Sunday, December 17, 2017

The sad state of ready-to-wear

A few days ago I bought a suit for a job interview I have next week. I wish I had the sewing experience and non-procrastination-ness (yeah, had to make up that word) to actually make a nice suit. I did shorten the hem on the pants though.

I did not enjoy the shopping experience. I knew getting both the pants and the jacket to fit off the rack would be a challenge. One problem I had was that I am between sizes in jackets, or more accurately I am a different size in the shoulders than my waist and hips. If the jacket fit in the shoulders, it wouldn't button and if it buttoned, then the jacket looked big in the chest and drooped off my shoulders. This was when I realized that the jackets seemed to lack any real structure. The jackets were lined and had shoulder pads, but overall the jackets felt skimpy and the collars were lumpy and bumpy.

All these jackets were in a department store that carried many different labels and they ranged in price from $80 to $160. I wandered over to the expensive part of the store, where they have Hugo Boss, thinking maybe a higher price would mean higher quality. Jackets there were $450 and up, which after adding another $200 for pants made for a pricey interview suit I might only wear a few more times. In hindsight I should have tried some on anyway and looked at the quality. Maybe I will on a later shopping trip but on that day I was goal-oriented and didn't want to be enticed by a $700 suit.

I searched the rest of the store again and miraculously I managed to find pants ($100) and a jacket ($160) that fit, at least well enough to look presentable for my interview. I could tell the jacket had more structure in the upper chest and shoulders and that made the larger size I chose (so that it buttoned) look OK in the shoulders and not like I was wearing a jacket that was too big.

A long, long time ago, early in my working career, I wore a lot of Liz Claiborne and Jones New York. I remember pants were about $80-90, blouses $60-70, and jackets (blazers) were about $130. I don't remember that being very expensive - it was what the department stores offered as "career wear." How is it that today, nearly 30 years later, the prices in similar clothing lines are not much more?

At some point I stopped needing to buy "career wear." I returned to school to get a master's degree and then casual Friday became casual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Though I still liked to wear dressier pants to work instead of jeans and blouses instead of t-shirts, I began buying separates and, more importantly, started sewing my own clothes, so I guess I didn't notice that the prices weren't going up.

If the price to the consumer was staying the same, or in some cases even decreasing, then something in the equation had to change. Pants stopped being lined. Jackets lost some tailoring. Fabrics got thinner. Labor was moved to places where they could pay very little, like Bangladesh, where my new suit was made. The quality of the sewing in my suit is actually quite good, but the material quality is not. I've also noticed that unless you go to a major city, many department stores no longer carry clothes at a higher price point. The public wants to keep paying the same amount (or less!), which means cheap clothing and now that's the only thing available. 

Since I'm in Germany and have different clothing lines, I just looked online to see if Liz Clairborne is still around. Well they are, but I wouldn't recognize it. The clothing is much cheaper than 30 years ago but nowhere near the look or, I assume, quality it once was. Jones New York looks to be targeting the same demographic they used to but the clothes are at the same prices as 30 years ago. So I'm going to guess that the quality won't be the same and the labels will indicate that they're sewn in some place like Bangladesh.

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