When I was in school completing my thesis research there were many days when I barely left the house, let alone the desk in my bedroom. One of my good friends who saw me regularly throughout my year long slum would ask, “So is this the outfit you’re wearing for the week?” I was known to keep a single dress on the go for several days in a row (and I’m not ashamed to admit the dresses often did double duty as pyjamas). Since I wasn’t attending any fancy functions, other than a trip to the grocery store or post office once every few days, I didn’t see the need for constant costume changes. Until the outfit began to acquire an undeniable odour or the inevitable mustard stain, what was the point of changing?
So I got to thinking, why do we need to have a different outfit every day? I agree with changing undergarments on a daily basis, but jeans, tshirts and my famous dresses rarely get dirty after one day of use. Now that I’m back in the working world I feel compelled to participate in the daily change, not because my outfit is dirty but because it’s the socially accepted standard. People would begin to think I was some kind of weirdo if I showed up to work in the same thing each day. Worse yet, maybe I’d even lose my job.
In other parts of the world, wearing the same outfit for days at a time is perfectly acceptable. Back in the 1800s when most clothing was made by hand you may not even had enough outfits for a 7 day switch up. The daily change and the weekly rotation are social constructs not a necessity. And maybe its time we start to question the frequency of these cycles.
Fashion cycles were first introduced in the 1850s in women’s magazines. However, by the 1920s most clothing was being purchased and since skill and time was no longer needed to produce garments, the cycles accelerated. Today, fashion cycles set by some retailers last just two weeks! As Annie Leonard outlines in her book, The Story of Stuff, clothing has all sorts of environmental and social impacts including the use of hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals, water wastage, sweatshops and deforestation (p. 45).
I understand the importance of fashion and how looking good often relates to feeling good. But its important that we don’t let things get out of hand. If you’re not up for the 7 day outfit maybe you can start buying more second-hand items or washing clothing less frequently. Checking out your local vintage retailer or utilizing your local tailor can also help to support independent businesses and develop the all important sense of community.