Is it inexpensive…or just cheap?

If you have been on a budget for more than a minute, you know that spending less for something can later come back to bite you in the butt.  I’m sure everyone has had an experience of “I threw it in the wash once and it completely fell apart!!”.  Nothing can be more frustrating than thinking you got a great deal, only to realize that the reason it was so low priced was because it was cheaply made!  It’s just as much of a rip-off as paying too much for an item!

I want to take a minute to explain a little about how retailers come to their ticketed price.  I went to school for fashion merchandising, and currently work in a corporate office for a major retailer, so I’m really shooting myself in the foot by telling you this.  However, it’s necessary to make my point!

Let’s say you like those really cute Jessica Simpson pumps you saw at Macy’s for $85.  Well, the Macy’s shoe buyer bought those from the Jessica Simpson vendor for about 45% of the price they are ticketed.  The Jessica Simpson vendor had them made overseas and marked them up 40-55% before selling them to Macy’s.  The agent that Jessica Simpson vendor used charged them a 5% commission.  The factory marked up the merchandise before selling it to agent—and the supplier for the leather and other materials marked up their materials before selling them to the factory.  So those $85 Jessica Simpson pumps? Probably only cost about $7 to make….no joke.  It’s just the nature of the industry.

Now, here is my point with all this.  If you buy a $3.50 tank top from a “fast fashion” deeply discounted retailer (I’m not calling out names here)…how much do you think it cost to make, given the above example? I know fashionistas aren’t math whizzes, but you can get where I’m going with this.  Something so cheaply ticketed was cheaply made to begin with, using inexpensive fabrics, poor stitching , etc.  And while it may only cost you $3.50 today, you could have bought a couple slightly more expensive shirts by the time you finish replacing that top over again the next few months, and that’s a better bang for your buck!

That being said, the price isn’t always an indicator of quality. Some retailers ticket things higher knowing they will actually sell it for a significant amount less. So how are you to figure out if an item is worth the money, and how do you decide between what is cheap versus what is just inexpensive?

Here are my tips:

1.  Whenever possible, shop in the store.  Nothing beats being able to feel, touch, and look at the garment.  Look for unraveling in the stitching.  If there are loose threads before you even leave the store, you could have a problem!  Also, look at where the stitches are placed.  If there is a lot of stitching close to the edges of the fabric, they are more likely to tear through the ends and the hem will unravel.

2.  If you are shopping online, read the reviews. has great customer reviews online, that are always honest and can really help you determine the quality of the piece you are looking at.

3.  Check the return policy and talk to the manager BEFORE you buy.  Some stores will take back/exchange items even if they’ve been washed and worn with a receipt, especially if there is something wrong with the quality.  Some will not let you return for cash at all, and if you don’t still have the tags on, forget it.  In my opinion, this is a great indicator of how the company feels about the quality.  If the company won’t stand behind their products…why should you buy them at 90% higher than the original cost?

It will be my goal here to give you pieces that are of decent quality.  They may not last you 20 years, but it is my belief that your clothes should last you at least two seasons, if not longer.  If you are going to wear a piece only once or twice, by all means, buy the cheapest you can find.  But if you are looking for a great item you can turn to all season, it’s worth the effort to shop around for a great deal AND great quality.

What are your thoughts? What stores do you think have the best quality for being so inexpensive, and which ones are truly cheap? I’d love to hear your opinions! Leave a comment or email me:

~ by Jess from JessRunsATL on August 25, 2009.

4 Responses to “Is it inexpensive…or just cheap?”

  1. I grew up with my mom, a seamstress, cramming the notion of the ‘quality’ of fabrics, stitching, etc. whenever we went shopping together – exactly what you wrote about here!!

  2. I’m totally guilty of shopping and hitting the clearance racks. But, like you mentioned, after washing it, my purchases are never worth it! “Buy to keep” is my new motto!

  3. Hm, that is interesting about how high the mark up is on the example pair of like 80 buck pumps. Wonder what that means about those Marc Jacobs bags I dream of, lol.
    I hit up TJ Maxx/Ross/Marshalls a lot more now. I found DVF bags there the other day, on top of some Juicy awhile back and they almost always have Kathy VonZeeland and Betseyville.
    In fact I did get a pair of JS heels there for like 30 bucks which I felt comfortable paying for the brand, even though I hate JS…

  4. I was able to get some Jessica Simpson Pumps for $14 and I was blown away that they cost so cheap. This post opened up my eyes, maybe I need to just save a plane ticket and head to where the shoes are made and indulge.

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