• Welcome to our newest affiliate vendor, Threads of Apollo We are very happy to welcome our newest affiliate vendor, Threads of Apollo, a sustainable leather goods company based out of Vancouver, BC, Canada, making premium, made-to-order, water-repellent leather jackets and gloves. .Please help me give them a warm welcome in their new thread.
  • STYLE. COMMUNITY. GREAT CLOTHING.

    Bored of counting likes on social networks? At Styleforum, you’ll find rousing discussions that go beyond strings of emojis.

    Click Here to join Styleforum's thousands of style enthusiasts today!

The myth of declining quality

mak1277

Distinguished Member
Joined
Sep 25, 2019
Messages
1,529
Reaction score
1,948
This is a wonderful thread!

I would like your thoughts on how this is playing out on middle brow, and low brow clothing? A few months ago I bought some Lord Jeff sweaters on ebay. One is 100% Shetland, the other a shaker stitch blend. Both are well made to my untrained eye. Made in the USA. These sweaters were probably lower middle brow? This quality at a lower middle brow price would be rare today, I think.

And a story; years ago I worked at an Air and Space museum. One day I was asked to take apart an exhibit of old British pilot's gear. The exhibit was from an american flight training school during WWII. There was a uniform, I can't recall the rank, but it would have been NCO or above. This uniform was obviously hand made. Pilots I assume would be premium ranks, but this looked thrown together with out much craft. The wool fabric was beautiful.

Another story: I know a local gent, a Latino patriarch, interested in raising sheep for wool. Two weeks ago he traveled to Taos to gather some information. The wool culture in Taos goes back before history. His report: most throw the wool away, it's not worth anything.
I'll tack onto this question because I know you're an outdoorsman and probably can compare.

I have an arc'teryx fleece (100% poly) that I've worn the hell out of for close to a decade. It's soft, comfortable, good fit, and has been through numerous outdoor adventures and is still going strong. Is that garment "lower quality" simply because it's not natural material?

Obviously there's a huge difference when talking about tailoring vs. leisure/atheletic/outdoors wear. But I see no reason why we shouldn't be comparing a poly fleece to a wool sweater, when the sweater was designed for the same purpose 50, 75, 100 years ago.
 

Phileas Fogg

Distinguished Member
Joined
Feb 9, 2020
Messages
3,006
Reaction score
2,410
Obviously there's a huge difference when talking about tailoring vs. leisure/atheletic/outdoors wear. But I see no reason why we shouldn't be comparing a poly fleece to a wool sweater, when the sweater was designed for the same purpose 50, 75, 100 years ago.
Are we talking about functionality or quality? The former is certainly valid for discussion.
 

mak1277

Distinguished Member
Joined
Sep 25, 2019
Messages
1,529
Reaction score
1,948
Are we talking about functionality or quality? The former is certainly valid for discussion.
The issue I think is the definition of "quality" to some extent. I mean, "robustness" certainly should play into the definition of quality for something like a fleece or hearty sweater. That's more what I'm talking about than the technical qualities of the fabric in this case.
 

dirtbag-delux

Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2021
Messages
19
Reaction score
24
I'll tack onto this question because I know you're an outdoorsman and probably can compare.

I have an arc'teryx fleece (100% poly) that I've worn the hell out of for close to a decade. It's soft, comfortable, good fit, and has been through numerous outdoor adventures and is still going strong. Is that garment "lower quality" simply because it's not natural material?

Obviously there's a huge difference when talking about tailoring vs. leisure/atheletic/outdoors wear. But I see no reason why we shouldn't be comparing a poly fleece to a wool sweater, when the sweater was designed for the same purpose 50, 75, 100 years ago.
A very, very good point!

I recently posted a picture of myself wearing a Patagonia Nano-Air jacket. I bought this because it was on super cheep discount (danger, danger). One of my rules for alpine clothing is always get a hood. In my lust for a bargain, I bought it anyway.

The fabric seemed disposable -- to thin to last more than a season. Climbing on Mt. Shasta, I dearly missed that hood! Lesson leaned again (I hope....). So, I replaced the piece and used it for work-wear. Winter truck repairs -- I abused it horribly. It cleaned up beautifully and it just kept going. I stared wearing it again on outings. The picture I posted is from about a year ago. Not long after that it started failing (to much sun, I suspect). Seven years of horrible abuse!

