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Book Review: 'Overdressed' shines fashion spotlight on cheap clothes

'Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion' by Elizabeth L. Cline


Bargain hunting has grown incredibly easy with mailing lists sending out 15 percent, 30 percent and "Buy one, Get One Free" e-coupons and mail coupons from popular department stores. And while the deals may get people into the stores, those clearance racks and sales racks can make even the most frugal shopper tempted. But in "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" by Elizabeth L. Cline, trendy shoppers may wonder are they getting the best bang for their buck. And if they are, at what cost is it to those who made the products?

Author Elizabeth L. Cline autographs her book, "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," at Garson & Shaw's Atlanta conference in May 2014.
Shamontiel L. Vaughn

The death countdown from the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse in May of 2013 grew to nauseating numbers, and the death toll seemed to increase everyday. According to AP, approximately 1,034 people were found dead during a factory building collapse. And while many consumers may have not been on high alert about where their clothes were coming from, last year's story made more people concerned about labor conditions.

In Cline's book "Overdressed," she takes on the topic of the tragedy in Bangladesh and the conditions of other textile manufacturing companies worldwide. The primary focus for research travel is in places like China and Bangladesh. According to Cline, "As retailers move to Bangladesh to take advantage of its cheap workers, the garment industry is desperately trying to keep pace. The country's clothing factories now employ more than three million people, with apparel accounting for more than 80 percent of the country's total exports. Walmart, JC Penney, H&M, Zara, Lee, Esprit, VF, Umbro, Wrangler, Disney and Nike all do business in Bangladesh, as do many Chinese apparel firms, which are now outsourcing their own cut-and-sew functions to sources of cheaper labor."

Cline explores how the fashion world made the transition from families making their own clothing, mom and pop shops starting their own businesses, American companies servicing U.S. consumers, to American clothing companies letting greed kick in and swiftly moving clothing manufacturing jobs overseas. The cheaper the labor, the more likely the country could make the clothing. And even if the workers aren't making enough pay to survive their everyday living conditions, the clothing industry continues to get rich.

Writing a book like this takes a special kind of ease. It'd be easy to start making shoppers feel guilty about their bargain hunting or feel miserable for people in other countries who are being taken advantage of. But instead of going the preachy route, Cline laid out the facts and let readers come to their own conclusions.

For readers who want to know more about how cloth is chosen and sewn, Cline covers that. For readers who want to know just how and why labor rates matter to the fashion industry, she's on it. For readers who really just want to dig into the industry and find out how clothing designers feel about knockoff clothing and "exclusive" outfits, Cline has research on that, too. For the trendsetters and those who wonder what's next in the fashion world, Cline's take on fast fashion will raise eyebrows and open minds.

And for the gurus who want to know the skinny on second-hand shops and how recycling companies handle for-profit and non-profit clothing donations, she touches on that as well. One of the most memorable parts of that section is how technology is swaying the recycling industry in poverty-stricken communities and how donations are being affected.

Although schools are eliminating elective courses like home economics and fashion design, the lucky ones who learned how to make their own clothing will definitely be able to relate to the section in the book about saving money by fixing and creating one's own wardrobe. Even knowing the basics of fixing a hem line or sewing a button will make readers puff out their chests a little bit.

If you're at all interested in the profits and budgets for the clothing industry, this is a well-researched and fascinating read. The constant reminders about how much the author looks for bargain deals can get a bit repetitive at times, but her views on fashion help with a lot of her research. Someone who is more concerned about trends rather than quality over quantity couldn't have written a book that shed this kind of monetary light for consumers. Although Cline may have strong opinions on fast fashion and consumer spending, without this bias, it would've been especially difficult to teach readers the ins and outs of the textile manufacturing industry. Brand names and the who's who would've gotten in the way of showing readers how their checking accounts are affected by clothes and shoes.

While views may vary on the fashion industry, "Overdressed" readers won't be able to help being on high alert after completing the read. Similar to those who read nutrition books, it'll be next to impossible not to start checking out the "facts" on clothing, whether new or old, and having a newfound appreciation for everything from a T-shirt to a dress to socks.

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Video: Elizabeth Cline : Textile Recycling Conference 2014

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Disclosure: At the time of publication, Shamontiel was a PR writer with a for-profit textile recycling company. However, the opinions in this review are hers alone, not that of the company.

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