Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

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by Elizabeth L. Cline

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Until recently, Elizabeth Cline was a typical American consumer. She’d grown accustomed to shopping at outlet malls, discount stores like T.J. Maxx, and cheap but trendy retailers like Forever 21, Target, and H&M. She was buying a new item of clothing almost every week (the national average is sixty-four per year) but all she had to show for it was a closet

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Until recently, Elizabeth Cline was a typical American consumer. She’d grown accustomed to shopping at outlet malls, discount stores like T.J. Maxx, and cheap but trendy retailers like Forever 21, Target, and H&M. She was buying a new item of clothing almost every week (the national average is sixty-four per year) but all she had to show for it was a closet and countless storage bins packed full of low-quality fads she barely wore—including the same sailor-stripe tops and fleece hoodies as a million other shoppers. When she found herself lugging home seven pairs of identical canvas flats from Kmart (a steal at $7 per pair, marked down from $15!), she realized that something was deeply wrong.

Cheap fashion has fundamentally changed the way most Americans dress. Stores ranging from discounters like Target to traditional chains like JCPenney now offer the newest trends at unprecedentedly low prices. Retailers are pro­ducing clothes at enormous volumes in order to drive prices down and profits up, and they’ve turned clothing into a disposable good. After all, we have little reason to keep wearing and repairing the clothes we already own when styles change so fast and it’s cheaper to just buy more.

But what are we doing with all these cheap clothes? And more important, what are they doing to us, our society, our environment, and our economic well-being?

In Overdressed, Cline sets out to uncover the true nature of the cheap fashion juggernaut, tracing the rise of budget clothing chains, the death of middle-market and independent retail­ers, and the roots of our obsession with deals and steals. She travels to cheap-chic factories in China, follows the fashion industry as it chases even lower costs into Bangladesh, and looks at the impact (both here and abroad) of America’s drastic increase in imports. She even explores how cheap fashion harms the charity thrift shops and textile recyclers where our masses of cloth­ing castoffs end up.

Sewing, once a life skill for American women and a pathway from poverty to the middle class for workers, is now a dead-end sweatshop job. The pressures of cheap have forced retailers to drastically reduce detail and craftsmanship, making the clothes we wear more and more uniform, basic, and low quality. Creative inde­pendent designers struggle to produce good and sustainable clothes at affordable prices.

Cline shows how consumers can break the buy-and-toss cycle by supporting innovative and stylish sustainable designers and retailers, refash­ioning clothes throughout their lifetimes, and mending and even making clothes themselves.

will inspire you to vote with your dollars and find a path back to being well dressed and feeling good about what you wear.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Avis Cardella
The wastefulness encouraged by buying cheap and chasing the trends is obvious, but the hidden costs are even more galling. Cline contends that "disposable clothing" is damaging the environment, the economy and even our souls, and she presents a dense and sobering skein of data to support her thesis…Cline adheres to the "slow" mantra—"make, alter and mend"—and advises us to buy recycled, organic and locally produced clothing. She's a persuasive advocate…
Publishers Weekly
The good news for shoppers, notes Brooklyn journalist Cline in her engagingly pointed, earnestly researched study, is that cheap knockoffs of designer clothing can be found in discount stores almost instantly. The bad news is that “fast fashion” has killed America’s garment industry and wreaked havoc on wages and the environment, especially in China, where most of the cheap clothes and textiles are now made. A self-described shopaholic of low-end stores H&M and Forever 21, which emerged from the first budget retailers in the 1990s like Old Navy and Target, which marketed cheap fashion as chic, Cline traces the phenomenon soup-to-nuts from the sad consolidation of the big department stores and depletion of New York’s garment district, once supplying the massive labor needed for making clothes. From there, she takes her narrative to the factories overseas where workers are paid a fraction of what Americans earn. Cheap imports flooded the U.S. market, for example, shutting down textile mecca Inman Mills, in Greenville, S.C. Cline visited the root of inequity at massive, state-of-the-art factories in China where millions of “flavor-of-the-month” garments are manufactured for export, creating a new middle class for some Chinese while locking the lowest paid workers (also in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Vietnam) in nonunion, slave-like poverty. As the fabrication of artificial fibers takes a walloping environmental toll, Cline urges, in her sharp wakeup call, a virtuous return to sewing, retooling, and buying eco-friendly “slow fashion.” (June)

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.08(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Cline is the Michael Pollan of fashion…Hysterical levels of sartorial consumption are terrible for the environment, for workers, and even, ironically, for the way we look.”
—Michelle Goldberg, Newsweek/The Daily Beast
“How did Americans end up with closets crammed with flimsy, ridiculously cheap garments? Elizabeth Cline travels the world to trace the rise of fast fashion and its cost in human misery, environmental damage, and common sense.”
—Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation
Overdressed is eye-opening and definitely turns retailing on its head. Cline’s insightful book reveals the serious problems facing our industry today. The tremendous values and advantages of domestic production are often ignored in favor of a price point that makes clothing disposable.”
—Erica Wolf, executive director, Save the Garment Center

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Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting and eye-opening read; I would definitely reconmend this to anyone who buys clothes. Cline explains exactly where our clothes come from and how they get to us, in addition to where they end up when we're done with them--and the true cost of it all. She also offers up a number of solutions to the problems of fast fashion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An easy read and informative. There are some typographical/grammatical errors that disrupt the flow; but otherwise interesting & informative. From one who's already environmentally conscious, it was still able to keep my attention and interest throughout. The book is for shoppers, sewers, fashion-conscious and environmentalists, and for those who are none of the above. Read this; and then re-use, and recycle.
Blitzismydog More than 1 year ago
This is required reading for anyone interested in fashion or even just marketing trends. Cline addresses some trends that many of us who are 'regular' shoppers have already noticed ... trends like universal usage of cheap polyester and poly/blend fabrics; poorly sewn garments (demise of the French seam, linings); the demise of the American garment/textile worker; and the ubiquitous sourcing of garments in countries like China, Bangladesh, Honduras &c. Cline examines and traces back the trends and the marketing powerhouses (geometrically powered by the internet). She shows us how her own closet was full of cheap, 'disposable' clothes and shoes that could not last many washings/uses, and how she discovered the shoe-repair shop, sewing machines, and the art of crafting/reusing your own clothes. Clothing trends are on the rush-rush track of fast food; low-end stores replenish supplies weekly as well as stock new merchandise and new colors just as often. The constant production of cheap polyester oil-based fabrics also has consequences. Do you think that $5 blouse you donated to Goodwill is something they could actually sell? This is a wonderful examination of an industry that constantly hypes itself and pushes beautiful images into magazines, tv and the web with aplomb. But do we really need a closetful of cheap clothes? Cline concludes by examining alternative ways of shopping, reusing/restyling what you have, using tailors and shoe-repair businesses, and saving your money to buy wonderful, classic pieces made slowly and carefully using organic fabrics. Once again, it's up to individuals to make sensible changes (as perhaps we've done with our eating habits) and try, one at a time, to turn a wasteful megatrend around.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Doesn't focus as much on the environmental ramifications of "fast fashion" as I would have liked and sometimes focuses too much on banal character like youtube shopping hauler, but overall good read. I would recommend this to someone that doesn't already know much about sustainability.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He padds in circle around Sparkleflame. "Do you like to lead?" He asked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago