What's the number one prerequisite to building a high-quality wardrobe? Exactly: You need to be able to recognize a quality garment when you see one. You need to be able to tell the difference between a durable, well-crafted piece and one that looks pretty on the rack but won't last more than half a season. You need to know a) which properties distinguish high-quality garments from low-quality ones, and b) how to recognize these properties when you're out shopping.

To help you do just that, this post and the next one will give you a broad introduction to assessing the quality of garments. We will start with fabrics in this first part and then cover seams, tailoring, linings and details like buttons, zippers and pockets in part II. I will also include a downloadable one-page cheat sheet that summarizes the most important facts in the second post.