Reading List // Overdressed

July 3, 2012
 Images: Book cover of Overdressed, Clothing waste from Kids off the Kerb, Closet from A Beautiful Mess

Have you shopped at Forever21, H&M, ZARA or any similar large mass-market fashion retailer in the last month?

Before I read Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of fast fashion by Elizabeth Cline, my answer would definitely have been a “yes”.

The topic of production and consumption in the fashion industry can be quite a touchy subject, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while – both as an industry professional AND a consumer – and truthfully, it is something that affects anyone who has ever purchased a piece of clothing for themselves.

Cline’s book takes a scrutinous look at the history and development of the industry itself, and she thoughtfully chronicles her frank and very personal realizations and thorough research as she goes.  I was a little hesitant to read this book, because I had a hunch that I’d end up feeling pretty convicted about the pieces hanging in my closet, but it was actually quite the opposite.  The first paragraph instantly drew me in with the it’s relatability (packed closet, nothing to wear, anyone?), and then the rest of the book deftly held my attention by it’s captivating account of how “budget-friendly” apparel and accessories can have an irreversible effect on our society, our environment, our self esteem, and our economic well-being.

A quick look…

  • The problem:  Mass production and mass consumption of poorly constructed pieces and fleeting trends have done a number on what was once a thriving and respected fashion industry.
  • The solution:  There are numerous ways that we can work towards hopefully someday reversing the damage, and the best news I gleaned from the book was that we CAN make a difference even just by implementing a few small changes to how we shop and how we treat the clothes that we currently own.

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview Cline, and our chat confirmed something that I already suspected from reading her book: Her honest and open look at this topic stems from a realization that she first saw by looking at her own habits/attitude, and the self-searching tone combined with an encouraging optimism left me feeling much more hopeful than I had expected.  Her desire was not to come across as sounding preachy or judgmental, but instead wanted to begin what she believes to be a much needed conversation among our generation.

Since finishing the book and then having our heart to heart, I’ve found myself craving more quality clothing and less junk, and I’ve noticed that a genuine interest in caring for my existing garments has been renewed.  Though I know some will strongly disagree with me, I’ve personally come to see “fast fashion” as something that I’d simply rather try and avoid.  I’ve come to believe that it can be a blatant assault on both the environment/economy, a waste of hard earned money, and I have also realized what a traumatic blow it is to the livelihood of mid-market and smaller independent retailers and businesses (many of whom I’m honored to have as industry colleagues and friends).  Full disclosure, I’m not promising that I’ll never set foot in any of those stores again (either online or real life), but reading Overdressed has given me a new perspective and it’s one that has already taken my shopping decisions in a much more intentional direction.

Going forward: As a follow up, I plan to put together a list of the ways that I’m trying to be a more thoughtful shopper, and you’re welcome to share your own thoughts and ideas with me in the comments section below.  I’d love to have a healthy discussion here, so feel free to weigh in, and I’m truly looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

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40 Comments

  • Reply livefreeandfashionable July 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    What a fascinating post! I have always wondered about this. It will be hard for me not to shop at lower priced stores simply for budget reasons, however, when I can I will try to aim for better quality clothing. When I think about my grandmother’s closet she has great pieces she has kept for years. That can only have something to do with the quality of the construction. It definitely makes you think!

    http://livefreeandfashionable.wordpress.com/

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      I also wondered about the budgetary issue before reading the book, but there is definitely an argument to be made that if you added up all of the dollars spent on poorly made clothing, it would add up to much more than what you might spend on nicer pieces that lasted longer.

      She also got me thinking about the fact that a lot of times we feel the need to buy more things at a lesser value just to keep up with the trends, when we could be saving up for those more classic pieces that will go “out of style” less quickly (if at all). Thanks for weighing in, and would definitely recommend that you read the book if this is something that interests you! :)

    • Reply Noubar ltd. July 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      Very Interesting. It is always better to buy quality over quantity. However, I think it is important to be able to have a balance of expensive and cheap trendy thrills because some styles come and go more rapidly. I often try to pair expensive jeans with a cheaper going out blouse. Also, if you simply don’t have the ability to save up and buy the expensive item, but want to look on trend when you are going out then you should by all means go for the mass produced items.

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      I also like combining a healthy balance of high and low items, Noubar, but going forward, am going to try to keep from finding my low-$ items at the “fast fashion” stores for ethical/environmental reasons. There are so many other great ways to find budget-friendly pieces that are totally on-trend, and I’ll be sure to provide a complete list of ideas in my follow-up post!

