Quality versus crap: Why I bought $80 pajamas

My new $80 pajamas Yesterday, 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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