83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2012
I do recommend this book to anyone whose closet takes up a whole bedroom and is full of things you got as a steal but never wear. I recommend this book to anyone who takes frequent hauls of last season's clothes to Goodwill thinking they are doing something grandly generous. I recommend this to anyone who remembers going to the high end section of the department store and finding amazing details and fine finishing of garments-remember French seams?- and wonders why you can't seem to find them at any price now.
I bought this because I am well aware that something is wrong with clothing currently. I grew up as a home sewer and in the last 10 years I have done less and less as finished garments were getting cheaper than then fabric needed to make them. A simple sheath dress takes about 2 hours to make and about 2 yard of outer fabric, not to mention interfacing and notions. To think that these fast fashion stores could sell this dress and far more complex things for under $40 tells me a lot of people are getting screwed. I wanted to know how many, but also what I as a consumer can do about. Sadly, this book is a little thin on solutions. It doesn't give much help on how to source fairly made clothing. How to source fairly made, high quality, environmentally sound clothing is really what I was looking for. On the other hand it did remind me of the value of home sewing. Fast fashion is like fast food-it is good enough and is set up to crate cravings, but clothing, like good food, nourishes the spirit. You may need to work harder for it but it is so much more rewarding.
126 of 136 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2012
A century ago people usually had only a handful of garments in their wardrobe. Carefully mended, and handed down, these clothes were never disposed of before literally being worn out. Today the average US citizen buys 65 new pieces of clothing each year. Typically not meant to last, these items will rather be thrown away than repaired or altered, because this would ironically enough be more expensive than buying new ones.
On this premise Elizabeth Cline sets out to explore cheap fashion in her book Overdressed. Revealing the effects of cheap fashion on her own life, her research takes her to the reasons of this development and a possible future in slow (aka local and sustainable) fashion. Both conversationally written and thought-provoking this is a must-read for everyone who's interested in the economics behind the circle of shopping and clothes production.
I have read many books on the topic but this is the first that addresses one particular point which I feel is shockingly obvious yet often ignored. Fast fashion is not only cheap, it is, basically, waste. You might be all for recycling plastic, but have you ever thought about what's in your wardrobe and the implications for the environment? With fashion being cheap, and quality just "good enough", we create a staggering amount of pretty colored polyester garbage. Think about this before homing in on the next bargain you see!
In short: An eye-opening read that will hopefully make you reconsider your buying decisions!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
128 of 139 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2012
I had the same sense of revulsion reading this book as I did reading "Supersize Me" (which is more or less the food version of this book) and I see fast food and "fast fashion" as indicative of the same lack of basic skills. We don't typically cook -- and therefore don't recognize quality in food. Few people sew anymore, and therefore don't recognize quality in clothing. The high cost of housing means that cost becomes more important both for food and clothing -- and quality suffers. The manufacturing chain makes adjustments to accommodate the desire for more of everything. And then follow the TV shows: Biggest Loser for the food problem; and Hoarders for the clothing (and everything else) problem.
Oddly enough, the bad construction of cheap clothes puts consumers into the endless cycle of buying more of everything. If you can't fix your shoes or alter your clothes, then you need multiples of everything just to make sure something lasts through the season. Expectations of grooming and dress have become demanding, which means that there is more acceptance of cheap clothing. 60 years ago when every working woman wore a suit every day to work, her entire wardrobe was different. She didn't have 22 tops and 14 skirts -- she had five suits. And yet we see the connection between clothing and our behavior-- schools that expect specific behaviors usually have specific dress codes. (the author of Supersize Me also comments on how fast food -- and eating in your car -- disrupted the idea of set meal times. )
I am old enough to remember the grand department stores in big cities -- and the expectations both of dress and behavior that accompanied them. The author does not make the connection between larger houses (and greater house payments as proportion of income) and the growth of the shopping mall. Those grand department stores didn't need parking lots -- people took transit and had their purchases delivered by delivery truck (not FedEx). They shopped during the day, not on the way home from work at 8 pm. Our whole society has changed and the way we relate to food and clothing has followed.
This may be one of the first things I've seen that puts a "sustainable, green" cast on clothing consumption though. its ironic that Whole Foods sells cheap -- although organic and fair-traded -- teeshirts in the toiletries aisle. And those items are always manufactured overseas.
