a reader helpfully did for us last year - and you can see that while they only spent 22% on production, they also only made 18% profit. All your money is going on the shops, staff and marketing spend in between. 

Just think about what you want to pay for, and then which types of companies provide them.

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Alex

You hit the nail on the head with the point about service, Simon. I do so much shopping online nowadays that a good in-person retail experience is always memorable, and almost guarantees a repeat visit. I visited Trunk just before Christmas to do some present shopping, and had picked out a jumper for my dad. The guys there were very polite, taking the time to talk through aspects of the construction of the jumper completely unbidden. It’s that sort of reliably charming service that has made me a return customer of theirs for a number of years now.

Gary Mitchell

I expect, like many, I dont give the background subjects much thought. If I like it, I buy it with generally only the price being my consideration. That being said, I know I am being affected subconsciously by all the points you address. I think my only question is ‘is it worth it’ ? I wont buy cheap shoes because I dont like the quality (or usually the style) but I have never been tempted to buy bespoke shoes either because in my mind they are just not worth it. All your points are valid though, I enjoy scrolling through look books and I must get influenced by them, I have always enjoyed the small different elements of style and of course quality and advertising. The physical shop is something I miss because of where I live but when I get the chance I love to use shops… as for Ralph Lauren stores, they always seem a wonderful place to wander even if I rarely buy from them. It all comes down to money though, if I could not afford the clothes then I doubt I would care about the other points. My tastes have remained similar all my life but like many I have altered how I dress slightly in this more relaxed world but regardless I still buy for the same reasons. Its all these points that are always factored in whether we know it or not.

Stephen

Hi Simon, As always an interesting and informed article. My view in my later years (where I’m much less influenced by brands), is generally things are worth what they are worth to you. There are obvious exceptions where one pays for quality of production (eg high end watches) and the point you make on service. On that latter point personally I am getting more reluctant to make online purchases where the delivery aspect is such a weak spot. I write this as sit at home waiting for a Royal Mail delivery that, based on previous experience, I fully expect not to turn up today!
In any event the experience of travelling, purchasing, enjoying a coffee and pastry ( perhaps lunch) a welcoming shop and going home with a purchase nicely wrapped and bagged I find extremely enjoyable – but then I may be a bit shallow! Sorry to have gone of subject a bit, but you know how one thought flows into another sometimes.
All the best

Andreas

As someone who sells menswear for a living, I can’t tell you how annoying it can be to show a nicely designed, high quality piece of clothing to a customer, only to hear “You’re mostly paying for the name, of course.” Fine, go find the exact same piece of clothing without the name for half the price, then. Pretty sure you can’t.

I feel a large majority don’t look at the details, they just look at the price tag and compare it to a similar item of clothing (or what they consider “similar”, meaning it’s the same color and fabric, but completely different in cut and quality) they bought 10 years ago.

Joel

Hi Andreas, is it ok to ask the name of the store you work at? I’m always on the lookout for high quality – can’t always afford it but like to know what’s out there.

Markus

Great article, thank you.
I can fully relate that one does not want to pay vastly different prices for the essentially same product. For example, I was searching for quite a long time for a pretty standard navy shawl collar cardigan either in cashmere or wool. What appears to be the essentially same product – of course one had to differentiate between cashmere and wool – can be found at EUR 750 at RRL (cashmere), EUR 690 at Luca Faloni (cashmere), EUR 1000 at Tom Ford (wool) or EUR 1900 (cashmere), EUR 660 at Boglioli (wool), EUR 600 at Colhays (lambswool), EUR 290 at Willem Lockie (wool), EUR 560 at Drakes (wool), EUR 2100 at Zegna (cashmere), EUR 220 at Artknit (merino wool).
From these Tom Ford and Zegna are, in my opinion, clearly overpriced, only „justified“ for some by the brand‘s exclusive reputation. Colhays, Boglioli and Drakes are also on the expensive side, where I suspect the former due to small volume and the two latter due to brand reputation. Would I have bought cashmere, I would have chosen RRL or Luca Faloni, but so I went with Artknit (not Willem Lockie because of leather buttons) , which clearly seemed the best value for money to me.

