100 Days Of Wearing The Same Dress - And What I Learned
If there’s one idea that encapsulates my relationship to fashion, it’s this, asked by my then 8-year-old: "Mom, tell me about some mistakes you've made in your life that's not fashion-related."
This is pretty much how I feel about clothes in general. I look at getting dressed in the morning as a utilitarian exercise, albeit one I try to do with intention. I’m a busy mother with a full-time job, and if I can spend as little time as possible thinking about my fashion choices, so much the better. I also think about sustainability a lot, and I choose to support companies that have responsible corporate practices and respect people and the environment, but I’ve also worked in consumer magazines as an editor long enough to know that slow fashion is not exactly runway material. In truth, I’ve never had an eye for fashion, and that’s just fine; give me a pair of sustainably made yoga pants any day and I’ll wear that to its last thread.
A few months ago, I came across an article from The Guardian about the 100-day dress challenge. A clothing company, Wool&, based in Portland, Oregon, challenged women to wear one of their dresses for 100 days straight. The company’s website states that “the purpose of the challenge is to encourage us to find contentment in a life of less. The modern age supports a life that favors over-consumption, and we think that this is unsustainable (on every level).” The dresses, which range in price from $128-$138, are made from merino wool, a sustainable material that miraculously keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and has remarkable moisture-wicking and odor-resistant qualities. (As a knitter and outdoor enthusiast, I was already familiar with merino wool. I’ve made socks and sweaters with it, and all my base layers for camping and hiking were made of the material.)
This challenge was right in my limited-fashion wheelhouse. I started on August 12, which coincided with the start of a new, remote job, so I didn’t have to worry about an office wardrobe. Wool& has a small selection of dresses that can work for any occasion, from the casual day-to-day to an evening out on the town. The dresses have cutesy, dainty names — Rowena, Camellia, Willow — that belie their function. They are actually workhorses, designed to withstand whatever task or accessory you throw at them.
For my challenge, I picked a black Camellia, a sleeveless swing dress that just skimmed the top of my knees. I live in the desert, and the sleeveless version was perfect for the summer weather when I started. As the temperature grew cooler, it was easy enough to layer on tights and long-sleeve shirts underneath or to throw a cardigan over it for work video calls.
I joined the private Facebook group for the challenge, a community of 9,000-plus women whose stories and photos were the most surprising thing about this whole adventure. Because, while I saw this challenge as a mere extension of my minimalist ethos and rejection of fast fashion, for the women in this group, the dress represented so much more. One woman started the challenge as a way to connect with herself after finding out her husband was leaving her; another saw the dress as an expression of her true self after a lifetime of being criticized by her mother; still another wore the dress through her daughter’s frightening medical challenges. There were countless stories of women trying to overcome decision fatigue or opting out of society’s unrealistic expectations. Or women who discovered ways to express themselves with just this one dress as a canvas and found joy in its simplicity. They shared tips on how to care for their dress, how to accessorize, how to overcome the inevitable boredom.
These women were of all ages and sizes, and no matter where they were in life, during this challenge they were coming into their own and finding a community that supported them. The other part of the challenge, other than wearing the dress, is to take a photo every single day of the 100 days, and a lot of women grappled with the fact that this was not always a comfortable thing to do. Yet, take a selfie they did, chronicling their journeys for all to cheer. It was a beautiful thing to see these women blossom, whether they were on Day 1 or Day 58 or Day 100 of their adventure.
By about Day 35, I wanted to be done with the challenge and put on a dress of a color other than black, but I kept at it. In the hundred days of wearing my dress, I went camping twice, went rock climbing and hiking every weekend, took my son on a college campus tour, went to a family wedding, attended countless videoconference calls, knit a sweater to go over my dress when the weather got cold, and (reluctantly) took a photo every day. I’ve spilled oil and flour and spices on this dress as I made dinner for my son every night, and I’ve fallen asleep, exhausted, in this dress after a long day of work deadlines and homework.
My hundred days ended in early December, and I learned some surprising things about myself, too. Despite my ambivalence about clothes, I realized that wearing the same thing every day can get boring, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. But, I also learned that I needed even less materially than I previously thought, and this insight will make me even more mindful of how I consume our planet’s ever shrinking resources.
Can clothes or, specifically, a dress, make a woman? For the women who have gone through the 100-day challenge, yes… but it is so much more than that. Many, including myself, have discovered that we are made of hardy stuff, and, just like this one dress, we are capable of handling whatever life throws our way.