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Is Madewell Worth the Hype? An Honest Review of 4 Key Pieces

Madewell Maxi Dress Flat lay photography with sun hat, ray ban sunglasses, mejuri earrings, and madewell woven leather bag

When Madewell launched in 2006, it aimed to become the brand that made clothes built on authenticity and heritage for 20- and 30- somethings. In a world full of trendy, fast fashion, Madewell stands apart with styles and quality meant to withstand the test of time.

The History of Madewell

While Madewell doesn’t currently have an About Page, there is an intriguing Buzzfeed article from 2014 that delves into the brand’s history. Written by Dan Nosowitz, the great-grandchild of the original Madewell founder, it reveals the brand’s origins. Founded in 1937, Madewell started as a workwear uniform company in New England and operated until 1989. Then, in 2004, soon-to-be- CEO of J. Crew, Mickey Drexler acquired the trademark for Madewell. Two years later, the brand was relaunched with a focus on heritage and high-quality clothing.

Nosowitz argues that the original Madewell didn’t actually prioritize high-quality clothes but rather followed what was selling at the time. “They looked at what was selling and made some of that to sell. It was a business… [their] motivation was profit,” he explains. However, today’s Madewell uses a facade of authenticity to promote a brand that has little to do with its origins. Somsack Sikhounmuong, the head designer at the time, stated that Madewell was “an aspirational slogan” and used it as a springboard to create a brand built on authenticity and heritage.

Although the article was published over a decade ago, it’s worth reading to understand how a company’s branding can use authenticity and heritage to be successful, even if it may not be entirely true.

Is Madewell sustainable?

According to their 2024 Do Well Report, Madewell is committed to doing better for the planet by incorporating more sustainable materials into their clothes, working with Fair Trade certified ventures, and creating a Recycle & Resell program.

REGENAGRI®

In 2023, Madewell partnered with the REGENAGRI® program, which supports the transition from conventional farming to regenerative farming. This initiative aims to improve soil health, water quality, biodiversity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

BLUESIGN® SYSTEM

Bluesign is a comprehensive system for textile supply chains focusing on sustainable chemistry. It helps eliminate harmful chemicals throughout the supply chain, ensuring safer and more sustainable production processes.

Recycle and Resell

Through Madewell’s Circularity Process, you can trade your preloved jeans and get $20 off a new pair by dropping them off in-store or mailing them. So far, this program has saved 1.5 million pieces of denim from landfills.

Madewell Prices

Madewell is known for being relatively affordable, falling into the $$ price range. Their denim starts around $128, while dresses begin at $98.

Madewell Sizes

Madewell offers a wide range of sizes, from petite to plus size:

Jeans: 23-33

Clothes: 0-16 or XXS-XXL

Petite Sizes: Designed for those 5’3” and shorter, with an inseam (top of inner thigh to floor) of 29” and under.

Standard Sizes: Designed for this between 5’4” and 5’8”, with an inseam (top of inner thigh to floor) between 30” to 32”.

Tall and Taller Sizes: Designed for those who are 6’ or above.

Plus Size: In 2018, Madewell expanded their size range to include 14W-28W and 1X-4X.

What is Madewell’s Return Policy?

Madewell gladly accepts returns of unworn, unwashed, undamaged, or defective merchandise for a full refund or exchange within 30 days of the original purchase.

Should You Buy Madewell Clothes?

To help answer this question, I rented four pieces from Rent-the-Runway to experience Madewell’s clothing firsthand. From their renowned denim to their versatile dresses, each piece was examined for quality, fit, and style. Let’s dive in and see how well-made Madewell truly is, exploring whether their commitment to authenticity and sustainability translates into durable, fashionable pieces that stand the test of time.

tastemaker fashion sitting in Madewell Vintage Crop Jeans

Madewell Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans

  • Estimated Retail Price: $128
  • Made in Vietnam

Madewell’s Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans: Fabric Composition

When buying new clothes, one of the first considerations should be the fabric composition, as it reveals a lot about the garment’s quality. I follow the 80-20 rule, which suggests that clothing should ideally consist of at least 80% natural fibers and no more than 20% synthetic fabrics.

Here’s the fabric breakdown for Madewell’s Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans:

  • 99% Cotton
  • 1% Elastane

Cotton is renowned for its strength and durability, ensuring these jeans maintain their shape and fit over time. The addition of 1% elastane provides just the right amount of stretch for comfort and longevity. While synthetic fibers can enhance durability, you only need to add a little for a lasting effect. By blending natural and synthetic fabrics, you achieve both functionality and reduced environmental impact in your wardrobe choices.

Madewell’s Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans: Garment Construction

When assessing the integrity of jeans, there are four key Garment Construction signs to look for: stitching, matching seams, finished edges, and absence of pilling, pulls, or loose threads. Here’s how the Madewell jeans held up:

Stitching:

Both the exterior and interior stitching of the Madewell jeans were tight and even, ensuring durability and longevity.