417 of 467 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2012
I'm very interested in the subject of fast fashion, and I'm pretty sure the author did her research. (There are 11 pages of endnotes.) But "Overdressed" is so poorly written and edited (or unedited) that I stopped reading after three chapters. Some of the more glaring errors: "rarified" for "rarefied," "principal" for "principle," "hoards" for "hordes," "reigns" for "reins," "lose" for "loose," and "$150 dollars." There are comma errors, syntax errors, subject-verb agreement errors, verb-tense errors, and capitalization errors. Concepts that require clarification are unexplained (Black Friday, "when France was occupied").
And that's just the first 94 pages.
Nitpicking? Not really. "Overdressed" isn't a hastily written blog post; it's a book from a respected publisher. The sloppiness of the editing doesn't merely make for a painful reading experience; it also impairs the author's credibility and makes me wonder about the accuracy of her facts. Which is a shame, because this is a subject crying out for thorough and expert reporting.
53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2013
I was almost too disgusted to finish reading this lousy excuse for an expose.
Despite its informative segments, "Overdressed" teems with nostalgia verging on xenophobia, postmillennial moralizing, and a jittery unease with increasing foreign wealth. Cline writes about the contrast between today's mass-produced, mass-marketed plastic garments, and the bygone days when people spent less and bought better, when her father could buy a well-made, unique, wonderful shirt from the US of A after a thrilling afternoon riding a shiny escalator. Although she does document some of the issues afflicting the world of garment production in an illuminating way, that's not enough to save this book. Problems with Cline's treatment of this subject include:
- Her history of clothing manufacture in America is entirely Eurocentric before she starts in on the evils of modern globalization. Where does Cline think all those gorgeous natural textiles came from? They WEREN'T all made in America, particularly prior to the 1900s-- and the ones that were, like, uh, cotton, were certainly not produced under conditions conducive to human rights.
- She brings in some (anecdotal) experiences of low-income people of color when she discusses the garment factory side of things (from roughly the mid-'60s on), but I can't help but think that those same people wouldn't have had such a fun time going to the country's biggest fanciest department stores in the '50s and '60s. So who does Cline's nostalgia serve, really?
- Cline notes that the middle class is disappearing, then wonders what happened to the clothes the middle class used to be able to purchase.
- Throughout the book, Cline is happy to judge fashion consumers at any price range-- I particularly enjoyed her characterization of Missoni for Target aficionados as "passive"-- but makes little attempt to understand what may be motivating their choices. (From what I can tell, she relies on the same source for every one of her claims about consumer psychology.) Much of her argument seems based on herself and YouTube/blogger personalities, with a kind of it-stands-to-reason and everybody-probably-does-this approach that is ... somewhat lacking in empirical persuasiveness.
- Cline also makes virtually no effort to talk about Americans who buy cheaper because that's what they can afford, or perceive that they can afford. Did she not read the part she wrote about the middle class disappearing? Her entire treatment of "the American consumer" is marred by her insistence on depicting exclusively young, middle-class-and-up women who do actually have the economic capacity to save up for nice clothes. While this demographic may be driving a number of industry changes, their purchasing habits cannot be generalized to represent those of all Americans.
- "Yet there's something about for-profit clothing recycling that bothers consumers." Tell that to Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange: [...]
- The speculation game she plays about whether the factories she visited in China and Dhaka were "just for show" makes me wish she had done SOMETHING more-- poked around asking about other factories or subcontractors, interviewed other journalists who had been to the region-- anything but saying, "This all looked pretty okay, but I had to wonder, WAS IT REALLY?" Maybe she could have avoided some of those issues by not exclusively visiting factories that offered her shuttle service.
- According to Cline, rising foreign labor costs are good, because they will increase workers' bargaining power and make America more globally competitive. But they also freak her out, because Chinese garment workers have purchasing power?? What if they BUY ALL THE SOCKS IN THE WORLD? (Not kidding. This is in there.)
- In many areas of the book, her ignorance of fashion history is embarrassing to read-- like her complete failure to grasp some of the societal reasons for the voluminous skirts of the 1950s (rejoicing in prosperity and an end to wartime privation, which in England involved actual limitations on fabric yardage per type of garment) or for the rise of polyester in the '60s/'70s (futurist movements in fashion held up manmade fibers as the new frontier).
- I completely forgot to mention the extreme intellectual poverty of her resources. To say that Cline references hardly any economists or scholarly sources would be a generous overestimation; I think the reality is it's more like zero. In a book that grapples with the worldwide financial and environmental implications of a major industry's practices, not making use of such sources does readers a huge disservice. Even if Cline disagreed with their premises based on the interviews she conducted, to not have those viewpoints in a book of this scope at ALL? (EDIT: There are a HANDFUL of scholarly sources, almost entirely from congressional hearings rather than articles or interviews, and they're buried among citations of news story after news story and Scholastic magazine, of all things: [...] I wouldn't even cite that in a blog post for my friends.)
