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Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion


Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

ratings:
4.5/5 (20 ratings)
Length:
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 27, 2016
ISBN:
9781515986799
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Cheap fashion has fundamentally changed the way most Americans dress. Stores ranging from discounters like Target to fast fashion chains like H&M now offer the newest trends at unprecedentedly low prices. Retailers are pro­ducing clothes at enormous volumes in order to drive prices down and profits up, and they've turned clothing into a disposable good. After all, we have little reason to keep wearing and repairing the clothes we already own when styles change so fast and it's cheaper to just buy more.



But what are we doing with all these cheap clothes? And more important, what are they doing to us, our society, our environment, and our economic well-being?



In Overdressed, Elizabeth L. Cline sets out to uncover the true nature of the cheap fashion juggernaut, tracing the rise of budget clothing chains, the death of middle-market and independent retail­ers, and the roots of our obsession with deals and steals.
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 27, 2016
ISBN:
9781515986799
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Elizabeth L. Cline has written for AMCtv.com, The Daily Beast, New York, The Etsy Blog, Popular Science, The New Republic, The Village Voice and seedmagazine.com. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.   Visit www.overdressedthebook.com


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What people think about Overdressed

4.3
20 ratings / 17 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    pg. 198 cheap fashion is a waste of money... "because the materials and sewing often aren't even worth owning."
    The cheap clothing industry has taken jobs out of our nation and is filling our landfills.
    Natural materials can be composted, but most clothing is made with mixed fabrics and most are manmade. We do not have the technology to separate the materials.
    "clothing that is well made is not cheap..." pg. 208
    pg. 221 "cheap clothes not only undermine those who sew, sell and design them, they're the pitiful result of decades of price pressure that has erased the craftmanship and splendor of what we were."
  • (3/5)
    Why I buy most of my clothes from Goodwill
  • (5/5)
    Probably my favorite book of the year (it's March). The research is broad, detailed and complex. Elizabeth Cline offers a number of explanations and ways of looking at the problem of fashion, from the price scrutiny of consumers, changing clothing culture, intellectual property, profit margins of business, and other elements of the global fashion industry. I was constantly engrossed in all of the different ways to think about this issue. She goes right to the sources of trade organizations, U.S., Chinese, Bangladeshi, and Dominican clothiers. She looks at different companies, statements of fashion designers and leaders, and the history of fashion and prices.

    If you only want to know how to make your fashion more ethical, try the following suggestions in the book: (0) stop buying fast fashion: Zara/H&M/Old Navy/Forever21 (1) minimize the size of your wardrobe (2) choose high quality items (will experience a lot of wears, reparable, durable, looks good) (3) indicators (but not necessary or sufficient indicators) of fair trade include transparent sourcing, fair trade certifications, low production volumes, slow cycles, prices higher than fast fashion retailers (4) evaluate each garment individually instead of relying on a brands (offerings differ) (5) consider making your own clothes (6) see if you can find vintage clothes (7) repair clothes and shoes (8) only donate clothing that is in good condition and of good quality
  • (3/5)
    Not a lot of shocking information here, at least not if you've kept abreast of the fashion news for the last several years. There were a lot of typos and Malapropisms scattered throughout the text and I always find that very distracting. Overall, it was an interesting book but not enthralling.

    I haven't bought a new piece of clothing for probably 15 years, so I'm not the target audience here. I certainly applaud mindfulness in all things, including fashion.
  • (5/5)
    I had heard an interview with Elizabeth Cline on NPR and all I remembered was the quote that Zara was able to get items from design to store in two weeks. Two weeks! How does that work with the fashion shows and clothiers and, and, and -- oh wait, it doesn't. Welcome to fast fashion.

    I currently find myself in a similar position to the author at the start of the book, with two closets and two dressers my clothes still split time between the bins and the floor. I blamed it originally on moving to the Mid-West, suddenly now I needed two distinct wardrobes to deal with the changing weather, but the truth is I am in the group of people who want new clothes on a ridiculous basis. Though my clothes come from more of the mid-range stores (Banana Republic vs. Old Navy) than the shops Cline discusses, they are still made in the same factories.

