Quality versus crap: Why I bought $80 pajamas

My new $80 pajamasYesterday, I spent $80 on a pair of pajama bottoms. (Or, as the company calls them, Alaskan guide lounge bottoms.)

On the one hand, this feels like an insane amount to spend on sleepwear. On the other hand, my last two pairs of pajamas — both $20 specials from Costco — have lasted no longer than a year because they've quickly fallen apart. They were cheap garments cheaply made.

Herein lies a question I frequently face: When does it make sense to pay more for quality?

I struggle to know when I ought to buy a quality product and when I'd be better off choosing something cheaper. I also find it tough to recognize when my desire for quality is legitimate and when I'm simply succumbing to identity economics, buying expensive things to make me feel better about myself. (The former is smart shopping; the latter is lifestyle inflation.)

The older I get, the more I come down on the side of “buy it for life”. I don't enjoy using cheap items, and I hate having to replace things when they wear out more quickly than I think they ought to. Especially clothes.

Quality Versus Crap

When I used the KonMari method to weed through my wardrobe last week, I realized that most of my clothes fall at one of two extremes.

  • Some of my clothes are high quality. They're well made and they've lasted a long time. There are the Icebreaker wool t-shirts I love so much, for instance (despite their tendency to develop small holes). Or there's my Timberland hiking boots, which I've been using nearly every day for seven years. Or the J. Crew t-shirts I've learned to love since we returned from the RV trip. Or my always-reliable Levi's jeans.
  • Most of my clothes, however, are inexpensive items I've purchased to quickly fill a need. I hate shopping. I hate spending money. As a result, when I need a new item, I tend to buy it at Costco or some sort of discount retailer. Quality rarely enters my mind. If I'm being honest, a lot of my clothes are just cheap crap.

It's because quality rarely enters my mind while shopping that my last two pairs of pajamas have been so lousy. I've purchased whatever Costco had because I felt like the price was good. In both cases, however, the garments have developed holes and torn seams and other flaws from normal usage. (How much stress does sleeping cause a pair of PJs, anyhow?)

My cheap t-shirts shrink and fray. My cheap shoes fall apart after a few dozen uses. My cheap sweaters are bulky or boxy. My cheap socks are threadbare within months.

Using the KonMari method made me realize something. My high-quality clothes really do “spark joy” when I wear them. It seems crazy, but it's true. (Remember, that's the entire key to the KonMari method: You keep the items that spark joy, but discard the things that don't.)

High-quality clothes are made from better materials. They fit better. They feature quality construction. And they last much, much longer than my cheap clothing.

“Maybe I should make a conscious effort to only buy high-quality clothes,” I thought to myself as I was packing up a box of t-shirts last weekend.

The problem is that quality comes with a price. Literally. It costs more to produce (and purchase) a well-made shirt — especially a well-made shirt that fits well — than it does to produce (and purchase) a mass-market shirt made from lesser material.

That said, there are ways to find quality clothes (and other items) for less, but these methods require some sacrifices.

Seeking Quality Clothes for Less

In the end, I gave myself permission to buy some nice pajamas. I knew they'd cost more, but I was tired of crappy sleepwear. Before I went out and spent a lot of money, though, I wanted to explore some other options.

My first stop was the local high-end consignment shop. Kim and I have learned to shop there first. It's often possible to find great garments from great brands at a fraction of what the same items would cost new. But the consignment shop had no men's PJs. (Or men's sweats. I was willing to buy sweats instead of PJs.)

Recently on her blog, The Luxe Strategist shared advice on how to find quality clothes at thrift stores.

Next, I checked the online clearance sections of some of my favorite retailers. Many places offer great deals on older models and discontinued items. (I love the REI Outlet online!) In this case, though, I struck out.

“I don't think you should order online anyhow,” Kim said. She'd been listening to me grouse about how much I hate my sleepwear for several weeks. “You're being very particular about this. I think you should shop for pajamas in person.”

“But I hate shopping,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I'll help. We can do it together.”

Yesterday, we drove into downtown Portland to watch the Portland Timbers play their final home match of the season. After the game, we went clothes shopping at a couple of discount stores (Nordstrom Rack, Ross Dress for Less). Kim found some things she wanted, but I came away empty-handed.

I found pajamas, don't get me wrong, but 80% were poorly made, just like the ones I've been buying from Costco. The rest were too expensive — $249!?! — or prominently branded: Hollister! Calvin Klein! Lucky Brand! I don't need to provide free advertising for clothing companies.

“Ah well,” I said. “I guess I'll just buy another pair from Costco.”

