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PatternReview Blog > Interview with Elizabeth Cline, Author of “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion”
Interview with Elizabeth Cline, Author of “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” By Noelle Mac on 7/10/12 3:59 PM


picture of Elizabeth Cline

Welcome to author, sewist, and blogger, Elizabeth Cline!  We are pleased to feature this interview she gave us last week while she was on tour promoting her new book,“Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion”.

Given what you’ve learned in your research, what do you envision as the ideal wardrobe?

The ideal wardrobe is a well thought-out one. Most of us buy clothing on impulse now, and end up with closets full of clothes that aren’t quite right for us and that we don’t get a lot of use out of as a result. Instead, consumers should start the year out with a clothing budget, and save up for clothes that you will love and wear for seasons to come.

How has this book changed your wardrobe?

Completely. I never looked at fabrication labels before and now fabric is an incredible passion of mine. I love silk and linen and the newer viscose fibers like Modal and Tencel, and that makes cheap clothes a lot less attractive to me because they’re mostly made of polyester and acrylic. I browse more, and buy less. I have a lot of my clothing tailored. I also love D.I.Y. fashion projects, like dyeing and refashioning garments.  

How do you think an environmentally conscious home sewer should change the way she shops for fabric and sews?

Only if s/he wants to. Home sewers are already doing their part, because they’re producing clothes on such a small scale and making custom pieces, which makes for a longer-lasting attachment. I’m no expert on eco-fabric resources for home sewers, but I always try to buy only as much fabric as I need and to recycle scraps, even if it just means reusing them in new projects.

Do you think that purchasing and sewing natural, slow-grown fabrics of wool, cotton and linen rather than artificial fibers like polyester would reverse the trend of throw-away clothes?

I certainly think it’s one of many antidotes. Right now, people are buying clothes based on trend and price, and their closets are stuffed with synthetic-based clothes they barely wear and don’t truly love. Knowing about fabrics is all part of the process of slowing down, thinking before you buy, and understanding clothes. Polyester is made from oil; it’s hard to form an attachment to such a fabric when you picture how it’s made. Wool, cotton, linen and silk come from our natural environment, and I think it’s a wonderful truth that we have not been able to outdo nature in terms of hand feel and comfort. Environmentally friendly viscose, like Modal and Tencel, is sourced from natural byproducts, and those feel amazing as well.  

Should home sewers try to purchase U.S.-made fabrics rather fabrics made overseas?

If we do, do we have many options? My opinion on home sewing is that it’s already so much more sustainable that the buying off-the-rack clothes from a huge chain store. Home sewers are part of the solution, not the problem. I know that resources for home sewers have dwindled over the years. Parts of the country don’t even have fabric shops. I think the more immediate goal should be to grow the number of home sewers before we tackle issue of where their fabric is being sourced.  

What was the biggest surprise for you in researching this book?

Walking into a Salvation Army and seeing 18 tons of clothes wrapped up and stacked into a towering wall. That wall represented just three days of cast-off clothing from one single charity thrift shop in one city in the United States.

Do you sew and if so, what kind of garments do you tend to make?

I do. I’m a beginner, so I tend to make simple garments like tank tops and boat-neck tops with cap sleeves. I’m really more of a refashioner at this point, taking jeans and turning them into jean skirts, taking sleeves and shoulder pads off ‘80s blouses, and taking in the side seams on baggy t-shirts.

Do you use patterns?

I’m getting there. I’ve got the pattern and bought the fabric, but I’m intimidated by it all. I’m probably going to take a patternmaking class instead of jumping in.

What is your personal style in terms of fashion?

My style is influenced by rock and punk music subcultures, so I love dark colors and unfussy, edgy, and androgynous pieces. I’m also a huge fan of ‘80s power dressing—I love pronounced shoulders, boxy cuts, and hot pink.  

In your research, did you make any discoveries about home sewing?

That it makes you a better consumer and makes you more attuned to your personal style. I tell people to buy a sewing machine and to learn how to sew if for no other reason than it’ll keep you from getting ripped off in stores and it’ll help you to know what you’re looking at and looking for.

Your profession, where do you live, etc.

I’m a journalist and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.

What would PR members be surprised to know about you?

I won’t say how much, but I think it’s acceptable to drop a lot of money on a really beautiful, well-crafted item of clothing. I don’t advocate buying designer just to brag about the label, but there should be no shame in investing in a gorgeous garment.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth for taking the time to share your views with the PatternReview community!

To read more about Ms. Cline, you may visit her blog.


Overdressed book


Order this book from Amazon.


Deepika adds...

