Quality Will Out

May 11, 2014 Updated: May 11, 2014

I was recently lunching with a friend when she idly pulled on a thread on her shirt. You know the rest—if she had continued, she would have been naked!

That started me thinking. Most of us don’t really recognize the presence or absence of quality in our clothes.

Here’s a primer on shirts:

The collar should be evenly stitched around the edges. The yoke is sometimes split shoulder, which means it has a vertical seam down the yoke on the back of the shirt. The placket is the strip of fabric on which the buttons are sewn. Fourteen stitches per inch are a sign of quality.

All seams and buttonholes should be finished well. This means no loose threads or fraying fabric.

Buttons should be strong enough to withstand heavy use. Usually buttons are made of bone, mother-of-pearl, or animal horn. Dressier clothing have buttons made of rhinestone, crystal, jet, intricately-patterned metal, and even old coins.

The shirt’s tail should be long enough to stay tucked in. Anything else is sloppy and cheap. The sleeves should be the right length. Too long and you look like a child wearing her mother’s clothes, and too short and you look like you’ve outgrown the shirt. You don’t want to look like a country cousin. As far as quality, where it joins the cuff, the fabric should be pleated and not tapered.

The best cotton fabric is a finely woven cotton such as Sea Island or Egyptian. They both have a sheer, satiny finish. Poplin and broadcloth are more smoothly woven than oxford cotton.

Linen is also fine but it creases badly or beautifully, depending on your point of view. Cuffs are very important to the overall look. French cuffs fold over on themselves and need cufflinks. They add a dressier look and you should choose your cuff links as carefully as you do your other jewelry. Barrel cuffs are plainer and use buttons, which are also fine.

One further piece of advice—if you see a loose thread, don’t pull it!

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of boutique publicity firm in Manhattan, Miriam Silverberg Associates. She may be reached at silverbergm@mindspring.com.