    • Reply Merl July 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Fashion these days is insanely cyclical which means that many thrift stores will have items that can be integrated into your current wardrobe seamlessly. If those aren’t up your alley, resale shops from Buffalo Exchange also offer current fashion at very reasonable prices that is also eco friendly. It’s actually absurdly easy to have a budget conscious AND eco friendly wardrobe as long as you put a tiny amount of thought and direction into your shopping methods. Shopping at the mass produced stores is a cop out as far as I’m concerned, and limits your overall creativity. They have no life to them, no personality. I would, hands down, always prefer a unique, one of a kind vintage dress or handmade piece of jewelry that not only looks good but makes you FEEL good over something that took me two seconds of picking out my size amongst 483 of it’s identical neighbors in Zara. All that said, I do have clothes from newer stores.. but it’s always a well made piece that’s going to live in my wardrobe for a long time ie, it’s a simple classic shape and can be used in a multitude of outfits. Sorry for the novel Jess ;)

  • Reply Kimberly July 3, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Very interesting – now I kind of want to go buy the book! I agree with what the above commenter said – and it is what my site is all about: affordable fashion. I do agree that some pieces at F21, Target and H&M are poorly made (“junk” as you referred to it), but I also have a few items that have lasted for years from these retailers – I believe there are gems to be found if you look closely and seams & construction and are a bit more picky when buying from budget-friendly stores. But, I also see the value in investing in quality clothing that will last forever and are classics that won’t be out of style in another year. I think it’s important to find a good balance and make smart choices. :)

    http://www.pennypincherfashion.com

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      I definitely have a handful of mass produced pieces that have last a REALLY long time, and I think you’re totally right about trying to spot well-made pieces amidst a sea of things that could be classified as otherwise.

      My current problem with shopping at these places (regardless of the quality of the pieces that I leave with) is that it supports a large wedge of the industry that doesn’t necessarily mesh with my other beliefs about the actual production of the garments and the accompanying environmental consequences that can go with it.

      Thanks for weighing in, Kimberly!

  • Reply Kathleen Lisson, CSW July 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for this book review. I had heard of the title, but I hadn’t gone to the store to look at the book yet. I am so picky about my clothes, maybe this book will give me a solid reason to continue buying quality pieces.

  • Reply Kathleen Lisson July 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for this book review. I had heard of the title, but I hadn’t gone to the store to look at the book yet. I am so picky about my clothes, maybe this book will give me a solid reason to continue buying quality pieces.

  • Reply allie July 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I think the only reason people DO shop at Zara, Forever21, H&M, etc. is because of the price – & the price only. I fall in love with several pieces at higher prices, but am determined to find a replica at a cheaper price. In the end, I am left with a piece of clothing that is only worn once or twice, and damaged far too quickly. I also think “trends” play a big part in this. Sure, there were trends 50 years ago – but as soon as Madonna rocked a cone cup bra you didn’t see girls racing to the store to buy it. Trends are always changing, and because of blogs, magazines, celebrities, we are always fighting to keep up with the trends, resulting in more clothing, less money, and us shopping at these cheap stores. I wouldn’t say I’m a trendsetter, but I do go crazy on ridiculous trends I won’t see myself wearing 20 years from now – jean vests, high low skirts, or mini dresses. Over the years I have bought so many cheap items, that I am finally realizing I need to invest in pricey, quality paces that are known to last and will carry me through the years (for example: Forever21 jeans compared to JBrand jeans – & I just bought my first pair of JBrands!)

    Just rambling, but it’s true. At first glance, it’s easier to buy a cheap product because you lust it. But step back, & it’s smarter to buy a more expensive item because you need it.

    Great post, Jessie!

    Allie at alliewears.com

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks, Allie! And congrats on your investment purchase! :) XO

  • Reply Alyssa July 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Great post! I can DEFINITELY relate to the overstuffed-closet-with-nothing-to-wear thing. (eek!) Really want to read the book now. thanks!
    -Alyssa
    thesparklylife.com

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks, Alyssa! It’s seriously such a good one… Definitely would love to hear your own thoughts after you finish it!

  • Reply April July 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Great post, Jessie! As with anything we do, as consumers it’s always great to take a step back and see what’s really going on. I took a class this past week which really opened up my eyes as to where our food comes from (have you seen Food.Inc?) Too often we sacrific quality for price…I think this is why I enjoy thrifting so much. At the thrift store you can find quality clothing for a fraction of the price. Thanks for sharing this info with us!

