Where Few Dare to Don

When most people take a vow it tends to be in a church, accompanied by their future spouse and a few too many distant relatives. Aunt Hilda has gone a little heavy on the punch, her bedazzled sweater dress becomes a spinning blur on the dance floor, and the bride can only ask herself, “Who’s Aunt Hilda?”

Sheena Matheiken, on the other hand, is decidedly more unconventional in her aims. When this Brooklyn native took a vow in May, it was not of matrimony but “an exercise in sustainable fashion” –- she promised to wear one dress for 365 days. In a mere three months since the birth of her sartorial venture, aptly named The Uniform Project, Matheiken has already begun making waves (well-groomed, immaculately adorned, and swoon-worthy waves).

Thanks to the power of the almighty internet, The Uniform Project has seen exponential and rapid exposure, which has helped to support Matheiken’s greater motive of raising money. Her charity of choice is the Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit organization that makes accessible “uniforms and other educational expenses” for children in need in India’s public school system. Much of Matheiken’s inspiration stems from similar beginnings having been schooled and raised in India, and she describes the process of modifying school uniforms with a certain nostalgic tone.

“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. Peeking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare.” – Matheiken

Though the charitable efforts add a certain depth and purpose to Matheiken’s mission, The Uniform Project encourages consideration of fashion conventions -– namely the insatiable quest to buy more. If cord necklaces, patterned knee-highs, and vintage hats can change the look of a dress 365 times, maybe we do not really need to go shopping every season. By establishing the time frame of her project as one full year, Matheiken is already disregarding the constraints of Spring/Summer haute couture collections and Fall/Winter ready-to-wear runways. In the same way that a good novel engages the reader, so too does The Uniform Project beg a certain participation from those who browse Matheiken’s dynamic wardrobe. Visitors of the website cannot help but question the effect of fleeting trends on personal style. Of course the concept of reinvention is one that Matheiken perpetuates in her clothing, and in each daily transformation carefully recorded on her website, she is undoubtedly chipping away at our stubborn capitalist desires.

The project is at once both inspiring and admirable, personal and international. As Matheiken painstakingly chronicles her clothing adventure she renews our appreciation for accessories, challenges our understanding of style, and asks us to participate rather than spectate the world of fashion. Ultimately, The Uniform Project aims to balance the scales as Sheena Matheiken subtracts from her wardrobe in order to give to others. I hate to rely on the ever powerful cliché, but in this case the ol’ faithful rings true: remember ladies, less may just equal more.

Matheiken encourages anyone and everyone to donate to her cause! What is great about the project is that she accepts hand-made, used, or vintage accessories in addition to monetary donations.

Donate money!
Donate accessories!

-Carmen Vicente

8 thoughts on “Where Few Dare to Don

  1. These pictures are mesmerizing! This girl is fantastic, not only to look at (!), but what an admirable and interesting project too.

  2. I literally just stumbled across the uniform project 2 days ago – and was gona suggest it for a post, so way to beat me to it! But this is awesome! Guess I should stop complaining when I think I only have a few outfits….:P

  3. I love this too! It’s so great to see creativity like this, for a good cause too.

    P.S. I wonder how much febreze she went through!

  4. This is definitely an interesting project, and I am keen to see what kinds of creative takes on that black dress she will come up with for 365 days, but I have to wonder if this is really an exercise in sustainability if she is still buying lots of new clothing and accessories to spruce up her uniform on a daily basis. After all, most of us wear a “uniform” every day, too, whether it’s our jeans and tees or a suit for work. We don’t have to keep buying new stuff every season, and neither does Ms. Matheiken, but it seems to me that this project actually encourages more consumption if she must invest in and invent new takes on the black dress every day.

    To me, the concept of sustainability means trying to curb your own consumption–even if all the things you want to buy are actually recycled. Plus, if you buy lots of things online and have to have them delivered to your door by a gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing truck or airplane, that isn’t really a sustainable approach, either.

  5. Alexandra, she actually has seven identical dresses — one for each day of th week.

    Laura, you bring up some very valid points. I think the fact that she encourages and seeks out used, hand-made and vintage accessories is the right direction, but like you say, perhaps an even more sustainable focus would be locally sourced goods. I think you should send her that suggestion!

  6. Regardless of how effective her sustainability is, I think her project provides positive encouragement for everyone to assess their own wardrobe and reconsider the habits, processes and consequences involved in getting dressed.

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