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The myth of declining quality

Keith Taylor

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I think one of the reason men and women (insert any people-kind gender here) don't do enough physical activity could be related to job automation, the work landscape in general but there is more awareness about the matter than 20 years ago.

I remember having to keep copies of patient's documents: I had to print the copy, grab the document, label it, store it and send it to Iron Mountain. Now I just click a button :)
On top of that, most of our popular forms of entertainment are now sedentary. When I was a kid we only had 4 TV channels, so I spent my leisure time either kicking a football in the street or trying not to fall out of trees in the woods. Netflix, PlayStation and increasingly fearful parenting put a stop to that kind of thing.
 

comrade

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yes,
many of the italian shoemaker too poor to buy machines so they make them by hand.
They keep the cordwainer skills.

me could be wrong,
maybe me forget,
My shoemaker say In 1950's the poor people in italy bought hand made shoes.
The rich people bought machine made shoes when they first come (they expensive at first) out because it was different and exciting.
Machines were new to italian shoemaking and many man want clean looking neat stitched shoes.

he say the thread no good now.
Fifty years ago I lived in Ecuador. Unless imported, all apparel and shoes were hand made, eg.
bespoke. Ironically, the upper class often favored high end imported machine made garments,
over the locally made bespoke. In the case of shoes this was an obvious choice. Local shoe makers
did not have training or standards of their European counterparts. The bespoke shoes they produced
were usually inferior to imported machine made shoes. And they tended to squeak!
 
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pasadena man

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This thread has accumulated a lot of good content in 18 hours.

Another factor that affects the quality of the product is the nature and skills of the workforce. Forty years ago, a job with a quality manufacturer such as (the old) Florsheim would be coveted, desirable, lifetime employment for many. A worker could acquire a high skill level in those environments. Today, in contrast, US high school graduates are told to prepare for eight careers during their lifetime, and average job tenure continues to shorten across many industries.

In addition, a lot of clothing is produced in newly industrialized countries. Workers with 30 years of industry specific skills may be non-existent, and the country may not have even had any manufacturing in that industry thirty years ago (which is not a knock on these countries).
 

ntempleman

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Yeah the changes in world culture/lifestyles/society have had an effect on the traditional notions of what is a craftsperson, in the olden days you just did it to the best of your ability so you weren’t fired and hopefully progressed. Today you need to have an aesthetic appreciation, extreme manual skill, enough desire to put the hard work into becoming the best, just lazy enough to have no real ambition beyond that, preferably born into money and have limited social skills and these people don’t just grow on trees, not without serious drink problems at least
 
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dieworkwear

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Yeah the changes in world culture/lifestyles/society have had an effect on the traditional notions of what is a craftsperson, in the olden days you just did it to the best of your ability so you weren’t fired and hopefully progressed. Today you need to have an aesthetic appreciation, extreme manual skill, enough desire to put the hard work into becoming the best, just lazy enough to have no real ambition beyond that, preferably born into money and have limited social skills and these people don’t just grow on trees, not without serious drink problems at least
What do you think of the general work in the industry? Obviously, you weren't making bespoke shoes fifty years ago, but what's your impression from having seen and handled old shoes? Is it possible to infer the industry's general output from old stock or archival shoes? Has the quality of work across the industry generally declined?
 

dieworkwear

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@RSS is one of the few people on this board who ordered bespoke clothes and shoes in the 1970s through '90s. I don't know if he bought anything after the '90s. I'd be curious to hear if he thinks the quality of work has changed over that period.

I imagine one of the challenges here is achieving an apples-to-apples comparison. If you commissioned something in the 1980s, your pattern was drafted by someone and then stored on file. If you order a suit today, your garment will be drafted by a completely different person. But a long term view may be useful, since RSS experienced that stuff first hand.
 

ntempleman

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I don’t think the quality of work has declined particularly, the best of today’s shoes are at least the equal of the showcase shoes made 50-100 years ago that I’ve seen. It’s hard to know what the general level of quality was then, as only the good work tends to survive I guess. I’m pretty certain there was work as bad as the worst I’ve seen from my era though. Paradoxically with the perceived decline of quality, I would suggest there’s been a rise in client expectations in more recent years which has raised the quality at the highest levels - before the Internet and whatnot if you wanted “the best” you just went to the shop with the reputation and bought what you were told you needed, if you received junk then you had nothing to compare it against until you went elsewhere. Today clients at my end of the market know and expect more so it keeps us on our toes
 

ntempleman

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My general view is that the 70s/80s were the lowest point for bespoke making, in the eras before that there were vastly more options for makers, more competition so presumably higher standards as they fought for clients attention. As the 80s came many businesses closed, there was less demand for slow fashion, you could probably get away with sloppier work as expectations drifted. Today I’d say there has been a resurgence due to the Internet, the increased opportunity for discussion and reach via social media etc. which has perhaps brought the level back to where it was
 

