You’re wearing that— again?!?

For the past two months, I’ve been checking out what Sheena Matheiken is wearing. She wears the same thing every day, but then, she doesn’t really. (Huh?)

Here’s what she’s doing in her own words:

Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir.

There’s a remarkable simplicity in The Uniform Project, as well as a challenge. (Check out those chains!) It’s also a fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation’s School Project, a Mumbai-based non-profit that funds uniforms and other educational expenses for slum children in India.

As for her inspiration, it’s the uniforms that kids in Indian public schools had to wear when she was growing up.

Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality. Boys rolled up their sleeves, wore over-sized swatches, and hiked up their pants to show off their high-tops. Girls obsessed over bangles, bindis and bad hairdos. Peaking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare. I now want to put the same rules to test again, only this time I’m trading in the catholic school fervor for an eBay addiction and relocating the school walls to this wonderful place called the internet.

Girls and boys, if you’ve got some accessories or funds to spare, let her know. In the meantime, check out her 69+ outfits, and counting!


42 thoughts on “You’re wearing that— again?!?

  1. This is an interesting project and study in accessorizing and reminds me of the brown dress project, with the same dress worn every day for a year.

  2. Thanks, Pavani. I didn’t know about that precedent. But I love the fact that Ms. Matheiken looks beyond fabulous, does more with less, and is a clean and tidy girl– i.e. she doesn’t wear the same thing two days in a row. I wish I could say the same thing for myself, ahem. We all need role models.

  3. I don’t get what the advantage of this is. So instead of buying one new item, e.g. a dress, you have to buy four or five accessories?

  4. @patm, she’s not buying much if anything that’s new off the rack:

    Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies.

    It’s an exercise in invention and sustainability as opposed to thriftiness, but the “advantage” is that she uses less of the earth’s resources. (And inspires some of us on the way.)

  5. @patm, she’s not buying much if anything that’s new off the rack:

    OK, I guess I didn’t read that part. But still, couldn’t you just buy one second-hand dress instead of a slew of second-hand bracelets, scarves, tights, etc to go with your one item of clothing?

  6. @patm. For sure, but then it would be no fun.

    But there must be some of you out there who went the school uniform route, no? What did you do to survive its monotony?

  7. I just looked through the slide and if she is making an argument for sustainable fashion, then she is going the wrong way. She has tons of accessories, made out of, what looks like, plastic, wood, imitation metals, and who knows what else. How much energy did it take to produce one of those bulky necklaces? Wouldn’t buying several second hand cotton dresses have left less of a footprint.

    And that fugly hair cut is just inexcusable.

    I realize that it is a gimmick, but really, I have no idea why the gimmick has to be such an ugly dress made uglier with ugly (and ultimately unsustainable) accessories.

    If the argument is that we should buy less by becoming used to more uniform-style clothing, well, we are there already in many ways. College kids are cookie cutter molds in jeans and tee shirts. Professionals are similar in skirts and shirts.

    All in all, it’s seems a completely misplaced experiment. We don’t need to wear the same dress — we already wear the same versions of dresses. It is the accessories which are unsustainable — plastic from oil, jewelry from metals mined, wood from forests are all affecting the planet more than cotton from a field from which the dress is made.

    Looks like a really dumb project. I would follow an experiment with a handful of dresses but the same accessories.

  8. What’s the story with this chick? Is she just one of those young fashionista heiresses looking for a claim to fame? Or is she some ‘name’ in the entertainment/celeb world that I’m not familiar with?

  9. How does buying secondhand dresses make any less of a footprint than buying/borrowing/receiving secondhand accessories? She’s consuming seven dresses this year; most people buy more than seven different dresses/suits/jeans+shirts in a given year. (At least I do, and I’m far from a clotheshorse.) I understand that the model’s not perfect (nor does she claim it to be) and that you may not agree with her aesthetics, but would you tell her it “looks like a really dumb project” to her face? She (and many of the other live people we blog about) is probably reading this. Civility, folks.

