Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion: Discussion!


This book was as concerning and overwhelming as I predicted. It ended on a positive note, though, and for that I was appreciative. I’ve typed out a few passages from the book I thought were interesting and worth discussing.

“Sewing should be a good job; it should be a great job.” (page 142, 2nd paragraph)

I agree. Sewing, healthcare, teaching, food production, and childcare should all be great jobs. The jobs that either sustain life or attend to our basic needs have become menial and unimportant. Athletes, celebrities, 7-figure authors–entertainment, in other words–are who and what we exalt and consider of value.

China has become the colossus in the field. Chinese apparel imports to the United States have more than doubled since 2005 and now account for an astounding 41 percent of imported clothing. In certain categories, China totally dominates, making 90 percent of our house slippers, 78 percent of our footwear, 71 percent of our ties, 55 percent of our gloves, and roughly 50 percent of our dresses. (page 164, 1st paragraph)

I’ll just let you noodle on that for a bit.

The Chinese factories make the whole process of garment production very easy. But they can also make the process very hard, as Karen Kane has experienced. Michale Kane says, “They have such a monopoly on manufacturing now, especially in apparel, that they really can dictate whatever quality they want to put out. And you really can’t challenge them. You’re kind of locked in.” (page 166, 3rd paragraph)

We see a shift from this attitude when the book ends–China is becoming too expensive a producer and more fashion lines are looking to bring production back to the States–but it’s worth noting that it never pays to give anyone or anything too much power over you. Checks and balances, people. The Roman Republic figured that out several thousand years ago.

Clothing that isn’t produced at resource-draining quantities or by shortchanging the people making it is not cheap. Clothing that is well made is not cheap. (page 207-208, 3rd paragraph)

I have argued this point so many times online and in real life that I don’t have anything more to add than, “No duh.”

Hah. As if an opinionated loud mouth like me would be so brief! I would add that many expensive status labels do not, in any way, shape, or form, equate to quality. In my opinion, you start to see a diminishing return on investment when you get into some of the more ludicrous luxury labels, along with no significant improvement in quality.

So why not take more risks with our clothes? In a way, personal style has become an imperative. Trends change so fast now that we are handed two choices: Change trends like a maniacally flickering light switch or have the courage to develop your own look. (page 209-210, 2nd paragraph)

I knew that stores were getting shipments of new clothes every couple of weeks, but I didn’t make the connection to impact. As strange as it sounds, I have been aware of the fast fashion concept and yet completely unaware. I don’t know why I thought Fall fashion kept arriving in stores until Spring. I honestly didn’t give it much thought. I certainly didn’t consider what it meant for our economy and environment.

Because when I walk by an H&M or an Old Navy or a Target, I see what once looked like fashion meccas for what they really are: unsightly jumbles of cheap clothes dressed up as good deals. When we can recognize how clothing is put together, what it’s made of, and can visualize the long journey it makes to our closets, it becomes harder to view it as worthless or disposable. (page 221, 2nd paragraph)

I agree, sort of. I believe this is true if you treat your clothing solely as disposable objects. I do not. I’m a proponent of altering clothing to fit and flatter, but I’m not a seamstress. I don’t know how to make compression pants, and I like the 3 pairs I have from Old Navy. The goal, I believe, is to reduce our shopping and eliminate the fast fashion mindset. I didn’t buy 12 pairs of compression pants from Old Navy because they were on sale ZOMG! I bought 3 pairs because I walk every day and I thought that was a sensible number to have in rotation.

I do want to take a class in sewing. I’ve been tempted with the idea for a while, and this book convinced me I should take the class I’ve been eyeballing.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    OK, I didn’t read the book but I want to chime in anyway. Meg Wolfe has a great list of resources for places to buy clothing with the goal to “avoid supporting sweatshops and companies cited for human rights violations, to support our local economy, to decrease resources used in transportation, and to perhaps get clothing made to higher standards.” You can find that here: http://minimalistwoman.com/the-mindful-shopping-list/

    The thing that completely changed my relationship to clothing is Project 333 (which you can read about here: http://theproject333.com/getting-started/). It sounds extreme–33 items in your closet for 3 months–but it will change how you do clothing. (I wrote about what it did for me here: http://theproject333.com/how-clothing-shapes-our-lives/)

    Yes: When I walk into most stores now, all I see is mounds of junk. Sweaters are the worst–thin things that lose their shape and start to pill within several washings, even from “good” stores. I haven’t figured out how to really do this better, but it’s something I’m working at.

    • says

      I love the 333 project too. I used to buy in multiples but I’m trying to break that habit. 33 is really a lot of clothing if you work on a capsule wardrobe. My favorite inspirational site for capsule wardrobes is The Vivienne Files

      • says

        Rita, what an amazing source list! Thank you! I’m stuck on the very first shop (Cut Loose) on Minimalist Woman. I can’t imagine how good the others are. It’s my style, too. Classic, simple.

      • says

        Feel the need for a quick disclaimer: I have more than 33 items in my closet now (though not too much more than that). I never counted accessories/jewelry, the way you are supposed to. The biggest realization for me was how much junk I owned that didn’t fit/feel good that I bought because it was the right price. And how much money I wasted shopping that way. I’m so much happier with fewer items of higher quality.

  2. says

    I found it fascinating to learn all the behind-the-scenes of clothing production. I didn’t realize how recently the price and quality of clothing dropped so dramatically. I have always been a sale shopper, but not really a recreational shopper. I get so frustrated when clothing wears out after only a few months. I do have some sewing skills–I alter things for my family, but rarely for myself. My mom was a home ec teacher and a very skilled seamstress, so I’m looking forward to taking some more lessons from her (I think they’ll be more successful than when I was 12). I was also inspired to think about what clothing and fabrics I really love (hand knit sweaters!), and take charge of my own style. At just about 40, I don’t need to be trendy–I need to be myself (also, I just find skinny jeans uncomfortable to wear).

    • says

      I was fascinated by the behind the scenes info on production, but positively amazed on the behind the scenes info on donations! I guess I just assumed there was a home for everything. How naive of me. It was only in the past year or two that I got over being trendy, so I know what you mean.

  3. Val says

    I kind of wrestled with this book. On the one hand, it was really well-researched and on the whole, very thought provoking. But over and over again I found myself completely frustrated with the author. Like you said above, I had a billion “No duh” moments. It was great that she was willing to be so honest and vulnerable about her own naivete, but how was she so freaking clueless?

    I have a theatre degree and worked in the costume shop throughout college, so I do know a lot more about clothes than the average bear, I guess. I can sew and I have a good guage on quality and I understand how labor-intensive the whole process is. So maybe I was too hard on her? But how do you go shopping several times a week, own massive amounts of clothes and not know anything about all of it? You spend all this time and money on something and you’re not the least bit curious? Am I being too harsh? Am I just getting old?

    The stuff about price expectations was the most interesting to me. About how we’ve been on this steady diet of cheap fashion for so long that we turn our noses up at anything over $30 and think someone is trying to rip us off. And I really liked that she addressed the disappearance of a middle ground here – everything is either super cheap crap or ludicrous “luxury.”

    I feel like I really could go on and on and on – so that bodes well for the book and this topic, I guess. But I will pipe down and not post a whole other blog entry down here in the comments…

    (And you should totally start sewing! It’s not hard, you just have to have another human being teach you. This book has made me want to finally learn how to sew with stretch fabrics, which has been holding me back from making alot of my own everyday clothes.)

    • says

      I couldn’t believe she walked down the streets of NY carrying that bag of, what, 12 or so pairs of canvas shoes? Actually, I can’t believe she bought 12 pairs of $5 canvas shoes. Or how about that she had more than 20 tank tops, skirts, and I don’t even know how many blouses? I think she had a problem with compulsive shopping/recreational shopping. I’m lucky to have missed that vice. The thought of clothes shopping every week makes me weak in the knees.

      I haven’t checked out the sewing bloggers she mentioned, but I remember watching some of those “haul” videos during the whole Target Missoni debacle. They sounded shockingly dumb. Sorry, that’s mean. It’s true, though. They sounded ignorant, shallow, and obsessed with nothing of importance.

      I am totally starting sewing.

      • Val says

        It is totally true though, even if it is mean! I sympathized with that girl who had the Gossip Girl Blog and was really into luxury goods. She totally went off the rails financially, but at least she was taking the time to really educate herself about something she loved. But these haulers and this crazy, recreational shopping? They’re like lemmings! Buying stuff without even trying it on? I had to keep reminding myself that they are really, really young. (But I didn’t do that crap even when I was young…)

        • says

          I didn’t do that sort of thing when I was young, either. I definitely see a cultural shift with the new under 30 generation. They have a lot more buying power (and credit) than I ever did.

