My One Dress Protest from 2011

As I recently began minimizing my wardrobe for the first time since my One Dress Protest ended, I found myself thinking a lot about my ODP (my year-long experiment wearing a single dress every day). And yet again, I found myself super sad that it no longer existed on the Internet (long story short... I let the domain lapse and it was bought up by a host and is still for sale for far more than I could/would buy it back for). So considering that neither minimalism nor activism is off-topic here on On Being Mom, I've decided to re-publish many of the posts from my ODP here, to share and for reference. 

I need to say, though, briefly, in the time since my ODP my life has changed quite a bit. Some of what I wrote feels a little... inapplicable. But I'm willing to embrace it for what it was, at a time when I still claimed to be a Christian and wasn't yet a mother, among many other perhaps less notable changes, as it was one of, if not the, most impactful years of my adult life.

I'm going to start by re-publishing some of the About and "Why?" page.

One Dress Protest

fasting from fashion


One Dress Protest is me, Kristy Powell, wearing one dress for one year in order to protest the ideas and motivations behind how and why I wear my clothes. Over the year I aim to challenge the ways identity is constructed through clothing, what sustainability means for consumption, how our perception of others is so often based on external presentation, and what “fashion” ultimately means for me going forward. 

I think it's hilarious now looking back that I kept all those shoes in my closet. I did need shoes for all four seasons, plus teaching Pilates, gardening, my business-dress work environment (psych hospital), and exercising... but still. I also commuted to work and life by either foot or bike regardless of season or weather so... footwear was of utmost importance. But, still.

I think it's hilarious now looking back that I kept all those shoes in my closet. I did need shoes for all four seasons, plus teaching Pilates, gardening, my business-dress work environment (psych hospital), and exercising... but still. I also commuted to work and life by either foot or bike regardless of season or weather so... footwear was of utmost importance. But, still.


Why in the world are you doing this?

And that… is a big question. But I guess it is the question that first comes to mind for most people when they hear someone has decided to wear a single article of clothing for an entire year.

There’s a lot of ways to answer this, and you’re invited to follow me on my fashion odyssey (or, perhaps, my lack thereof) to gain a much more comprehensive answer. Yet the best response I can give here is that I have had a complicated and complex history with clothing, much like anyone else living in 21st century America. By this, not only do I mean in the ways I have identified the overcritical expectations that our society places on women and the clothes we wear, but also the perplexing friction in how those expectations make me feel about myself.

Thus, I’ve set out to explore what it looks like to openly, publicly and boldly survey what clothes and fashion mean to me, and to investigate some of the more meaningful implications the world of clothes have for our lives and hearts.

Why are you wearing just one dress?

You might be thinking, “Why can’t she simply just not buy clothes for a little while?” or, “Why can’t she just be more conscious of the ways she attends to the forces of society that tell her how to look?” or maybe even, “Why can’t she just wear the clothes she already has and learn to be content with them?” To these questions, I say, “YES”!

First off, I will not be purchasing clothes for the year. Secondly, I aim to be more than conscious of the forces of society that tell women that looking a certain way is the only way – in fact, I plan to survey them rather closely in the ways they transpire in my life. And finally, a major part of the process of this project is to learn to be happy with the clothes I have available to me. I mean, who am I kidding? I’ll have to be—I’m wearing one item for a whole year.

Ultimately, though, wearing one dress allows me to examine these issues to an extent that not wearing one dress just wouldn’t permit. Wearing a single dress for a year was the best and most radical way I could conjure up to force myself to confront the enormous amount of personal and social issues that I—a typical 21st century American woman—encounter everyday through the clothes I wear.

And in the end, this is, in fact, a protest. Which leads us to…

Why is this a protest?

The word “protest” means a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to… something. Truly, there could not be a more appropriate word for this project. One Dress Protest is meant to be both a statement and an action to express my disapproval of and objection to the ways that fashion undervalues, denigrates, objectifies and oftentimes insults women. One Dress Protest is, at its heart, a conscious attempt to stand up, openly question and explore some of the ways this happens in my own life.

