Book Review: The Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion

Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion - Book Review - csews.com

Hi, last weekend I popped into the Berkeley Public Library and ran across two recent books, The Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion and Lotta Jansdotter Everyday Style. Usually new books like these are not on the shelf and have a waiting list so I thought: This is my lucky day!

In this post, I’m going to focus on the Mood book. (I’ll review Lotta Jansdotter’s book later this month.) If you haven’t heard of Mood Fabrics, then you likely don’t watch television or buy fabric. Thanks to the reality TV series Project Runway (more than a dozen seasons so far!), Mood Fabrics is famous far beyond the fashion world. The flagship store in New York City gets more than 1,000 visitors a day. Wow.

So it’s not surprising that Mood Fabrics would author a book on fabric. The Mood Guide opens with a brief chapter on the fascinating history about how this family business got started by Jack Sauma, a Syrian immigrant who studied fashion design in Sweden. You ‘ll also get to see photos of employees, the family members who work for the store, and Swatch, the popular Boston Terrier who roams the aisles of the NYC store. The book mentions that some people come to the store just to take a photo of Swatch. Yep, the dog’s famous, too.You can see him in the photo below.

Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion - inside - csews.com

The book cover has a round black circle on it that says “A complete resource from Mood Designer Fabrics.” At 184 pages, with plenty of gorgeous photos, I’m not sure I’d call it a “complete resource,” especially when you consider that Sandra Betzina’s book More Fabric Savvy, is 234 pages long and only focuses on fabric. However, unlike Betzina’s book, which is more of a reference book, The Mood Guide features beautiful photos throughout. I’d call it sort of a combination coffee table/fabric resource book.

As I flipped through The Mood Guide, I wondered who would buy it? Beginning sewists? People who don’t sew but who want to know more about the store because of Project Runway? Intermediate Sewists?

The book is a nice overview of the Mood store and fabric. There’s a chapter titled “Fabric 101: The fundamentals of fabric for sewers and designers,” explaining basic concepts such as cutting against the grain, what’s a lining, interlining, and underlining, and defines terms and concludes with fabric shopping tips from Phil Sauma (Jack’s son), who goes on fabric buying trip for the store. For example, he advises shoppers who are buying a print, to check the fabric before it’s cut. Make sure the placement of the colors are where they should be because a bad print bleeds.

There are chapters devoted to certain types of fabric. Cotton, linen, and hemp are folded into one chapter. Wools, knits, and silks each get their own chapter. The last one (titles “Other Fabrics”) is a hodgepodge of everything from metallic and pleated fabrics to leather, lace, and fake fur.

Wools - Mood Guide to Fabrics - csews.com

If you are expecting a book that offers practical advice on how to sew a particular fabric, what needles and type of thread to use, whether you should prewash the fabric, and so forth, you’d be better off getting Sandra Betzina’s More Fabric Savvy.

(For really specific and detailed information on textile terminology, you may want to invest in a copy of The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles (more than 700 pages!). But that book is rather pricey if you buy it new (more than $200) but there are used copies for sale on Amazon, too. I have a used copy of an earlier edition that I got for less than $30 at a book store.)

If you want a beautifully photographed general resource book on fabric, or you’re a fan of the store, this book’s for you.

 

 

 

And the winner of Stylish Remakes is…

Hi, sorry I’m a little late on announcing the winner of the Japanese sewing book Stylish Remakes, which I blogged about here. I meant to announce the winner on Oct. 1. I used Random.org’s random number generator and got this result:

Random number generator

Fourteen people commented and the tenth person who left a comment (drum roll please)…

Stylish Remakes book giveaway - csews.com

Ozge Basagac!

Ozge blogs at Witch of Izmir and lives in Turkey. She’s my first international winner! Ozge, please send me your mailing address and phone number (for customs) to my email and Tuttle Publishing will send you a copy of Stylish Remakes! Congratulations, Ozge!

