Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What Makes a Quality Smock

What Makes a Quality Smock?

Some of you have expressed that you just don't understand the difference in brands of smocks: it can be hard for someone new to the smocking world to differentiate between a quality smock and some of the less desired items. We try to only "approve" brands of quality for SHM, but businesses frequently change manufacturers, so sometimes some bad seeps in when we approve a now good smock company. So, what makes a quality smock? And why do some brands sell for $35 new compared to others that retail for $70 or more a dress?

Fabric Content
Fabric content makes a huge difference, though it isn't always obvious from looking at the tag. Looking through my daughter's closet, it appears as though many of our favorite quality brands prefer 100% cotton (Little English, Claire & Charlie) while other favorites prefer a combination of polyester and cotton (Shrimp & Grits, Candyland), and others use some of both (Zuccini). The mix with polyester tends to mean less wrinkles and easier care, which is definitely a perk for busy mamas.

The difficulty with fabric content is that what you see (on the tag) isn't always what you get. Some foreign manufactures allege an appropriate blend (for example, 35% polyester / 60% cotton), but they aren't. And 100% cotton can mean different quality grades of cotton.

So what is a mom to do? Especially when you are shopping online? Look at the photos closely - some of the poorer fabrics SHINE and have an almost plastic appearance. Others, such as some polka dot fabrics from many brands, have an uneven color saturation. For example, if you look at a close up, you can see white or lighter threads blended into the material. If either is the case, buyer beware. These outfits may be fine for play, but be sure you are paying appropriately. These items often don't hold up well in the wash, and they do not hold resale value. Also, the shiny fabrics may not make the best fourth of July or birthday outfit as they can melt like plastic when they get too close to heat. If you can't quite tell, ask around. Find someone who has recently shopped the brand to tell you what it is like in person. When shopping online, the best way to protect your money is to pay attention to what other buyers have seen in their purchases.
Also, an outfit should not be see through. If it is a thinner fabric, then there should be some kind of lining, or it should specify that a slip should be worn with it.  You shouldn't see diaper designs shining through!

 The picture on the left is a good example of the shiny fabric referenced. If you look closely in both of these you can also see a lack of quality in the smocking details. The one on the right has the kind of polka dot fabric that usually drastically fades after the first wash. It is thick and not soft.

How do some brands get away with charging $70 or more an outfit? Hand detailing! It takes time to fold and stitch and sew all the details of a smock. But again, look closely, because not all hand stitching is alike. Details matter. Start with the smock plate. Are the folds in the smock plate evenly displaced? Depending on the curve of the neck on an outfit, even the top brands may have some uneven spacing or small gaps, but this will totally make a difference in both the appearance of the item and the resale value.

Is the design on the smocking uniform? If there are supposed to be three identical images stitched into the smocking, they should all look the SAME. All designs should be uniformly spaced. Symmetry is definitely a necessity in smocking. Check to see if the trim on the sleeves or near the hem (ric rac) coordinates well with the dress - or if it has any at all.

It should be obvious what the designs on the smocking are. If it is of a recognizable character, it should look like that character. Features should be proportionate. There shouldn't be missing eyes, mouths, or other design elements that are present in the other images on the smocking. Features should be proportionate:  no one wants to see huge bug eyes on your pretty princess dress.
For jon jons and bubbles, check the snaps. Reinforced snaps are a sign of good quality. Also, higher quality items have snaps painted to coordinate with the design of the outfit. Silver snaps show a complete disregard to detail that likely continues into the rest of the product's craftsmanship.

See how tight the smocking is on this Claire and Charlie Swimsuit? Also, the crabs are symmetrical, proportionate, and they aren't missing any important parts. It has coordinating ric rac and matching detailing.
This Le Za Me dress also has tight smocking with a nice geometric design embroidered into it. Great attention to detail with its symmetry.

Retail Value
Let's face it, when something costs a lot new, it tends to be worth more used. Brands like Claire and Charlie, Anavini, Le Za Me, Little English, Auraluz, etc sell for more retail because they have a reputation for quality. Pieces may slip through, but, for the most part, these brands have earned their value through their attention to detail and quality. This higher retail value typically translates into a resale value.

 Lovely quality brand, not so lovely price.

(Photos used with permission from some of our Smocking Hot Mamas friends.)