  4. says

    I was also a little astounded at how clueless the author seemed at the beginning of the book. I mean everyone knows that part of the reason places like Forever 21 are so cheap is because the clothing is crap, right? I guess it’s ok for a party dress you’re going to wear once (sigh) but I don’t think anyone buys their suits from there, ya know? I thought it was interesting how she points out that one hardly ever sees fashion ads anymore, just sale ads. I also found interesting the part about thrifting. I’ve been an avid thrifter since high school (over ten years) and I’ve really noticed the decline in quality. Sometimes I still come across a great deal, but as a general rule I don’t buy thrifted stuff that’s Old Navy, F21, etc. because I know it will just fall apart the minute I get it home. I also pay a LOT more attention to labels–what’s it made out of, is it dry clean only, when was it made, etc. Here’s my question though: it’s all well and good to buy fabric and make your own clothing (provided you have the time, equipment, and inclination), but I’m under no illusion that all that fabric is lovingly made by people located in the US who are paid a living wage and cherish their high-skilled jobs.

    • says

      It’s not lovingly made, but she never really addressed that point, did she? I noticed that, too. Earlier in the book she talked about the rivers in India or Bangladesh running purple (or whatever color) because of all the fabric dye dumped into the water system. She never really says to sew your clothing–not the least because that’s impossible for most people–but she seems to hang her hat on refashioning and repairing clothing from thrift stores, which she earlier stated had gone down in quality. It seems like in lots of ways, you can’t win.

      I was never a thrifter, but once I started reading blogs, I decided to give it a try. In my area, it’s all disposable fashion that I found. I couldn’t figure out how people were getting all the amazing brands. It was nice to read that it’s not just me or my area! In a way, I guess it’s nice to read.

      You know it’s not just fashion that has become disposable. It’s everything, down to our furniture. It used to be that you bought pieces to last and pass down. Who is going to pass down that Target end table?

  5. says

    I loved the book and I hated it! I would love to find out where to buy quality goods that are moderately priced. There seems to be a huge divide between cheap clothing and high end-upwards of $200 for a t-shirt. I do sew and I often mix thrifted/ repurposed clothing with new items. I would love to invest in a couple of good pieces but it’s hard to tell now exactly what will last. The book left me wanting more. And it made we want to sew all my clothes :) Which I gess could be a good thing.

    • says

      She has a list of resources in the book, and someone in a comment below linked to it. I haven’t check it out, so I can’t say what the price point is.

  6. says

    Yesterday, I told my husband, “My clothes are old.” He looked at the wool sweater I was wearing, laughed, and said, “How old?” This one? 16 years. No holes, no rips, still warm, not trendy, no one gives it a second look. It’s a favorite. I paid more money for it, but considering the fact that it’s still in my closet (and still worn) 16 years later, I think that’s what you would call, “bang for your buck”.

    On the flip side, I squealed when I found “cashmere” sweaters at Kohl’s two years ago. What a deal! Guess what? They have developed holes faster than any sweater I’ve ever had. This year, I found quality cashmere on super sale at Talbot’s – and convinced my husband to let me try again. Perhaps quality over quantity will again win out. Only time will tell.

    • says

      I fell for the Kohl’s sweaters, too. Funny, do you find yourself apologizing/justifying expensive purchases, even when they are of superior quality. There is always a caveat. I bought this at Fancy Store, but it was on sale, a gift card, a birthday present, etc.

      • says

        In a sense, I suppose I do (make apologies) – but the frugal side of me does the {happy dance} each time I am able to score quality for less. In fact, I would say that it’s now not as much about apologizing because I paid $$$ for a sweater that I’ve worn for 5, 10, 15 years, as much as it is the thrill of the hunt, that I have developed the patience to wait until it goes on super sale. To be able to buy the clothing that I want (from the stores that I like), and still pay the bills? That’s reason for me to be happy. :)

    • says

      I think there’s great variation in cashmere–and I wish I knew how to judge it. I bought two better-brand sweaters last winter, thinking they’d last a good long time (and justify their cost), but both looked terrible by the end of the season. This year I bought two from a consignment shop. I figured if the sweaters still looked good after being worn by someone else, they’d likely last longer. I’ve worn them to death this winter, and they still look great. And cost half as much as the others. Live and learn.

      • says


        I’m beginning to think that everything is just made cheaper these days – even when the price is higher. I know what you mean about paying more now (only to be let down) vs. buying an older version and be thrilled. My sister found a fantastic (older) cashmere sweater at her local Goodwill for $2! She sent it to me, and I have now worn the tail off of it – it feels nothing like the cheaper (or rather, more expensive) versions that I had already – it feels like QUALITY.