Thanks to everyone who left a comment! Happy sewing!

 

And the Winner of She Wears the Pants…

is Megan Berka!

She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada- csews.com

Megan gets a copy of She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada! How did I choose the winner? I plugged in the lowest number 1 and the highest 2- (I skipped the one person I knew who already had the book) – and random.org gave me “10” as the result. Megan was the tenth person to comment (skipping Lizzy).

Congrats, Megan! I just need your mailing address and if you are not a U.S. resident, I need your phone number to pass along to Tuttle Publishing, which will send your copy of She Wears the Pants to you.

BTW – I did make the Draped Mini Dress from this book. You can see it here.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my book review!

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Japanese sewing book – She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada – a review

Hi,

I hope you’re enjoying your spring – or whatever season it is in your part of the globe. Have you embarked on any seasonal sewing projects? I finished a dress for the Spring for Cotton sewalong organized by Rochelle of Lucky Lucille. At the same time I began flipping through the Japanese sewing book, She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada, subtitled “Easy Sew-it-Yourself Fashion with an Edgy Urban Style.” The English translation was just released by Tuttle Publishing, which publishes several Japanese sewing books (link to book on publisher’s site, Amazon affiliate link). They sent me a free copy to review – and they’ll send a free copy to the winner of the giveaway on my blog. Warning: This is a really long post, which ends with photos of the top I made from this book, plus details on how to enter the giveaway.

I’m not sure that I would characterize the designs as “edgy.” I guess it depends on how you define “edgy.” For me, “edgy” would be on the outer limits of what someone would wear in public – maybe not as far out as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons but definitely “out there.” Maybe the subtitle is a result of the translation from Japanese to English. Or maybe it’s because there aren’t any typical feminine touches here – no ruffles, lace, or frills – so maybe that’s why it’s “edgy.” Then again, the book was originally released in Japan five years ago so maybe back then, this was “edgy”?

She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada - Japanese sewing book (Tuttle Publishing)

She Wears the Pants features 20 designs, from a coat and jackets to tops, dresses, and pants, many of which sport a boyish look. There are patterns for woven and knit fabrics. Contrary to the title, it is not a book chock full of pants (trouser) patterns. Though the title certainly gives me a chuckle. The book follows the format of many Japanese pattern books – photos of a model wearing each  garment in the first section of the book, info on the patterns, some fabric and sewing tips, and then the instructions with detailed diagrams. Full-size patterns are in an envelope attached to the inside back cover.

In the book’s brief section on working with fabric, I learned something new – when you prewash woven fabric, before it’s fully dry, clip the selvage and then iron it “as it often warps and pulls the rest of the fabric.” There’s an accompanying photo of some scissors clipping the selvage at a 45-degree angle. Interesting. Do you clip your selvages or do you just cut them off?

Tracing the Patterns
The patterns are printed on both sides of the paper so you cannot cut them out, plus the lines for various patterns overlap each other. You can sort of see this in the photo below. If you are new to Japanese sewing books, please be aware that you must trace your size.

Tracing these patterns is a bit of a pain because all the lines look the same. Other patterns (Big Four, indie patterns) will use different lines for different sizes (dots, dashes, dots and dashes) but this is common in Japanese sewing book patterns. Some might use two different colors but this book just uses black. Warning: It can be a bit of a challenge hunting for each pattern piece in She Wears the Pants. I used an erasable highlighter to go over the lines of the pattern I wanted to make. It’s easy to make a mistake and trace the wrong line. So really scrutinize the pattern lines for your size so you trace the correct size and pattern.

Pattern pieces traced - She Wears the Pants - csews.com

Also, pay attention to when pattern pieces are cut on the fold, and mark it accordingly. On these pattern pieces, the fold is indicated by line with long dashes (no arrows, arrows only indicate the grainline). All other lines are solid and unbroken. Look at the cutting layout to make sure you didn’t forget to mark a piece to be cut on the fold.

