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Americans Own More Clothing Now Than Ever Before

In her new book Overdressed: The High Price of Fast Fashion, author Elizabeth L. Cline examines the rise of high street mega-chains like Forever 21, H&M and Urban Outfitters—and how they've impacted the environment, as well as the economy.

Today, Americans spend less than ever on their wardrobes—a mere $1,700 annually per household, to be exact—yet own far more clothes than in years past. In other words, rather than opting for high-quality, well-made merchandise, most of us are choosing to fill our closets with low-priced, cheaply-produced pieces from fast fashion stores. According to Cline, in 1929, the average middle-class woman owned approximately nine outfits. Nine. Nowadays, many of us cycle through that many ensemble changes in a single week.

But in an era when stores like Zara and Topshop turn over their merchandise every two weeks, the desire for shoppers to pick up something new with every retail outing can be intense. Coupled with the industry's obsession with trends (studs! neon! drop-crotch pants!), it's no wonder Americans are choosing to buy less-expensive items with shorter shelf lives—and in increasingly large quantities. According to Cline, because of modern-day shopping habits, "we're buying so much clothing that world fiber use has risen from 10 million tons in 1950 to 82 million tons today."

Obviously, the environmental impacts of such consumption habits are considerable. And since companies are opting to produce their low-priced clothing overseas rather than locally, where labor is more costly, areas like Manhattan's historic Garment District are suffering. Yet with chains like Target and H&M teaming up with esteemed designers on a regular basis, it's certainly tempting to get one's fashion fix at a steep discount.

So what do you think? Would you rather shell out more cash on a few beautifully-crafted designer finds...or pick up an entire wardrobe for $100 at a fast fashion retailer?

Overdressed hits bookstores later this week, but you can pre-order your own copy at Amazon.com right now.

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