A Review: Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

I wish I could say I was surprised by the contents of Overdressed, but I really wasn’t. Author Elizabeth L. Cline does an excellent job highlighting the problems with disposable fashion. She opens with a brief story of how rapidly cheap fashion falls apart then quickly dives in to how easy it is to accumulate stuff. Stuff we buy but never wear. Stuff that doesn’t even really fit our personal taste or lifestyle, but we buy because it’s cheap and we’re there anyways, might as well buy something. Not said is how cheap fashion ties in to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) which is rampant in today’s Instagram, Youtube, Look At ME culture. But it’s there.

She covers the history of the fashion industry in America and does a good breakdown of how we went from a country that manufactures to a country that imports everything. Now, this isn’t ALWAYS a bad thing, and that need to import cheaper and cheaper goods has certainly helped raise the standard of living in some countries, which Cline does point out. But she also points out that not ALL factories are created equal, and some of those factories bear horrific consequences in the form of building collapse or factory fires, not unlike the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which helped launch Union control of the garment industry in the early 20th Century.

Cline covers how ultimately, the consumer plays a very large part in helping to end sub-par working conditions overseas by shopping responsibly and voting with their dollars when a corporate mission statement does not align with their practiced policy. She breaks down how fast fashion truly only benefits the corporations who produce them, but certainly not the end line buyer, who spends $20 on a cheap shirt, only to have it fall apart after two washes. But hey, it’s only $20, right? Not quite. Cline does an economic breakdown of just how much money you are throwing away by buying cheap.

The book covers how to distinguish between when a garment might actually be worth the several hundred dollar price tag, versus when a designer has ramped up the price to make a garment SEEM like a good buy. And she covers the beauty of DIY—make it yourself, and you will always know what the quality is. And you’ll always know that it’s 100% your sense of style driving the boat, not what a corporate trendsetter says fashion should be. Cline admits that sewing will probably never be her milieu, but has at least purchased a sewing machine so that she can tailor her own ready made wear to specifically fit HER, as tailored garments are another casualty of the fast fashion trend.

And she covers what happens in a thrift store: All those garments we donate to Goodwill, thinking we are helping out the poor. If they don’t sell, SOME of them are shipped overseas for re-purposing. Some them are not, and end up in landfills, as highlighted in this article from CBC.CA. And she talks about how less and less likely African nations are to want our cast off clothing, when cheap fashion is even being made readily available there. Why buy it used, when you can own cutting edge fashion, straight from the factory?

Overall, this was a very educational book. It is eye opening to see the true cost of fast fashion.