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Overdressed: A conversation with author Elizabeth Cline

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Author photo: Keri Wiginton

There is no doubt that fast fashion rules the world these days. Discount and big box stores churn out a never ending stream of garments at rock bottom prices, while we as consumers don’t get to see the many hidden costs, from environmental impact to underpaid labor to the death of affordable high quality clothing.

This is the side of the fashion industry that Elizabeth Cline reveals in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

I first heard about this book because several of you mentioned it in comments. Later, I read a review on Tasia’s blog, and couldn’t wait to pick it up. I was especially intrigued because the book actually discusses the possibility of sewing your own clothing as a way to develop a stronger relationship with what you own and wear. This seems to be completely left out of most discussions on the subject of consumption.

As soon as I finished the book, I rushed over to my laptop and shot off an email to the author, hoping to hear a little more of Elizabeth’s perspective on today’s fashion industry and particularly about sewing. Today’ I’d like to share that conversation with you.


Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’m not sure if you know this, but your book has taken the online sewing world by storm. You seem to have addressed many of the issues and questions we grapple with around clothing production today, issues that led some of us to sewing.

A point you make in the book is that women used to have some knowledge of sewing, but that those skills began to die out with the baby boom generation. How do you think this lack of knowledge translates into consumer behavior? In particular, how do you think it’s affected our taste in clothes?

These are things you notice when you sew, and things that are harder to pick up on when you don’t.

There’s such pleasure to be had in buying a garment because of the feel and grade of the fabric or buying a skirt or a blazer for example that is tailored so expertly it actually makes you look taller, trimmer, more put together, etc. These are things that aren’t immediately noticeable to anyone other than the wearer. They enhance your private experience of wearing your clothes.

These are things you notice when you sew, and things that are harder to pick up on when you don’t. Consumers tend to buy based on trend or print or price now, and ironically those aren’t the qualities that make a consumer want to wear a piece of clothing forever. We return to clothes that fit well, flatter our figure, and feel good next to our skin.

One thing I’ve written about before is fast fashion retailers like J. Crew trying to rebrand themselves as luxury labels by talking a lot about quality, where their yarns are milled, and offering some products at very high price points. What’s your take on this strategy?

The quality of mass-market clothing has gotten so abysmal, that to some degree I think brands like J. Crew and H&M offering “high-end” lines is them taking advantage of a void in the marketplace that they themselves created!

But, in general, the idea of luxury in fashion today is quite manipulative. Cheap, cute fashion is so easy to come by that consumers are being duped by the idea of “exclusive, luxury” fashion that they overpay for.

Consumers need to know what a fair price for fashion is — I’ll give you an example from the J. Crew website. Their $268 wool houndstooth pants are a wardrobe staple and a good investment piece, while their $600 Fair Isle turtleneck is a joke. The website says it has handknit construction, which is trying to make the consumer think it’s handknit. I bet it’s not. Secondly, it says it’s “imported.” If it was imported from Italy, the website would say as much, and the price would reflect Italian wages and craftsmanship. Most likely, it was made in China, which means even if it’s made out of great yarn, it should cost less than $200 or $300. The sale price is $279, so you can see just how much it was originally marked up.

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Author photo: Keri Wiginton

A very different trend for the last few years has been the “heritage” trend. People are shopping for labels that have a history and a reputation for quality. Here in Portland, local labels like Pendleton are huge. Do you think this trend is being driven by consumers, and why?

I think there is a general trend towards nostalgia, support of domestic brands and manufacturing, and classic clothes that aren’t trend-driven. I think it’s driven by fatigue from trends changing constantly (what’s the point of keeping up with fashion if it changes every week?) and it comes from a place of genuine concern for the economy and jobs here. Let’s hope it sticks. I love Pendleton.

You talk a bit about personal style and the way sewing can free us from the homogeneity of fast fashion. Do you think this desire for self-expression is at odds with the desire to have less?

Fast fashion feeds off consumers not knowing their own style. It depends on us just slavishly buying whatever these stores dictate as “fashion.” I think expressing yourself through clothes is about knowing yourself and your own personal style and knowing what kinds of silhouettes, colors, or prints that you like to wear. Knowing that means you naturally stop buying things that only get worn once or sit in the back of your closet; Instead, you buy things that you wear all the time and return to season after season. It’s far less less wasteful and disposable.

I recently read a review of Overdressed on Goodreads that questioned whether the solutions to fast fashion that you offer, particularly sewing your own clothes, are realistic. Why do you think a practice that was widespread just a few decades ago is now considered by most women to be completely impractical?