And regarding her solutions ...
- Sewing gives you a sense of agency~! IF you have the leisure time to learn how to sew and the money to spend on materials. You can cut your costs under those of many retailers once you know your stuff, but as a sewing novice who has ruined many efforts, the early trial and error takes time, effort, and more money than many people can justify. Also, there are more reasons than wanton consumption for the decrease in sewing skills: Many homemaking practices fell out of vogue during the '70s with the rise of feminism.
- Sorry, thrifting isn't dead. It may be better in some parts of the country, but it is still COMPLETELY possible to go to a thrift store and consistently get gorgeous items in good fabrics for H&M prices. (I've thrifted in 8 states within the past 4 years, and I'm sure it's not hard to improve on that sample size ... but seriously, if Cline gets to use 3 anecdotes to prove national trends, I can use mine to poke holes in her theory.)
- I do like supporting local businesses and independent designers. And at least Cline has the honesty to admit that that's a luxury.
My problems here aren't that I think the garment industry's "race to the bottom" isn't a big deal, or that it's not driven by consumer demands. Some of this information is good, and the effects of profit incentive on the process of clothes-making and the quality of the clothes that result is a worthy one. My problem is that the person writing this book is Cline, who seems to oscillate between a seriously unhealthy relationship with H&M and a tedious pining for a time of innocence and quality goods when everything about clothing manufacture in America was good. And you know what? That past never existed, except in a very limited sense for comparatively privileged Americans. Unfortunately, because Cline is so hyperbolic and "truthy" in her approach, I find it difficult to believe much of what she or her interviewees have to say, even when the data may have been good and the perspectives valid.
I'm willing to bet that if you liked this book, it's because Cline has managed to convey some information you didn't know and couple it with a satisfyingly zeitgeist-y sense of American decadence. (You were right all along! Nothing's as good as it used to be and everyone makes selfish choices now!) However, just because Cline is able to strike an emotional chord in her readers does not make her book well-written, thoughtful, or ultimately worth reading.
I'm just sorry I actually paid $8 for the Kindle book, when I could have spent that money on a blouse, earrings, and a hi-lo skirt.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2012
In mid-September, I came across a thread in the Designers group on Ravelry discussing this book. I became very intrigued, and requested a review copy from NetGalley.
I read the book slowly, over the course of a rather busy month, and while I have already recommended it to several people, I found it a very difficult book to review. I think this is because Overdressed is really several books inside of one jacket (or, in my case, inside one Kindle e-book).
I loved the book that felt like it was written by an investigative journalist exploring the ins and outs of fast fashion. I learned a lot about the history of the fashion industry and how it moved from seasonal cycles to fast fashion cycles. The explorations of the labor, environmental, economic, and social aspects of fast fashion were interesting and thought provoking, and I've already had conversations with several friends and family about the contents. I also appreciated the conversation about DIY and upcycled fashion and the introduction to many bloggers, designers, and store owners involved in the "slow fashion" movement. I would give that book 5 stars and recommend it far and wide.
There's another side of the book which is about Elizabeth's personal exploration through this world. I'm not sure if it was because I couldn't relate to her experiences of binge shopping or because my inner-women's-college-alumna was alarmed by her seemingly ignorant approach to many encounters, but I was not at all pulled in by these stories. On occasion, it seems like Elizabeth is "playing dumb" to reach a broader audience. (Could the same woman who thoroughly researched the history of a multi-national industry really have thought she could easily travel to various locations in China when she doesn't speak a word of Chinese without a car or a guide until someone suggested she needed a driver?) I felt as though she tried to combine a book that appealed to readers of serious non-fiction with one aimed at shopaholics and folks looking for something "lighter" to read. Personally, I found the switch back and forth a bit disjointed, although perhaps it will bring in readers who aren't already comfortable with critiquing the industry.
And then, there was the editing and formatting. There were many instances of words running together without spaces in between (looking something like this: wordsrunningtogetherwithoutspacesinbetween) and there were noticeable editing mistakes. I have not previously had that experience with any book published by a major publisher (in this case, Penguin's Portfolio imprint). I was always able to infer what Elizabeth was trying to convey, but I found this aspect of the book unsettling. It felt a bit like "fast publishing" to me.
