How powerful is fashion?
Why fashion? Why, of all things, would we choose fashion to be our plug into the world of human trafficking?
When Dressember first started, it wasn’t “Dressember” at all. It was one woman, Blythe Hill, and her decision to wear a dress every day of December, merely as a style challenge. For the next few years, Blythe and her friends, and then her friends’ friends would do just this; and by 2013, Blythe decided to take a step forward and use the style challenge to make a difference in the world, specifically for victims of human trafficking. Thus launched Dressember, and the dress became the flag for this growing movement.
Fashion can be put off as materialistic or vain or purposeless, but as Hill demonstrated in the launch of Dressember, it can also be transformed into something so beautiful; something that has value and intentional meaning.
And it is relevant to all of us, too, because we all choose what we wear each day, which reflects who we are, what we support, and what we believe in.
Who we are: Sports jerseys demonstrate what teams we root for and maybe even where we are from; saris and kimonos show our culture and the value we place in it; the shoes we wear––running shoes, hiking boots, high heels––advertise a few of our hobbies.
What we support: Each clothing item we buy is our buy-in to clothing brands. We demand, they supply. So if we choose to be consumers of fair trade ethical brands, we choose to use our appearance and our consumer demand to show that we care about where our clothes are made.
What we believe in: If you’re reading this blog, you likely believe that all people deserve their freedom. You likely believe that human trafficking is a sick and sadistic industry that binds men, women, and children as slaves, and you likely believe that it is time for the world to take steps toward ending it. When you wear the “Ask me about my dress” button or any of Dressember’s merch, you are actively using your fashion choices to showcase what you believe in.
Clearly, fashion holds a special kind of power.
And when every last personal belonging is taken from us and all of our individuality is stripped away…fashion holds power then, too, but power for the wrong people.
A sex trafficker will often take the belongings of a victim: their clothes, phones, wallets, and personal identification…gone. This ensures that the victim has no choice but to rely on the trafficker for their source of survival, as all traces of their autonomy is unattainable. Perhaps they are given one dress (too small) and a pair of heels (too big) in return, or if they are a child, just one small t-shirt, all of which become the only belongings they have to cling to. They are no longer an individual or even a person. They are a product to be bought and sold.
But standing up for these individuals through our own fashion choices makes it possible for these victims to regain and reclaim their personhood. Each time we pick up that dress that we’ve already worn six times over the course of the month, or that tie that is so boring and monotonous (though I’ve seen some pretty funky ones that spice up the day-to-day tie game!), it is us standing up and saying that our mild discomfort is such a little price to pay.
To me, wearing a dress in the cold of December means wearing my dignity and privilege on my sleeve (literally). I still have a closet full of clothes to pick from, but it is a privilege to be able to choose the same dress I wore yesterday. I still have my individuality. I still have my choices.
Perhaps you don’t put too much stock in your clothing choices (I’m with you there), but when December rolls around and you’re ready to stand as an advocate, your choices are given new power. Every time you slip into your dress or tie, you are choosing to use your free voice to defend those that are still in bondage.
Choosing to stand as an advocate for Dressember is choosing to believe that fashion is a gateway to positive change.
About the Author
Emily James is currently a junior at Azusa Pacific University, pursuing an English degree with a concentration in Writing. She has big plans to travel and see the vibrant colors of the world, and to write of the marginalized and unheard people she meets along her nomad journey (Dressember is fitting!). When she is not in class or working as an elementary reading and writing tutor, she loves to rock climb, hike, read, and watch romance movies with the girls.