Giving In to $80 Pajamas

As we were walking to dinner, we passed one of my favorite stores. I'm a fan of the Seattle-based Filson company, which is a long-time producer of outdoor gear for folks who hunt and fish and work in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. I have an unhealthy obsession with Filson luggage and bags (no, really, it's true) but don't own a lot of their clothing.

“Let's stop here,” Kim said. “You love Filson stuff.”

“I do,” I said. “But it's expensive.”

“What does that matter if it's quality?” she said. So, we stepped into the store.

And there I found the perfect sleepwear! I tried on their flannel “lounge bottoms” and found that they were just what I'd been seeking. They're made from heavy cotton. The stitching is strong and solid. They have ample pockets. Best of all, Kim likes the way they look on me.

I'll admit that I was reluctant to spend $80 on a pair of pajama bottoms. But I did it. My first night in them was awesome! I hope that they'll continue to be awesome for many years to come. There's no way to be sure, of course, but if past experience is any indication, this will be another instance where paying extra for quality makes sense in the long run.

Or maybe I'm just succumbing to lifestyle inflation…

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Jestep
Jestep
2 years ago

Just sleep in underwear, or nothing at all… Problem solved.

KayCee
KayCee
1 month ago
Reply to  Jestep

Idk ? could get dicey around the coffee pot, and chilly in January.

Wesley
Wesley
2 years ago

“Best of all, Kim likes the way they look on me.” …also, “My first night in them was awesome!”

Hmmm…correlation? 😉

Sybil Ramkin-Vimes
Sybil Ramkin-Vimes
2 years ago
Harriet
Harriet
2 years ago

Well, not really. Luxury pajama bottoms are not needed to make a living, like possibly, a good pair of boots. As the above poster said, he could sleep nude.

Andy Todd
Andy Todd
2 years ago
Reply to  Harriet

I think you might be taking the comment a little too literarily Harriet.

The connection between J.D.’s post and the Vimes theory is that expensive items that may cost more last longer and end up being cheaper per unit of time ($10 a year boots versus $50 boots that last 10 years).

My first on reading the post was to look up a link to this theory as well 😉

zzzzzz
zzzzzz
2 years ago

Have you ever evaluated anything you’ve bought in cost per use? That would seem a good way to quantify whether these new bottoms are a better value than your old ones.

BTW, I have a pair of fleece pants from Eddie Bauer that I love, although I haven’t used them enough to evaluate quality in terms of how long they’d last, and they were a gift so I can’t evaluate cost or cost per use.

But they have something on their website that looks similar, for $36.

Lisa Zahn
Lisa Zahn
2 years ago
Reply to  zzzzzz

Evaluating cost per use makes a huge difference in the thinking! About 5 years ago I splurged on a pair of Ugg slippers for $99-way above what I’d normally spend, but it was a Christmas gift to myself. Those slippers still look and feel wonderful 5 years later, making them just $20 a year-so far. I’ve bought many pairs of cheap, crappy, $20 slippers that don’t even last a year. So I’m definitely ahead with my beautiful, warm Uggs. Our great-grandparents never (or maybe rarely if they got suckered) bought cheap crap, so you could say that we’re just getting… Read more »

K
K
2 years ago
Reply to  zzzzzz

I do cost per use on many items, always thinking, well that cost me 80$ jacket was 80$ as I only used it once, vs 80$/x days or x times used. I do this lot with various items, especially board games. Board games are expensive. On average 50$ for the game. But if I have played it 10 times, I can justify that cost. 50$/10 = 5 bucks, not bad for evening entertainment compared to a night out (gas, food, actual entertainment, etc.).

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago

WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN YOUR PJs?! I mean, I shop at costco and it’s pretty clear they put a lot of thought into it. I cant get much there because I’m a weird size, but I like the stuff I’ve gotten and it holds up well. But you had me believing that you were just *sleeping* in your PJs until you gave it away by saying “I don’t need to provide free advertising for clothing companies.” AH-HA! Unless you think Kim will be swayed by a convincing brand logo then you must be doing something… Wait. Nevermind, my imagination… Read more »

Barb
Barb
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

This. The ultimate example? I have severe arthritis. And buy San Atonio Shoes at often$150 a pop. but theylessen my pain significantly (yea, even better than clark’s or sketchers) and the last forever. On the other hand I am completley happy buying cheap leggings, every day socks and so on at other places, even Walmart.

