“Elizabeth L. Cline is the Michael Pollan of fashion.” —Michelle Goldberg, senior writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast
Elizabeth L. Cline is a New York-based writer, author, and public speaker. Cline holds a degree in Political Philosophy from Syracuse University. She writes regularly for The Nation and has also written for the NewYorker.com, The Daily Beast, New York magazine, The New Republic, Village Voice, GOOD, and many others. She is also an online editor for AMCtv.com. Overdressed is her first book.
Contact Elizabeth at elizabeth.l.cline AT gmail.com
How did you get the idea to write Overdressed?
I infamously bought seven pairs of $7 shoes at a KMart in Manhattan. That moment got me to thinking about how buying loads of cheap fashion had quickly become an entrenched habit for me and for many other Americans. Gorging on cheap clothes is the new norm. Americans are now buying about 68 garments and 7 pairs of shoes per person per year as a country. In the span of one generation, clothing has gone from something very personal, locally-made and kept for years to a disposable good made in low-wage foreign factories. I wondered if what was happening to our economy was tied in any way to our consumer habits. Why wasn’t anyone writing about this? I really wanted to find out how clothing was turned into a throwaway commodity and, aside from the obvious environmental and human rights consequences of buying so much cheap clothes, I wanted to know what we’d lost in terms of our relationship with and knowledge of clothes. In other words, how have quality, design, and self-expression been compromised in the age of cheap fashion.
How did you research Overdressed?
I had never written about fashion or the clothing retail industry, and so I wrote the book as a consumer/journalist learning about this commodity I’d somehow become completely detached from. I interviewed garment factory workers and owners, clothing designers at big companies like Gap and Forever 21, production and sourcing experts, and quality control analysts. But I knew I wouldn’t get the complete picture unless I went overseas to factories where cheap clothing gets made. So, I made up a fake fashion sourcing company and traveled to manufacturers in southern China and in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The experience was eye-opening to say the least.
Where do you shop now? What do you wear?
Overdressed is a book about overconsumption, so the first thing that had to change was the pace at which I was shopping. I shop at a snail’s pace compared to how I used to, and I no longer shop on impulse. Researching Overdressed made me want to own better clothes, clothes that I loved, that a great story behind them, and that had a level of design and craftsmanship that was missing from my cheap fashion.
When I shop now, I use these principals:
- I support brands that use ethical production, this includes clothing that is made in the U.S. or uses Fair Trade and living wage pay structures. Check out the Shopping Directory for affordable alternative and ethical brands.
- I try to buy only clothes that I really need/want and am going to wear. I also think ahead to how I’m going to maintain and clean a garment/shoes and how I’m going to dispose of them.
- The first label I look at on clothing is the fabrication label. The designer/brand label is far less important to me. I try to buy clothing made out of good materials (silk, wool, linen, Tencel, and Modal are my favorite fabrics), which extends to the buttons and zippers.
Some of my favorite places to shop are:
- Kaight, an independent boutique in NYC that I wrote about in Overdressed. All of the designers Kaight carries are either locally made and/or made from sustainable materials. There’s also an online store.
- I’m a thrift store, vintage, and online resale junkie (Try: Bib + Tuck, Helpsy, Real Real, Vaunte, Shop My Closet). I use the secondhand market to afford well-made vintage and designer pieces and luxurious fabrics that I couldn’t otherwise afford.
- For special occasions, I often scour higher-end department stores like Barney’s Co Op, Saks, Bloomingdales, looking for high-quality pieces that are a good value. Value to me means the price tag is justified by the detail, craftsmanship, and uniqueness of the piece. I also support fairly priced high-end designers who use at least some local production, including Nanette Lepore, Helmut Lang, Theory, and Rag & Bone. Again, the label is less important to me. It’s all about the materials, the way something is made, and where it’s made!
Where do you shop when you’re on a budget?
I shop my closet! And head to the Goodwill as a backup. Most Americans own more clothing than they can wear and much of their wardrobe is underutilized. If I’m really cash-strapped, I wear what I’ve already got. Every season, it’s a good idea to go through your closet and try everything on that’s going unworn. Make piles for donations, alterations, and repairs. I like to creatively re-imagine clothes by shortening hems, taking off sleeves, dyeing fabric and shoes a new color, adding or removing embellishments, changing buttons, etc.
Articles by Elizabeth
The Nation archives
Read all of Elizabeth’s articles for the magazine and online here.
Where Was That Shirt Made? Do You Care?
The New Yorker, Currency blog, Aug. 26, 2013
Who Put America in Jeans & T-Shirts
Today’s casual styles may seem like a development in cultural taste, but corporate manufacturers might be the ones calling the shots.
The Etsy Blog; Feb. 1, 2011
What’s Behind Cheap-Chic Fabrics?
Acrylic, viscose, acetate: What are these alien terms on clothing labels, anyway? Elizabeth Cline digs into the shiny, strange-sounding stuff we wear.
The Etsy Blog; Aug. 22, 2011
The History of a Cheap Dress
100 years ago, women had to drop $600 for the latest styles. Today a fashionable dress is cheaper than a bag of dog food. How did we get here?
The Etsy Blog; May 31, 2011
Sex and the Kitchen
A new book says women cooking for men in primitive societies led to modern-day sexism. But as attitudes about food evolve, it’s increasingly the one in the chef’s hat who wears the pants.
The Daily Beast; July 1, 2009
No Candidate For Young Women
Hillary Clinton is struggling among young women in part because
women are so successful on campus that they don’t feel any need
to vote based on gender.
The New Republic, Feb. 29, 2008
Remaking manhood in the genderqueer generation
Village Voice, June 15, 2004
The Coming Oil-Free Utopia
In $20 a Gallon, Christopher Steiner argues that rising oil prices will not unravel society, but rather change it for the better.
seedmagazine.com, July 8, 2009
Painting and the Pleistocene
The Art Instinct author Dennis Dutton on the arts as evolutionary adaptations.
seedmagazine.com, January 19, 2009
Ida-Lized! The Branding of a Fossil
Jørn Hurum, the History Channel, and PLoS ONE editors tell us
how and why they kept the story of the “missing link” fossil a secret.
Seedmagazine.com; June, 2009
Building Without Walls
A new breed of architectural objects, inspired by theoretical science, is changing how we think about building and what counts as art.
Seedmagazine.com; July 9, 2009
Getting your chlorine fix for free.
New York Magazine
Go Gay-Club Hopping Guadalajara
Dance all night in this cheap, cosmopolitan Mexican city.
nymag.com Weekend Escape Plan, Apriil 2010
See a Solitary Side of the Smoky Mountains
The nation’s most-visited national park is replete with remote
outdoor adventures, especially in spring.
nymag.com Weekend Escape Plan
Concert-Hop in Knoxville
From weekly jazz performances to lo-fi indie shows, this once-decaying football town has become a new hot spot for music. Here’s what to tune in to this fall.
nymag.com Weekend Escape Plan
The Rise of the New Chick Flick
Far from the “women’s pictures” of the fifties or the soft-focus Bette Midler weepies of the eighties, Baby Mama is the pinnacle of the new era of female buddy movies — a genre we like to call the GFF, or the Girlfriend Flick.
nymag.com; Vulture Blog; March, 2008
Mad Max Fashion Show
See who nabs Best Underwear As Outterwear and what Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity won!
AMCtv.com; August, 2010
From Pool to Party
A look into the dried-up Depression relic that’s become
New York’s freshest, coolest concert space.
New York Magazine, 2007
TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimbe Stops the Rain
The kind-hearted front man talks Sonic Youth, hamburgers, and the apocalypse.
nymag.com; Vulture Blog, 2007