Add Seam Allowances
Seam allowances are not included so you must add them to the patterns – 1 cm (3/8 inch) in most cases – hems will usually be 2 cm or 7/8 inch. The cutting layout diagram shows the seam allowance measurements. I traced my pattern pieces with two drawing pencils I put together with a rubberband – my low-tech solution to avoid drawing each line separately (see above photo).

Cutting Fabric
The author also recommends folding fabric with the wrong sides together before cutting and points out that when you cut through two layers of fabric, “the movement of the blades may cause the material to shift out of place.” She advises you to cut the top layer first and “then use that piece as a template to cut the second layer.” I haven’t tried that before. I’ve cut one side on one layer of fabric and then flipped the pattern over to cut the other side. How do you cut two layers of fabric?

The Designs
Here’s a look at a few of the patterns – these images are taken with my phone. They look better in the book but even in the book, the photos don’t necessarily provide a lot of detail because there’s usually just one photo of the garment  (so you only see the front and side but not the back) and the lighting isn’t so great. You can see more photos on this Japanese Sewing Books post, which reviewed the Japanese version of the book. The photos on this site look better than the ones in the book. I wonder if the photos in the original Japanese book were re-photographed from the book’s photos (as opposed to using the original art) for the English edition.

This is pattern No. 8, the Sarrouel Trousers – the one pattern that I would call “edgy” – with an odd dropped crotch and a rather baggy look (not quite my style, plus I don’t think it would look so good on curvy figures).

Sarrouel Trousers - She Wears the Pants - Yuko Takada - csews.com

Only three patterns in She Wears the Pants fall in the pants category: the Sarrouel Trousers, the No. 13 Tapered Trousers, No. 14 and No. 19 Semi-flared Culottes, which look like shorts to me. Aren’t culottes supposed to be longer? There are two versions of the Culottes – one with a bow (No. 19) and one without. The book counts each one as a separate pattern but it’s the same.I don’t know if I’ll make any of the pants.

Tapered TrousersSemi-flared Culottes - She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada - csews.com

I really liked the striped knit top on the cover. (Photos of my version are towards the end of this post.)

I like these two patterns, the No. 12 Draped Mini Dress and the No. 15 Draped Cardigan. I bought a deep violet knit fabric to make the mini-dress. I wouldn’t wear it as a mini-dress though. I’d wear it as a tunic, with pants. Kirsty of the blog Top Notch made the Draped Mini Dress a couple of years ago. She used the Japanese version of the book. You can see photos of her version here.

The Draped Cardigan is interesting. I like the pockets but there’s a seam in the lower center back that seems a little odd. You can’t really see what it looks like in the photo.

Draped Mini Dress - She Wears the Pants - csews.comDraped Cardigan - She Wears the Pants - csews.com

Here’s the line drawing of the Draped Cardigan in the book. I don’t know what that seam in the lower center back will look like. The photo in the book is a bit dark so I guess it adds a bit of drape back there. I’m not sure I want that around my backside!

Draped Cardigan - She Wears the Pants - csews.com

I also liked the Square Top, which Sew Busy Lizzy blogged about (and photographed) in her post on the Square Top. She has also reviewed the book and made the Gathered Blouse, pattern No. 17, which you can see about in her post on She Wears the Pants. Kirsty of Top Notch also reviewed the book on her blog.

Japanese Pattern Sizing
In She Wears the Pants, the patterns go from size XS to L. Don’t be alarmed when you read the measurements for these sizes. Japanese patterns tend to include a lot of ease. As I learned from my most recent experience with Japanese pattern books and from EmSewCrazy of Tumbleweeds in the Wind, you must measure the pattern pieces (see my post Japanese Pattern Sizing,which explains this in more detail).

