Overdressed, the book, not me

Yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon and read this book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline (thanks public library!). While the book wasn’t especially surprising it was worth the read and has provided great discussions on numerous blogs.

I should point out that I’m not new to the anti-fast fashion movement. While I don’t often thrift (I find giant thrift stores overwhelming) I do make nearly all my own clothes these day (not exactly intentionally, I know there are bloggers out there who have taken no-shopping pledges, I just really like making my clothes). I’ve also boycotted Forever 21 a few years ago after I dug into their record of poor employee treatment, sweatshop conditions, blatantly copying other designers’ work and a miriad of “un-Christian-like” ethical behaviors.

I do occasionally shop at Gap and Target, though.

So while I can’t completely relate with the girls Cline interviews who spend reckless amounts of cash for pounds of cheap Zara and H&M finds and then video blog about it I do understand the appeal.

Never in our history have we owned as much clothes as we do now nor has clothing ever been so inexpensive. Because of that we are the first or second generation where the majority of women don’t know how to sew and if we do sew it is because we are “hobbyists.”

What I liked about Over-Dressed was that Cline doesn’t put the blame on one faction of the fashion system over another. It’s a cycle between consumers, the industry and the factories where all these cheap duds are produced.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that clothes need not to be “good quality” but “good enough” for the price. We are disconnected from fiber types, construction methods and terms, and what a nice garment even looks like. Have you ever owned a RTW with french seams? Bound seams? How are we even supposed to know if we’re being duped?

Then producers keep pumping out new product week after week to get people to return the stores. Trends come and go with the wind which gives us a lot of variety (although Cline would probably say it’s superficial variety) it doesn’t last long. (I don’t care if peplums are out next spring, you can pry my peplum tops out of my cold dead fingers!!!)

A bunch of other bloggers have commented about the book, it’s meaning, the cause of fast fashion and what it says about us. Deepika notes that this book isn’t about the art of fashion but consumerism. The Slapdash Sewist takes it a step further – it’s not about fashion but our need for shopping as a pastime in itself. We don’t really care about what we’re buying. Shopping is just something we do.
Leah makes the point that women in the West no longer do this traditional task of sewing which has allowed us to advance our own careers yet we just delegate the work to poor women in developing countries. This leaves us in a privileged position to sew because we want to not because we have to.

It is about all of these things, fashion, status, the ability to participate in a system that was only reserved for the rich. An H&M just opened last week in my town and I admit I was a little tempted to just go in and check it out. The author mentions the pleasure that young women get by going into stores like these were every single item is within our price range, where as going to Nordstrom or Anthro we’d only be able to go to the sale section or be limited to buying just one item. There’s something nice about feeling included in the shopping experience. In that case it’s more about buying lots of clothes because we can, not necessarily because we need or even want the items.

I expected this book to be preaching to the choir and it is, but I was surprised to learn about pieces of this system that I only vaguely understood. I knew that a lot of donated clothes were sold in bulk to Africa but I didn’t know how much, or how much we really donate to charity, or how much is turned into carpet padding (makes me a little more uneasy about donating my handmade clothes I toiled on but weren’t successes).

I also knew about how China has thousands of giant factories filled with migrant workers who live in dorms and who now want a piece of their own exports for themselves. What I didn’t know was the full implication on Chinese society. (I could write a whole post on China’s changing economy but I won’t, the book gives you a little taste).

But the result of combining bad quality garments, consumers’ unrealistic expectations of the clothing prices, factory conditions, lackluster thrifting, giant conglomerations makes me feel like I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Cline discusses how cheap fashion has caused luxury prices to rise in the last decade leaving no middle of the road price/quality option for clothes out there for consumers. I like to compare it to the recent wealth gap in the United States where 1% of the population has an exorbitant amount of money while 99% make zilch in comparison. The 1% can afford the price gouged luxury designers while the rest are relegated to a swarm of polyester crap. There are very little middle class garments available even if you wanted to buy them.

You could still buy from the Gap or Macy’s or wherever after checking their factory ethics declarations but how can you trust them? Cline visits several factories in the US, China, Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic. In each case the conditions vary drastically. She mentions that the majority of Chinese factories subcontract to other factories, often without the companies knowing about it. Many of these factories are illegal. Cline also states that Gap alone uses over a thousand factories in forty different countries. It is impossible to know which factory produced which garment and which factory is better than another.

On the other hand you could buy vintage or from thrift stores but as we all know vintage buyers scour Goodwill and snatch up all the 60s goodies before you ever get the chance and because there’s such a limited supply the price rises. If you can’t afford a modern $200 dress how can you afford a 50 year old $200 dress?

And what is left at the thrift store is H&M and Old Navy cast offs for marginally less than you could buy them new.

So that leaves us with drastically altering thrift finds which some people are very good at (I don’t have a knack for envisioning what an oversized mumu could be so count me out) or sewing our own garments from scratch.

