Food for thought: Do men just have it easier when it comes to shopping for quality basics?

I’ve been thinking about writing a post comparing the quality of men’s and women’s clothes for a while now.

I originally imagined it to be exposé-like. Finally, the world will know the truth! Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

I’m not sure why I’ve been holding off. Maybe it’s because there’s just so much inventory to look through. Or maybe, my hypothesis wasn’t specific enough for me to know what kind of evidence I was looking for. I think it’s probably the latter.

Then I asked myself, what exactly is my frustration with clothes?

My list of complaints

-I seem to always have, I have nothing to wear” moments while Vadim (my husband) never seems to have this problem. This applies to both everyday clothes and occasion wear.
-I return about 99% of the clothing items I buy online because of quality issues, while everything Vadim orders comes exactly as pictured.
-Finding quality basics (e.g. t-shirts, sweaters, pajamas) feels like I am running through a maze without my glasses on, whereas, you guessed it, Vadim doesn’t have this problem.

My conclusion: Men have it easier when it comes to shopping for clothes.

Let me get more specific.

My hypotheses

(Really bringing it back to my research days)

H1: It will take me longer to find what I am looking for in the women’s section than in the men’s section. 
*This is based on my own online shopping experience versus Vadim’s. He always manages to find what he needs a whole lot quicker than me. I usually spend days, weeks, or even months looking for what I need.

H2: Men’s clothing is less likely to be made of synthetic fibers (e.g. polyester, nylon, viscose, rayon, elastane/spandex) than women’s clothing.
*This is also based on my own experience. While I am often disappointed with the material composition of clothes I see online, Vadim never seems to have this problem since everything he finds seems to be made of cotton and is actually as soft and comfortable as it appears online.

Difference between synthetic and natural fibers
Synthetic fibers are cheaper, tend to not wash and wear as well, and be less comfortable for people with sensitive skin (me). Natural fibers (e.g. cotton, silk, linen, wool) last longer, tend to feel better on skin, and when made consciously
can be better for the environment.

Putting them to the test

To test my hypotheses, I looked for these three basic items:

-a long sleeve t-shirt
-a crewneck sweater
-a pair of sweatpants

*I chose these three because it’s winter, and these pieces should be available online for both men and women.

The online retailers I based my research on:
-Zara
-J.Crew
-Net-A-Porter for women/Mr Porter for men

*I chose these three online retailers to examine three price points: affordable, mid-range, and high end.

Short version of the steps I took (not very scientific):

I timed how long it took for me to find each item in each section.
1) I started the timer when I got onto the site
2) I stopped the timer when I found what I was looking for in a neutral color (white, gray, black)
3) I jotted down the time
4) Repeat steps until I found all 3 items for each online retailer

Findings

Time
H1: It will take longer to find each item in the women’s than in the men’s section

My hypothesis was supported.
-In 7/9 instances, finding the item in the men’s section was faster than the women’s section.
-On average, it was 25.7 seconds faster to find the men’s item than the women’s item. *Based on taking the average of the 7 time differences when it was faster to find the men’s item than the women’s item.
-On average, it was 5 seconds faster in the women’s section than the men’s. *Based on taking the average of the 2 time differences when it was faster to find the women’s item than the men’s item.
-Men’s time range was 5 seconds to 30 seconds.
-Women’s time range was wider by comparison, from 8 seconds to 1:06 minutes.

*This doesn’t take into account whether the item was one that I would actually want to buy. I just clicked on the item and stopped the timer if it was the first item I found that was a) what I was looking for and b) in a neutral color (white, gray, black). Let’s take a look at composition.

Composition
H2: Men’s clothing is less likely to be made of synthetic fibers than women’s clothing

1) Long Sleeve T-shirt

The Zara’s women’s long sleeve t-shirt is made of only synthetic material (96% viscose/4% elastane) while the men’s version is made of 95% cotton. From my personal experience, viscose may feel soft to the touch but might be irritating on skin because it is synthetic after all. It’s also less likely to wash or wear well compared to cotton (also in my personal experience).

Once again, while the men’s long sleeve t-shirt is made of cotton jersey, the women’s equivalent is made of a modal/spandex mix. Modal may feel like cotton but it stretches over time, which you might not want if you like how your shirt currently fits.

No difference here, both are made of 100% cotton. This is the goal for me personally when I shop for basics. The softness of cotton just can’t be beat. You do have to be careful of shrinkage, I avoid that by never putting my clothes in the dryer. Air drying takes forever but it’s better for the environment and for my clothes. (Women’s: here. Men’s: here)

2) Crewneck Sweater

The Zara’s women sweater is made of three kinds of synthetic fibers (viscose, nylon, polyester) while the men’s equivalent is a mix of natural and synthetic fibers (cotton and acrylic). Based on the composition, this men’s sweater is probably going to feel better, wear better, and wash better than the women’s equivalent.