Markus

No, future service did not play a role in my decision. But if you put yourself in my shoes, I think it makes sense: 
In Vienna, all the brands I mentioned, with the exception of Zegna, don’t have their own specialty stores. Apart from Savile Row-like tailor shops, I’m not aware of anything comparable to the Anderson & Sheppard store, Trunk clothiers or similar you mentioned (which is not to say it doesn’t exist). This may be because most Viennese men – from my observation of Londoners when I lived in London for a good year – might on the average be more classically (“better”) dressed than the average Londoner, but apart from the expensive fashion brands like Zegna, etc., there is not much of a mentality to pay much more for better quality and make going beyond that. Looking at my friends and colleagues, Hugo Boss and to a lesser extent some big Italian brands seem to have the upper hand when it comes to classic menswear. For this reason, that is the lack of truly good menswear shops, it makes little sense to include future service as an important component.
But even if that were different, it probably wouldn’t be a decision criterion for me. I have a relatively standard figure and size 46 or small usually fits me very well. For knitwear, I see little need for special advice for me, especially since in the past I have found out, which brands / makers I do like well. So I’m not quite clear what meaning “future service” should have for me. If something breaks, I have it fixed by my seamstress. If something doesn’t fit, I have her modify it (always for jackets and pants). Unfortunately, when something reaches its natural end of life, I have to buy a new piece or live without it.
Finally, you can’t buy clothes of the really interesting makers in Vienna in stores. For example, I don’t know of any store in Vienna where you would get Private White, S.E.H. Kelly or Colhays, nor Rubato, Luca Faloni and other smaller brands that feature prominently on your webpage. It’s easier with the Italian brands, but here I try (K-Jackets of Boglioli being one of my favorites) to get good discounts that can be found at times on YOOX for example. That’s why I buy most things on the Internet, often directly at the makers.
I hope this makes sense.

Stephen

Hi Markus,
Good points. I would add also Cordings around Euro 270 high quality product) and related to Simon’s point, in my experience excellent service Link below
https://www.cordings.co.uk/navy-4-ply-navy-lambswool-cardigan.html

Joel

The Tom Ford Shawl collar Cardigan is one of my dream pieces. I can’t afford either the wool or cashmere version and put off by knowing how overpriced they are in comparison to other brands like Private White.

I also like Luca Faloni.

Peter Hall

With me ,factors I would include would be how the company treats its staff,both retail and in manufacturing -and how reliable is delivery.
If there is a retail branch, I would travel to use that, rather than jump straight to online,although I’m grateful that the Internet offers me great choice .

I’m suppose that I’m lucky I have a decent wardrobe and can wait to travel to retailers . For instance , this year’s major purchase will be black loafers ,but there is no rush.

Much more of my shopping is vintage clothing. and heavy use of sales.

John

Simon, this piece raises so many issues I don’t know where to start: well maybe I do, I just don’t buy clothing on line, no matter how convenient that may be. My reasons, You simply can’t get an understanding of the quality of the item (fabric, fit, finish) and there’s no ‘experience’ – much of which, I admit, you have to make for yourself in too many instances.
With regard to the ‘experience’ challenge for retailers, I would make two points, a good experience starts with understanding the need and what it means to always (and really not superficially) meet that need (I had that clearly spelt out for me by the Domus Academy in Milan some years ago when they were consulting on the development of the retail offer for a number of major high-end Italian fashion brands) and everything else is about training (floor management and product).
I spent one University summer in menswear retail and before I was even allowed on the floor I had to be able to answer detailed questions on fit, quality, colour, formality and the various labels that particular menswear shop stocked – the owner defined his establishment as a ‘club’ – he had spent years building up membership and he was not about to let a poor experience undermine that.
Experience is a major part of the value proposition. The marketing profession now claims to have gotten that message if you look down the list of the new job titles that proliferate but too often, it appears to me, they haven’t read beyond the first paragraph.

