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Evaluating Quality of Used Clothing

GucciKid

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I don't have a huge budget to spend on clothing, so I'm continually drawn to ebay in particular and lately to this forum for getting hopefully good quality clothing at a discount.

I'm pretty new to high end fashion so I guess I'm looking for guidelines as to what to look for with used clothing. I've done some reading on fused vs. canvassed, and intend to look into the construction quality of different brands and lines, learning about things like hand vs. machine stitching, but assuming that a garment meets all or some of these quality requirements, what should I be looking for in terms of shopping for used stuff?

For example I see quite a few Canali jackets on ebay for under a hundred dollars. Every one screams out to me "great deal" if they're authentic, but I'm not sure what I should be looking for beyond that.

How much does how old a piece of clothing is matter? How can one tell how old it is if it looks to be in pretty good condition? If something is 10 years old but doesn't look like it has been used much is it still worth buying?

I apologize if this has already been asked, so if anyone can direct me to threads that cover this topic or provide me with some direction it would be much appreciated.
 

DocHolliday

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Once you establish a certain baseline of quality -- the coat doesn't feel stiff and hard from bad fusing, for example -- the chief concern becomes aesthetics. In terms of vintage it helps to decide what you like, then look for it. I like the skinny lapeled early '60s style, and, fortunately, a good number of those coats were very high quality. They're also increasingly rare at thrifts these days, replaced by rack after rack of unfortunate specimens from the '70s and '80s, usually made far less well.

Ultimately, it's up to each of us to decide how important it is to look "modern." Some guys wouldn't be caught dead in a suit from 1989, much less 1965, while others find pleasure in getting the maximum life out of a garment. Personally, I don't feel it necessary to look like I just stepped out of GQ, but I don't want to look like I'm going to a costume party, either. And with the huge quantity of vintage out there, much of it extremely affordable, there's no reason to settle.

In terms of evaluating how "dated" a suit/sportcoat is, you'll want to consider:

--Width of the lapel. About halfway across the chest is traditional. Stray much wider than that at your own peril, and only if you plan to rock a very stylized vintage look. Narrow lapels have made a comeback lately, and so they look less dated than wide ones. This may change if Tom Ford has his way. We're starting to see some wider lapels, but most people still associate them with the '70s. And in a bad way.

--Placement of the notch in the lapel. These days it's pretty high -- not far below your clavicle or higher. In the '80s, the gorge, as the notch placement's called, dropped very, very low. We're talking mid-pec. This looks terrible, and I don't see fashion embracing it again anytime soon. An alarming percentage of the used coats you see on eBay have a low gorge, and that's a deal killer for me, and should be for you.

--Lapel shape. The trend lately has been for lapels with bottom edges that are cut straight. It's to the point that many are razor sharp. But quite a few vintage coats have lapels with "belly," meaning a rounded bottom edge. This doesn't date a coat as badly as excess lapel width or a low gorge, but it's something to consider. (Look at Paul Stuart's coats if you want to see an example of lapels with belly. The style isn't extinct, just seen less often these days. Some guys love it, while others consider it old man. You'll have to make up your own mind.)

--Button positions. For a modern look, the bottom button on a two-button coat should line up with the top of the pocket flaps, or close to it. For a while, buttons, like the gorge, dropped very low. Consider also the button spacing. These days, they tend to be spaced a bit further apart than they once were, though this isn't always true. Ralph Lauren's Black Label tends to put the buttons close together and relatively low. So you want to look at all these factors as part of a whole.

--Width and thickness of the shoulders. Linebacker shoulders have gone the way of the dino, at least for now. Lots of coats from the '50s and '80s have huuuuuge shoulders.

--Pattern. You want to avoid orphaned suit coats. Sportcoats should have color or texture or styling details that show they're sportcoats. A solid charcoal coat in a smooth cloth, for example, is probably an orphaned suit coat, as are those with pinstripes and chalkstripes. For patterned coats, consider the boldness of the pattern and its versatility. There are some loud '70s sportcoats out there, and those generally hold more novelty hanging on the sale rack than in your closet.

--Vent. Just something to consider. I like two. Some people like one or none. But the no-vent style is seen less often these days, with two enjoying a vogue for a good while now.

--Trou. Pleats or no pleats? How high do they sit on your waist? How full are the legs? Are they funky, with a prominent boot cut or bell bottoms? The good thing is, it's easy to reshape the legs below the seat. But for suits, think about how that will affect the overall shape of the silhouette. The trou have to retain their relationship with the coat to look right, or be recut to create a new relationship that will be pleasing to the eye.

Ultimately, the key to vintage shopping is avoiding the excessively dated while embracing the best stuff of the past. I don't mind looking like I'm wearing a coat from the early '60s, because I like the style. In fact, I spend a good bit of time tracking down that style, so I'd like to think it's apparent that I'm wearing it deliberately. What I want to avoid, however, are the sea of coats that are plain or dowdy. This is possibly the greatest threat posed by vintage: It's easy to pass by the coat with aircraft-carrier lapels, but less easy to walk by the one that's kinda sorta OK. Remember, if you buy the latter, you're going to look kinda sorta OK, and probably pretty vintage. Hold out for the good stuff.