Matching Seams:

Critical areas to inspect for seam matching include where the front and back pieces meet in the crotch area and along the waistband where the button is attached. The Madewell jeans passed this test with flying colors.

Finished Edges:

To prevent the cotton weave from unraveling during wear, proper edge finishing is crucial. The interior seams of the Madewell jeans were finished with overlock serging stitches, while the exterior seams utilized flat felled seams—a technique known for enhancing durability in denim construction.

Pilling, Pulls, or Loose Threads:

Upon inspecting the jeans inside out, I found no evidence of pilling, pulls, or loose threads, underscoring the high quality of the jean construction.

Madewell’s Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans: Care and Maintenance

Caring for your clothes is crucial for longevity. Here are the care instructions for Madewell’s Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans:

  • Washing: Machine wash cold with like colors. For best results, flip them inside out before washing.
  • Drying: Tumble dry on low temperature.
  • Ironing: Iron on low temperature.
  • Dry Cleaning: Do not dry clean.

With these jeans, it would be easy and convenient to include them in your regular laundry routine. Just make sure you wash them in cold water to prevent them from shrinking. And remember to wash them inside out, and with similar colors to maintain their quality over time. 

Would I Buy / Thrift / Rent the Madewell Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans?

I was impressed by the fabric composition and construction of the Madewell Perfect Vintage Crop Jeans, confident they would be a long-lasting addition to my wardrobe. However, since I already own a couple of similar pairs, I personally wouldn’t buy them.

That said, I would definitely explore other styles of Madewell jeans that could better complement my closet. Therefore, I recommend considering buying, thrifting, or renting Madewell jeans, as long as you evaluate each individual piece based on its fabric, garment construction, and how well it fits into your own personal style. 

Madewell Floral Maxi Dress hanging with a palm on the right hand side

Madewell Maxi Dress

  • Estimated Retail Price: $218
  • Made in China

Madewell Maxi Dress: Fabric Composition

The fabric composition includes:

  • Exterior: 100% Silk
  • Lining: 100% Polyester

According to the 80:20 Rule, this dress is composed of 50% natural fibers (silk) and 50% synthetic fibers (polyester).

Silk is known for its luxurious fabric and natural sheen, derived from the fibers produced by silkworms. It is prized for its breathability and comfort, making it ideal for clothing that drapes elegantly and feels smooth against the skin. On the other hand, polyester is a synthetic fiber known for its durability, wrinkle resistance, and easy care.

While both silk and polyester offer distinct benefits in clothing, neither is considered sustainable: silk requires intensive silkworm use in its production, while polyester, derived from petrochemicals, poses environmental challenges due to its non-biodegradable nature and energy-intensive manufacturing process.

Madewell Maxi Dress: Garment Construction

How do the four signs of construction hold up?

Stitching:

The stitching on the Madewell Maxi Dress was even and appeared durable.

Matching Seams:

The seams matched well throughout the dress.

Finished Edges:

While the silk exterior was beautifully finished, there were signs of fraying on the polyester interior underneath the serge stitching. This suggests potential issues with the quality of the lining fabric.

Pilling, Pulls, or Loose Threads:

There were minimal signs of pilling or pulls, but the fraying on the interior lining raises concerns about its durability over time.

Red Flag Signs to Consider:

The shirring in the back, while aiding in fit versatility, could potentially obscure construction inconsistencies that may affect long-term durability.

Madewell Floral Maxi Dress hanging on a hanger with a green palm in the righthand corner

Madewell Maxi Dress: Care and Maintenance

  • Do not wash
  • Do not bleach
  • Do not tumble dry
  • Do not iron
  • Dry clean only: Use any solvent except trichloroethylene.

Keep in mind the importance of professional dry cleaning as part of the responsibility to care for the dress properly, ensuring it maintains its best appearance and longevity.

Would I Buy / Thrift / Rent the Madewell Maxi Dress?

The Madewell Maxi Dress is undeniably beautiful, but I had concerns about the integrity of the polyester lining and its tendency to fray. Additionally, the “Dry clean only” care instructions gave me pause—I’m not sure if I loved it enough to commit to the effort and expense of professional dry cleaning. Owning it would mean taking on a bigger responsibility to maintain it properly.

However, I would definitely consider renting it again!

Tastemaker Fashion wearing a green Madewell Linen Blazer, white crop top, and white linen trousers with both hands in her pocket

Madewell Linen Blazer

  • Estimated Retail Price: $158
  • Made in Sri Lanka

Madewell Linen Blazer: Fabric Composition

  • Exterior: 100% Linen
  • Interior: 100% Cotton
  • Sleeves: 100% Polyester

This results in a fabric composition of approximately 75% natural and 25% synthetic materials. Linen, known for its sustainability and durability, boasts flax fibers that can extend garment lifespan up to 30 years. Cotton, while breathable and strong, lacks sustainable production methods.

