The Fallacy of Quality

Quality is a word that comes up a lot in discussions about fashion, but what it actually means never really seems to get nailed down.

Reading through various such discussions on various online fashion forums, there are a few ideas that someone otherwise uninformed could pick up.

Firstly, it would seem that quality is something that, at least for plebs like you and I, can be difficult to determine at the point of purchase; an accurate appraisal would seem to require some degree of expertise in the item at hand. But there also seems to be a consensus that quality cannot be ignored in the long run – buying a low-quality item will always bite you in the arse eventually, apparently most often because the item “falls apart” or otherwise fucks itself after relatively little wear. This leads to people fretting over whether an item that, to their mere mortal gaze, seems to be cool, is actually of sufficiently worthy quality, leading them to seek the counsel of the seemingly omniscient internet.

Another common theme is that quality can, at least to some degree, be quantified objectively; the quality of a garment is an attribute that transcends banal concerns like the item’s design and fit, or how good it looks on. It is possible to glimpse hints at the true quality of a garment by examining things like which country it was made in, the materials it is composed of (and their respective origins), to what extent it was made by hand versus by machine, and so on. Things like how neat the stitching is or how the material feels to the touch are also reasonable hints. But no one factor is conclusive – there is no one infallible indicator of a garment’s quality.

If you think that all sounds a bit confusing and overcomplicated, don’t worry – it’s all bullshit.

Let’s take a step back for a second. At the most basic level, the quality of an item is supposed to mean how good it is. But that immediately begs the question, good at what? – to which the answer is of course entirely dependent on the needs, desires and priorities of the individual user, and what they want out of the item.

For example, the main priority I look for in a pair of jeans is that they’re really fucking skinny, without looking full-on sprayed on, and that they maintain that fit over extensive wear. A pair of jeans which fails to meet that standard is worthless to me, no matter how Japanese the denim is. But for someone who doesn’t like the way their legs look in skinnies, or whose style doesn’t call for them, or who lives somewhere too hot to be able to wear them, even the jeans I consider the absolute GOAT (Acne Thin Stay Cash if you’re wondering) would be basically useless.

Clearly, how good an item is necessarily depends on the user in question. So we can immediately fuck off the idea that quality can be decided objectively.

My approach to evaluating the quality of an item I might be considering buying is fundamentally pragmatic: I look at, touch, and try on the item, and decide how well it meets my needs for it. My needs will obviously vary from item to item, but I place a lot of value on how comfortable an item is, interesting designs and details, and my emotional reaction when I look at myself in it.  Contrary to the idea that quality is fundamentally about the long game, and that it’s difficult to determine from a cursory inspection, I can observe pretty much everything I care about from the start.

Obviously there are some things that I care about in the longer term, but they tend to be very well-defined, item-specific things, such as how a leather shoe develops creases over wear, or how much a pair of jeans stretches out in the waist, or whether a sweater retains its softness after it gets washed. By nailing down my long-term concerns to concrete shit like that, it’s easy to ask someone who already owns the item or a similar one from the same brand (“how many waist sizes did these jeans stretch” is a very easy question to answer; “what is the quality of these jeans like?” is not), or look for telltale signs in the item as is (e.g. if I notice ugly creasing starting to form in a shoe before I’ve even worn it, I’m gonna nope the fuck out of there before I find out how bad it gets).

Something I don’t really concern myself with is durability. Despite all the horror stories of cheap items apparently constantly falling apart if you look at them the wrong way, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve had to get rid of an item because it physically broke in some way. The fact is that even relatively cheap clothes last a perfectly decent lifetime, so it’s just never really been an issue for me (as a side note, the idea that you can “save money in the long run” by spending more for a higher quality item that lasts longer is almost always based on dodgy maths. Vimes had it wrong).

Wrapping shit up, I just don’t really like the word “quality”, because ultimately it could mean anything. If someone claims that one item is “higher quality” than another, I want to know in exactly what concrete real-world way they think the “quality” item is better – if they can’t answer that question then I’m basically going to assume they’re talking out their arse. My advice is to do the same, and to put more faith your own judgement when buying shit – nobody understands your needs as well as you.

TL;DR: Forget about quality, think about your needs.

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