one dress protest

“So this chick was interviewing me about you yesterday.” He hadn’t actually said “chick,” and he hadn’t actually said “interviewing.” He hadn’t actually said any of it. He’d said something else in German and my brain saved it directly to the English-language database for further study. If he had said it in English he might have said “chick.” There are very few English words between “girl” and “woman” that feel good between the teeth.

“What? What does that even mean?” I asked as I walked between trailer and table with accouterments for breakfast.

“I was bartending at this party, and when the girl I was working with realized we were in a band together, she started asking me about you.”

I snorted. “What did she want to know?”

“What you look like, if you’re good looking.”

“Uh-huh. That’s ridiculous.”

“And then she asked me what kind of style you have.”

“What kind of style? Are you serious? What did you say?”

“Well…none. I told her you find a lot of things in the trash, including your clothing, and that you didn’t really have a ‘style’.”

I laughed, an outlandish chortle straight from the gut. I am never quite sure how others perceive me, but hearing that I have no identifiable style released a feeling something like relief. My relationship to clothing is tenuous. I enjoy the identity play inherit in costume, but loath the fact that fashion advertisements and magazines have turned donning a costume into a daily necessity and identity play into a consumer product. I like to look “good,” but I almost always favor practicality. I own more than my fair share of clothing, but when it comes down to it, I usually don’t care enough to bother. Who exactly is it that I need to impress? Generally, no one. And so on many a day you’ll find me in sweatpants and rubber boots with messy hair and the same shirt I’ve worn (and probably slept in) for the last three days. On those days, I like to think of myself as a champion of the bag lady aesthetic.

I find clothing in the dumpster across the street all the time. Not icky hole-ridden clothing, but neatly folded items still smelling of detergent. And while some of them may have gotten the boot because they’ve become too small or too big, the majority are being tossed because they’ve gone out of style. (Did you know that charitable organizations like Goodwill played a huge role in conditioning people to find throwing out clothes socially acceptable? More on that if I ever finish the damn trash book.) I see people wearing the same couple of H&M outfits in every city in the country. I’ve watched friends do absurd things to their bodies and their wallets in order to look like the ladies in the fashion magazines. And I can’t say that I like what I see.

I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone should do just what they want, so long as what they want does not hurt or encroach on the freedom of others. So if you want to buy a new wardrobe every season, then by all means, please do (forgetting, for a moment, the dubious environmental and labor practices in the textile industry). I too have been plagued by the siren call of the new. I too have bought an expensive pair of shoes out of sudden and unexplainable desire. But I question whether these desires are our own and whether we would still feel them if we lived in a world devoid of magazines, advertisements, or the concept of seasonal fashion.

And so it was with great interest that I read about Kristy Powell’s One Dress Protest. Here was a woman so fed up with fashion that she was going to wear just one dress for an entire year. Why? “…to protest the ideas and motivations behind how and why I wear my clothes” she explains on her blog. “Over the year I aim to challenge the ways identity is constructed through clothing, what sustainability means for consumption, how our perception of others is so often based on external presentation, and what ‘fashion’ ultimately means for me going forward.”

While the concept of wearing the same item of clothing for extended periods of time is normal in my community (I have a friend who has had on the same pair of pants for the last two and a half years—interestingly enough it’s a pair I got out of the trash across the street, wore briefly, and tossed in our free box), in the wider world, the idea of wearing one outfit for an entire year is radical to the point of near insanity. And yet think of the benefits! No worries about what to wear tomorrow, no huge piles of laundry, no clothing expenses, and all that extra closet space. Unfortunately you’ll also be forced to notice (whether you wear just one or several outfits intensely and often) just how craptasticly made most modern clothing is.

“ODP is not about re-defining myself in the dress I’ve decided to wear for an extended period of time. It’s about learning to define myself outside of it, outside of my clothes,” explains Powell. In German the saying goes: Kleider machen Leute (clothes make people), a saying that tends to be true, but whose inherit truth is bullshit. Clothing doesn’t make people. Cultural mores valuing clothing the way our culture values clothing make large groups of people act as if clothing makes people. The difference may be subtle, but its implications are enormous. “You are not your fucking khakis.”

Do you have a love/hate relationship with fashion? Can you imagine wearing one dress (or pair of pants or shirt) for an entire year?

0 Comments on “one dress protest

  1. No… couldn’t imagine. But then I’m an artist whose medium is clothing, so perhaps I don’t count. But I love (as you know) being surprised by color and texture and shape, and combining them in new and interesting ways, which is why my wardrobe is constantly updated by me ripping apart things and putting them back together. Wearing only one dress for a whole year would take an enormous amount of joy out of my life.

    But I did drop out of fashion school because I hated “style.” By which I mean the industry.

  2. Hmm, most of all I hate shopping/searching for cloth. In daily practice it means I wear 3 pairs of nearly the same jeans in turns day after day, add some similar shirts and pullovers … years ago I’ve reduced myself to just one color (technically speaking black is not even a color). So in a way it’s wearing the same stuff everyday. I don’t mind. It’s just adjusting the amount of layers to outside conditions. The redundant stuff is only for the convenience, to do the laundry in bigger intervals. I guess, still too much of all.

    There’s one exception. To fight humid and windy northern german conditions while riding my bicycle I do spent a huge amount of money for an outer shell (rainproof jacket, gloves, …) regulary.

  3. I had a friend in Florida who bought most of her clothes second hand, and wore a lot of vintage stuff, complete with hats and gloves and a different purse and the like. She had her own funky way of putting herself together and I loved going out with her to see what she’d wear.

