~ SHAKING OFF THE STIGMA BEHIND OUTFIT REPEATING, ONE WEDDING AT A TIME ~
The ‘Capri’ skirt, by Jacquemus, was one I had coveted since I first beheld it sashay down the runway, as part of his SS19 Italian Riviera collection.
Simon Porte Jacquemus’ eponymous label is a homage to his departed mother – Jacquemus was her maiden name – and is known for its masterful tailoring with a modern edge. He employs earthy and tactile materials and is not afraid of asymmetry, artfully maintaining the balance between sculptural and feminine silhouettes.
I would wear this bouclé skirt to a wedding in March. After which it would probably hang lifelessly in my wardrobe – an erstwhile prize – like an angler’s taxidermied fish, still beautiful but now dull-eyed and redundant. Because you can’t be seen in the same thing twice. Or can you?
According to recent studies by UK’s Hubbub, an environmentally aligned not-for-profit, one in six young adults deem it unacceptable to repeat an outfit once their social media followers have borne witness to its existence. Their findings also revealed that 41% of people aged 18-25 experience feelings of pressure to don different attire to every social event.
Women, on average, wear an article of clothing only seven times before discarding it. If you put those stats into weeks, that’s fifty-two garments thrown away, by each woman, every year! Due to this high turnover of fashion, textiles (many which are not biodegradable) are leading the way as the fastest-growing waste stream. Every five minutes in the UK, the country sees 9513 garments discarded. According to the NY Times, the US generated 11.9 million tonnes of textile waste in 2015 alone. Aussies dump 500,000 tonnes of clothing every year . The majority of discarded clothing, worldwide, ends up in landfills.
This really resonates with me. I am someone who still wears items of clothing I purchased at age fifteen, who preserves her mum’s old outfits like a museum curator, and who will only throw out her underpants when they have so many holes it becomes unclear as to which ones you’re meant to put your legs through (TMI?).
I did not want to become part of these shocking statistics, so I devised a plan. Part A: wear the (already purchased) Jacquemus skirt to every social engagement on my calendar in 2019, and Part B: post on social media multiple times. My outfit ensemble would have to be entirely made up of clothes already hanging in my wardrobe, lest I defeat the purpose of wearing something in the name of sustainability. After all, the most sustainable outfit is the one you already own.
Most women living in the Western world are familiar with the negativity surrounding ‘outfit repeating’, even if it’s simply yelling into a closet full of clothes, “I have nothing to wear!”. If not personally, perhaps they have witnessed celebrities called out for it in the press, or were even exposed to the idea as children, through TV shows like Lizzie McGuire.
But have we ever stopped to consider why this is a ‘thing’? Why does this stigma exist at all? For a seemingly superficial topic, its roots run deeper than you might expect – ranging from sexism, to consumerism, to The Simpsons.
Most societies place more value on a woman’s appearance than on her male counterparts. Or, put another way, women face much more scrutiny when it comes to how they look, than men – including what a woman does or doesn’t wear.
As a social experiment Karl Stefanovic, former co-host on Channel Nine’s breakfast show Today, wore the same suit every day for a whole year, which was received without criticism from the general public. During the same period Lisa Wilkinson, his female co-anchor, combatted a slew of unwanted remarks from viewers about her daily wardrobe choices.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Women tend to be prescribed only one dimension – their appearance – no matter how three-dimensional their lives and personalities may be. A woman’s aesthetic is often identified as the most, or only, interesting aspect to them.
Throughout the twentieth century, traditional media initially exposed us to the lives of the rich and famous, whose pay-checks afforded them the luxury of never having to wear the same thing twice. At the turn of the century, we marvelled at fictional characters on television, such as Carrie Bradshaw, with bottomless wardrobes almost as magical as the one that transported Lucy Pevensie to Narnia.
The twenty-first century unveiled the Influencer, whose tendency to perpetuate the idea of outfit repeating as a fashion-faux-pas has become a regular part of their schtick. These women are not famous, at least not in the traditional sense, so their highly curated posts – accessible literally from the palm of our hands – come off as candid snippets of ‘regular’ life. This throws out false reads for women to measure themselves up against.
Comparing ourselves to our peers is nothing new. It lets us determine where we sit amongst our pack and provides a check on one’s version of ‘reality’. It has been something worth ruminating over since the earliest Greek philosophers through to Marx, centuries later:
“A house may be large or small. As long as the surrounding houses are equally small, it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But let a palace reside beside the little house, and it shrinks from a little house to a hut.” [Wage Labour and Capital, 1847].
It wasn’t until 1954 that this phenomenon was given a name: ‘Social Comparison’. When social psychologist, Leon Festinger, first coined the term, social comparison was restricted largely by geography, meaning we could mostly only compare ourselves to those in our direct vicinity. By virtue of the internet, social media in particular, we are now at saturation point.
