Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L Cline

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Up until recently, I didn’t really think about where my clothes originated from. I usually bought $5 shirts from Wal-Mart or other similar outlets, always looking for the best deals and not considering the longevity of my clothes. In short, I was your typical consumer. In Overdressed, Elizabeth L. Cline investigates how the current age of “fast fashion”-clothing that is in one week and falls apart the next- and its origins and what that means for the economy.

Cline described herself as being a typical consumer-not knowing much about fashion. She often frequented H&M, Forever 21, and other stores commonly found in North American shopping malls. She found our current state of fast fashion so perplexing it led her to going so far as to visiting China and Bangladesh in order to see just how our duds are made. She found it is quite a shift from two generations ago- in 1950, the average American household made $4237 annually and spent $437 on clothing (and much of it was still homemade). Nowadays, it is cheaper to buy ready-made clothing than to buy the raw materials and make them ourselves-a skill long lost with the boom of fast fashion.

Besides economic impact, Cline also looks at the environmental impact our clothing has. The textile industry is cited as the second most polluting industry in the world, yet it is not one that gets the most publicity. In many cities where fabrics are produced, the water is tinted various colours due to the lack of filtration. Commonly used fabrics like polyester are manufactured from oil, and take hundreds of years to break down in landfills. With the rise of fast-fashion, second hand clothing stores have an influx of clothing that they can barely keep up with, leading many of them to discard clothing that isn’t sold within a number of weeks.

All of these issues with fast fashion pose the question of “What are we as North Americans to do?”. Cline interviews various people and businesses who all have a different answer to that question. Some individuals have decided to make nearly all of their clothing themselves. Some companies have put ethical practices, good wages and sustainable fabrics at the heart of their business model. Whatever the answer is, the fact is the current model of fast-fashion is cannot continue: something must change. Overdressed will certainly make that fact very clear and show a new perspective.

 

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