    Sooooo opposite of me. I had to wear a school uniform in high school, and still can’t stand wearing navy blue, but I found a uniform works for me. Home wear everyday includes a camisole with a shelf bra (why strap on a real one? I’m not going anywhere), yoga pants, a t-shirt and a sweatshirt. Going out means I wear a bra and overalls instead of the yoga pants. Getting dressed up mean I wear nicer pants and a sweater set. Working out in the yard means my grubby overalls, and various layers of old t-shirts, sweaters, jacket and a hat. Summer means I wear less of everything and shorter versions of everything.

    I have sisters that have cute, current things to wear, but I could really care less. I grew up wearing my older sister’s seven year old hand-me-downs, and it definitely prevented me from falling victim to the fashion bug. I could really care less. Clothes definitely don’t define me, and my lack of interest in this arena has allowed me to develop and pursue of lot of interests in other areas.

    Perhaps that’s why I’m such an interesting person. :^)

  4. this reminds me of when i decided i was just gonna wear mechanic coveralls for the rest of my life. if i had been able to find some that fit me better that idea may have lasted more than a week.

  5. “Unfortunately you’ll also be forced to notice (whether you wear just one or several outfits intensely and often) just how craptasticly made most modern clothing is.”

    Here here!
    Although, this does lead to some excellent sewing wizardry (or at least clever modifications)

    Andrea Zittel did a lot of work involving 1 dress uniforms worn for extended periods. Also, dresses she crocheted herself from 1 strand of yarn. Although, now she’s been doing it for so long that she has something like 70 different uniforms…

  6. I’ve been wearing the same three pairs of shorts since last spring (with leggings in the winter) and it’s comforting and convenient. Of course as a matter of convenience and aesthetics I’ve patched up rips and tears and they’ve grown dirty with wear and that has become part of my overall aesthetic. I feel really happy most mornings when I roll out of bed and throw on the shorts I’ve tossed aside the night before. I feel that as a guy it’s definitely a lot easier to be dirty and not care about fashion though…

  7. Hey–I really enjoyed reading your perspective and take on my ODP. I can certainly appreciate your thoughts and where you’re coming from. I shared your article and the following quote from it on my twitter feed for folks to come read: “Cultural mores valuing clothing the way our culture values clothing make large groups of people act as if clothing makes people.”

    Well said, sister.

    And if bag lady work for you, I think the way you’re coming by your clothes is fantastic! I, unlike you, don’t think everyone should do what they want. Forgive me for imposing but I think everyone should stop over harvesting our planet, filling other peoples homes (ie. landfills) with last years fashions and ignoring the labor workers right to fair wages. But that’s just me… 😉

  8. I have a coworker whose current “project” or “challenge” is to wear a DIFFERENT outfit every single day for the entire spring semester…she has made it three months already!


  9. I completely understand the sentiment behind this concept. I love the line “you are not your fucking khakis.” It’s so true.

    However, I have always loved fashion, loved playing with clothes and outfits and wild combos, and so I will always choose to mix and match and have a decently-sized wardrobe. At the same time, I’ve started to gravitate towards making my own clothes from old ones, or splurging once in a while on a really nice piece because I refuse to buy stuff made without fair labor overseas…and most of the cheap clothes fall apart immediately.

  10. Kristy: Thanks for stopping by and high fives for you and your project! I think you and I might agree more than you think. You said you disagreed with my statement that I believe everyone should do what they want, but I think you overlooked a critical part of that statement. I believe people should have the freedom to do what they want “so long as what they want does not hurt or encroach on the freedom of others.” I include harvesting the planet and making it unlivable for ours and other species a considerable encroachment on the freedom of others. What about the freedom of our species and other species to breath fresh air? And drink fresh water? And eat un-poisoned whole foods? The textile industry certainly isn’t with me on that one. This essay being kept short for the sake of the internet, I didn’t bother to get into the fact that it probably isn’t possible to buy a new wardrobe every season WITHOUT encroaching on the freedom (and I would say right in this case) of me and everyone else to have a habitat that can support us.

    And to clarify for those who don’t know me, I don’t dress like a bag lady all the time. 😉 I own more than my fair share of clothes, some fancy, some not. But the sweatpants and rubber boots combo is pretty much my winter uniform. Of course, this doesn’t include the days I go to work. Or feel like putting on something else. It’s interesting how living with 20 people (and directly next to a concert venue and cafe) changes your concept of dolling up before leaving the house. 1. I don’t leave our place that much because most everything I like to do is here (aka I can attend a concert, go to a cafe, and out to the pub without ever actually “leaving the house” and 2. just walking to the bathroom means that, depending on the day, a lot of fucking people see me in whatever I’m wearing. Makes you realize real quick how little dolling up really matters, since everyone you know and a whole lot of other strangers see you daily in, well, whatever you threw on the run to the bathroom. But I do enjoy the play of clothing from time to time.

  11. Jill: Whoa. Thing is, I bet I have enough clothes to manage the same thing. Good thing I buy mostly second hand. Otherwise that thought would be even more depressing than it already is.

    Jane: Hells yeah for clothing remakes. I would love to live in a world where we all personally know the person who had made our clothing (or had been that person ourselves).

  12. This made me think…What Would David Bowie DO?

    I am surrounded by industrialized insanity, weird creepy outlet malls, hallowed out shopping complexes, icky, boring ways of adopted living. Young girls would benefit greatly by adopting this method, instead of buying a thought process they could be creating an attitude of resisitance, no thought required.

  13. Clementine: I love it, “What would David Bowie do?” Hahaha. Although I have to admit I know nothing about his views on anything, it’s a damn funny twist on the whole “What would Jesus do” line.

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