Sunday, June 17, 2012

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

You wouldn't know this by looking at me, but I love fashion.  From Barbie dolls in my childhood to Seventeen magazine as a teen, and more recently, my Project Runway" obsession, I've always loved looking at clothing and imaging having a fantastic wardrobe.  Fortunately, I had a grandmother who was an expert seamstress, so many of my clothes came from her, then as I got older, I was able to make many of my own clothes.  

Over the past few years, however, I haven't had as much time for sewing, so most of my clothes have been purchased ready-made.  Being budget-conscious, I always try to buy my clothes on sale.  There have been many times when I've been excited about the "steals" on got on my shopping trips.

Elizabeth Cline was also a budget shopper.  In Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Clothing she describes spotting canvas shoes at K-Mart.  Marked down from $15 to $7, she couldn't resist, and wound up buying 7 pairs.  Of course, within a few weeks, they had basically disintegrated, and two pairs wound up never being worn because she got tired of them.

This led her to look a bit more carefully at the clothes we buy.  The cost of clothing has dropped tremendously in the past few years, and there is more of it. Companies such as Old Navy, H & M, and Forever 21 constantly change their inventories, enticing the consumer to shop more frequently to see "what's new."  And because it's so cheap, we don't feel bad about carrying home armloads of new clothes, only to wind up not wearing very much of it.  As a result, each year tons of clothing are discarded, much of it going to landfills.  

The drain on limited resources is astounding.  Most clothing now is made from polyester, an oil-based chemical.  Then, the clothing is made in factories, almost all of which are outside the United States, under working conditions that are less than ideal, to say the least.

Cline thoroughly examines each of these different facets of fashion by spending time with fashion bloggers who post videos of their clothing "hauls," talking to fashion industry executives in the Garment District of New York,  and visiting factories in China and Bangladesh.  She also takes a look at what happens to our clothes when we get tired of them by touring a Goodwill facility and a clothes recycling business.

Cline calls this trend of cheap fashion "fast fashion," and compares it to the past, when we made our clothes last as long as possible.  She looks at some alternatives to fast fashion, and visits some clothing companies that are placing an emphasis on environmentally-friendly, high-quality clothes.  She also spent time with a young woman who has made the decision to make all of her own clothes.  Cline went so far as to learn to sew herself, an activity she eventually found to be quite satisfactory.

I have to say that I found this book to be informative, thought-provoking, and inspiring. I'm looking at my clothes differently, and it's encouraged me to start sewing more of my clothes again.  I know that I'll definitely be more thoughtful in my clothing purchases, looking at the fabrics used, and the conditions under which they were created.  I'm also going to try to be satisfied with fewer clothes of higher quality.

 Reviewers have compared it to Michael Pollan, the writer largely responsible for changing the ways we look at food, and I would have to agree.  I'm strongly suggesting that all my fashion-loving (and bargain-loving) friends read it.  


jgold said...

Hi Cindy: Congratulations on your fantastic blog. We too loved Overdressed and are mentioned in Elizabeth's Tumblr as a shopping resource. Hope you'll check out our high-quality, made in the USA,classic workhorse pieces at

Cindy Schilling said...

Thanks. I checked out your website, and I love your clothes! I will be sure to pass it on to my friends.