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The myth of declining quality

standaloneprotein

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As I was writing a post, I wondered how much our lifestyle influences how we use and wear our garments.

We, as individuals (and as a society) are more active than 20-30 years ago. With a more active lifestyle, some clothing will show signs of wear faster. As consumers, we demand better quality but we are also doing more with the clothing we use.

A heavy, single speed, corded drill will work and will last longer than a lightweight, cordless, multi-speed/torque drill but again, the demands are changing. Tools were overbuilt mostly because they did not know how much material/steel the tool actually needed to fulfill its job.

I always thought that there is a misconception regarding quality. As technology and society evolves, our demands increase. As we become more educated, our demands will also increase. The development of new fabrics and blends allow designers and tailors to give garments properties that have never been heard of before.

People often talk about cotton quality but most of the cotton produced around the world is GMO, and I would not be surprised if most of it is extra-long staple cotton. I totally understand that how the fabric is woven makes the difference but the raw material should make a difference too.

I would not argue about manufacturing exodus. Ultimately, companies realized that most of the people were not willing to pay for high quality items.

The biggest problem is, how do you quantify the decline in quality?

It's complicated this world we live in.
 
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Phileas Fogg

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As I was writing a post, I wondered how much our lifestyle influences how we use and wear our garments.

We, as individuals (and as a society) are more active than 20-30 years ago. With a more active lifestyle, some clothing will show signs of wear faster. As consumers, we demand better quality but we are also doing more with the clothing we use.

A heavy, single speed, corded drill will work and will last longer than a lightweight, cordless, multi-speed/torque drill but again, the demands are changing. Tools were overbuilt mostly because they did not know how much material/steel the tool actually needed to fulfill its job.

I always thought that there is a misconception regarding quality. As technology and society evolves, our demands increase. As we become more educated, our demands will also increase. The development of new fabrics and blends allow designers and tailors to give garments properties that have never been heard of before.

People often talk about cotton quality but most of the cotton produced around the world is GMO, and I would not be surprised if most of it is extra-long staple cotton. I totally understand that how the fabric is woven makes the difference but the raw material should make a difference.

I would not argue about manufacturing exodus. Ultimately, companies realized that most of the people were not willing to pay for high quality items.

The biggest problem is, how do you quantify the decline in quality?

It's complicated this world we live in.
I agree the term is sort of used generically. I think it’s more helpful to be specific.

It also helps when we are comparing apples to apples. To say that the quality of Cole-Haan shoes has gone down completely ignores the fact that it’s not even the same company any more. One cannot compare today’s Cole Haan shoes to those made in the 1960’s.

One could make an argument for Allen Edmonds which appears to be demonstrating a similar transition. Though the quality in this case relates more to blemishes and aesthetic oversights vs. the actual durability of the shoe itself.
 

dieworkwear

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My impression is that the quality of bespoke tailoring and shoemaking has declined in the last fifty years. I can't say for sure, of course, as I wasn't ordering bespoke suits and shoes in the 1970s or '80s. But when I look at friend's clothes from those periods, they seem much better made. I'm talking about shoes from Peal or suits from A&S. My impression is that, fifty years ago, you could walk into a Savile Row tailoring shop and be assured that you're getting the best. Nowadays, even if you go to a big-name firm with a strong heritage and reputation, quality is no longer guaranteed.

There have been many photos posted already of A&S coats with balance issues. Cleverley customers have also reported problems. I've seen coats from Gieves & Hawkes that ... looked quite bad. Some friends reported problems at Huntsman. So on and so forth.

A London-based shoemaker once told me that he doesn't think there are enough shoemakers left in the city to fulfill a high number of orders (say, a few hundred). Cutters in the US have told me they have trouble finding coatmakers. I think there's a smaller labor pool nowadays for talented makers in this space.

Brooks Brothers, of course, has completely gone down the tubes. Fifty years ago, they sold high-quality clothes at a good price. Now they compete with many down-market brands.

I think there is still high-quality tailoring out there but you have to do more work to find it. You can't just rely on the obvious names. I find that some of the best work is being run by much smaller tailoring houses -- often shops that are run by the cutter or lastmaker, and producing a much lower number of orders. When I asked one cutter why they think this is, this person said they don't think it's possible to scale anymore given the labor pool. Quality control breaks once you get into high numbers. I asked one prominent shoemaking firm (a large one) about this. They agreed and the owner of the shop simply rubbed his fingers together, signaling that the firm needs to make money.
 
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standaloneprotein

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There have been many photos posted already of A&S coats with balance issues. Cleverley customers have also reported problems. I've seen coats from Gieves & Hawkes that ... looked quite bad. Some friends reported problems at Huntsman. So on and so forth.
I believe the fact that everyone has a camera and internet makes pointing out mistakes easier. You can ask a community like SF for input and likely you will get a response. I am pretty sure these things happened in the past but they had no way to tell the world about it.
 
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dieworkwear

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I believe the fact that everyone has a camera and internet makes pointing out mistakes easier. You can ask a community like SF for input and likely you will get a response. I am pretty sure these things happened in the past but they had no way to tell the world about it.
This is true. A bespoke shoemaker once said the same thing to me. If you received a pair of junk shoes in the 1980s, what were you going to do? Complain to your friends and that's about it.

Of course, I can't take a meaningful sample of 1970s and '80s tailoring, as I wasn't buying things back then. The things I've seen people wear from those periods are also clothes they cherish. Pehraps this filters out the bad stuff. I can only say that the stuff I've seen from those periods are much better than what similar firms today are producing.