For my first project, I chose the Top with Epaulettes, pattern No. 4, because I love stripes and I love boat necks, and I liked the 3/4 sleeves and their slightly flared design. Plus I had a couple of yards of this black-and-white striped knit in my stash. It’s a tightly woven medium-to-heavyweight cotton with lycra jersey. (I made a Hummingbird top with this fabric.) I left off the epaulettes on this pattern. I didn’t think they added anything to the top.

I made size L, which, according to the book is someone who is: 5′ 5 1/4 inches (168 cm) tall, with a 35 1/2 inch (90 cm) bust; 27 1/2 (70) waist; and 38 5/8 (98) hips. Heheh, right. Those are not my numbers at all. I’m 5′ 8″ (about 173 cm), bust: 37/38-inch (94-96.5); waist: 30/31-inch (76-79); hips: 42 inches (106.6).

I looked at my ready-to-wear knit tops for something similar in style and compared the shoulders and hip area to the pattern pieces. I concluded that I could trace the pattern pieces exactly as they were except for adding a little more ease (about 1 cm) to the hips. I decided that because I was sewing a knit, that I would leave the shoulders as is. On some patterns, I need to do a wide shoulder adjustment. For comparison, I’m a size 16 in Vogue patterns, a size 10 bodice for the Christine Haynes Emery Dress (my Emery dress), a size 12 US/16 UK for the By Hand London Anna Dress (my versions here and here), a size 12 Bluegingerdoll Winifred Dress (my Winifred version).

Pattern pieces cut - She Wears the Pants - csews.comOnce I traced and cut my pattern pieces, I carefully placed them on my black-and-white striped fabric, lining up the pieces so the hems lined up with the same stripe. This top has 6 pattern pieces, not including the epaulettes: front, back, sleeves, front/back neck facings. Yes, it has facings, which you see here (interfacing and fashion fabric).

I wasn’t sure how that would look. I’ve done one neck facing with a knit fabric – my chevron Red Velvet dress. I don’t have a serger and on that dress, I knew that I didn’t want to have a seamline around the neck. So I just tacked the facing down at the shoulder and hand stitched it in a few places. For this striped top, I just decided to go ahead and make a facing, fusing some black interfacing.

After I attached the facing, I used my Kenmore machine’s straight stretch stitch – not very pretty because it goes over each stitch three (!) times – to topstitch it in place. I decided to approach it as a style element and use black thread. Here’s a closeup shot of the neckline:

Top with Epaulettes - She Wears the Pants - csews.com

If I had a serger, I would consider leaving off the facings, increasing the seam allowance of the front and back, and serging the neckline edge to clear elastic, fold it over and sew that down. This is a tip I picked up at the Bay Area Sewists beginning serger meetup last month. One of our members, Edina, demonstrated some techniques on her serger. You can see photos here.

I carefully pinned the front to the back to try lining up the stripes. But I didn’t bother basting because it was my mockup so if the side seams didn’t line up perfectly – no big deal. And when I sewed the side seams, there was a bit of shifting so they stripes got slightly off in a couple of places. It would have helped to use some sort of stabilizer – maybe some fusible tape.

Pinning stripes - csews.com

This is an easy-to-sew top that will be a wardrobe staple for me. If I make it again, I think I’ll add a little more ease to the shoulders. As you can see, the shoulder seam line is above my shoulder point. It doesn’t feel tight but I think it would fit even better with that slight adjustment.

This is a simple top so I decided to have a little fun with my hats for this photo shoot. I got the hat box from the Alameda flea market – officially known as the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. You can never have too many hats (or hat boxes).

This is a vintage felt beret I got at All Things Vintage in Oakland. I’m a sucker for berets. I took these photos (timer on my camera) in the mid-afternoon so the light was a bit harsh (so I’m squinting) but at least the are shadows behind me. I’m wearing some RTW pants here.

Top with Epaulettes - She Wears the Pants - csews.com

This is a white straw fedora that was custom-made for me by Elwyn Crawford of O’Lover Hats. I entered a drawing for the hat as a perk in her Indiegogo campaign. I had a hat fitting for it.

