Are Expensive Clothes Worth It?

Oct. 6, 2006 — -- Americans spend $200 billion a year on clothing and footwear.

But do we have to pay that much? As part of our "Good Morning America" series "Is It Worth It?" we put two of America's signature styles -- T-shirts and sneakers -- to the test.

ABC News compared a $7 Hanes T-shirt with a $95 T-shirt from Neiman Marcus.

We also tested $16 Target running shoes, $160 Nikes, and $13 Wal-Mart sneakers and $89 Adidas.

With controlled laboratory testing, ABC News sped up the process of washing and wearing, walking and running.

The shirts were both navy-blue, 100-percent cotton T-shirts.

But the similarities ended there. The Hanes shirts were noticeably smaller than the industry standard, and the Neiman Marcus shirts had to be laid flat to dry.

The Good Housekeeping Institute washed both types of shirts five times according to the instructions. The Hanes shirts shrank more than 4 percent, which Good Housekeeping considers just barely acceptable.

The Neiman Marcus shirts expanded a little bit because of all that flat drying.

"We were very surprised when you told us what the prices were," said Kathleen Huddy, textile director of the Good Housekeeping Institute.

After all those washings and dryings, the $7 Hanes T-shirts got slightly fuzzy. One of the $95 Neiman Marcus T-shirts developed several small tears.

"I almost fell off my chair," Huddy said. "I couldn't believe it."

Without disclosing the prices, ABC News asked six women to try on both T-shirts.

All the testers preferred the $95 shirt. But once we revealed the cost, they said they were unlikely to spend that much on a T-shirt.

So what's the solution? You might want to shop for something in the middle price-wise. Good Housekeeping's textile experts said you can find a terrific T-shirt for $25 to $40.

ABC News also tested two sets of running shoes at Artech Testing in Virginia.

The "whole shoe flex" that testers used, simulates walking 500 miles. The $89 Adidas got through this durability test with zero damage. The $160 Nike shoe had minimal damage, but the $13 Wal-Mart sneaker developed cracks. The sole of the $16 Target shoe started to separate.

Next, the sneakers were tested on how well each was put together, by trying to peel a piece of it apart.

The cheap Target running shoe performed about the same as the Nike shoe. The Adidas shoe came in third, followed by the Wal-Mart sneaker.

Artech also conducted a test that measures how well shoes absorb shock while you run.

Here, the pricier brand-name shoes provided much better protection than the cheaper discount store brands.

In an informal test of teenagers, the majority said they preferred the look of the brand-name shoes.

Most also said that $160 was too much to spend on sneakers.

The Adidas and Nike running shoes cost seven times to 10 times more than the Wal-Mart and Target shoes. They performed better in lab tests, but not seven to 10 times better.

"You can buy many pairs of these [discount] shoes and that would not equal a hundred bucks," said one teenager, "So when these wear out, just get a new pair."

In other words, if you're a serious athlete, invest in good running shoes, but if not, you can race through many cheap pairs in different styles and colors.

ABC contacted all the companies for comment:

Hanes said that the T-shirt we tested is deliberately cut slimmer for younger customers and that it has not had any complaints about shrinkage.

Target said it strives to provide its guests with quality merchandise at everyday, affordable prices.

Wal-Mart said that the shoe we tested is more of a fashion shoe and that it also offers several lines of performance shoes.

Neiman Marcus said if customers have issues with defective products, the store will take that up with its vendors.

And Nike said it is committed to providing athletes with comfort and innovation across all price points.

Some tips: When buying clothing, make sure the price matches the purpose you have in mind for the item.

And if you are buying less-expensive clothing items, be aware that sometimes they are cut a bit smaller, so make sure to try them on or go up a size.

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