Saturday, 12 March 2011

In search of quality - part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 of this post discuss fabric and construction, so read them first!

Trim and detailing - woo hoo, lace!

One of the things I love most about BtSSB is their lace; apparently the factory is next to a lace factory, and it shows. Lolita focuses hugely on details, and it’s made me super-fussy about the trim on all my clothing even outside Lolita. Unless lace is soft cotton, and ribbon is good-quality satin or grosgrain, I'm a bit iffy about it.

Good lace is one of the mainstays of Lolita fashion, and lace-monster dresses trimmed with metres of scratchy polyester lace are the thing of nightmares. There are various types of lovely lace, the most common being cluny, embroidered cotton eyelet or broderie anglais, embroidered net, raschel and guipure. What to look for regarding quality varies depending on the different types, but cluny should be detailed and well-woven with no loose threads, while embroidered cotton eyelet should have a nice cotton base and thick embroidery threads with a minimum of raw edges where the details have been cut away. Despite its bad reputation in the lolita community, raschel lace can be quite pretty – Metamorphose sometimes uses lovely soft cotton raschel which is a far cry from its polyester cousin.

BtSSB is quite famous for their fairytale embroidery series, and despite leaving Lolita in general, I still wear my Red Riding Hood skirt all the time (I’m wearing it right now!) The embroidery on this is tightly sewn, with appliqué fabrics making up the solid patches of colour, and is an example of a really nice quality detail.

Colour matching: 
I’m kind of in love with this Twenty Seven Names blazer, but one of the dealbreakers is the embroidered patch detailing. While the blazer is in a cream/blue colourway, the patch is embroidered in a very stark white, creating an unpleasant contrast. It might be a tiny detail, but for $480, it should be perfectly matched! Consider this when evaluating lace and other trims.

Manufacturing origin

Whether or not you think it's ethically important to support local industry and avoid sweatshopped labour, it's unquestionable that manufacturing origin has an impact on quality. Something made by a seamstress earning a few cents an hour in China or Bangladesh is never going to have as much attention paid to it as something made in a factory with more intensive labour laws and by someone paid more for their work. Garments made in countries like Japan, the USA, Australia or New Zealand also tend to be sewn in smaller releases than those churned out by the thousands in huge factories producing garments for high-street stores, which tends to mean higher quality and better workmanship (as well as exclusivity, which might or might not interest you). 

While it's not a lolita brand, I adore Cue as it's ethically made in Australia (and has some great fifties-style silhouettes which I love wearing to work). If buying online, it can be difficult to work out the manufacturing origin, but again most garment labels will include this information.

A lot of lolita is made in Japan, but some brands are moving to China for manufacture, especially for things like shoes. In my opinion most (sweet) brand shoes are about on par quality-wise with replicas such as Secret Shop, although buying replicas comes with its own set of ethical issues. I prefer in general to wear a pair of nice high heels, so if you're into classic or gothic lolita it may be easier to find high-quality shoes in a local shoe shop than via lolita-brand websites.

With all of these considerations to keep in mind, it seems pretty clear that the idea 'brand = quality' isn't as simple as it sounds. Since starting to buy non-lolita designer clothing, I've really begun to appreciate quality and design which doesn't rely on a pretty print for popularity, and conversely to notice the lack of quality in a lot of high-street clothing sold cheaply and en masse. I'm certainly not saying that brand prints aren't worth it, nor that all prints are badly made, but when shopping for your next skirt or dress, it might be worth looking at the non-print items. Without a print to excite interest, a dress needs more technical work for interest, such as ruffles, pintucks or interesting tailoring, and is often made out of higher quality fabric. Similarly, if you're considering a new blouse and don't want to order online from a lolita brand store, don't just go to Forever 21 – try going to a local designer with a price-point similar to Japanese brand, as what you find might be of much higher quality and work nicely with a brand skirt for a classy coordinate.

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