9 Ways “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” Changed My Life

Americans buy roughly 20 billion garments annually—64 items per person per year
Americans buy roughly 20 billion garments annually—64 items per person per year

I just finished reading Overdressed.  For you fashionistas out there, it will totally changed your perspective on the global effects of your shopping habits.  From the farms that grow our cotton to the upper eschelans of haute couture, Elizabeth Cline takes you on a journey through the supply chain, through fashion history, and through the world to talk about how far the fashion industry has fallen and what you – a smart, fashionable consumer – can do about it.

I highly recommend it as a read.  Besides the entertaining style and amusing (if a little too familiar) anecdotes, Elizabeth discusses some serious systemic issues associated with the current fashion supply chain that really opened my eyes.  You can purchase a copy here.

Here are 9 Things I’ve done as a result of her book

1. Inventoried my wardrobe.

My Closet
My Closet

It’s good to get down to basics and remember how much I own.  Elizabeth Cline opens Overdressed with the same exercise which comes to 354 articles of clothing.  My own spring/summer wardrobe (the half of my wardrobe I keep out during the summer) totals a sweet 282 items.  Since I rotate 75% of my wardrobe every spring and fall, my total wardrobe is projected at 439 items.  Yikes!!

Articles of Clothing Total
Tops & Blouses 16
Cardigan 5
Skirt 8
Dresses 27
Lingerie 108
Socks 20
T’s & Tanks 28
Belts 15
Shorts & Pants 6
Workout Pants 11
Shoes 20
Jackets & Sweatshirts 13
Purses 5
Total Summer Wardrobe 282

2. Renewed my dedication to buying “Made in America.”

American Flag made in the USA $16.95
American Flag made in the USA $16.95

Those purchases mean something – good, local jobs that support businesses and families right here in America.  Products made in the USA are much easier to find online than in store.  Some excellent resources:

3. Stopped saving for a pair of Christian Louboutins.

Farewell, my love
Farewell, my love

High fashion brands sport superior quality and better materials than cheap chic clothing, but not at a level that justifies the price point.  Overpriced fashion merchandise supports fat marketing budgets and expensive events that sell consumers on a brand that matters more than design.  Going forward, I’ll save my money to invest in quality products that may or may not have “Designer” appeal, and purchase “Designer” apparel only second hand, where I can enjoy all the quality at 20% of the price.

4. Stopped shopping at fast fashion retailers. 

Fast Fashion insanity at Forever 21
Fast Fashion insanity at Forever 21

This book really woke me up to the “crap” quality of fast fashion brands like H&M, Forever21, and Target.  They add buckles, lace, and ribbon everywhere to hide cheap materials and poor construction.  My money is better spent if I invest in fewer high quality pieces, even if they cost more.

5. Stopped donating crap clothing. 

If it’s crap (cheap, ugly, too trendy), why should I make a charity try to sell it out for me?  Less than 20% of the clothing donated to charity shops actually gets sold.  20%!?!?! So, clearly, I’m not doing Goodwill/Salvation Army any favors with my cast-off clothing.  Two key realizations stemmed from this:

  1. I can’t frivolously purchase clothing under the assumption that it will do “someone” good “somewhere” even if I get tired of it
  2. I should only donate/consign clothing that is classic, clean, in good condition, and sellable

6. Stopped throwing out fabric. 

If I can’t donate it, can I just throw it out?  NO!  Americans throw out 11.1 million tons of clothing every year – that’s 70 pounds per person on average!! Some alternatives:

  1. Convert clothing into reusable rags for household usage.  For example, a Swiffer wet mopping cloth or as a substitute for paper towels or napkins
  2. Take unusable textiles to a textile recycling location.  If you live in the NYC area, check out Grow NYC.

7. Read up on the Labor Relations of Different Countries of Origin.

Rescue workers and volunteers search by hand for victims amongst the debris of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 26, 2013
Rescue workers and volunteers search by hand for victims amongst the debris of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 26, 2013

China is in the news a lot, and actually has relatively strict safety regulations as compared to some of it’s poorer neighbors.  But what about Bangladesh or Turkey?  Bangladesh has factories that can barely stay upright even though it has been a year since a factory collapse there killed over 1100 people.  Turkey, on the other hand, has excellent safety regulations in place and legal protections for the formation of unions.  Just because it’s made overseas, doesn’t mean that it’s a bad place for workers.  Fair trade brands and websites are an excellent alternative for finding well made clothing at affordable prices by people who are treated and paid fairly.

8. Picked up a needle and thread. 

How We Tested Sewing Machines
Find out how Good Housekeeping “test drives” sewing machines

Actually, I’ve always done this.  My mother taught me to sew when I was quite young and I used to take on some serious projects.  I still pull out a dress I made in college for weddings and formal work occasions.  Lately, however, I’ve had a hard time finding the time for it.

Mending is easy and quick.  Altering clothing (pulling up hems, pulling in seams, or re-styling in a creative way) requires a little more effort.  Making from scratch will require at least a full day.  All three allow you to customize the fit of your wardrobe in a way that works for your unique body type and sense of style.  A few tips for the uninitiated:

  1. WARNING: Don’t rush these projects.  Give yourself plenty of time and do things slowly.  There’s no point in altering something that you sort of liked at one point in time only to end up with something that is completely unwearable.
    • Mending – close up a hole or pull up a hem – 30 minutes to 1 hour
    • Altering – 2 hours+
    • Creating from scratch – 10-12 hours
  2. Invest in good equipment.  If you want to make this a hobby, buy a dress form and buy a good sewing machine.  If you can find it, I recommend a used sewing machine that was manufactured before 2000.  Even the best sewing machines today have a lot of plastic components.

9. Sought out Ethical and Fair Trade Brands. 

I’ve always been big into consignment and second-hand charity shops.  Ethical and fair trade clothing brands are great for filling the holes in my wardrobe that used to be left by consignment shopping.  Based my experience (in case you haven’t done this often), the below is what you can expect to find easily.  The “buy new” column indicates clothing categories where I have not found a suitable alternative that is made in the USA.

Buy what where
Buy what where

A few great websites:

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