68 Garments and 8 Pairs of Shoes

I recently read an interview on The Pattern Review website with Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.

I have not read the book, though I plan to.  Eventually ending up on Elizabeth’s blog  I learned  Americans buy 20.5 billion garments a year or

 68 garments and 8 pairs of shoes per person.

S e r i o u s l y ?

I have been sewing rather maniacally this year making all of my clothes and let’s see……. just how many items have I made during the last 10 and a half months?

15 skirts, 15 dresses, 20 tops, and 7 pants which adds up to 57 garments. That ought to put me close to 68 garments at the end of the year. I don’t know what to say.

What about you?

From what I understand, the book links our overconsumption of cheap clothing with current economic woes and environmental issues. However, Elizabeth Cline praises home-sewers on many levels that include being a better consumer, as well as leaving a smaller environmental footprint.

So now I’m off to making garment number 58 inching my way towards 68 pieces and then I can take my place as another average American consumer.

Ha – not true! Americans BUY 68 garments a year.

Now what would happen if Americans MADE 68 garments a year? What would happen if Americans made 34 garments a year?

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45 Responses to 68 Garments and 8 Pairs of Shoes

  1. Sally says:

    I think I fall way below the 68 garments and 8 pairs of shoes number. I also think this is a sign that I need to shop more!

  2. Becky says:

    I think most Americans have become accustomed to buying way too many clothes, especially the cheap, throw-away type of clothing. I admit that I have too many of these in my drawer, but they are convenient for around the house “working” clothing. Who wants to wear a $90 tee shirt to garden? If the American clothing industry would make some reasonably priced casual clothing that would wash well and would not stain on first wearing, I would buy it. It doesn’t have to be cheap, just reasonably priced. Maybe I have missed an entire line of clothing that fits this description. If I have, please let me know what it is! I haven’t read the book, but I imagine the profit margin is much better on very low quality, imported clothing, and that is why we see so much of it.

    I can’t imagine buying 68 garments a year! My social life does not require that level of fashion! Thanks for this post, it is certainly food for thought.

    • I certainly believe you can manipulate numbers any way you want. I’m convinced the “average” customer…there really is no such thing as “average”… does NOT buy 68 garments per year, nor does anyone seriously believe they do. Some wealthy people, who are all about shopping, probably purchase several hundred garments a year. Some people with several children purchase dozens. We home sewers purchase a few (well chosen, of course) RTW items. Maybe we are responsible for most of the shoe purchases, though…

    • Here, here!
      I thought 68 garments seemed like a stretch. When I decided to give up RTW for a year the tradeoff was that I could make whatever I wanted, and I am surprised that the number is approaching 60 with several weeks left.

  3. Lauren says:

    Very interesting stats. I am going to look for the book mentioned in your comments. Buy well and don’t over consume is the message I am getting from all this. I remember the size of closets I had in the first home I purchased – very small and didn’t think anything of it. We didn’t have many clothes and it really didn’t matter. Sewing or repurposing your own garments over 1 year is such a great challenge and great example to us all. Carry on……

    • Thank you, Lauren! I’ve never had enough closet space no matter what size the closet! Maybe this book is written for people like me…. though I have never liked cheap ( meaning cheaply made, low quality) clothing…..and THIS is why I am sewing my clothes for a year!

  4. Brenda Haltom says:

    I’m reading this book right now and it’s very interesting! Highly recommend.

  5. My first thought is that the new sewing trend is probably part of the reason the economy is in bad shape. LOL! Just think how much $ we aren’t pumping into the economy be sewing our own clothes and buying fabric and second hand clothes in thirft stores and refashioning them.

  6. gingermakes says:

    I’m reading this book right now! The stats are really pretty shocking. Like Lauren’s comment mentions, the size of closets (and the overall size of homes) has skyrocketed in the last 50 years or so, allowing people to store and accumulate more things. According to the book, in 1929, the average man owned six work outfits and the average woman owned nine. I’m guessing every one of us has waaaaaay more oufits than that! And yet, even though we shop so much, Americans are losing jobs (we lost 650,000 American jobs in the garment industry just in the period from 1997-2007), and workers in Third World countries are being paid LESS than they were a decade ago! Yikes!

    Home sewing seems infinitely less wasteful than buying clothes, even if you sometimes spend more on a garment than you would at a cheap store. The stuff we make tends to last longer, and if you’re not wearing something, you can easily refashion it to better suit your style and needs!

    • Thanks for writing, Ginger! My husband and I (especially him :) ) are guilty as charged. Even though we have bought nice clothes for the most part it all adds up. Sewing is most definitely a super alternative!

  7. Picking up on the small closets idea: our house is a three bedroom 1954 ranch. The master bedroom has a 3 1/2′ closet that my husband and I share (overflow must go to the attic). Even though this arrangement is often maddening, it really keeps me honest about the volume of clothing I can own. Also, how is it that we own so many more clothes now than in, say, the 1940s, yet people in the photos from that era always look so very nice?

    • Many thanks for writing Ripple Dandelion! I believe the country has a lot to learn from a couple who successfully shares a 3 1/2 foot closet!
      I believe the reason people looked so nice from the 1940s was due to good grooming – beautiful hairstyles and neat pressed clothes. However, I’m sure there’s more to it than that.

