a peek inside the fishbowl

01 Mar, 2019

One dress, thirty days

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you

A long time ago I remember hearing a story on CBC radio in which a woman wore a plain grey track suit everywhere she went as a personal challenge. I don’t know how long she did it for – I’m guessing it was a month or longer – but she wore her sweats to work, on dates, to fine dining establishments… everywhere. I was fascinated. Talk about gutsy! I wish I could hear the story again because the idea has stayed with me for a long time even though I don’t remember the details.

What happens when you defy the norm as it pertains to clothing and people’s’ expectations related to them?

CLOTHING is so weird when you think about it. How would we explain it to a race of naked aliens? We drape our bodies with fabric to hide some parts and reveal others. We dress up for work, we dress for ourselves, for others. We dress to impress, to relax, for special occasions. There are clothing-related traditions, unwritten rules, and in some countries, laws. The way we dress depends on where we live, how old we are, how much money we have. Some of us try to dress older when we’re younger and dress younger when we’re older. Clothing reveals rank and privilege, and some people will pay any amount to look like they have that same rank and privilege, even going into debt to do so. A large industry decides what’s trendy and we follow suit, spending hard-earned dollars on covering ourselves. We wear clothing to express ourselves but if you wear the wrong clothing in the wrong place, you open yourself up to judgment and ridicule. If you wore your grey track suit to your job at the bank and then to the opera, people will think you’re off your rocker. But why? It defies logic, really.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to write about my ‘one dress’ challenge here and how to articulate my thoughts about it. Perhaps I will start by saying: I bought a dress that I really like and I’m wearing it for 30 days in a row.

I bought it with some cash I got for Christmas from my mother-in-law. I bought it at a local shop called Flock and it’s made by Tangente, a local designer. (Here’s the dress on their website.) I knew I was going to buy it the moment I pulled it over my head. The cut was very flattering (if I do say so myself) yet the drape of it also very forgiving. As an added bonus, it is super comfortable AND, if that wasn’t enough, it was on sale. (YAY.) It was a done deal.

That being said, it hung in my closet for a few weeks before I finally pulled the tags off and put it on. You see, I had bought it with work in mind, as something to wear to the office and to work-related events, but the truth is that I am only in the office a few times a month and attend work meetings and events once or twice a week.

Some of you may recall the book I’ve been working on about our family Shopping Embargo. (In a nutshell, our family refrained from buying anything other than groceries and essentials for a full year.) I thought and wrote a lot about the things we buy, and why. Of course, one of those things is clothing. Once upon a time, the process of obtaining clothing was a lot more complicated. Someone made fabric, fabric was purchased, a pattern was designed, and clothing was made. That item of clothing had to last for a long time. Women updated dresses by taking them in, letting them out, or switching out collars and buttons and adding accessories. If something on the dress wore out, it was mended. Of course I am oversimplifying, but you get the picture. People definitely did not have closets of clothes that were full to bursting. With the advent of technology, fabric prices went way down and the production of clothing went way up. Fast fashion is now a way of life. We fork over pocket change for a fun t-shirt that’s made somewhere far away and wear it a few times before consigning it to the rag bag, a donation bin, or a landfill. This is not sustainable.

The textile industry is really bad for the environment, not just for the amount of resources they use, the conditions some people are forced to work in, but textiles themselves take up a lot of space in landfills. This is something we should be worrying more about.

The first day I wore the dress was to show it to my mother-in-law. It was only fair. After all, it was her cash gift that bought it for me! The next day Mark and I went to the National Gallery to catch the last day of the Anthropocene exhibition, so I wore it again. And that’s where I decided I could probably wear this dress for 30 days straight, if only to make a point to myself. This fabulous dress should not be saved for work days or special occasions.

The rules of fashion and clothing seem so artificial to me. It’s as if the “rules” themselves were made up by the clothing manufacturers themselves. Why is it considered weird to wear an item of clothing out in public multiple times in a row? Or the same dress to the office Christmas party five years running? Is it because we don’t want other people to think we’re poor, or dirty, or unoriginal? This deserves some investigation.

So I guess if I really drill down, the idea behind the ‘One Dress, Thirty Days’ project is to buy less clothing and wear it more. So that’s what I’m doing.

I’m on day seven and I’m already seeing some advantages. Getting dressed in the morning is a no brainer. I’m not spending extra brain cells or time standing in front of my wardrobe… which is a rather pleasant and unexpected benefit. I’m getting some high-fives from people on Twitter, which is where this is all taking place. (Follow #1dress30days if you’re keen to follow along.)

I’ve also confirmed (at least to myself) that I am terrible at selfies, but maybe this is the opportunity for me to step up my game a bit.

#1dress30days

I confess that feel like I’m cheating a bit because this would all be a lot harder if I worked in an office every day, or a school, like this teacher does. She wore the same dress for 100 days. Now that’s something!

That’s all I have to say about this for now, but there may be more down the line. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about this issue, here are a couple of good articles to read:


9 Responses to "One dress, thirty days"

1 | Suzanne

March 1st, 2019 at 5:31 pm

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Do you wear it all day? How often do you wash it? Beautiful dress though!

2 | Shannon Fraser

March 1st, 2019 at 5:51 pm

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My parents have always worn the same shirt and pants several days in a row. As a teen I was kind of mortified. Now I don’t give it any thought for the most part. I personally have not taken after them and have always tried to wear something different every day of the week. Which I suppose is really quite silly.
Good luck.

3 | Stacey K

March 1st, 2019 at 6:04 pm

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I love the thought of having fewer pieces of better quality clothing. And when you wear each piece more often, your cost-per-wear goes down, so the better quality, more expensive clothing that lasts you years ends up costing you less than the $10 t-shirts that you replace every 3 months.

4 | Wanda

March 3rd, 2019 at 8:20 am

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When I was pregnant (eons ago…) I had a small wardrobe. 1 pair of jeans, black and navy pants and 2 pair cropped leggings. I had 3 dresses and maybe 5 tops. I remember how easy it was to get dressed in the morning. Simplification brings a lightness. In our society, there are so many choices in all aspects of our lives. I am aware that choice is privilege not afforded to everyone but sometimes the absence of choice is freeing.
I look forward to following your #1dress30days.

5 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive One dress, thirty days (day 10 report!) - a peek inside the fishbowl

March 4th, 2019 at 4:12 pm

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[…] This post is about the “One dress, thirty days” challenge. You can read about that right here. […]

6 | andrea tomkins

March 4th, 2019 at 4:26 pm

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Thanks for your comments everyone!

Wanda, your comment reminded me of my own maternity wear. For budget purposes I had a very small wardrobe and did lots of mixing and matching. By the end I TOTALLY hated it all. LOL. I couldn’t wait to give my clothes away. I suspect part of this comes down to “state of mind.” If I was used to having fewer clothes, it wouldn’t have been such an issue… ?

7 | andrea tomkins

March 4th, 2019 at 4:28 pm

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Stacey! i’m a big fan of calculating cost-per-wear! This is a big motivator for me. I hope to write more about it in the days to come.

8 | Kaitlin

March 4th, 2019 at 7:42 pm

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I love this idea and what it is standing for and representing. I bought a ridiculous amount of clothes after my daughter was born, basically a whole new postpartum wardrobe, and spent about $1000 over the course of six months. This year, I’m committed to not buying any new clothing. I can trade on Bunz, I can buy from Value Village if I must, and if it is a gift, well, I cannot turn it down. In addition to streamlining my wardrobe, I can honestly say I’m far less distracted without the act of acquiring new clothes in my brain.

9 | Bridget

March 25th, 2019 at 2:16 pm

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LOVED this post & so glad you enjoyed the dress! (-:

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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