This is a great solution except for a couple issues: 1) odds are the majority of our fabric probably comes from China or Asia (unless we’re all buying Italian wools all the time, I know I’m not) and also 2) If we, the socially conscious, abandon the fashion system all together, what does that leave? People who will continue to buy from Forever 21 looooooooong after they have passed their 21st birthdays.

It’s similar to one of the reasons why I stopped being vegetarian. I was not one who thought we should never eat animals. I was more concerned for the well being of those animals and how it would affect me, the person eating them. Back when I was in highschool, prior to the huge organic/all natural/no anti-biotics movement, I lived in a smaller town that hadn’t seen a proper farmers market since WWII. I had no way of knowing what was in my meat, where it came from, or how the animal was treated (kind of like factory workers). At restaurants I was even more clueless. My best bet was to avoid eating meat completely.

But if I abstain from meat like some sewers abstain from all RTW clothing how can I be an advocate for change? If people like me stopped eating meat the remaining carnivores wouldn’t care about artificially plumped pigs or chickens living in such confined quarters that their beaks are clipped so they don’t peck each other to death. And if no one cared, how would it change? Now I eat meat again but I buy specifically organic or brands that are local. In restaurants I only eat meat dishes if I know where the meat is sourced (which is rather easy in Austin). This way the meat I want to eat continues to be more available.

The same should go for us. If we want to see more textile jobs in the US or more boutiques carrying organic cotton dresses or designers who inspire us we have to support them. Sure, right now the US may be like my hometown, blissfully unaware of their expanding waistlines like their overflowing closets, but if we buy at least one or two pieces from indie designers we love then that market will grow and the US might resemble Austin a little bit more. 😉

A lot of us do make a majority of our wardrobes but even I still buy RTW jeans and the occasional coat or camisole. If you’re a frosting sewer you can buy one or two pieces of cake from a great local designer that you will wear for years and supplement those basics with homemade fancy floral frosting sprinkle dresses. If you’ve ever sewn one of Grainline Studio’s patterns imagine how well fitting one of her Hound pieces would be?

Home sewing is only one solution to the fast fashion problem but it can’t completely solve it.

In the end I’m not that worried about the future of fashion and consumerism, with China growing and the West getting more eco-conscious I think fast fashion is about to hit critical mass. It’s like with stars – the Red Giants burn themselves out faster than the smaller stars.

Burdastyle Book Blouse #2

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The Goal: I loved my first burda blouse (peplums! yay!) so much so I wanted another.

The Pattern: The blouse pattern from the Burdastyle Sewing Handbook. I made a straight size 38 with a couple design modifications.

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The Fabric: The outer layer is a cool, sheer Swiss dot that I bought locally at Fabricker (check ’em out, they have a new online store!). The under layer is just some plain white batiste. The trim is just some poly mini pom pom trim from Hobby Lobby.

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I don’t often use trim when I sew so this was kind of a treat for me. I’d love to start incorporating more trims and embellishments into my projects.

The Changes: A bunch – I thought the sleeve cap height was too pointy and made a tall gathered poof rather than a nice, spread out gathered sleeve cap. I took a non-gathered sleeve pattern piece from another pattern and used it as a guide to adjust the original sleeve cap.

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I shortened the cuffs. I made the neckline slightly larger and didn’t make the front neckline slit. It barely fits over my head. I finished the neckline with a bias tape facing.

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Oh, and I accidentally sewed the opening for the drawstring off center… but I guess it looks ok so I’m not complaining.

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The Results: This shirt totally fits in with my resolution to make more solid color tops to mix and match with bottoms. Sure, it has dots but overall it’s all white. And it has sort-of-long-sleeves which is also another one of my wardrobe needs. I’d say this one is a success. And I love this design so much I plan on making a black version with some crochet trim.

Burdastyle Sewing Handbook Bag

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Sorry for being MIA this last week or so. I swear I’ve been sewing a bunch but taking time to take pics is hard. But now I have much to share with you!

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The Goal: This month’s Bibliostyles was a choose your own bag-book. Pick and make a bag from any book and come in and review it. I don’t own any bag-only books but I wanted to make the handbag from the Burdastyle book (that’s another Burdastyle book blouse, too, which I’ll talk about later).

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The Pattern: The Burdastyle book comes with five basic patterns and each pattern has two variations. I made the second variation, Chie’s Variation, with the bow-tie front. I think the instructions in this book are better than in the magazine or online but you still have to add your own seam allowances, which I think is silly for a bag since it’s not like you’re fitting it. A standard seam allowance for all sides would have been fine. I also didn’t like having to flip back and forth between the variation and the original instructions depending on which step I was on. Maybe that’s being picky but you really have to pay attention to what step you are on.

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Oh and the pattern calls for over two yards of fabric for this bag!?!?! maybe that’s to get the long straps in one piece but I only bought one yard for exterior (and had a lot left over) and 3/4 yd for lining. Lay out your pieces first before you go shopping so you don’t over buy.

