Overdressed?

I just finished reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline, and I’m full of thoughts about it. Have you read it? It’s a look at cheap fashion and its effect on the clothing we buy.

(source)

If not, and you’re interested in clothing, or knowing more about the products you buy and where they come from, you might enjoy it!

Then again, you might not feel great after reading it. Sometimes learning more about how things are made can make you feel powerless, like we have no control over what big companies do. Like we’re doomed to malls full of generic clothing, low-quality fabrics and brands that believe fit isn’t important.

I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, as we’re all responsible for making our own choices about what we wear and buy. (I ended up talking about cheap fashion at a social gathering and tried really hard not to sound preachy, it’s hard not to burst forth with emotion when I feel strongly about something!) The most important thing I took from the book is to vote with our wallets. What we buy says something about what we believe in. I can say I love high-quality fabrics, but if I refuse to pay full-price and only shop discount stores, that says something. I can say I want to support independent companies, but if I frequently buy at big-box stores then I’m being inconsistent. Whenever I’m doing things that match my beliefs, I feel good. I’m confident in my decisions, and I don’t feel any regret about my choices.

As people who sew, we have a lot more options than people who only shop for clothing. If you can’t make your own clothing, someone else has to make it for you. And these days, clothing is so cheap in stores. Kind of like the fast-food of fashion, really. Cheap, not great quality, encouraging over-consumption, and causing stress on our environment.

I do love that the author mentions sewing as a great way to take control over our wardrobes. Not only can we make unique garments from scratch, we can alter, mend, and re-fashion our clothing. Our clothing will fit better, last longer and look like no one else’s. The more we sew, the more we develop a good eye for quality in garments. I usually want to see the inside of a garment to examine the construction before even thinking about buying it!

She talks about the special connection we have with clothing we’ve made by hand. I remember what was happening in my life as I’ve worked on certain sewing projects. I remember movies I watched and conversations I had while knitting. There’s a story to the handmade garments in my closet, yarn bought on holidays, fabric I fell in love with at first sight.

Another thought that’s stood out for me is to consider what will happen to the clothing you wear when you’re done with it. How long do you plan on wearing something? What do you do when you’re tired of it? One answer is to make things you plan to love for a long time, not trendy items that don’t suit your style. Make items that fit into your real life, like skirts you can bicycle in and flattering dresses – that is, if you’re me. Your needs are probably different!

The truth is that not all clothing donated to thrift stores actually sells and gets re-worn. I’ve started to think about an ‘exit plan’ for my clothing – what will I do with this dress when it wears out? Can I re-make it into a skirt, or work pieces of it into smaller projects? Can I cut a worn-out shirt into facings for a new project? Many of you guys are much better at this than me, but now that it’s in my mind I want to reduce the amount of waste that I personally contribute.

If you’ve read the book, what did you think? How did it affect how you think about sewing and clothing in general? If you haven’t read it, it’s very interesting. I’d definitely recommend it!

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68 Responses to Overdressed?

  1. Kerri November 19, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    I’m on the waiting list for this book, and I’m sure it will cause a bit of stress. You’re so right about knowing just what goes into things you’ve hand-made. It makes it that much harder to part with the item! And sometimes I look at my closet with its odd assortment of handmade, thrifted and bargain items, and I too think of fast-food. Filling but unsatisfying. Thanks for posting this! We should all think a little harder before we pull out the credit card…

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      It’s a good book, I hope you get something out of it when you finally get it! I think the point you make – filling but unsatisfying – is exactly the point of ‘consuming’ clothing. It’s OK to have an assortment of handmade, thrifted and bargain items, it’s even better if we love them and wear them often. I think the need to consume and the constant shopping habits that some people fall into – shopping as a hobby or recreation rather than need – is how we can end up with a closet full of clothing that we don’t feel strongly about.
      I hope you enjoy the book!

      • Sophie-Lee November 19, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

        You’ve highlighted things that I have been thinking a lot of recently – namely, spending more to buy quality items/fabrics that will last longer. Even if they cost more, they will be more valuable to my wardrobe and lifestyle than cheap things that I wear a few times and then give away (I have had three big clothing clear outs this year).

        I would prefer to buy quality fabrics but because I have had it in my head that I sew clothing because it’s cheaper than buying RTW, I don’t spend the money. However, I’ve come to realise recently (haven’t had my sewing machines so have been reading lots of sewing blogs – mainly yours and Gertie’s!) that I will enjoy sewing with good quality fabrics, would be more likely to do a really good job, and I will just feel way better in them!

  2. annabelvita November 19, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    I find this such a fascinating issue and I’ll try to get my hands on this book!

    For me I find it’s important to remember balance or I get paralysed by the decision-making and end up making bad choices (this applies to lots of ethical dilemmas, including clothing and food).

    I’ve only just really started sewing, so I see anything that is avoiding ready-to-wear as an ethical win, but would like to transition to using ethical and/or organic fabrics in all my sewing. But I also really want to support my local fabric shops, and that is (in my case) often at odds with buying eco/fair trade fabrics, so it’s a toss up. I’ve thought about buying all my notions and tools at local shops and ethical fabric online? I don’t know.

    I like making simple patchwork quilts, which I see as a fitting end for clothes that are worn out, especially if you sew with cottons a lot.

    I’m making bunting for my wedding out of old clothes that won’t wash well enough to be used in a quilt. I’m really enjoying the process! So many old clothes, so many memories. And I’m using even tiny scraps form past sewing projects.

    • annabelvita November 19, 2012 at 6:23 am #

      Oh, and I still find myself buying Ready To Wear clothes without delving deep into their provenance. It’s not often, but probably still more often than I’d like. When I do this, I make a promise to myself to make sure I get a lot of wear out of the clothes – buying stuff that I need rather than the latest fashion trend, mending them when they break, passing them on when they no longer fit or flatter me. I know it’s still bad to buy mass market clothes, but NOT treating clothes like they’re disposable (even if they were cheap) is – in my opinion – part of the start of changing the whole clothing shebang.

      • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:29 am #

        I love the idea of making a patchwork quilt out of worn-out clothes! I don’t quilt though, and I don’t have a ton of spare time. So I love the concept but I need to be realistic about what I would actually do. Love the idea of keeping the memories as you recycle the clothes.

        You know, there’s nothing wrong with buying ready to wear clothes. I hope I didn’t come across too harshly! I think you’re going about it the right way – buying what you need, mending them while there’s still life left in them.

        Not treating clothing like it’s disposable is the right mindset. Part of the book talks about trends, and how trends are manufactured to keep us buying. (Like those ‘In’ and ‘Out’ lists – toss this, keep that.)

        • annabelvita November 20, 2012 at 7:07 am #

          I didn’t think you came across harshly at all – and I hope I didn’t either! I should have drawn a better distinction between cheap ready to wear and better made ready to wear!

  3. Jill November 19, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    I think, as with everything, there’s a balance to be found. I want to be wary of cheap, wasteful products made in horrible conditions. At the same time, modern, inexpensive means of production and global markets mean that decent clothing at an affordable price is no longer available only to the very rich.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Oh, exactly! It’s kind of sad, isn’t it? There’s such a huge divide between cheap and very very expensive. And what contributes even more is the branding and marketing of designer goods – it costs a lot to maintain that brand image, with advertising and such, that the extra cost you’re paying is not always reflected in superior quality. We’ve lost that middle ground, where you can pay a little more and get a little better quality.
      I agree, balance is important. Knowing a little more about what you’re buying helps us to make better decisions!

  4. Joost November 19, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my radar. I have the feeling that I don’t need to read it to be convinced, but rather it might help my state my case better.
    So I am worried about getting rather preachy after reading it. Many of my friends now already role their eyes when I’m ranting about clothes again :)

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:35 am #

      I know that feeling exactly. I can’t help but get excited when I talk about sewing and making your own clothing and the joy it can bring! Which of course can get me wound up into a long speech.

      I try to think of it like this – I can perhaps inspire someone to try sewing, to think about their purchases in a different light, and to learn a little more about where their clothing comes from if I present it as ‘Here’s what I do, and why I feel strongly about it’.. rather than ‘here’s what YOU should do or else you’re doing it wrong.’

      Good ideas spread through excited, passionate people! Especially if someone else brings up the subject – it shows they’re interested!

  5. Rebekah November 19, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I think this is important to think about. I recycle most of my clothes into play clothes for my daughter, which makes our seasonal budget for her very cheap. I would also love to start quilting, to take care of the scraps and old fabrics I’m started to get quite a pile of…

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      That’s a great idea – making adult clothing into smaller clothing when you’re done with it. Quilting looks like a great way to use up smaller pieces, and to keep the memories alive as Annabelvita mentioned above.

  6. Seraphinalina November 19, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I can’t part with me-mades just yet. Either they weren’t made well enough for me to feel comfortable passing them along or I love them too much. Some day I’ll have to do something with them.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      It’s a hard one, for sure! I’ve been sewing for long enough that I didn’t think that much about donating them. Plus, I always love finding someone else’s handmade clothing at the secondhand shop – it feels extra special to me! So I didn’t mind casting them off. Now, when I think about how many things aren’t going to be bought and re-loved, I’m going to try to reuse them in my own house first.
      I actually love finding handmade items in thrift stores that aren’t perfect. It’s part of their charm! Little awkward hand-stitches in the inside, two different colours of lining or hand-sewn tags are endearing to find.

  7. Becky November 19, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    I just read it too. One of the many things that surprised me was how the percentage of income that people spend on clothing has changed over the years. It’s very tiny compared to what it once was. What is considered affordable has really changed. How much clothing do I really need? I want to do a better job of choosing quality over quantity. I need to rethink what affordable means. I just started sewing, and I don’t know that I will ever be at the point in which all of my clothing is made by me. Over the last couple of years I have been trying to buy more clothing from small companies. I tend to avoid the mall more and more, but I also succumb to the temptation of clothing at Target way too much. (I live in Minnesota, the home of Target.) I will also be more strict with myself about what I donate. The nonprofits shouldn’t be going to their own expense to dispose of items that they can’t sell.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      I thought that was fascinating too! How people only owned a handful of outfits way back when and that was acceptable. It’s interesting because I definitely re-wear my favourite outfits over and over. I have this red dress that I wear at least once a week. I made it two years ago and it’s still in excellent shape!

      And yet, our society is kind of judgey about women who wear the same outfits multiple times. (Especially celebrities – judging how many times certain women wear the same outfit, like it’s so unusual!) I wonder how that contributes to the amount of clothing we buy. Even when I worked at the Gap, I wore the same black tee shirt and black pants every shift because I couldn’t justify buying new ‘seasonal’ clothing every three weeks when the stock rotated. (And I totally felt judged by the girls who lived for the Gap and for the new merchandise, spending their whole cheque on new clothes every pay period!)

      I agree with this – The nonprofits shouldn’t be going to their own expense to dispose of items that they can’t sell. Something I never thought of before this book. I always felt generous, giving my old clothes to a new home. I never thought it could not be a good thing.

  8. CarmencitaB November 19, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    I like to remind myself that they have yet to invent sewing robots.
    I don’t buy a lot but when I do, I know someone somewhere trying to feed and shelter family, maybe send the kids to school, sat behind the machine and sewed. I have utmost respect for that.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      And this is an excellent point as well. Thanks for bringing it up. I wish there was a way to solve all problems at once, there’s some points made in the book about towns where the entire town works at the factory. No factory = no jobs for anyone.