David

Too true !
In my experience, the only stores in London that deliver a true, consistent ‘experience’ are the A&S Haberdashery and Anglo-Italian.
In both instances the culture comes right from the top.
What a state of affairs !

David

All you say is correct but the big thing you are paying for is something you are going to wear.
Before I buy anything I have a serious, honest conversation with myself about where, when and how often am I actually going to wear this thing ?
I am fastidious about this and if the answer is not often then I control myself and keep my money in my pocket.
Sometimes the ‘not often’ answer comes back because I already have something quite similar. On occasion it’s because it doesn’t go with much in my wardrobe. Sometimes it’s for climatic reasons – I prefer to buy things I can wear for nine months of the year. From time to time the answer comes back – yes you could wear it but it will be infrequent and then the cost per wear equation is gratuitous.
I go through this routine not for financial reasons. I do it because I want to be a sustainable, happy consumer who doesn’t want to be frivolous.
Of the areas you discuss: design, quality and service are all equally important to me and are why A&S, Anglo-Italian, Begg & Co, Private White VC, Sunspel and PS initiatives account for 90% of my purchases.

Robin

This article got me thinking about how I buy.

I buy based on brands I’ve read about on PS and only when they are reduced considerably (think 70% off).
This often means online shopping at Trunks , Mr Porter etc .

More recently I’ve had MTM in shirts and bespoke jacket and suit. Having to pay, what at one time I considered, eye watering prices for this it is an exercise I can’t repeat . But it’s something I accept as fair given bespoke and MTM is hardly ever discounted.

A model/ brand that works very well is Apple .
Excuse the generalisation but nobody regrets buying an Apple product and you buy it safe in the knowledge that it won’t be discounted 5 minutes after you walk out the store .

Any Apple type clothes retailers out there ?

Robert

Hermes

And

Forgive me but I can hardly consider Apple’s model to work very well, unless you mean for Apple itself. Its model is the epitome of anti-consumer practices, with near-impossible to repair pieces except by Apple itself at ridiculous prices (only kept up by basically preventing the circulation of spare parts outside the official technical support), plus general incompatibility with any service or device that is not from Apple, so that you are forced to remain inside their ecosystem and pay absurdly inflated prices for the most basic of peripherals and cabling.

Just consider for a moment a world where buying a single knit from Cucinelli forces you to effectively buy all your clothes there, forever, if you don’t want to lose access to previous purchases. And also, to bring all your repairs there so they can charge you luxury pricing for anything as simple as sowing back some buttons.
That is basically Apple’s model applied to clothes, and I don’t think you want that – I certainly don’t.

Alexander

Dear Robin! I just wanted to mention that I think companies like apple have a terrible way of sourcing their materials and building their products (labor conditions etc). That is partly why they have become the most valuable company in history. I am glad that my favorite clothing brands are as different as possible from this. I guess we probably both agree on this and you wanted to get across something I missed.

David

PS!

Marcel D

SEH Kelly has never, and as far as I know, will never go on sale. It is also very well-priced to begin with and has been featured on PS before. I highly recommend them (I am not in any way affiliated with the brand)

Alexander

For me it is mostly about the product quality and the style. I have to buy almost everything online because there are no shops to my standards anywhere near me. Getting older (and having a bigger budget) made me a lot more picky. I don’t accept most compromises. There are enormous loads of crap or at best average products everywhere you look, or are forced to look. It is really annoying and boring. So I am happy to pay 300 EUR for my Rubato jeans nowadays, although I know this is unusual for most people (not PS readers). If I want something specific, then I want exactly that. I am just too impatient for anything else. During the first lockdown in 2020 I wanted to treat me and my family with ‚real’ Neapolitan coffee at home, so I spent way over 1k € on the right equipment, because you need the E61 traditional machine and the beans from Naples to get it right. (I have to admit embarrassingly that I am still compromising with my tailored jackets because of the lack of access to a Neapolitan bespoke tailor, which I hope I can correct some time soon.)