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      Thank, April! I have seen Food, Inc. and was totally intrigued and impacted in a similar way.

      Can completely relate to your love for thrifting, and agree that it’s a GREAT way to try out new trends while keeping things out of the landfills at the same time.

  • Reply Sara B July 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Hmmm, so interesting. As someone who swears up and down by Forever 21, there is a part of my heart that says, “nooooo I don’t want to hear this stuff!!” but just like food inc totally opened my eyes to things I needed to see and hear, i should probably read this as well. wish i could sit down over a glass of wine and yummy food and hear you tell me more about this book!!! love you, thanks for your insight and am proud of you like always!! xo

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 2:35 am

      I actually thought of you while I was writing this… would love to have you read the book and let me know what you think! Wish we could chat over a glass of vino, too! Let me know if you want me to send you my copy! :) XO

  • Reply Shanna Keller July 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I love the way you’re thinking, Jess! I’m proud of you for researching these issues and writing an honest, balanced post about them. Over the past few years (while AK’s been in school) I haven’t had much of a budget for clothes, even from mass retailers. I’ve been able to spruce up my wardrobe with thrift store purchases and regular clothing exchanges with girlfriends. I also love shopping at clothing resale places like Arizona Trading Co or Ditto. The final secret weapon in my arsenal is etsy, especially for jewelry and accessories (but even clothing sometimes too!). It feels good to support a small business venture and wear something handmade (or even custom).

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 2:39 am

      Thanks, Shanster! You’ve been a huge encouragement/inspiration to me on this whole topic. Thanks for weighing in! :)

  • Reply Mrs. Collins July 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I found your blog as I was reading through Ann Taylor’s blog. I love it!

    Your review of this book has certainly caught my attention. I love to mix low end with high end pieces. Everyone has mentioned budget being an issue and I agree we all want to be on trend and sometimes don’t consider the environment or the economy. I’d love to read this book!

    What do you think about the designer collaborations such as Jason Wu for Target, Alberta Ferreri for Macys, Trina Turk for Banana Republic, Versace for H&M, etc? I think we all want to own a high end item but I don’t think the same quality is put into these pieces. So you get a designer brand but the product probably won’t hold up!

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 2:42 am

      Awesome, Mrs. Collins! So glad you stopped by, and thank you for joining in the conversation.

      The designer collaborations are something that I haven’t quite figured out yet… Cline talks about them briefly in the book, and I think I pretty much agree with you on the quality vs. designer product issue. Can’t imagine that they last for very long, but I haven’t actually purchased any to be able to tell for myself. Keep me posted!

  • Reply Lexi July 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I definitely want to read this! My mom always taught me quality over quantity, especially when it came to clothes. I’d rather have a beautiful, and somewhat expensive coat, that will last me ten years, than 4 cheaply-made trendy coats that fall apart on the third wash.
    ♡ Lexi
    FASHION: Glitter & Pearls
    WEDDINGS: Glitter Weddings

  • Reply Spenny B July 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I read something in Crain’s New York not too long ago about the growth of fast fashion and how some specialty retailers are sort of mimicking them in ways, which actually seemed like a good thing. It noted Brooklyn Industries is trying to freshen their merchandise more often per season in order to stay competitive, and in the process has decided to try and move more sourcing to the US. It took 6 weeks for them to design and deliver something they produced locally, whereas it would’ve been something like 5 or 6 months if they produced it in China. I think Zara and those heavyweights still beat that timing, even coming from overseas, but it’s still cool to see smaller retailers adapt in positive ways.
    http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120513/RETAIL_APPAREL/305139979

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 2:43 am

      Thanks, Spenny B! Can’t wait to read the article, and would love to discuss next time I see you. :)

  • Reply Gray Skies July 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I just put that book on hold at the library after reading your review. It sounds interesting and enlightening. Honestly, I too have always been hesitant to read anything on the topic of “fast fashion,” because I do enjoy shopping at stores like H&M and Forever 21 every now and then, but I also know that I would probably be very convicted by anything I read on the subject.

    I think part of the reason I love fast fashion is because I have a style blog. Buying inexpensive clothes frequently from mall stores is a way that I can try out new looks and keep my blog from getting repetitive. Because I know that if I didn’t have a blog to showcase my outfits, my wardrobe would probably be at least half the size it is now.

