Carola Long: The clothes look good – then fall apart

Monday 26 January 2009 01:00

Are consumers asserting their right to complain more, or has the quality of clothes that are on offer really gone down? The answer is a bit of both.

At one end of the spectrum, rock bottom prices at some shops mean that nothing is finished to a high standard, and many items lose their shape, fade or fall apart almost as quickly as one of the chain's paper carrier bags in the rain.

At the other end of the high street, and among designer labels, prices have risen in recent years – raising consumers' expectations of increased quality, without necessarily delivering it.

It's not hard to find shoes and dresses for over £150 at so-called premium high street shops, and if a stiletto snaps or a zip jams at that kind of price, few consumers will put up with it. While the design might be sophisticated, the materials and manufacturing standards are often mediocre.

There is a sense among savvy shoppers that quality has even declined and tales of woe abound. Take the customer in Reiss who was advised by a shop assistant not to buy a top because it would fall apart – people had already complained. Or another in Topshop who returned an undeniably shrunken dress that had lost its shape after dry-cleaning, only to have the assistant refuse to acknowledge the fault.

On a recent shopping trip, I asked a shop assistant whether a wool mix jumper would pill badly and was told that it would, because that was the nature of the garment. Why produce clothing that will look tired within a wash? Another giveaway sign of poor quality is the dry clean-only labels that appear on clothes that shouldn't require specialist attention. Many shops try to conceal the fact that even simple garments aren't well enough made to survive trial by washing machine.

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