  10. Also, it’s not one dress, it’s seven. Why not just have seven different styles as well and not have to worry about cluttering it up with accessories?

  11. How does buying secondhand dresses make any less of a footprint than buying/borrowing/receiving secondhand accessories?

    What definition of footprint are you or she working with — and I am asking without being snarky. From extraction (mining/farming) to production to discarding, the accessories leave a much higher footprint. How degradable are these plastic or metal derived accessories? Compared to the dresses? In a landfill, which will last longer? How much pollution will seep from these accessories compared to dresses? If the purpose is to create awareness about our carbon footprints, then accessorizing a simple black dresses day after day for a year is MUCH worse than buying several second hard dresses. Sure, buying second hand is good, but recycling is not the only step in this process. WHAT we buy is just as important.

    but would you tell her it “looks like a really dumb project” to her face? She (and many of the other live people we blog about) is probably reading this.

    I think I would tell this to her face because we really do need to move towards sustainable living and gimmicks like these can make a joke of what is a very serious problem.

    if she is reading this, I would ask her to please buy less accessories and if she must accessorize, use renewable sources like jewelry make from hemp or bamboo or from less polluting material.

  12. Thanks, lol wut. I understand where you’re coming from now. I have a question for you that hopefully explains what I was thinking: if the bad stuff already manufactured is already out there, and she uses them after others discard them (instead of throwing them in a landfill), is that worse than not wearing the stuff at all?

    Or do you think her project risks making some of us want to rush out and buy accessories? After looking at her slides, I’m looking at the clothes and accessories I already own in a new way and am inspired to try some new things with them– and was hoping some of you would feel the same.

    There’s an aesthetic project as well as something trying to raise consciousness about how much we buy, which explains her choice to give herself some creative limits (i.e. the fun of the challenge), but you have some legitimate concerns.

  13. Yes, with projects like this, there is always a danger of them taking off and who knows how many people may want to dress like that. If that had happened, it would not have taken long for people to copy the style not the concept and before long a progression into non second hand stuff would have been made. Whenever a media/hype based project is started, if you are talking about sustainability then you need to do your analysis of various scenarios and I don’t think she did that. Plus if this is about sending out a message and inspire others to do stuff like this, plastics etc is hardly the kind of message you want to send out even if used. Her heart may be in the right place, but the approach is not well thought through IMHO.

  14. In response to your question: Reusing all the stuff out there is definitely a much better option than throwing them into a landfill. If there are people out there buying anything second hand, then good for them.

    But it would be better if we made demand for these things obsolete. As long as we think it is okay to wear these accessories, they are going to continue to be made, and that is not sustainable living.

    And if we going to buy second hand, why not make a point by buying less polluting material? Sheena, I am assuming, will probably not be accessorizing with a fur coat or an ivory necklace because of societal stigma. We need the same kind of stigma around metals and fossil fuel by-products.

    Or do you think her project risks making some of us want to rush out and buy accessories?

    I don’t know if she creating demand for accessories, but I think she is feeding into existing demand, which is counter intuitive to her project. She is certainly saying that the only way to dress up the black dress is by adding accessories made from even more worse stuff. That fits in with the general pervasive fashion message — you need more, more, more of x, y, z.

    Look at this line of hers:

    this time I’m trading in the catholic school fervor for an eBay addiction

    She is still addicted to buying more stuff.

    I’m looking at the clothes and accessories I already own in a new way and am inspired to try some new things with them

    I can understand that, and there are many blogs with depression-era living suggestions on how to reuse what you have. If this project was about how to reconfigure your existing wardrobe, I wouldn’t have gone all “lol wut, wtf is this?” after watching the vid! But that is not what the project is about.

    Thanks for your time, though, Nilanjana, in asking questions and responding.