I think the goal with sewing should be to increase the percentage of home-sewers and to make it accessible to more people, but it’s not going to be like with food, where everyone fancies themselves a chef nowadays.

I never say in Overdressed that all women should return to sewing and sew their own clothes, as an alternative to fast fashion. I talked about the decline of sewing to show a contrast to where we are today–where, as you say, it’s seen as so foreign and impractical.

I think learning to sew makes people better consumers, and that those who have no interest in it should still consider using a seamstress or a tailor to make sure their clothes give them the best fit. I think people see it as impractical because it is very time-intensive and takes a lot of time to be good at it.

It’s definitely skilled-labor–another reason why I harped on it. I know that more than ever, having tried my hand at it for several years now. I think the goal with sewing should be to increase the percentage of home-sewers and to make it accessible to more people, but it’s not going to be like with food, where everyone fancies themselves a chef nowadays.

Towards the end of the book, you talked about learning to sew yourself. I’m curious about how that’s gone for you! Are you still finding it satisfying?

Yes, I still sew, but I mostly use my machine to alter my clothes versus sewing from scratch. I have a collection of about 50 band t-shirts, and when I buy a new one, I sit down and refashion it into a tank top or something similar. Before I go to a concert, I’m often on my machine resewing a shirt that I’m going to wear that night. I also still like to buy items from the thrift store and tweak them; usually I take the sleeves or the hem up.

As I’ve said a number of times in this interview, learning to sew completely changed me as a consumer. I am obsessed with tailored pieces now. I own a blazer and tailored skirt by Helmut Lang that I could run my hands over all day and just sit and study. These items are impeccable: The way they are put together, the seams, the linings, the details, the trim, everything is so perfect. I would never have noticed something like that before learning to sew. And now I’m OBSESSED with clothes that are carefully and thoughtfully constructed with all those little old-school details. Seriously obsessed.


Thanks so much to Elizabeth for taking the time to dive into these questions with me.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Overdressed.

Like what you read here? Subscribe to our blog via email so you don’t skip a stitch! And sign up for our weekly Snippets email for even more sewing tips and tricks.

On , annette tirette said: | annettetirette.blogspot.com

I just finished reading this book and took it as a confirmation of what I already knew: this cheap fashion is killing clothing in so many different ways. I sadly still rely on it to some degree, since I only have a student budget at the moment and both investing in good quality fabric for my clothing and super high quality tights/underwear/other things I can’t make myself yet is just a bit steep at the moment. But this book definitely motivated me to start sewing knits, so I can make my own t-shirts as well.

On , Mugsy said:

Wow – will be looking for a copy…can’t wait to read thisone! Thank you so much for posting this! :)

On , Chelsea said:

Awesome! I have been working with my daughters for quite a while, teaching them to sew and letting them choose their fabric and style. It started with me sharing one of my passions, but I’m seeing that they don’t seem to be as taken with the latest fashion as many of the other girls their age. I always tried to instill a sense of self, to teach them that they don’t have to “go with the flow”, there is a lot of peace and richness in simply living what you know is right. Some may say this is a stretch, but I believe that this is one more step in that direction. Love this post!!!

On , Lauren said: | lladybird.wordpress.com

Thank you so much for posting this! I read the book (after a 6+ month long wait at the library… yeesh), and it pretty much punched me in the face. I had my suspicions – don’t we all? – but some of the stuff covered just really blew my mind and left me troubled for a couple of weeks. If I was annoying to shop with before, I’m a downright disaster now.

That being said, the information made me so much more conscious as a consumer. I try to buy used whenever I can, and if that’s not an option – I drive for local/sustainable, even if they do cost that much more. Making the switch from quantity to quality has really made a huge impact in how I shop. If only my friends felt the same way :)

On , Jessica said: | americangirldreaming.blogspot.com

I have to say that until the past few years I had a close full of cheap fashion that was bulging at the seams with things that I only wore one season from many chain and mall stores. I realize that none or barely any of it was “my style” and that I was buying things because they were cheap and in fashion at the time to get me by instead of spending more money on things that I would actually want to wear forever.

However, starting at a closet full of things I practically hating was a wake up call to how much money I was really wasting instead of buying more high end items. I cleaned out my close that year (about 5 years ago) and starting only purchasing things I really really wanted and I have less mistake buys and things I wear over multiple seasons now.

