Book Review: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion

This I Wear | Book Review: Overdressed
The biggest perk of a public transit commute is the opportunity to read more than you ever thought possible. And I have been speed-walking to the train and reading about anything and everything but fashion, because, to be candid, I needed a little fashion break.

But I found that the more I didn’t read about fashion, the more I saw it pop up in the most unexpected places (which reminds me of another book). At the risk of you judging my reading list, I recently finished “The Lady’s Maid: My Life in Service” and couldn’t help but focus on how Lady Astor would wear and re-wear and re-fashion clothes into something fresh all the time, even with endless amounts of money, mostly because that’s just what people did at that time. And as I read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” I became surprisingly interested to learn about her own shopping and closet clearing habits and how she believes they affect her (and everyone’s) happiness.

But to really delve into understanding what our culture’s current relationship is to its clothes and to shopping, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion” by Elizabeth Cline is a must-read. I literally have pages and pages of notes I took from this book, because I was blown away by the knowledge she was laying down.

Here’s a few jaw-dropping statistics directly from the book:

  • “The United States now makes 2% of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50% in 1990.”
  • As recently as 1995, “apparel importers were often able to get their labor costs down to less than 1% of the retail price of their clothes.”
  • “Every year, Americans throw away 12.7 millions tons, or 68 pounds of textiles per person…1.6 million tons of this waste could be recycled or reused.”
  • “The natural resources that go into fiber production every year now demand approximately 145 million tons of coal and somewhere between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion gallons of water.”
  • “By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume.”
  • China has “more than 40,000 clothing manufacturers and 15 million garment industry jobs. Compare that to the 1.45 million garment and textile industry jobs the United States had at peak employment some 40 years ago.”

Cline isn’t writing for the educated ethical fashion consumer. She writes for people who like her have struggled with overflowing closets, the thrill of a sale, and a limited budget. And I appreciate that she shares her own struggle in the book. In some ways, “Overdressed” is Cline’s own Happiness Project: an attempt to clean up her closet, find clothing that made her feel good, and bring some meaning to her wardrobe.

So who should read this book? The reader who identifies with Cline’s quest:

  • “I owned more clothing than I did anything else and probably knew the least about it of anything I bought.”
  • “If I wanted to buy well-made, fashionable, moderately priced clothing, I wasn’t sure where to look.”
  • “I intentionally avoid buying plastic products such as bottled water because they are oil-dependent and not biodegradable, yet here I was with a closet full of the stuff.” (i.e. polyester)
  • “When we entirely gave up homemade and custom clothing, we lost a lot of variation, quality, and detail in our wardrobes, and the right fit along with it.”

So please read it, if only because I really want to talk about it more and I need someone to talk with about it.

What are you reading lately? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your current reads.

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