Top - She Wears the Pants - white fedora - csews.com

I think I got this black fedora for a few dollars at a charity shop. I don’t know if the fedora shape is really suited for my face. I’ve got two black ones and I don’t wear them very much. I wear the straw one more often.

Top - She Wears the Pants - black fedora - csews.com

In this photo you can really see the slight flare of the sleeves, which I really like. I got this vintage hat at a charity shop in Palo Alto several years ago. My husband calls this my “flying saucer” hat. I love this shade of red. Here I’m wearing the skirt I made from the Japanese pattern book Basic Black in this photo. You can read my post on this skirt in this March post.

Top - She Wears the Pants- red hat - csews.com

A back view of the top.

Top - She Wears the pants - back view - csews.com

And another shot with the beret – maybe this is bit too much, eh? Beret and striped boat neck?

Top - She Wears the Pants - beret - csews.com

Thanks for your patience with my hat indulgence!

If you’d like to enter my giveaway for a copy of She Wears the Pants, please comment below by Thursday, May 21, 11:59 pm, Pacific time (California). Anyone can enter! Tuttle Publishing will send a copy to the winner. [The giveaway is now over.]

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for review purposes only. I am not being compensated to review it.

Striped top pattern from Japanese sewing book - She Wears the Pants by Yuko Takada

And the Winner of Basic Black Giveaway Is…

Hi,

Before I announce the winner of the Basic Black giveaway, I just want to explain how that person was chosen. I went to random.org, which has a “True Random Number Generator.” There were 28 people who commented so I entered a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 28, hit “generate,” and it gave me number 7!

Random number generator

And the seventh person who commented is Laura, who said: “I don’t have any experience with Japanese sewing and would love to win this book to learn this art.”

So Laura – you are the lucky winner of Basic Black, published by Tuttle Publishing!

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - Tuttle Publishing

Just send me your mailing address and if you are not a U.S. resident, I’ll need your phone number, too so Tuttle Publishing can fill out the customs form.

Thank you everyone for commenting on my book review post! You can order the book on Amazon here (currently less than $11!) or search your indie bookstores for a copy.

Happy Sewing!

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Basic Black Book Review and Giveaway!

Basic Black: 26 Edgy Essentials for the Modern Wardrobe features dresses, blouses, tops, a couple of vests, as well as jackets and coats – all in various black fabrics. That’s quite a few garments to squeeze into one 64-page book and one large double-sided sheet of paper. Yep – all the photos and instructions are in this deceptively thin book, and all the patterns are on one large sheet of paper, folded and tucked into an envelope attached to the inside back cover. The author/designer, Sato Watanabe, studied at Bunko Fashion College in Japan. This English translation was released last year.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - Tuttle Publishing
You  can win a copy of this book – read on for details!

You can win your very own copy of Basic Black! This is my very first sewing book giveaway – courtesy of Tuttle Publishing, which contacted me last month about reviewing some of their recent or upcoming titles. I asked Brandon, their marketing guy, if they could send me a review copy of this book as well. (I was already making something from this book for the Japan Sew Along organized by Catrin, who hosted the sewalong at Tanoshii.) Details on how to enter are towards the end of this post. (Full disclosure: I am not getting compensated for this review – but I did get a free copy of the book.)

Like many other Japanese pattern books, the instructions are minimal but the diagrams are very informative with lots of little details, such as where to top stitch or place a dart. (See this post for the Basic Black diagrams of the A-line Block Skirt (pattern T) I made.) The book typically devotes two – at most three – pages of instructions and diagrams per pattern – and that’s it. One of the reasons this is possible is that none of the garments are lined and the designer assumes some sewing knowledge. For example, for the skirt I made the instructions didn’t say to press before top stitching. Clearly the designer assumes you will press as you sew. So don’t forget to warm up your iron and press those seams!