        One side note, I read on some blog that it was worth it to buy a de-piller (or whatever they are called) and remove the little balls that build up on cashmere and wool sweaters. I paid $9 for one at Target, and the idea seems great, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet. The blogger’s idea was that we start taking care of what we already have, instead of throwing it out when it starts to show signs of wear. I like the idea…maybe it’s time to try it! :)

  7. says

    Hi Jules,

    I haven’t read this book, but I saw your tweet and came over to read the post anyway.

    “I’m a proponent of altering clothing to fit and flatter, but I’m not a seamstress.” I agree with you 100%; I can sew straight seams, and I make *really* cute pillows and hot pocket warmers, but I’m a lousy seamstress. And I don’t actually want to put in the effort to sew my own clothes. (Not knocking your choice — that’s just me!)

    What I am is a knitter — and getting to be a pretty good one. I have found that attempting to make even one garment (a, squishy, fitted sweater with a cowl neck) dramatically altered my view of what constitutes a quality piece of clothing and what real quality is worth. I shop from different companies now than I did before March 2010 when I first learned to cast on, I expect more from the clothes that I buy, and I want to know more about the people who make what I wear.

    Enjoy your sewing class. I hope you love it!

    • says

      I would love to be a knitter. I’ve tried it in the past and I caught on quickly…I just don’t make the time for it and have never completed a project. My problem is that I have yet to devote to a hobby the time I do to reading. I’m hoping to change that.

      I’m making cheater quilts (my friend Larissa is really doing all the work) and I can’t believe how much I love the look. I did a test run on the beds yesterday to check for size, and it looked so much better than anything I could have bought in stores. Not because we worked on some extraordinary pattern (quite the opposite) but because the fabric I picked was exactly what I had in mind versus settling for something I found in stores. It made a difference.

      • Shannon says

        Jules, I love how you wrote that you “didn’t make time” for knitting rather than saying “you didn’t HAVE time” for it. Its a great attitude and one I”m working on myself this year.

        Now….back to the book……..

        • says

          Of course! People kid themselves when they say they don’t have time for something. Very rarely are we, in this day and age, completely without time. We have too many conveniences. It’s not like we are dragging our clothing to the riverbed to slap against the rocks and then line dry. We decide where our time goes most of the time.

      • Larissa says

        Yay! I’m so glad the “cheater” quilts are looking good! πŸ˜€ This kind of sewing is much more rewarding than sewing clothes, in my opinion.

      • Lissa says

        I totally get the “making time” part – it took me a year to make the sweater!

        I’m so glad that the quilts are making you happy. The fabric you posted looks lovely!

  8. says

    Hi Jules, I didn’t read the book, but reading your post and the comments made me want to chime in. πŸ˜‰ I have tried thrifting several times in my area (not in a cool city, basically it’s the suburbs), and I can’t find anything. Either it’s complete crap that won’t fit and/or fall apart, or it’s high-end ladies-who-lunch outfits that wouldn’t quite work with my very conservative office. I guess over the years I’ve tried to buy items that will stay in fashion longer and are made well. This morning I was just thinking about how many years I’ve had the clothes I am wearing today – shoes (3), blouse (2), necklace (4). I’m wearing a skirt from Target I bought last year on-sale for $10 (I love it so much I would have paid full-price and then some) and tights from Target too, that can be washed all season until they fall apart, and they were $8. I really try to stay away from stores with “disposable”clothes, but I admit to going there every once in a while just to buy several new things. It’s a short-term solution that helps no one long-term, but sometimes it just feels so great to wear new clothes a few days in a row! Le sigh, someday I’ll get this all figured out…

    • says

      Chime away! You don’t have to read the book to participate with this one. That’s why I thought it would make a great pick. I think there are items we will always buy at mecca stores. At least I will. I don’t think that’s a problem, though. It’s the constant shopping that is the problem.

  9. Larissa says

    I don’t even know if sewing your own clothing is a good option. You would still need to buy high-quality fabric, which is hard to find (and very expensive) and then spend the time sewing it. Really, I would rather buy from L.L. Bean than sew my own clothes. . .

    • says

      It’s not, unless you are a die-hard. She even said as much in the book. That’s why the whole refashioning culture is so popular. I still would like to learn to sew well. I just need practice and a hand to hold.


