15 January 2015

Cheap Can Be Okay

This is a pretty nice pattern for something from Old Navy, and it was cheap too—marked down to about $15. (I used the "soft flash" setting, and this pic is a pretty accurate representation of the colors, though the red and blue are both a bit darker in person.)
Buying inexpensive clothing is often a gamble. Will the fabric be too thin, or feel cheap? Will the cut be too baggy, or too slim (to save on wholesale costs)? Will the buttons fall off within two weeks? How will the details of construction compare to other clothes I already own?

In this case I was concerned about a couple of things, both of which turned out to be all right. I ordered this online and had not seen it in a store, so I didn't know how accurate the online images' color representation was. More importantly, a lot of the patterned shirts I've seen from Old Navy are not aligned to the center placket and buttonholes. This one is, or I would not have ordered it. It's easy enough to tell from online images.

It's one of those things that I've come to take for granted in clothing construction that isn't universally followed, again for cost reasons. It costs more to create such patterns, and it costs more in terms of fabric used for each garment. The collar is also cut so the pattern is centered, and sometimes you see instances of that not being the case either, like this shirt (also from Old Navy).

I thought this practice had been abandoned by all but the lowest-end manufacturers, but clearly that isn't so. I looked through my other shirts and found only one instance of it, on a short-sleeve summer shirt from Lands' End that I paid about $8 for on clearance maybe five years ago. But the original selling price on that shirt was probably around $40, and at that price I think most shoppers expect center-aligned pattern matching. Back in December I came across a shirt I really liked at Target, but it suffered from this same issue. I could not buy it because I know it would bother me every time I looked at it.

The other issue that concerned me was fit. About 80% of Old Navy's men's shirts are now described as "slim fit." The meaning of this can vary considerably depending on the brand and what other fits are offered. As it happens, I had tried on one of their shirts a few months ago in a store, specifically because I wanted to know how the fit had been changed, and a slim fit XL fits pretty much the same as most of the other shirts I currently have, regardless of what size they are or what fit they purport to have.

What I found interesting is that this XL "slim fit" is a more comfortable overall fit on me than J. Crew's XL "classic fit," which I've been buying and wearing for some time. The cut of the Old Navy shirt is just a bit more accommodating through the body, and the sleeves are just a bit shorter, enough to feel less gangly. (About 15 years ago, when the cut of J. Crew's shirts was a bit more friendly and I could buy them in size L, I used to work with a guy who turned back the cuffs of his J. Crew shirts halfway, because they were too long for his arms, whereas they were fine on mine. At the time I kind of made fun of him a little, but since I've been buying their more recent shirts I better understand what he was going through.)

This one comes out favorably in construction and details too. The fabric is a little thin, but no worse than J. Crew's "lightweight" shirts, and it's very soft. The collar is narrow, but Old Navy is just following the prevailing trend there. It has a back collar button, which is unexpected and appreciated, even if it's not strictly necessary (it's hard to imagine anyone wearing this shirt with a tie, but it could be done, though it would have to be a skinny tie). There's a center back pleat, buttons on the sleeve plackets, the bottom buttonhole is horizontal.

Overall it feels like Old Navy is definitely stepping up its game a little. Perhaps they've seen J. Crew coming downmarket into their territory with their Factory stores and wanted to meet the challenge more directly. Even at its original price of $30 I would have felt like this was a reasonably good deal, and I'm interested to see if they stick with these improvements.

1 comment:

unitedstyle said...

I have had to skip many a plaid shirt at Target or Old Navy for that same collar problem. A pattern has to be balance, no matter what the price.