  9. teaweed November 19, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    I’ve read Overdressed and found it interesting, but sort of frustrating too, or perhaps overwhelming. After reading it, I still don’t know whether to avoid rayon, or buy organic cotton. I mean, it’s kind of too anecdotal, but not specific enough. Maybe I’m not being fair. I find myself thinking about a blog entry from Scrapiana almost as much as the whole book.

    I kind of disagree with a couple of her points. I think she over-emphasizes the flimsiness of fast fashion. I agree that fast fashion seduces us into acquiring more stuff than we need or even really want, but I don’t think it’s ubiquitously low quality. I’ve bought stuff from Walmart & Target that have lasted for years thru many wearings and washings.

    And at the end of the book she talks about sewing as a curative. While I love sewing, I think it’s a diversion, not a solution. Home sewing is a wonderful indulgence for those of us who can spare the time and expense. It’s wonderful to live and dress more mindfully. I’ve given some thought to how much it would cost me to make all or even a significant portion of my wardrobe. I can’t say it’s not worth it, but honestly, with my schedule (and budget), something else would have to go. I’d have to give up a friend, or regular exercise, or reading, or slow food, or something.

    Ultimately, I think the book celebrates sartorial hierarchy. I think cheap clothes show their cheap, but I don’t think they’re really less functional. So I aspire to snooty natural fibers that I’ve handcrafted into works of art, but that’s the same urge for status that drives consumption of fast fashion among people who haven’t the means to indulge in slow fashion. I think the only way to protect workers and the environment from the devastating costs of fashion is to take status out of clothing, and I don’t have a clue how that might work (or look).

    I’m sorry if this comment is excessively disagreeable. I’m glad I read Overdressed, and I enjoyed it. I’m glad it’s been popular and is sparking conversations.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 11:00 am #

      No, I enjoyed your comment! It’s OK to disagree. This is an interesting and complex issue and there’s no one solution to it all.

      I agree, lower priced clothing can last. I think it’s the throwaway mindset that’s more troubling, that and the power that large companies have over factories to demand lower prices. Or pulling a production order out of a factory can cause it to go under.

      In our busy lifestyles, it’s a real challenge to be able to make ALL of our clothing. I write about sewing and design sewing patterns for a living, so I’m constantly surrounded by fabric and sewing machines and I can’t even sew my entire wardrobe! It can be more costly, it is one hundred percent more time-consuming. It is however an alternative if you want to know exactly where your clothing came from and be sure it wasn’t made in unsafe conditions, then flown across the world to get to us. I struggle with this one myself because I really want to make all of my own clothing. I want to be a walking advertisement for the wonderful world of sewing! Slowly, it will happen. In the meantime I’ll do the best I can.

      I agree with your statement that cheap clothes aren’t any less functional. I had a pair of $12 Target sandals that I bought in 2007 and they’re still kicking.. ok, they’re on their last legs, but I’ve walked hundreds of miles in them. Would a more expensive pair have lasted longer? Perhaps. But five years in $12 sandals is a pretty good deal.

      Interesting thoughts on status. I’ve never thought about my aspirations to make all of my own clothing as a status thing, more a statement to the power of making your own clothing. An inspiration for people who think sewing is all artsy-craftsy and knitting is for grannies. (No, it can be for modern women, too!)

      Thanks for the comment!

    • duck November 20, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      I agree — especially that fast fashion isn’t necessarily low quality. I had a pair of H&M pants that I wore for years — they only just wore out! And I have Ikea furniture from 1996 that’s holding up great.

      Another book that I like — sort of in the same vein — is Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas. She does a great job of showing the insane amount of work Hermes and Chanel put into crafting pieces, and zonks some of the so-called “luxury” labels for scaling back on quality.

  10. Lauren November 19, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Ah, I’ve been dying to read this book since it came out – and I’ve been on the wait list at the library for MONTHS. Actually, I’m next in line to get my copy, but the jerk who has it right now has been hoarding the book for a couple of months at this point. So rude haha!

    My issue right now is trying to figure out what to do with my me-mades that I know I’m not going to wear anymore. In the past, I just donated them without a second thought, but a lot of the stuff now is just a weird fit or strange cut. I doubt it would get reworn, and some of the fabric was too expensive for me to bear parting with. I forsee a lot of skirts made from dresses in my future.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      I think it’s awesome that so many people are still using the libraries. Isn’t the book waitlist feature awesome? In mine, they’ll put the book on a shelf for you and label it with your name, so you can pick it up quickly! So easy.

      It’s an interesting question, what to do with handmade clothing you no longer want, love or fit. I did exactly the same thing – donated them without a thought – but now that I know more, I want to find a better solution. Skirts from dresses sounds like a good plan – or facings, pockets and other inner pieces cut from old garments maybe. Underwear from knits and soft fabrics? I’ll keep you guys posted if I come up with something new or brilliant.

      • Esz November 19, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

        I dont know if you guys have similar things in the US and Canada but here in Aus there are lots of community organised markets where you can purchase a stall for the day and sell off your stuff.
        This is what I did recently and included in my pile of things to sell was a few of my older handmade garments. I put only a very small price on them – never more than $20, and most of them sold! One girl even commented how happy she was to find something that fit and bought quite a lot.
        The market cost $25 for a stall which I shared with a friend, and was held at a suburban community centre.
        The fees aren’t anything like eBay and you don’t have to go to the trouble of posting things!
        I guess these can be better than donating to charity because you’re taking out that middle man and you’re seeing who your clothes go to. And the money you make can still be donated – or keep it like I did ;-)

  11. Charlotte November 19, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    I read it…and it made me start sewing. :)

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      That is wonderful! :)

  12. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) November 19, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    I agree with Lauren above, hard to donate stuff particularly in the case where they are so custom fitted and/or there is no size marked in me-made garments. The idea of using things for facings etc is a great one.
    I just made remade a skirt and part of a jacket from a coat, spurred on by the refashion content on Pattern Review, and wow – a very satisfying feeling. I kept looking at the coat in my closet and thinking that the fabric was way too nice to get rid of. So now I have a great new skirt and a good feeling. I plan to try this again.
    And like Lauren, I waiting for my library copy. (separate topic of worry – that libraries will diminish due to e-book trend) hope not!