This was also what led me to sewing. 3 years ago, about 2 years after my change in thinking about clothing I was on Modcloth and actually saw a Colette pattern and was like – wow! I could make something like that? ** as a note I had made purses and other little crafty things at that point but that was it**

It is has been refreshing to wake up in the morning and look in my closet and thing what do I want to wear today, instead of wow I have nothing to wear.

On , Diane @ Vintage Zest said: | vintagezest.blogspot.com

The idea of disposable clothes reminds me of how I used to shop when I was younger. Going to the mall was a normal way to hang out with friends and family. I can’t even imagine going to the mall as often, just buying whatever was good enough that day. Now, I rarely go to the mall, but when I do I really know what I want, THEN I find the right item (sometimes leaving empty-handed). In the past, I could have never gone to the mall and left with nothing, because that’s what we are supposed to do: consume.

Now, I think of my closet as a boutique with vintage items, rather than a store with seasonal trends. I ask myself, what do I really want to add to my collection, and would I want it 5 years from now? There are some trends that I love, such as skinny pants because I would wear them even 5 years from now (a la Audrey Hepburn!), but others that I stay away from (rugby shirts anyone?).

Just my two cents!

On , Molly Martin said: | ensleydesigns.wordpress.com

Sarai, thank you for posting this. These are issues that I’m grappling with and reasons that I am starting my own small business of making clothing for the individual. In getting back to a consciousness and transparency about quality, fit, function, and beauty of clothing I think the industry of fashion can be revolutionized. I’m glad that Portland seems to be catching on–there’s a few of us in Asheville trying to kick it into gear!

On , Jen said: | mommymadebyjen.blogspot.com

No wonder I hate going shopping. I took my oldest daughter shopping yesterday to buy jeans and some bras, mostly because she was in desperate need of new jeans and I just am too swamped by other things right now to make them. Being on a budget, I went to Kohl’s and I was appalled at some of the things that I saw on the racks, particularly in the Juniors’ department; poor construction, cheap materials and a gaudy excess of embellishments. Based solely on the amount of garments stuffed onto the racks, I got the impression that designers were solely concerned with throwing as many garments in as many styles possible at the consumer, trying to figure out what sticks. We bought 1 pair of Levi’s because they were the only ones left in her size and which fit properly.

My husband always wonders why I have such a hard time buying clothing for myself and it’s for the exact reasons that Ms. Cline addresses: I can’t bring myself to buy garments that don’t fit without a massive need for alteration, and I won’t pay high prices for cheap fabric and shoddy construction. I’d rather spend more money on buying fabric and taking the time to make a garment that really fits me. My problem is that I have 3 kids and I also prefer to make clothing for them, mostly because it tends to last longer. And I tend to put their needs ahead of my own, so I don’t always get to my own wardrobe; often I end up buying a t-shirt or 2 because I just don’t have the time to make one. I think that many women don’t have time to really shop as educated consumers and those that have the skills to sew their own wardrobes don’t have the time to do so, seeing it as more of a task than an enjoyable hobby. Further, among those women who do sew, there is an even smaller number who know how to fit their bodies and can therefore make garments that they both like and which are flattering to their figures. It’s a complex issue, to be sure.

On , Burke said:

I worked at J. Crew out of high school and a coworker whose husband was a professional tailor would always comment on the poor construction coupled with the insane mark-up given the poor quality fabric. If you have the time and patience, you can make your own herringbone hacking jacket for much less than $258. Non-sewers think these prices are a bargain, but it’s really insane. We were also taught to sell the customer on the fine details of the item, e.g. cashmere from Italty, etc. even though the item was actually constructed in Asia. Makes you rethink “luxury” when you consider all the facts.

On , Marianna said: | sew2pro.com

By luck, I think the realization that something was amiss with the world of high street fashion hit me at pretty much the same time as I opened my eyes to the fact that I was getting a bit too old to look good in bad quality clothes. I’m on a strict budget so it’s very liberating that I’d already invested time in learning the basics of how to sew and cut patterns. Hopefully in a year or two I’ll be better still and able to produce tailored pieces of the Helmut Lang-like quality that I can wear while admiring all day long!

Thanks Sarai and Elizabeth for this post. I’m going to pester my library to get this book (never mind that the library is in the middle of a giant shopping sprawl!).

On , Ines said:

I love this post. And all the related post that you have done lately.