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - patterns - csews.comAnother feature of Japanese pattern books is that many patterns will be on the same sheet of paper, with many overlapping lines. This means you must trace the pattern in your size onto tracing paper. You cannot cut it out or you will not be able to use the other patterns. Plus, you must add seam allowances to the patterns. If you trace the patterns as is, it will be at least one size too small and likely shorter than you’d like.

Yesterday in my post about the A-line Block Skirt from Basic Black, I mentioned that each garment is assigned a letter of the alphabet; thus it goes from A to Z.

As you can see here, the patterns can be rather messy to look at, overlapping lines and in this case, two different colors, too. But don’t be intimidated – if you use an erasable highlighter to go over the pattern lines, that will make it easier. Just pay close attention to the labels so you mark the correct lines. In this photo below, you can see that the same pattern piece is used for patterns A through J, which are all dresses, shirts, blouses, or jackets.

When you trace the patterns, pay attention to the diagrams in the book, which will indicate when your seam allowance is more than 1 cm or 3/8″. For example, at the hem, the cutting layout may tell you to add 1 1/4″ or 3 cm to the hem but all other seam allowances are 1 cm or 3/8″.

I suppose you could characterize some of the patterns as variations on previous pattern. As you flip through the book, you’ll see some of the same pattern pieces in a different garment but with some slight adjustments to length, necklines, or other details. It’s an elegant economical use of pattern pieces.

Here’s a back cover image I got via Amazon, which uses an image from the Japanese version of the book. The back cover is the same on English edition.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - csews.com

Clockwise from top left: Dress with Stitched Skirt (pattern S), Polka Dot Jacquard Dress (pattern N), Seersucker Shirt with Collar (pattern M), and Blocked Quilting Zip-up Jacket (pattern D).

The Dress with Stitched Skirt uses the same pattern as the skirt I made – but the waistline starts a bit lower and it’s shorter. Now that I’ve made my pattern adjustments to the skirt, I can easily make the dress. Yay! (You can read about my pattern adjustments here.)

As you flip through the book you’ll see some similarities are in the neckline or certain aspects of a dress or blouse but there’s still some variety in the patterns. This book features clothes that the Watanabe puts in one of three silhouette types:

  • Loose
  • Garments with darts and shaping seams
  • Fitted

She groups each pattern in one of the three categories. This will help you determine which patterns to make. I like the more fitted garments but I really like that dress on the cover, which falls in the “loose” silhouette. I’m a little worried it may look like I’m wearing a shapeless bag but I do have some black seersucker that could work really well.

If you are concerned about sizing, this book actually provides useful finished measurements in inches and centimeters for the bust, waist, and hips for each of the different patterns in sizes XS, S, M, and L. This means that people who are XL and above will need to grade up. Finished measurements for size L for the skirt I made are waist: 29 1/2 inches/75 cm; hips: 42 1/8″/107 cm. The waist was perfect but I needed more ease in the hips. If I used a fabric with lycra, it may have been OK but I used cotton pique. I usually need to grade up in the hip area anyway so that was not a big deal. Note: This finished measurement for the waist and hips only applies to patterns S and T. The other patterns have different finished measurements.

You should measure the pattern pieces – as I was exhorted by EmSewCrazy of Tumbleweeds in the Wind, in my earlier post complaining about sizing. That will help you figure out what size is best for you. Note: The ease will be different according to the silhouette type of the pattern. (See my post Japanese Pattern Book Sizing.)

Whimsical vest - Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - csews.com
Whimsical Vest in Corduroy

Besides the dress on the cover, I want to make the Whimsical Vest in Corduroy (pattern G). Though I’ll be making mine in some delicious black wool velvet and I think I want to line the bodice instead of finishing with bias tape. I think bias binding could get really thick and hard to sew through. This is a photo I took from the book. (The photo appears like this in the book – it’s not me cutting her off.)

The photos in the book feature garments in variations of black (solid black, polka dots, jacquard, seersucker, black lace, etc.), but you can certainly use any color you want. You don’t have to use black. The skirt I made, with its 16 panels, would be a great stashbuster. You could make each panel a different color if you want. I chose black because I really wanted a long black skirt.

