One Outfit. 40 Days.

This is my outfit for Lent.

Jeans, button-up shirt, and a pair of boots.

Forty days.

On Sundays I swap the jeans for a grey skirt.

The idea started a few years ago when I thought about wearing one outfit for a year as a kind of performance art piece. I imagined myself writing about the experience, publishing a book and being interviewed by Charlie Rose on the global implications of fashion consumerism.

But then I Googled the idea and saw that someone had already done it and started a movement called the Uniform Project. The woman, Sheena is her name, was much cooler than I would have been. Sheena does TED talks and has a hair cut like a French model. She’s inspired thousands of women to pair their wardrobe down to one dress for an entire year while raising funds for education in developing nations. Like I said, much cooler than myself.

But the idea of wearing just one outfit returned to me last fall when I began to examine my life as a consumer, and  questioned my accumulation of so much stuff. That was a slippery slope that lead me to tell my husband on several occasions that I wanted to sell every last thing we had and start over. Jake wisely talked me out of it. I’m sure I’ll bring it up again in three months.

But the idea of wearing one outfit stuck. That would be my own thing. So for Advent, or 28 days, I wore a grey skirt, black tights, a purple sweater and black boots. It was a positive experience, as is my experience wearing another outfit for all of Lent. Here is what I learned.

1. We have too many clothes.

Americans spend an average of 3.8% of their income on clothing.

This is about a 5th of what it was in the early 1900’s – a result of lowered production costs. But the number of items we purchase has actually doubled or quadrupled. The quality is significantly lower, fashion trends change every season, and it isn’t uncommon for individuals to purchase an item and only wear it once or twice before passing it on to their local Salvation Army. My mother said in the 50s she grew up wearing one outfit to school, one dress to church, and one outfit for play. She remembers the day she found out rich kids were starting to change their clothes daily, and then everyone wanted to fit in. Qartz has a great article on examining our current clothing industry, and makes a case for fewer, better quality items. Count me in!

2. Wearing one outfit is mentally liberating.

By nature or nurture I am an indecisive person.  I blame it on an analytical mind that follows every possible outcome down the rabbit whole and back before making a decision. Well, when you have 80 pieces of clothing… okay, maybe 120…ish, and you look at your closet every morning recalling every outfit you have worn in the last 10 days, the weather forecast, the 34,000 possible combinations, the day’s upcoming activities, and of course take into account whether you will be trying to impress a love interest or wanting comfy clothes because you’re feeling under the weather today, and, “Wait, isn’t my favorite shirt in the dryer?” Each morning’s trip to the closet is an exercise in wasted brain cells.

3. (Almost) no one cares.

I don’t make a big deal out of wearing one outfit. I tell close family and friends, and then kind of forget about it. After a few days, I forget that what I am doing is out of the norm. Initially I was concerned that my husband wouldn’t like seeing me in the same outfit everyday, but it really didn’t phase him. I wore an outfit that he liked, and that was really all that mattered. On Christmas Eve, after wearing the same skirt and sweater for 28 days, I finally broke my “fashion fast” and put on a pair of dark jeans and a red turtleneck. After three hours of walking around the house without a single comment from my husband, I finally blurted out, “Did you even notice that I’m wearing different clothes?” He stared at me, eyed me up and down and gave me a sheepish face. He hadn’t noticed. If my husband doesn’t notice, then I should be less concerned about what anyone else might think. Oh, there will always be people that judge a person by their clothing, but I don’t like those people very much. Yes, I like clothes that are flattering and beautiful, but I realize how often I dress for others and not myself.  That is going to change.

Takeaway – Daily wardrobe changes will go out of style. We are creatures of habit combined with blindly following the crowd. Okay, so most people change their clothes everyday. Really, it is an uneducated practice. Mother Theresa had no more than three saris when she died. I doubt Jesus Christ even that.  A hundred years from now, the average individual will not be rotating their sixty-five outfits on a daily basis. The negatives far outweigh the benefits.

Feel free to write up a list of benefits for me, because I couldn’t come up with a single one.

One Outfit. Forty Days

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