Book Review: Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

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Rating: 4.5 / 5

In Overdressed, Elizabeth Cline takes a look at the fashion and clothing industry, particularly fast fashion, and its impact on the economy, society, and sustainability.  Cline travels to China and Bangladesh and interviews people in various positions in the industry, from retailers, to buyers, and those in charge of manufacturing. While Cline doesn’t get into the nitty gritty, or too detailed on any particular aspect, Overdressed is a great primer in an array of topics relating to fashion.

I liked the fact that Cline is not a fashion insider.  She didn’t work for years for any big clothing retailer, and is not a designer nor does she work in any capacity for a clothing manufacturer.  She is pretty much your average American, female shopper, which makes her relatable.  Although I avoid Forever 21 like the plague (I am, after all, well past high school and college), I’ve done my fair share of shopping at H&M, Old Navy, and other big retailers where clothes are literally dirt cheap.  And I do look at a price tag of $4.99 for a top and think, “if it lasts more than two washes it’s worth it.”‘  Also, I’ve bought the same top in multiple colors because they’ve been incredibly cheap (cheaper than a Starbucks beverage), and bought items of clothing that I’ve never worn or found out I didn’t like, but not worth the time to go and return it.  And if your shopping behavior is along those lines, Overdressed is a book you should definitely read.  Cline doesn’t get on her soapbox and preach why you should be ashamed of yourself for shopping at these stores (she freely admits in the past she also frequented them), but lays out in a clear and concise way why clothing that cheap is dangerous in many aspects, including the fact that tops regularly priced at $7.99 means that the quality is sub-par, the sewers are not earning a living wage, and the fact that the materials that are used to make such cheap clothing items are environmentally harmful.  A movement to be more eco-friendly should extend beyond cars and organic food to include being more aware of how clothes are manufactured, and buying what we need a maybe a bit more, but not 15 black V-neck tops that are all virtually identical.

I was surprised to learn about the donation aspect of clothing.  I’ve certainly donated my fair share of tattered, worn, and unworn clothing to The Salvation Army, Goodwill, or the local clothing drives, thinking that even if I don’t want them, there must be some poor soul out there that can re-purpose my castaways.  Isn’t that what we all think? That is the perception, but not the reality.  Cline goes to a Salvation Army sorting center, and sees first hand the massive amount of clothes that people donate.  Although it is a worthy cause, the fact is that much of the clothing that is donated is fast fashion ie from stores such as H&M, Forever 21, Target, and the likes.  And since there is little to no quality in these items, an alarming amount ends up as waste.

Cline does target the fast fashion trend and stores, but surprisingly, buying more expensive clothes is not necessarily the solution.  While consumers generally view price as an indication of quality, there are plenty of brands at a higher price point but not better quality.  Since the majority of clothes are manufactured overseas, it is difficult to audit true work conditions.  In addition, the while clothing companies may tout wanting to source and manufacture clothes in a more sustainable way, they do apply pressure to manufacturers and factories to keep costs down but volume up.

There are few solutions to the many problems plaguing the clothing industry.  That is not to say there is no hope; Cline details companies in both the Los Angeles and New York City area that are bucking the trend of fast fashion and succeeding.  It is difficult in the wake of cheap, affordable, disposable clothing which suits consumers’ need to be trendy, but there are stores which partner with environmentally friendly manufacturers, and individuals that have started their own small businesses giving vintage clothing a second (or third) life, and educating others on how to buy quality and make it last.

I thoroughly enjoyed Overdressed.  It is relevant, important, clear, and thought provoking.  I’m determined to buy less clothes, but also to buy clothes that are more durable and better made.  Also?  I won’t balk at prices north of $50.

 

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