I figured today I'd talk about one of the quality lessons I've learned over the years, both by experience and via Google. Some may apply to what you wear, some won't, and hopefully it's useful.
Material, material, material. You can doctor most parts of a piece of clothing, but if the material blows, you can't fix that. (Yes, even if it's otherwise perfect.) If the material itches the instant you try it on, put it back and walk away. Washing won't fix that. If you start sweating just looking at it, put it back. No one looks good with pit stains. In general:
- Cotton can be nearly any weight, breathes and makes excellent clothing with very few exceptions. Those exceptions are usually related more to how the manufacturer abused that the fiber itself.
- Linen is usually reserved as a summer fabric because it breathes very well and generally is very lightweight, making it excellent for hot or hot, sticky summers, and not so great for trying to stay warm. Be warned that linen can be itchy- scratchy, like burlap, if woven wrong, and no amount of softener, bleach, vinegar, or washing will fix that. While you can get linen sweaters and jackets, they generally are more for looks than warmth. Also beware that linen will wrinkle like no tomorrow.
- Silk is again, generally reserved for summer, because it's slick, slippery, and cool against the skin. Silk knits, while they may not maintain that slick slipperiness, the coolness and the airiness (not necessarily the appearance of airiness) of it's woven cousin. Be wary of stiff silks or itchy ones, it means the fibers have been abused and may no longer maintain it's silk like capabilities (i.e. silk taffeta.) I personally take those silks on a case by case basis and apply other rules to see how good it may be. Silk is also a specialty care fabric. Unless the tag specifically says otherwise, assume it's hand wash or, if particularly fussy, dry clean. (Unless it's outwear or particularly ornate, you should be safe to hand wash even the silks that say "dry clean.")
- Bamboo can be turned into fabric. It'd generally be very soft and light, but may require certain special care. Can be summer or winter fabric. I've seen it advertised as sweat wicking in some exercise clothing, but can't vouch for how accurate that is.
- Wool. Some hate it (oh, that itch!), some love it (oh, how warm!) While you can get tropical wool weight slacks and blazers, I'd highly recommend using your climate as a guideline for wool. Down here, even tropical weight wool in the summer is asking for trouble. Up north and overseas, it may be suitable for every day of the year. If wool causes you to itch, I'd say find a blend, keep it as outer wear, or stay away from it. Again, nothing can remove that itchy scratchiness. Beware wools that look like Brillo pads, unless it's a tweed or something meant to look like that. Brillo pad wool generally means piss poor quality. Also beware wools that look fuzzy like a bunny, that shit will felt or fall apart pretty damn quick. Wool cannot tolerate hot water (causes it to felt like a mother fucker) or the abuse of a washer (unless it says otherwise.) This is another hand wash or dry clean material.
- Cashmere is essentially high end wool (technically, it should be the finest wool of certain goats, but that definition is rarely used now.) Those who find regular wool itches may be able to tolerate cashmere. It also breathes a bit more than wool, making it more tolerable in less frigid climates (still wouldn't recommend it down here in the summer.) It does grant that cloud like loft that few wools can match (and loft is actually air that can be used as insulation, believe it or not. The Brillo pad rule still applies. The bunny rule may or may not apply, this is brand dependent and I would check other quality factors to determine if it applies. The same care rules as wool still apply though, and it is usually more delicate than wool.
- Leather is technically the hide of a creature (usually cow.) It should be soft, not stiff (if it's stiff, it's more closely related to rawhide and won't serve you as well or as long.) Crumple it in your hand for 30 seconds and then let it go. See wrinkles or creases? Walk the fuck away. Run. That's bad shit. Scuff at it (gently) with the back of your fingernail, then rub at the scuffed area. Does it look like you scuffed it? Bad quality. Walk away. Unless it's part of the design, it should all be one color leather, not multiple shade of one color. While it is waterproof, give it special attention during particularly wet seasons (leather conditioner, etc.) Stuff spilled on it should come right off with water and saddle soap, but condition it after wards. If it is dire need of a true cleaning, take it to a professional leather cleaner.
- Suede is essentially leather with shorn hair still attached. It'll be stiffer than leather, but not rawhide stiff. Most of the leather tests still apply, with the understanding that the hair will change directions and should still be able to be smoothed out. Suede is NOT friends with water. Don't take it out if there's even a threat of wet weather or puddles. Unfortunately, any cleaning has to be done by a professional.
- Shearling/ fur I know very little about, other than it shouldn't shed when petted, should be reasonably supple, and requires a special cleaner.
- Man made fabrics. I loathe most of these. Except in very rare circumstances, they don't breathe worth a flying fuck and have the highest chance of being cheaply manufactured.
- Polyester can take many forms, but it rarely breathes and has a high chance of looking cheap or old lady like. If it itches, put it back. If it's a sweater, beware that you will likely sweat in it indoors. Poly satin can be ok, but again, that's a case by case basis.
- I've never met a rayon that didn't itch to high heaven or look like something for an old lady. Stay away from anything with rayon as it's main component.
- Same goes for nylon. It generally has a nasty texture and I generally despise the stuff.
- Microfiber CAN be ok, but I'd definitely take it on a case by case basis and not buy it unless I can feel it and crumple it.
- Pleather/ vinyl/ any of it's kin: Apply the same rules as leather, but be warned that it likely will crack or wear through long before leather. I'd highly recommend getting it in the real thing, even if you have to save up, because it'll last you much longer and be more comfortable.
- Faux fur/ shearling/ etc. Apply same rules as the real thing. Here's one area I have no problem buying fake, so long as it passes all my tests.