Camerashy

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In the 1970’s my wife use to work for a children’s wear manufacturer which supplied Marks and Spencer’s with very large orders. Whenever M&S came into the factory to check on their QC they were petrified because if they found any garment to be slightly out of size the whole consignment would be cancelled.
Today, if you buy from M&S or many others for that matter, you have to check a number of similar sizes to get the right fit and of acceptable quality.
 

breakaway01

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I can’t speak to the quality of bespoke garments and shoes now versus 50 years ago, but at the level of mass produced clothing the answer IMO is “it depends” both at the level of the type of garment and what one means by quality. I agree with other posters who have talked about technical/outdoor wear—there simply is no comparison between the quality of today’s products and what was available in the 1970s. High-twist water-repellent face fabrics, seam taping, precision fabric cutting, water-resistant zippers, I could go on and on.

As far as tailored garments go, sometimes I go thrifting. There was a LOT of junk made in the 1970s and 1980s. I think modern industrialized tailored garment production, whether you like it or not, has made decent RTW tailoring accessible to “regular” people nowadays that simply was not available in the 1970s.
 

TomTom

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My wife's grandfather (sadly deceased) was an NCO in the RAF during the WW2. A couple of years ago they were cleaning their old family home and found his old service blue RAF uniform. It was very well made from a heavy wool and when I checked the inner pocket I found a label of a tailor that used to operate on Bond Street. So to confirm, it looks they really were made by bespoke tailors (at least some of them) That is why all the pilots look so well put together on old WW2 photos.
 

Sam H

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In most cases, if you look, you can probably find CM-type clothing items of similar or perhaps better quality than have been available over the past 100 years or so, but you will likely have to pay a good bit for them or have them made bespoke. The overall "decline in quality" is probably less related to poorer raw materials in many cases and more related to cost-cutting by offshoring production and cutting corners, the trend toward "fast fashion" and clothing intended to be in style for a few months and then be discarded, etc.

Some of the decline in quality is a result of people trying to improve their margins, but some of it is certainly a consequence of this:

View attachment 1604422

As the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar has decreased since its peak in 1913, fewer and fewer people are able to comfortably purchase well-made items at the prices they command. Having virtually everything made for us in East Asia by people who are barely paid at all, using very low quality materials and cutting all possible corners, is what allows more or less everyone in the US to have access to all sorts of things via Walmart or wherever that they could never hope to afford if made in the US. Manufacturers know that the vast majority of people just want something that's OK for as cheap as possible, so they make stuff that's just passable and keep the price down.

Among SF members, it is well-known that you generally aren't going to find good quality shoes or a good quality suit/sport coat below certain price points that seem outrageous to the average consumer. A secretary at a former workplace of mine asked for my advice about where she and her son should look for his first suit, as he had just graduated and become an engineer. At the time, I suggested a pretty basic navy suit in the $400-something range from SuitSupply, and she was aghast. I was told that the suggestion was ridiculous when there are suits at JCPenney for $100 (not sure why my advice was solicited then). If the dollar had the same purchasing power now as it did in 1913, roughly 25x more, that $100 might have gotten her son a suit we'd pay $2500 for under present circumstances. Throughout the 1930s-60s, more people (at least in the US) are likely to have had the purchasing power necessary to justify the widespread production of quality garments. Once that was no longer the case, the rational economic decision if you wanted to keep selling things to Americans was to figure out how to produce them much more inexpensively.

Similarly, you might sometimes see an old restaurant ad or menu and think, "Wow, I could get a steak dinner with two sides for only $3 in 1955." But that ignores that $3 then is approximately $30 now, and a huge portion of the population thinks that $30 for one person's dinner is crazy when entrees at somewhere like Applebee's or Olive Garden might be $8-10. Less purchasing power now, and changed attitudes as a result.
This reminds me also of people who look at air travel in the 1960s and swoon about how much nicer it looked. Well a) it was probably less safe and b) you can still fly first class and experience that kind of thing. Don’t want to pay for first class? Well in the 1960s you probably didn’t have a choice to fly economy, you either were in the jet set or daydreaming about one day having the experience to fly.
 

smittycl

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My wife's grandfather (sadly deceased) was an NCO in the RAF during the WW2. A couple of years ago they were cleaning their old family home and found his old service blue RAF uniform. It was very well made from a heavy wool and when I checked the inner pocket I found a label of a tailor that used to operate on Bond Street. So to confirm, it looks they really were made by bespoke tailors (at least some of them) That is why all the pilots look so well put together on old WW2 photos.
British officers were required to buy their own uniforms and still are in some Army regiments. Not sure about the RAF NCO jacket. Maybe that tailor had a contract to produce uniforms? Maybe the Sergeant could afford his own?
 

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