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Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of…

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (2012)

by Elizabeth L. Cline

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Why I buy most of my clothes from Goodwill ( )
  kemilyh1988 | Jan 16, 2017 |
Eye-opening book. It's an insightful look at the fashion industry beyond just what you thought you knew about sweatshop labor. However the book petered out at the end into personal story and didn't offer any ideas for solutions, action steps to take, or resources to help consumers shape a more responsible fashion industy. ( )
  penguinasana | Nov 21, 2016 |
I've been meaning to read this for ages, so my expectations were high, but I think I would have preferred a long article or a book that was more forceful somehow.


We've gone from making good use of the clothes we own to buying things we'll never or barely wear. We are caught in a cycle of consumption and waste that is unsettling at best and unsatisfying at its core. (4)

Cheap fashion and off-price chains have come to occupy a significant part of the retail market. Their dominance...has fully reset our expectations about how much clothes should cost and what they are worth. (31)

Like a massive engine grinding to a halt and then slowly turning in the opposite direction, import barriers on clothing to the United States began to be deftly wiped out in the midnineties. [NAFTA ratified 1994, the Multi Fibre Arrangement expired in 2005] (54)

The garment industry today is offering fewer immigrants a lifeline into the American economy. Nor is there a comparable job market replacing it. (56)

The demand for cheaper and cheaper garments has all but wiped out the American garment industry. (61)

There used to be more of a direct connection between high-end clothing and quality. Now a designer name is no guarantee of craftsmanship. (75)

As people moved away from making their own clothes, general public knowledge of garment construction faded. (87)

...fast fashion...demands a constant stream of product to turn a profit. (102)

The fashion industry relies on change. It always has. What is so astonishing now is the breakneck pace of change, which has shifted from seasonal and focused to constant and schizophrenic. (103)

Unlike the world of technology, where rapid innovation produces improvements, innovation in fashion just produces arbitrary stylistic changes. (111)

Every year, Americans throw away 12.7 million tons, or 68 pounds of textiles per person, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also estimates that 1.6 million tons of this waste could be recycled or reused. (122)

Textiles have always had an unflattering environmental footprint, but the more pressing problem is the terrifying scale at which they are now being produced. (125)

Clothing companies have enjoyed decades of cheap foreign labor and the resulting profits, but what exactly are the tangible benefits to us, the American consumer? We own more clothes than we can wear, the quality and craftsmanship of our wardrobes are at an all-time low, and the U.S. manufacturing base can't compete on wages with the developing world, costing countless domestic jobs. (160)

For half a century, Americans have been the world's leading consumers. We have been busy shopping while the developing world, and more recently China, has been making things for us to buy. We have been sucking up more than our fair share of the planet's resources, but our consumption was somewhat offset bu the fact that the rest of the developing world used very little. Our consumer habits are now spreading.... (170)

Repairing our wardrobes, making sure they properly fit us, and buying the best quality we can for our money are all parts of clothing sustainability. (193)

Clothing that isn't produced at resource-draining quantities or by shortchanging the people making it is not cheap. Clothing that is well made is not cheap. (208) ( )
  JennyArch | Jul 29, 2016 |
Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle. A book club read.

I got to select the book club book for that month, and went for a theme of awareness. Overdressed is about being aware of the impact our thirst for cheap clothes is having on fashion and on the world. And what a great idea this was—Cline says in the preface that her own habit of buying cheap clothes in multiples was what got her thinking about the whole topic. The penny dropped when she found herself lugging home seven pairs of the same shoe, because, why not? They were $7 a pair.

Now I’m not nearly as bad as that, but I have my moments of reckless consumerism. When my daughter needed long-sleeved white t-shirts for work, I took her to Old Navy and encouraged her to buy six identical t-shirts so I wouldn’t have to launder them constantly. That whole “the more you spend, the more you save” thing occasionally works to persuade me to buy two instead of one, three instead of two. Back in the 70s and 80s when fashion really meant something to me, clothing was way more expensive compared to income and I knitted my own sweaters rather than pay a lot of money for store-bought and spent much more time looking for the right piece.