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      That is great to hear about your successful refashion! I love the idea, I worry that I’ll get distracted by newer and more exciting projects before ever getting around to refashioning. (And then collecting boxes of no-longer-wearable clothing to remake, but never getting to it.)
      I hope we always have libraries! I’ve just started using mine a lot and love the book holding service, the free ebooks, and the fact that it’s only a block from my house. (Plus it was a free, quiet place to work before I moved into my office.) I’ve always loved the library.

  13. Ari November 19, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    This is an interesting subject. Something similar happens in other domains too. I just moved to China for one year (work related stuff, I’m an engineer) and I visit on a weekly basis factories where most of the popular electronic devices are built. This changed my life forever. It is always something magic about buying new stuff with a nice package. Now, all I think about is workers that do the same thing over and over again for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week . A quality check team has to look in a microscope to some tiny devices all day long. I think after one year they all have vision problems. There is a lot to talk about: exposure to chemicals, the amount of garbage a factory produce, the impact on the economy…
    The idea is to keep in mind that almost everything that is mass produced greatly affects the environment and the people involved.
    In future I will buy as much as possible from the small businesses in my country. I did this before, but I never realized the other side of the story.
    We should take care of anything we buy or create and don’t let any product become a waste just because a new one is on the market.
    I like DIY and I started sewing just about a year ago. (By the way, my first blouse was a Pendrell). Some of my friends have a handmade business as their single income generator and I plan to join them in the future :)
    I agree that there’s a balance to be found and that is a different story for each of us.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Yes! I’ve been to factories when I worked in the clothing industry, and you’re right, one person does the same thing, over and over, all day long. (Imagine being the welt pocket maker? Welt pockets, nothing but, all day long, every day.) It makes sense that it would be the same in the electronics industry. It’s easy to disassociate ourselves with the production when we’re eyeing the shiny new iPhone in its sleek packaging. Far from thinking about the people who built it.

      I agree, mass production affects the environment. Even the air freight from China to North America – that’s an airplane transporting garments over the ocean to get to us. Or ocean freight, three weeks on a boat. I remember hearing about someone who came up with the brilliant idea to actually sew clothing ON the boat. So those three weeks weren’t wasted in transit, they were part of the sewing time. Could you imagine being confined to a boat for three weeks to sew?

      There is a balance, and awareness is the first step. Just thinking more about it will help us make the right choices for us.

  14. Stephani November 19, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I agree with a lot of what teeweed has said. Human beings are fundamentally status-focused, aspirational creatures. It’s one of our strengths, actually, and one of the things that spurs us to create beautiful works of art and better performing products–but it’s also a weakness. We will never, I wager, separate clothing from status. It’s far too ingrained in our culture–all our human cultures, not just Western.
    Sewing is a wonderful pastime, and I love it and wouldn’t part with it. But it is not the cure to fast fashion. At least not these days, when the production of textiles is so expensive and environmentally damaging, the tools required to sew can be so expensive and out of reach to many many people, and the skills necessary to create well-fitting garments are not widely practiced. Also, the vast majority of people do not have the time in their lives to give to sewing most of their wardrobes and those of their families. We have to work to support ourselves, our families, and our hobby. (And do you think the vast majority of gents will ever get on board with sewing their own garments? Hells no.)
    That said, sewing, and knowing that I have the ability to make garments for myself that fit better and are more unique than I could possibly buy, has ruined my shopping experience. I can take 20 items into a dressing room, and come out with 0, feeling disgusted with the lack of quality and fitting discrepencies. It’s not often these days that I can shop at any store, even high-end ones on the rare occasions I visit them, and find anything I even want to try on. Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older; I am 35. But I think it’s more that nothing in shops suits my personal style, I know it’s not going to fit well anyway, and that given the time, I could sew something better myself. Except jeans. I’m not convinced I could sew jeans better myself.
    Anyway, sorry for the long ramble. It’s a complex issue, and it really is something we should all pay attention to: where our clothes come from, the conditions under which they’re manufactured, and their ultimate, not just immediate, cost. But we do also have to consider that many of the people employed to make fast fashion may not have another employment option, or one that offers anything close to the pay, low as it may be, offered by clothing manufacturers. I think there will always be a market for fast fashion, although it may shrink at some point. Then again, it could grow.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      Very true – not everyone has a lifestyle that provides them enough leisure time to sew! That’s a good point. I didn’t think about that.

      I can totally relate to your feeling about shopping. I can do the exact same thing, I have the motivation to shop, money to spend, and I couldn’t spend it if I wanted to! Fit is a major factor for me and the main reason I sew my own clothes. (That and my love of fun colours and prints and styles that aren’t currently trendy.)

      It is a complex issue, you’re right, and thank you for the comment! There’s more to it that just stop buying at H&M and the problem will go away. It’s not that simple. We’ve gone into different countries and provided an income for them, if we were to close down shop and move manufacturing back the US or Canada, we’d be hurting someone else in the process. There’s no perfect solution. But the more we know, and the more we examine our choices, the better choices we can make that are in line with our beliefs and our lifestyles.

      • ladykatza November 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

        To speak to the clothing a status, if you read “At Home” by Bill Bryson you will have learned that we learned to weave fabric into stripes before we figured out how to put a door on a dwelling. So saying that clothing and status will probably never be separated is a gross understatement, imho.