Another story: I once interviewed someone who worked at Brooks Brothers as a high level executive. He helped set up and run the company's quality control department when they were owned by Marks and Spencer. This was during the '90s.

Essentially, the company had a number of testing labs throughout the world -- different places and all independent from each other. Before Brooks Brothers put anything on the sales floor, they ran a wide range of quality control tests. Some of those tests included tests on the fabric -- how many rubs can a fabric take before it wears out, for example. Nothing would hit the sales floor before it passed these tests.

By the time he left the company in the late 2000s, this executive noticed they couldn't get the same quality out of the fabrics. Meaning, the fabrics in the '90s withstood more wear and tear. These are scientific measures from labs using carefully calibrated machines. Brooks Brothers couldn't figure it out -- were the mills shorting them? So they went back and double-checked all the specs. Despite trying again and again to reproduce that old quality cloth, they just couldn't. Ultimately, this exec suspected that the fibers themselves were different. He thinks it's a result of global warming and overproduction. As a result of drought cycles and over breeding, he thinks the quality of wool fibers now just isn't as high quality as they were in the '90s.

I've heard some shoemakers say the same thing about the quality of leather. Leather nowadays supposedly can't take as high of a stitch count because it's more prone to tearing.
 

Keith Taylor

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We, as individuals (and as a society) are more active than 20-30 years ago. With a more active lifestyle, some clothing will show signs of wear faster.
I don’t believe this is correct. Quite the opposite, in fact. People living in economically developed societies have more sedentary lifestyles today than at any time in the past.

“... the average American adult sits more than at any other time in history. Sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950 according to the American Heart Association. And, Johns Hopkins contends that, “Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960.” — Forbes

This doesn’t detract from your broader question, of course.
 

pendragon

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I think quality is improving in most aspects of life, and clothes are no exception. Fabrics now are much more advanced than they were X years ago (never mind cotton, think of all the tech fabrics), manufacturing techniques have advanced, coloring has improved. It's no contest.
 

JFWR

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I think quality is improving in most aspects of life, and clothes are no exception. Fabrics now are much more advanced than they were X years ago (never mind cotton, think of all the tech fabrics), manufacturing techniques have advanced, coloring has improved. It's no contest.
Who has ever said "man, I definitely want a polyester suit"? Man-made materials tend not to be exceptionally lovely in any meaningful sense for higher end clothing, whether RTW, MTM, or bespoke. They may serve many practical purposes (such as in winter gear), but aesthetically? I doubt you'd find many people who would choose a man-made fabric over natural, high quality materials at any point.

Consider also the case with shoes. Who in the know would prefer a pair or corfam or pleather shoes over box calf? Again, not in respect to say, rubber fishing boots, but for dress shoes.
 

Keith Taylor

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I think quality is improving in most aspects of life, and clothes are no exception. Fabrics now are much more advanced than they were X years ago (never mind cotton, think of all the tech fabrics), manufacturing techniques have advanced, coloring has improved. It's no contest.
Hmmm. There are few economic incentives for improvements in quality. It’s certainly true that we have the technology to manufacture higher quality garments than at any time in history, but without the incentive to actually do so this capability is meaningless. The clothing industry is dominated by fast fashion, which is pretty much genetically predisposed to low quality.
 

Viral

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"Quality" is the most misused/misunderstood/misinterpreted term on SF yet is discussed the most :brick:
 

Count de Monet

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This is true. A bespoke shoemaker once said the same thing to me. If you received a pair of junk shoes in the 1980s, what were you going to do? Complain to your friends and that's about it.

Of course, I can't take a meaningful sample of 1970s and '80s tailoring, as I wasn't buying things back then. The things I've seen people wear from those periods are also clothes they cherish. Pehraps this filters out the bad stuff. I can only say that the stuff I've seen from those periods are much better than what similar firms today are producing.

Another story: I once interviewed someone who worked at Brooks Brothers as a high level executive. He helped set up and run the company's quality control department when they were owned by Marks and Spencer. This was during the '90s.

Essentially, the company had a number of testing labs throughout the world -- different places and all independent from each other. Before Brooks Brothers put anything on the sales floor, they ran a wide range of quality control tests. Some of those tests included tests on the fabric -- how many rubs can a fabric take before it wears out, for example. Nothing would hit the sales floor before it passed these tests.

By the time he left the company in the late 2000s, this executive noticed they couldn't get the same quality out of the fabrics. Meaning, the fabrics in the '90s withstood more wear and tear. These are scientific measures from labs using carefully calibrated machines. Brooks Brothers couldn't figure it out -- were the mills shorting them? So they went back and double-checked all the specs. Despite trying again and again to reproduce that old quality cloth, they just couldn't. Ultimately, this exec suspected that the fibers themselves were different. He thinks it's a result of global warming and overproduction. As a result of drought cycles and over breeding, he thinks the quality of wool fibers now just isn't as high quality as they were in the '90s.

I've heard some shoemakers say the same thing about the quality of leather. Leather nowadays supposedly can't take as high of a stitch count because it's more prone to tearing.
Similarly, baseball glove leather has generally suffered because - on average - steers are slaughtered at a younger age than, say, 50 years ago. I suppose it makes economic sense somewhat like a pine has some optimum time to be cut and the field replanted rather than letting it grow taller for a few more years. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn someone has done the math and made some economic decisions about wool or cotton resulting in a product of lower quality.
 

Viral

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Why don't you educate us.
Nah.....I was merely stating an observation. I'm a grown man who doesn't need to explain things to internet strangers.

But you know what? There's like thousands of bloggers/vloggers who talk about this stuff on the internet cuz it's a safe space and also cuz they're some bad bitches!

Oh, wait...
 

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