Before we get into the dirty laundry (literally), I will address the issue of quality clothing, because that's really what this series is all about -- keeping nice clothes nice.
Because I've been mothering for 21 years, and because, with the exception of gifts, I am the only person who buys the clothing in our house, as well as the only person who washes the clothing in our house, I have a pretty good feel for what lasts and what doesn't. I don't buy all our clothes from one manufacturer, nor do I feel that one manufacturer is best. After all, from season to season, and year to year, manufacturers change where they buy their fabric and where they make their clothes. In other words, even if one manufacturer has the highest quality clothes this year, that doesn't mean they will next year.
It's very helpful to be able to look at clothes and discern what is quality, after all if an item feels and looks cheap, it usually is. But in this day of so much online shopping (and I buy the vast majority of our clothes online) it's impossible to inspect each item I buy for quality. Therefore, I find it most helpful to find a manufacturer that I have experience with, and who stands behind their merchandise.
I hate to name names because we don't all have the same definition of quality, but because you asked I will tell you that more than fifty percent of our clothes come from Lands End. It is rare that I find a item purchased from them to be poorly made, and if I do order something I don't like, I send it back and get a refund, no questions asked. Even if we've worn an item and washed it, I can return it and no questions are asked. I don't abuse the guarantee because that's a good way to ruin a good thing, but I do use it. There are other companies that stand behind their products as well, but I don't know them all. Some of my children have sensitive skin issues, so I'm also picky about what seams feel like and what labels feel like. A lot of Lands Ends clothes are now tagless, so that's another plus. They also use a lot of natural fabrics, and they are always more comfy. Often I can find what I need on the Lands End Overstocks page, so I rarely pay full price for anything.
While I buy the majority (more than 50 percent) of our clothes from one manufacturer, I still don't use them exclusively. Last summer, in fact, I decided to do a little test to see what I thought of my three favorite manufacturers of little girl clothes. I bought two solid-colored tees from Lands End, two from Gymboree, and two from Hanna Andersson. I bought them in colors that coordinated with the other clothes Faith had, mostly hand made shorts and skirts. Faith wore them all summer long, and she is a pretty messy kid so it was good test of quality. At the end of the summer I could clearly see that the Hanna Andersson shirts washed better: stains came out without fuss, they dried wrinkle-free and they looked like new after a lot of wear. I based my fall purchases on that test and her clothes came from Hanna Andersson for the winter. That said, I will not always purchase her clothes from that one manufacturer because manufacturers change their fabrics and manufacturing methods.
In this particular example, all three manufacturers were equally-priced and so the test was fair. By and large, the more expensive the item the better it wears, but not always. My young adult son has occasionally asked for some expensive jeans as gifts and, honestly, they don't look any better than good, old-fashioned Levis. In some cases you pay for the label. But, for the most part I don't waste my money on cheap clothes unless I have experience with the brand. If it looks cheap, and feels cheap, it probably won't last. It's really just common sense -- you know the old adage you get what you pay for. And if you have several children of the same sex, it really pays to buy quality clothes to pass down.
I purchase some clothes at departments stores and I will say that I've never come across a pair of Docker pants that washed poorly, or Levis jeans. My favorite brand dress shirt for my husband, Croft & Barrow, comes from Kohls and I can usually get them on sale -- they wash and iron beautifully with minimal effort. I buy some things for the children at Old Navy and Gap and their trousers for the guys usually wear pretty well -- especially if I look for heavier fabric, but you will find some pretty cheaply made shirts at Old Navy. For dress pants I always go with Lands End, and their t-shirts for guys are always best. I buy myself trousers at the department store -- usually Liz Claiborne, but almost all my blouses and sweaters come from Lands End.
If you are buying clothes in person, here are a few things to look for in a quality garment:
Is the fabric weighty; how does it feel when you scrunch it in your hands? How does it look when it unscrunches? It should not be rumpled looking and it shouldn't wad up in the palm of your hand. It shouldn't feel flimsy and you should be able to flatten any wrinkles with a simple hand press after it unscrunches.
Check zippers -- plastic is usually cheap and will break much faster than metal.
Buttons should be secure and on blouses and men's shirts a quality item will have more buttons (thus less space between each). Button holes should be neat and the buttons should fit through them easily.
Seams should be neat and flat -- puckering will only get worse with washing.
Hold a shirt up to make certain the seams fall straight. Cheaply made clothes will twist and the seams will not hang plumb when hung from the shoulders.
If you are buying for boys -- look for long pants that have reinforced knees -- they are definitely worth the money.