Buying, throwing away, starting all over again has been a big issue of me for several years. In my particular case I can sew since my teens so I have always been very quality conscious, but I not always had money enough to buy what I needed or liked with that standard of quality. Besides none of my friends or acquaintances can sew so my complaints about quality never were understood: everybody thought that buying cheap clothes was the only way and quality was only for people of ample means.

Unfortunately I still remember too well my tight budget period and although I can allow myself more expensive clothes today I rarely do, I can’t get myself to spend money. I am a miser! Besides one of my “poor period” second job was in a high end department store one summer which is when all the new autumn winter clothes arrive, and I had to mark the prices, most of the times a good 300% 500% up. It all depends on the items, novelty t-shirts for teens go 200% up, more classic clothes a 300%. Men’s suits or women’s bags, 500%. It was crazy realizing the margins. Which bring us back to J.crew and H&M “high end lines” and the fact that sometimes expensive it is not quality, or worse that today a fair price does not exist, the company will always try you pay the more you can for an item. Fortunately sewing is a good help in this case as you can see if the fabric, construction, etc it is really good.

On , Jacqui said: | birds-of-a-thread.com

This book has been on my reading list for months, and now I’m moving it to the top.

Currently, I am trying to balance purchasing from ethical clothing companies with sewing my own garments. I wish it was realistic right now for me to sew more of my own clothes, but as a beginner, it still takes me an entire weekend to make a skirt. As Elizabeth points out, though, sewing nurtures a stronger sensibility about how clothing is constructed, how it should fit, and how you should feel in it. Even if I only sew a couple of garments a year, I still shop with a sharper eye and appreciate quality craftsmanship that much more.

On , maddie said: | madalynne.com

I’ve heard about this book but have yet to read it. Thanks for such an informative post and for introducing me to the author :)

On , soisewedthis said: | soisewedthis.blogspot.com

Funny, I just posted about this book on my blog yesterday! Thanks for sharing this interview.

http://soisewedthis.blogspot.com/2013/02/thoughts-on-book.html

On , Merry said: | young-broke-and-fabulous.blogspot.com

I haven’t read this book, but sewing has had a huge impact on what I wear and how I shop. I made a resolution this year to only buy undergarments (which I’m learning how to make as well), stuff I can’t make myself (due to skill or an exclusive fabric), or is really, really cheap (whether it be a thrift shop or on clearance). So far this year, I’ve stayed true to that and only have bought undergarments, a cami (which was on sale, what I consider to be an undergarment, AND in a fabric that I haven’t been able to find the right color myself), and a houndstooth sweater (which was also on sale, and qualified as a garment I’m unable to make myself due to fabric and garment type).

I don’t even like wearing my store bought clothes from before I started sewing (which was last year). I’ve become addicted to that high I get whenever someone compliments my clothes and I can tell them that I made it. I was on a date the other night and some random girl on the street said she adored my dress and I felt so badass telling her that I made it and impressing both her and my date. I was never “cool” until I started sewing and swing dancing. In addition to making me feel better by not contributing to unethical fashion practices, sewing makes me feel better by giving me the biggest self-esteem boost I’ve had in years.

On , Diane said: | blogspot.com

I need to read this book now. I love to sew, I don’t sew for myself, but I love creating vintage inspired doll clothes. I really want to get back to sewing for myself.

On , Miss Crayola Creepy said: | misscrayolacreepy.blogspot.com

This book is in my reading queue and I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for posting this interview!

On , Annie Sharkey said: | tulleandtweed.com

Great post Sarai and finally someone is standing up and saying what we’ve all known for some time, if you are an avid sewer.
The nail in the coffin of High Street shopping for me came when I visited a Laura Ashley store and there was a swing tag on a mid range priced cord skirt saying that pilling was a natural aspect of the fabric and not a fault! I happen to know from my college studies that pilling is the sign of a cheap and inferior fibre content. Many years ago these fibres would have been used as fillers in batting/wadding and for blankets, mattresses etc., not for garments. We are already using the cheapest labour possible and the squeeze is on fabric, it is now so cheap and even man made cheaply. I have often pondered why when clothes are so readily available and inexpensive do most peoples clothes look so awful. When you sew you develop a sixth sense with fabric, weight, hand and of course price indicate the quality. We have no way of knowing what a manufacturer has paid for a fabric – economies of scale only explain so much.

On , Eleyna said: | eleynagomez.wordpress.com

I just picked this book up at the library yesterday! Thank you so much for sharing this interview with us!

