What’s In A Label: Four Helpful Tips

How important is the clothing label when you shop? I was thinking about this yesterday as I was sorting clothes at the Thrift Shop, where I volunteer. The managers have a true love for Tommy Hilfiger, Lauren Ralph Lauren, GAP and other modern labels. Those pieces always get a little boost in price.

Not intending to sound like a fashion intelligentsia (lie), I am trying gently to point out that labels do sell, but quality sells too. And one does not equal the other, in all cases. A label is a clue about quality but not a guarantee. Some formerly prestigious brands have sold or licensed their label to mass-production manufacturing. See Halston, Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein. These are decent clothes, but the designer has/had no connection to the current creative process.


An 80’s dress, designed by Liz Claiborne. Love. Source.


A gorgeous 70’s Halston caftan. Source.

Here are some of the ways I sort through labels, for my own purchases. I would love to hear yours in the comments.

1. A vintage label always attracts me. When I was selling vintage clothing on eBay for a (small) living, I joined the Vintage Fashion Guild, to share vintage history with other aficionados. And there are some real scholars in that group, who put my scraps of knowledge to shame. One fab feature they offer is the Label Resource, and they make it free to everyone. It’s priceless, really – every designer from Edward Abbott to Ben Zuckerman is represented. If you shop or especially sell, vintage clothes and accessories, bookmark this page.

2. For modern clothes, I look for made in the USA, Canada or Europe. Again, this is no guarantee of a great piece of clothing. But the working conditions in these countries are far more fair than in many other places. This book is an eye-opener about the true cost of cheap clothing.


By Elizabeth Cline.

3. A hand crafted label is always a treat. “Made by Helen” or “An Original By Mary Lou” always draws me in. I used to sew my clothes as a teen, and still have a fondness for hand-crafted pieces.

4. Ignore the label and learn to judge the feel of the fabric, examine the seams and finishing, look for fewer bells and whistles, get familiar with quality – whatever the label may say. Debbie at Recovering Shopaholic has a good read about recognizing quality clothing here.

Stay fabulous,

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  1. Love this post – you are so right about using the label as a short-cut. I always, always pay more attention to the cut and feel of an item than to the label. I adore researching vintage labels (I have used that link above many times) and looking up old brands to learn their history. Quality above all!

    Lol, I pitched a fit in a thrift store because a Nygard piece was ridiculously overpriced once. I still ended up buying it (and I love it and still have it), but it was a case of the ladies recognizing a mall brand. Lordy.

  2. Vintage clothing is BY FAR the best way to ensure you’re getting quality when you buy a brand. They just don’t make clothing like they used to…

    I often think about the brands when I’m buying but more from the “do I want to support this company?” perspective as opposed to the “I want anything with this designer’s name on it” mentality. Here in the US Midwest, brands are something people go nuts for and so often I find myself attracted to understated pieces without brand logos if only because I see so many here!


    Ashley || Sed Bona

  3. Very useful ideas about labels!. I always look for those little pieces of information, but I’m more concerned on fabric, lining, finish and care labels.
    Everybody loves a cute vintage label!

  4. I would always rather spend more money an item of clothing if I know I can wear it for many years than buy ‘fast fashion’. I’ve bought a few fast fashion pieces, and they’re they only purchases I ever regret, with only one exception, a terribly inexpensive coat I bought online recently. I did email the company for reassurance about their labour practices though! How can you make a decent coat for $40?

  5. What an informative post, Patti. Thank you. I live near one of those big outlet malls with several big name stores. Big manufacturers like Ralph Lauren, the Gap, Banana Republic, Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein to name a few, actually produce lower quality merchandise specifically for these outlet stores. The labels are slightly different and the quality is inferior. Most people won’t notice the slight difference in the label. So much for being a label whore. Like you, I shop mostly second hand and have a real weakness for home sewn garments. Plus the older things with those silky embroidered labels are usually beautifully made. Gosh, if I’m ever in Florida I will definitely visit your shop. And how cute was Anne’s drawing of a green clad You?!!

    • I’ve heard the same about the “outlets” – that’s not very appealing, is it? xo

  6. Great points!

    I haven’t been to a thrift store in many years, but finding a thrift store close to me is on my list for this year!

