Monday, December 7, 2015

On Quality, Part II: Winter Clothing

I bought two of these wool Assembly sweaters at Madewell last year and really liked them, but they pill badly and haven't held their shape well. 

When I last posted about the general trend towards lower-quality clothing at various retailers, I wasn't fully sold on one part of the narrative: that there is a phenomenon in which most fast fashion is of such low quality that it would literally wear out or disintegrate within one season. My evidence was my experience with a wide range of Forever 21, H&M, and Target-type items, most of which was capable of lasting two to three years, if not more. Most of my "donate or discard" choices were because I got tired of the styles rather than wear and tear.

I might be changing my tune as to winter clothing, because I've recently started truly noticing the great difficulty associated with finding good-quality sweaters and warm tights and leggings. A few anecdotes from the last few weeks as I start bracing myself for winter, including one specific item (fleece-lined tights) for which I've noticed a definite decline in quality:

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  • It's probably not news that not all wool sweaters are created equal. More often than not, pure wool sweaters that I've owned (from mall retailers like Madewell, if not cheaper sources) have held up to wear poorly when compared to my wool-blend sweaters that contain synthetic fibers. I find that most wool sweaters just don't hold their shape well despite my fairly careful hand-washing and drying flat. They start looking a little lumpy by the end of the season, for lack of a better word. Many also tend to pill easily. 
  • I'm clueless about different types of wool, but my Merino wool sweaters seems to avoid most of the issues I mentioned. All of my Merino sweaters have a thinner, smoother knit though, so it isn't a perfect one-to-one comparison, but they have held up significantly better than other pure wool sweaters.  Quality-wise, my Uniqlo Merino wool sweaters have generally been the most consistent, but I'm only comparing it to things from J. Crew (a Tippi cardigan shrank when machine-washed in cold water by accident) and Madewell (that sweater I bought in October feels like it'll pill a little by the end of this season).
  • NYC is having an unseasonably warm fall, but my legs are still feeling cold in the tights I used to wear in the depths of winter. Temperatures have yet to regularly drop into the upper 30s and low 40s Fahrenheit range that would lead me to swap my wool coat for down, but I always feel like my legs are freezing in my fleece-lined tights. Part of it the problem is that this year's version of my Mukluk fleece-lined tights are thinner than the pair I bought three years ago. 
  • I do have the same problem of being cold in the old pair (still holding up!), so some of it is that my tolerance to cold has diminished. I'm not sure where else to look: there are cheaper options at Target and the like, but I've heard that those are very much one-season items. There's one more expensive brand that does fleece-lined tights, but I'm not especially excited about $35/pair for ones of unknown durability. I also doubt that they'd keep me much warmer.
  • Some people might have very different experiences with what tights are weather-appropriate for fall, so I might well be unusually sensitive to cold. This review suggests that Uniqlo Heattech tights are too warm for anything but winter. For me, however, they're only good for cooler days in spring and fall, and not especially different from Uniqlo's regular tights in that regard. I also find the Heattech tights true to size, though with a sometimes odd fit (a little higher rise and longer legs than I'm used to, perhaps). 

Any thoughts on where to buy good wool sweaters or what materials to look for? Also, truly warm and high-quality fleece-lined or other winter tights are probably a bit of a unicorn, but any recommendations on those would also be very much appreciated! 

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