I totally agree that fast fashion preys on those that don’t have a strong sense of personal style. I’ve fallen into that so many times and through sewing I’ve been able to get more of a feel for what works well for my body type and understand why I go back to certain pieces in my closet over and over again.

On , Janette said: | girlguydogcat.wordpress.com

Thank you for this interview! The book actually arrived in the mail earlier this week and I’m looking forward to reading it. It’s true that sewing has changed how I shop. I’m still a beginner but even the little I know keeps me from buying outrageously cheap things (I know someone, likely the laborer, or me with the quality, is getting screwed). I no longer buy simple, expensive things that I know realize are made from 1/2 yard of polyester. I always say, “I could make that!” If only I would….

On , Allie said: | meadow-rue.com

This interview (and the Overdressed book) is such a wonderful affirmation of the way my values have transformed over the last year. I love the idea of finding your own style, what you love to wear and what you feel good in. I love the idea of ignoring trends that don’t feel right. I’ve made it my mission to buy no new clothing for an entire year, and it’s transformed my thinking around my current and future wardrobe and has completely inspired me to take my fashion risks further. Thanks for sharing, and yes let’s hope this movement sticks. I know I’m doing my best to encourage it.

On , Bernadette Jeavons said: | decorativecloth.com

I think there is a dearth of good patterns, thats’ why it takes so long for beginners to learn, afraid big cos have had dominance for 50 years. Dressmaking has skipped a generation, the little ones are v keen to learn. I rarely buy clothes unless good ones in sale, otherwise I make, but still mixed success after many years.

On , Betty Jordan Wester said: | nouvellegamine.com

“I think learning to sew makes people better consumers, ”
I love this. It really did change my life in that way. Going into a store and having something catch my eye, only to realize the store fit is atrocious and I could make something to have and wear for years that I’ll really love.

On , Kate said:

Well I sure agree with the basic premise of the book, way too much badly styled, badly fitted and cheap shoddy materials are whats in the stores. How things are prices isn’t really any reflection on their quality and value. Good things can be had for reasonable prices but one has to be a bit lucky, have an easy to fit body, and know what you are looking for.
Learning to make your own will certainly give you an appreciation of what goes into the product that you are thinking of buying. But womens skills and crafts have gone a radical change in the last 40 years for sure.

Now that Im a older middle aged person I do have some perspective on this. I did learn to sew in jr. high school and in my 20′s had a friend who was a tailor who really taught me to understand patterns and cutting to fit me and I made a lot of great clothes, some I still have. But time became a factor, how did I want to use my leisure hours, making clothes or quilting or something else? It also became harder to find quality sewing fabric for reasonable prices. Like many womans crafts that used to be what people did because they couldn’t afford store bought, crafting and sewing has flipped is now a wealthier persons hobby. Have you priced nice yarn lately? at least $150 to make a sweater… On the flip side the big craft stores and big box fabric stores have followed the clothing stores and carry the horrible cheap fabrics that are the same quality of the crap in wal-mart.
Nice fabrics are very pricy, so unless you have lots of time, a big disposable income and just enjoy the process, making your own clothes is expensive. So go to Lord & Taylor or Sax and get a designer item on sale and still get timeless style and good quality.
There are places to get nice clothes for reasonable prices, personally a favorite is Eddie Bauer, best cotton t-necks and great cottons.
But its never a good thing when skills get lost or devalued, and the huge mass produced crap may help poorer people stay clothed but it sure doesn’t do our society as a whole any favors.
Ill look for this book at the library and am happy the younger generation isn’t totally snowed under by the ad agencies and mass production machine.

On , KerryQ said:

When I started reading this post, I was thinking about Target and Walmart, and their poorly made goods, not J.Crew. I realize that J.Crew has slowly priced itself up a few notches in the years I have been shopping there (and don’t get me started on the waif sizing), but I hadn’t noticed shoddy materials or construction. I will pay more attention, and read this book. Thank you.

On , Annie V. said:

I must read this book! I so hate cheap clothing!!!

My mom was a factory seamstress, so she loses her job when all department stores (and fake high-end ones) became to exploit Chinese workers. I agree that buying is voting and I would never vote for this. I try to buy Canadian-made or American-made products as possible.