      • Larissa says

        hahaha Let’s learn how to sew home decor well. I’m not good at sewing clothing, just like I’m not good at sewing “real” quilts. .. I have no patience for being precise. πŸ˜‰ We can sew home decor and embellish it with hand embroidery. Oh, and you didn’t tell me you knit! Knitting is more fun while talking, so that just means we need to get together to knit too. πŸ˜€

        • says

          Maybe that is what it is. Sewing and knitting are solitary pursuits for me, whereas books come with friends (the characters).

          Also, I said I learned *how* to knit, not that I do or do it well. I picked it up quickly, and just as quickly dropped it.

          • Lissa says

            If you’re looking for friends, theirs Ravelry (Ravelry.com) and wonderful knitting podcasts, and every local yarn store has a meet-up (often with teachers). :)

  10. Phaedra says

    I am not a recreational shopper and much of the information in this book confirmed what I already suspected even if I didn’t have hard facts to back it up. I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this topic as it’s so disheartening to think of how large a problem the fashion and textile industry presents the average shopper with a small budget trying to make good choices, however I do think bringing the topic to the forefront to be thought about and questioned is step one and kudos to the author for doing that.
    I felt that the author repeated herself several times and the book could’ve used another round of editing. (As in, I kept thinking, ‘wait, didn’t I just think DUH a few minutes ago about this exact same thing?’)

    The one point that I hadn’t given much thought to previously was the world of thrifting (donation and what happens to those donations) and found it very enlightening. I, like you, have never had luck finding anything other than the ‘fast fashion’ in the secondhand stores. I totally gave up shopping thrift stores because I have yet to find anything that was in good shape or with classic lines. ( A little trend isn’t bad with color or pattern, but some of this stuff makes me ask me why anyone- anywhere -would ever purchase it as it’s not flattering- period. ) This book just reinforced my feelings about merchants & the constant marketing of the need to have something ‘new’ and ‘different’ in every area of our lives (fashion, furniture, beauty) and the techniques to get consumers to feel like it’s a NEED. Not just a need, but a Need It Now (and then get rid of it because it’s yesterday’s news) without any thought or questions to the lifecycle of the item and environmental impact, not to mention the economic impact of what we are supporting wih our dollars.

    I do buy things at Old Navy or H&M, but things I actually need and try to take care of and make last as long as possible and I’m sure that will continue to be the case for me because I don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes. Right now I’m trying to teach my child to question what the marketing is telling her (she’s already pulled in by the sparkly windows, commercials, catalogs even though I try to minimize exposure to all of them) and remember that merchants are trying to separate her from her money. I have a long haul in front of me considering the current marketing climate and concurrent societal thinking about shopping and how invasive it is at every age level.

    Overall, I give this book a thumbs up for being informational and easy to read even if slightly repetitive.

    • says

      I’m the same way when I shop at ON, Target, etc. I don’t buy anything thinking it’s a throw-away item, at least I try not to. Even my “temporary” bamboo blinds I blogged about yesterday are going to be in use for years. I walked away thinking that companies must see us as the biggest suckers.

      • Phaedra says

        Right?!! They totally do. It’s very sad.
        *loved reading all the comments on this book/topic. I think people were into it!!

  11. says

    I haven’t been able to stop talking about this book since reading it a couple of months ago. In the last 5 years, I’ve grown comfortable with the idea of buying quality over quantity. Having been raised to be thrifty, it was hard at first to spend more money and I had to remind myself that paying more now, meant I’d keep the item for years upon years, instead of paying little now and replacing the item every couple of years. What was eye opening for me was a look at what’s really happening in factories overseas, how the garment industry has changed in the US, and how our penchant for cheap clothes results in damage to the environment and workers not being able to afford to care for themselves. The workers living in dorms and having 1 day off, if ever, broke my heart.

    I already thrift regularly but I didn’t know what happened to donated clothes until reading this. I have noticed a decline in the quality of clothes both in stores and resale shops. I’m educating myself about finer fabrics and ethical shopping. The hard part is this cheap way of consuming is everywhere, from clothes to food to products. But I have to start somewhere and make the best decisions I can. I’m only one person but if enough of us speak up, change is possible.

    • says

      I agree. Cheap is everywhere. It’s become part of our culture, sadly.

      The idea of working 16 hours per day with one day off shocked me. How naive I am about how good we have it!

  12. says

    As fate would have it, within the first hour of starting this book, my sister-in-law posted a picture of my brother pulling their kids in a sled. I commented that the coat he was wearing looked just like a coat our dad wore when he pulled US around in a sled. Her reply: “It is!”
    This alone speaks volumes of how clothing manufacturing & materials have changed over the years.