Alex B

This may be partly a combination of the factors you have mentioned already, but as you have framed this as what contributes to the value (rather than the cost) of clothing, I would add the unquantifiable factor of how the item makes you feel.
If you feel fantastic each time you wear (eg) a beautiful coat or an overly indulgent shawl collar cardigan – as opposed to feeling neutral when wearing a high street version – it will pay for itself in time.
There may be other factors that contribute to this feeling – eg taking watches as an example – I suspect some people veer towards particular brands for the “status” it gives them (in their own minds at least), rather than the particular design or construct of the watch. That may be part of the value insofar as they are concerned, even if others don’t see it the same way.

m

To continue on this topic, when you talk about exclusivity Simon, does that include branding and associated perceived status? The sign value in Baudrillard’s value system. Or would you consider that be another separate feature?
I guess from item to item the importance of these individual features is always slightly changing but if you were to rank these features based on your personal preferences where would you put exclusivity?

Jim Bainbridge

It’s all interconnected, isn’t it? There are styles that I wonder will never again have widespread popularity simply because they only look good when they are tailored to the wearer, which people just don’t do anymore like they used to. Thanks to the internet we can surmise that a particular piece of knitwear was made by the same maker that makes for many brands, and plump for whichever brand is selling it cheapest. Except that the brand might have chosen a particular cut or other unique features, which would be apparent if trying on in-person, and instead is lost in the superficial experience of browsing on-screen. And of course, lookbooks will always be lookbooks, but if they’re having to work harder because the buyer isn’t getting a physical experience in the lead-up to their purchase, no surprises that they’re over the top and disconnected from the day-to-day experience of wearing the clothes.
I like to get more for my money as much as anyone, but I am increasingly convinced of the value that quality in-person experiences can add to dressing well.

Ondřej Ručka

It is also good to visit fewer places but on a regular basis. Then you are somebody with a name to your tailor, seller or barista.This has large value on its own.

TCN

Unfortunately, good in-person service (especially in London) is becoming more and more rare. In an odd sort of way, the online retailers are sometimes eclipsing the bricks and mortar stores.

RK

Hi Simon – Mind confirming the make of the beanies in the picture? They do look wonderful.

Joel

I’m very interested too.

MW

This post resonates really strongly with me. Everyone will have their own prioritization and weighing of the different factors. I would imagine the PS audience largely will be least interested in paying for the marketing budgets and rents of big brands. I do love to point out to people that even LVMH group has just an 18% net profit margin. You’re not getting “ripped off” when you buy one of those products, you’re simply paying for advertising, premier retail stores and the like.
Lastly, I don’t want to be negative, but I’m always surprised when people rave about NMWA’s customer service. I have found it very underwhelming, especially in comparison to other online speciality menswear retailers.

ANDREW ECKHARDT

I’ve seen that 18% profit margin for LVHM statistic pop up a few times now, and I can’t rid my mind of it. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think most any company in the world, especially in the apparel sector, would kill to have a profit margin that high. From what I know (which is admittedly not much), a 10% profit margin is considered quite healthy. On the other hand, I’ve seen data samples taken from within the US that put average net profit of companies in the apparel sector around 5%. Anyone else have any insight into the numbers, and where luxury brands place?

ANDREW ECKHARDT

Good thought! Scale definitely impacts things. What do you suppose is a healthy profit margin for a smaller (or larger) luxury brand such that they can build a financially sustainable business, yet still provide good value to their consumer?

And

Well, yes, but do you want to pay for their luxurious shops in locations I can’t reach, and most importantly millions upon millions spent in “brand image”?
If you think deeply about it, that is basically money you are paying just for the “privilege” of being able to keep paying a lot in future purchases (both yours and from someone else), with “a lot” being computed relative to the value of a similar quality item without that exclusivity tag attached to it naturally.
Because that’s what safeguarding the exclusivity of the brand and its market value really is, in the end. That is money you are paying so that most other people can’t afford to also buy what you bought, in short, so that you can keep feeling special.

