A long overdue book recommendation, I know you'll like this one: Overdressed

If you haven't read this book already, you probably want to!

Sometimes I'm a little behind the times, especially about reading. I love reading, but sometimes there are phases where I don't find the time. Luckily, this holiday break reset my habit, and this week I finished a book I started back in January 2013. Ha!

And in fact, since many others before me have a written excellent book reviews, I'll spare you the academic review of this excellent book and share my new values on this important topic, influenced in part by the book but really have been brewing inside me for a while.

Really briefly--Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion is about how "fast fashion" and mass-produced clothing availability has increased so much since the 1970's and '80's, and the societal, environmental, and cultural impacts it's having on us and the rest of the world. (Now, if you're reading this blog, you've probably been interested in being self-sufficient and fixing damaged clothes, making your own of a new trend you love, or saving money or time as well as getting exactly the clothes you want. So you probably have a leg up on most people in our culture--we care about fashion, sure, but we also want to be practical about doing things ourselves and mindful of the money we spend on clothes.)

Rather than review the book, I'll point you to these articles and interviews--check them out, and the book on Amazon. And on to the discussion!

My mom lent me this book after she read it, having heard the author on Fresh Air. My mom and I have always been good shoppers. She taught me how to navigate a store, and when I started managing my own money in high school, I developed an eye and taste for cheap fast fashion and deep discounts so I could afford to build my wardrobe with colorful, trendy, brand-conscious finds. Shortly thereafter my mom and I both became very skilled at thrift store shopping. (The big Goodwill by her house still has some excellent pieces, not all of which have been marked up since the trend in secondhand shopping that has occurred in the past 5+ years.)

My mom does know quality, but to my young shopper's attitude, cheap, trendy pieces were more important than nice tailoring for the most part. One time in high school, I remember I counted and had 68 pairs of shoes. (I think about 20 of them were a rainbow of flip-flop choices, but still.) My first "real" job after grad school, I remember I wore a different outfit to the office every single day, combining my pencil skirts, brightly colored cheap sweaters, print tops, Target flared suit pants, and about 10 pairs of heels for the 5 or 6 months that I worked there. (And this was in government, not some creative or trend-based field! I was the only one who did this.)

There was a time when then-boyfriend/now-husband moved 4 or 5 times in as many years, and every time I would pack up my massive closet of cheap and thrift and finds in boxes, duffels, and garbage bags and unpack them in our new place, sometimes with very small closets! But, my closet was small in the house I grew up in, too, so I was very used to creative solutions for overflowing clothing storage, like bookcases outside the closet and seasonal boxes under multiple beds.

Get rid of stuff, own less


So really, having MORE, new, trendy clothing had been my goal since I was able to shop. Not until the past 2 years or so has my attitude dramatically shifted. I've started getting rid of things en masse, no longer worrying as much that I spent money on them and only wore them once (but it's still hard).

Now, I feel a little encumbered by the things that I own and don't love... all the (remaining) tops and sweaters that don't quite fit, or are a little pill-ey, or don't go with anything except black jeans. All remaining the jewelry with the worn off finishes and exposed cheap metal. All the remaining shoes that hurt my feet and only look good in pictures.

Overdressed gave me some sobering facts about how the cheap clothes in my closet made it to the mall or big box store I bought them at. It also gave me, a long-time thrift shopper, a broader perspective on the secondhand clothing industry (shocker: there's actually too much supply donated, a surplus over the demand both domestically and overseas). And it reminded me of some serious environmental impacts of dying and manufacturing of the base goods that go into new clothes, particularly cheap fibers.

Couple that with my recent desire to own less stuff, and the inspirations I've seen lately for the "capsule wardrobe" concept (not a new one, but has recently been popularized by blogs like Un-Fancy--How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe and her seasonal examples, as well as Elise Blaha's capsule wardrobes). And a few years back, the 30x30 challenge lots of folks did. These "challenges" show you that you can live with only 30 or 40 pieces in your closet for a month or a season. They never held much appeal for me, but now, I kind of want to live with a capsule forever.

I wear some combination of grey, black, mottled black, camel, and denim pretty much every day. I don't need all the cheap clothes taking up room in my wardrobe. Why don't I spend more money on fewer, nicer pieces? It's a hard shift to make when the draw of very trendy pieces for very low prices surrounds me in the sale emails and store windows I pass at my usual fast fashion favorites. (Especially since starting January 2015, my company got rid of Casual Fridays but now allows nice jeans any day of the week, as long as no client meetings--cut my wardrobe needs down significantly.)