    One thing I couldn’t relate to right off the bat was her fascination of clothing. My own wardrobe is minuscule when compared to the author’s collection, and 90% of what I own has been in seasonal circulation since the early-to-mid 2000’s. They all get worn. The concept of clothing with store tags still attached is foreign to me, as is the concept of a shirt ratting out or falling apart within a few washes. My days might be numbered though.

    I am a thrift store shopper for all but shoes, bras, undies, and socks. Most of them are finally coming to their natural end of life, and have been tossed into a fabric bin for contemplation on some other project to use them on. I concur with Ris that it is getting more difficult as the years go by to find anything worth long-term wearing at second-hand shops. Having read this book, I now understand why.

    One concept I took away from this book was that some people view fashion and clothing as a form of art. While this is another big thing that I couldn’t relate to, it made a lot of past experiences make so much more sense. Various clothing choices of mine have been deemed as “eccentric” by friends. I walk a narrow line, making my clothing purchases based on how they make me feel, what they remind me of, how they look on me, and of course price. I always shop second hand. The only understanding I have of various blends is that 100% cotton requires ironing and breathes better, and 100% polyester gets hot fast and has to dry flat. Designer names are miles outside my realm of knowledge. I have had designer fashion-knowledgeable acquaintances awe over a certain brand or design of shirt or sweater that I wore. I’m always at a loss. I paid less than $5 for the sweater more than 10 years ago. I bought it because it was comfy and casual yet nice enough for office wear.

    By the end of the book, I had a clear understanding that I needed to pay more attention to the fabric and mending quality of a garment but I was no closer to understanding how. I need a hands-on class. I’ve never heard of such a thing but I want it. I want a class that will show various levels of fabric blends and their various levels of quality. I want to see the different hem stitches and learn which are considered stronger and longer lasting. If I can learn those things, I will be more likely to find a shirt that has good fabric quality but maybe not stitch quality – and then learn to apply the adequate stitching to make that shirt last many years. How do we learn these things when it’s not a common practice to pass it along generational lines anymore?

    • Val says

      If you’re just wanting a crash course in garment construction but aren’t really interested in sewing, I would check out these books: Vogue Sewing and the Reader’s Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing. It would be pretty difficult to teach yourself to sew using either of these, but they will give you a really detailed overview of construction techiniques and fabrics. Both have been around for ages and should be easy to find at the library.

      The costume shop I worked in during college had a Costume 101 class that taught fabrics, basic hand sewing, and basic machine sewing. It was exceptionally thorough and well-taught. You might see if a local college has something similar – you can usually audit for free.

      • says

        Thanks Val! I will definitely go add those books to my library queue. I am interested in sewing but Sweetie can get me started there. She’s not interested in making clothes but she can. I am also interested in actually handling the different fabrics. I really love your suggestion to check the local colleges – I hadn’t even considered that!

  13. Susan says

    My takeaway from the book is less is more, and that one well made shirt trumps 15 shoddy ones. The problem is figuring out where to buy a nice shirt now that the fashion industry has changed. Also, I was taken by the percent of income people historically spent on clothing, and how that percentage number is at it’s lowest now. Are there guidelines for how much a family should budget for clothing? I’ve never tallied my purchases yearly, but there’s no way I spend 15% of our income on clothes, not even close. I’d like to start buying fewer but better quality items. Does anyone have any tips on clothing budgets (percentage of income, not necessarily a dollar amount).

    Lastly, aren’t you close to PIBC’s 1st anniversary? My favorite for the year, in case you’re interested, was The Book Thief. Also enjoyed Discovery of Witches. Can’t wait to hear what books are in line for the spring…

    • Lisa says

      After reading the book I have the same desire – buy less, and better quality when I do need something. The auther’s website has a list of companies that either fabricate in the US or internationally with a living wage. http://www.overdressedthebook.com/where-to-shop/

      Since then I’ve bought a few pieces from one of the companies listed -dobbin- classic basics in some of the nicest fabrics I’ve felt in a long time. They weren’t inexpensive (although I bought on sale), but that’s the point … They don’t look or feel cheap … And they were made in NYC and I actually received a handwritten thank you with my order! I wish there were more companies like this, but believe if consumers search them out, more are likely to follow.

      • says

        I’m reading some historical fiction right now, and in all three books the women go to the “store” to buy yards of cloth to make their dresses, coats, etc. I, too, was shocked at how much people spent on clothing a year, but I believe it if they made everything by hand. To go through all that work and trouble, you better believe they bought the best they could so that it lasted. What an amazing cultural shift we have seen in our own generation!

    • Val says

      The standard rule is about 2% – 8% of your income goes towards dressing the entire family. It’s a pretty wide range, but that’s to account for big lifestyle differences. A 20 year-old single college student who mostly goes to class and the occasional night out doesn’t have the same wardrobe needs as an investment banker married to a realtor with two small children at home.

  14. says

    I need to read this book! I’m always a couple months behind on the book club. I’d love some practical advice about how to source clothes that are ethically produced and good quality. I used to do a lot of sporadic shopping (even though I don’t really enjoy it) because I couldn’t figure out a strategic way to buy a wardrobe.

    I’ve been trying to adjust my clothing routine lately. I bought a lot more than usual last year but partly because I’m trying to slowly step up my wardrobe after too many years of tee shirts and jeans. I let college attire drag out waaaaay too long, and it will pass in a lab environment but I finally realized I still need to go at least one level up.

    My strategy is to go for nice tops because I can still wear jeans at work. I made heavy use of sample sales from my favorite designers last year and also did used clothes shopping but generally only at resale places that are picky about what they accept because I don’t want to spend the time it would take to comb through the thrift store. The best part is that I have a really good idea of what pieces I need and gravitate towards and I think I’ll be able to do only replacement shopping in the future.

    The part I still feel guilty about is that I can’t get away from my Forever 21 jeans! I know logic would say they are terrible and poorly made and I have concerns about the ethics of production but I’ve been wearing 4 pairs in rotation almost every single day for the last two years and they are just now starting to wear out enough that I’m thinking about purchasing more. I know it isn’t a decade, but two years of hard wear is pretty good for me and none of the more quality options have held up better!

    • says

      I don’t think having a favorite pair of F21 jeans is bad per se. You aren’t treating them like disposable items. I think that’s where the problem lies. Four jeans used daily over two years is a lot different from 20+ pairs of jeans, many of them with tags still on.

  15. Michelle M says

    Thankfully, I never really got onto the fast fashion treadmill. My mom taught me to sew when I was about 10, and I made a lot of my own clothes in high school and college. So I have an appreciation and understanding of good construction. I couldn’t justify buying junk.

    That said, there was a tipping point where my time and the materials costs generally made buying cheaper than making myself. I do try to purchase items that are well made, won’t look dated quickly and then I take care of them.

    But even when you know better, it’s still hard. And there’s no easy or “right” answer. I will admit that I have more clothes than I need and I’ve purchased items I might not have because they were a great deal. So my closet gets stuffed with items I don’t have the heart to get rid of but don’t wear.

  16. Kate says

    I haven’t had a chance to read the book, but it’s on my list. One of the things I am noticing in the comments is how clothing and even fabrics are created to be disposable. But looking around my house I think of how many things are – my washing machine is three years old because my five year old machine was more expensive to repair than replace. The one before was 25 years old – passed down from my husband’s grandma when she moved out of her home and it still worked – it was just a stacked set that couldn’t fit in the space I had. My coffee maker, a 10 year old chair that’s falling apart, even the woodwork in my house built in 99 isn’t as nice as the stuff in my house from 29 and it’s 70 years newer. It’s amazing what we sacrifice for convenience.

    Sometimes I wonder when “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” will come back into “fashion”.

  17. Alison says

    I wanted to enjoy this book – but as a reading experience, I was very disappointed. I did not enjoy the writing – and this distracted me from the message.

    Great comments above. Nothing really else to add

    • says

      Really! What about her writing style put you off? That’s happened to me before, but usually it’s when the writing is super lyrical. There is on author who comes to mind immediately, and everyone loves her. Except me, apparently!

    • Erin says

      Agree on the writing. It was really annoying.

      The message, however, was useful, and a good reminder to get my own closet in order with only those things I love love!

