T-SHIRTS: We think the high street does T-shirts phenomenally well. However there are some key things to consider when choosing one – first of all, check the stitching around the collar and sleeves. There shouldn’t be any interlocking on the seam (ie the seam should be hidden and not exposed). A hidden seam is a more costly way of producing a garment, so when a retailer is trying to cut corners this kind of interlocking seam is often used, making it look poorer-quality and it won’t last as long. Second, go for something with linen in the fabric, even if it is just a small percentage – it will hang looser and be less clingy than a high-percentage jersey version. Lastly, look at the collar – more expensive-looking T-shirts will have either a deep v-neck or a severe crew, anything in-between or a boat neck will make it look cheaper.
BLOUSES: Some of our favourite peasant blouses and pretty tops in our wardrobe are high-street – they’ve lasted season after season and still look good. In fact we wish we had bought them in bulk. The secret is to avoid anything with exposed buttons, as it is the first place a retailer will cut to save on costs. Next up is to look closely at embellishment and embroidery. Pre-made patches that are sewn on will make your blouse look less expensive, so choose something that is directly stitched onto the garment. Also examine the details – if there is a loose stitch here or there it’s not worth investing in, as it will fall apart after the first wash. Also make sure you can actually wash it – there is no point spending £25 on a top that you have to spend half of that on dry cleaning every time you wear it.
SKIRTS & DRESSES: This season the high street has some great skirts and dresses on offer, but so many look cheap because of the fabric composition. When choosing a chiffon version for example, look for one with silk in it. If it has no silk in at all, the chiffon will be shiny and stiff and both are giveaways that the garment is not made from a high-quality material. When looking at other fabrics, try to get as high a percentage of the natural fabric as possible, for example cotton and linen. It will not only make the skirt or dress look better, it will also add weight, making it hang better on your frame. With dresses, replace the slip underneath if need be, as often they’re made from unbreathable polyester with a midway v-neck. A silk cami with a square neckline will make your dress look a hundred times more expensive.
LEATHER VS PLEATHER: Unless you are vegan and have a real aversion to leather, we would avoid pleather. Leggings are the only item where this isn’t applicable, provided you go for a matt version. Pleather is usually too shiny, too matt and too smooth-looking – there are exceptions, but as a general rule we would stick to real leather. When choosing a leather bag make sure the hardware and detailing are kept to a minimum. The more money spent on zips and handles, the less will be spent on the quality of the leather or the stitching of the bag. Fun clutches are an exception to this rule, but here go for natural fabrics such as canvas and raffia rather than pleather to avoid them looking cheap.
OUTERWEAR: When it comes to coats, we stick to the rule that less is more – the less detail, the more expensive the coat will look. If you are looking at belted coats, avoid anything with excessive hardware. In fact a simple fabric belt with good stitching will have everyone guessing where you bought it. Opt for clean lines without huge amounts of detail. Colour-wise, go for navy, black or grey. That Max Mara camel is very tricky to produce and very few factories get it right, and with grey we think the darker the better. If possible try and find a coat without a lining as more money and time will have had to be spent on the exposed stitching. Lastly, with a trench, choose one made from a stiffer fabric and if you can find one that feels almost a little waxed, even better.
TROUSERS: Well-fitting, quality trousers for women are one of the trickiest things to find on the high street. When buying a casual chino or draw-string trouser, it’s all about the weight of the fabric. They shouldn’t be as stiff or waxy as a trench, but it needs to be a weighted fabric so it hangs rather than clings. When it comes to tailored trousers, we would always recommend going for navy as opposed to black if you have an option. Cheaper black fabric can easily look shiny, whereas navy usually looks more expensive and in general is a chicer alternative. Opt for a folded hem that is not interlocking, and we suggest going tapered (provided it suits your body shape), as it is technically an easier cut to perfect. Also always go for tailored trousers with front pockets. If you find a good-quality pair, find out if the store does in-house tailoring as it is often an inexpensive way to get the fit just right.
KNITWEAR: Most retailers on the high street now sell cashmere, so it should be possible to invest in a good cashmere knit at a smart price. Failing that, we would recommend merino wool, which is always cheaper although not as soft. Synthetic materials added to these natural fibres are ok, as it often means they are more machine-washable. However make sure, as with other items, that the natural fabric makes up the highest percentage of the garment. As a general rule we would recommend steering away from chunky knitwear. Often retailers will skimp on thread count to make the item less expensive, so you end up with a flimsy see-through jumper rather than a weighty one.
FOOTWEAR: The high street has seriously upped its game of late, but you still need to be mindful about a few details. Like bags, we suggest only buying real leather and keeping it simple. Details like buckles are a giveaway, so rather focus on fabrics such as satin and silk, with large details such as bows and colour for added impact. Go for no heel or a very simple structured heel – block is best. Always avoid the stacked wooden effect where possible, as it will make any shoe look inexpensive. Another giveaway is the plastic end on a stiletto – steer clear of anything very light-coloured or white and go for solid black instead.
Building a capsule wardrobe of quality pieces that will stand the test of time is possible without spending a fortune – it just takes a little bit of practice (and our list of dos and don’ts…).
We have always maintained that Wardrobe ICONS isn’t anti-high street but anti fast-fashion. We stand for quality fabrics, attention to detail, flattering cuts and when it comes to the core of your wardrobe, we believe in buying better and buying less. We also support the talent of emerging (and established) designers by avoiding blatant copy-cats, preferring items that take inspiration from the trends of the moment. Nonetheless, we also believe that the high street is capable of producing some exceptional pieces, ones that we love and treasure – they are just that bit harder to discover and take some training to spot. To this purpose, we’ve come up with a foolproof, step-by-step guide on what to look out for, what to avoid and what to consider when searching for quality pieces at a more affordable price.
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