Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What I'm reading: Overdressed

I love to read. My favorite thing to do when I was a kid was to go to the library. I always came home with a huge stack of books, but typically only read half of them. My eyes were always bigger than my...brain? I've read a handful of books that I can honestly say have changed my life. Atlas Shrugged, Wicked, and Island of the Blue Dolphins are a few of the fictional variety. I can now add Overdressed to that list.

The full title is Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. The book is written by Elizabeth Cline, a writer for magazines and blogs. I appreciated her investigative journalism-type approach to the subject. I was afraid the book would be a sort of hippy-dippy hey let's stop buying stuff from China kind of thing, but I was wrong. It was well-researched and Cline even traveled overseas, posing as an owner of a clothing company, to investigate factories and prices.

There were two parts to this book that will stand out in my mind for a long time. First, Cline quoted a statistic that said if every man, woman, and child in China bought just two pairs of wool socks, then there would be no more wool left in the world. At some point, the consumerism in China will rival the amount in America, and our natural resources (cotton, wool, etc.) are at serious risk. (Kinda makes me want to buy some sheep.)

The second image I can't shake is from her chapter on thrift stores. She made some excellent points about how Americans assume that there are thousands of people just waiting to take our old clothes, and that we feel like we're doing someone a favor by donating clothes to places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Wrong. Cline describes one Salvation Army location in New York that bales up clothing they can't sell at a rate of 18 tons every three days. The amount of waste she describes is staggering.

Personally, my New Year's Resolution was to not purchase any new clothing for this entire year. My goal is to make, refashion, or buy used any time I need something. The only exception is a bridesmaid's dress that I bought this weekend for a wedding in September (I'm the maid--er--matron of honor, yay!). It sounds like a difficult goal, but since I started sewing I look at all clothing differently. But even more important has been the impact of having a baby and becoming a stay-at-home mom. Before we had children, my husband and I both worked full-time (a luxury in this economy, I'm well aware) at good companies. We lived within our means in terms of cars and lodging and most months had disposable income. I could buy stuff without thinking about it too much. These days, with one income and another body to clothe and feed, I think much more about my purchases. Even without any sort of New Year's Resolution, I'm having a hard time remembering the last time I bought clothing for myself. My parents gave me an Old Navy gift card for my birthday last year, and I think that might have been my only shopping trip in 2012!

For all the bad that has come from the recession, I hope some good has come in teaching us to consume less, to spend wisely, and to be content with what we have. I'm no expert in any of these things, but I think being aware is half the battle.

Now if only I could stop purchasing FABRIC...

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