Any book which talks about sewing and/or fashion is of interest to me so I was really excited when we got this book in for a review. Of course this book is not about fashion. In a nutshell, it is about us as consumers of fashion and what its impact is on the society and the environment. Sounds boring? Far from it. It was a very interesting read especially since Cline talks about the history of the clothing industry and what it used to be back in the day when clothes weren't as cheap or cheaply made. It opens with a flashback into the time when clothes were lovingly owned and were mended (an activity we don't indulge in anymore, raising hands here!). Did you know that clothing is one of the few industries where prices have actually come down in the last 15 years? Inflation has not touched it - why? Because the quality of clothes has gone down- way down!

As a sewer, I felt just a little proud as I was reading this book because 90% of my wardrobe is made by me. I feel we are already doing our part by creating our own fashion in ways that we can express ourselves. Not only that, because we are the creators, we can take the time to do it right. And that's what my takeaway from this book is. To invest time into quality fabrics, and quality garments. Stopping to focus on construction and not just "whip" up easy things which I am so used to doing. A great read! I highly recommend it.

17 Comments      Login to Add a Comment    
godivademaus said... (7/31/12 8:07 AM) Reply
No longer working, just moved, craft room not set up yet, haven't added anything to my closet in years. I have wonderful work clothes, but all my casual wear is starting to fall apart at the seams. I need to start sewing!
Sewsirius said... (7/24/12 10:14 PM) Reply
I can't wait for this book to come out on Kindle...I'm trying to reduce the number of hard copy books I buy & have them on my Kidle instead! I'm trying to get my teenage daughter interested in sewing...I think that the future of homesewing rests with this next generation. Program's like Project Runway have helped but more needs to be done in schools. I know in the UK sewing is creeping back (slowly) into the curriculum I just hope we're not too late! Sewing is my passion and each garment I make has a piece of me in it something my kids say they love about the clothes I make for them. I'm amazed that fashion is the only industry where prices have decreased, but not that surprised. With so much of the World wanting to earn a few coins to make things for us that we'd happily paid premium for, and the worker getting little or no benefit. Can't wait until it comes into Kindle then I'll definitely buy it
MaryStern said... (7/24/12 5:15 PM) Reply
The interview and comments were a great read for me. Many thanks to all of you and I hope to see more of this type of thoghtful discussion in future PR segments.
ASiverson said... (7/23/12 12:18 PM) Reply
After reading this review and interview I purchased the book, and it is wonderful. I'm not yet half through it but it is well written and well presented. TFS!
ArtAttack said... (7/22/12 9:32 PM) Reply
I enjoyed this interview as well as Deepika's comments and all below. I'm guilty of not being very "green" conscious so I'm happy to know I am doing at least something small towards the effort. I agree with so many of the comments made below i.e. home sewing not being a cost saving measure and how often I pass up buying something because it would be so simple to make. My mom was a runway model in NY's garment district circa 1940 and she knew all the ins and outs of the "rag business". I am so fortunate to not only have been raised by a woman who had a terrific sense of style but also knew quality in fabric and garment construction. I only hope that some day I can live up to the sewing standard she set!
abuelita2 said... (7/22/12 2:43 PM) Reply
Yes, mid-to-low-end ready-made has become disgusting junk, and so is most of the fabric available to us in that same price range. Good-performing fabrics cost a fortune and are nice to work with, but the thing is you cant try on the fabric and pattern before you buy it. The biggest problem with sewing these days is the risk of throwing money down the drain. To my way of thinking, if sewing is ever again going to be practical for the masses, then pattern companies need to start turning out better drafting, better instructions, and more clarity in everything. And fabric - dont get me started! I'd like to see the same fabrics that ready-made is using THIS year and not 3 years later, and I'd like to see it fresh off the bolt ready to sew. Do you think Anthropologie pre-shrinks its fabric in washing machines before cutting it out? Whew, I'd better stop before I tell you what I really think. The point is, the sewing/fabric industry does nothing to make sewing less risky and dicey for the average sewer, and until they do we're not going to see more people making their own clothes.
ensete2002 said... (7/19/12 3:26 PM) Reply