Bethany D
Bethany D
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Have you reviewed your washing & drying methods? Our current dryer only has two temperature settings: air dry or blow torch, and the air dry can only be used for 15 minutes before having to be reset. Plus our current living arrangements don’t allow clotheslines or drying racks. So we generally just use blow torch & accept that our clothes will wear out more quickly than necessary.

Lee
Lee
1 year ago
Reply to  Bethany D

“air dry or blow torch”

I’m dying. 😀

Dagny Haug
Dagny Haug
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Re: “Normally, I sleep like shit.” Tossing & turning puts more stress on fabric & seams than you imagine… and exponentially more when you’re surrounded by a cocoon of bedding.

KayCee
KayCee
1 month ago
Reply to  S.G.

Their sheets are junk.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago

I usually try to start with entry level and use whatever *it* is until it wears out or breaks. I then know what I like or dont like about it and if I have a genuine interest I’ll become educated over time on how to [hopefully] differentiate branding from quality.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

I think this is a really good rule of thumb for most things. If you buy the “cheap, basic” version of something and wear it out or use it enough that its limitations start to bother you, then buying the nice version after that makes sense. If you never get that far with it, you saved the extra money by buying the basic version. This is especially true of things like tools and kitchen appliances. Unless you’re an avid DIYer or professional, you’ll probably never wear out that cheap $20 power drill. And if you do, and go replace with… Read more »

RandomJane
RandomJane
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

I agree with this. Except always buy quality shoes, winter coats, mattresses, appliances (not necessarily with all of the bells and whistles though…just don’t get the cheapest ones you can find), and furniture. Everything else you can upgrade later if you find that you use it often and want a better one.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  RandomJane

I disagree with your list, unless your definition of “quality” and mine are different. I don’t want a winter coat that is either too light or falling apart, but I wouldn’t call my first adult winter coat ($20, denim from a surplus store) quality in any sense of the word. The same with furniture and appliances. Really it comes down to how much money you have on hand and the alternative uses for it. A lot of my first furniture was pretty crappy, but it was cheap and we made it work until we could afford better. I’m also not… Read more »

RandomJane
RandomJane
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

To each their own. I stand by my own personal list. To me good quality doesn’t have to be the most expensive option, something in the middle can be good quality. I don’t go for highest priced options for these items but never go for cheapest anymore. If you know where and when to look, you can buy good quality for less and save money over the long-run. I’m in my mid-40’s and as I get older I really appreciate good shoes (about $100/pair) and comfortable mattresses that last. It really cuts down on foot and back pain. Had I… Read more »

JC
JC
2 years ago

Jessie over at YNAB recently posted a podcast on this very issue. It was a good listen…
https://soundcloud.com/iynab/344-the-dl-on-bifl
(The Download on Build It For Life)

Coopersmith
Coopersmith
2 years ago

Frugal is buying quality at the best price not the cheapest price. There are certain things I will not sacrifice on quality for a cheaper price. My wife is cheapest price and she gets disappointed with some of her purchases while I do not.

Maybe someday she will learn what I have in sometime it is not worth being cheap but being frugal.

Pinch
Pinch
2 years ago

Items on which I do tend to spend more money on, and in the long term spend less money overall, include: – Shoes – I prefer shoes from this family company in Germany (Baer shoes – https://www.baer-shoes.com/). My mother, aunt and uncle swore/swear by their shoes – I bought my first pair in 1996/97. I still have it today as well as 3 other pairs I have bought over the years. They also offer a repair / replacement service so every now and then I send in a pair to get the soles replaced. The sticker price is not cheap,… Read more »

Kate
Kate
2 years ago

Interesting. I’m also curious if these will reduce your cost per use over time. That would probably be a pain to keep track of though. I like mid-level priced clothing. Too cheap and it doesn’t last long (so you have to spend time re-purchasing often, and its literally a waste), fit well & comfortably, etc. Too expensive and you have to worry about spilling something on it, having it stretch or shrink, go out of style, have it no longer be the correct size, etc, before you get your money’s worth. Plus who wants to tie up a lot of… Read more »

Chris
Chris
2 years ago

Weird as it may be, quality socks are important to me. I pay north of $20 per pair and think it’s some of the best money spent (darn tough wool socks from EMS).

dh
dh
2 years ago

If people can create something like a “ten-item” wardrobe, then everything can be of super good quality. For example, I only own three outer-wear pieces, so they are all from Patagonia: a fleece zip-up sweater, a synthetic puffy coat, and a light rain jacket. If I were crazy about owning all kinds of jackets, then I would buy cheaper products. But since I only feel I need 3, I’m okay with making sure each one is of super high quality.