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 11:48 am

      I can totally relate to everything you said here… As Merl mentioned though, there are definitely other budget-friendly ways to keep up with the trends. Stay tuned for my next post on the issue to read about some other helpful ideas. :)

  • Reply anne m bray July 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks for the great review! I’m also going to check it out from the library. I also read a review in the LA Times, and it’s nice to get a Style blogger’s perspective.

    There’s another issue with fast fashion. Knockoffs.

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Cline touches on the knock-off issue just a tiny bit, but you’re right – that particular topic could easily fill a book all by itself, I’m sure!

      Glad you liked the review, Anne! :)

  • Reply Terri July 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    I’m really very curious to read this book…although it’s not much different than globalization in the food industry. We’re careful about what we eat…why not clothing. I’ve always seen you as a proponent of thrifted and vintage clothing.

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

      I agree about the parallels drawn to the food industry (something that I feel fairly familiar with), but was definitely still surprised by several details.

      Glad to know you associate me with vintage/thrifting apparel – shopping secondhand is definitely my favorite way to make my own little impact!

  • Reply Pixie July 5, 2012 at 2:15 am

    I have sworn off these stores as well, fast fashion seems like a terrible burden on the planet. I’ve decided I’d rather save up for nice, well made pieces. In addition, I’ve discovered my “secret shopping weapon”…high end consignment shops. They are awesome if you live in the NYC area…or right across the river in Jersey :).

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 10, 2012 at 1:13 am

      SO true, and thanks for sharing the great resource, Pixie!

  • Reply Hilary July 5, 2012 at 6:31 am

    I’ve been thinking about this recently as I just did a late spring cleaning/closet re-organization. I realized that a lot of the pieces I own really aren’t fit for more than cover ups given the rate they’ve worn out at. But I, too, have some clothes that have held up. No doubt my $10 Forever 21 jeans have lasted significantly longer than the $200 Habitual ones I bought from Anthropologie. I used to only shop at higher end places, but I’m just super hard on clothes. Whatever the case, it’s nice to see others are chewing on this issue as well. I’d like to see if the book can help justify investment pieces to my wallet, lord knows I don’t need to convince anything else.

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 5, 2012 at 11:56 am

      Hi Hilary! I’d say the book definitely made me crave more quality clothing, and at first I was nervous about the impact to my wallet. What I’ve found, however, is that if I skip buying five $20 tops from one of these stores, I then have $100 to put towards something that is more of an investment piece.

  • Reply standardofelegance July 6, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I definitely understand where you and Cline are coming from. Cheap retailers take away customers from the high-end, well-crafted fashion houses. However, coming from a middle-class family who never put much stock in higher end retailers, the majority of my closet is Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE fashion. I want to work for a fashion mag someday. The prices at DVF, Chanel, Proenza and the like are just way to high for my (and most people’s) budgets though. It isn’t realistic to buy $1200 purse when I’m trying to furnish an apartment. If designers want more customers they need to consider lowering their prices. I realize they use much sturdier and better quality materials but can’t they have a little sympathy? At this rate, I’ll never be able to purchase a Birkin. It’s frustrating and that’s why people turn to cheaper options. I guess I don’t know what the answer is. It’s an endless cycle. Thanks for the post anyway!

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 10, 2012 at 1:24 am

      One of the things that I found so interesting about the book was that she actually DOESN’T make a case for shopping at the high-end retailers as an alternative.

      Some of the fashion houses that you mentioned have environmental/ethical policies that aren’t much better than the fast-fashion stores. By saving the money you would normally spend at F21 and putting it toward well-made pieces that will last longer, you will end up getting you more bang for your buck!

      Believe it or not, there are gorgeous, well-made leather handbags out there that will be around for as long as you keep them, and at just a few hundred dollars (or much less at a consignment store!) that’s still just a teeny tiny fraction of the cost of a Birkin. Chic and smart at the same time!

  • Reply theglossarie.com July 10, 2012 at 1:05 am

    i love this! i’ve been feeling this way lately myself (no. more. target. sandals. lara.) and i’m really trying to focus on bringing more quality garments into my wardrobe. i might have to scoop this book up!

    • Reply Jessie Artigue July 10, 2012 at 1:24 am

      Thanks, Lara – I can definitely relate! I’d be happy to send you my copy to borrow if you’d like!!! XO

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