While, the J.Crew’s men’s sweater is 100% cotton, the women’s equivalent is a mix of cotton and acrylic. My response can only be summed up as…

I used to not care about acrylic when I shopped for sweaters because it would feel soft to the touch. But no matter how hard it tries to mimic cotton, it just isn’t. I now avoid buying things made of acrylic, not only because it makes my skin itch but also because it’s harmful to the environment (it is plastic after all after all).

The women’s sweater is “extra”  for no reason (in my opinion). It is made of mostly cotton and some silk but it has 20% spandex and 16% nylon. Meanwhile, there’s no nonsense in the men’s sweater since it’s 100% cotton. I’m going to bet that the men’s sweater (with proper care) will wear better and last longer than the women’s one.

3) Sweatpants

These Zara women’s sweatpants are made of only synthetic materials (viscose, nylon, polyester) while the men’s equivalent is mostly made of cotton. Sure, the women’s version looks “dressier” than the men’s version, but considering the composition, will it last as long or feel as comfortable?

This is where I give J.Crew credit. Not only do these women’s sweatpants look good but they are also made of 100% cotton. And for once, the women’s version is made 100% of natural fibers and the men’s version is not (there’s polyester in the mix).

This women’s sweatpant is 100% synthetic (polyester, viscose, polyamide, elastane) and needs to be dry cleaned. No thanks. Sweatpants are meant to be worn in and loved, not high maintenance. The men’s version, on the other hand, is 100% cotton and machine washable. The difference here is stark. The men’s version is likely to be more comfortable, last longer, and cost less to maintain.

My hypothesis was supported
78% of the women’s pieces were made of synthetic fibers versus 44% of the men’s pieces.
22% of the women’s pieces were made of 100% cotton versus 56% of the men’s pieces.
Women’s items contained more synthetic fibers than men’s items. Women’s pieces had a total of 7 types of synthetic fibers: polyester, viscose, polyamide, elastane/spandex, nylon, acrylic, and modal. Men’s pieces contained 3 types of synthetic: elastane/spandex, polyester, and acrylic.

Summary of findings

Hypothesis #1 was supported
-In most (7/9) of my search it was faster to find the men’s item than the women’s item, it was an average of 25.7 seconds faster.
-In the 2 instances where it was faster to find the women’s item than the men’s item, it was an average of 5 seconds faster.
Short version: Most of the time, it was faster for me to find the men’s item than the women’s item.

Hypothesis #2 was supported
-Majority of men’s items found (56%) were made of 100% natural fibers (cotton) whereas, a majority of women’s items (78%) were made of synthetic fibers.
-Women’s items contained more types of synthetic fibers at a total of 7 than men’s items at a total of 3.
Short version: Men’s items were more likely to be made of natural fibers than women’s items. Women’s items also contained more types of synthetic fibers than men’s items.

Final thoughts and questions

Based on my findings, it seems like online retailers want women to spend more time on their sites. Perhaps, this is to encourage women to spend more money by showing them the things they are not looking for. Creating a site that encourages women to spend more time browsing could also be based on an assumption that women have more free time than men. I speak for myself when I say that I would like my search to be just as fast and seamless as it is for a man.

In terms of synthetic and natural fibers, does the fashion industry cut corners when it comes to making women’s clothes? Is it assumed that women are more willing to be uncomfortable in their clothes for the sake of “fashion” than men are? Is it sexist to prioritize comfort in men’s clothing and not in women’s clothing? Once again, I speak for myself when I say I want to be just as comfortable in my clothes as a man.

If time is money and synthetic fibers are less likely to last, are women spending more money than men on the same basic clothing items? 

These are just some thoughts and questions that I have based on my findings from my super small sample of the vast fashion industry. There are certainly retailers like Everlane that make it easier and more afforable to shop for men’s and women’s basics.

This took me longer than expected to write but I am so glad I did.

As someone who is concerned about sustainability and being a conscious consumer, this is certainly an eye opener. Seeing the contrast between what’s offered for men versus what’s offered for women certainly suggests that all is not equal. It appears that the fashion industry makes it much harder for women to find basic clothing items that are both comfortable and made to last. While I hope that more brands will focus on creating quality basics for women, the bigger hope is that this is no longer a niche part of the industry. I hope that it becomes the standard and across all price points like it seems to be for men.

Shop women’s basics

Shop men’s basics

Do you experience similar frustrations when shopping for clothes? Where are your favorite places to shop for quality basics? Does it matter to you if clothes are made of synthetic fibers?

Thanks for stopping by.

See you in my next post!

Sophie 🙂


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