    What I appreciate about Cline's book is she distributes the blame for our culture shift evenly amongst consumers and producers, consistently reminding us that the more we demand lower prices, the more producers must sacrifice quality. It's hard for me to imagine a time when people dressed up to go downtown to the department store, as consumers we have let our desire for more, win out over our desire for good.

    I also appreciated the end where she discussed her own transformation and some of the options for breaking yourself of the fast-fashion habit. Not all of us can afford to spend $800 on an Armani Prive blouse, and as she points out in her novel, even some of the top houses have seen a steady decline in their products. Speaking of designers, I thought the section on how clothes were basically a lose for most major brands was insightful. It makes sense, but I never really stopped to think that their profit was in the few things regular people could afford (handbags, shoes, sunglasses, scarves), rather than there clothes.
  • (4/5)
    This is a pretty good book for anyone interested in the following:

    * Labor rights
    * American (domestic) production and manufacturing
    * The history of fashion

    Cline positions herself as a "fast fashion addict," a term I don't think is necessarily correct in describing her, as she also readily admits that she only purchased "fast fashion" because it was so cheap. That's less a fashion addict and more someone who chases what they believe to be a bargain.

    Anyway, that part doesn't matter so much. At some point, Cline came to the realization that clothing today sucks: It's made of cheap fabrics, it's poorly created, and the fashion of the moment seems to change every 2 seconds. Unlike eras past, the 2000's don't have a defining "look", and this is in part due to so-called "fast fashion."

    So Cline sets out on a quest to learn what, exactly, fast fashion is, and how we can remedy our shoddy clothing situation. The results of her investigation are fascinating and eye-opening. She explains how cheap fashion can be sold so very, very cheaply, and she explains why name-brand fashion is so incredibly, outrageously expensive and how cheap fashion has actually contributed to the soaring prices of high fashion.

    When she discussed the prices, I particularly like that Cline dug up the prices of mid-priced fashion (something that has all but died in modern times) from bygone eras and converted it to today's funds. She does a really great job explaining how clothing used to be a few key pieces meant to last for years and be repaired, reused and refashioned before finally, finally being donated. She also addresses some common misconceptions about clothing being essentially earth friendly because "it's fabric," which ignores the massive blending and usage of petroleum-based fabrics (like polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc)and other man-made fabrics.

    This is just a really fascinating book, but the best, the absolute best part, in my opinion, is that Cline offers viable, real-world solutions for how we can change the industry. In case you don't want to read the book, here's how:

    * Learn to sew. The art of sewing is being lost in this generation -- go buy a cheap hobbyist machine and take classes at your local JoAnn's or Michael's or whatever craft store you have. Use your newfound ability to sew to alter clothing to fit you better, to build a more personalized style, and to repair and extend the life of the clothing you own.
    * Buy ethically-sourced clothing. We keep saying we want manufacturing back in America, but we've driven it offshore with our increasing demands for ever-lower prices. There are factories operating in LA that were paying by the piece finished rather than the required minimum wage (so if you didn't finished enough pieces in an hour, you didn't make minimum wage), and they were still shipping orders overseas because it was cheaper. If we put our money where our mouths are and start buying clothing that is ethically-sourced -- as in, we purchase it from factories who pay their workers a living wage, health benefits, etc., or we purchase it from businesses who do in fact make it in America, then we are speaking with our wallets and taking a stand for value and ethics over savings and convenience.
    * Participate in clothing swaps. Instead of going to the store and spending more money on more cheap clothes, go through your closet. Arrange or find a local clothing swap, and bring some clothing that's still in good condition but that you just don't wear anymore.

    For that last bit, you're probably thinking why not just donate? Read the book. It addresses that question.

  • (4/5)
    Very eye-opening and thought-provoking, and seemed well-researched. I've never been much of a fashion addict/trend follower, but even my closet has more than it's fair share of fast fashion. Before reading this, I knew in a vague sort of way that the fashion industry had changed a lot over the past few decades, but I didn't realize just how drastic those changes were, or how far the ripples from those changes extended.

