Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Over-Dressed: A Book Report and Photo Shoot


I finished reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion a few weeks ago and it answered a lot of my burning fashion questions, like "why are all of the tops I try on see-through?"

Cline gives a  history of the fashion market in America and details the downfall of the department store and the descent from quality, well-fitting clothing  to what she calls "fast fashion" typified by chains like Forever 21 where clothes are ultra-cheap, ultra-trendy and meant to be disposable.  

The main thrust of the book is that cheap fashion has ruined the fashion industry in general since American consumers now expect clothes to be inexpensive  thereby forcing non-fast-fashion companies to find ways to lower the cost of their garments by lowering quality and moving manufacturing overseas in an effort to compete.  She basically sounded the death knell for American clothing manufacturing and said that even if a company wanted to manufacture in America, it's pretty much cost-prohibitive and also there are hardly any factories left in the country that even have the machinery to create textiles anymore let alone seamstresses to sew clothes which I found shocking and sad.  

As I was reading I thought back to my school days when my mom would take me shopping in the Fall for back-to-school wear and then again in the Spring for warmer weather clothes.  The malls were full of stores whose merchandise didn't really change until the season changed. Not so much anymore.  Cline says that with fast-fashion (spurred on by the internet) stores are constantly restocking their merchandise with the latest trends and you can shop to your hearts content year round and always find something new and cheap. Trends are constantly changing in an effort to get us to buy more and more and who cares if it falls apart after two washings!  It's cheap!   And it won't be "in" anymore in two months anyway.....

Her solutions to the problems of the American fashion industry are to buy comparatively much more expensive clothes from ethically sourced boutiques or buy older well-made second hand clothes and either get handy with a sewing machine or find your own dressmaker.  I'm not sure how practical that is for a busy mom--although I would love to learn to sew clothes from pattern (bust still not all my clothes).

I'm not a fashionista *cough* *cough* I hate to shop and I really hate to waste money on non-essentials so I'm not exactly the customer stores like Forever 21 are vying for, but this book has given me a lot to think about--the ethics of where and how my clothes are made and what happens to all of those disposable garments after the thrift stores can't sell them, the wastefulness of disposable clothes and our constant consumerism, what a reasonable price for well made clothing is, and how much clothing I actually need--because clearly what I need in my life is more things to worry about.  

The book did give me the push I needed to finally take the plunge and order something from eshakti.  This company will sew clothes for you based on your measurements and you can customize the length and/or sleeves for everything.  Of course the best part is that pretty much all the dresses and skirts have pockets :)  They're always having sales and new customers get $30 off their first order so there's really no reason not to give it a try.  The skirt I bought only ended up costing $20 with shipping and once I received it I got an e-mail thanking me for my order with another $35 in gift cards--yes please! 

I tried to get my little helper to take a picture so I could show you all the gloriousness of this skirt but alas.....five year olds apparently do not make for great photographers.......

Me:  Are you sure you're getting my whole body?

David:  (exasperated that I would doubt his abilities) Yes mommmm.

Me:  Make sure you wait for the camera to focus.

Me:  The skirt David, get a picture of the skirt.

Me:  Am I even in these pictures?

Clearly I've missed my calling as a fashion blogger.  You'll just have to imagine the bottom of the skirt--it's the "under the knee" length and it's perfect :)  

And yes, it is February.  And yes, this is what I wore outside today in Florida :)

All this thinking about fashion reminded me of an article from the Notre Dame magazine circa 2012 (I know, I know, it's not all bad!), The Lost Art of Dress about Linda Przybyszewski--a master dressmaker and fashion historian.   She appears to be sounding a clarion call for us all to relearn the art of knowing how to dress appropriately which I think goes hand in hand with buying fewer, well-made pieces of clothing.  One of my favorite parts:

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, educating young women in the “art” of dress was as integral a part of their formal education as the “science” of housekeeping. High school and college textbooks with titles like The Mode in Dress and Home and Art in Home and Clothing enlightened the young female mind, assuring that garish gauntlets or passé peplums never hampered the future happiness and productivity of educated American women.
In 1923, the United States added a national Bureau of Home Economics to theUSDA. By the 1930s, every public high school in the country and 36 land grant colleges had Home Economics Departments right alongside English and Science departments. Basic information like the six occasions for dress was taught to young women with the same academic rigor as algebraic equations or the periodic table of elements. (Incidentally, the six occasions for dress were: school; work/travel/city; housework; sports/spectator; evening in or out; afternoon affairs/tea.)
Simple, artful dressing (and living) was at one time so valued that home economists elevated the concept to the level of morality and honesty. Consider this, from Shelter and Clothing, a 1914 college textbook written by two women who taught at Teachers College at Columbia University:
A home based on the right principles will be simple. There will be simplicity of living, honesty in the expression of what is offered in the home. No ostentation or living beyond one’s means; simplicity in entertainment and in offering freely of what one has to friends, without apology or explanation; simple furnishings, simple, healthful food, simple, artistic clothing, all help to simplify life and give the homemakers more time for the family joys and intercourse.
So what happened?

I intend to find out! I pre-ordered her book, The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish (I like the working title better--Nation of Slobs: The Art, Ethics and Economics of Dress in Modern America).  

So, in summary:

Read Overdressed--it's super interesting.  Me = loves pockets, hates shopping, not a fashion blogger.  Also, apparently on a reading about fashion history kick which is ironic because I'm not the least bit fashionable at all. 


  1. So perfect!!! I love love looooove it :) And those books sound fascinating - I'm going to have to find them and read them!

    1. You definitely should, I think you would really like them!

  2. What a gorgeous skirt! (what we can see of it anyway) The color, the waistband, and the POCKETS! You're sure right about pockets - every article of outer clothing needs them.

    1. I know! I think I'm going to try my hand at adding some pockets to a few skirts that I already have :)

  3. Such a natural beauty! I love the jewel blue tone of the skirt, what is the material? I want to purchase more fair trade clothing because despite my mother's best efforts, I never grasped the art of sewing. But it's going on the bucket list!

    1. Thank you! It's actually chambray and a little darker than I thought it would be but I love it!

      I can't vouch for the company being fair trade, but their website does say that they pay their workers 50-100% over India's minimum wage which the Cline book says hardly ever happens with the larger companies. I guess shopping at eshakti solves the "fast fashion" problem but not the problem of the finding clothes made in America :)

  4. That is actually quite helpful, thank you! :) Baby steps!

  5. Oh I love this post!! and I totally love the skirt!! Those books are very interesting, I need to read them.

    Need to purchase something from eshatiki...I am hating all my clothes right now. And I have been wearing more workout wear now that we go the Y a lot...:(


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...