Books About Clothing, Style, Fashion, Retail etc.

Russell Street

King Of The Trolls
I saw this surprisingly worthwhile post at Andyland and figured I need to look into this.
There is a really good book called "Overdressed: the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" that deals with the stratification of clothing and the quick decline of middle-market clothing beginning in the 90's. Outsourcing killed a lot of the clothing that was well made and sold at a fair price. A big part was that, where a critical mass of American consumers were once willing to pay reasonable prices (eg $100 or so for a well made sweater), cheap labor-fueled price gouging in the 90's (Uncle Ralph was a big offender) manipulated the market to the point that consumers became used to paying rock bottom prices (eg $30 for a $30 sweater "marked down from $100" at an "outlet").

Once the critical mass of consumers dropped out of the more expensive (but not luxury-priced) market, those retailers were faced the choice of either raising their margins to compensate for the lower volume in sales or follow the labor race to the bottom. Those who refused ended up folding. As the market became further stratified, many retailers who were previously middle market found themselves charging prices more in line with the upmarket luxury and fashion houses and realized that they now had to compete in the sphere of Veblen goods (Think Brooks Brothers, to an extend J. Press, very much Ralph Lauren). They jacked up prices, not just to compensate for lower volume, but because they had to pay for additional brand imaging and had to maintain an aura of luxury around their products.

This is a very oversimplified version of what happened, but it leaves us where we are now - clothing is simultaneously way too cheap and way too expensive. Most Americans spend way too little of our income on clothing (3% for the average American, versus 25% 50 years ago). But that leaves most of us with landfills full of junk clothes, a higher overall cost of living, lower overall wages, and an average of $7k of credit card debt per person.

On the other hand, if you're not satisfied with cheap asian made junk, you'll have to pay big bucks for quality, far more than ever before.

Thanks Uncle Ralph.

I'm sure most have heard of that "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster" book that chronicles the mass-market move of LVMH and others.

A favorite of mine, not focusing entirely on clothing, is "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture" which is a blend of history and sociology behind the selling of things made to be low-cost.

What else?
Interesting topic. I too was somewhat aware of this phenomenon in the early years of the previous decade. Decent, moderately priced (not cheap, not exorbitant) menswear became almost impossible to find. It is a major factor in why I turned to getting all my suits and jackets made by W.W. Chan. If I could still have bought good-fitting, reasonably well made garments at Nordstrom for moderate cost, I probably would not have taken the route I took with Chan. Of course, a decade ago you could buy a Chan suit for no more than a lot of Nordstrom's better offerings. Today, I virtually never shop for good clothing in B&M stores.
I just picked this book up. I've independently noticed a similar timeline on the decent midmarket evaporating, as my stuff from ~25 years holds up better than newer, supposedly comparable, goods. I figured it had to do with China, and definitely noted that old stuff (LL Bean cords, JC Penney wool sweaters, etc) were US made.
I picked the book up from the library yesterday...
I may give it a read at some point, though the reviews are pretty terrible. I'm currently in the middle of Peter Ackroyd's History of Britain series, so I'm gonna be wrapped up for a bit.
I've just been through a binge of books on the clothing industry, throwaway clothing and manufacturing in emerging economies in addition to works extolling "slow" clothing or spending less by spending more..

I'll have to extract the library list in order to remember titles. Not all were great but all had good parts.
I'm more than halfway through the Overdressed book and I must say that it adds much to my understanding of where we are and how we got there. Mainly, it reaffirms that one should really stick to the old-school way of buying a few very good items and shy far away from lesser goods in hope of value or bargain.

I'd pontificate more, but I left the book in a friend's car and can't access it for a few days...
Any way - in all innocence- I said:
"FFS why don't you just let the hems down"

They laughed and showed me their hems
No allowance at all for letting down - the most minimum of turned up material - not even a real hem.

Sad. And expensive.
Ah, this! There is an interview with some lady that had been working in clothing for a bajillion years and she laments the devolution of quality. The death of seam allowances is listed, and she also cites blind hems, stating that even poor people didn't have visible hems (think jean hems) and that her doll's clothes were better-made. The author confirms that the doll clothing does feature a blind hem.

There is also a quip about how, once she becomes a devote of alterations and wearing clothes that fit well, how annoyed she is to see so many people on the street with ill-fitting clothing that could easily be corrected. Another great toss-off was that she thought looked good in her bargain fashion clothes until she started interviewing people that were actually well dressed (people that include a seamstress that makes all her own clothing, and some fashion worker that wears almost exclusively thrifted vintage).
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Heres a dump cut and paste from my recent library borrowings:

Costume and fashion : a concise history / James Laver ; concluding chapter by Amy de la Haye and Andrew Tucker. Author: Laver, James, 1899-1975

To die for : is fashion wearing out the world? / by Lucy Siegle. Author: Siegle, Lucy Imprint: London : Fourth Estate, 2008.

Overdressed : the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion / Elizabeth L. Cline. Author: Cline, Elizabeth L. Imprint: New York : Portfolio/Penguin, 2012.

Vintage couture tailoring / Thomas von Nordheim. Author: Nordheim, Thomas von Imprint: Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire : Crowood Press, 2012.

Remake it - clothes : the essential guide to resourceful fashion : with over 500 tricks, tips and inspirational designs / Henrietta Thompson ; illustrations by Neal Whittington. Author: Thompson, Henrietta Whittington, Neal Imprint: London : Thames & Hudson, 2012.

Where am I wearing? : a global tour to the countries, factories, and people that make our clothes / Kelsey Timmerman. Author: Timmerman, Kelsey, 1979- Imprint: Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, c2009.
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I've been wanting to get to that one from Nordheim.

The overdressed book seems ok, but from everyone I have talked to, the common refrain is it's more of a rant than a substantive discussion on the state of the industry and how to change perception and practice. Very lacking in depth and very extreme bias in the cases listed.
Yes, it's accessible and breezy while being insightful. There are numbers and footnotes, but the target audience is twenty-something female consumers. I found it worthwhile, but the first chapter or two were repetitive and obvious. It's Malcolm Gladwell level midbrow stuff.
Yes, it's accessible and breezy while being insightful. There are numbers and footnotes, but the target audience is twenty-something female consumers. I found it worthwhile, but the first chapter or two were repetitive and obvious. It's Malcolm Gladwell level midbrow stuff.

Ouch, I had given it more credit than Gladwell, who is basically a high functioning autistic.

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