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The myth of declining quality

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I haven’t purchased a pair of Alden shoes in a while, but the two pair I have, both shell cordovan and both purchased several years ago, are high quality.

I have basically stopped buying dress shirts from any of the sources i formerly relied on because the quality of fabrics and construction of made to measure has raised the bar too high - and they’re competitively priced compared to, say, Brooks Brothers’ ‘original polo’ revivals.

I’m not spending money on really nice suits these days because I rarely wear suits, but I’m happy that the older suits and blazers I have will probably take me into retirement as a result. They’re from Oxxford, Ermenogildo Zegna, Arthur Fox, Brooks, Corneliani. It’s true that Brooks Brothers’ suits, dollar for dollar, are a shadow of what they used to sell.

There are still high quality suits available if you’re willing to pay for them.
I've resorted to buying dress shirts online from Olymp (always buy them when actually in Europe) and Charles Tyrrwhit, both because of quality and both do Extra or Super Slim fits so one doesn't look like a 'box' from JC Penney!
 

motosacto

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So - here's my theory: A significant drop in quality of organic raw materials (cotton, leather, possibly wool) has been caused by generations of selective breeding and genetic engineering to increase quantity and reduce production costs.

Whenever you optimize for a characteristic, you almost always sacrifice on other characteristics. There are loads of examples out there. Construction wood, for example. If you look at a 90 year old 2x4 in a house, you'll see a certain grain density. Look at modern 2x4s and you'll see much less dense grain. That's because all the 2nd growth forests are managed for fast maturing and quick harvesting. Another example is chicken. Modern commercially-produced chickens have been selectively bred to grow really fast and get large so they can be quickly "harvested." They're basically giant babies.

I have no evidence on the clothing side, but I'll bet ya that modern cotton fibers really are different from those harvested ~50 years ago - because the cotton plants are optimized to be pest-resistant, take less water, and grow faster. I'm guessing the same is likely true for leather and likely wool also.

Thoughts?
 

smittycl

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I suspect any real decline in quality is related more to economics with rising labor costs, corporate focus on profits, offshoring, etc. Just a guess.
 

ValidusLA

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I suspect any real decline in quality is related more to economics with rising labor costs, corporate focus on profits, offshoring, etc. Just a guess.
This.

Even pre Covid and for no political reasons, one could see companies shifting production out of China towards SEA and India. This despite the fact that China (generally) has better QC, ease of shipping, time to market, fabric competence, and most of the mills compared to those nations.

All to chase marginally smaller costs
 

Frog in Suit

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So - here's my theory: A significant drop in quality of organic raw materials (cotton, leather, possibly wool) has been caused by generations of selective breeding and genetic engineering to increase quantity and reduce production costs.

Whenever you optimize for a characteristic, you almost always sacrifice on other characteristics. There are loads of examples out there. Construction wood, for example. If you look at a 90 year old 2x4 in a house, you'll see a certain grain density. Look at modern 2x4s and you'll see much less dense grain. That's because all the 2nd growth forests are managed for fast maturing and quick harvesting. Another example is chicken. Modern commercially-produced chickens have been selectively bred to grow really fast and get large so they can be quickly "harvested." They're basically giant babies.

I have no evidence on the clothing side, but I'll bet ya that modern cotton fibers really are different from those harvested ~50 years ago - because the cotton plants are optimized to be pest-resistant, take less water, and grow faster. I'm guessing the same is likely true for leather and likely wool also.

Thoughts?
I think you are essentially correct.
Leather: as far as calf is concerned, I think fewer calves are raised long enough to produce the kind of leather the shoe-making industry requires or they are raised in intensive farms (no access to pastures, boxed in small spaces...). Calves are slaughtered young (tender meat) or become adults only to be used for meat or milk production. Hence smaller quantities of good quality leather. Do people in the US still eat veal?
 

standaloneprotein

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I have a few items I bought in the late 1970s and can still wear (I keep them to impress mysef that my 66 year-old body can still fit into what I wore at age 20!). Two of the shirts were made in South Africa, and both can still withstand machine-washing, but the impressive part is that none of the threads on the buttons or the shirt cuffs have come loose - on most shirts today after the first buttoning there's a loose thread starting to hang out, and after a year or so at least one button is barely hanging on (even on my Dolce and Gabbana shirts!) The other shirt is hand-painted silk that my parents brought back from Amsterdam to South Africa for my 21st birthday - as delicate as it sounds it looks as good today as 44 years ago. Then I have a very dark brown/black wool suit (ugly now, really) made in Poland that I was married in in 1980 that weighs a ton --- seems to be lined and interlined and with fat heavy rolled lapels, as if it were a kind of blanket --- but also could be sent to the cleaners and would come back with no wearing of the edges, lining or any discoloration and the stitching as taut as can be. Suits I have owned in the past two decades I have had to throw out because of worn areas and even small holes and tears (these include Armani, Hugo Boss and Zegna) after just a couple of years ---- but having said all that I am not sure I want to wear anything for longer than 5 years : I have 4 or 5 tuxes in my attic - the narrow lapel, peaked lapel, wide lapel, narrow tapered trousers, pleated wide trousers etc. just to keep up with the current cut at the time.
I had a tailor, where I used to send shirts for pressing who fixed/cut loosed threads and buttons without telling me. I noticed way after the fact. I would like to add that I never got rid of a shirt because of the stitching, only when the fabric started looking bad or cuff/neck wear and tear.
 

comrade

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So - here's my theory: A significant drop in quality of organic raw materials (cotton, leather, possibly wool) has been caused by generations of selective breeding and genetic engineering to increase quantity and reduce production costs.

I am afraid that the equivalent has happened to many consumers. They have been "bred" to buy cheap
fashion/style. The decline in the wearing of tailored clothing and dress shoes for over a generation
has resulted in a cohort of buyers who do not even know how to determine quality clothing let alone
demand it.
 

Phileas Fogg

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I am afraid that the equivalent has happened to many consumers. They have been "bred" to buy cheap
fashion/style. The decline in the wearing of tailored clothing and dress shoes for over a generation
has resulted in a cohort of buyers who do not even know how to determine quality clothing let alone
demand it.
classical Austrian economics would agree with this; all market forces are driven by the consumer.

It’s a sign of our affluence really. The buyer base for clothing has broadened and even children now have disposable income never before seen. Even college students.

According to the BLS, the average teen (16-19) who works earns $500 / week. Take out taxes that’s still a considerable sum of money to spend on clothes, food and other experiences and goodies.
 

dieworkwear

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classical Austrian economics would agree with this; all market forces are driven by the consumer.

It’s a sign of our affluence really. The buyer base for clothing has broadened and even children now have disposable income never before seen. Even college students.

According to the BLS, the average teen (16-19) who works earns $500 / week. Take out taxes that’s still a considerable sum of money to spend on clothes, food and other experiences and goodies.
Don't know many young people (e.g. under the age of 45) who have a lot of disposable income. Most are saddled with education debt and high rent. But they're able to still buy clothes because clothing is a lot cheaper nowadays, even if it's not of particularly high quality.
 
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Don't know many young people (e.g. under the age of 45) who have a lot of disposable income. Most are saddled with education debt and high rent. But they're able to still buy clothes because clothing is a lot cheaper nowadays, even if it's not of particularly high quality.
They buy baggy fleece things with elastic cuffs and waistbands -- can be called 'body coverings', but hardly "clothes"!
 

dieworkwear

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I like the way young people dress and find them, as a whole, to be a really inspiring group in terms of style. At least in my area, you see some wearing really nice designer clothes (often international students). Lots of people in thrifted clothing. One of the most stylish people I've ever seen is a young woman who frequents a coffee shop that I used to visit (haven't been in the last year because of COVID). I can only describe her style as being something like a mix of Margiela, Lemaire, and old Armani. I once asked her where does she buy her clothes, and she says she thrifts them and alters them at home.

I don't think you have to wear particularly high-quality clothes to look good. On balance, the stylish people I see are mostly wearing lower quality clothes. People who can afford nice clothes are often not very well dressed, even if they've spent a lot of money on their duds.

Personally, I find that quality is mostly "good enough." I have clothes from the 90s that are still perfectly serviceable. In today's age, a garment's design is more likely to wear out than the fibers or material. Clothes are often discarded well before the end of their useful age.

Most people just don't have a very good eye for clothing, as it's not something they prioritize in their life. I think that's fine, as we all prioritize different things. When I speak of a decline in quality, I'm mostly talking about the shift onto the consumer. If you want to look good nowadays, you have to do a lot of the work yourself. You can't just walk into a reputable store and trust that a sales associate will fit you in the right things. You have to figure out whether something fits; you have to find a good tailor; you have to figure out whether X goes with Y. This is especially true as online shopping has devolved into niche brands. Instead of going to a store to buy your entire wardrobe, you now buy socks from a sock brand, jeans from a jean brand, suits from a suit brand, ties from a tie brand, and so forth. Then you have to figure out whether those things go together (they often do not until you've practiced this a while).

