Consistency is a nice thing to have in life.
Advertisers love the concept of a “brand” because it sells you consistency. Don't just buy cars, it tells you — buy Mazdas. You always like Mazdas.
That's a nice, comfortable feeling of security that you'll pay extra for if they can sell it to you.
And there's something to that.
If a company makes a product in a way that you really like, it's a pleasure to buy from them when you need something new.
Clothing is no exception…
If you can find a brand that fits in all the right ways without much need for alterations, clothes shopping is a lot more relaxing (and easier on the wallet, in terms of the tailoring needs).
But how do you find a brand that's right for you?
To go into a little more detail, I'm addressing a reader's concerns about saturation here.
He's facing a market where there are literally thousands of name and store brands, even without getting into the true designer houses.
In all those options, how do you find a label that you can rely on in general, rather than just for one specific piece that you've tried on in a store?
The Challenge Of Finding A Reliable Brand
There are three big problems facing a shopper who's looking not just for a single item but for a brand he can come back to time and again:
1. Sizing & Fit Changes
The advantage of a brand is that they make the same basic product consistently – size, quality, and fit should be reliable over time. You're coming back to the same label because it's familiar to you.
Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Brands will often change the cut of their clothing without altering the actual measurements. Quality standards often fall as they look to cut costs. And the style of a brand can change as they try to court new demographics… we'll cover this shortly.
Back to brands and fit…
Take jeans for example — off-the-rack men's jeans usually have just two measurements, the waist and the inseam. A brand might keep those consistent, but drastically change how wide around the legs are from one year to the next, trying to keep up with fashion.
There may also be multiple models with different fits, and no obvious clue as to which is which. Just because you like a brand's “Gentleman” collection doesn't mean you'll like it's “Traveler” collection, and so on.
2. Style Changes
The look of brands change over time as well as the fit. This can be a good thing, but it makes it harder to tell if a brand is going to work for you year after year, or if you just happen to like their current collection.
Brooks Brothers is a great example — they had a consistent style of suit for most of the 20th century, and it pretty much defined the “American” suit, but a change of ownership a few years back led rapidly toward much trendier, more severe cuts and a less traditional feel.
That sort of thing happens all the time, even without companies changing hands. Part of finding a good brand is often finding one that doesn't change its core design too often.
3. Quality Changes
Don't expect to see it in the advertisements, but brands sometimes change their materials or their manufacturing without notice. This is usually a downgrade (if they've upgraded to some fancy new material, you will hear about that one!).
Lowering the quality of raw material is one way companies cut costs; outsourcing the manufacturing somewhere else is another. Either one can turn a beloved brand into a much less reliable one.
How To Find A Brand You Can Stick With
Given all those problems, how do you find a brand you like? Just finding a single piece of clothing you like might not be enough of a guarantee to tempt you back.
1. Educate Yourself
Knowing what makes a piece of clothing more or less desirable — in specific, measureable terms — is a good way to get choosier about what you buy.
Take a look at my “Style Pyramid” article over at The Art of Manliness (The Style Pyramid is so good even Life Hacker stole it!). It lays out some very basic criteria: fit, fabric, and style.
Get to know the fit, fabric, and style that you like. Don't be afraid to start by going to an upscale store and trying on brands you can't afford — it's good to know what the really nice stuff feels like, so that you have a point of comparison for more down-market brands.
2. Shop In Batches – With A Tape Measure
Try not to think of shopping as a quick in and out thing. Plan on hitting all the major menswear stores you've got access to in a day, and get some decent measurements first.
You can use a measurement guide like the one at A Tailored Suit to copy down your detailed measurements — not just the basic ones off-the-rack brands use (waist and inseam for trousers and sleeve and collar sizes for shirts).
Take a tape measure with you (the soft, flexible kind tailors use, not the metal reels carpenters carry) and use it to compare the interior measurements of clothes to your body's recorded size.
It's also worth taking the measurements of any clothes you have that fit really well — knowing the size of the things you really love can help you look for clothes cut the same way.
3. Widen Your Search
Make a long sweep through all your available stores and see what they have to offer. Note down the brands that work well, if there are any, and keep those in mind.
Then get yourself to the internet and start looking there! You want to keep an eye out for sites with open-ended return and exchange policies, so that you can try things on and return them as needed without paying shipping costs.
There are a lot of brands that won't have a physical presence near you, but that will do online business that you have access to. And as long as it's functionally “free” to try things on, it's worth your while to see if there isn't an internet-only brand out there that you prefer to all the local options.
Over time, if you get serious about one type of clothing in particular, you'll find websites and message boards geared specifically toward that sort of shopping. There are subreddits, deal-sharing sites, vintage auctions, and more — all of which will broaden your options, and give you that much better a chance of finding a brand you can stick with.