  15. Tara November 19, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I’m so glad you brought this book up. I recently made an early new years resolution not to purchase any new clothing items for a year, I have to use what I have or make it. I thought this would be a good way to take a hard look at how much I consume in the way of clothing, where it comes from, and whether I really ‘need’ something. I will also think harder about my choices for something made as I will have to go through the effort to make it, and as another reader pointed out, consider the textile manufacturing process. Where our clothes (or anything else we buy), come from is an interesting issue that most people don’t think about unless they sew or work in the industry. Thanks for bringing it up and for initiating a good discussion!

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! I was wondering if this post would prompt an interesting discussion and I’m glad it did. You guys are a smart bunch of readers!

      Needs vs wants are interesting to analyze once we take the time to think about it. I *need* to put something on every day, I *want* it to be interesting and feel good to wear. It needs to be warm enough for the cold, I want it to reflect my personality if possible. Quantity is another good point – how many work outfits do I need? How many party dresses? How many pairs of boots?

      I used to work in the apparel industry and now I do this, so I’ve always been fascinated with the motivation behind clothing purchases, how the industry operates and how I can make the best choices based on my budget and knowledge.

  16. CGCouture November 19, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    I read the book, but I didn’t take away as much from it as others perhaps. This could be because my situation is different though. We sacrifice A LOT so that I can be a stay at home mom. So yes, I only shop for discount clothing at places like Target and Walmart. Granted, now that I’m better at sewing, I don’t buy very much (except kids clothes–he grows faster than I can sew!), but I’ll admit that I’m more driven by price than by quality; I have to be (though I do carefully check over the construction before purchase).

    As a fabric consumer, again, I’m driven by price–I might look wistfully at the silks or the Liberty cottons, but I know that realistically, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I would be able to buy that sort of thing short of a VERY special occasion. And even then, I know that I would have to make up for it elsewhere in my budget. Perhaps that’s why this book didn’t really “speak” to me like it has to everyone else; because the kind of person she was writing to/about isn’t me at all, nor do I know anyone like that.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      Sounds like you are far, far from the woman who shops for fun and to ‘collect’ new outfits! Your motivations are totally different than women who brag about their new clothing purchases and seek out the latest trend. I could see why parts of the book would seem less relatable to your life and the people you know.

  17. Hearthrose November 19, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Fast fashion is just one of those things whose time is here… and whose time cannot possibly last. I read Overdressed some months ago, and what I was most struck by was the apalling amount of waste.

    I am nearly 40 (two more weeks!) and I am old enough to remember being taught to check seam finishes on important (costly) garments. I also remember how every style book begged you to spend money on well fitting, top quality basics, and use your mad money for the stylish extras. Does anyone else remember the charts for mix-and-match working wardrobes?

    Clothing costs no more now – and often less – than it did when *I* was a teenager. Since the rest of the economy is in a different place, it leads you to ask some important questions.

    I completely agree with the poster who said that our actions speak more loudly than our words. For myself, RTW fits very poorly, so pretty much all I buy is odd bits of knit that are -admittedly- disposable. Everything else, I make myself – and I strongly prefer natural fibers when I sew.

    One does what one can…

    A very important book.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      I would like to see these charts you speak of on mix-and-match working wardrobes! Funny how style books recommend buying well-made top-quality classics, yet these pieces are so hard to find. Even now I’ve read style books and they still recommend the same thing – buy the best you can afford for basics. The less money you have, the higher percentage of your wardrobe that should be classic pieces.

      For me as well, ready-to-wear clothing fits poorly and I hate alterations. I don’t want to pay for alterations that add to the cost of the garment that was supposed to save me time and money, not cost more! So I prefer to sew, as much as my time permits.

      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the book as well!

  18. Susan November 19, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Last July as a mid-year resolution, I decided, for budget reasons and because it’s difficult to shop with two young children, not to buy any more new clothes for myself but to just make them. While my decision has had its ups and downs, I’m very happy with it. My clothes fit better than they ever have, I am able fabric I love, and I no longer need to go out the mall or consignment shops with my two energetic children. Also, I’m surprised at the progress I can make with ten minutes here and there and while the children are napping.

    Another benefit is since it takes up to a few weeks to make each garment, I’m more attuned to what exactly I need.

    I read Overdressed and few weeks ago and felt even more gratified about my decision. I found the book eye opening and was especially disturbed that most donated clothing was not finding its way into other people’s closets as I imagined but instead had to be cut into rags or sent to other continents to be given to people who may not even want them because they already receive tons of clothing from the US.

    This has made me rethink how to reuse the handmade clothing I no longer wear. At the moment, I’m experimenting with remaking the garments into clothing for my small daughters. My 3-year-old likes when I make her something from a garmet I’ve worn because she can say she’s wearing “mommy’s blouse.”

    I guess I was really bothered by the discussion of waste in the book. Also, after ready “No-Impact Man” I’ve always wanted to find ways of generating less waste. I’m focusing on clothing first because that seems easiest. So far, I’ve cut up my 11-month-old’s worn-out clothing into squares for a quilt she’ll get when she moves into a big-girl bed. For the baby clothes that remain in good condition, I’ll sell in a garage sale, which is the same way I acquire my children’s clothing.

    As a sewer, understanding how garments are contructed is extremely helpful when buying secondhand. And knowing even the basics about fibers can tell you if something will fall apart sooner than later.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      I like this “Another benefit is since it takes up to a few weeks to make each garment, I’m more attuned to what exactly I need.”
      I’ve found this with knitting – if I’m about to invest months into making something, I want to be certain it’s the very best colour in a style I plan to wear for years. Investment pieces, really.