The physical act of protesting, though, is itself a social phenomenon. By standing up and standing out, protests create forums through which people can encounter the problems, pains and/or injuries of others. If my project can open a few other people up to engaging the issues I’m trying to call attention to, I feel it will be worthy of being called a “protest.”

I must add, though, that protests often imply reacting against something. It’s true, there’s a lot I am reacting against in the One Dress Protest. Yet I also intend to speak up for the things that I am for—such as sustainability, free expression, and self-worth and care, amongst many other things.

Why are you putting this on the internet?

The internet, with the modern proliferation of social networking media, has become such a useful medium for reaching out to all types of people and getting a message across. I’m a pretty simple and straightforward person—my message, as I choose to portray it over the internet, will not be any different. And while reaching others through computer and cellphone screens may be a little less face-to-face than I’d ideally like for my protest to be, this doesn’t negate the fact that the One Dress Protest aims to involve others in its mission of exploration, questioning and analysis.

I will say, though, that I have vowed to keep the One Dress Protest blog ad-free. Not only would it be a bit disingenuous and hypocritical to host ads on my website (advertising, of course, is the fashion industry’s henchman), but I simply do not make money from hosting my content online. Please know that when you read, follow, or join my protest in any way, I am and will remain just a girl with a message (…and that message won’t include you needing to buy anything).

Where does your one dress come from?

My dress was designed by the women of the Uniform Project, a non-profit fashion organization focused on opening peoples’ eyes to “stylish, sustainable and socially conscious” clothing. U.P.’s mission is to revolutionize the way people perceive fashion through socially responsible consumption.

The dress itself, formally known as U.P.’s Little Black Dress (LBD), is a simple staple design – an A-line silhouette, which can be worn from the front or back. Because eco-friendly fabrics are extremely limited in the United States at this point in time, U.P. sources the fiber in India where they have developed their own proprietary fabric in an organic cotton and native silk blend. Both the dress and fabric were produced at the same ethically certified factory in Bangalore, India, which donates proceeds from each dress to provide education for local underprivileged Bangalorean children.

Why do you call the One Dress Protest a “fast from fashion”?

Fasting often refers to abstaining from food, but it also can be applied to abstaining from other things. My own fast is meant to limit my intake (i.e. purchase) of clothing.

Yet it’s obvious that a complete and thorough fast from fashion is simply not possible (at least in the way it’s possible to fast from food). There is no escaping the fact that I will always be fed by ideas of society and the larger fashion industry regardless of what I decide to wear. Even if I were somehow never to see another advertisement again, I still have millions of images and messages floating around in my head that impose upon how and why I wear my clothes.

In the end, though, the term fast is meant to communicate an abstinence from buying or wearing clothes other than my one dress.

How is your faith involved?

My faith is intimately interconnected to the One Dress Protest. I am a Christian – much of why I am motivated to “fast from fashion” is because I believe that the messages having to do with clothing in our society are a scandal to the wide and inclusive love that God has for us as bearers of God’s divine image. These harmful, unsustainable messages cloud my own ability to follow Jesus. Thus, in my protest I seek to foster a better, more radical way to live how Jesus taught, which is more alert to the destructive state of fashion as we know it today.

I cannot stress enough, though, how the One Dress Protest does not seek to judge, condemn or demonize those who work in or around the fashion industry. Doing so would not only be counterproductive, but also would not be in accord with the ways that Jesus taught us to love one another as God loves us.

Christian or not, though, the “harmful, unsustainable messages” of the fashion world are issues everyone encounters. That said, everyone will see these issues from valuable perspectives – I myself engage the issues of fashion and identity through the lens of my Christian worldview.

Is your protest political?

Politics, at its most basic level, can be understood as the circumstances or relationships between people in society, especially those relationships involving issues of authority and power. So I would say yes, One Dress Protest is absolutely political. It seeks an ongoing discussion on the state of these relationships—particularly in the ways they intersect issues of appearance and identity. Yet the One Dress Protest is not partisan, and will not speak from the standpoint of traditional party platforms.