  18. Jeanne says

    I didn’t like the writing either. A rambling mess that needed a good editor. I felt that a good framework for the book was lacking. But she made some good points. My mom lived to age 96 and had great style and beautiful custom clothes when she was young before marriage at age 34. She told a great story about being a shill for a carnival/fair and using her earnings to buy a coat with a mink collar and cuffs. This was maybe 1940. I think that coat would be a fortune in today’s money. It was about $150 back then.My sister and I were a bit shocked at the extravagance. But we always learned to pay for quality and classic good taste when we were growing up. I think the part about the fast fashion cycle phenom impressed me the most. Remember when you bought clothes seasonally and the industry still made money? It’s a vicious circle of turning a profit. Sad that I have to raise a teenage girl in this fashion climate. It’s a battle against all the cheap crap pitched to that demographic. One more great point was getting shoes fixed. I have totally bought into this and am thrilled to hang onto comfy boots that are no longer available since the heels now are sky high or flat now. I keep getting 3 pairs refurbished for over 6+ years now. The cobbler is miracle worker. I’ve branched out to fixing favorite flat sandals with new soles and glueing and dyeing leather on Italian leather shoes I love. So worth it.

    • says

      The writing did need some editing, but I was able to overlook it because the subject matter was interesting. That said, she’s no Rebecca Skloot.

      • Jeanne says

        It was readable–maybe I harsh–just sort of sloppy to me. But she’s no Rebecca–BTW just listened to that book on tape and really liked it. I didn’t read it with the book club. There was another person on tape who played the role of family members, which really brought the story to life, hearing the different voices and dialects. But, I will have to look at the book to see if there were any photos in it. You do miss that. . . .

      • Val says

        Yes, I thought exactly the same thing. I just started The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and my first thought was, “Wow. Yes, this is how nonfiction is supposed to read.”

  19. Alaina says

    I’ve been trying to curb my tendency to indulge in fast fashion — just because I’m running out of storage space. (And I feel uneasy about how I’m encouraging poor working conditions.) A lot of my clothes have actually held up over time, thanks to a tip I once read — your dryer is what kills your clothes, not your washer.

    Since then, I’ve air-dried delicates and dark-colored favorites (and cottons I suspect may shrink), and I also turn other clothes inside-out if I’m worried about wear from heat or friction. It’s really preserved the life of sweaters (pills happen on the inside of the garment), black-colored tops (most are still looking pretty good at the 5+ year mark), etc.

    Hope this helps anyone else who still is staring at years’ worth of cheap indulgences and wants to make the most of the purchases…

  20. Kat in Canada says

    And just to add to what Alaina said- unless it is stained or smelly, you probably don’t need to wash something after one wearing. By the time I’m done with them, my jeans can practically walk themselves to the washer. If you only wash when necessary, your clothing will last longer!

    The documentary “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags” follows the rise and fall of the American garment industry. It starts by talking about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, follows the rise and fall of garment unions, and ends where we are now- back to Triangle Shirtwaist disasters, just in India or Bangladesh. It’s from 2009, but I thought it tied in nicely with this book.

    Frankly, this book left me depressed. Even if the message does get through to North Americans, there are still billions of people around the world entering the middle class…will they be convinced to forgo the cheap fashion North America has had for the last several decades?

    Additionally, if we can convince people to go back to quality clothing, and tailoring, and cobbling, who are we going to go to for those services? In Canada, being a seamstress or tailor is no longer a registered trade, and Home Ec classes are being cancelled in Junior and Senior High.

    I also think the book could have used an extra round of editing- I found her repeating certain statistics over and over again, even in the same chapter.

  21. says

    I’m new to the book club and giving my two cents about books online, so bear with me…
    I was excited at first to read this book, but I quickly found myself slogging through it. I felt that the author would have been able to make a tight and informative magazine article, but she stretched her subject out to make it book length. That said I found it very informative, and if I had access to Target would probably make me rethink my purchasing decisions.
    In fact, my family and I just moved to Bahrain, and handmade, tailored clothing is about as cheap as buying something at H & M here. It is definitely recommended to start having clothing made while we’re here by everyone who has been in Bahrain for awhile. I find myself leery of having things made, mostly out of fear that I will invest in something trendy that I’ll hate in 2 years. I’ve never been confident of my style (which is a whole other issue), so being able to walk into a store and know that things are “fashionable” saves me some mental anguish when shopping.
    Overall; good message, mediocre writing.

  22. Lori T says

    Fascinating topic and discussion! I first became more globally aware of some of these issues while watching a four-part (or was it six?) on the subject in which six young twentysomething Brits of various social class and economic means found out first hand about the high cost of cheap fashion. From sewing in an enormous factory as well as a fire-trap sweat shop to the back-breaking labor milling cotton. But I cannot remember the name of that documentary. It wasn’t “Schmatta:Rags-to Riches to Rags”…anyone remember the name of the documentary? I think it may have been produced by the BBC

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