My point in relating this is, yes! Absolutely! Outdoor gear is unbelievable better, lighter, and hard wearing. George Nelson called this survival design, and in this respect we are light years ahead. Yvon Chouinard says you can buy better outdoor gear at Costco than available to the Himalayan expeditions of the 50's.
 

standaloneprotein

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 16, 2018
Messages
130
Reaction score
109
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.
Although, there are fewer people doing active jobs, those with jobs that required physical strength in the past did not buy the same type of clothing as someone sitting on a chair.

There are more health resources and relevant information about the benefits of taking care of our health, posture, exercising for those with sedentary lives. A lot of people working on a chair everyday are moving more than before.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
Dubiously Honored
Joined
Apr 10, 2011
Messages
21,197
Reaction score
50,963
This is a wonderful thread!

I would like your thoughts on how this is playing out on middle brow, and low brow clothing? A few months ago I bought some Lord Jeff sweaters on ebay. One is 100% Shetland, the other a shaker stitch blend. Both are well made to my untrained eye. Made in the USA. These sweaters were probably lower middle brow? This quality at a lower middle brow price would be rare today, I think.

And a story; years ago I worked at an Air and Space museum. One day I was asked to take apart an exhibit of old British pilot's gear. The exhibit was from an american flight training school during WWII. There was a uniform, I can't recall the rank, but it would have been NCO or above. This uniform was obviously hand made. Pilots I assume would be premium ranks, but this looked thrown together with out much craft. The wool fabric was beautiful.

Another story: I know a local gent, a Latino patriarch, interested in raising sheep for wool. Two weeks ago he traveled to Taos to gather some information. The wool culture in Taos goes back before history. His report: most throw the wool away, it's not worth anything.
By middle and low brow clothing, do you mean price tiers? I don't have much experience looking at mid- and low-priced tailored clothing from the past, so I don't know.

I think technical and performance clothing has certainly improved. Just think there's been a decline in high-end bespoke tailoring and shoemaking as the labor pool for this stuff has shrunk.
 

standaloneprotein

Senior Member
Joined
Jun 16, 2018
Messages
130
Reaction score
109
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.
But, how much of this is looking through rose-tinted glasses or nostalgia? Horween (just to name a tannery) likely improved their tanning process with newer or cleaner chemicals and decades of experience. The idea that leather hides are worse now than in the past probably has more to do with reminiscing about what used to be.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
Dubiously Honored
Joined
Apr 10, 2011
Messages
21,197
Reaction score
50,963
But, how much of this is looking through rose-tinted glasses or nostalgia? Horween (just to name a tannery) likely improved their tanning process with newer or cleaner chemicals and decades of experience. The idea that leather hides are worse now than in the past probably has more to do with reminiscing about what used to be.
I can't say for sure with regard to leather. But I trust the Brooks Brothers person because they were in charge of quality control tests and worked at the company for about twenty years. These tests were done in labs. Despite trying to replicate that old quality cloth, Brooks Brothers wasn't able to do it, even when comparing stuff from just 20 years ago. This person thinks it's because of overproduction and global warming.

Australia went through a long drought from about 2001 to 2009. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (the country's national science agency) predicts there will be more long droughts in the future.

A similar thing has happened with Mongolian cashmere (which makes up most cashmere items in the world). The effects of overgrazing, desertification, and overproduction have led to coarser hairs and thus low-quality yarns. A excerpt from a 2003 study by the World Bank:

Mongolian cashmere fiber has been steadily thickening. This drift to coarser fiber diameters has meant that a larger percentage of Mongolian cashmere cannot be used for high-priced garment manufacture. This is the single most important factor impeding the development of the industry. Quality cashmere commands a 30 to 40 percent price premium in international markets, and the coarsening of Mongolian cashmere cost herders about US$16 million in 2001—a 20 percent drop in income for the average household with livestock. Historically Mongolian herds have produced some of the best cashmere, but the quality mix of Mongolian cashmere has fallen over the last decade as herders focused on quantity rather than quality.
 