      I was also really surprised and disturbed to learn about the waste from secondhand shops. I would have thought that garments stayed there till they were sold, maybe discounted if they’d been around too long. I never realized how quickly they were sent to rags or shipped to other countries. It may be different in Canada, but through my volunteering at Dress for Success I also helped to process bags and bags and boxes of donations, and saw how much of it was donated with good intentions but was totally unwearable, much less for an interview situation. So I know what it’s like from the donations end, too! It’s not all going to a loving home right away.

      Thanks for the recommendation of ‘No-Impact Man” – I’m adding that to my reading list too. I read the description and look forward to it!

      Have you seen the movie Wall-E? Where the whole earth is covered with waste and people are living in space floating around on hoverchairs? I feel like that could actually happen if we aren’t conscious about the garbage we create. (I know it’s a movie, but I’m a visual person and seeing it like that is the mental picture I have when I think about waste..)

      My mom made a quilt out of my sister’s baby blanket, incorporating pieces of the blanket in with other fabrics, as the blanket was falling apart. I think the quilt for your daughter is a beautiful idea!

      • Susan November 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

        Ooh, using the baby blanket is a great idea. I love that quilts in the olden days tell a story because they were made from old clothing and blankets. I’m inspired by the idea of some day snuggling with my children under the quilt and reminiscing about their baby days. I’ve been cutting squares to include the parts of the baby clothes that contain the cute embroidery or applique or expression (e.g., “daddy’s girl”).

        I have seen Wall-E and it definitely presented powerful imagery. It makes me cringe to think of an earth that is trashed because of the growing acceptance of disposability. When I went to Lowe’s to buy a new washing machine, the salesman was impressed that my washing machine lasted as long as 10 years. He said that washing machines are designed to be obsolete within 5-7. That is sad because the materials could probably last at least 30 years, like my mom’s washing machine, but that the design was such that it would break down in 5-7?! Something is wrong if we are sabotaging good design for subpar in the name of disposability = a steady stream of consumer dollars.

        Thanks Tasia for this post. Definitely provides a lot to think about and I enjoy the discussion from the context of sewing.

  19. marthaeliza November 19, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    I know I won’t say this very eloquently, so excuse me in advance.

    Instead of the fast food/fashion analogy, how about a related analogy: cookware/fashion? Cookware serves a very important purpose, but I don’t go to Walmart and buy a new saucepan on a whim. Why not? Because I don’t need it to get the job done. I have exactly 4 saucepans, a few saute pans, a few dutch ovens…I have had them for over 20 years. They were wretchedly expensive and I could only buy one each year (all-clad brand), but I will have them forever, and I enjoy them every single time I use them. My favorite summer dress is almost 30 years old (I bought it new when I was in college) and like my cookware, I do careful maintenance on it. It has so many memories held in its warp and weft!

    A smart person once told me: “You can’t get enough of what you don’t really need.” I think she meant we keep gathering stuff (including food and fashion) to try to satisfy a craving that has nothing to do with stuff.

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      I like the analogy! It’s like furniture. I have a dining table, I don’t need another one.

      The thing is there ARE people who will buy new cookware just because, because the new one is the ‘it’ thing or they want to constantly upgrade. There are people who will buy a brand-new dining table just because it’s new and they want a new one, not because the old one had anything wrong with it and stopped functioning.

      It’s true, whenever we are gathering stuff like you say, to satisfy a craving, it’s time to stop and figure out what we really need. Comfort eating and retail therapy are a temporary rush but not a solution.

      I was flipping through a magazine while heating up my lunch here and every page is all like ‘Every woman NEEDS a clutch!” and ‘the ‘IT’ boot of the season!’ and ‘get this person’s look!’ It’s a constant flood of messages saying that what you have is not enough, you need more.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Stephani November 20, 2012 at 7:09 am #

        Goodness, yes, to the magazines! All media is flooded with the same messaging. Which is why I feel so much better about what I do have and don’t feel so driven to buy stuff just for the sake of having more stuff now that I don’t buy any magazines, particularly those fashion/general interest magazines aimed just at women. And since I don’t have regular TV/cable service by choice, I don’t have to put up with the incessant commercials, too. True, I miss out on a lot of news, but most of it isn’t atually news anyway, just hype and propaganda.

  20. Tasha @ Stale Bread into French Toast November 19, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    I strongly believe that learning to make our own, whether it is clothing, food, etc. is a powerful force for change. It’s true that we may not be able to make every single thing we (or our families) wear, but by making some of it, we are changing our attitudes about cheap goods, which may be even more important. I’ve read so many posts expressing the same feelings Stephani did about not being able to shop anymore. Making that break with the ad-filled consumer culture, which pushes us to feel dissatisfied with everything so that we’ll buy more stuff, could hardly be more important to our self-image, our life satisfaction, or our impact on the environment. The more of us, modern women (and men, not many sew yet but there are a lot who cook and do other DIY) with the luxury of time and money to think about and act on these issues, that can make the switch to more handmade and more conscious consuming, the more we can change our society for the better.

    Amazing topic, obviously!

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

      Yes, this exactly – ” ad-filled consumer culture, which pushes us to feel dissatisfied with everything so that we’ll buy more stuff” – we’re encouraged to shop and eat and buy new phones and cars so we feel better.
      I think whether we shop or make, whether we buy local or buy what our budget allows, the goal is to make the decision consciously. Not because that’s what the ads tell us, or that’s what our retail-happy friends are doing, but to make the decisions that fit our needs as best as we can, time and budget permitting.

  21. elise November 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Great post. I’ve been really eager to read this book but almost afraid to pick it up for what I’ll learn. The “exit plan” is something I’ve been thinking more and more about too. Thanks for the review!

