Finished Reading: Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline

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I feel so far behind. I’ve seen Overdressed on the shelves, I’ve seen others talk about what a difference this book made in their decision to buy better. And I’m only now in 2019 picking this book up to read. Fair warning, if you aren’t mildly interested in what Cline has to say I’d imagine this book to be a rather dull and data thick read. Personally, I simply had to take breaks because I was exhausted and frustrated by what she reveals.

I knew the basics of what Cline shared in Overdressed, but the statistic that struck me the most and really was the launching point for my perspective of the book was when she stated in 1900 the average American spent 15% of their yearly income on clothes, in 2017 the average American spent 1.7% of their annual income on clothing. And we’re buying MORE clothes than ever, I’m no mathematician but that does not add up.

Beginning in the 80’s and 90’s we began to be conditioned to the idea that clothing ought to be cheap (please do not read affordable because what we’re spending on clothes today is beyond affordable, it is cheap) and that we shouldn’t have to pay a fair price for the clothes we buy and a fair wage to those who make our clothes. 

Buying less is a great start. Wearing what you already have is better. 

Our American demand for cheaper clothes has sent nearly the entire American textile industry into the ground. In 1996, the American textile industry employed 624,000 workers. Today, that number has fallen to 120,000. And clothing production costs have increased in New York City but consumer price expectations and wardrobes have not changed. This is not okay.

Why don’t we value our clothes? Despite what retailers believe, low prices signals to consumers that a product is disposable. These low prices and fast trends have made clothing throwaway items.
Generations from the great depression remember having only a few outfits that you wore on repeat. And you didn’t throw away anything, ever. One of the most uncomfortable things I learned from Overdressed, is that our consumption of cheap clothes has created a void of well made clothing. We don’t understand the true value of clothes, which makes luxury clothing (not necessarily made better) even pricier and has sky-rocketed the prices for well-made vintage clothes as well. Our overconsumption of fashion is not sustainable for our planet or for ourselves. 

The fact is that consumers can afford to take on higher cost for living-wage products, yet the raising the wages for garment workers does not have a huge impact on retail prices…The reality is that [Garment Worker] wages are so low and many US clothing companies profits are so high that brands could afford to raise wages significantly without passing the cost on to consumers. – page 159

This is what I have an issue with, these large fashion brands make millions of dollars off of our desire for new, while exploiting the makers, and stealing ideas from creatives (basically there are no fashion design copyright laws in the US). By paying a living wage to Garment Workers, we could boost the overall work economy and it wouldn’t cost you much more if anything for that sweater from Target you’ve been eyeing. And by paying Garment Workers overseas more, you make the US manufacturing and textile industry more competitive. I’m no economic global business guru but don’t we want a competitive market where America provides jobs to people? And we’re seriously lacking in textile industry jobs here.

The further I move away from following trends, the more aware of what cuts and silhouettes work for me. Pg 218

True for Elizabeth Cline and for myself.

If you’re interested in learning more about our overabundance and overconsumption of clothing has affected economies, jobs, design, and our planet. I encourage you to read Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed.

I’m eagerly waiting on my copy of Elizabeth’s new book The Conscious Closet to arrive!

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