Can one woman, wearing one dress for one entire year, change the way people think about fashion?
Kristy Powell has a keen fashion sense. Even so, the young Connecticut Pilates trainer and psychiatric hospital therapist is deliberately donning a single little black dress for a year. Why?
One Dress Protest crusader and blogger Kristy Powell was gracious to answer some personally tailored questions this week:
Q: Where did you get the One Dress Protest idea?
Powell: New York artist Andrea Zittel intentionally uniformed herself a few years back. Sheena Matheiken of TheUniformProject.com, wore the actual dress I’m wearing for a year to raise money for charity and awareness over fashion’s sustainability.
The “protest” idea stems from years of feeling I needed to wear a particular style to exude whatever identity I wanted. I questioned why we try express ourselves in the things we wear and model our clothing to the greater expectations of society.
I wanted to find ways to express myself without using clothes as a medium. I decided a public protest would be the best way to do that and encourage others to ask similar questions.
Q: Describe the dress you are wearing for the year.
Powell: My dress was designed by the Uniform Project (UP), a non-profit organization focused on promoting stylish, sustainable and socially conscious clothing.
UP’s Classic LBD is a simple A-line design [priced at approximately $140], which can be worn from the front or back, fashioned in a proprietary organic cotton and native silk blend. The dress and fabric were produced at an ethically certified factory in Bangalore, India. Proceeds from each dress provide education for local underprivileged children in Bangalore.
The dress is a canvas for the work I intend to do this year – standing up and openly questioning some of the ways that fashion often denigrates, objectifies and many times insults women. It’s also the basis from which I am surveying the fashion world and the way our clothes affect the environment.
Q: Do you plan to change your accessories to go with the same LBD?
Powell: To undertake a true fast from fashion, limiting my intake of clothing, I’ve decided not to accessorize. Because accessories offer means of self-expression through clothing, I felt accessorizing would defeat the concept of the One Dress Protest. However, I’ve set aside a handmade scarf, sweater and hat for winter. I also have a winter coat, boots, and tights/pants.
Q: How has your laundry routine changed, as you wear the same dress daily?
Powell: My husband [a Yale Divinity School student] and I have less to wash and fold. I’ve decided to wash the dress only as-needed, to extend the material’s life. I suppose I give it more attention, as it’s all I have to wear.
I wash my dress when I know it will have time to hang-dry before I go out. When it’s laundering, I’ll wear pajama pants and a t-shirt around the house.
Q: What do you plan to do with the dress after wearing it for a full year?
Powell: Great question, and not one I’ve really given much thought to. I would hope to continue wearing it. Because I’m protesting unsustainable conditions of our fashion consumption habits, I wouldn’t want to throw my dress out, once it met my immediate needs.
I’ve never worn a dress for an entire year, so I’m not sure what condition it will be in next January. I imagine I’ll repurpose it, maybe for a quilt.
Q: What responses are you receiving to your One Dress Protest?
Most everyone was confused when I first revealed my intentions. Overall, though, once I explained the ways I felt called to doing this to my close friends and family, they were all supportive.
As for those who don’t know me, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.
Some have gotten behind the message I’m attempting to promulgate. Others have reacted more harshly than I would have liked. Most that have reacted negatively have suggested I was simply doing this for attention.
But hey, it’s a protest! I’m intentionally attempting to draw attention not to myself, but to my message. The way we consume now is harmful to our sense of self and unsustainable for the natural environment.
My One Dress Protest has started meaningful conversations. Hopefully, people will dress with more intentionality, being mindful of the messages they send with the clothes they wear and the natural resources they are utilizing.
Q: What are you learning from your One Dress Protest experience?
Powell: By taking on the personal challenge – not only to wear a single dress for a year but also to abstain from clothing consumption – I’m allowing myself to experience life without chasing fleeting trends and novel appearances.
Obviously, a complete fashion fast is impossible. Even if I never saw another advertisement, I have millions of images in my head that affect how and why I wear my clothes.
I’m attempting to get my message across in a way that is descriptive of my experience of wearing one dress every day and not necessarily prescriptive of any sort of moral norm for others. I’m simply trying to bring awareness to an important issue, not invade others’ lifestyles with judgmental ethical imperatives.
I cannot stress enough, too, how the One Dress Protest does not seek to judge, condemn or demonize those who work in or around the fashion industry. Still, perhaps this will bring about some healthy awareness, for me and for others, of who we are apart from our clothes.