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The Fabric: Uh, ok, so I made this bag THE DAY OF the meeting so I was a little rushed for time. I went to Joann and bought this faux suede with metallic bits on it. It’s nice because it doesn’t fray and it doesn’t show needle holes like leather (does real suede show needle holes?).

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The lining is a poly, one of those faux silk things that chain stores sell (and yet price them like they’re silk, what’s the deal with that!?). Both were on sale, which was a big factor in why I chose them.

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The hardware came from my Dallas fabric store trip. I’m so glad I got to use them! The purse feet came from Joann, too. Don’t look to close at the bottom, they’re kind of crooked.

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I added some stiff interfacing to the bottom which gives it a nice base but since the rest of the bag isn’t interfaced (except the strap) it still slouches when I set it down.

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The Changes: Besides the feet and interfaced base I nixed the interior pocket (didn’t have time! and I doubt I’d use it anyway, there are two side pockets). I didn’t make the second attached shoulder strap (I only had hardware for one and I thought another strap was unnecessary). Also, because the bag is so slouchy I noticed that the tie would drag and pull the bag in tighter making the bow droop. I stitched the bow knot down with a couple stitches to the center front of the bag so it would stay up and not pull the sides of the bag tight.

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The Results: I’ve yet to use it with normal purse related items (it’s a big deep bag, easy to loose a lipstick or two inside) but it certainly looks cute! And I got lots of compliments on it. The strap is long enough for shoulder or cross body. I think it will serve as a good winter purse that will go with lots of outfits! I don’t know if I’ll make it again but if I do I’ll try to do the original style with the drawstrings and braided shoulder strap and not interfaced it at all and make it a big, fat, slouchy, boho-style bag.

Library Love: Sewing books

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen 

I don’t often buy books because it just creates more clutter in my house. However, I do abuse my library priviledges when it comes to sewing books.

My most recent trip I got a few gems, including two from the 70s which are amazing (in both a useful and a hilarious manner).

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

I got two lingerie sewing books, a draping book and a pattern alteration book but the real fun items were these two: The Undies Book (1976) by Nanette Rothacker, with 25 patterns (and over 10 that I’d actually use!) and Making Leather Clothes (1972) by Kirsten Jorgensen with styling straight out of my mom’s old photo albums. That leather pants with crochet bell bottoms and matching crop top ensemble on the cover, yeah, my mom would have totally worn that!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

There’s some questionable Beiber hair going on in this book but some of the women’s looks are surprisingly hip.

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

High waist leather shorts with boots and a boat neck top with leather loop fringe? Count me in!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

Leather jacket with knitted sleeves and collar. Totally could wear that today!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

Patchwork midi-length a-line skirt? I want to go to there!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

Button up shorts with lace-up sides? Yes please!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

Fur-trimmed zip up leather boots? Inuit chic!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

Fox fur trimmed leather snuggie? Uh, wait… nevermind. Hey, I didn’t say they were all winners!

Making Leather Clothes by Kirsten Jorgensen

The patterns are all only in one size which is lame. They’re printed to scale so you’re supposed to blow them up to size yourself on gridded paper. Both books are like this.

The Undies Book (can I just say thanks to the 1970s lady who used Undies rather than Panties) is even more awesome, without all those weird fringed vests. What I like most about it (besides the fact that patterns come in three sizes, the bras come in even more sizes) is that most of the designs are so modern you’d think this book was printed yesterday. Sure, some of the info on finding fabrics is out of date and the book doesn’t even mention sergers at all, but the book has lots of illustrations and information.

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

 The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker
Variations on the basic brief include hip huggers, bikini, french cut and string.

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

There’s some pettiepants and pants liner patterns that I’d probably never use (I’ve never even heard of a slip for pants, hmm… must be a 70s thing).

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker
The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

Then we get to the good stuff – a great non-wired, contour bra in several sizes, a basic triangle cup bra,  a convertible bandeau bra and a lounge bra that looks super cool and fun to make!

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

There’s a couple shapewear style patterns and a bodysuit that could be easily made into a swimsuit.

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

Then we get into useful slips including half-slips in different lengths.

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

A bias-cut full slip, a straight chemise slip and similar camisoles. There’s another bodysuit, a little petticoat and a weird peasant style cami.

The Undies Book by Nanette Rothacker

In the end you can crochet your own undies or knits a set of long underwear for skiing. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing…

Anyway, most of these undies patterns look awesome and since they’re so small they won’t be hard to blow up to the correct size. I have a feeling this book is going to be extra useful. If you’re interested in lingerie sewing you can find this book for the cheap on Amazon and eBay (Maddie, I’m lookin’ at you!). If you want to check out some more pics go to my flickr page or click on the images for bigger versions.

Have you ever found cool old sewing books at the library??