Here’s a guy who put together one outfit for one year:

http://www.thisstylishlife.com/1-year-1-outfit-day-1/

And I like this ten-item wardrobe from Esquire:

comment image

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

P.S. And since we’re coming upon winter soon, I thought I’d share this, as it’s the simplest, and best, layering system I’ve ever found — and works for women too with some slight tweaking:

https://snarkynomad.com/ultralight-winter-travel-gear-packing-list/

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Yeah, soon. Like last week, or maybe not…this bipolar weather is either going to give me frostbite or heat stroke one of these days when I don’t check the forecast before getting dressed. And my duvet might need to visit a psychologist to get over our on-again/off-again relationship.

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

“frostbite or heat stroke”

Lmao!! So true, so true, S.G.

Ron C.
Ron C.
2 years ago

As I sit here in my Costco pajama bottoms typing this, I’m thinking “What is he doing in his pajamas???”. My wife thinks you’re thrashing around in your sleep. I think maybe you’re using them as primary bottomwear, mowing your lawn and climbing trees in them. Either way, I’ll go check out these other bottoms. The ones I’m wearing will wear out…eventually. It’s funny you mentioned the idea of not paying attention to quality at Costco. I don’t either, only because the quality of 98% of my purchases there are fantastic. I used to check reviews, etc, but now I… Read more »

Anne
Anne
2 years ago
Reply to  Ron C.

I’m with you. I LOVE Costco quality.

KayCee
KayCee
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron C.

Gtg look at the date of your post. There was a time I would agree with you but not so much the case now other than some of the food items. Prefer now going to a butcher because Costco undercuts meats leaving lots of fat and cutting too thickly making steaks three inches thick. They so obviously tip the scale in their favor and our detriment. Not such a big fan on that. Eyeglasses and tires absolutely are deals there so I maintain my membership.

luke
luke
2 years ago

final sentence of the blog had me chuckling… my life is also a series of complex justifications made to myself, and then a brief and final smirk at how clever I’ve deceived myself.

but on the whole – very relatable post… except for the pajamas. i never understood why sleeping requires specialty clothing. 🙂

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD, that’s why god gave us the bathrobe. 😉

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I thought grownups got dressed after getting out of bed. 😛

Joe
Joe
2 years ago

Good PJs are hard to find. My Captain America PJ bottom from Target is working very well. I had it for 3 years and it’s very comfortable. I’ve had cheap crappy PJs and I don’t like them either.
I’ll check out Filson when I have a chance. $80 is more expensive than anything in my closet, though.

Jessica
Jessica
2 years ago

My experience with clothing is that cheap crap holds up remarkably well if you wash in cold and keep it out of the dryer. The tip off is that expensive clothing is more likely to come with wash instructions on the tag that tell you treat it carefully – but you can apply the same logic to any item. I’ve had and have plenty of Costco items that come with wash instructions that say you can chuck in it the dryer; if you just choose not to and hang dry instead, they’ll look like new and last for years. It’s… Read more »

KayCee
KayCee
1 month ago
Reply to  Jessica

Hmmmmm but doesn’t it dry a wrinkled mess?

Jules the First
Jules the First
2 years ago

Are you washing your Icebreaker tops with wool-specific detergent? I know they say you don’t have to, but ordinary laundry soap frequently has enzymes in it that will eat little tiny holes in your wool and silk garments. I switched to a wool-friendly detergent for all my laundry needs a few years ago and haven’t had a single pinhole in my Icebreaker etc since.

Cindi
Cindi
2 years ago

JD,
Like minds think alike.
I’ve come to the same conclusion as you have.
Money talks.
No body balks.
Quality is VIP.
PS: I also wrote about you in my blog post today. Give a look:
https://diaryofamadretiree.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/sometimes-we-financial-bloggers-think-alike/

Katelyn
Katelyn
2 years ago

I completely agree and hang dry 95% of my clothes. I never use fabric softener either (https://hexperformance.com/fabric-softener-ruining-clothes/).

I actually have the opposite problem, even when I buy cheap, my clothes last so long I lose interest in them long before they’ve officially worn out. For instance, I still have a number of clothes originally purchased when I was in high school (graduated 14 years ago) that still look just fine.

Katelyn
Katelyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Katelyn

Oof, sorry guys I didn’t scroll down all the way before adding the link above to my comment; Hex is trying to sell you a special fabric-softener remover lol. All you need to do is stop using fabric softener and it will slowly wash out over time. But the science behind their claim that fabric softener is bad checks out.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
2 years ago
Reply to  Katelyn

We hang all our clothes to dry, too. I’m still wearing stuff that’s many years (sometimes a couple of decades) old.

