Author Interview: Elizabeth Cline of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

 What’s the true price of your wardrobe?

With all the fashion books out there to choose from, it’s hard to see a front runner you should spend your time with. Enter Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. While Cline has been equated to “the Michael Pollan of fashion,” we put her on the platform of pioneer.

From fashion victim to educated consumer, Cline takes us on a retail journey the likes of which we’ll never walk the same again. We caught up with her recently to see what she had to say about the state of the fashion industry. Here’s what she had to say.

Is there any original fashion out there anymore?
Totally. I think we’re looking for originality in the wrong places though. Fashion trends happen now on a global level, and change
constantly, and ironically we look to clothes bought off the rack at a chain store to make us feel unique. Think about women in the 40s and 50s. Even though they were all wearing a similar style, many of those dresses were one-of-a-kind and reworked from season to season. I think even today customization is the key to making your wardrobe your own. This could mean having shirts altered that you buy off the rack, refashioning pieces in your closet from previous seasons so they feel fresh, lobbing off sleeves, taking up hems, adding or removing embellishments, and dyeing shoes and garments new colors. I bought a gorgeous sleeveless blouse recently from an independent designer. And the first thing I did was take it to a tailor and have the buttons repositioned, so I could wear it open at the top. Now that top feels like it’s mine and a reflection of my style.

There was a part in Overdressed where you mention the American apparel industry might “benefit from copying” with consumer demand and appetite so voracious. What are the implications of a statement like that?

The industry benefits hugely, because trends are essentially copies of a specific style and trends sell clothes. So the industry profits from copies. That said, I think the pace of fashion has become maddening to a growing number of consumers, partially because of rampant copying. Trends are changing too fast, paradigms of style are being recycled too quickly. The whole game of fashion feels arbitrary and pointless now, and on a personal level, it’s frustrating.

Have we become a mentally ill society that we need so much clothing to fill a void or is it just a really unhealthy addiction? Maybe these are the same…

I think the industry has trained us to shop this way. As the fashion industry became more corporate and consolidated, in order to increase their profits, they slowly erased the detail and craftsmanship of clothes and made the materials shoddier as well. They were erasing our collective knowledge of what clothing could be. Now it’s just a label, a price point, and a trend. To our credit, it took consumers several decades to be convinced that they no longer wanted to own beautifully made clothing and to make them forget that $20 does not in any way buy a well-crafted garment.

Do you think thrift shopping is on the rise because people are looking for cheap or are more people understanding the need to reuse?

I think it’s more so because people crave uniqueness in their wardrobes. We live in a world where it’s quite common to see someone else in the exact same top or print that we’re wearing. It is human to feel repulsed by that. I think vintage better satisfies our need for self-expression and to not feel like our individuality is for sale.

You talk about vintage becoming a “rich person’s sport.” Talk about that.

Sure. Basically, the quality of new, store bought mass market clothing is going down. The materials being used are getting thinner and lower grade, the trim like buttons and zippers are lower quality, the sewing is less refined, there are fewer details. All of the things that we love about vintage clothing are basically missing from store-bought clothes today. Because we’re not making a lot of “good” clothing right now, and the good clothing that does exist is insanely overpriced, the vintage market is becoming more overheated and over-picked, which pushes the price of vintage up.

H&M is kicking off a new chain in Europe but at a slightly higher price point. How do you think this will effect the fast fashion shopper?

I’m more concerned with how it’s going to affect independent designers, who are already struggling to produce clothes ethically and in smaller batches and to sell them at a price consumers are willing to pay. H&M distorts consumers price expectations. They’re able to sell clothes priced below their competitors because they’re a huge corporation with thousands of stores. They order their clothes in high, unsustainable volumes, etc. So, I think that whatever price point H&M sells their higher-priced clothes at is in danger of becoming the price consumers think designer/higher-end clothes should be sold for. It becomes the “fair price” in consumer’s minds, which is quite frightening.

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.