I was looking for Alexa Chung’s new book, It. The public library didn’t have it. The next best bet was Indigo. They had It, but as I thumbed through the book I quickly realized I would not be buying it. Browsing the stalls in the fashion section one book title did jump out at me – OVERDRESSED the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion. I picked it up and a quick flip-through revealed not a picture in sight. A fashion book with no pictures? Hhhmm, this must be something more serious. The front cover boasts a quote by Katha Pollitt “OVERDRESSED does for T-shirts and leggings what FAST FOOD NATIONS did for burgers and fries.” That’s quite a statement! Intrigued, I dropped a few hints and received the book as a Christmas gift.
When I finally sat down with it, I devoured the book! It was fascinating reading right from the first page, and were it not for a night’s sleep, I would have finished it in one sitting. Elizabeth Cline has done her research and knows her facts. From shamelessly opening her own closet to visiting clothing factories in China, she brings into question our values as a nation with her insights into our shopping habits. Today’s society has been brought up to clothing shop for entertainment, purchase clothes they don’t need or wear and to amass wardrobes with hundreds if not thousands of pieces. Cline discusses the impact that today’s disposable clothing has on the environment, how it virtually eliminated the garment industry in North America and how it is affecting the global economy.
Normally a book about economics would not interest me but I found this book easy to read and accurate in the conclusion it draws. Clothing (unlike some consumable items) has gone down drastically in price over the last hundred years. So has its perceived value. Consumers are now accustomed to buying clothes at the grocery store (thanks Joe Mimran) and seeing stores change their entire line-up of clothing every 4-6 weeks (thanks Gap). Clothing is manufactured cheaply in countries such as China, India and Bangladesh. Consumers refuse to pay higher prices for items of higher quality, content instead to purchase shoddily made clothing of inferior fibres that languish in closets unworn. Interestingly, with the ready availability of cheaply priced clothing, the price of hand made/couture/designer or non mass-produced clothing has gone up. This has also driven up the price of vintage clothing.
People today have 3 – 10 times as many clothes as their grandparents did (just look in the closets of an 80 year old home). I find it hard to believe that my grandparents both hung their clothing on one one rail in one tiny closet. (That was before the days of California Closets!)
I am so glad that I read this book. It has made me realize that I should no longer settle for cheap clothing. Clothing is something that should be loved, worn and valued. When our wardrobes consist of cheap polyester items from H & M or Forever 21, we are not making wise and mindful choices. Armed with Ms. Cline’s knowledge I am more determined than ever to have fewer pieces of higher quality clothing. For more information buy or read the book or check out the website at www.overdressedthebook.com.