As I mentioned on the first page, I also think the quality of bespoke crafts has gone down. But I have no way of knowing for sure, as I wasn't buying bespoke clothes or shoes in the '70s or '80s. I'm just surprised by the things that I see coming out of some Savile Row and West End firms.
 

Phileas Fogg

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Don't know many young people (e.g. under the age of 45) who have a lot of disposable income. Most are saddled with education debt and high rent. But they're able to still buy clothes because clothing is a lot cheaper nowadays, even if it's not of particularly high quality.
perhaps you and I don’t know the same people.

be that as it may, my post referred specifically to 16-19 year olds. As a whole, we are wealthier as a nation and have more disposable income. The market is responding to our consumption demand but to say that “quality has diminished” is a rather vague statement.

I think it’s fair to point out specific instances were quality has declined and I did allude to AE as an example. The fact is that the base of goods has been broadened. Compare retail in the 70’s to now.
 

breakaway01

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Most people just don't have a very good eye for clothing, as it's not something they prioritize in their life. I think that's fine, as we all prioritize different things. When I speak of a decline in quality, I'm mostly talking about the shift onto the consumer. If you want to look good nowadays, you have to do a lot of the work yourself. You can't just walk into a reputable store and trust that a sales associate will fit you in the right things. You have to figure out whether something fits; you have to find a good tailor; you have to figure out whether X goes with Y.
I think what you're referring to mostly applies to the 1% of men who care whether they have a 'good tailor'. But I am not sure how much this has really changed for the average consumer who, say, shopped at department stores in the 1980s-1990s versus shopping at J. Crew or Old Navy in 2020. Did SAs at Macy's know much more about fit back then? If you have disposable income, interest in men's clothing, and live in a place with access to men's clothing boutiques then I can see how this has changed. There is a distinct difference in the knowledge of SAs at Brooks Brothers nowadays (for example) compared even to 10-15 years ago when I started taking more of an interest in clothing.

This is especially true as online shopping has devolved into niche brands. Instead of going to a store to buy your entire wardrobe, you now buy socks from a sock brand, jeans from a jean brand, suits from a suit brand, ties from a tie brand, and so forth. Then you have to figure out whether those things go together (they often do not until you've practiced this a while).
I agree -- and would say that StyleForum has reflected exactly this. I understand the business model of affiliate vendors but it reflects or perhaps even reinforces what you're describing.
 

ValidusLA

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Don't know many young people (e.g. under the age of 45) who have a lot of disposable income. Most are saddled with education debt and high rent. But they're able to still buy clothes because clothing is a lot cheaper nowadays, even if it's not of particularly high quality.
I know plenty of people my age (35) and younger making high 6 figures, a few in the 7s, owning homes who have cleared their educational debt. Granted I know plenty who are burdened by debt and rent too.

But among those with the money, very very few care to use their disposable income on "nice clothing." Among those who do, knowledge of clothing is proportionately low, so "nice" usually ends up meaning designer or label.

A high school buddy introduced me my tailor, and I have brought 10+ new folks in to get commissions. But only 3 have become repeat customers. Not a function of $....to most men my age who aren't lawyers, 1 suit is more than enough, especially in LA.
 
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JustPullHarder

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I know plenty of people my age (35) and younger making high 6 figures, a few in the 7s, owning homes who have cleared their educational debt. Granted I know plenty who are burdened by debt and rent too.

But among those with the money, very very few care to use their disposable income on "nice clothing." Among those who do, knowledge of clothing is proportionately low, so "nice" usually ends up meaning designer or label.

A high school buddy introduced me my tailor, and I have brought 10+ new folks in to get commissions. But only 3 have become repeat customers. Not a function of $....to most men my age who aren't lawyers, 1 suit is more than enough, especially in LA.
Um... Average wage for people in 25 to 35 is under $50k a year. Not adjusted for wage, less than 4 percent earn more than $200k. Less than 3 percent of HOUSEHOLDS earn more than $250k.

Regardless of how many people you might know, high (i.e. $667k or higher) is immensely rare. Similar to saying I know plenty of people with BMWs and Porsches.

That's going to be skewed towards older people too.
 

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