    I used to work very close to a great thrift store and frequently went there to browse on my lunch break. I never looked at labels first. What attracts me to clothes is color and cut and then of course fabric and feel. I also appreciate beautifully sewn clothes, seams, linings, etc. I’m very sensitive and can’t handle wool or scratchy materials, so a lot of things don’t make the cut even though they are beautifully made. Only at that point might I look at the label, but it really doesn’t matter to me, especially not in a thrift store. The few times a year I find myself in a department store I only veer toward certain labels because I have liked the clothes in the past and think that I may find something I like (but things can of course always change…).

  7. The thrift store chains here tend to price stuff from The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. extremely high, which is bizarre to me. I look at the fabric first and then the label, and like you, I try to find things not made in China, and with vintage labels (union made, etc.) if possible. I will buy something more contemporary if the quality is there, but so much of it is junk.

  8. Labels for me are only an indication of how a garment will possibly fit – I know that I am a certain size in Lauren Ralph Lauren, but need to size up in Ralph Lauren Black Label. Being a busty woman, I always look at fit as the main determinant of possible purchase. Being an ex-seamstress, I usually can discern quality of fabric and workmanship within seconds of looking at a garment on a hanger – how a fabric drapes, is it lined, is the neckline faced, are there well finished pockets and how are the seams finished. I do like buying US or Canada made clothes and will pay more for them, just because, most of the time, the quality is better and because if we don’t support our businesses, we will eventually not have any local choices. Companies such as Karina dresses or Leota dresses are my main go to brands (BTW, Patti, thank you for the discount code – I have been using it at least for a year to score some really great timeless dressesfrom Karina dresses. Do you know of any Leota dresses discount codes? I practically live in these clothes all 4 seasons:)

    • I don’t know Leota clothes, but I am about to investigate! Sounds like you really know your stuff – having been a seamstress does that for you. xo

  9. Oh, I know about that “new item” stuff too. Often it’s been passed on to the thrift for a good reason! xo

  10. It’s how a garment feels and looks first and the label is mostly an afterthought for me.
    Lots of our charity shops are obsessed with labels and, because they’re often staffed by ladies of a certain age, brands like Marks & Spencer get a higher price and the fabulous vintage & designer stuff sneak under the radar.
    I grabbed a groovy pair of cowboy boots yesterday that were a fraction of the price of the drab Clarks’ shoes, when I got them home I noticed they were by Frye and made in the USA – I think they’re made in Mexico now. xxx

    • All of our volunteers are (like me) Ladies of a Certain Age. I like to think I’m slightly hipper, because I have friends like you! xo

  11. Very. Informative post!
    I am lucky my mom tought me to discern good fabrics and shoes, so I am the annoying lady at the store who touches and scrunches every item and smells and bends the shoes!
    A warning about “made in…”
    I try to buy “made in Italy” when possibile (I am in Italy), but sometimes ago there was an accidenti, I think a fire, that took place in a clothing manufacturing plant near Florence, and some people lost their. Life if I recall correctly. The working conditions were terribile and of course illegal, but that was “made in Italy” too.
    So, I guess the message is, “made in…” is important, but so is making sure the company that produces is known for its good practices. It take a bit more effort, I guess…

    • very sad information, Chiara – you’re right, any country can have poor working conditions. xo

  12. I didn’t know you sewed your own clothing Patti! Very cool.

    Such good advice about ignoring the label. I, for one, bought too many articles of clothing for the label. They were well made clothes, but not necessarily right for me. When I started to pay attention to the garment itself, my wardrobe improved a hundred fold.

  13. Whilst the name on the label does play some part in my selection process, it isn’t the do all and be all in me coming to a decision. Especially as, you rightly pointed out, many of these brands have sold their names to high street manufacturers and no longer have any control in in neither design nor TQC. So, no, I don’t only look at the name 🙂 I check the quality and design, and then rationalise if the price fits the final product xoxo

  14. It’s been one of the strangest changes to thrifting over the years hasn’t it? Sometimes I think labels make people a little confused about what thrifting is all about. You’re right that we should be more aware of how quality feels rather than its basis in a name. One of the things that annoys me is when there are still tags on an item and the store just halves the original cost. It means the item is often ridiculously priced in comparison to other items of the same sort. If we are thrifting, something being new is a bonus, but it’s not why we’re there. We are aware that things may not be new – if that was an issue we wouldn’t have walked in the door. I love that most op shops don’t know the value of a handmad item though. I always count those as my best bargains – a totally unique piece made with love. It’s a very interesting industry. Thanks for your insider insight! Enjoy xx

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