~ 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. And 41% of people, aged 18-25, experience feelings of pressure to wear different garb to every social event.
Women, on average, wear an article of clothing only seven times before discarding it. Due to this high turnover of fashion, textiles—many which are not biodegradable—are leading the way as the fastest-growing waste stream (most goes to landfill). Every five minutes in the UK, the country sees 9513 garments discarded. The US generated 11.9 million tonnes of textile waste in 2015 alone. And Aussies dump 500,000 tonnes of clothing every year.
This really resonates with me. I am someone who still wears items of clothing I purchased at 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: wear the (already purchased) Jacquemus skirt to every social engagement on my calendar in 2019, and post evidence on social media multiple times. The accompanying garments and accessories would have to be entirely made up of items already in my possession; 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.
A woman’s aesthetic is too often identified as the most, or only, interesting aspect to them. Most societies place more value (and therefore more scrutiny) on a woman’s appearance than on her male counterparts—including what a she does or doesn’t wear.
Television presenter, Karl Stefanovic’s social experiment proved as much. He wore the same suit, on Chanel Nine’s Today show, for an entire year without criticism. Meanwhile, Stefanovic’s co-anchor, Lisa Wilkinson, combatted a slew of unwanted remarks about her daily wardrobe choices.
Throughout the twentieth century, female celebrities and their ever-changing outfits were splashed across magazines covers, for comment and consideration. At the turn of the century, we marvelled at fictional characters on television, such as Fran Drescher and Carrie Bradshaw, with bottomless wardrobes almost as magical as the one that transported Lucy Pevensie to Narnia.
Then the twenty-first century unveiled the Influencer: (mostly) women who get paid to post photos of themselves in new outfits, online. Naturally, perpetuating the idea that outfit repeating is a fashion faux-pas comes with the territory. 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 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, this type of 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.”
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. That tactile joy one feels when wearing a new garment now often plays second fiddle to the dopamine hits from 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, digital voyagers can purchase goods directly from many social media platforms, facilitating the acquisition of all things ‘new’ like never before.
Many of us are privileged enough to have experienced the hedonistic thrill of a freshly purchased garment. 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. Things which are boundless.
A consistently updated wardrobe cannot be maintained by someone with a regular income. This 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 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.
Evolutionary psychologist, Geoffrey Miller, postulates this is particularly common among the less privileged social groups who use clothing as a means of promoting their “genetic fitness”. Statistically, women are less privileged than men, earning roughly 80 cents to a man’s dollar for the same role. This pay disparity only increases when considering WOC and women with disabilities.
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, 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.