I know this is a cynical way to look at luxury shops, but is it not fairly true?
But importantly, that’s the complete opposite of what I want, and I think most readers here want. Imho, we’d much rather have people wear nice clothes than not be able to afford them so that then I can feel more special.

And

Not just, no, I never claimed that buying from LVMH is *just* paying to make their products more expensive to lots of people. I claimed that *a considerable part* of their markup respective to quality but non-luxury brands is such.
And that is I think pretty incontrovertible, it is a big part of their reason of existence, the whole idea of Veblen goods.

Barry Pullen

Another excellent article. Thank you.
When I was younger, long before you started your blog, I had to do all this myself: researching new brands, comparing them, engaging in fashion theory, running down to New York to pick up the latest menswear magazines (pre-internet); etc.
Now, I just get up in the morning and read PERMANENT STYLE with my morning coffee.
Of course, you do realize that we all need you to live forever, and never retire—yes?

Fred

Its such an interesting question…
Alongside quality, durability and service, I think I am simply willing to pay more for for a product or brand that has personal resonance. I suppose that might sound a little fickle but clothes are very personal items aren’t they? For example, while Drakes have now become expensive, perhaps bordering on too expensive, I have always been willing to buy their products because they have resonated so accurately to how I want to dress, the styles I am interested in and the occasions I enjoy dressing for…I guess this also enhances my willingness to support a given business so that they keeping making clothes I want to wear!!
Its also more than just styling, its the ethos of a brand and the cultural references they invoke and play with. This connection also leads me to trust the ideas that come from these companies. For instance, I have bought pieces from brands I love that don’t quite make sense at first but turn out to be good risks. Sometimes that is because they are style references I have not learnt about yet, or just cool ideas that fit with an aesthetic I like and connect to.
There are other brands in similar price ranges with whom I don’t get this type of personal resonance, and will therefore not spend my money on, regardless of whether the quality and service are brilliant.

Justin

I would consider adding a sixth category, at least for myself, which involves the ethics and sustainability of a brand. I recognize that not everyone is going to be on the same page in terms of how to value this (if at all) but I consider this heavily in my decision-making around where I purchase my clothing. What this means to different people will be individualized– some my prioritize carbon footprint, others worker wages, environmental impact, local sourcing, etc– but I think many people consider these things in purchasing decisions, price, and how they think about what an item costs. I know I am willing to pay more for clothes that have been produced in what I consider an ethical way, and given two similar items, will choose the brand whose values are more consistent with my own, even if the cost is somewhat higher.

Alexander

Yes. I second this. Ethan Newton talks about this regularly and eloquently as we all know (“sanpo yoshi”). Also Jerome Mage explained this once in an interesting way. For example that he wants the worker that produces his products to be able to send his kids to school, got to the cinema etc.

h

As time goes on, one of the subtle factors I have begun to appreciate the most is after sales care. If you don’t buy many clothes and try to look after them well, then that generally implies that you are going to have a long term relationship with the vendor that extends beyond the main shopping experience.
Examples of great after sales service in London would be Blackhorse Lane, Luca Faloni, Daks (sadly closed) and Mackintosh: who have easily accessible stores and have done extensive repairs for me free of charge. The Armoury are an example of really great international customer care, having arranged for me to send products through Drake’s rather than incurring excessive postage charges in addition to the cost of repair.
Generally, if a company makes it difficult or expensive to conduct repairs or alterations, I won’t make the purchase anymore. One of the first questions I ask before buying a pairs of shoes for example, is the cost of a full refurbishment at the original factory. I also try to avoid buying products at trunk shows unless there is a clear process in place for repairs.
On the flip side, I’ll gladly pay a significant premium for products with better prospects for after sales care even within the same brand. For example, I would consider the Classica line at Stefano Bemer to be better value than the Essenziale line, because Tommaso said the Essenziale is hard for them to resole. I’d rather spend ~£1,300 on shoes for life than ~£850 on shoes for the next few years.
Its something I think brands which have a genuine passion for sustainability should place more emphasis on, because one of the biggest factors in making your products last is how you interact with them after they have sold.