    I highly recommend reading this to anyone who's ever looked in their closet and thought, "I have nothing to wear," or run out of clean clothes and then had an insane amount of laundry to do, or had a favorite garment become worn out disappointingly early. And even if you've led a charmed existence and somehow have experienced none of those, read it anyway because you'll still learn something valuable. This book isn't perfect, but it questions and investigates a deeply ingrained facet of American (and increasingly, global) culture that really needs to be reevaluated. In some ways, I wish it had gone a bit more in-depth into things like the environmental impacts and offered more long-term solutions (if there are any...) to the problems presented by today's high-consumption habits. But overall, I thought it was an excellent introduction to the hidden underbelly of the fashion industry, and it definitely makes one think twice about that $3 shirt that seems like a deal that can't be passed up.

    I will certainly make an effort to be more conscientious with my clothing purchases, and to value high quality materials, construction, and design over quantity and cheap prices. Making my own clothes may not be in my immediate future (I do know how to sew, though I'm no doubt rusty since it's been a while), but I do intend to acquire a sewing machine so that I'll at least have the ability to do my own repairs/alterations should the need arise...and maybe refashion something or make it from scratch if I ever have time.
  • (4/5)
    Over all, an enlightening book about the rise of "fast fashion" and the effect it has had on the fashion industry. Cline does not delve very deeply into the human rights issues involved, but she does indicate that the human rights issues around cheap fashion have been well-covered elsewhere.

