'overdressed': the shockingly high price of cheap fashion

i am reading 'overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion", written by elizabeth l. cline.  this book will change your life.  read it.

cline, a young woman of the 'fast fashion' generation writes about her own experience of realizing just how many pieces of clothing she owned (over 350-- which is average in the US today).  she realized that she bought clothing as if it were no more important than buying a sandwich (and the price was about the same as well).  she decided to research the current state of our clothing industry-- here are a few facts that struck me:

in 1950 the average american lived in a house that was 983 square feet and owned approximately one outfit for each day of the week, plus a few 'special occasion' outfits.  ready-made clothing-- clothing that was purchased off a rack at a clothing or department store rather than being custom made at a workshop or at home-- had become 'affordable' to more americans, and the average american spent about 12% of their annual budget on clothing.  that's a lot.  clothing used to cost a lot more money than it does today.  but it was also made better to last longer.  a dress would typically cost about $100 (in today's dollars)-- making it a significant purchase.  AND at this time the garment industry was the largest employer in new york city.

fast forward to the 1980's-- when the new york times reported that we were witnessing a 'revolution in american shopping'-- caused by discount stores like t.j. maxx (followed later by 'target', and then smaller brand-boutique-chains like 'forever 21') who were able to buy in enormous volume and thus undercut traditional department stores and smaller retailers.  consumers flocked to these stores-- we now purchase on average one garment a week-- beginning an age of consumerism unparalleled in human history and with devastating results.

in 1990 over 50% of clothing sold in the US was made in the US.  now?  less than two percent of our clothes are made here.  in the last 10 years alone that has meant the loss of 650,000 US jobs.  most of our clothing is now made in china-- where minimum wages, by the way,  are roughly $147/ month for garment workers.

we are shipping millions of tons of clothing back and forth across the globe-- at an enormous environmental cost.  the size of our closets (and therefore our houses) has had to increase to keep up with our consumption.  the average new US home size is now close to three times the size it was in 1950.  include in that a further (and still enormous) environmental cost-- to build and heat/cool those much larger houses-- and you begin to see how big the problem is.

i will have more to say on all this as i read more of this book.  in the meantime-- you know exactly where i stand.  we don't have to all buy fair trade or US made every time we make a purchase, but buy thoughtfully.  ask questions about where the products you are buying come from.  think about how many tee shirts you really need.  remember the connection between what you buy and our economic stability.


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