  15. I like the thought behind it, but is it really sustainable? For starters, seven identical outfits make the whole deal just a tad inefficient! Some of those accessories could easily be fashioned into complete outfits, so that’s a bit of a cheat. And if you wanted to just buy vintage, then why not dispense with the seven base outfits in the first place? And finally, while most of those outfits are fun, they would hardly be considered work wear. For something to be truly sustainable, it has to be wearable by the masses.

    I’d have appreciated this much more if it was packaged for what it is, a cool art project. As an exercise in sustainability, it is a feeble attempt at best.

  16. All of you make good points; thanks. I agree that it works better as an art project than a sustainability project, though I do think her heart is in the right place. Before we dismiss her, I do think she deserves some props for attracting enough attention to raise a significant amount of money to help poorer kids go to school. And call me odd, but I’m digging her hair– a little Anna Wintour meets Indian schoolgirl, in my eyes.

  17. This project suffers from trying to be more than it can. As an exercise in creativity, it is interesting, perhaps even cool. To make these bizarre claims about promoting sustainability and whatnot, however, is bullshit. Not slightly bullshit, but very bullshit.

  18. “but would you tell her it ‘looks like a really dumb project’ to her face? She (and many of the other live people we blog about) is probably reading this. Civility, folks.”

    What, is she made of paper? I’ll bet she could take criticism far worse than someone calling her project dumb. If she can’t, she shouldn’t put herself out there like this.

    “I do think she deserves some props for attracting enough attention to raise a significant amount of money”

    Her foundation has raised $5026 more than I have, so yes, I give her credit. However, I think she’d do a lot better if she had picked a less boring project that inspired people with real money to donate. For example, Bill Gates isn’t going to care about this.

  19. “I currently work as a creative director at an interactive ad agency in New York City.”

    :-) ah… that explains it. if this helps sustainability or not, it def helps her career – i am not implying that this is why she’s doing the project – but girl’s got to find ways to stay fresh and relevant when the bloom’s going off the rose and there’s a new topping needed for the vindaloo.

  20. if she is reading this, I would ask her to please buy less accessories and if she must accessorize, use renewable sources like jewelry make from hemp or bamboo or from less polluting material.

    Herby, can’t you find it in your huge, righteous heart to see antique/estate jewelry as sustainable – it’s already around and it gains significance with time thus gets passed down to other generations, not thrown on the trash heap. I love a bamboo bangle and all, but a girl’s gotta have some color and shine and some precious too. Talk to me jade, rubies, hematite and cloisonné, blood-free diamonds and gold!

    This project may not make a strong case for sustainability but it’s certainly doing more than being artsy or stylish and I hope it continues to do well in its fundraising efforts.

  21. @khoofi, I’m embroidering and framing this as a gift for the next friend of mine who turns 30.

    bloom’s going off the rose and there’s a new topping needed for the vindaloo.

    Classic. Even if I don’t know how to embroider.

  22. I think we are really being insufficiently critical of this lady. Why 7 dresses? Why not 14? After all, that would require laundry half as often. Given that we are talking about a whole year, won’t the removal of 26 laundry washings offset the additional environmental damage from the clothes?

    Second, why accessorize hair? I hear that everytime you comb your hair, a baby seal loses a fin. Surely, there are at least 365 different kinds of bedhead that she can demonstrate?

    Also, don’t flush.

  23. Classic. Even if I don’t know how to embroider.

    ve aim to please old yam.

    the next friend of mine who turns 30

    ouch! but not really – ve are aging like fine toddy. as my mum says, if destiny smiles a donkey is a wrestler.

    seriously though. no malice intended to Sheena. I have friends in the business and they find it’s hard to get plum assignments when the boss decides that the new PYT scratches the client’s itch better. exceptions exist, but the whole business is driven off libido. Sheena’s just added social media advertising to her portfolio plus given the client something to think about – so GO GIRL! I love the chutzpah. i totally see her carrying a portfolio within the next 3 years. Co-opt and control. the rest is just smoke. y’all dont seriously believe that the rockstars do benefits to help africa do ye. LOL

  24. “I’d have appreciated this much more if it was packaged for what it is, a cool art project. As an exercise in sustainability, it is a feeble attempt at best.”

    That’s all technically true but did you really think, “oh, definitely not cool art project” when you saw her website? That was, in fact, my first thought. Nothing is quite so immediately discernible as lacking utility as a site with a plethora of content, suitably noble humanitarian ambitions and $5,026 in the ‘funds raised’ box. It’s a very elaborate fancy, at the moment, but one in which you can indulge without guilt as there is negligible contribution to any environmental pollution unless she’s getting everything dry–cleaned.

  25. @khoofi, I’m embroidering and framing this as a gift for the next friend of mine who turns 30.

    Courage, girlfriend, the bloom gets more beautiful and interesting at 30! And when the bloom does fall, we won’t have the hormones to give a damn. Thank you Mother Nature.

  26. bess, I found “a new topping for the vindaloo” some time ago. (Figuratively. I can’t cook Goan.) But I agree, it’s all good on this side, and the roses in my garden are in glorious bloom. (Literally.)

  27. Overanalyze much? Its just a creative idea. I don’t care about the environment all that much, and even I found the idea interesting.

  28. What, is she made of paper? I’ll bet she could take criticism far worse than someone calling her project dumb. If she can’t, she shouldn’t put herself out there like this.

    Just because one can be deliberately rude, obnoxious, negative or incivil does not mean that one should be.

    There’s a way to level constructive criticism. This blog–and the world– would be a better place if our readers who comment learned and appreciated that.

    Finally, I call bullshit on a few of you. I don’t think you’d tell her that this project is dumb or that her haircut is ugly, to her face. Perhaps she is reading this and is exceptionally thick-skinned, and does not care. But I am reading this and I see how corrosive such comments are, how they discourage posting, by both bloggers and commenters, and how the need for a few of you to snark doesn’t outweigh the greater good of a community which is only sustainable through civility and courtesy.

  29. What an awesome idea. I’m jealous. I’d do it, but I’m too afraid of what my co-workers would say. Sigh. Our society doesn’t encourage the kind of simplicity that would benefit the environment.

  30. sm intern,

    My criticism is always available to be delivered in-person, with my lovely face proffered for whatever treatment it may deserve.

    All expenses, travel and accommodation to be compensated of course.

  31. outweigh the greater good of a community which is only sustainable through civility and courtesy.

    not to forget accessorizing with seven copies of the same dress ;-)

    Welcome back, anna.

  32. Amazed at the disparaging comments about her…I think the gal’s super cute (including her haircut, which very few can pull off without looking like Johnny Depp’s rendition of Willy Wonka!), but, despite her project’s shortcomings, its value is symbolic in nature. This is a cool, well-intentioned project that more effectively sheds insight into the variations in Indian school garb than it does to encourage sustainability. However…she’s also raised funds that will go a long way in providing school gear for indigent youth!

  33. ongoing tension in fashion discourse between individualization and standardization, the detail (all her accessories that work to distinguish each day from the next) and the uniform (the black dress that serves as her blank canvas).

    By the beard hair of the Guru, the calculated insouciance is sublime, but that banana is a slug machang. dont eat.

  34. I agree with several other comments that people are being way too critical/cynical of this project. I would also be curious to see how individuals who bring up sustainability and environmental issues in such vivid details, actually apply some of those things to their life. does lol_wut does not wear plastic, metal, wood anything? A lot of the talk about sustainability is very theoretical and we can go to town arguing it. And sheena, in the first place, didn’t want this to be an experiment ENTIRELY about sustainability or recycling or accessorizing. It has evolved into this interactive project where people send in accessories etc and a great example is the necklace she wore today made by kenyan women. As a blog, her project is already doing a lot of great things including creativity, charity, recycling, inspiring etc.

  35. The clothes don’t look too bad – but her hairdo needs to change. Bangs don’t usually suit grown-up desis, but some can get a way with the look.