Back to my original quandary: How do I review this book? I think the content is important and it is mostly an engaging and well-researched book. I can't in good conscience give it a 5 star review, though. If my review were based purely on editing and formatting, I would probably have to give it 2 stars. If I were rating the "Elizabeth's personal conversion to slow fashionista" sub-plot, I would probably give the book 3 stars. So I guess in the end, I will give it 4 stars but with this warning - I recommend that you read Overdressed, think about it's content, and talk about it. But be prepared for poor editing and formatting, and to be slightly urked by some of Elizabeth's purported ignorance.
Full disclosure: A free review copy of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion was provided by Portfolio/Penguin via NetGalley. Although I accept free products for review, I do not accept additional compensation, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2013
"Overdressed" is a book about fast fashion written by a consumer of fast fashion, basically detailing the social and ecological ills of cheaply made clothing that is viewed by some as "disposable". The author herself admits to being an avid consumer of fast fashion, but her bulk buying habits far outpace my occasional few-item purchase at the retailers she scorns. I agree with the premise of this book, which is to be more socially conscious about what I buy, where I buy it, and how I use and dispose of it. However, that is pretty much all I can give her.
The first thing that irked me was the implication that consumers "have chosen low-priced clothes made in other countries" (page 5). Looking through my closet, the only thing made in the U.S. are a few pairs of Vince Jeans which run about 150 bucks a pop from Nordstrom (all of my other jeans are in the 20-40 dollar price range); everything else is from China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the occasional Malaysia or India. Clothing in that price range, when coupled with inflation and declining wages, is hardly a "choice". People buy what is readily available and affordable, and that is your H&M, Forever 21, and even Gap and BR which pretty much all make their clothing in the East Asian countries. She later contradicts herself by admitting that shopping cheap is generally a "nonchoice" (page 6), but she flip flops throughout the book.
The second thing was that she talks about people "treat clothing as if it is disposable" (page 3); while that may be true for some consumers, particularly those who tend to dispose of an item once it is "out of season", some of my most beloved pieces of clothing are eight years old and I have had them since high school (I'm 22 now). I have had jeans with holes in the knees that I patched up, made into 'cutoffs' and then shorts when the material started to fray. I wear tank tops around the house until they rip beyond wear; then they become cleaning rags. I have a James Dean t-shirt I bought for four dollars back in 2006 and still wear on a regular basis. Not everyone who shops the occasional H&M treats their clothing as disposable; many of us are well-aware of the consequences of textiles ending up in landfills. H&M has a clothing recycling program, and many large cities such as New York City offer textile recycling. Old shoes can be donated to Nike where they may end up as the rubber surfaces of a playground.
To represent the opinions of American consumers, Cline chose Youtube fashion "bloggers" to illustrate her point, who are hardly representative of the average consumer. These self-appointed fashion gurus regularly post videos of their "hauls", which is slang for going into a store, typically a fast fashion store, and spending hundreds of dollars on clothing in order to show it off to their Youtube subscribers. Most of us don't live that way; we buy stuff as we see that we need it, or buy something because we like it, or because it is on sale and we will use it later (ie buying a winter coat for next year during spring when it gets discounted). One of the Youtube bloggers exclaims, "I like things that are disposable, so I can wear this shirt two times and then throw it away" (page 122). Comments like this further illustrate how removed these blogger/fashion gurus are from the rest of the world; it's certainly not my friends or myself who throw things away after two uses--most reasonable people would think that to be incredibly wasteful and unsustainable.
Later in the book, Cline talks about clothing recycling programs and says "there's something about for-profit clothing recycling that bothers consumers" (page 130). As someone who has both donated to and shopped from thrift stores for the greater part of my life, I can tell you that I have absolutely no problem, none whatsoever, with someone profiting off of my castaway clothing. I really don't have ill feelings towards someone making a living off of finding a use for my old apparel; in fact, I would much rather see my old clothing get resold than see it go in a trash can and end up in a landfill. I get the feeling that most people feel the same way, as companies that have destroyed and thrown away unsold clothing have come under public outcry for not donating the unsold clothing to those in need. Not everything is about making or not making a profit, it's about doing the right thing. If there's a factory out there that can take my six year old jeans with unrepairable holes in the butt and make them into a plastic bottle or a tote bag which they can profit from, more power to 'em.
When she isn't opining on the oblivious negligence of the reader, the book is actually quite compelling. Cline spends quite a bit of time describing the history of modern clothing production and distribution (the passage about the closing of Filene's, a Boston department store which had operated since 1912, was heartbreaking), and the parts where she recalls her visits to China and Bangladesh to see clothing factories firsthand is eye-opening. I wish she had spent more time with the factual evidence than the proselytizing; it would have made for a more attractive read. As for Cline herself, even today she doesn't exclude the idea of the "occasional fast fashion fix" (pg 218), which made the 200-odd page condemnation of everything fast fashion stands for fall a little flat. It's a fast and interesting look at clothing production, but it ultimately failed to relate to me as a reader about my own clothing consumption.
