Taking A Count of What We Already Have

 

fiber labeled

I’m not a big fan of Black Friday. I’ve never been one to get up in the morning and take part in a shopping frenzy. In fact, I’m not a fan of early morning at all, so perhaps my aversion to Black Friday reveals that I believe retailers should give me expensive electronics and cash to get me out of bed on a holiday weekend before the sun is shining. That still might not be enough of an incentive to leave my cozy warm bed for vicious crowds and over-the-top consumerism.

Here’s what I did instead for Black Friday (after a late brunch, of course). I counted my clothes.

I’m taking part in an assignment I also gave my Intro to Sociology students. We are reading Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion, where Cline begins her exploration of the fast fashion industry by counting her own clothes that she had accumulated through years of bargain-hunting. She had 354 items of clothing, most of it cheaply-made fast fashion produced in Asia.

In order to not make the clothes-counting task overly burdensome for my students on Thanksgiving weekend, we are only counting our clothes that are currently in circulation – if it’s in a drawer, hanging in a closet, piled on the floor or hiding in a laundry basket, it gets counted. If it’s in a storage bin, it doesn’t get counted. Ditto for underwear, accessories, shoes, scarves, mittens, hats. That means our clothing counts are conservative. Besides just the total count of clothing items, we are also keeping track of what country of origin each item came from, for the sake of appreciating the laborers who made the shirts we wear on our backs. For my own personal interest, I also recorded brand, fiber content, whether I purchased the item locally or from a national retailer, and whether it was vintage or non-vintage.

Part of my motivation for giving this assignment over Thanksgiving weekend is I proposed it could be a fun family activity if my students could convince parents, siblings or cousins to help with the count.  So with my honey filling out an Excel spreadsheet while I went through drawers, closet, and laundry basket, the count began. The results were interesting.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’ll present my results with pie charts. Pie charts are like little festive Christmas ornaments for sociologists. Feel free to print them, cut them out, and hang them on the tree!

Here is a pie chart illustrating the different types of clothing items in my closet, the grand total of which was 186 items of clothing (and that’s a conservative number, given I didn’t count storage).

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I was curious to see what proportion of my clothes were vintage. I have a passion for vintage, yet my vintage garments have to compete with the many t-shirts, jeans and skirts that form the staples of daily dressing. Indeed, I found that the non-vintage items dominated my wardrobe.

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A breakdown of my closet by brand and/or origin of purchase reveals why non-vintage makes up the largest proportion of my closet (by the way, this would be the prettiest of the festive pie-chart Christmas ornaments if I were judging purely on an aesthetic basis).

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I also checked the proportion of garments I had purchases locally, in non-chain shops. I thought my results were respectable, though non-local purchases did dominate.

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What I found most interesting was the breakdown of my wardrobe by country of origin.

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The largest proportion of my clothes were made in the U.S.A., followed by China, and Scotland (huh, Scotland? Yes, Scotland).This is where my wardrobe tells a story about the U.S. fashion industry that Cline details in her book. The high proportion of USA-made items in my closet mostly comes from garments that were made before 1990. Combined with new clothes I sewed, and a few pairs of USA-made jeans and leggings, this explains the strong showing for USA. Made before 1990 also explains the curious position of Scotland in third place. I live in a cold place, and I have a thing for vintage cashmere sweaters, almost all of which were originally made in Scotland.

But all my new t-shirts with their various sleeve lengths, in a rainbow of  colors, my cheap pants and dresses from various fast fashion retailers were produced in Asia or Latin America. Embedded in this data is a historical story of how the fashion industry moved from being located primarily in the Northern Hemisphere before 1990, to moving into the Southern Hemisphere due to companies outsourcing for the sake of finding cheap labor and lax regulations on working conditions. Recoding country by Northern or Southern  hemisphere in my closet, here’s the proportion:

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I’ll be curious to see what the results of my students are for this same exercise. I am guessing that China and other Asian countries will account for a larger proportion of clothing in their closets. And I am sure it will generate a discussion about the labor conditions in the countries where most of our clothing is produced, as this is an compelling theme in Cline’s Overdressed.

And I also hope that by counting clothes over Thanksgiving weekend, everyone felt thankful for what they had and maybe Black Friday held less enticement than in previous years.

- Nancy L. Fischer

All pie charts created on SPSS by Lars D. Christiansen. Thanks!

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5 Comments

Filed under Closet Encounters, Made in USA, Vintage Clothing, Worth Reading

5 responses to “Taking A Count of What We Already Have

  1. Pingback: 2013: Accentuate the Positive: A Year in Ethical Fashion | The Social Life of Secondhand Clothes

  2. skud

    This is a late comment, sorry, but I’m interested to know what countries you include as “global south”. You say “southern hemisphere” but most of the countries in the so-called “global south” are actually in the northern hemisphere, and I suspect that the clothing you’re categorising that way comes from India, China, Pakistan, Mexico, etc, all of which are well north of the equator. The only major outsourced clothing-producing I’m aware of that is arguably southern-hemisphere is Indonesia (which sits on the equator) though I admit that as an Australian I don’t see much clothing from South America, so I might be missing something there.

    I’m aware that “Global South” is a term that’s used to mean something other than “geographic south”, but since you mentioned the actual southern hemisphere, I thought I’d check.

  3. I love this project, I love the pie charts (as well as your holiday ornament metaphor), and I love that at least a few people are thinking about these issues. Thank you for doing it, thank you and Lars for crunching the data, thank you for encouraging your students to do it with their families, and thank you for sharing it with us via your blog. I DO feel that each of us has far more power and ability to make a positive impact on how life is unfolding on planet earth than most of us realize. Every choice we make — often on a daily basis — about which food to buy and put into our bodies, which makeup/dye/aromas/lotions to buy and put onto our bodies, which clothes to buy and wear, whether to walk or bike or take a bus or drive a car… all of these choices become part of the larger equations which underpin the balance of life on our planet. Hurrah for your awareness and educational impulses!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I like the phrase “larger equation” – I do think about it that way. Last year, I gave up my car and now take the bus, bike and walk everywhere. Part of what it means is I shop closer to home, which for me actually means walking to a big box store. But I hope that the car sacrifice is more than offsetting the big box.

      • Another hurrah for experimenting with a car-less life. And life, as we know, is full of yin/yang contradictions — as your comment beautifully illuminates. I look forward to reading more entries about what you continue to learn!

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