After I had 2 children, my body had changed. From a slim girl with long legs and small breast, I became an hourglass shaped woman with curves. When I first shopped for clothes after my first pregnancy, I return with nothing but underwear and I was in tears because nothing was fitting well on me anymore. I thought I was the problem until I realize that these crappy clothes in stores were the problem. Also, I have many skin troubles and synthetic fabric itches me so bad. And I could not find anything but polyester in stores (I live on a budget). So I began to sew and knit my own clothes with REAL fibers for a relatively affordable price. I became confident and stopped following trends. I hate front-fly pants on women, so I just stopped to wear them! I made myself side-zippered jeans, a dream came true! I love wearing dresses, but I am a 36 DD with a short waist and not so much hips, so the dresses in stores make me look as if I was pregnant… I feel so free as I sew and knit clothes I love to wear them and feel great and pretty in them, and not depend on what I find in stores. I don’t shop anymore, except for shoes… Oh how I would like to be able to make my own shoes in real leather (sorry if I hurt someone as I say this)! But I often buy used shoes as I cannot afford non-”vegan” (the new trendy word to say cheap plastic) shoes.

On , Sam said:

I haven’t read this book but I’m pleased that it has been written and that other people have taken to it’s message so well! (I’ll have to look for it at my local library.)

Knowing – or at least being more aware of – the true cost of our clothing is something that all consumers should have in their mind when shopping. I know that issues such as child labour, the use of poisonous chemicals/dyes, unrealistic wages etc certainly shape my habits.

However, I’m just as disturbed when I shop for fabric. I suspect the stuff sold at the large, discount chain store – the only place to buy fabric in my town – has a similar backstory as that used in clothes sold in shopping centres around the country. And I have no way of knowing that if I buy elsewhere and spend more, the fabric’s production is any more ethical.

For this reason, I try to use second-hand fabric when possible but it’s not always suitable.

What’s a lass to do?!

Thanks for raising this topic, Sarai!

Sam

On , coffeeaddict said: | catspajamas-dogstuxedos.blogspot.com

I agree with Sam; the consumer mentality of throwaway cheap products has entered the DIY market as well with cheap and poor quality fabric and notions. There were quite a few of my garments, that I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on that I had to discard because the fabric didn’t stand the test of time :-(

On , Kayleigh said: | twocraftykiwis.wordpress.com

What a great article!

On , Phyllis said: | coudremode.com

It’s all well and good for non-sewers to consider hiring a tailor or dressmaker, however when people have asked me to make them something for them with my expert sewing skills they always back off when they find out how much my expert time is worth. There’s a big difference between what consumers would like to have and what they’re willing to pay.

On , Michele Quigley said: | michelequigley.com

So true Phyllis and this is a real consequence of the cheap fashion trend (and rampant consumerism in general). Most people have no idea what it takes to make something and how something of quality really SHOULD cost more. We have lost a sense of the value of things because so much of what we have comes cheap and is easily discarded.

Lost and found and Elsewhere | Fringe Association

[...] There’s a good interview on the Colette blog with Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion. Everything being said about [...]

On , Angela said: | bonnechanceblogspot.blogspot.com

Great interview! I agree – sewing does for sure does make you a better consumer. I think the other thing that makes you a better consumer is knowing yourself, what looks good on you and what you really like to wear. Can’t wait to read this book!

On , Lori said:

All interesting comments. I graduated with a degree in Family and Consumer Science in 1985 – back then it was called home economics. The 80′s and early nineties were tough years for our profession. We were not allowed to teach sewing and very little cooking as we needed to concentrate on skills to address “A Nation at Risk.” Sewing, homecooked meals, and crafting went underground or were completely obliterated. This is our lost generation of sewists. Our school systems literally snuffed out and penalized creativity not realizing the process of completing a project, whether it be sewing, following a recipe, or making a craft, was fostering incredible brain buildng skills. Fortunately, we are seeing a resurgence in sewing and cottage industry crafting as well as culinary professions. Look at all the etsy businesses and creative blogs! Now, my school administrators ENCOURAGE culinary skills AND sewing. In fact, my school has even purchased new Berninas for our sewing lab. Unfortunately, it is baby steps. Our children now have very little or no background knowledge in sewing. Even just observing someone sewing gives a future sewist a jump, and so few have ever even seen it done. The American spirit was honed on creativity. It’s true it has been squelched, but it is making a comeback!

On , Heather said: | sewingonpins.blogspot.com

I really enjoyed the interview! Thanks for sharing with us. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this book at our local bookshop. :)

On , Jo said:

But here is the thing…I sew and have really cut out a lot of the fast fashion….but where does my fabric come from…probably the same place producing the cheap clothes! It’s difficult making conscientious decisions!