  8. Myra says:

    Wow, very interesting! I love sewing and have been making my clothes for over 35 years (not a “new” sewing trend!!). I will continue because what I found is that for me, I can’t justify paying lots of money for something I can make for a lot cheaper and will have it for a lot longer too! I’m not a wealthy woman and have to budget what I spend so I don’t end up in the poor house! It just seems like a financially sound thing for me to do in my little piece if this world! Get post!

  9. Elaine says:

    It has been fun following your progress this year and I have been inspired to sew more. When I have made something I tend to be more careful in laundering it. Oddly, this post reminded me of how much I enjoy being outside hanging things on my newly installed clothesline. (It is one of the modern compact circular ones.) Fortunately we have no HOA to get upset about it.

  10. Valerie says:

    Her message of putting more thought into what we purchase to wear is a good one. My aim is to have a minimalist, functional me-made wardrobe of clothes but I’m afraid I am along way from that at the moment. I hope it helps the planet that I am becoming very serious about stash busting and only buying fabric and patterns that I need and now and not ‘later’.

  11. Irene says:

    Hmmmm. Lots of food for thought. I have – for a long time – been of the opinion that it’s quality, not quantity that counts in the closet. (OK – so I don’t always stick to this rule.) To get the kind of quality that I want to wear, sewing is the only option. And by sewing – the accumulation of garments is less. (It takes more time to sew 3 t-shirts than to buy 3 t-shirts.)

    • Unless you are like me, Irene…… a woman recently possessed by sewing :) I’m thinking I bought less than I’m making but I didn’t keep track of my itemized purchases (just the $$ amount) before I decided to sew for the year.

  12. sewbusylizzy says:

    Thats amazing and terrifying. When you look at how many clothes people got by with in the ‘olden days’ it says a sad thing about our consumer society. Yes it’s quicker and cheaper to produce but do we really need so much ‘stuff’?

  13. dressesandme says:

    Hokey moley! That is a heck of a lot of clothes!

  14. Tia Dia says:

    I couldn’t believe the numbers when I read them. 68 pieces? New? Every 12 months? I don’t even own that many in my entire closet that covers two seasons. And I’m with most sewists, probably, when I say I’d rather have less of good quality than lots of cheap stuff. And you are sewing at marathon speeds, my dear! I don’t think I’ve ever had as much sewing output in a year as you’ve done in the last 10 months. Kudos! :) I remember a couple of years ago I managed to make up about 6 new dresses over two summer months and thought I’d hit the jackpot! lol

  15. Karen says:

    Maybe Elizabeth Cline should interview home fashion sewers and find out how many pieces of fabric each one of us typically buys each year! No matter the statistics, I’ll bet we are having a lot more fun than the typical RTW shopper!

  16. Cissie Wellons says:

    Wow. 68 garments and 8 pairs of shoes sounds like a lot for one person to purchase in a year. But then I’m thinking of shopping in boutiques and high-end stores. Perhaps if you factor in Wal-Mart and Old Navy you could get to this “average”!

    I try to keep a “diary” of sorts of finished projects. So far this year, I’ve made 8 blouses/tops, 2 skirts (note to self — I need more skirts next year!), 14 dresses (3 of which were “couture”, 5 pants, and 3 jackets (1 Chanel), and 26 garments for my 4 grandchildren (and I was thinking that I wasn’t sewing enough for them!!), bringing me to a total of 58, too! And 59 is almost done!

    I don’t have the stomach to catalogue my stash! But, like you, Sarah, I have found that I have a closet filled with clothes I LOVE — and enjoy wearing! And the journey is almost as much fun as the destination!

    • Hi Cissie,
      You sew non-stop too :) but you are nice enough to sew for others besides yourself. I bet I will too when/if I have grandchildren!
      and you’re right …….. having a closet full of clothes you love reduces the waste that is linked to so many issues.

  17. Caroline Lazzara says:

    Sarah-
    Have you kept track of how much you have spent on fabric, patterns, notions, & classes so far this year?

  18. Jean C. says:

    I suppose that a lot of people in China would be outta work! LoL… I used to work at a fabric store and of course bought fabric as I worked there… my fabric “stash” is quilt large! Anything that I bought over a year ago (although most is older than that!) I consider it a garment that is free!

  19. Cripes I need to do more sewing. Feeling like I could be a little guilty too and I wonder what the stats are for other countries other than the US…. Very interesting.

  20. Gail says:

    Whether we sew or purchase garments we are still consuming goods. I once consumed a lot of rtw clothing that was overpriced. I now consume fabric, patterns and notions. I pay much less for it but it is still consumption.

  21. NinaLBoston says:

    I’m still trying to get my head around those stats (she’s GOT to be counting undies too!).
    IF I have more than 6 career outfits per season (that’s TOTAL – old and new), I’m doing swell. I have to admit that my perspective on wardrobe probably dates from the early ’70s when putting beloved husband through professional school. Some lessons stick with you forever. I’m sure my DD (age 20) could meet or exceed those numbers; however, a large percentage of her acquisitions are actually “handed down” from friends.
    Wish I had the time and energy you have! Maybe I could figure out way to do the hand work during my 60-minute drive to the office. (Note to self: request telecommute option 1 day per week!)
    Love the striped skirt – sometimes those online purchases result in a big surprise. You are the epitome of classic with an edge.

  22. Thank you so much for this comment, Nina! I wrote Elizabeth Cline and asked her to define a garment. Socks, undies, t-shirts we get from non-profit fundraisers? I’ll let you know when/if I hear back.
    A 60-minute commute to the office would seriously interfere with my sewing!

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