Bronwyn Seier, content coordinator for The Fashion Revolution, circumnavigates this idea as part of her MA thesis on consumption in the digital age. She writes,
“Instagram is to identity what Uber Eats is to take-away. Before it, our social comparison was limited to a single menu: the people that we knew, who were immediately accessible to envy. But now, Instagram offers us unlimited images of bodies, lifestyles, social classes, fashion aesthetics, and geographies from which we can ogle and emulate.”
In light of the fact most of their posts are paid for, an Influencer simply wouldn’t keep earning money if they repeated outfits. This kind of mentality has ‘influenced’ the way we consume clothing, deeming it much more ephemeral and, often, disposable.
The tactile joy one feels when wearing a new garment now often plays second fiddle to the dopamine hits of the digital ‘likes’ it can garner. And a new outfit is going to attract more double taps than something followers have already seen. Social media then becomes like a stain on our clothing which cannot be washed out.
Millennials will spend an average of half a decade on social media over the course of their lifetime. As part of their scrolling, algorithmic voyagers are exposed to myriad ads, many targeted. We can purchase goods directly from social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, facilitating the acquisition of all things ‘new’ like never before.
Many of us are privileged enough to have experienced the hedonistic thrill of a replenished wardrobe. In part, this is because we aren’t just sold clothing, we are sold dreams stitched in at their very seams! The last century has seen advertising veer away from practicality and instead attach itself to our emotional state: our desires and sensibilities, and to our identity.
Unfortunately, the high attained from satiating those desires is short-lived and it’s not long before one requires another ‘fix’. This cannot be maintained by someone with a regular income, which only widens the gap between the rich and the poor – a chasm which fast fashion brands have happily and greedily filled.
Whether or not someone actually has money, clothing can be employed as a powerful tool to emulate wealth and status. The Simpsons episode Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield conveys this brilliantly through its well-known brand of satire. Marge buys a heavily discounted, genuine Chanel suit which elevates her to a higher status amongst her peers.
Unable to afford another designer outfit, Marge creatively repurposes the Chanel suit for each new social occasion. This is met with disapproval, in the form of snarky quips, by her wealthy new friends.
Writer Jennifer Crittenden, in an article for Vice magazine, unpicks the lining of Marge’s motivations, “Like any instance of label lust, Marge’s passion for Chanel isn’t just about the suit itself, but about attaining the lifestyle that the suit represents.”
Thorstein Veblen, late nineteenth century economist and sociologist, called this demonstrative display of non-essential purchases ‘Conspicuous Consumption’. And it’s no longer confined to wealthy aristocrats flexing their economic prowess. Many modern economists share the belief that this kind of behaviour is still prevalent today – particularly among less privileged social groups.
Statistically, women are less privileged than men, earning roughly 80 cents to a man’s dollar for the same role. Pay disparity only worsens when considering WOC. In an attempt to boost their status women must, as the saying goes, ‘dress for success’ which includes avoiding outfit repeats.
Evolutionary psychologist, Geoffrey Miller, in his book Spent: Sex, Evolution And The Secrets Of Consumerism, draws on Veblen’s theories of Conspicuous Consumption, coupling them with Darwin’s theories on evolution. He postulates that the exhaustion of resources such as money, energy, or time, are employed for the purpose of promoting one’s “genetic fitness”, and is commonplace in today’s society.
When it comes to maintaining one’s physical appearance, Australian women’s resources are depleted at double the rate of men, which is especially significant when you consider the head start men have already secured, in the form of wages.
Procuring new clothing not only drains our finances, as Miller points out, it also reaps its toll temporally. As part of her TED talk, Journalist Tracy Spicer puts the accumulated amount of time spent on grooming (including getting dressed) into perspective:
“For women, it works out at 3276 hours over a lifetime; men only devote 1092 hours, about a third of the time. In that time we could complete a pre-MBA course at Oxford Business School, become proficient at a musical instrument or even learn another language.”
Time is a resource in which even the most privileged can be short changed. This strain can also impact one’s emotional state. “Women already pay a higher price than men in our culture of sleep deprivation and burnout. And notions of professional dress are as outdated as the idea that burnout is synonymous with dedication,” Arianna Huffington, author and businesswoman, wrote recently.
Huffington is a proud outfit repeater and believes removing the stigma around what you wear, or how many times you wear it, will knock down some of the roadblocks women face daily, and help them get ahead.
Outfit repeating will also serve to benefit the most important woman of all, Mother Earth. Patagonia chief executive, and environmental activist, Rose Marcario, states: “The single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer.” By extending the active life of your clothing by just an extra nine months, you can can reduce the annual carbon, water, and waste footprints of clothing by 20-30% each.
So resuscitate that old, limp, party frock and give it a new lease of life! Then invest the additional time and money you now have to better yourself and the environment. I won’t be retiring my Jacquemus skirt any time soon – I plan on steeping it in many more memories this year. With women such as Tiffany Haddish, Kiera Knightly, Michelle Obama and Cate Blanchett taking part in the outfit repeating movement, it looks as though I’m in good company. And as a sentimentalist himself, I think even Simon Jacquemus would approve.