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Maximize Your Clothing Budget

For many shoppers, a good deal on clothing beats anything. But what about quality? Lisa Freeman, Editor-in-Chief of Shop Smart Magazine, has some tips for getting the best clothes for your money.

In the March 2008 issue of Shop Smart Maganize, Freeman's staff tested three items that are found in any woman's closet: a white button-down shirt, black dress pants and a blazer. They compared five different mass retailers - Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, H&M, J.Crew and Talbot's - and evaluated each store's garment right down to the stitching, lining and seam quality.

Some results were surprising. In Shop Smart's testing, "Price was not necessarily an indicator of good value," says Freeman. Some of the cheapest items were very well made. Bargain retailer H&M was noted as having real, working buttons on the sleeves of their blazers. That's a detail that isn't found often. Many times, buttons are simply sewn on as a decoration.

The winners, though, had higher price points. In the white shirt category, Banana Republic won with its $58.00 button-down. The blouse featured construction details such as French seams, a double-lined yoke and thick fabric that could stand up to many cycles in the washing machine.

Banana Republic won again in the black pants category. Their $78.00 pants had tight stitching, no loose threads and blind-stitched seams.

It was a tie, however, when it came to blazers. Ann Taylor's black blazer ($228.00) featured princess seams, piped lining and spandex to keep the garment's shape. J. Crew's $238.00 tweed jacket had interfacing sewn in between the jacket's outer layer and lining. The sleeves and shoulder pads were also well made.

For more detailed information on what to look for on your next shopping trip, visit www.ShopSmartMag.com and click on "Behind the Seams".

By Erin Petrun