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How to debunk your garment tag

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like you need a degree in fashion just to go shopping? With so many brands and stores available to us, and such a broad range of prices, it can be tricky to figure out what pieces are worth our hard-earned cash and when we’re just paying for a brand’s name.

There’s actually an art to finding the perfect piece and we sought out Sara Kozlowski, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons The New School for Design, to find out how to decipher a garment tag, what fabrics to look for and what to spend our money on this fall. She’s partnering with Marshalls and T.J. Maxx to help shoppers debunk their garment tags.

The ever-important garment tag

“There are certain cues to always look for when shopping, so it’s important for everyone to be their own personal quality detective and closely examine each item,” Kozlowski says. “When it comes to garment tags, my general rule of thumb is if it says ‘Made in Italy,’ then buy it! European designers have a long legacy of excellent craftsmanship, so just because you don’t recognize a brand name doesn’t mean it’s not high quality, and vice versa.”

That being said, quality fabrics can also dictate the price tag of any garment, so it’s important to pay attention to those tags and make sure you’re selecting the best fabrics. Kozlowski cites wool, leather and cashmere as three fabrics worth shelling out a bit more cash on.

Of course, there are sometimes faux fabrics lurking out there, so it’s important to monitor those garment tags closely, she says: “My advice is to stick with genuine leather — it’s often proudly labeled as such so be sure to check the hangtags, interiors and bottom of shoes for this stamp of quality approval.” When shopping for wool, seek out at least 50 percent wool blend and beware of imposters like acrylic. Aim for at least a “60 percent ratio of cotton to synthetics” with cotton pieces if you can’t get 100 percent.

The same goes for leather and cashmere, folks. Make sure your leather feels “supple and buttery versus stiff,” features a rich, masculine smell, and feels warm. Kozlowski added, “True cashmere, which will feel soft, breathable and fluffy, should also feel electric — if you rub your hand or a plastic item across the surface, its fibers will charge and may even create static.”

The devil is in the details

When you’re out in the trenches (aka the mall), there are other aspects of a garment you can examine to make sure you’re getting quality fashion. “I always look for well-crafted functional signature details, including generously cut pockets or extra buttons and yarn sewn into the inside of the garment, because these extra materials are for wear and repair in order to extend the life of the garment,” Kozlowski says.

Finding pieces that fit well and following the care instructions (i.e., always dry cleaning an item if it says “Dry clean only”) can also help you make sure you’re scoring great finds (and making them last long so your purchase is worth it).

The bottom line? Quality matters, and a close eye is a shopper’s best friend in the fashion hunt.

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