The mission: to wear the same dress for 100 days. Reality: Heather Curlee Novak wanted to give up after a month. But her husband pushed her to stay true to what she started.
The truth, she admitted, is that the home life of a mother of two becomes routine and “buying a thing or two can be quite fun.”
But it adds up. When she counted, she was shocked to find that her daughters – Portia, 13, and Livvy, 11 – owned 80 stuffed animals. She also recommends other families to count their belongings. She could take them on the same journey of examining the soul, clothing and what’s really important in life.
Novak, who is 50, lived her entire life in South Bend until she moved to Valparaiso 10 years ago. She and her husband of hers follow the financial principles of author / radio host Dave Ramsey and, she said, “I was running out of budget almost every month.”
She also wanted a smart and fun dress, and armed with some birthday money, she invested $ 138 in a slim, pure wool dress that drapes from her shoulders just down to her knees. The company that makes it, wool &, proposed a 100-day challenge and accepted. Her experiment started in mid-December and her last day was Monday.
As a result, he said, “I’ve noticed more about myself.”
How did it go?
He worried that people would notice that his variety was gone, but alas, he found: “People don’t pay attention to what we wear as much as we think they are.”
She’d had a penchant for buying the latest fashion clothes – they were cheap – but now she looks in her closet and realizes, “You buy things you don’t really love.”
Sure, she did a lot of things to accessorize and dress up her look. He tucked the dress into his jeans or overalls. He has added scarves, sweaters, a crochet poncho, leggings and different boots, and has a pair of glasses to swap. She tied an apron to protect him in the kitchen.
But would her family and friends, including her father and others in South Bend who visits monthly, dare to take on a 100-day challenge?
“People admire it,” he joked, “but they don’t want to.”
Changing the culture of consumption
What Novak did – buy something nice and wear it for a long time – was “completely normal” a century ago, according to Zach Schrank, a sociology professor at Indiana University South Bend who teaches a course on “Consumer Culture and Society.” .
“It wasn’t until recently that textiles became so cheap,” Schrank noted. “You can fill your closet with clothes and it won’t impact your budget like it used to.”
People also wear these so-called “fast fashion” clothes much less than Americans did decades ago. It fuels the culture’s drive to conform, Schrank said.
And people in the US are among the “weirdest globally,” she said, compared to other countries where people can’t afford that many clothes or just don’t buy that many.
While she doesn’t know anyone personally who is making a challenge with a single dress, she has heard of other people who are intentionally simpler consumers for a variety of reasons. How to be aware of factories that employ people with low wages and sometimes unsafe working conditions.
“People are more aware of what we do and how it is impacting,” he said.
Casey Mullaney does not have a sparse wardrobe, but avoids buying brand new clothes, instead filling her taste for fashion, such as colors and patterns, through used garments.
As a resident volunteer at the Catholic Worker Women’s Home on St. Joseph Street in South Bend, where she lived among homeless adults for six years, she collected the donated clothes after guests had their pick. Women exchange and share items with each other. And she shopped at Goodwill. She also repairs her clothes and wears them longer.
It fits the ethic of Catholic workers of the simple life. But the 31-year-old, who is working on her doctoral thesis in theology at the University of Notre Dame, said she too was aware of the waste of fast fashion.
“Our clothing consumption is terrible for the environment,” he said. “So much of it is thrown away or dumped in Third World countries.”
People, he said, can justify buying a lot by thinking it can always be donated.
But, for the homeless people she knows, she said, “They better have some well-made, durable clothing.”
“A lot of fast fashion is produced in a way that doesn’t last long,” she said of her mending experience. “It makes sense that people don’t keep it for long.”
However, she took the children of Catholic Worker’s guests and went shopping for brand new clothes, an opportunity for them to choose their own things and avoid looking impoverished at school.
The pandemic has changed habits
Novak’s new habit was born, like so many others, from the pandemic. Her family budget had shrunk because Novak quit her job as a liaison director for a United Methodist Church when the pandemic began, allowing her to do e-learning at home with her children.
He gives talks and blogs about a better life, part of his honest and conscious approach to the human being.
Another source of inspiration for his quest for simplification was his father, a beekeeper, a man who rides a bicycle and goes to the opera who struggled with hoarding – even agreeing to go on the TV show “Hoarders” on A&E 12 years ago to help clean up the heap – on plastic containers and other stuff. More recently, he hired a housekeeper to help him, but Novak said things still pile up.
Novak doesn’t normally bother taking care of his clothes because they are so cheap. This pure wool dress is different. It is comfortable and does not smell. He washed it about every two weeks and let it air out overnight. There is no need to stain it.
“I don’t have BO, which blew me away,” he joked.
As a result of his experiment, he said he will donate more of his clothes.
“If it doesn’t bring joy, I’m not wearing it,” she said.
As a family, they already donate excess things, even if their children don’t like it. He explains to them: “Maybe someone else will love it.”
Will it reduce impulse buying?
“My husband laughs because I go back and buy things we donated,” she said. “There is always more new, more beautiful and better.”
Yet, she also gave up on jeans in the shop, remarking, “I remind myself that I love the only pair I have.”
As for wearing the same dress, she said: “I’m looking forward to wearing something else.”
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Joseph Dits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures.