Style Nation, I am about to do something very bad. Very, very bad, since so many of you are academics. I am going to write about a book that I have not read. I just read an excerpt from a book called Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
The excerpt is available on Slate. You can buy the book here. You could also, of course, get it from Amazon, but it seems bad to be talking about the impact of cheap clothing and post a link to a cheap source of books.
My impression is that the book points out that we, as (North) Americans–which is to say that the book is about the US but as far as I can tell, the basic trends also apply to our northern neighbors (feel free to way in IPF ladies and Kelly)–dress fundamentally differently in an era of cheap clothing than we did when goods were higher quality and more expensive. Basically, in our current world, clothing is a disposable good, where as it used to be more of a long term investment. The book, as I understand it, talks about what it means to have storage bins and bins of trendy, poorly made outfits. It goes over the cost to “us, our society, our environment, and our economic well-being.” I want to read this book, but I am not sure that I want to take quite such a long, hard look in a mirror.
What I did read was the State article and I was shocked. Basically, the article points out that we all believe that there are charities just waiting for our clothing. That what we do not want, our cast offs with their labels still attached, our barely worn and discarded fashion trends will find homes through the Salvation Army or Goodwill. That they are not waste. Apparently, this is not true. We produce old clothing at a rate that we cannot consume in thrift stores and there is an entire industry that is dedicated to sorting the clothing that cannot find a home in the American second hand market. Much of it goes to Africa, where internet shopping and low priced Chinese clothing are giving people the ability to be much more selective about what they will use. Plenty gets turned into something else. Even more becomes garbage. The shear scale of the waste was amazing.
Some other observations were amazing as well. Did you know that the average American woman owns 7 pairs of jeans but only wears 4? I have no idea what counts as “jeans.” All denim pants? Black denim? I am almost positive (but not completely) that I do not own 7 pairs of jeans and once I get all of my wardrobe under one roof, I will find out. But wow. Just wow.
And so here I am on my anti-consumption bandwagon. Back to wanting to say “have a few items, make sure they are good quality, take good care of them.” But Style Nation, I have a hard time spending serious money on a dress when I could get something that looks as nice (in the short term) for 1/4 the price. I like the allure of something new. While I love classic looks, I fear the frump and I haven’t quite figured out who I want to be in terms of my personal style. And who I would be if I had more money to put into this project. And that limited but high cost wardrobe? It still costs serious money to get it up and running. And the cost of making a mistake gets so much higher.
But then again, my house as 3 1940s sized closets, which were, presumable, considered enough for 3 people. And each and every one of them is packed full of my clothing.
What do you think, Style Nation? Talk to me, talk to me about being fashion forward, budgeting responsibly, being environmentally aware, and being worried about sweatshops all while needing to step up your wardrobe to professional levels and earning so very little. And while we are at it, let’s about about Nicholas Kristoff pointing out that since for many people, the choice is not actually sweat shop or union shop, but rather sweat shop or harvesting a garbage heap, that maybe sweat shops are the lesser evil.