Finally, fit is king. A guy can rock some pretty wild stuff if his clothing fits him properly. But vintage that fits poorly will, at best, make you look like you're playing dress-up in daddy's clothing. On the other hand, the right stuff, in the right condition, with the right fit, will look incredible.

As you start out, I'd suggest you look around at modern stuff and see what you like. Check out some high-end men's clothing from good makers, even if you don't intend to buy. Examine the styling details, the stitching and the construction. Handle it, so you know how it feels. Once you've trained your eye, and you've decided what you like, you can build a very nice wardrobe very inexpensively.
 

Bhowie

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Originally Posted by DocHolliday
Once you establish a certain baseline of quality -- the coat doesn't feel stiff and hard from bad fusing, for example -- the chief issue becomes aesthetics. In terms of vintage helps to decide what you like, then look for it. I like the skinny lapeled early '60s style, and, fortunately, a good number of those coats were very high quality. They're also increasingly rare these days, replaced by rack after rack of unfortunate specimens from the '70s and '80s, usually made far less well.

In terms of evaluating aesthetics, you want to consider:

--Width of the lapel. About halfway across the chest is traditional. Stray much wider than that at your own peril, and only if you plan to rock a very stylized vintage look. Narrow lapels have made a comeback lately, and so they look less dated than wide ones. This may change if Tom Ford has his way. We're starting to see some wider lapels, but most people still associate them with the '70s. And in a bad way.

--Placement of the notch in the lapel. These days it's pretty high -- not far below your clavicle or higher. In the '80s, the gorge, as the notch placement's called, dropped very, very low. We're talking mid-pec. This looks terrible, and I don't see fashion embracing it again anytime soon. An alarming percentage of the used coats you see on eBay have a low gorge, and that's a deal killer for me, and should be for you.

--Lapel shape. The trend lately has been for lapels with bottom edges that are cut straight. It's to the point that many are razor sharp. But quite a few vintage coats have lapels with "belly," meaning a rounded bottom edge. This doesn't date a coat as badly as excess lapel width or a low gorge, but it's something to consider. (Look at Paul Stuart's coats if you want to see an example of lapels with belly. The style isn't extinct, just seen less often these days.)

--Button positions. For a modern look, the bottom button on a two-button coat should line up with the top of the pocket flaps, or close to it. For a while, buttons, like the gorge, dropped very low. Consider also the button spacing. These days, they tend to be spaced a bit further apart than they once were, though this isn't always true. Ralph Lauren's Black Label tends to put the buttons close together and relatively low. So you want to look at all these factors as part of a whole.

--Pattern. You want to avoid coats that are orphaned suit coats. Sportcoats should have color or texture or styling details that show they're sportcoats. A solid charcoal coat in a smooth cloth is probably an orphaned suit coat, as are those with fine pinstripes. For patterned coats, consider the boldness of the pattern and its versatility. There are some loud '70s sportcoats out there, and those generally hold more novelty hanging on the sale rack than in your closet.

--Vent. Just something to consider. I like two. Some people like one or none. But the no-vent style is seen less often these days, with two enjoying a vogue for a good while now.

Ultimately, the key to vintage shopping is knowing what you want. I don't mind looking like I'm wearing a coat from the early '60s, because I like the style. In fact, I spend a good bit of time tracking down that style, so I'd like to think it's apparent that I'm wearing it deliberately. What I want to avoid, however, are the sea of coats that are plain or dowdy. This is possibly the greatest threat posed by vintage: It's easy to pass by the coat with aircraft-carrier lapels, but less easy to walk by the one that's kinda sorta OK. Remember, if you buy the latter, you're going to look kinda sorta OK at best, and probably pretty vintage. Hold out for the good stuff.

As you start out, I'd suggest you look around at modern stuff and see what you like. Check out some high-end men's clothing from good makers, even if you can't afford to buy. Examine the styling details, the stitching and the construction. Handle it, so you know how it feels. Once you've trained your eye, and you've decided what you like, you can build a very nice wardrobe very cheap.


 

neyus

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some great comments there, doc
 

Jumbie

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Thanks for the excellent post DocHolliday!
 

Nataku

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Originally Posted by DocHolliday
--Placement of the notch in the lapel. These days it's pretty high -- not far below your clavicle or higher. In the '80s, the gorge, as the notch placement's called, dropped very, very low. We're talking mid-pec. This looks terrible, and I don't see fashion embracing it again anytime soon. An alarming percentage of the used coats you see on eBay have a low gorge, and that's a deal killer for me, and should be for you.
Doc pretty much hit everything on the nose. However, I'm afraid the low gorge trend is starting to show it's face once again. Here's a recent piece from Raf Simons, taken from the SW&D section's Recent Purchases thread.
 

polar-lemon

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Originally Posted by DocHolliday
Gorges have gotten so high that there's really no place to go but down. I'm not entirely upset -- the super high gorge + super high button stance combo often looks to me like the coat's sliding down the wearer's back.

