The key to successful off-price shopping is comparing quality, not just prices, say consumer officials. Brand names usually are good indicators of quality, but there are other things to look for as well, they say.
*Clothing: Exterior stitching should be even, straight with no seams coming apart and no loose threads. Thread color should match exactly and buttons should be bone, leather or fabric-covered. Hems should hang straight and stitches should not be visible on the outside of the garment.
Inside seams should be at least 5/8 of an inch wide and finished with zigzag or straight stitching. Patterns and plaid fabrics should match. Seams and pockets should not pull or wrinkle.
*Jewelry: Regardless of the materials used -- fine gemstones, precious metals or costume pieces -- durable jewelry should have securely soldered chain links and fasteners with double-duty catches. Stones should be set firmly rather than glued and there should be knots between each bead in a strand. Parts should be strong enough to withstand ordinary wear.
*Shoes: Some shoes made for European markets find their way into some off-price stores. Because these shoes are sized differently than those made for the American market, consumers should make certain of proper fit even when buying their usual size. High-quality shoes have leather uppers and soles, with heels that are part of the sole rather than merely stuck on.