MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

November 19, 2013

The high cost of specialized fashion

Last week, a reader asked why larger-sized clothing costs a few dollars more than standard sizes. I explained that it isn’t due to the extra fabric used to make the garment – the extra cost covers the price of the scrap fabric left over when the garment’s pieces were cut from the cloth, as the scraps are too small to use for additional garments. It’s the cost of making, and buying, larger sizes.

As consumers, we love to get a deal on the things we need – not only groceries but clothing too. I think I’ve turned clearance clothing shopping into an art form, especially for my children! I’m the one hunting on clearance racks for summer clothes in November, when I can pick up tank tops, shorts and swim trunks in the $2-$3 range. When April and May roll around, I’m buying winter coats for the next season, and so on.

The danger of being an exclusively clearance shopper is that I tend to lose touch with what things “really” cost when they’re not on sale. I’ve done a good job of buying ahead for my kids’ needs each year since they were born. They’ve always got a full wardrobe the next size up hanging in their closets (clearance tags hanging proudly from each item) – all purchased for $3 or less.

Recently, though, my sons needed something that I didn’t have in their closets – new sweatpants for a cold-weather scout campout. Easy enough, right? I headed down to a local big-box store, which had a large display of kids’ sweatpants for $6.98.

I should mention that one of my sons has contact dermatitis – he’s allergic to polyester. Wearing anything with polyester in it results in a nasty red rash that turns into blisters, so checking tags before I buy clothing is an automatic habit.

Enter the $6.98 sweats. They were a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester – fine for my youngest son, but not for my guy with the sensitive skin. I went to a different store. Then, I went to another. Each time, I came up empty handed. No one carried 100 percent cotton sweats. I even went to five different thrift stores looking for secondhand sweats made from cotton. Each store carried plenty of sweats, but not one pair of pants that weren’t a polyester blend.

I even considered sewing him new sweatpants myself (I’m pretty good at sewing!) but guess what I couldn’t find? Even the fabric store didn’t carry 100 percent cotton sweats fabric.

What happened? As we all know, mass-produced clothing is inexpensive for a variety of reasons. Polyester blends are cheaper to produce than all-natural fibers. I started researching this topic online and learned that many European brands of children’s sweats are still made of 100 percent cotton. I was also hit with some sticker shock – most were priced around $30 per pair. (Cotton sweats are apparently now a specialty item – who knew?) I even saw adult 100 percent cotton sweatpants retailing for more than $44 per pair.

I eventually found a website that sold made-in-the-USA kids’ cotton sweatpants for $14.95. I happily ordered them – finally he was covered for his campout. However, it led me to think about the price differences between his cold-weather gear and his brother’s. The mass-produced, poly-blend sweats cost less than half of his American-made, cotton sweatpants.

It did make me appreciate the costs of buying specialty items versus mass-produced. And to bring the column full circle, the site from which I ordered the American-made pants charges $1 more per pair for sizes 12 and 14. If I order him another pair next year, I’ll pay a dollar more for them. But I’ll do it happily.

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