Growing up, I never liked my haircut. My bangs (required because of my high forehead) were always crooked, or too short. Once I got my long hair cut short in the fifth grade—in a then-fashionable “shag,” and later a Dorothy Hamill “wedge”—I was never satisfied. Literally every time, I’d complain to my mom about yet another terrible haircut. And always, after reassuring me that it looked great, she would say, “Don’t worry about it, honey. No one else is thinking about your hair.”
What a thought. Really? Is no one really paying attention?
This repeated conversation has come back to me in recent days, decades after Mom uttered that sentiment. Because I’m being reminded right now of how little we pay attention to each other’s clothes. Or other details. That “bad hair day” that we all have more often than we might admit? People around us don’t even realize it!
What brought this home to me is this thing I’ve been doing, while hardly talking about it. For thirty-three consecutive days I have (**gulp**) worn the same dress.
I was introduced to this idea by a friend who was engaged in this challenge when I saw her at midsummer. She looked stylish and put-together—as she always does—in her dun-colored sleeveless dress, curly hair spilling onto her tanned shoulders. She was then on Day 37.
“So you have to do laundry every night?” I asked, wondering at the extra work such an undertaking would entail. “No,” she smiled. “I’ve only washed it twice so far.” To my look of amazement, she went on. “It’s merino wool. It doesn’t hold on to odors like other fabrics do.”
This led me to explore this whole idea. It turns out that this “100 Day Challenge” is an invention of a clothing company, wool&, which produces a small line of merino wool dresses and other items. Their website says nearly 1,700 persons have completed this challenge, of wearing the same dress for 100 days straight.
Why would you want to wear a dress for 100 days? Well, if you succeed, you get $100 toward another wool& purchase, so there’s that.
All of their dresses have pockets. That’s no small thing!
Plus this fabric is kind of an amazing discovery. The website says it’s wrinkle resistant, odor resistant, temperature regulating, naturally soft, breathable, and quick drying. I have found all these things to be true. Don’t think prickly. Think warm. Gentle. Resilient.
Huh. Those are things I want to be. What if our clothes mirrored our values?
There is this other angle on the wool& challenge. They are working on sustainable production, and urging a reduction in the amount of clothes we think we need, and all the stuff we buy. Many of the women doing this challenge—including me—have said we’ll refrain from buying any clothing or accessories for the duration of this challenge. We are being reminded of how much stuff we already have. And how little we really need, and how laundry gets minimized when we have fabrics we can re-wear rather than “wash and wear”—which seemed to be high praise until you stop and think about water and chemicals and fossil fuels.
So, sure, the price tag on my dress was a little high. But I’m more than making up for it with what I’m not spending right now! (And all this has made me extra aware of how many times in a week I get drawn into looking at things I’ve already decided I’m not buying.)
And I love the lighter laundry! I have had dog hair on my dress, but only an occasional spot, which has always come out when I soaked it just with warm water. I spritz it with water most nights when I take it off, in the places that might carry odor. But I’ve only actually washed my dress twice so far. It is surprisingly fresh, morning after morning.
All that being said, still, the most striking thing about wearing the same dress for 33 days is this: No one seems to notice.I’ve led meetings and worship and showed up on Zoom calls for 33 straight days wearing the same dress. And not a single person has said, “Hey, Lee, what’s with that dress?”
Of course, I can’t say they haven’t noticed, because it’s possible that folks are ruminating—and perhaps rumor-ing—about this curious phenomenon without saying anything to me. And I do change it up—with scarves and jackets, or leggings or boots, or one of the interesting necklaces I’ve collected over the years. But I’m pretty certain that 99% of the people with whom I’ve interacted during the past 33 days have not noticed.
Some of the women who complete the challenge say that their husbands never noticed.
(Then again, if you’ve ever had a husband, maybe that’s not too hard to believe!)
(No offense to all you husbands out there.)
Could it be my mother was right, and people really aren’t thinking about what we look like? Pause a minute and think about someone you live with, or that you see frequently. Do you remember what they were wearing the last time you saw them? OK, how about the time before that?
Chances are, you remember some outfits your friends and colleagues have worn. But, seriously, would you notice if they wore the same thing two days in a row? Assume it wasn’t stained, or smelly, and maybe they changed an accessory or two. Would you realize it? Would you notice your best friend’s self-identified “bad hair day”?
The fashion and beauty industry wants us to believe people are paying way more attention than they are.
In a college class on impressionist art and literature, I learned a tiny bit about Pablo Picasso and the cubism he and other artists created. Cubism moves away from pictorial representation of things into planes and angles. According to my dated and fragmentary memory, it represented the reality that we don’t really see each other in the way a traditional portrait or photograph represents us.
Picasso’s 1962 Portrait of a Woman (pictured here) is an example. This is an artistic rendering of the partial glimpses through which we see each other: the side of a face here, and a different angle when the person moves—maybe an ear or a forehead. A full-on lingering look virtually never happens in our day-to-day interactions with other human beings.
Including, evidently, an awareness of whether they’re wearing the same clothes day after day.
Strangely, it’s a little jarring to think that people aren’t noticing these things we spend so much time and energy considering. When my mom said no one cared about my hair, all those years ago, that didn’t feel like all good news. What? My hair could look hideous and no one would notice? That couldn’t be true! In the self-centered certainty of the drama in which I am the star, it must matter. Or else, am I invisible? Did my mom’s comment mean people didn’t care about me?
I don’t think that’s what she meant. My mom was very practical. She knew, somehow, that people will pay attention long enough to be sure who we are, but that rarely requires detailed observation. We engage with one another in varying degrees of intimacy, depending on the situation. We might check in with how that other person is feeling, and what we’re there to do together. But the details of our apparel, our jewelry, our hair, our makeup? Nobody cares! Neither their perfection nor their flaws register, in most of our human interactions.
I think it’s partly that we’re all thinking so much about our own selves, and our own agenda, our own worries, that we don’t have mental room to take in and hold on to the details of the people around us.
Especially in these late(?)-pandemic, exile days.
So I’m here to tell you what I’ve observed, during these 33 days, and through the comments of a community of wool& dress-wearers who have had this same experience: People don’t hardly notice. They aren’t thinking all that much about what we look like, and what we’re wearing. How freeing this is! For all those times you’ve stood there in the morning wondering what to wear today, or messed with your hair that won’t, no matter what you do, behave quite the way you want, I hope you’ll join me in embracing the freedom of saying to those fashion ads, and to our mirrors, No worries. Good enough. Nobody will notice anyway.
And then we can get on with the work, the play, the ministry, and the love that was always meant to fill our days.