Will

“Even within a shop, quality of service today has diminished. It’s now normal for a sales assistant to know little about the products. Even if they’ve had training, they’re unlikely to have much experience.”
That may be because of how little they’re making. Lets remember that it’s nearly impossible to live off what they pay sales assistants these days. Many are working their way through school and have to move positions often. I’ve always appreciated your thoughtful approach

Nicholas

Dear Simon,
How very apposite this article is. I have just got in from a day out that included my first visit to Adret. The conversation and the knowledge of the owner made this much more than a visit to a shop. I will not be able to afford another piece till July but, shallow as may be, I am looking forward to it in a way that I would not if I had not had the experience I had today. For some items I have, the memory of the purchase experience and the relationships involved are as much part of the pleasure as the utility of the garment. Incidentally, I would not have known about Adret if you had not brought them to my attention.

FS

I would just add that the priority of certain factors can be heavily influenced by location. I live in the northeastern United States. I get to New York or Washington DC a handful of times each year, usually for work. Europe would only be for the rare holiday. So while, in my ideal world, I would prefer to prioritize brick and mortar shopping—and the service that comes with it—I am forced to reserve this experience for special purchases. Nearly all of of my other shopping is done online, and resources like PS have become far more essential to me as a result. It’s all a long-winded way of saying that I buy from brands whose quality I can trust, either from past experience or because a trusted source vouches for them, and I’ll pay more for that guarantee since I usually can’t walk into a store and see for myself.

Bob

Is quality and durability really that linked? I am not convinced they are let alone interchangeable terms.

My biggest challenge is really identifying quality (beyond the most furthest extremes) or durability whilst its still on the hanger.

I’ve a few times decided to push the boat out and buy an item beyond my normal budget and found a few brands we discuss here at the the same price point for on paper the same item. I’ve hoped to buy the best quality as the other dimensions seemed broadly the same but not known which it is. Unfortunately for each hit has been the jumper that’s bobbled to hell and gone out of shape with a dozen wears.

As an aside, there is another dimension that you dont mention, though maybe most aligned to knitwear, which is almost a quantity. A thick/dense/heavy chunky knit cashmere shawl neck has much more material than a spongy/light but apparently chunky knit. All else being equal I’d expect to pay more for the heavier weight material (though this may open the XXS and XXL being the same price argument)

Aaron Lavack

I’ve been slowly reading from your first post since the anniversary article, and it’s been interesting to note the gradual change in your attitude towards price and quality.

Harry

Sorry to jump in on this one, but I have noticed the same having looked back at your first posts. For example, from your very early days discussing Bicester Village, you mention your friend’s favourite quote of yours – “I am at heart a cheap man”. I would say I am at that point in my journey too, focussed and appreciative of quality, but not yet at the budget to shop for such items when not on sale.

I thought Ethan Newton’s comments on how he never shops on sale, and how he’s at the age where if he wants something, he’s happy to pay for it. It seems to me that’s where you are at, Simon.

Joel

I am quite a regular at Bicester as I live very close by. Sometimes it’s great, mostly not, due to my budget.

Regarding your mention of Ethan, I’m really looking forward to visiting Bryceland’s London shop.

Lindsay McKee

Want one example of impeccable online customer service.
North Sea Clothing.
My second order with them.
Never met the owner but chanced a phone call, after hours regarding delivery, and he actioned it straight away. Had a perfectly fitting garment in two days. Beautiful products, beautiful service.

