In mid-September, I came across a thread in the Designers group on Ravelry discussing this book. I became very intrigued, and requested a review copy from NetGalley.
I read the book slowly, over the course of a rather busy month, and while I have already recommended it to several people, I found it a very difficult book to review. I think this is because Overdressed is really several books inside of one jacket (or, in my case, inside one Kindle e-book).
I loved the book that felt like it was written by an investigative journalist exploring the ins and outs of fast fashion. I learned a lot about the history of the fashion industry and how it moved from seasonal cycles to fast fashion cycles. The explorations of the labor, environmental, economic, and social aspects of fast fashion were interesting and thought provoking, and I've already had conversations with several friends and family about the contents. I also appreciated the conversation about DIY and upcycled fashion and the introduction to many bloggers, designers, and store owners involved in the "slow fashion" movement. I would give that book 5 stars and recommend it far and wide.
There's another side of the book which is about Elizabeth's personal exploration through this world. I'm not sure if it was because I couldn't relate to her experiences of binge shopping or because my inner-women's-college-alumna was alarmed by her seemingly ignorant approach to many encounters, but I was not at all pulled in by these stories. On occasion, it seems like Elizabeth is "playing dumb" to reach a broader audience. (Could the same woman who thoroughly researched the history of a multi-national industry really have thought she could easily travel to various locations in China when she doesn't speak a word of Chinese without a car or a guide until someone suggested she needed a driver?) I felt as though she tried to combine a book that appealed to readers of serious non-fiction with one aimed at shopaholics and folks looking for something "lighter" to read. Personally, I found the switch back and forth a bit disjointed, although perhaps it will bring in readers who aren't already comfortable with critiquing the industry.
And then, there was the editing and formatting. There were many instances of words running together without spaces in between (looking something like this: wordsrunningtogetherwithoutspacesinbetween) and there were noticeable editing mistakes. I have not previously had that experience with any book published by a major publisher (in this case, Penguin's Portfolio imprint). I was always able to infer what Elizabeth was trying to convey, but I found this aspect of the book unsettling. It felt a bit like "fast publishing" to me.
Back to my original quandary: How do I review this book? I think the content is important and it is mostly an engaging and well-researched book. I can't in good conscience give it a 5 star review, though. If my review were based purely on editing and formatting, I would probably have to give it 2 stars. If I were rating the "Elizabeth's personal conversion to slow fashionista" sub-plot, I would probably give the book 3 stars. So I guess in the end, I will give it 4 stars but with this warning - I recommend that you read Overdressed, think about it's content, and talk about it. But be prepared for poor editing and formatting, and to be slightly urked by some of Elizabeth's purported ignorance.
Full disclosure: A free review copy of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion was provided by Portfolio/Penguin via NetGalley. Although I accept free products for review, I do not accept additional compensation, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions.