Forget style for a minute. Something that looks good but is of poor make very likely will do you more harm than good. To the untrained person, quality cannot necessarily be gauged by appearance or feel (though you should touch and try on items, if possible). Then how can you discern if something is the quality you seek? There are no guarantees in life, but there are some pretty big hints.
Almost everyone knows that some materials usually are better than others. Cashmere or cotton? Unless it's a low-grade cashmere, the item with the luxury fiber should prove superior. A button-front shirt that is see-through when stretched usually means fabric cost-cutting took place somewhere. Secondary materials can matter, too. For instance, shell buttons seldom are found on low-quality shirts, zippers that are metal often accompany better materials than zippers made of plastic, and very high-quality dress shoes usually have leather soles. A simpler rule is this: soft and sturdy, friends. Even if you cannot explain why you find the materials shoddy, if you do, you should not purchase the item.
The more expensive and delicate the care recommended is, the higher quality the item probably is. (Yet, with equivalent care instructions, the superior item should last longer.)
Phrases such as "Machine wash gentle cycle," "Dry flat," and "Dry Clean" generally denote relative quality (among materials, like cotton, that don't always require special care). Think about it - if you owned a $200 shirt, wouldn't you - or your manservant - be more careful with it than with a $20 shirt? (The extra bother might negate the value of it in your eyes, of course.)
Attire that is hand-made or custom-made almost always will be of good quality. "Imported from Italy" and "Made in the USA" usually mean the item will not be low quality. Some manufacturing jargon you might not understand, but - with most retailers - assume that anything beyond the bare minimum was put on the tag/description because it's a positive.
High-end clothing usually fits better than cheaper stuff. Also, the more specific sizing is, the better, typically. For example, with similar pair of pants, the one marked L probably is not as good as one with the specific, numeric waist size.
Place of sale
Most retailers strive for consistency in the quality of goods they sell, because they are targeting a certain clientele that has so much resources and particular expectations. When was the last time you saw an Armani suit in a discount store?
Quality costs more.
Certain labels carry a premium unrelated to workmanship and items are not always priced smartly, but the rule of thumb is that if one piece costs appreciably more than another, outwardly similar piece, it is better. Sales are tempting, but heavily discounted prices - relative to other items and taking seasonal clearances into account - usually signals that something is wrong, probably with style or quality. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
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