i just bought the book, and skipped ahead to the home sewing section. while i think i will enjoy the book and probably recommend it, there are head-spinning contradictions in this chapter, and just in 2 pages. remember the premise of the book, which is quite accurate, is rtw clothing in the us right now is absurdly cheap. usually cheaper to make than to buy really. even if you count your labor at zero, unless you are recycling fabric gotten at a thrift shop or repurposing clothes, like jeans to a skirt, sewing is not a way to be thrifty and save money. so she introduces sarah, who started sewing to save money. [probably some of the fabricaholics among us are rolling on the floor laughing to the point of tears]. remember the point of the book is how cheap rtw is. then she says sarah uses fine sewing details like french seams. then that sarah "also prefers materials like knit silk, velvet and seersucker, which are often rejected by clothiers because...they're expensive...and more difficult to maintain" then the author mentions she herself is wearing a $3 polyester top to the interview. i have almost identical taste in fabric as sarah -- i am thrilled to recently have found sandwashed stretch silk and iridescent silk velvet. but the logical disconnect that saying this is an economical alternative to $3 tops is ridiculous. fine quality, lovely, a pleasure to sew and to wear, but not thrifty! again i expect i will enjoy the book, but that two page section was so illogical i had to post this. plus in the interview on this page, she said she assumes home sewers buy a minimum amount of fabric and use every scrap. clearly she isnt looking at peoples stash stats, or the fabricaholic board.
MeganJ said... (7/17/12 2:22 PM) Reply
The theme of this book is very relevant right now--as a home sewer I often pass things up while shopping, thinking to myself that I could make it at home in a more attractive color or with a better fit. That being said, can we give our readers more options than buying this book through Amazon? I noticed the only link to purchase was through a huge online retailer. You could add a link to Indiebound as well. Go local, go indie!
violetsparrow said... (7/17/12 11:10 AM) Reply
Due to the economy I have been in & out of work for the last few years. My wardrobe is showing it! Of late, I have been chastising myself for not using my skills, my sewing machine and that pile of cotton prints I bought a few years back. This review has spurred me forward! To know that I'm not just clothing myself, but also being green by creating my own clothing, gives me extra insentive. While I'm at my local library today I will request "Over Dressed." I love Deepika's line, "...the time when clothes were lovingly owned..." I do remember when we would brush down our dresses and hang them just right so as not to put unwanted creases in them.
ASiverson said... (7/17/12 9:17 AM) Reply
Terrific interview and first I've heard of this book, which I now desparately want to read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I've been sewing and buying clothing made from natural fabrics for quite some time now. It is not cheap and easy, but it is worth it! Thanks Deepika, as always.
Qeteshu said... (7/16/12 0:29 AM) Reply
I just finished this book about a week ago and I highly recommend it. She did a great job putting everything into perspective. I don't go shopping for clothes too much anymore but I've noticed how horrible and shoddy ready to wear has become. I find it boring to make something like a simple basic t-shirt but if I make it myself I know the fabric will last for years and that it wasn't made in a sweatshop. I think people who sew should absolutely read this book because it helped me to be even stronger in my convictions to keep making my own wardrobe.
Finicky Petite said... (7/12/12 11:56 AM) Reply
I'm so anxious to read this book! But one thing to add right now: garment care also makes a difference. Hand-washing delicates, not putting clothes through the dryer, these things make garments last longer. And since home sewists know more about fabric than others, we are more likely to care for our garments correctly...
Nancy Rhodes said... (7/12/12 4:17 AM) Reply
Made me wish PR had a FB-style LIKE button. I am anxious to read this book.. Thanks for the interview here on PR.
AnnS said... (7/11/12 9:16 AM) Reply
I am looking forward to reading the book, and I agree. I shop at those Salvation Army stores to refashion and I buy quality fabrics and sew less, but keep my things for a very long time. It's hard when culture peppers us with "new! Trendy!" and I'm a distracted-by-shiny-objects girl anyway, but I do resist it, and I always try to sew, first.
Norsecross said... (7/10/12 11:56 PM) Reply
As home sewers we can pay for the expense of well made small quantity yardage that manufacturers cannot turn a profit on. Our small purchases of hand loomed silks from India, real Dutch wax and batik fabrics from Africa, hand woven silks from Cambodia, the list goes on, we enable small manufacturers and even village artisans to feed their famies and support themselves with dignity. Buying MADE IN USA is awesome, but buying handcrafted from anyplace is equally awesome. Change the world one home sewn garment at a time! :)
threadandthumb said... (7/10/12 6:49 PM) Reply
Thank you for writing this book. I wish I knew half the things at 20 that I do now about clothing. While linen has always had a hold on me, it isn't until recently that I began to really try to create a linen-heavy wardrobe. That prompted me to settle on some simple patterns and take advantage of out-of-season linen sales. That was as fun as clothes shopping, but didn't spend nearly the money that I would have had I purchased the clothing ready-made. And indeed I am on the lookout for a nice wool suit - THAT I will leave to an expert to construct and pay the price of worth. Great interview.
TJSEWS said... (7/10/12 4:45 PM) Reply
Great interview and thank you, Deepika, for your thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have read the book and it is fantastic. Quite an eye opener!

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