I have a… treat for you this week. My utterly fashionable and very well-read workmate, Emily, did what I wouldn’t couldn’t – she read this book:
She’s kindly written a wee spiel about it for us, so read on and conquer!
Confession: I’m addicted to cheap fashion. Despite an otherwise strident sense of social justice, I’ve tended to block off the part of me that worries about where my clothes are coming from in favour of snapping up bargains.
It was with a sense of trepidation that I picked up Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed, nervous that my worst fears would come true. Cline explores the dangers of the way that we shop, exploring the phenomenon of fast fashion, dwindling quality of construction, conditions for garment workers and the afterlife of our charity shop donations. Conversations about cheap fashion are hard, often coming across as preachy and striking fear into the heart of those, like me, who relish the fun and creativity that comes with clothes. Overdressed isn’t going to make you feel good. At first. But Cline manages to turn a dour subject into something of a manifesto for the ethical fashion enthusiast, acknowledging the fun that comes with dressing well even as she addresses the problems with our taste for ever-cheaper goods.
There are too many scary trends highlighted in the book to recount in detail but the most striking point for me was the huge slump in quality in modern clothing. Amazingly, a bargain basement woman’s outfit at the turn of the twentieth century was around US$200. In today’s money, a huge investment! Well into the 1960s and 1970s clothing prices for the everyday outfit strike the modern reader as staggeringly expensive. Modern clothing has ditched the sharp tailoring and quality fabrics that make the outfits of Mad Men so covetable in favour of simple, synthetic pieces with pretty shoddy sewing. It’s not just the planet, workers and retailers who are getting a rough deal from modern fashion, it’s the fashionistas themselves. Future generations will begrudge us the gorgeous quality vintage that we can snap up now when we leave behind a legacy of raggedy, polyester clothes.
The good news is that Cline’s recipe for becoming a more ethical shopper doesn’t involve the dire commandment to build capsule wardrobes stocked with crisp white bamboo shirts and tailored pants. Here are some tips that I picked up and (hopefully!) want to put into practice:
• The most important point! Get a feel for quality. Next time you’re shopping take the time to feel fabrics, check out buttons and seams and read labels. I had a neurotic trip to the mall after reading Overdressed in which I madly felt up clothes all over the place, it really helped to curb those impulsive spends on cheap, throwaway items. Set your own benchmark and don’t settle for the barely sewn on buttons and seriously flammable looking polyesters.
• Work out roughly how much you spend on fashion each year and figure out how you could make the same amount of money go further on items from quality retailers and secondhand or vintage buys. Stores like Savemart offer secondhand gems without the pricetag.
• Shop what’s already in your wardrobe and have fun experimenting with outfits and unusual combinations. Organising your wardrobe into shirts, skirts, dresses etc will help reduce the “I’ve got nothing to wear” panic that causes constant shopping trips.
• Think carefully about charity shop donations as they receive a lot of broken and flimsy donations that are no good for anyone. Repair any flaws in the garment, try it out in different combinations with your other clothes or offer to your friends before donating.
• Learn how to sew! Girls in the past would alter most of their clothes to get that perfect fit whereas now we tend to accept clothes the way they come. Our library is full of guides for the absolute beginner. Learning how to repair and alter your wardrobe is a huge asset and Overdressed already has me lusting after my own sewing machine. If you’re not into DIY sewing look out for alteration services.
Get your stitch on!
The moral of the story: something needs to change pretty soon but ethical fashion doesn’t have to be uninspiring. Face your fears and give it a read.