Jeremy

I would add fit and feel. Fit because a high quality item of clothing that doesn’t quite fit you will never win out over one that does, even if it’s of lower quality, and even if all the other factors you mention are there. I have a pair of rich brown corduroy trousers that didn’t cost much at all that fit me so well I wear them a lot more than more expensive and exclusive items. And feel goes hand in hand with fit a lot, I find – the same trousers just make me feel elegant when I wear them, and I value that.

Mike

How are you differentiating “style” from “design” then?

Nicolas

Nailed it with this one. I came to think about my journey to buy a wristwatch. I read you articles on this and spent about 2 years exploring brands, videos etc. Only to discover that I had no desire to pay +10k EUR to get a high-end watch that somehow different from all the Rolexes out there. Then along came the wonderful world of microbrand watches and independent watchmakers. Finally there was ingenuity, limited editions and the possibility to contact the maker to make it your own. I found that Finland, my neighbours are particularly good at designing and making watches, and of course it would feel to put my money close to home. I ended up ordering from Anordain, which seemed like such a nice company, with unique watches, and with a waitlist of over 2 years (now closed for new orders). So ultimately I will be one of few in the world to have a watch from them and I get to sponsor what looks like a family business of craftspeople. good times!

Scott

This question used to bedevil me for years, but when I started reading PS regularly clarity began to emerge gradually. I discovered that there were small makers who manufactured beautiful, well designed, and durable products that, while not cheap, provided excellent value for money. I also realized how much I enjoyed the process of discovery and learning about these companies. So, thanks to PS, I learned about Private White, Colhays, Sunspel, Anderson &Sheppard, and the PS shop. These sources provide wonderful clothing that I’ll enjoy for years to come. An ancillary benefit has been that I pay closer attention to my weight so I can continue to wear these clothes year after year.

DKP

Really interesting article Simon. A point that I appreciate is a tricky one is profit. Everything I’ve read about bespoke suggests some pretty narrow profit margins and yet, if you were to follow a number of these houses on places like Instagram, you’d be forgiven for thinking profits are running high. I appreciate there’s a tricky balance to strike here as they’re often selling a lifestyle but when a tailor is constantly featuring a new rolex they’ve purchased or that new Porsche, you can also understand why many might think those costs are being passed on to the buyer.

Donna

I’m thankful that I can sew. I’m weary of driving to stores only to find NOTHING of what was advertised or in my size. I never thought that what I was watching, Lost In Space, would com true. And I have not worn or bought a pair of jeans since the 80’s. I loved pants galore, the $5.00 jeans and sitting in a bathtub to get them to fit my particular body shape. My mother TRIED to wear jeans, $45. She just couldn’t. It made her feel like feeding the chickens when she was growing up.

Joel

I wish I could get Levi Shrink-to-fit jeans in England.

Totally get your point on the advertising. Never look at a Rolex advertisement.

Joel

May I ask where the hats in the first image are from and what brand?

Joel

Thanks Simon.

Joel

I don’t think service is always too important, unless something goes wrong. That’s my normal take on things, however, I normally just buy simple things.

I bought a sale item from Tom Ford recently and after wearing it noticed a manufacturing defect. They constantly keep telling me because it’s worn and final sale so they won’t do anything about it.

I have bought a neckerchief from Anderson & Shepherd in the past and the service was great. I was inspired by the young salesman wearing one and he showed exactly how to tie it as I didn’t know. That was good service.

Joel

I’ve had great service from Peregrine Clothing and Paul James Knitwear.

