By Darby Minow Smith

Off Target: Your money goes further when you spend it on quality products — and it’s more satisfying, too.

I really thought I was above binge shopping. But on a recent trip to Target, the women’s clothing section quickly pulled me in with trendy pastels, $19 dresses. The moments clawing through racks under fluorescent lights are a blur — but unfortunately, the resulting bright purple shorts are all too real. They remain at the bottom of my closet, a (literally) uncomfortable reminder of the irresistible pull of cheap fashion.

Ring a bell? It’s no accident. The fashion industry has sped up and priced down to the point where a common shopping trip can make you feel like you’ve doubled down on a Double Down: bloated, unsatisfied, and foolish for indulging in something so trendy and cheap.


Elizabeth Cline was all-too-familiar with the feeling. “I had gotten to a point where I really wouldn’t buy any clothing if it was over $30 and I owned almost 400 pieces of clothes as a result,” Cline says. The Brooklynite was curious as to how clothing had gotten so cheap and why it felt like her huge closet lacked substance and any sense of personal style.

So she set out on a nearly three-year journey behind the scenes of the fashion industry, traveling from sweatshops in China to overflowing Goodwills to a mostly shuttered New York garment district haunted by ghosts of U.S. industry’s past. The resulting book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, is a revealing look at how fashion arrived at where it is today. Before you write off apparel as low-hanging Fruit of the Loom, keep in mind that clothing is easily the second largest consumer sector, after food. I chatted with Cline about how cheap clothing cramps our style, our economy, and our planet.