But now, the “high-volume, low-priced fashion formula […] has squeezed the life out of the […] industry, forcing independent department stores to consolidate, middle-market manufacturers to shutter, and independent retailers either to go high-end or go home.” What’s more, we’re in a “cycle of consumption and waste” that will, in the long run, have profound effects on the economy and environment.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the consumption-waste cycle in the last few months, not to mention the consumption-debt cycle that keeps us all in wage bondage working ever-longer hours for less job satisfaction. And the fact that so much of what we consume is produced far, far away in very different economies, contributing to “a decline in domestic wages, the loss of the middle class, and the problem of unemployment.” In my area, storage facilities are a booming business—people are apparently buying more stuff than they have room for, and are paying for storage so they can buy more stuff. Garage sales spring up like mushrooms in the summer as people sell their older stuff for a tiny fraction of what they spent on it…so they can go spend some more.

For me, 2014 was the year when I decided enough was enough. I’m trying to read the books I own, work on the projects for which I already bought materials, and put more of my money into locally-produced products. And Overdressed has given me a new look at the eternal problem of what to wear. Simply put, I need to turn the clock back to the days when I prized quality in clothing, and may have worn the same thing many times but it looked good on me because it was well cut. I might even go back to knitting sweaters…

Cline does a fairly good job of outlining how we got to where we are today, in a breezy supplement-journalism style that suits its subject matter and audience. It’s not the most incisive or brilliantly written or exhaustively researched of analyses, but as an introduction to a new way of looking at your wardrobe, you could do a lot worse. She engages in some slightly shady research methods, notably pretending to be a small business owner looking for the cheapest way to manufacture a specific item instead of simply interviewing her targets, but she did make trips to Asia and elsewhere to see the effect of our cheap clothing craze on the ground.

She also considers the opposite end of the pole, the high fashion that has become increasingly expensive, with gigantic markups on items such as designer purses fueled by relentless advertising campaigns (the first 20 pages of a fashion magazine, anyone?) The same way American society is dividing itself into rich and poor, eroding the once-thriving middle class, fashion is splitting into two very different branches—outrageously overpriced high-end items and, well, cheap rags for the rest of us. Very Dickensian.

Cline took her new-found convictions so far as to take sewing classes, although she admitted her limits after a while and turned to local dressmakers instead. I’m of the generation where—gasp!—girls learned to sew at school (it was compulsory) and know how to sew on a button (for that matter I know how to make a buttonhole) and repair a seam, but the majority of people no longer repair clothing. Even with the knowledge those sewing classes gave me I don’t alter clothing, as a rule, if there’s something not quite right with the fit—and I should.

But, says Cline, “there are signs everywhere that cheap fashion is coming to an end.” As China becomes economically stronger its people are converting from producers to consumers, a fact which will have a tremendous knock-on effect. And here comes my favorite quote: “If every man, woman, and child in China bought two pair of wool socks, there would be no more wool left in the world.” One day the American underclass could be sewing clothing for the former third world countries, just think of that—makes you want to vote union, does it?

Well, Cline could be riding an awareness wave or perhaps she’s a prophet, you decide. But her book’s worth considering if the amount you buy and waste is starting to bother you. Perhaps, as she predicts, “consumers are ready for a new fashion paradigm—one that is not built on exploitation, wastefulness, and greed.” ( )
  JaneSteen | May 23, 2014 |
This is the book for anyone interested in becoming aware of the impact that 'fast fashion' has on the environment and society, and becoming intentional in our clothing choices. The book gained momentum after the first three chapters of historical background and when you reach the end, shopping for clothes, even at thrift stores, will be forever changed. It is an expose of what has become standard in the industry and I am still horrified by Cline's description of the Chinese garment districts/mega-cities (among other things) and the enormity of the environmental and social disaster that we have all unwittingly been instrumental in creating.SRH ( )
  StaffReads | May 19, 2014 |
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To my grandmothers, Routh and Margarett
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In the summer of 2009, I found myself standing in front of a rack of shoes at Kmart in Astor Place in Manhattan.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Evaluates the costs of low-priced clothing while tracing the author's own transformation to a conscientious shopper, a journey during which she visited a garment factory, learned to resole shoes, and shopped for local, sustainable clothing.

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