In many ways I did not need to read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline. But in just as many ways I needed to.
The work with this book began when Cline had an epiphany that her shopping habits were not the source of happiness she sometimes thought and not only was it hurting her soul as it were, it was also hurting people in the developing countries and the environment.
I never got into the whole fast fashion thing; I come from a line of makers and even though there is very little concern for the environment to be had, there is a lot of “showing respect for the time that went into making the garment”.
It is also a fact that I’ve liked fashion and adored clothes and style most of my life. I absolutely shop on the high street and think that Zara and H&M have a lot to offer but I don’t get all that much there and the stuff I buy is not exactly trendy either. I don’t go in there to get a “look” as such(those haul-vidoes that I’ve seen most make me sad. Unlike skin care haul videos ..).
It’s always been a lot of second hand/vintage and homemade stuff for me. I’ve said more then once that the best place to shop is my mom’s closet. And since my way of dressing is known to others I get fabrics as a gifts when people have traveled and friends give me a call when they clean out their closets and cupboards(actually some of them ask me to come over and help).#blessed
So a lot of what she is saying doesn’t apply to me; I have a different consumption pattern. However a lot of other people do shop that way. And it seems to be about the shopping, not about the clothes which it’s very problematic because we cannot keep this up. And up until now I have gotten a lot of black tights from H&M every fall and winter so I do “help” to keep them in business. I’m part of the problem.
One of the things that was eye-opening to me though, was the point that most of these companies are paying just minimum wages or having such a loose structure of negotiations that they take very little responsibility for the conditions in the factories. We are often told by media that our consumption is creating jobs in the developing countries, and that these jobs are better then they would have had otherwise. Cline shows this not to be true. In fact the minimum wage isn’t enough to live on so workers are dependent on overtime. Some companies demand that the workers are paid more then minimum, but they are not paying more per garment to compensate; the cuts are made when it comes to safety to keep the profit margin stable. And these fashion companies are making so much money it’s hard to get your head around it. The price of these garment is low but the cost is still high. There is no such thing as a free lunch. (Damn it Milton Friedman; why are you always right about that?)
Another thing that connected to my own experience was the fact that second hand clothes are not as good as they used to be. Very few of the garments from the high street have any second hand value. They are not made well and fall apart quickly, in addition the materials are difficult(and not really worth) making something else out of. The chapter about how the clothes are treated when they are donated to charity is a wake-up call, or should be for many. Handing in things to charity, thinking you’re doing good when you are in fact just off-handing your bad shopping to someone else to deal with.
The chapter that got me all excited is obviously the end where she discovers the joy of sewing and taking care of her clothes. One of the perks of doing your own thing, and not being very trendy, is that you are rarely un-fashionable. And that is pretty much what is “style” is. Hear hear for D.I.Y. ,using old stuff, swapping, buying vintage and all that.
Cline writes well, she is informed and she does a thorough job of it. Touring factories, talking to experts and during the whole ride we are there alongside with her.
It’s an “easy” read even though it will give you a bit of climate anxiety. Still you should read it, even though it’s got a few years on it the situation has not gotten a lot better.
I’ve linked to this before but a part of the book can be read here. The book can be bought at all the usual places. I got the copy I read from the library in Stockholm.