Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed has taught us some hard lessons about our fast fashion habits: Namely that buying super cheap clothes--and lots of them--is having a negative effect on our planet, our culture, and our general well-being. But it's also having a negative impact on our wardrobe.
"The thing about cheap fashion is that you often wind up with a closet full of deals rather than a closet full of clothing you'll actually wear," Cline told me. Most of us who shop fast fashion can probably relate. Somehow, that H&M blouse that was so irresistible in-store, just doesn't hold up when you pull it out of the depths of your closet two years later.
But while Cline makes a convincing argument for not shopping at cheap-chic stores, it's hard to know what other options you have if, like us, you love fashion but don't exactly have a thousand-dollar budget. Fortunately, Cline has some helpful advice on that matter.
"Overdressed is about reigning in out-of-control consumption," Cline said. "It's not trying to make people feel bad for buying clothes that they can afford." In other words, the book is really about finding solutions to our shopping addictions. "And luckily," Cline said. "There's not just one solution."
Read on for Cline's top tips on how you can stem your clothing consumption and still build the wardrobe of your dreams.
Be Strategic "The first thing anyone needs to do is the easiest thing: Be strategic about shopping," Cline told me. "Be more mindful when you go shopping. People are very impulsive when they shop now. You know, you're usually not even planning on buying something when you do." [Ed note: Totally guilty of this.] Cline recommends taking a look at your yearly budget for clothing, and strategically planning each purchase, investing in clothes that may be more expensive but that you'll actually want to wear--and that will last. Her advice boils down to this: "Buy what you need, buy things that you love, and take care of what you own." Seems easy enough.
Know That You're Getting What You Pay For Does $20 really seem like a fair price to pay for a dress? Most fast fashion retailers are able to drive down their prices because they produce cheaply in factories in China or Bangladesh--factories that Cline herself went to visit and found that their working conditions and salaries were not necessarily fair. Retailers are also reducing prices by buying fabric--mostly synethetic, at that--in massive bulk, which can lead to unnecessary waste. Bottom line is that if a garment's price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Someone is paying the price, whether it be the environment or factory workers on the other side of the world.
Re-Train Yourself to Spot 'Value' "I would argue that, my generation and the one younger than me, I don't think that they even know what a well-made garment looks like," Cline told me. She added that she actually hired a wardrobe consultant to teach her how to spot quality clothing. Though not everyone could possibly go to such great lengths, Cline says that you can also learn a lot about quality from looking at vintage garments. Most importantly, though, is that consumers change how they think about real value when it comes to clothing. "People are so trained to want quantity over quality, to prize having a lot of clothes [and get them for low prices]," Cline said. "But clothes that are made in smaller numbers with good materials where the labor is fairly paid, it's not going to be cheap." But it's going to be worth it.
Learn to Sew In the course of writing Overdressed, Cline decided she would never shop in a fast fashion chain again. The only problem? "I don't have a lot of money," she said with a laugh. So, in order to be able to have more clothing--and to make the most of those she already owned--Cline enrolled in a sewing class. "[Learning to sew, even though I paid for the class] was ultimately pretty freaking cheap," she told me, saying how she often tweaks second-hand finds and reworks old clothes she's sick of. Recently, she turned a pair of old jeans into a cool skirt. The cost of such an endeavor? "50 cents for thread." Whoa.
Hire a Tailor Obviously not everyone has the time or inclination to learn to sew. But happily, there are these people called tailors and seamstresses who will actually do it for you. "I think if we could go back to a place where people were working with tailors and seamstresses, like they did in the past, then that would really rein in consumption," Cline said. Not only will you get the most out of your clothing, but you negate the need to buy something brand new--breaking the relentless cycle of fast fashion, and ultimately decreasing the amount of waste that's produced. Think about it: How many of us have bought a new pair of pants because your old ones didn't fit anymore? Or thrown out a pair of jeans because there was a hole? Next time take those items to the tailor or seamstress (or figure out how to patch them up yourself). Most alterations will be less than the cost of a completely new garment--plus the planet will thank you!
Buy Indie "Supporting indie designers that are based in your community is a great solution to [the problems presented in Overdressed.]" Not only does it support creativity and original ideas, but it's also good for the planet: Independent designers usually don't have the budget to buy in bulk, or waste materials and more often than not they produce out of their own city, fostering the local economy.
Buy Second Hand or Vintage "If you can't afford [independent designers], then buying from thrift stores or second hand is a great option," Cline says. She's also a fan of clothing swaps, and informal trades with friends. And again, the tailor (or some basic sewing skills) are your friends here.
Think of the Future Buying fast fashion goodies offers instant gratification. But what about long-term? Cline says one of the most shocking things she saw was when she visited a factory in China and noticed that the factory workers were themselves wearing cheaply-made fast fashion finds. "H&M and Zara are expanding to more and more countries, and what we're doing is spreading this rabid consumerism world-wide," Cline said. "When you think of the world shopping the way America shops... I mean we've got a serious problem on our hands." If things continue the way they're going, we're going to wind up with a planet full of waste--and few natural resources to create our clothes (meaning we'll all be wearing polyester.)
That $20 steal isn't looking too hot now, is it?