    She makes a few assumptions that I can chalk up to her age. Several times she makes sweeping statements about when something happened or didn't happen, or what skills and abilities people have. Two that jumped out at me were her claims that few people know how to sew any more and the claims that the interest in vintage fashion began in the 1990s. I finished high school in the late 80s and took part in at least two different home ec classes that taught sewing (and I made my own traditional wedding dress in 1995) and I distinctly remember a fascination with vintage clothing in the mid- to late-80s (I really wish I could find that seafoam green dance dress.) One challenge to home sewing that she did not mention is the difficulty in finding fabric. She lives in New York City, so she has access to more than the typical American can find, but the lack of suitable fabric has hampered my clothing sewing for years. However, the book has helped inspire me to begin sewing my own clothing again once I am off my no new clothing fast.
  • (3/5)
    Cline was a voracious consumer of cheap clothes for a long time, and then woke up to the human and environmental costs buried in her $20 shirt from Target. As someone who doesn't buy a lot of stuff but often buys new mass-made things, this book is a good reminder of the hidden costs of cheap clothing. And makes a good argument for either learning to sew your own or supporting your local tailor.I felt the book was poorly organized and could have used a good edit. Cline rehashes a lot of personal anecdote across chapters. She doesn't quite pull off weaving the anecdotes into a compelling whole, or integrate them fully into the broader narrative. The book gave me some good stuff to chew on, but there's not enough in there to support its length. After a few chapters I started skimming. It would have made a really great essay or article.
  • (4/5)
    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
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It gave excellent background on fashion and how it changed and even why fashion changed, she shared stories about clothes that I both could and didn't relate to. My mom taught me how to hem and sew on and button, and fix zippers. I'm no great seamstress but I can do simple things so I didn't relate to that; I also personally didn't relate to her over-consumption of clothes I did relate to that the disaster that clothes have become but not to her insistence that every American has a closet like hers, full of clothes that they don't wear. No ma'am I don't. I loved her inclusion of blog names and youtube haulers, I joined several of them for ideas. I agree with the author on the growing localism movement and about the increase in the numbers of people who are making their own clothes. the basic sewing classes at my local craft store fill up fast and it's mostly women young and slightly older women swaps are common and have been.I loved discussing this book with my younger sisters, all three of whom worked for Forever 21 and they talked about company returns and how everyone at work would joke "you know what that means. We got caught!!". I loved that she pointed out how unsustainable the current trend is and how it's affecting the people within the design house, the producers, the retailers, and the consumers. Pros:Lots of websites listed for you to check outShe gives solutions, she doesn't just point out the problem, she gives practical advice on how to no longer be a hamster on the wheels of fashion, how to find craft classes within your local area and all the things you can do to help find quality clothing at different companies.Cons:I'm hoping those editing errors are fixed before the book goes to print. *crosses fingers*The author clearly showed her sense of privilege, and sheer arrogance when discussing her trip to China, she discussed how she believed they had no fashion know how and so she wore her plainest clothing to she would 'fit in' (who does that??) It's called research, do it before you make a complete ass of yourself. Her ignorance of geography pertaining to her trip to China, just makes me want to slap her. Really?? You really thought of China as a state?? I think they should remove that from the book, it added nothing to the book, but made her seem very removed from reality of the rest of the world.I personally dislike how she seems to think that because she's just now discovered something or because more 'priviledged' Americans are starting to feel the crunch and have now learnt to live within their means that these things are new to others.My family is solidly upper middle class and even within our neighbourhood which consists of middle to upper middle families, they pass clothes and furniture on swapping items for things they may need. Perhaps because many of them are immigrant families or first/second generation they don't take so many things for granted the way she makes it seem Americans take everything for granted.I recommend this book highly for women to read. Happy Reading
  • (4/5)
    I found this to be an interesting introduction to the way we perceive clothing and the way we produce clothing. I say introduction purposefully, and I agree with the reviewer below, beebeereads, that this book is a lot of information just assembled in one spot. Still, in a relatively short and readable book the author presents a great number of things to think about. I've seen this book all over the sewing blogs I follow and I was quite glad I read it.
  • (3/5)
    One woman's story about her quest for sustainable fashion, after realizing that fast fashion is not sustainable. The statistics and companies she cites are somewhat dated now, but the facts haven't changed.
  • (4/5)
    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.”
  • (4/5)
    If you’re going to read Overdressed, be prepared for it to leave a nasty taste in your mouth and a lump in your throat when you next open your wardrobe. This really is a pretty damning expose of the ‘fast fashion’ industry, which churns out clothes faster than we can wear them out, leading to massive waste and a wardrobe full of clothes that we wear only once or twice. Why? Because at $5 an item, we still think we’re getting our money’s worth even if we only wear it a couple of times and then it goes out of fashion.I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been excessively fashion conscious and certainly for the last 2-3 years, I tend to only buy something when I need it. I do love shoes but even so I become incredibly attached and will wear them even when they have holes in. This Autumn, I finally threw out a pair after getting my feet soaked not once, not twice but three times! But have I bought an item in the past for $10 rationalising that it doesn’t really matter if I only wear it a handful of times? I probably have.Fast fashion is all about embracing trends but Overdressed points out that trends change so quickly that some stores are introducing hundreds of new lines each week. Therefore, clothing is becoming disposable as people strive to keep up with the new trends emerging constantly. The cost? Our clothing is gradually becoming of poorer and poorer quality. As is stated in the book, it’s now enough for something not to be lousy. We no longer strive for an ideal, we just want to avoid something awful and if we can, that’s enough.I was born in the eighties but years ago I was given a jacket from the seventies. It had already survived for years and it lasted for many more. Eventually the lining gave and I had kind of outgrown it anyway. I never managed to replace that jacket with anything near the quality. So, what’s the answer? To buy ‘quality’ brands? Not necessarily. Overdressed points out that in an investigation a $75 polo shirt was found to be little different to a $9 one. For the ‘fast fashion’ brands, pricing drops and quality drops but for the ‘premium’ brands, pricing is staying at a premium, even if the quality isn’t.Really, all I can say is read this book. You’ll draw your own conclusions and may or may not agree with everything that’s said. But like Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’ was a shocking eye-opener to me as a meat-eater, ‘Overdressed’ is the equivalent version for clothes buyers. So pretty much anyone who doesn’t make their own clothes. It would be naive to suggest that that’s the way forward but perhaps it’s a less frightening prospect than a world where a one-wear blouse becomes as common as a paper plate.