“If you find what you like, buy it in several colors.” — Elizabeth L. Cline
In 2009, author Elizabeth Cline found herself in a clothing crisis. Following that advice, she purchased several cheap pairs of shoes from a powerhouse national discounter, the same pair of shoes in many different colors. But only a few weeks later the pairs that hadn’t been worn to pieces were collecting dust in her closet now out dated and replaced by the next trend. The author of Over-Dressed decided to take a hard look at what consumer shopping habits are, where are clothes come from, and the impact these changes have on a global economy.
The largest change has been the inclusion of foreign manufacturers. Once New York and LA employed hundreds of garment workers; the United States boasted quality skills and material and created beautiful garments that aged well. Some companies still employee domestic workers, but nothing like the heyday of American made fashion. Cheaper labor overseas means companies can save large amounts of money, savings which encourage less investment domestically.
With costs lowering for garments, consumer’s mentalities towards clothing began to change. We once had to labor for our clothing. A single suit or dress would take an entire week’s wages. Those that couldn’t afford to spend a week’s wages made their own clothing. Consumers knew mending skills, sewing skills, how to use patterns, how to recycle material. In an entire generation all of those skills are gone. Ms. Cline discusses growing up with a mother and grandmother who sewed, hemmed, and patched, but she knew none of that. She is not alone. Clothing prices have dropped so low that most consumers would rather buy a new shirt than fix a detached button.
Not fixing clothing could also be attributed to not only cost, but construction of the clothing most people wear these days. Ms. Cline examined all of the top brands and found that in the race for cheaper clothing the overall quality has dropped dramatically. At one point the author discusses how just ten years ago doll clothing was better made than anything people wear today. Consumers today have been taught not to care about construction, simply what is in trend. Trends are so cheap to produce that even if a garment falls apart after a few wears, we can just go buy something new. This is exactly what fast fashion stores want from consumers.
Fast fashion stores are the big clothing retailers that have revolving product…which all seems to look the same — twenty of the same dresses but in different bright colors; the same shirt in five different patterns — these are the staples of fast fashion stores. Fast fashion retailers are those that when you begin to look over the racks and racks and racks of cheaply made clothing, you understand exactly how right Ms. Cline is — we are all walking around in the same clothing cheaply made junk.
The garment industry is now a global problem. Consumers domestically hardly realize how many jobs have been shipped overseas and what that impact has on them locally. Consumers likely don’t think about the treatment foreign workers receive while producing their cheap garments. All they know is that they paid a steal for their new clothes. Nor do they probably realize that with each new piece of clothing they buy because their old ones are not quality enough to last, millions of tons of garbage pile up in landfills. All of that cheap fashion has to go somewhere.
This seems like a gloomy place to leave consumers (and readers!). Many of which can’t afford the higher cost of quality, responsibly made clothing while continuing the habits society has created. Ms. Cline offers simple changes to impact any wardrobe while also being more responsible shoppers. Look at the material your clothing is made from. Where is the garment you’re about to purchase made? If a button falls off- can you learn to replace it? Mend a seam? Hem a pant? Would you look through your closet and downsize? Do you need five blue tank tops? Seven dress shirts that all look the same? If something doesn’t fit just the way you want, learn to take it in, let it out, shorten, and tighten.
Ms. Cline is compelling and down to Earth. Your wardrobe and wallet will likely thank you for reading Over-Dressed.
Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)
Reviewed by Lindsay, Southwest Branch