William

While I agree that this is all essentially subjective, that does not also mean that norms, standards, or dare I say, truths regarding “worth” cannot exist, and therefore reasonable analysis, criticisms, and measurements can be made. To put it another way, the mere existence of differing opinions regarding “worth” does not necessarily mean that each opinion should be taken with equivalent seriousness. 
For example, I would venture to say that a large majority of us ultimately, fundamentally define the “worth” of a piece of clothing in terms of cost/money, which means that no matter the quality, style, or customer service the store provides, there exists a particular price by which that garment will never be “worth” it. Whereas for a very small portion of our community, the consideration of cost truly never enters their decision-making process. While we do not disregard those of us for whom money is truly “no object”, we also do not have to seriously consider their opinions on “worth” either, since they are beginning from a fundamentally different basis of “worth” than us. Thus, it would simply be a category mistake to engage in a conversation of an object’s worth, where cost is not central.
Furthermore, it may be, as they say, a distinction without a difference, but it seems necessary that rather than placing our attention on aspects of criterion such as quality, exclusivity, or service, it is more important to emphasize, investigate, and understand the process by which we decided upon those specific categories in the first place. Why do I place such significance on the quality of this garment? Or, what makes the customer service experience so important that it plays such a vital role in whether I purchase this shirt?  Upon deeper introspection, I again believe that regardless of which criteria we individually have chosen to emphasize, most of us will ultimately be measuring that subjective peculiarity against cost. 
Unfortunately, that is only the beginning of the “worth” conversation, since after determining and agreeing that cost is fundamental, the discussion deepens, in our attempts to identify what is an “acceptable” markup that is reflected in that cost???

Ram

I’m so glad to see the writing on this topic. And it’s so well put. I suppose one challenge when you go to the higher end of the spectrum of anything is just how subjective it can get when certain quality and practical standards are justified. We can all mostly agree that a plain t-shirt from COS or a flannel shirt from Muji are pretty good choices for what they’re.

For instance, with Michael Browne, though it gets so expensive and I probably will never consider commissioning anything from him, I really do admire his work, and is happy to see that he is able to pursue the highest levels of craftsmanship and be able to live and work in London comfortably.

S.E.H. Kelly I am incredibly fond of just how much quality and value they are able to bring to each purchase and the customer service is second to none. I bet they could easily raise prices if they want to and spend on tasteful well-decorated showrooms and look books.

With some others like Rubato, I have started appreciating their lambswool knitwear a lot especially after hearing your keen insights on details (which they’re themselves unable to provide). But I find it very hard to appreciate or recommend their cashmere or alpaca ranges because of the price jump on the same designs and colours I consider fairly basic. But I am sure that there are people who find them to be value buys.

Then houses like Edward Sexton just for their design legacy alone which I am sure appeals to only a smaller audience while many others could be shocked by the price. While I find myself shocked by the prices of houses such as Saman Amel. It all gets so subjective doesn’t it?

Dan

Personally I look for quality and durability in clothing as I mostly wear work wear and a lot of the designs for chore jackets, plaid shirts etc are the same and don’t rely on cut or tailoring. I am willing to pay more for a heavier cloth, something that will last and wash well but I won’t pay over the odds. I touch and feel fabric to assess its quality. The brand is irrelevant to me. I wear a lot of T shirts and find the heavyweight ones from Uniqlo wear better than ones from Sunspell. I buy woolen sweaters from Guernsey Woolens for £80 which are are as well made as ones from more illustrious brands at triple the price. I enjoy a goodyear welted shoe but find that a pair of loake Royals in oxblood will see me right for a decade. I also gain great satisfaction from buying second hand clothing that is of a quality you seldom get in mass produced stuff today. A vintage overcoat using Crombie cloth for example, vintage Austin Reed stuff. I will occasionally pay extra if I love the design or detail of something. For example I spotted a Paul Smith chore coat that was a beautiful shade of navy recently. A colour that I haven’t seen before but I generally find I can wear good quality clothing by just being a bit savvy.

Msew

Very interested to see what Cucinelli’s profit margin is now that they raised their prices as much as they have.

JB

I find I return to a few placed that provides a good service, great product and where I’ve established personal relationships.
It’s also all too easy when you’re getting started to say “oh this knit is cotton, cotton is cheap and not long lasting” if you’ve ever only bought cotton knits from the high street. Once you’ve handled something like a mercerised cotton knit or something like Rubatos 8-ply cotton sweater, you know it’s not that simple.
Stòffa recently shared a video showing how their sweaters are made. It’s a lovely example of something that really gives you more understanding on why something might cost more but also what makes it worth it.