On , Elaila de Mello said:

So thankful for what you are doing. “Overdressed” as well as your own book are on my list for the next paycheck. My grandmother taught me to sew first, then a few years of home economics in school (shame they do not teach this in school now). Sewing has been an invaluable resource for me through the years and I am looking into what it would take to teach young people to sew now. I think it would be such a wonderful experience, even for the guys. Thank you again for your work and all your sharing and helpful tips.

On , Ruth said:

I disagree on the trend for disposable fashion being started by the baby boomers. Those who are boomers were taught to sew in school and at home at an early age. I remember seeing my mom and grandma both sew, so I naturally learned how, as did most of my friends. Disposable fashion came about in the eighties and nineties when the economy was riding high and fashion was everything. I think the trend is going back because money is getting tighter and people are looking for things that last longer and are better quality. The strongest buyers of cheap fashion would be teenagers who enjoy changing styles at the drop of a hat. Once they get older they can learn about quality in clothing.

On , Romy said: | Dontbeprettywithit.blogspot.com

I love the premise of this book and feel like I’ve been preaching this gospel for years (without having done the author’s research, though)! I’ve been a thrift store shopper for many years, but took an oath of Secondhand Only at the end of 2009 and haven’t looked back. This year I’m going for a goal of making at least 75% of all additions to my wardrobe.

As I always say, any schmuck can walk into Nordstrom and pay someone to make them look good, but doing it on $10 at a thrift store takes true style!

On , Kat said: | coutureacademic.wordpress.com

I’ve just ordered this thanks to your interview and post! Looks really interesting.

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On , Gwyn said:

Thank you for posting this review. I was married right out of college in the mid 80′s. I came from a family of sewers and into a family of sewers. I worked in a yarn shop and made most of my own clothes during this time. This seemed very natural. One of the first major purchases we made was a good sewing machine that I still have. I remember working one day in the yarn store and someone complaining that making a cashmere hand knit sweater would cost more then going to the nearby discount store and buying a cashmere sweater there. I tried to explain that the quality would be so much better if it were hand knit. I could not convince them. They left without buying anything. Sadly, that cashmere sweater they purchased went to the land fill long ago, but if they had hand knit a sweater, they would probably still have it.

I am going to repeat other commenters. It is so hard to find good quality fabric. I too only have a big box store to buy from. I like to buy local, so I am very torn. Yarn stores still carry good quality yarn. I will not buy the cheap stuff from big box stores, but support local yarn stores.

Tuesday Link Treasury – Happy Pancake-eating day! « Sofia

[...] Sarai of Colette Patterns spoke to Elizabeth Cline about her book, and it makes for interesting reading. [...]

Sewing School - your online source for all things sewing — Required Reading – Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

[...] Interview with Elizabeth L. Cline on the Colette Patterns blog [...]

On , marci said:

This book looks very interesting. I too sew the majority of my clothes, I also sew my husbands clothes. I have not tackled pants yet, but that will come soon. I became concerned about disposable fashion when I heard Natalie Chanin talk about how a lot of cheap garments are made on huge ships in the middle of the ocean where there are no regulations. The ships are then brought into ports where the clothes are then labeled as “made in (name your port here)….”. Finding organic and sustainable fabric is hard, not to mention the cost….but in the long run the clothes you make from this fabric will last longer and look better then any cheap $10 shirt you get from Target or J. Crew. That cheap shirt will be stretched out and look terrible with in a year, the shirt you make with quality fabric and will still be here in 10 years.

On , Danielle said: | onesmallstitchtoday.blogspot.com

I ordered this book last week and am impatiently waiting for it to arrive!

I read a similar book last year, Lucy Siegle’s To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World?, and it really kickstarted my motivation to DO something about my sense of dissatisfaction each time I went clothes shopping. This book made me really think seriously about what I was buying, why I was buying it and, perhaps most significantly, what I was actually supporting by buying it. No more! I love that sewing our own clothes empowers us to opt out of the exploitative, irresponsible and dictative side of the fashion industry, without any sacrifice of style or quality. That inspires me every time I flick the switch on my sewing machine!

The issue raised above of finding quality fabric (rather than the same rubbish in the chain stores) is a valid one. It is hard to track down. A friend just put me onto http://www.offsetwarehouse.com , and though I can’t – yet! – speak from personal experience, it looks promising. Eco, organic, ethical fabrics, plus a whole lot of surplus fashion industry fabrics that would otherwise go to landfill. Worth a look, anyhow!

