Tuesday, March 19, 2013

my thoughts on "Overdressed"

I finished it last week, and to be honest with you, I’m having a hard time moving on to something else. I feel like I just want to hang out with it for awhile. The book, "Overdressed, the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" by Elizabeth L. Cline

My entire life, I have loved clothes. Even before I had much say about my own wardrobe, I was dressing Barbies and dreaming up fashionable outfits from paper towels and scraps of fabric for them. When I started babysitting, every penny I earned went toward clothes… and when I learned to sew, for fabric. Then I went on to college. My machine stayed home and I was sucked into the world of having a stuffed closet. More meant better, in my eyes.

But despite many closet and wardrobe overhauls in my adult life, I still always struggled with having a great wardrobe that was representative of me, and therefore would transcend the trends and latest styles and still look awesome. Instead, I find that I end up with a whole bunch of this and that...impulse buys, clearance purchases and bad decisions ( many of which end up donated).

I wonder if it’s because  in more recent years, I also got sucked into the world of fast fashion, a great bargain (or is it really?) and even, to my embarrassment, fast sewing? Always trying to keep up with the trends, and ending up with a good amount of disposable clothes in the process. Of late, I have wondered if I have too many clothes? Or at the very least, not a decent wardrobe of good quality clothes, or clothes that represent my own aesthetic? I’m just pondering out loud here.

I think it’s easy to lose your own personal style when you always have to wear the most current trend. Somehow, the revolving wheel of trends over the past several years has just made us look more alike than individual. Now, don’t misunderstand me…I love a good trend. That’s what defines so much of our fashion world and makes getting dressed fun (you will always find me doing a post on the latest seasonal trends and Pantone colors!) But there seems to be more of them popping up and more frequently. So for some of us, it drives us to the stores more frequently to buy clothing/fabric that has over time, diminished in quality and craftsmanship….just to wear the latest thing two or three times and then we’re done with it and on to the next thing.

I spend a lot of time in stores, often browsing, seeing what I can re-create, and of course, checking the sale racks. While reading this book, I had a heightened awareness of not only the quality of items but the very fast movement of items from new to clearance. I have been shocked at the hanging threads, loose buttons, unfinished sweater seams, poor zipper application and serger thread tails that are found in better department stores! I am shocked at how one week, there is a whole section of new styles and colors, already at 25% off, and the very next week it's moved to a clearance rack!
I loved the idea of slow fashion discussed in this book. I know this is in me….little seeds of desire to make my clothes last and to cultivate a more significant appreciation for what I make and what I wear. I’ve always loved to recycle and re-use, and have always appreciated the aspiration to better detail, fit and technique in my sewing. I’m not saying I’m ready to shift to a total hand sewn wardrobe. That’s not entirely practical for me, given my work schedule and sewing time. Plus, I don't like to box myself into a place where I have to feel guilty about grabbing something off the rack that just plain pleases me.

I guess I'm saying that I would like to begin to think more thoughtfully about my style and my buying habits and the clothes that I make and wear. It may take longer and I may have fewer, but my desire is to just be more counscious of what I have, and make  better use of my ability to create something of far better detail and quality than I can buy. I am inspired by Carolyn, The Refashion Co-op, The Handmaker's Factory and Goodbye Valentino's movement of RTW Fasters. There is also  a new crop of ladies who are accepting the challenge to Sew Your Own Wardrobe for A  Year.  It's no surprise that we are coming full circle to meet up with the pleasures of fashion sewing.

I would encourage you to visit their sites and see what makes these ladies tick. And I would encourage you to read this book. It’s a very interesting overview of the garment industry and how it has changed in the last several decades.  As people who sew, I think reading it will only deepen your passion for taking time to create the most quality wardrobe that you have the ability to create with your own hands.

I'm not prepared to make any kind of a cultural or politial statement about the clothing industry. But I have decided that I'm a bit too old to look good in bad quality clothes.

Have you read "Overdressed?"  What were your impressions?


  1. I just finished it last week. It verified my feelings of Trend Fatigue. The trends come way too fast these days. Like you, I am much more interested in slowly sewing a high quality, classicly styled wardrobe that fits.

  2. This book certainly does give one food for thought. As sewers - we actually have an "out" by sewing our own clothes. How does the rest of the world cope, or do they even care? People that I know only seem to be interested in "a deal" and "the latest". Rather sad. Unfortunately, it seems that the "cheap" stuff is infiltrating the sewing world as well, as it has become difficult, or even impossible to source quality fabric locally for a lot of sewers. Thank goodness for internet shopping.

  3. It sounds as though both of you have fallen into the fashion trap and have not developed your own sense of style which transcends all these things. You build your wardrobe on classic basics and then add trend pieces to jazz things up every season - it could be a scarf, earrings, nailpolish. My dress style is classic/casual/preppy/gamin, but you cannot buy these sorts of clothes where I live for love or money. I do wear fashion things too, but always for a defined reason. I agree with Irene's comment regarding fabric as well. I have a huge stash, but it is always dedicated to collecting classic, quality fabrics. I'll be developing this theme on my blog during the wardrobe challenge.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Sarah and Irene, as far as fabric. I am more and more disappointed at the offerings at my only local source of fashion fabric.
      Have you been to Ottowa Street in Hamilton, Ontario? I understand it's a fabulous district for fabric shopping. And only an hour's drive or so for me.

    2. Hi Lynne, and Irene, and Laney - yes, fabric is diminishing in quality, but then turnover is what the producers want - our society is called a consumer culture for good reason. I wish I lived close to Hamilton Ontario, but I live in Hamilton NSW Australia - and there is a very limited supply of fabrics here. Luckily I can manage with very basic stuff, and order online when I want something good. I have an old house too (Federation, circa 1912) - looking at Laney's comment - and yes, people did not need storage then for consumer clutter. They only bought what they needed. The French still operate this way - small apartments, small wardrobes, and a small collection of good clothes twice a year. I'm just amazed at how many bathrooms and leisure rooms people need now - just think of all the cleaning!

  4. I read it about a month ago and it certainly made me stop and think. I'm afraid this trend of "cheap and disposable" isn't limited to fashion. I live in a 60 year old house with small closets. Back then, people didn't need closets the size of their bedroom to hold their clothing. As a society we have most certainly gotten caught up in the "more is better" mindset at the expense of quality.

    Great post, Lynne.

    1. Laney, you are SO right. We seem to need bigger closets, more bathrooms in our houses! It astounds me to see listings of 4 and 5 bathroom houses! I thought it was a pretty big deal when I bought our second house that it had a bath and a half! Our current house was built in 1920. And it has room sized closets...a rarity for this age of house. But it's built in the Craftsman style, which means every space is utilized to it's best potential. But still, only a bath and a half!

  5. I really think my AL would love this book and so would Channon!!

    Im horrible with clothes. I buy them cheap, and throw them away as soon as I get the inevitable un removable stain!!

  6. Thank you so much for the mention Lynne :)
    Obviously, this is a subject dear to my heart, and I couldn't agree with you more. Fast fashion, while not bad for our personal health like its counterpart, fast food: is very bad for our society's and economy's health, longterm. We can't change other people, but we capable of changing our own habits and attitudes. I see sewing everything for myself is a pretty good way of slowing down, and enjoying both "fashion" AND the creative process, and a unique wardrobe is the cherry on the top!

  7. It's one of the main reasons I continue to sew nearly 60 years after getting my first sewing machine. Quality is hard to find even at the most exclusive of stores these days and when you do, it's frightfully overpriced and often under-styled.


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