51 of 63 people found the following review helpful
As 20-somethings are want to do I delved into wearing trendier, more fashion-forward clothing, rejecting the Preppy WASP clothing of my youth in favor of inexpensive retailers. I was making good money but realized I could have a much larger and more varied wardrobe for about as much coin that bought me a few nice items from more traditional clothiers. But I quickly realized the inherent problems as clothing I'd bought quickly became passe and last season's fashion. Relegated to the darker reaches of the closet they never really got a much wear as I'd hope and soon my closet and armoire were bursting with rarely-worn out of date items. A move would prompt a massive donation to the local thrift shop and the daily guilt of confronting remnants of a misspent shopping trip were whisked away. After this happened twice I came to realize I was better served by returning to my WASP roots; buying traditional well tailored clothing that skirted fashion trends, something my mother would routinely drill into my head. But aside from the money squandered on short-lived clothes I never contemplated the larger picture until I read "Over-Dressed". Cline certainly addresses the foolish waste of money on poorly made inexpensive clothing, but I'd never thought of the front end or back end of things. The sheer squandering of resources on making essentially disposable items for quick profit is perhaps the most horrific thing here. Rather than making durable well made items that will last, manufacturers are giving retailers what they want; trendy clothing made as cheaply as possible. Retailers push this clothing on a public who views them as bargains and then snap them up, giving retailers the profit incentive to gin up the whole process. Consumers become lemmings stuck in a cycle they're not fully conscious of, storing clothes still too nice to throw out, but too out of date to wear in their closets and attics. Like me, many donate them to charities figuring they'll find a new home. I'd thought so too, but was stunned to read Cline's most in-depth expose on what truly happens. Yes, the nicer items that are vintage or from high end retailers does get put out for sale, but most wind up being shipped overseas, or is bundled into bales for recycling or other uses. That sounds great, but how many of us would buy clothes made from recycled post-consumer content? Anyone? I thought so!
Certainly a great deal of our castoff clothing winds up in lesser developed nations but even now they are developing taste and discretion. Even the poorest of the poor in Mozambique aren't going to wear a dirty stained decade old Spring Break t-shirt. Our landfills are already overflowing with outdated fashions and the time has come to reconsider what we buy. Cline makes some excellent points on that front and they're ones I've already put into action. Long ago I realized pants and shorts that couldn't be altered were a ticket to nowhere. Rather than throwing out worn out t-shirts I cut them up for use as shop rags. Before buying something I think to myself "What else that I wear does this go with?" And more importantly I've returned to my WASP nature and only buy things that are traditional staples that don't go out of fashion and which aren't trendy. Thankfully I don't have to be au currant in my dress. And I've embraced the Scandinavian frugality of watching what I spend! "Over-Dressed" is a good call to arms. Even if it changes one mind at a time it's something that could certainly build into a movement. I'm certain there may be others like us out there!
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2012
Ms. Cline leads us on a tour of various factories overseas where our wearable garbage is made. This section of the book was the most revealing, and very well written. (ALL of the book was well-written!)
She is also generous in including information and websites where alternatives to mall-staple trash can be found.
The author failed to discuss two of my pet methods of shopping restraint: "one-in, one-out" and "cost-per-wear." I also wish she had included more information on how Europeans stretch their wardrobe budgets. This neglect was puzzling.
She had a very few comments about Lands End, but little to nothing about L.L. Bean, J. Jill or Eddie Bauer; all of which are places where better-constructed pieces can usually be found, and who cater to an ADULT clientele. (There was too much in the book about the shopping habits of 20-somethings.)
But, all in all, it's nice to know that others are revolted by American walk-in-garages stuffed wall-to-wall with cheap, shoddy clothes.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2013
I balked at buying this book for a while because, as a former editor, I knew that the typographical errors mentioned in another review would turn me off.
However, I'm very interested in the subject, so I finally got the Kindle edition. I didn't notice a single error, so the Kindle version may have been updated, or perhaps I was just so engaged with the writing that I wasn't really looking for them.
This is a well-written and well-researched book about an important subject. Oftentimes, exposé books like this are light on potential solutions for the future, but the author's conclusions (make your own clothes, or buy the best you can afford - once) are a great start, given that real change begins on an individual level. As someone who recently began learning to sew and draft patterns, I agree! Though it's time-consuming, making your own clothes (or altering thrifted clothes) is very fulfilling.