MaciNic made a lovely polka dot blouse from Basic Black, blogged about it, and reviewed the book here.

I like some of the coats, blouses and shirts – though I’m not so sure about the loosely fitting dresses. It’s not a style that’s flattering for all figures, particularly mine. But at least I won’t need to grade up in the hips. 😉

All in all, Basic Black will make a good addition to your sewing library – and at just $11.87 (current price on Amazon), it’s a bargain. I’ve spent more than $20 on one indie pattern. So 26 patterns for less than $20 is quite a deal.

Here are a few more Basic Black things I like, such as Pattern B (excuse my iPhone photos):

Tiered Sleeveless Dress - Basic Black- csews.com

 

Pattern S: This is the dress that uses the same skirt pattern pieces as the A-line Block Skirt I made.

DRess with Stitched skirt - Basic Black- csews.com

Pattern Y – Cool coat!

flannel short coat - Basic Black- csews.com

If you’d like to enter the drawing for a copy of Basic Black, please comment below about your experience (if any) with Japanese sewing books and/or why you’d like a copy of this book.

This is open to everyone – regardless of location – because Tuttle will ship it to you! If you don’t want to enter the drawing and just want to comment, say “do not enter me” in your comment. You have until Tuesday, 17 March, 11:59 pm to comment. Then I will pick a winner via a random number generator and post the name of the winner on Wednesday, 18 March. If you are the winner and you live outside the United States, you’ll need to send me your mailing address and your phone number for customs. Good Luck!

Book Review: ‘Overdressed’ by Elizabeth L. Cline

I knew something was wrong last year when I saw the sale price of a floor-length black cotton skirt at H&M: five dollars. I remember asking myself: How was it possible to make and sell a long skirt – even with an elastic waist and lightweight fabric – for only five dollars?

I really couldn’t answer the question – though lurking in the back of my mind was the thought that labor costs must be really, really low. Despite that thought, I’m embarrassed to admit, I couldn’t resist the price and I bought it.

Now after reading Elizabeth Cline’s eye-opening book Overdressed (Portfolio/Penguin), I know why that skirt was so cheap. As as a result I don’t think I’ll ever buy anything else from H&M. (OK, I confess that that’s not that much of a sacrifice. I was never a regular H&M shopper because of the slipshod construction of the clothes – stripes that usually don’t line up, seams that looked like they would will come apart in a few washings, cheap fabric, and so on.)

The author spells out why chain stores such as H&M can sell clothes at such low prices – volume. After all when you can place an order of fifty thousand or a hundred thousand outfits from a factory, you can sell it at a low price and still make a profit. Keep in mind that people working in those factories are making their country’s minimum wage, which is likely not a living wage. For example in 2010, garment workers in Bangladesh demanded a 200 percent increase in their wages, which meant $71 a month. In the end, they got about $43 a month.

H&M in San Francisco

And with new stock arriving in some stores a couple of times a week or even everyday (yes, Cline says “H&M and Forever 21 get daily shipments of new styles.”), we have “fast fashion,” which encourages shoppers to buy more clothes more often. But this also means that smaller companies can’t compete because they can’t place such huge orders and must charge significantly more for their wares.

The book is packed with revelatory facts about our gargantuan consumption for cheap fashion and its negative impact on the fashion industry and the environment. Overdressed also provides a succinct overview of how the fashion industry has changed and how our attitude toward clothes has evolved over the past century.

“We are buying and hoarding roughly twenty billion garments per year as a nation,” says Cline, who also points out that the United States “now makes 2 percent of the clothing its consumers purchase, down from about 50 percent in 1990.”

I don’t know about you, but my jaw dropped when I read those numbers.

But Overdressed isn’t just about facts and figures, the author also includes her own personal experiences as a consumer of inexpensive clothes, confessing “For a decade, I only bought cheap fashion…” paying “less than $30 per item on average for each piece of clothing” in her closet.