    • Tasia November 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      It’s a good read, if you’ve read the comments already you’ve got an idea what you’re in for! At some points I felt sad, at some points I felt inspired and happy with my choices to sew and make and buy less and thrift-shop, at some points I wanted to get on my soapbox and tell everyone to read this and think about their choices.
      Even if we just make better choices more often, instead of making it an all-or-nothing decision, we’re heading in the right direction. Knowledge is power!
      Exit plan, yes. I’ve definitely been guilty of not thinking about what to do with the clothing I no longer love, fit, or wear. I am sure I’m not going to be perfect and reuse every little scrap, but I want to be a little more conscious of the waste I generate.

  22. Tasha November 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I’ve never read it, but I’ve heard about it, and I certainly do think about cheap fashion, and the fact in general that as women we do tend to be pushed to always have the latest trend, and have so much more…everything. More clothing, more accessories, etc. I’ve been thinking lately what I could do to have a smaller but better functioning wardrobe!

    I think there are just so many issues surrounding this ot can feel overwhelming… who made the $7 tee shirt? How much did they get paid? How was the fabric produced and under what conditions? Then again, it also makes me think about something I don’t feel I’ve seen discussed a lot on sewing blogs. How about the fabric (and other notions) we buy to -make- clothes (quilts, bags, whatever it may be)? I do see organic cotton advertised sometimes, but I do occasionally think I should probably be concerned about the quality and back story of the fabric (or yarn) I buy, too. I can feel good about making things for myself, and about supporting smaller businesses selling the raw supplies, but before it gets to their doors I have no idea. What else am I supporting that I might be shocked or appalled by if I knew?

    Sorry to go off on a tangent. ;) Interesting subject to say the least.

  23. PerlenDiva November 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Wow, this is an interesting discussion! I just have to think through whether I’ll make an inter-library loan or get the ebook now ;-)

    I try to make better decisions – whether it is the food I buy or the clothes I choose – but it also makes me sad when I fail my ideal, which happens too often just out of comfort or convenience (like taking the car instead of the bus, or buying meat instead of knowing how most animals are kept). Yet I hope that my more thoughtful decisions will have an impact in the long run.

    Re-using clothing: I like refashioning and have done a few nice examples,but I’ve also collected quite a to-do-pile, too ;-) I also like clothing-swapping parties or the German Kleiderkreisel.de-site, which is like a huge online-swap-party, to reduce the amount of clothes becoming waste. The book “Little Green Dresses” might be of interest as well – maybe not so much in terms of the projects included, but in terms of spreading the idea of recycling and reflecting on one’s shopping habits.

  24. Karen in VA November 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    I did read it and liked it. It’s on my Kindle, so may read it again. It fit into what I’ve been thinking about for some time – how much stuff (of any kind) do we really need? Does it make us happier? Who is paying for our consumerism? By paying, I mean the people who make this stuff in unsafe conditions, who breathe contaminated air, work long hours for low pay, and have no recourse if injured on the job. Are we saying it’s ok for others to suffer to feed our addictions? Not meaning to come across as preachy, just stuff I’ve been ruminating on for awhile…. I do recommend the book.

  25. anne November 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    I think about this a lot, but as a plus sized girl, I’ve had a hard time finding responsibly made clothes that I like enough to buy (a lot of them are made well, but not in styles that work for a plus sized pear shaped women). It’s very frustrating. Unfortunately, like the fitness/outdoorsy clothing market, there just doesn’t seem to be enough plus sized options (probably because there isn’t enough demand, yet).

    Of course, in recent months I’ve started working on improving my fitness, and losing weight as part of the process. I’m feeling more and more hopeful that I’ll be able to start finding clothes that I love enough to wear until they are in tatters, regardless of whether they are responsibly made or not. And, I’ve been thinking about learning how to sew clothes (at least a few basic tops). Which brings up an other issue: finding flattering patterns for my size XXL).

    • Kate November 24, 2012 at 5:24 am #

      As a fat person who sews I had to reply to this comment. Not sure if Anne will read it still had too. One thing I have learned is to never try and change my shape to fit into rtw clothes. If I exercise it is because I want to. I don’t diet.

      Since I started sewing more and buying less I have become more comfortable with my measurement, less aware of my rtw size but I have also gotten bigger. I am not saying that sewing makes you fat I am just pointing out that my growing size no longer depresses me they way it used to because I know that I can still dress myself no matter what. That is not a feeling I get when I shop.

      I have also discovered that a well fitting flattering outfit that I made myself makes me look better. People tell me that I must have lost weight, even when I know I haven’t.

  26. Ann November 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Interesting discussion. I will have to check out the book. I was just looking at somethings in my closet I wear that I made in high school- like 25 years ago!
    You should check out the kids book Joseph Had A Little Overcoat – really wonderful book showing each stage of reuse of the original overcoat from coat to vest to scarf to button with many steps in between.

  27. Amber November 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    I picked this book up the library where I work and found it fascinating… And scary. I haven’t commented before but felt compelled to send you my gratitude for discussing this topic. The book really made me reconsider some of my shopping— yes, I make a lot of my clothes, but I also frequent stores mentioned in the book. We do make a statement— and an impact—-with both our pocketbooks and our choices to sew our own clothes.

  28. Rachel M November 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    This is so interesting! I haven’t heard of this book, but I will definitely check it out!

  29. Louie2U November 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    I haven’t read the book but just reading your blog resonated with me. I’ve slowly gotten to the point of being fed up with mass-produced, season only, same/similar styles of clothing from the large chains. There is very little quality & everything is the same cheap finish.
    Once I subscribed to your blog awhile ago & commenced reading the articles/comments, I’ve been encouraged to purchase a 2nd hand dressmaker dummy, quality fabric & begun to sew once again. I sewed at high school, after it finished & when the kiddies were littlies but once I was working full-time & they were at school, all of my hobbies went out the window. You can’t have your hands on the steering wheel guiding the family without something falling off along the way! It just happens.
    At least this way, I know what I’m getting, choosing the design, the fabric, style & finish. It has actually done heaps for my own self-esteem. My 23 yr old daughter is taking an interest as well – bonus.
    Great article by the way. Always interesting to read. And, we are in Perth, Western Australia 0:)

  30. Sewing Sveta November 20, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    Thanks for this topic! Very interesting comments!