Thanks for this post – very inspiring!

On , Christina Ooi said: | queenofmayhem.com

I LOVE that you got to do an interview with Elizabeth! I am obsessed with this book. It really changed my outlook on the fashion industry. Despite being a home sewer and working in the industry, I really had much to learn about it all!

I would love to make a call to all of those that want to make a difference in the world with regard to the garment industry! :)

On , Cynthia said:

This is why I make as many of my clothes as possible. Since I sew for myself, I have quality fabric and workmanship and my clothes fit. I took sewing classes as a teen-ager, and I’m still using those techniques. Once you get use to the fit and quality of making your own clothes, it is hard to find quality affordable clothing. I made most of my daughters’ clothing when they were young and even sewed for them when they were teen-agers.(Now they are adults.) My oldest can sew a little, but my youngest has no interest, but she can come up with an idea and I can produce it. They both know what to look for in buying clothes, and my youngest has left many a garment on the rack, because upon closer inspection, she felt they were of poor quality and workmanship.

On , Tina said:

I stopped shopping at J. Crew years ago when I bought a winter coat there, and realized I was always cold when I wore it because it had no lining! *rolls eyes at my stupidity* The last straw was the overpriced ankle high boots that showed noticable wear on the heels after I had worn them for about a week. You just assume the quality of their clothing is better than say the Gap or Old Navy, because their prices are higher. Thanks for this post, I’m happy to see an interest in sewing making a comeback!

On , Linn @ The Home Project said: | christonium.com

I love how Elizabeth tuned in on what a difference it makes when you gain more knowledge about a subject. I find that so true, that suddenly you start to appreciate fine details that you never paid attention to before (like the construction of a piece of furniture, molding on a house or how perfectly the top of a quilt is made). This article has made me not only want to run out and find this book somewhere, it has also made me want to get more serious about learning how to sew apparel and not just home goods.

think liz. | Baby Berry Hat/Color Block Hat & other stuff too

[...] a long time to complete a handmade item, but I love the process and the outcome. And then I read this article on Colette Pattern’s blog and it got me thinking even more (and then it was followed by this [...]

{pensamento do dia} Qual é a moda que a gente quer consumir? | Fast Fashion Blogs

[...] Marcia, leitora do blog, deixou o link dessa entrevista pra eu ler durante o carnaval (obrigada!) e achei super pertinente trazer a discussão para cá. [...]

On , Lisa Bunnage said: | thimblelisa.blogspot.ca

Great article and so true.

As a sewer/sewist, I don’t mind paying more for quality clothing, or less for disposable trendy clothing … but am careful to check to see what I’m buying.

I’ve also started thrifting over the past few months and have found some amazing quality clothes with store price tags still attached. One of my best finds was a brand new Gap denim jacket for $7 which was still selling in the store for $85. That got me hooked and now I often go “hunting” in thrift stores for my next find :).

On , DeeLahBee said:

I recently read Overdressed, and it made me proud to be a sewer. Yes, it really is a skill to be able to set in a sleeve or make a buttonhole. Even though I have a (the equivalent of) a small fabric store in my basement, I went in search of a fabric to make a jacket pattern I recently purchased. I made a muslin, which I usually don’t, and made the jacket. I took my time a savored the process. When it was done, I thought it compared favorably with items I had seen in stores…but I admit I don’t usually shop in upscale places.

I wore the jacket out shopping, and a lady in passing said, “Cute jacket”. I truly can’t remember the last time anyone commented favorably on something I was wearing. I thought about the girl mentioned in the book, the one who had 20 or so blazers. She didn’t value them much, but I feel a real attachment to the jacket I made. I carefully put it on a hanger when I take it off. I look forward to wearing it again.

My only hesitation in mentioning this is that the fabric came from a chain store. It was 100% polyester, and probably produced in something like a sweatshop overseas. As an American sewer, I am wondering what I can do to get American-made fabrics.

On , BMC said: | buymycloset.com

Like most things in life. Quality over quantity. From friends, to shoes. (Bravo Elizabeth L. Cline).

Interview with Sarai Mitnick of Colette Patterns | Rake and Make

[...] I enjoyed reading your interview with Elizabeth Cline, author of the book, Overdressed. It really got me thinking! I like expressing myself through my [...]

“the afterlife of cheap clothes” | Refashion Nation

[…] …and then check out a fab interview with the author on The Coletterie: […]