The New H&M/Zara/Uniqlo? What $50 at Primark Can Get You
When it comes to "fast fashion" for men, there have long been two major players: H&M and Zara. Both of these stores offer trendy, usually pretty slim-fitting clothing for low prices. The quality is generally questionable, but it looks good while it lasts, and, since it's so cheap, is meant to be replaced pretty quickly. (Of the two, H&M is cheaper quality and lower prices, while Zara offers somewhat higher quality items at higher prices.) While these sorts of stores are not for everyone — with many guys preferring to buy truly quality items for more money, but with the knowledge that they will last many years — everyone still likes a good deal, and we likely all have popped into H&M from time to time just to see what's up.
Then, along came Uniqlo. Started in Japan but determined to make it in America, it seemed to follow the same general guidelines as H&M and Zara, but with a few pretty major twists: For one, they focused on basics like tees, shirts, jackets, blazers, and pants in basic patters and designs. Two, while they generally have good-fitting clothes, they also focused largely on quality. The way I describe Uniqlo to friends is that "it's an H&M but less trendy, much higher quality, and slightly more expensive." Indeed, that pretty much sums it up. Pretty solid quality clothing at low, but not cheap, prices.
And now, along comes Primark. It's long been a popular "fast fashion" store in the image of H&M and Zara overseas, but they have, over the last year or so, been making headway into the US with 6 locations slowly opening. You cannot order from them online (yet), so the only way to give them a try is to visit an actual retail location. I had the good luck to do so (actually, my wife did for me), and grabbed a few sweaters to give a try. Are they any good? Where does Primark fall relative to H&M and Zara? Read on and find out!
Quality, Style & Value
Green Crew Neck Sweater: Interestingly enough, this is made in Bangladesh. The quality and feel here is nothing earth-shattering, but it feels substantially better than something you would get at H&M. It's 80% cotton and 20% nylon. There is a good amount of give to the fabric, and feels pretty soft. It's not merino wool or anything, that's for sure. And I don't expect it to last years and years, but I certainly would expect this to outlast something comparable from H&M. For $10? Pretty darned impressed here.
Grey top: I am not really sure what to call this one. Could be a long-sleeve polo, but there is no full collar. It's a band collar, but it sort of folds down, though it doesn't actually ever stay folded down. The material is a medium-thickness cotton — think sweatshirt-y. Feels nice, maybe a tad rougher than you would expect. Again, there is some substance here. Doesn't feel like it's about to fall apart. It was $20, and I do not think it's worth it. It's a bit of an odd piece, and that $20 would be better spent put towards a nicer quality sweatshirt or something.
Blue long sleeve sweater polo: This is my favorite piece out of the three of them by far. The knit pattern on the front in contrast to the smooth look on the arms and back is awesome, and the contrasting collar looks great as well. As far as long sleeve polos go, this is killer. This, too, is cotton, and it happens to feel really nice and soft. There is no itchiness or scratchiness here. It looks great, feels great, and has stood up nicely to washes (no dryer of course!!!). This was also $20, and I think well worth it. It's a pretty unique, textured, and sophisticated look that you can rarely find at a price like this, especially when it also is solid quality. Again, will this last a lifetime? Hardly. But for the price, the quality, style, and value are all there.
Things get pretty weird here. My wife bought both the green and blue sweaters in size XS and the grey one in S. This was because the XS simply looked way too big when held up. And, indeed, it was. The XS on both the green and blue sweaters fit me pretty well (I almost always wear a size S, at 6'0 and 160lbs.), with two caveats: 1) the sleeves on the green sweater are a bit too tight 2) both sweaters are quite long in the body. I cannot imagine what a size S in both of these sweaters would have fit like. Considering both these sweaters already run extremely long — longer than any other sweater I own — a size S would have looked comical. But here is where things get really weird: the grey one, which was the only size S of the bunch, fit all-around smaller than both the size XS's. It was too short, and too tight, all-around. Now, how does that make any sense?
Well, I'll tell you how: these sorts of fast fashion stores always have fit problems. Their production lines are just far less clean, neat, and organized than higher end brands. Again, the cost has got to come out of somewhere. At Primark, it obviously came out of having any semblance of a consistent fit across the brand. This means that just because one thing in a certain size at their stores fits you, doesn't mean even an extremely similar item in that same size will fit you also. So, should you visit a store, don't get your hopes up until you try it on. And, should they ever add the option to shop online... well... good luck with that.
Currently, at least, their return policy is only 14 days, which is pretty annoying. Then again, if you find something you like, try it on, and leave the store happy, I suppose it's not the biggest deal in the world. Also, when dealing with "fast fashion" stores like this, there is always some sort of catch like this somewhere. You just can't expect the same 60 day return policy of a J Crew at a store like Primark. For what they are offering, I'll take the (much) shorter return window.
In short, I think the quality of all three of these pieces far outstrips most stuff at H&M, and likely many items at Zara. While certain items at both these stores sometimes end up being pretty solid (pants at H&M, say, or jackets at Zara), most items at H&M are pretty low quality, and most items at Zara are massively overpriced. While not everything in Primark is as nice or quality as the three items I took a look at — there is plenty that is just as bad as the worst of H&M — and while I didn't care for the style of one of the items, the quality was there on all three of the items I did get, and at truly unbeatable prices. I would put the feel of all three of these pieces at somewhere just below what you would find at Uniqlo. I am really, truly impressed. Next chance I have, I'm definitely stopping back in at Primark.