I agree with the sliding off back comparison...but a low gorge to me rather resembles a saggy pair of breasts. Though there is such a thing as being too perky, I'd rather that than the opposite.
 

Anthony Jordan

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Excellent post Doc - lots of good pointers. The only thing I'd add is an eye to condition; some vintage has hardly been worn, whilst other pieces will have been worn to death, and it's not always obvious which is which on first inspection!

Things to look out for include shiny elbows, worn cuffs and torn pockets (especially inside) on jackets and worn cuffs, shiny patches and crotch wear on trousers. Plus the dreaded moth can strike anywhere.

Finally, check for alterations - whilst what has been done can often be undone, the added cost may make an otherwise acceptable purchase less economic.

Anthony (currently wearing nearly all thrift/vintage - suit, braces, shirt, collar, watch, chain, fob, cufflinks and collar pin.)
 

Dewey

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-- If you are buying items without trying them on, you will have to deal with measurements. This requires some study. A Harris wrote a great tutorial on measuring jackets for ebay that you should bookmark: http://www.styleforum.net/showthread.php?t=1463 It's going to take you a few years to figure out what fits you best, esp. with jackets. How much extension, if any, do you want on your shoulders, how long do you like your sleeves, how fitted your waist, etc. It will take time and practice to sort out these details & make decisions on them. If you are just starting out, hit the Goodwill and buy almost anything that fits you the way you like. Take the garment home and measure it A Harris style. Even if the jackets are garbage, it's worth $20 to get those data points so you can shop online with some confidence. Once you master measuring a jacket & figure out what range you want to target for each important measure, then you can begin to deal with all the error in ebay measurements. It's best to find sellers who provide consistent measures. Once you get a feel for the history of various makers and cuts, you can get pretty good at predicting the measurements by looking at the photos & relative proportions of the various parts. Some knowledge of these things will also help you to date items. This will provide important evidence you need when evaluating the quality of secondhand items. Some NWT items are very old deadstock, for example. Other times an item will be listed as "like new" but the cut suggests the item is 25 years old. It could still be "like new." But this is less likely than in the case, say, of a coat that has no tags but is cut in a way that is clearly only a few years old. -- Keep your expectations low when you are starting out. Not everything is going to work out as planned. You will change your mind about what you are looking for, and you will get fooled by certain kinds of ebay auctions -- deliberately (some sellers are scamming to some extent) and accidentally (key information is in the auction but you overlook it). When I bought a lot from ebay, I aimed for a 1 in 3 success rate and bid accordingly. Don't believe an item is going to work out and be really great until you see it yourself and, in some cases, wear it a few times.
 

ManofKent

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Excellent advice in this thread. There's a lot of garbage out there but some gems too.

Measurements do vary wildly and my local charity (thrift) shops have benefitted from a few jackets that seemed to have been measured with an elastic tape measure by an ebay seller.
 

tonylumpkin

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I've been buying used/vintage clothing for a couple of years now and consider myself to have acquired a pretty well trained eye, but I'm still printing this primer out and keeping it in my wallet for quick reference.

Well done, Doc!
 

KaiserSose

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Doc:

First of all, incredible post. I am just starting to learn about suits and thrift shopping and this is the best post I've read to date. If you have the time can you please show in a photo where exactly the parts of the suit you talk about are. Like, lapel, gouge, vent...I know its kind of sad that I don't know this, but searching google yields very poor results and I think including that would help out noobs like me.
 

emptym

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Great stuff, everyone. One thing I'd add is that you might want to spend time in stores of different quality levels to familiarize yourself with the feel and look of better fabrics. Also, to Doc's excellent guide about jackets is that when going through long racks of pants, I usually focus on the waistband and belt loops. Is the stitching fine or not? Are the loops thin or wide? Good-quality dress pants tend to have finer stitching and thinner loops. As Dewey said, sometimes you can't try things on and might have to measure the item (or just risk the purchase since returns are uncommon). Some thrift and vintage stores have tape measures you can borrow. Others have yardsticks attached to walls or racks. Or you can bring your own. I don't, but I do sometimes bring a small handheld mirror for checking out the back of the item while I'm wearing it in the (usual) dressing room. This is particularly helpful for pants. Additionally, for pants, as a tailor often reminds us, you will need to focus more on the fit of the crotch and hips than the waist, which is relatively easy to alter w/in an inch or two, maybe three. And of course you need to consider the length depending on your taste about break and whether or not you want cuffs. As Doc says, be picky. Good things come to those who wait. But also, allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by a beautiful find that's not something you were looking for. Such unimagined surprises are one of my favorite things about the search.
 

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