Madewell Linen Blazer: Garment Construction

Stitching:

The stitching was clean and well-executed.

Matching Seams:

Seams were matched and strong, ensuring garment integrity.

Finished Edges:

Most seams were concealed, indicating meticulous garment construction.

Pilling, Pulls, or Loose Threads:

There were minimal signs of pilling, pulls, or fraying.

The Madewell Linen Blazer featured thoughtful design elements that enhance its construction integrity:

  • Kick pleat at the back for added movement and comfort
  • Bound exterior and interior pockets for a sophisticated finish
  • Hanging loop for convenient storage without stressing the neckline.
Tastemaker Fashion wearing a green Madewell Linen Blazer, a lace white crop top, and white linen trousers with her right hand in her pocket

Madewell Linen Blazer: Care and Maintenance

  • Machine wash with like colors
  • Non-chlorine bleach if needed
  • Tumble dry on low temperature
  • Iron on lowest setting
  • Do not dry clean

Maintaining the Madewell Linen Blazer should be relatively straightforward with its machine-washable instructions, though care should be taken to avoid dry cleaning. Be mindful that linen, known for its tendency to wrinkle after washing, may require ironing to maintain a polished appearance.

Would I Buy / Thrift / Rent the Madewell Linen Blazer?

While the fabric composition and construction were impressive (except for the polyester sleeves), I wasn’t fond of the oversized fit and color on myself. Therefore, I personally wouldn’t consider buying or renting this piece again for my wardrobe.

However, I would certainly explore other Madewell blazers in the future, especially those made entirely from natural fibers and in more flattering colors.

Madewell Floral Top that wraps and ties in the front with Ray Ban glasses, Mejuri earrings, Madewell leather belt and Levi shorts

Madewell Floral Top

  • Estimated Retail Price: $95
  • Made in China

Madewell Floral Top: Fabric Composition

  • 55% Linen 
  • 45% Lenzing Viscose

Linen is celebrated for its durability, breathability, and sustainability, making it an excellent choice for clothing.

What is Lenzing Viscose?

Lenzing Viscose, on the other hand, is a type of viscose derived from wood pulp. Unlike generic viscose, Lenzing Viscose undergoes a process that reduces its environmental impact by using 50% less water and emitting 50% less CO2.

Madewell Floral Top: Garment Construction

Stitching:

The stitching was clean and even throughout.

Matching Seams:

Unfortunately, the seams were slightly mismatched, indicating a lack of meticulousness during construction, which could affect the garment’s overall durability.

Finished Edges:

While edges were finished, there were noticeable signs of fraying, suggesting potential longevity issues.

Pilling, Pulls, or Loose Threads:

Although there were no signs of pilling or pulls, loose threads were present, detracting from the garment’s interior finish.

Red Flag Signs to Consider:

While examining the quality of a garment, features like elastic shirring at the shoulders may conceal construction inconsistencies.

Tastemaker Fashion wearing the floral Madewell top with a brown Madewell belt and Levi denim shorts

Madewell Floral Top: Care and Maintenance

  • Machine wash cold with like colors
  • Gentle cycle recommended
  • Non-chlorine bleach when needed
  • Line dry
  • Iron on lowest setting
  • Do not dry clean

Cleaning the top should be straightforward with its machine-washable fabric and low-temperature ironing instructions, although gentle care should be taken to ensure its longevity.

Would I Buy / Thrift / Rent the Madewell Floral Top?

The fabric composition impressed me, offering both comfort and sustainability rarely found in ready-to-wear garments. However, concerns about construction quality, such as mismatched seams and fraying edges, make me hesitant to purchase it firsthand. 

However, if I were to come across it secondhand again, though, I would likely buy it for its style and comfort, knowing I would enjoy wearing it frequently.

Madewell: Overall Consensus

I was genuinely impressed by Madewell’s commitment to using natural fibers across their pieces, and I hope they continue towards creating entirely natural collections.

However, the construction quality varied. While Madewell’s jeans, their flagship items, demonstrated excellent craftsmanship, some other pieces left me uncertain about whether all Madewell clothes uphold the same high standards.

I believe there are standout pieces in Madewell that combine superior fabric quality, impeccable construction, and timeless style. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to adhere to the 3 Ls of Slow Shopping—looking for garments made with high-quality materials, crafted with care, and possessing a style that resonates with you—to ensure you invest in long-lasting pieces.

I would buy Madewell IF:

It was made primarily from natural fabrics, featured top-notch construction, and had a style and fit that made me feel confident and comfortable, ensuring it would be a wardrobe staple. As a consumer, it’s essential to double-check these criteria before making a purchase.

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