100 days of dresses: What one teacher learned when taking on the ultimate style challenge
"This will be a piece of cake."
At least, that's what I thought when I first took on the 31-day Dressember challenge. For some of you reading, wearing a dress every day for a month is no big deal. But if you're anything like me, wearing a dress can become challenging pretty quickly. I run out of ideas to reinvent the look of my dresses by week two and feel a little discouraged if I have to repeat a look. By the end, I’m usually happy with my fundraising, but left wondering if that time I worried about my outfits could have been used more productively.
Enter Julia Mooney. Wearing a dress for 31 days is nothing to this New Jersey middle school teacher who created a personal project to wear the same dress for 100 days.
Weary of the societal obsession to buy back-to-school clothing and the effects fast fashion has on the environment, Mooney decided that this would be the year she would fight back. She made the decision to wear the same dress every day for 100 days. She started her challenge on the first day of school because she wanted to teach her students about the importance of minimalism and sustainable fashion.
“I could not find a rational, responsible reason to give into the daily obligation to piece together a new fashion ensemble every morning. I could only think of reasons not to, and the rebel inside of me decided to take it to an extreme in order to create a dialogue about something that I feel we should be questioning.”
It didn’t take long for her project to be noticed by her students, colleagues, and later, the headlines. People were intrigued, perhaps a bit grossed out, and inspired by Mooney’s project. She had the opportunity during her challenge to share many wonderful and insightful conversations with people about self image, the ethical treatment of garment workers, sustainability, critical citizenship, etc. But, Mooney said, the real insightful and surprising thing the challenge brought up was how gender discussions played a major role.
“My husband did this challenge [wearing a shirt and pants ensemble everyday] the same time as me. Nobody noticed that he was doing it for months. Even when they realized he was participating, he did not receive the same criticism. He’s been nobly likened to Steve Jobs or Obama, men who chose to wear the same outfit on repeat to simplify their lives. Meanwhile, I’ve received questions like, ‘What’s next, are you going to stop wearing makeup?’ I realized that the people around me expect me to ‘get pretty,’ or else. Regardless of what our cultural expectations are, I believe it is our right to decide when we are going to be empowered by our heels and lipstick, and when we want to be empowered in a manner that minimizes how good we look and shines a light on the good that we do.”
While wearing the same outfit everyday came with its share of challenges, it also came with some perks. With two little ones to take to daycare before work, the simplification of getting dressed allowed for her to spend her time and energy elsewhere.
When asked if she ever got sick of the dress, Mooney replied:
“At the end of the first month, I was definitely sick of the dress. I am a product of our culture as much as anyone else, and I was itching to put something else on. Interestingly, after that point, the dress started to feel like my friend. She was my easy go-to and I started to lose the urge to vary my wardrobe. It kind of made me think about how they say habits form after thirty days, especially in the context of diet and exercise! After that first month, a large part of me was sad to end the project because the dress had simplified my day-to-day experience so much, and I had made it OK for myself to just get up and put the same thing on from yesterday. Nobody at work (I was new to the building this year) knew me based on my fashion choices. They knew me based on me. That was enough motivation for me to continue.”
Thinking back to how this author tried to reinvent her look for the entire month of December as a Dressember advocate, I told Mooney how I relied on different accessories to give that day’s dress a new look. Wearing a single dress for 100 days, I asked her if there was anything similar that she did to prepare for her challenge.
“My primary goal in wearing a dress on repeat was to demonstrate that we can live well (perhaps better) with less things, specifically clothes. I wanted to normalize outfit repeats, which are normal in other countries and irrationally taboo in this country. Our cultural hang-up on displaying a varied and ever-changing wardrobe holds us back from addressing our unsustainable rate of textile consumption and waste. That’s why I didn’t accessorize much. It wasn’t about expressing myself differently each day. I was expressing an idea through the deliberate choice to wear the same thing over and over.”
The purpose of her dress wasn’t to prove that you could change-up the style of a single dress 100 different ways. The dress was the same and was meant to be the same to start a dialogue. Mooney was practicing minimalism and urging others to take notice of fast fashions negative effects on the environment and the people making the garments.
That’s when it hit me that this is the same attitude we should have with the Dressember challenge.
Our dresses (and ties) are meant to be conversation starters about human trafficking. True, not all of us challenge ourselves to wear a single dress for the entire month. We may have a couple dresses to wear (which I do). Regardless, our dresses are less about how stylish we look and more about a single garment that is meant to lead to discussions about the bigger and pressing issue - human trafficking.
So for this year’s Dressember campaign, I’m no longer worried about creating the perfect outfits. I don’t need to reinvent my look for 31 days to stay “on trend.” I can put on the same dress and use the time I’d fret over how to change it up by focusing on how I’m going to spread the word about human trafficking that day.
Looking at what Julia Mooney could do with a single dress for 100 days, I’m excited to see what we can do with our 31 days.
Because after all, it’s bigger than a dress.
About the Author
Elizabeth Rodriguez is a senior at California State University pursuing a degree in Communications with an emphasis in entertainment and tourism. She is extremely thankful to be working with Dressember to fight against modern-day slavery. In her free time, she loves to play video games, watch superhero movies, and curl up with a good book.