Cline’s fascinating book is a combination of her first-person perspective and meticulous research (interviewing many people in the fashion industry in New York and traveling to to various places, including garment factories in China, defunct textile mills in the South, and a unionized garment factory in the Dominican Republic). She also devotes a chapter to the “afterlife of cheap clothes – and it isn’t pretty. A Brooklyn Salvation Army distribution center processes an average of five TONS of outcast clothing every day. Cline notes that every year “Americans throw away 12.7 million tons or 68 pounds of textiles per person.”

We can’t recycle that many clothes, folks. It’s just not possible.

Overdressed tries to end on a positive note by discussing people who design, sew, or refashion clothes. Cline describes taking sewing classes with Sarah Kate Beaumont of Very Sweet Life, and buys her first sewing machine a few weeks later. She visits stores that feature clothes made domestically and/or produced from sustainable fabrics, including the Echo Park Independent Co-op in Los Angeles and Kaight in New York, and says that local production is growing because “designers are realizing it gives them far beter quality control and speed to market.”

It’s these last chapters that are a boon to those who make their own clothes or who buy clothes from local designers. So in the spirit of supporting local design, here’s my plug for Field Day, an Oakland company whose mission is “to create an ecologically friendly, handmade, unique and beautiful world” while “[s]triving to minimize textile waste by offering wearables made from sustainable materials.”

Who are your favorite local designers? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section!

Chuleenan Svetvilas

UPDATE – October 15, 2012

I joined in a great Twitter chat (#EFCSRchat) today with Elizabeth Cline, Eileen Fisher, and Green Eileen, the recycled clothing initiative of the Eileen Fisher Community Foundation.

At the end of the chat I asked Elizabeth Cline (@thegoodcloset) “what do you tell your friends who are wearing #fastfashion?” She replied: “Lead by example, turn them on to ethical stores/websites. Go to Fashioningchange.com for ideas.”

She also tweeted a follow-up reply: “check out my shopping directory for a list of alternatives.” Here’s a link to the shopping directory on her website, which includes “those fashion designers/brands who not only have a strong ethical vision, but are design/style leaders as well.” (You can send suggestions for the shopping directory to Elizabeth at elizabeth.l.cline AT gmail.com.)

A few other pertinent tweets from Elizabeth from today’s #ERCSRchat:

” Even if you’re not into fashion, clothes matter! Buying responsibly has huge positive impacts on jobs/environment.”

“[W]e need to stop buying things we know are going to fall apart because textiles/fashion are huge polluters.”

“Ethical fashion has many components: Fair pay, environmental awareness, and smart/sustainable design.”

“It’s important for consumers to have their own sense of style NOT let the fashion industry dictate our choices.”

” Shopping compulsively and buying deals gets you nowhere fast. Check out my former closet: http://www.overdressedthebook.com/aboutelizabeth/

“Now, fashion is split into the super cheap vs. insanely overpriced. We need more fairly priced, well-made clothes.”

And some of the comments from Eileen Fisher (@EILEENFISHER):

“We read in the book that clothes should be viewed as investments, not as trendy throw away items. Couldn’t agree with it more.”

“Problem is that we get into the habit of asking “why pay good $ for clothes that aren’t going to be in style nxt season?”

From Green Eileen (@GreenEileenShop)

“Best tip: Think of the Future! Buying fast fashion goodies offers instant gratification, but what abt long-term?”

“our teams fave OVERDRESSED quote is: “We are all stewards of our clothing, responsible for seeing it…

And finally, from Dr. Susan Rubin (@DrsuRu):

“If our kids understood where clothing came from, they might re-think their shopping choices. Once again, similar to food.”

“As with food, stick with higher quality clothing and it will serve you better. That’s why I shop at @GreenEileenShop.”

“Many Americans use shopping as a drug. Need to become more mindful and discover that less is more.”