x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Woman in uniform

A New York ad executive is waring the same dress every day for a year to promote fashion sustainability.

The Uniform Project's Sheena Matheiken in the dress she has pledged to wear daily for a year - complete with myriad add-ons.
The Uniform Project's Sheena Matheiken in the dress she has pledged to wear daily for a year - complete with myriad add-ons.

Picture the scene, if you will. A woman stands in front of her overflowing wardrobe, forlornly surveying the contents. She sighs and then shrieks: "I've got nothing to wear!" It's the kind of consumer spirit that Sheena Matheiken, a New Yorker, is trying to tackle with the Uniform Project - a scheme whereby she has pledged to wear the same dress every day for a year in an attempt to raise awareness about fashion sustainability. Matheiken, a creative director at an advertisement agency, has long been fond of fashion and says that her idea was born out of a desire to prove that "making a difference and having fun with what you do should never be mutually exclusive".

More noble still, the project's website (www.theuniformproject.com) is asking for donations and raising money for a Mumbai-based education charity called Akanksha, which aims to school slum children. So far, the kitty stands at $8,280 (Dh30,500). The exercise began on May 1, and last week reached the 100-day mark. Matheiken's site is increasingly dotted with daily thumbnail pictures of jaunty poses in the dress with various accessories - hats, belts, legwarmers, bizarre necklaces and, also, other items of clothing from her wardrobe.

Wait a second. Isn't wearing clothes other than the dress slightly defeating the point? Yes indeed, but then that's just one of several quibbles with the endeavour. The first problem is that Matheiken is not wearing just one dress throughout the week, but seven of them. Or one with six identical body doubles, all created by Matheiken's designer friend Eliza Starbuck. Pedants are so boring, but if you're setting yourself up for a grand gesture then you have to be beyond reproach, and having seven versions of the same dress is an extravagance worthy of Victoria Beckham. Just have one and wash it, like the Seattle-based choreographer and artist Alex Martin managed to do when she embarked on an eerily similar project four years ago and called it Little Brown Dress.

But back to all those accessories. Even though this dress (or all seven of them) is multipurpose and can be worn back to front as well as undone as a kind of tunic, in several of the photos of the adventure thus far, it serves as just one insignificant part of the outfit. Like a salad garnish. Witness Day 13, for example: Matheiken wears the dress underneath a large, belted cardigan with a pair of purple tights and zebra-patterned legwarmers. Consequently, the dress is not what immediately strikes you. On Day 26, she wears it over a white jumpsuit with floral tights, white legwarmers and gold shoes. The dress appears to have been tacked on as an overcoat.

And all these accessories, seemingly different ones every day - where are they coming from? Well, apart from Matheiken's wardrobe, they are either sourced from thrift stores, eBay, Etsy or donated from supporters of the project. The most outlandish so far include a "breakfast" necklace, with crocheted fried eggs, pieces of toast and other items strung along it. Then there's the large line in coloured tights, several collar pieces, assorted sun hats and pair after pair of heels, boots and pumps. They are all pretty enough and several creations are gorgeous, but again, accumulating such a vast stock of accessories and wearing different items every day surely contradicts the idea of sustainability, whether sourced from thrift stores or not.

In addition to this is a promise from Matheiken to any designers that donate pieces to the project. "I will be sure to make a special call out to you and post a link to your site or blog when I wear your piece," she says. Again, listing other fashion sites where people can go and spend actual, real money to buy things is a slap in sustainability's face. As is soliciting for free items. Nevertheless, it's a fun project. Matheiken is encouraging people to be imaginative in the way they dress and clearly has a sense of humour. On Day 57, or June 26, the picture shows her dressed in a vintage fedora, a single glove and white socks in homage to Michael Jackson. On Day 64, or July 4, Matheiken wore the dress with a stetson, a denim waistcoat and a neckerchief in celebration of Independence Day. This sense of fun means the project is swiftly growing in notoriety. The website has already had 400,000 hits, and Matheiken says it's receiving a climbing average of between 8,000 and 10,000 hits a day - good news for the charity kitty.

But sustainable? Hardly. Much like that woman standing in front of her bulging wardrobe, it appears that Matheiken has plenty to wear. smoneycoutts@thenational.ae