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- Publié sur Amazon.com
I was almost too disgusted to finish reading this lousy excuse for an expose.
Despite its informative segments, "Overdressed" teems with nostalgia verging on xenophobia, postmillennial moralizing, and a jittery unease with increasing foreign wealth. Cline writes about the contrast between today's mass-produced, mass-marketed plastic garments, and the bygone days when people spent less and bought better, when her father could buy a well-made, unique, wonderful shirt from the US of A after a thrilling afternoon riding a shiny escalator. Although she does document some of the issues afflicting the world of garment production in an illuminating way, that's not enough to save this book. Problems with Cline's treatment of this subject include:
- Her history of clothing manufacture in America is entirely Eurocentric before she starts in on the evils of modern globalization. Where does Cline think all those gorgeous natural textiles came from? They WEREN'T all made in America, particularly prior to the 1900s-- and the ones that were, like, uh, cotton, were certainly not produced under conditions conducive to human rights.
- She brings in some (anecdotal) experiences of low-income people of color when she discusses the garment factory side of things (from roughly the mid-'60s on), but I can't help but think that those same people wouldn't have had such a fun time going to the country's biggest fanciest department stores in the '50s and '60s. So who does Cline's nostalgia serve, really?
- Cline notes that the middle class is disappearing, then wonders what happened to the clothes the middle class used to be able to purchase.
- Throughout the book, Cline is happy to judge fashion consumers at any price range-- I particularly enjoyed her characterization of Missoni for Target aficionados as "passive"-- but makes little attempt to understand what may be motivating their choices. (From what I can tell, she relies on the same source for every one of her claims about consumer psychology.) Much of her argument seems based on herself and YouTube/blogger personalities, with a kind of it-stands-to-reason and everybody-probably-does-this approach that is ... somewhat lacking in empirical persuasiveness.
- Cline also makes virtually no effort to talk about Americans who buy cheaper because that's what they can afford, or perceive that they can afford. Did she not read the part she wrote about the middle class disappearing? Her entire treatment of "the American consumer" is marred by her insistence on depicting exclusively young, middle-class-and-up women who do actually have the economic capacity to save up for nice clothes. While this demographic may be driving a number of industry changes, their purchasing habits cannot be generalized to represent those of all Americans.
- "Yet there's something about for-profit clothing recycling that bothers consumers." Tell that to Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange: [...]
- The speculation game she plays about whether the factories she visited in China and Dhaka were "just for show" makes me wish she had done SOMETHING more-- poked around asking about other factories or subcontractors, interviewed other journalists who had been to the region-- anything but saying, "This all looked pretty okay, but I had to wonder, WAS IT REALLY?" Maybe she could have avoided some of those issues by not exclusively visiting factories that offered her shuttle service.
- According to Cline, rising foreign labor costs are good, because they will increase workers' bargaining power and make America more globally competitive. But they also freak her out, because Chinese garment workers have purchasing power?? What if they BUY ALL THE SOCKS IN THE WORLD? (Not kidding. This is in there.)
- In many areas of the book, her ignorance of fashion history is embarrassing to read-- like her complete failure to grasp some of the societal reasons for the voluminous skirts of the 1950s (rejoicing in prosperity and an end to wartime privation, which in England involved actual limitations on fabric yardage per type of garment) or for the rise of polyester in the '60s/'70s (futurist movements in fashion held up manmade fibers as the new frontier).
- I completely forgot to mention the extreme intellectual poverty of her resources. To say that Cline references hardly any economists or scholarly sources would be a generous overestimation; I think the reality is it's more like zero. In a book that grapples with the worldwide financial and environmental implications of a major industry's practices, not making use of such sources does readers a huge disservice. Even if Cline disagreed with their premises based on the interviews she conducted, to not have those viewpoints in a book of this scope at ALL? (EDIT: There are a HANDFUL of scholarly sources, almost entirely from congressional hearings rather than articles or interviews, and they're buried among citations of news story after news story and Scholastic magazine, of all things: [...] I wouldn't even cite that in a blog post for my friends.)
And regarding her solutions ...
- Sewing gives you a sense of agency~! IF you have the leisure time to learn how to sew and the money to spend on materials. You can cut your costs under those of many retailers once you know your stuff, but as a sewing novice who has ruined many efforts, the early trial and error takes time, effort, and more money than many people can justify. Also, there are more reasons than wanton consumption for the decrease in sewing skills: Many homemaking practices fell out of vogue during the '70s with the rise of feminism.
- Sorry, thrifting isn't dead. It may be better in some parts of the country, but it is still COMPLETELY possible to go to a thrift store and consistently get gorgeous items in good fabrics for H&M prices. (I've thrifted in 8 states within the past 4 years, and I'm sure it's not hard to improve on that sample size ... but seriously, if Cline gets to use 3 anecdotes to prove national trends, I can use mine to poke holes in her theory.)
- I do like supporting local businesses and independent designers. And at least Cline has the honesty to admit that that's a luxury.
My problems here aren't that I think the garment industry's "race to the bottom" isn't a big deal, or that it's not driven by consumer demands. Some of this information is good, and the effects of profit incentive on the process of clothes-making and the quality of the clothes that result is a worthy one. My problem is that the person writing this book is Cline, who seems to oscillate between a seriously unhealthy relationship with H&M and a tedious pining for a time of innocence and quality goods when everything about clothing manufacture in America was good. And you know what? That past never existed, except in a very limited sense for comparatively privileged Americans. Unfortunately, because Cline is so hyperbolic and "truthy" in her approach, I find it difficult to believe much of what she or her interviewees have to say, even when the data may have been good and the perspectives valid.
I'm willing to bet that if you liked this book, it's because Cline has managed to convey some information you didn't know and couple it with a satisfyingly zeitgeist-y sense of American decadence. (You were right all along! Nothing's as good as it used to be and everyone makes selfish choices now!) However, just because Cline is able to strike an emotional chord in her readers does not make her book well-written, thoughtful, or ultimately worth reading.
I'm just sorry I actually paid $8 for the Kindle book, when I could have spent that money on a blouse, earrings, and a hi-lo skirt.