  31. Jillishness November 20, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    I felt the book had great merits, but I think it could have gone one step further in discussing methods of finding out how to determine the work conditions of not just the shop where your garment was sewn, but also the conditions of those that made the fabrics going into the garment.

    If you ponder some of the concepts of the book and apply them to sewing your own clothing, the manufacture of the fabric is still going to wreak havoc on the environment. We still have all the chemicals used in fabric coloring polluting water supplies and endangering worker’s lives if not handled properly.

    I had a real love for Bali batik cottons and rayons, but after reading this book, I’m concerned for those who make them. They will be working with hot wax to stamp designs, steam to remove the wax, and using soda ash to allow the dyes to set on the fabrics, just to name a few things done in their process. Are these workers being treated fairly? Has their safety been compromised to make the three yards I just purchased?

    I’m thinking more and more about the reuse of fabrics from thrift store purchases.

  32. Vanessa November 20, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    Like many people who have commented, I was shocked at the sheer volume of clothing that’s being purchased, donated, and turned into rags in short order. One passage of the book really struck me, when the textile recycling company representative said the quality of used textiles they’re receiving is markedly poorer than in years past. I’ve noticed this in my thrift store shopping, but thought it was just me being more aware of construction as my sewing improved!

    I could relate to the chapters on consumption. A few years ago I noticed I was shopping for recreation. It kind of freaked me out. To nip it in the bud, I took the Wardrobe Refashion pledge (which pairs abstaining from buying new manufactured clothes with creating handmade/refashioned items). Once I got out of the habit of trolling the aisles of the mall or Target, I didn’t miss it.

    My husband takes a different approach. To create more room in his brain for creative projects, he’s eliminated thinking about or buying clothes. Once a season he “shops” from his closet and stocks a drawer with his current wardrobe: 7 long-sleeve shirts, 7 short-sleeve shirts, and two pairs of jeans. He wears them until they wear out or he grows tired of them. Once they’re out of rotation, they leave permanently (either to my sewing scrap pile or the thrift store). It works well for him. I’d try it, but I think I love the creative process of making clothes and mixing together outfits too much!

  33. Denise November 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Thanks Tasia,

    I just asked my school librarian to order this for me. I’m teaching Fashion Merchandising next semester, and want this to be a big part of my course, so this was perfect timing! I’m hoping that students really start to think about the clothing purchases that they make, and what impact those purchases have. I love the phrase “nothing in life is really cheap. Someone somewhere along the line pays”. It’s how I’m introducing the course (and it’s a good reminder for me and my shoe habit).

  34. angie.a November 22, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    I didn’t read all of the comments, but have you seen the HBO documentary Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags? It is amazing. Amazon has it on DVD now (made to order, I’m not sure what that means, but I have ordered a copy!) It really opened my eyes to this issue a few years ago when it first aired, and I watch it at least once a year since I teach a Fashion class (in high school) and I show it to my students. I’m definitely picking up this book, or I might get it on my Kindle so I can read it right away! I know it will only reinforce my own beliefs, but I am enthusiastic about supporting anyone who spreads the word on the harsh realities of clothing consumerism.

    I don’t purchase much clothing at all, and sometimes I do purchase at Target or Old Navy. I think long and hard about it first though and I only buy pieces that I can wear and wear (not “throwaway” pieces, in other words). I wish that I had time to sew yoga pants and tank tops and running pieces, but I just don’t; I also wish I could afford to buy these things from reputable sources or Made in USA (or Canada), but…those items are so impossible to find and when I do find them, inevitably the pieces are too expensive for my budget. So I make what I can, I don’t have many clothes, and what I buy I make sure it is only what I need. I also try to purchase second hand and thrift and vintage, since I feel like I’m cutting the threads in the chain of manufacturing.

  35. Kate November 24, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    I am just reading it now and it got me to thinking about something a friend said a few weeks ago. He is a scientist who once fiddled with the DNA of flies to combat world hunger who now works for the Australian Government focusing on car development and manufacturing. My feelings about my close friend selling out aside he is very smart and always says things that give me pause and make me think.

    He mentioned that if everyone gave up buying their clothes and made them instead that it would slow down the growth of the world economy and maybe cripple it in a number of ways. Other then the obvious ways he pointed out that making your own clothes is so labour and time intensive that many people would have to spend less time working and entertaining themselves just to cloth themselves. As someone who has in the past called in sick so I can finish an outfit this obvious thought is revolutionary to me.

  36. Rachelle November 24, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    Thanks for bringing up this topic Tasia. Like most other commenters I think about these things and find it depressing but motivating. The thing about living counter culturally (I see shopping less and taking the time to DIY as very much so) is that it can be very draining if it’s not done in a community that gets it and offers encouragement and enthusiasm. That’s why your blogging about these hard issues is so great – you’ve gotten an inspiring virtual community together in this comment section! I just want to echo that small decisions do make a difference and I hope we are all excited for the small changes and conscious decisions we make, even thought they fall short (for now!) of fixing the whole problem.

  37. France Parijs May 1, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Great post. The book is on my list. In light of the recent tragic events in Blangladesh it becomes urgent to be aware and do something about the excesses of the sewing industry in poor countries. Thanks for your great input.

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    [...] first heard about this book because several of you mentioned it in comments. Later, I read a review on Tasia’s blog, and couldn’t wait to pick it up. I was especially intrigued because the book actually [...]

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