The Little Brown Dress Project, and a desire to re-think my life

I came across this website a while ago and it’s been hanging out in the back of my mind ever since.

From the site:

So, here’s the deal – I made this dress and I wore it every day for a year. I made one small, personal attempt to confront consumerism by refusing to change my dress for 365 days.

From the FAQ:

Did I look crazy? Most people in my professional circle didn’t even notice that I was always wearing the same dress day after day — my take on that is that we’re all too busy with our *own* appearance, family, work, etc. to keep a tally on everyone else’s wardrobe rotations!

I want to do this, or something like it. I want to stop caring about my clothes.

I never wore make-up in the first place, and I hated shaving so much that stopping was easy for me, and I started needing to walk more so giving up high heels felt totally reasonable, but I just can’t let go of my stylish clothes.

Every summer when the weather gets warm, I get rid of all the clothes from the previous summer that I don’t really care for anymore, and go shopping for a new wardrobe. I spend probably $200 to $300 per store, and while I only really go to a handful of stores, it probably totals more than $1000 dollars. And then I do it again when the winter comes.

I called off the make-up, the shaving, and the heels because I knew the patriarchy wanted me to go along with them. I knew that they were designed to hobble me, physically and financially, to distract my energy and thought, to make it harder for me to get stuff done. And I love being able to just wake up, brush my teeth, and get on with my day in the mornings. I love that showers are nothing but relaxing, and that my skin is no longer dry and irritated all the time. I love being able to run when I want to, being able to stand for hours without my feet hurting.

And I bet you that I would adore being able to just get dressed in the morning, to quit it with the half-hour “does this skirt work with these tights?” brain-drain that occupies a surprising amount of my mental power each day. I’d love it if, when I feel a money-pinch, I had those thousands of dollars in cash, or at least in material goods that were worth something. Because lemme tell ya, there is no way to get your money back out of a well-stocked wardrobe; since I’m buying stylish woman-clothes, it all falls apart by the end of the season, and the few bits that survive have lost all their value now that they are used and outdated.

So, I want to make a radical change. Every now and then I fantasize about filling my wardrobe with fourteen identical outfits like in the cartoons (fourteen because I hate laundry), or maybe composing seven ideal outfits, one for each day of the week, so that I can look great without ever having to think about it, or even, when I’m feeling my most radical, just making myself a single brown dress.

I think it would be a hard transition for me. I am very stylish, and very femme, and I’m vaguely proud of the fact that I always look classy in button-downs and pearls, and don’t even own sweatpants. It’s a performance for me (as my gender always is, really), but because I’ve chosen to perform it, it’s important to me that I perform it well. It’s just…well, as Alex Martin says at Little Brown Dress, “let’s stop agreeing that the best way for women (in particular) to “express themselves” is by purchasing new wardrobe items and putting together daily outfits.”

I don’t have to play this game. I can channel this energy and money into performing something else at the top of my ability, and no matter what it is it’s almost guaranteed to be more worthwhile than my pursuit of fashion. I want to find out who that person would be, what I would do with myself; I want to see what I would accomplish.

I just don’t know how to get there yet.

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12 Responses to The Little Brown Dress Project, and a desire to re-think my life

  1. Greg says:

    Well, I had/have the entirely opposite problem (Caring too little about my appearance and being somewhat unappealing), and I’m working towards it with extremely slow incremental steps. I changed one thing that was small enough to work in as a habit, and I kept with it until it became a habit, and then I picked another thing. It’s not radical, but it’s liveable, and the changes I’ve been able to identify have worked.

  2. eloriane says:

    It’s not so much the caring about my appearance that I want to circumvent (even if I did reduce my wardrobe, all the clothes that remained would still make me look utterly fabulous) as it is the investing in my appearance. I just don’t think it’s an investment that’s paying off.

    But I’m still pretty iffy on the whole thing. Maybe once I know where I’ll be living next year I’ll try to come up with something I could live with that would still reduce my investment in the process.

  3. Jezebella says:

    The easiest thing to do is start buying classics, and stop buying this-week’s-shirt/purse/shoes. I gave up a pretty major recreational shopping habit in the last year, and part of it was by deciding to only buy things that I ADORE, things that look fabulous on me without any alteration, that are on sale, that are well-made, and that I’m pretty sure will not be out of style this season next year. I have to be able to think, right there in the store, of at least two outfits that I can use the item with. Finally, when I am feeling iffy about something, I check the label: if it’s dry-clean or hand-wash only, or made in China, I put it back. I would rather pay the high retail for one really good pair of shoes than 5 pairs of plasticky trendy shoes made in China by a underaged political prisoners.

  4. Jezebella says:

    BTW, the Little Brown Dress project came after, and was surely inspired by, Andrea Zittel’s personal uniform projects, which date back to 1995: http://www.zittel.com

  5. milica says:

    I’m seriously considering building and residing in a Tiny House (http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/houses/fencl). This is a possibility for me since I’m doggedly stubborn when I set my mind for me – but also a gamble since I have very little experience building things.

    While my wardrobe is small (in comparison to many) I keep a lot of things that I never wear (sentimental much?). The small house living would force me to seriously rethink and reduce my closet – I dream of having a few flattering and versatile pieces that I like. I was never one for popular fashions…

  6. Anita says:

    If I were 35 instead of 75, I would pick three patterns: drawstring, ankle-length pants with pockets, tank top, shirt jacket with mandarin neckline, long and short sleeve versions and I would learn to sew these three garments to perfection. Then I would make them in my best colors, in summer and winter fabrics, day and evening versions and in pajamas. These garments suit me and please me. A tank in a current season’s color or an outfit in a new fabric would be all the updating my wardrobe would need. I could be stylish and distinctive, pay a lot less for clothes, accessorize and mix and match to my heart’s content — and always be comfortable.

  7. emily says:

    i went without shaving for a whole year, just to see if i could. it was pretty liberating. i still don’t do it often. it’s hard for me to find a balance between wanting to feel good/comfortable/confident in my appearance, and obsessing over it. i’m not a compulsive shopper, mostly for financial reasons, but i do have a bigger wardrobe than i need, definitely. the best part about this story to me is the challenge to my thinking– and reading the challenges it’s presented to others. if only all women could be so mindful. 🙂

  8. Quercki says:

    The zittel.com website now focuses on acne.

  9. dirtyrose says:

    What happens when putting (perhaps extraneous) effort into my appearance improves my self-esteem and generally lifts me out of the depression in which I am otherwise pretty permanently mired? :/

  10. Jezebella says:

    OOPS.

    Try this:

    http://www.zittel.org

    ORG, not COM. D’oh!

  11. Alva Bixby says:

    dirtyrose, from what I can tell no one is trying to argue that you shouldn’t do whatever it is you do for self-care, whether its putting effort into one’s appearance or doing a butt dance or whatnot. You taking care of you is a good thing!

    I am assuming that no one is interested in holding an ascetic competition. Our culture conflates caring for one’s appearance and carrying out acceptable beauty/fashion practices that require spending lots of money on a regular basis to support planned obsolescence. Aesthetics doesn’t & shouldn’t have to equal consumerism.

  12. EKSwitaj says:

    Most of my clothes come from thrift stores and, except for a few special items can all be worn together: black pants, black jackets, a few different colors of shirts, and a few fun flouncy skirts. In theory, I could get dressed in the dark (but in practice I would trip over my books).

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