Like, I don't need all this jewelry. I don't wear most of it. And this is the pared down collection!
Photos by Nakalan McKay

But, I sew. As you can tell from the name of this blog, I want to focus more on enjoying the things I've made rather than make-make-make (or shop-shop-shop) all the time. Slow down, enjoy what I have, be grateful, make less waste. And, as my new book DIY Wardrobe Makeovers will show you, I know it's pretty easy to repair and remake clothes rather than buying new.

I guess I'm saying, I feel like I've been building up to a place of shopping less, buying nicer stuff, being more conscious of my wardrobe. But it's still hard to take the plunge and get rid of all the junky stuff and only shop from brands with good social and environmental practices, paying a fair price for what I wear.

Have you read the book, or tried a capsule wardrobe?

21 comments

  1. I have a quasi capsule wardrobe basically because I haven't really bought a lot of new clothes since having baby #2 in hopes that maybe I can lose a little bit of the baby weight before investing in a new wardrobe. I have about 20 total pieces (excluding workout and lounge clothes)

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  2. this is my current mission - stop buying the crap (I'm much better now), donate that which i don't wear, and actually just stop buying stuff i don't wear. i need to read this too!

    http://www.ladiesinnavy.com

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  3. I'm impressed by all of the people who have pared down to capsule wardrobes over the past few years. I go to a ton of different mom/blog/work/benefit functions that require different types of clothing so it's been hard for me to fully pare down, but I've been better about buying quality vs. quantity. The book looks really interesting!

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  4. Inspired by Unfancy I have started a capsule wardrobe in October and I love it so much that I will stick to it for the rest of my life. I loved my autumn one so much that I just kept it as is for Winter. I had 34 pieces in my Autumn one, and now I realised I could easily do with 25 pieces or so. It is really inspiring! I always recommend people to just try it out for a month and see how it goes - that's what I told myself when I started, but I never imagined it would be this easy and enjoyable!

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  5. I am the absolute worst at getting rid of things. While I certainly shop with intention letting go of pieces is really hard for me. I need to find a balanced solution.

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  6. I think the hardest part of the capsule wardrobe concept is that it's easy for bottoms with basic skirts and pants and jeans, but there are so many fun patterns and cuts and colors that I can't choose just a few accent colors that coordinate. I also love pieces that are interesting and tell a story, instead of just being basic and like anyone else could get.

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  7. I do not have a capsule wardrobe, but I do sew the majority of my own clothes. I am in the process of cleaning out my closet and 90% of the items are handmade. I made it a goal last year to not buy any new clothing. I stuck to it and only bought one skirt from the thrift store. Although I do make my own clothes, I have a hard time getting rid of them, even if I don't particularly like the piece, mostly because they are handmade and I put time into making it. I'm trying to work on finding a balance.

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  8. I have not read this book either, but will definitely look for this in the library, I started making clothes from remaking charity/thrift shop finds last year and intend on continuing this year. I was beginning to get bothered by the lack of quality in store-bought and also that they go with a one size fits all, and manufacturing processes seem to dumb down cut - I am delighted I did, as its pulling on my sewing and drafting skills which had been much underused - http://rudai-deanta.blogspot.ie/

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  9. Gotta have flip flops in every color! :) Seriously, I like the perspective of doing more with less, including the wardrobe. As a professional organizer, I am always encouraging clients to simplify. Less clutter (including clothes) makes for a happier life. I'm always saying only keep what is useful and truly beautiful to you. And if you haven't used it (worn it) in a year, let go of it. I'm going to look into the capsule concept. Very interesting.

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  10. This book sounds like I would enjoy it. I am not much of a shopper but sadly also not a do it myselfer. But when I get stuff its usually quality instead of cheap stuff. I do think that the less is more theory also applies to clothing :)

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  11. Will have to put this guy on hold at the library--I feel the same you do, that the last 10 years I've been only sale rack or cheap clothing shopping because I wanted "variety"--but it never lasts! And now even some of the nice stuff I've purchased--I have noticed the build quality going down. Very sad.

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  12. Cool! That sounds simple and low-stress!

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  13. Yes, happy to lend it to you! =)

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  14. That's so cool to hear!! I bet it is a great learning experience for life!!

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  15. I have the exact same problem about getting rid of homemade pieces. I do it sometimes, and I hope someone somewhere appreciates them!

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  16. Your blog is beautiful! Great that you're spreading the word.


    Good advice, that is helpful when it feels overwhelming to make a change.

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  17. Absolutely! Even 10 years ago, pieces were better quality. All the more reason to be a pickier and less frequent shopper.

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  18. Useful and beautiful, absolutely!

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  19. Congrats! Those are rare skills these days, good to keep them alive!

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  20. Ha, I just said this morning..."It's time to purge my closet again!" :o)

    JJ
    www.dressupnotdown.blogspot.com

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