Keith Taylor

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 4, 2019
Messages
274
Reaction score
509
A lot of people working on a chair everyday are moving more than before.
There really isn’t any evidence to support this statement, but there is plentiful evidence to the contrary.

An excerpt from WHO data on physical activity, including changes over the past 20 years:
  • More than a quarter of the world’s adult population (1.4 billion adults) are insufficiently active
  • Worldwide, around 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men do not do enough physical activity to stay healthy.
  • Levels of inactivity are twice as high in high-income countries compared to low-income countries,
  • There has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001
  • Insufficient activity increased by 5% (from 31.6% to 36.8%) in high-income countries between 2001 and 2016.
A wealth of information about the health benefits of physical activity unfortunately doesn’t translate into actual physical activity.

Again, it doesn’t detract from your broader question about changes in clothing quality over time, but it’s not a position worth defending.
 

Boggis

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2018
Messages
133
Reaction score
109
But, how much of this is looking through rose-tinted glasses or nostalgia? Horween (just to name a tannery) likely improved their tanning process with newer or cleaner chemicals and decades of experience. The idea that leather hides are worse now than in the past probably has more to do with reminiscing about what used to be.
There are museum pieces of competition shoemaking which exhibit 64 stitches per inch. I don't believe there's a shoemaker in the world today producing stitches at this density, as the leather doesn't allow it.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
Dubiously Honored
Joined
Apr 10, 2011
Messages
21,197
Reaction score
50,963
There are museum pieces of competition shoemaking which exhibit 64 stitches per inch. I don't believe there's a shoemaker in the world today producing stitches at this density, as the leather doesn't allow it.
I think people have argued (and reasonably) that competition shoes shouldn't be compared to regular shoes, as they're not meant to be worn. Same with that recent shoemaking competition where some people made very narrow waists.

@ntempleman used to work as a lastmaker at John Lobb, and they have a large archive of shoes made in the past. Perhaps he can say whether quality in bespoke shoemaking has declined in the last fifty years. Was the average bespoke shoe 50 years ago better than the average one today?
 

Boggis

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2018
Messages
133
Reaction score
109
I think people have argued (and reasonably) that competition shoes shouldn't be compared to regular shoes, as they're not meant to be worn. Same with that recent shoemaking competition where some people made very narrow waists.
I was bringing it up more in reference to the suggestion that leather quality hasn't declined as tanneries would be investing in improved methods.
From what I've read from makers, these high stitch densities just arent possible to achieve anymore as the leather quality (& linen thread quality) just ain't what it used to be.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
Dubiously Honored
Joined
Apr 10, 2011
Messages
21,197
Reaction score
50,963
I was bringing it up more in reference to the suggestion that leather quality hasn't declined as tanneries would be investing in improved methods.
From what I've read from makers, these high stitch densities just arent possible to achieve anymore as the leather quality (& linen thread quality) just ain't what it used to be.
Right, but could it have been that those shoes were made with a high stitch count for show? If a shoe isn't meant to be worn, then you don't have to worry about the seam perforating like a stamp.

Perhaps @ntempleman can also comment on whether the quality of leather has changed.
 

Styleforum is proudly sponsored by

Featured Sponsor

Styleforum x S.E.H Kelly Balmacaan: Choose the Fabric

  • standard 5 — light and dark brown

    Votes: 8 6.5%
  • standard 7 — dark brown and charcoal

    Votes: 17 13.7%
  • wide 1 — charcoal and blue-grey

    Votes: 7 5.6%
  • wide 3 — barley and brown

    Votes: 5 4.0%
  • wide 5 — charcoal and dark navy

    Votes: 10 8.1%
  • wide 6 — charcoal and black

    Votes: 3 2.4%
  • wide 7 — dark green and black

    Votes: 29 23.4%
  • wide 8 — malt and dark brown

    Votes: 10 8.1%
  • wide 9 — blue-grey and charcoal

    Votes: 35 28.2%

Related Threads

Forum statistics

Threads
458,001
Messages
9,933,078
Members
206,991
Latest member
Edoard
Top