Can’t recommend strongly enough that you get a drying rack (or more than one — we have three large and one small) and plastic hangers to hang shirts to dry. Your utility bill will be the only thing that shrinks.

Steve
Steve
2 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Perhaps, except your mold will grow.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve

Or perhaps not, if the house is properly ventilated and/or they use dehumidifiers.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
2 years ago

Also: Sometimes clothes fall apart (their centers do not hold!) because they’re being washed more than they need.

http://donnafreedman.com/how-often-do-you-wash-your-jeans/

ALH
ALH
2 years ago

Dear JD, Many thanks for a very interesting article. One thing occurs to me though: you talk about your favourite woolly teeshirts developing holes – that does sound as if clothes moths are enjoying them. You could use cedar wood balls or cubes in amongst them, which work quite well. I’ve also heard (from a reliable source) that conkers (the inedible nuts of the horse chestnut tree, if ‘conker’ is an unknown word in the US) are very good moth deterrents if dotted about in your drawers and cupboards. (According to my son, who is an arachnephobe, spiders don’t like… Read more »

Jacob Jones
Jacob Jones
2 years ago

I would likely be in the same boat if I didn’t get 3 pairs of pajama pants for Christmas every year.

All of them have holes… if I only had one pair they would be in bad shape.

Lisa
Lisa
2 years ago

Sleep is important. Enough said! Besides, I am pretty sure this investment will indireclty pay off due to the good sleep you will get, allowing for more successful creativity!

JKC
JKC
1 year ago

L. L. Bean makes good Pajamas too. I work from home, so sometimes I spend most of the morning in my PJs. I’ve had mine for years and they are still goin’ strong.

bellbang.com
bellbang.com
1 year ago

IT also boils down to how long you want to use that specific product. Say I bought my sleepware from target before 9 years and it is still in good shape. I spent closer to $36 then that is equivalent to $45 with inflation adjustment. Still if you check from usage standpoint it is $4 per year and still going. Declutter the closet, see if you really need it for next x years and that helps you make purchase decision

Chris
Chris
1 year ago

Cotton flannel has been seriously cheaped out in recent years. I have been buying thrift store jammies because old ones are the only ones I like. My last pair lasted about four years as my only pair. The current pair is a year in. I just have one pair at a time

Chris
Chris
1 year ago

What is it about Costco pajamas? Our new house has a Costco nearby and I’ve been experimenting with their clothing. I’ve got a pair of jeans that I love, wool socks almost as good as my smart wool ones for half the price, but the pair of women’s pajamas that I bought are in shreds after just 2 months. Even though I don’t have the receipt, I’m going to try returning them. They need to know how bad these are. I usually buy Old Navy sleep pants when they are half price – about $10 a pair and they last… Read more »

Marissa
Marissa
1 year ago

this article made me think about all the duped people (women mostly) who have fallen prey to the Lularoe pyramid scheme/MLM! they have made it rain billions of dollars for tacky AF leggings and other items that have torn during the first use. search for Lularoe fails b/c they are hilarious. sometimes the price doesn’t match the quality

Tim
Tim
1 year ago

I’d have bought 2 pairs or 3, and then you’d rotate properly to keep the wear and tear to a minimum, and never have to think about pajama bottoms again. Same concept for suits, shoes, etc.

Dotcom
Dotcom
1 year ago

LOL—There are plenty of mens and womens PJs that are decent quality and much less pricy. I’m personally a fan of LazyOnes, but found LL Bean can make nice sleepwear as well. Just for fun, I often wear to bed a 20 year old ribbed tank top from Hot Topic. It is super comfortable and looks nearly as good as it did when I first bought it (though a 40+ year old woman may look funny to some people wearing a tanktop with Invader Zim’s Gir screaming “CUPCAKES”). Keep in mind if you repeat-wear (like 2-3 nights) and hang your… Read more »

KayCee
KayCee
1 month ago

You should see what I am going through buying sheets! Also what are you using for a top? Good quality tees can run another seventy bucks. I blame a world wide cotton shortage. Pajamas of late are polyester spandex blends as is underwear. Bras are foam. Sheets are laboratory created junk with the feel of muslin. I find that particular plaid okay, but would perhaps prefer in black and white, or red, but you are preaching to the choir on the junk clothing that abounds. I started hoarding pajamas about 10 years ago when and if I could find a… Read more »

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