Julia Mooney of Moorestown, New Jersey, taught her students about slow, sustainable fashion by example.
On August 3, a New Jersey schoolteacher named Julia Mooney put on a grey button-down dress and wore it to work. She wore it the next day, and the next. In fact, she continued to wear that same dress for 100 days in a row.
Mooney wanted to get people – her middle-school students, in particular – thinking about fashion in a new way, and how we live in what she describes as a "culture of excess," closets overflowing with superfluous garments. From a writeup in USA Today, Mooney said,
"There is no rule anywhere that says that we have to wear a different thing every day. Why do we ask this of each other? Why do we require that we each wear something different every day and buy more clothes and feed into this fast-fashion culture?"
At first Mooney said nothing to her students about her experiment. Some noticed on the second day, some didn't. There was no formal class discussion until several weeks in, at which point the students were receptive. Mooney told TreeHugger over email that her students really latched onto the idea that we need to judge each other based on what we do and not what we wear.
"This is something they deal with every day as 12- and 13-year olds. As they try to define themselves, they are often identifying with brands or superficial things like their social media presence. Many seemed excited to have a reason to talk about how silly all of that really is."
Even some adults joined in the challenge. Mooney's husband, Patrick, a teacher at a nearby school, got on board. USA Today reported that he has worn the same khaki pants and dark blue shirt to classes since September. Mooney told TreeHugger that she thinks many adults are ready for this idea:
"Many of us are living the reality of stressful lives and we are tired of the pressure to look good all the time. We don't want to be pawns in the culture of consumption that the fast fashion culture has laid out for us. Recognizing that our fashion choices can be our activism is really empowering."
A quest for greater simplicity is partly what inspired Mooney in the first place. On her website, she wrote that "agonizing over what to wear in the morning will be a thing of the past (helpful when also getting 2 toddlers out the door by 6:30am)." It solved the problem of limited closet space in an old house. If there was a tear, she patched it with her sewing machine. She was diligent about wearing an apron to keep it clean – just like people did in years gone by. (She washed the dress on weekends.)
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A student snapped this for me and I had to post it because I was SO EXCITED 🙌😁👗🌍🌿 to write #day100 for #OneOutfit100days !! Stay tuned for more highlights from today and find out what I do with the dress tomorrow✂️😉😜 . . For those of you on day 3, share your insights and thoughts!!! . . #whattheartteacherwore #slowfashion #sustainableclothing #ethicalfashion #ethicalconsumption #iteachtoo #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram #artteachersofinstagram #hempdress #oneoutfitchallenge
I have written extensively about sustainable fashion, capsule wardrobes, the importance of being a proud Outfit Repeater, and I love Mooney's story because it brings together all of those things. She shows what's possible if we refuse to buy into the fast fashion culture that surrounds us and opt for higher-quality clothing that's built to last. Her words:
"The challenge I'm presenting is this: Let's think before we buy, wear, discard, and buy again. Can we buy clothes used? Buy responsibly? Buy LESS? Learn to sew a few things? ... Are we just perpetuating a culture that defines us based on what we're wearing rather than what we're doing? What if we spent our energy trying to BE good, interesting humans instead of trying to LOOK good and interesting?"
Mooney herself is back to wearing pants to work, but the effect of the experiment lingers. She said she doesn't think twice about wearing the same outfit two days in a row and that she feels like she's expressing herself more by cycling through a smaller wardrobe. She told TreeHugger, "I'm expressing my interest in the health of our planet and the people who occupy it, while channeling less of my energy into my wardrobe and more it into loving my children, being patient with my students, and embracing my day-to-day existence."
Her experiment has spread around the country. You, too, can join in and show your efforts on Instagram using the tag #OneOutfit100Days.