Style notes: In defense of outfit repeating

by Mia Zarrella / Beacon Correspondent • October 12, 2016

If Kate Sanders were a real person, she wouldn’t like me.

In The Lizzie McGuire Movie, mean girl Kate Sanders calls the main character, Lizzie, an “outfit repeater” after she wears a powder blue puffy-sleeved dress under her graduation gown—the same blue dress she wore to the spring dance. In Kate’s opinion, repeating an outfit was social suicide.

After seeing that movie in 2003, I was convinced outfit-repeating was a crime.

The negative association with this practice is still perpetuated through pop culture and social media. Celebrities get “spotted” wearing the same dress or hat and it makes tabloid headlines. And even I feel a little embarrassed when I realize I posted two pictures in a row on Instagram in the same shirt.

Will people think I am unhygienic or too uncreative to wear something different? It’s silly, yet it’s reality.

The idea that I couldn’t (noticeably) repeat the same outfit was planted in my mind during my tween years and it’s reinforced every time my roommate asks me if I am going “to branch out and wear a pair of pants other than my blue Levis.” The answer to the question is a resounding no.

When moving into my Boston apartment this summer, I only brought pieces I wear all the time. I donated or sold the garments with irrevocable stains, loose waistbands, itchy collars, and heinous patterns, and I was left with my favorite pieces of clothing—my staples.

These are the clothes I invested money in, fit me the best, and make me feel the most confident and comfortable. I tend to wear these pieces regularly, and since most of my clothes are black, blue, or white, they are highly equipped for mixing and matching.

Similar to the concept of the “French wardrobe,” I use the same articles of clothing in different ways by tucking in, tying up, cuffing, accessorizing, or layering. It’s an inexpensive way to expand a small or basic wardrobe, and it’s creative.

Dolly Parton, who in 2011 told Q Magazine that she never wears the same outfit twice, has also famously said, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

The singer-songwriter has the money to buy new clothing all the time—I, on the other hand, do not.

Unlike tissues and disposable razors, clothing is supposed to last. Yet, expendable clothing is on the rise. Fast-fashion stores like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 restock their racks with new styles weekly, permitting shoppers to keep their wardrobes fresh for a low cost. There is no need to wear the same outfit when you can purchase a whole new look for less than $20. And once the $10 shirt stretches out or the jeggings rip, you can always go back and buy replacements, right?

However, much of the clothing sold by fast-fashion companies is produced in developing countries for cheap costs. And when clothing is manufactured for cheap, the quality suffers. When a product is beyond the point of being worn again, it often ends up contributing to the 15.1 million tons of textile waste that the Environmental Protection Agency recorded back in 2013.

The pieces that we can wear all the time are usually the ones that can sustain the wear and tear. My Levi 501s are sturdy jeans that can go weeks before needing a break.

And sometimes garments that cost a little more last a while longer. I’ve gone through an embarrassing amount of cheap leather jackets and ankle boots before deciding to invest in ones that would last more than one winter season. When I invest in an article of clothing, I tend to want to wear it all the time to “get my money’s worth,” as the expression goes.

And perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton share that same mindset.

Middleton has been photographed repurposing and styling pieces like her navy Smythe blazer and cork wedges on multiple occasions. She has also worn eye-catching dresses like the red Alexander McQueen dress and emerald green Diane von Furstenberg dress to different distinguished events.

Michelle Obama has done the same, wearing dresses by Thom Browne and Barbara Tfank multiple times.

Prior to his death, Apple CEO Steve Jobs practically trademarked the combination of a black turtleneck, faded blue jeans, and white New Balance sneakers.

Grace Coddington, a former model and the creative director at-large of American Vogue, is known for wearing outfits of all black. Meanwhile, Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief at Vogue, has sported the same hairstyle and sunglasses for so long they’ve become iconic.

As style icons and public figures, what these people wear says a lot. The faux pas of wearing the same outfit more than once might have originated with bourgeoisie attitudes, but that’s no longer the case. Instead, it’s a demonstration of eco-conscious fashion, a mark of creativity, and a display of personal style.

Clothing is a utility to showcase personality, interests, and ideas. It can be a manifestation of your true self or it can be a presentation of different personas. Personal style incites confidence and comfort, so whether it is a powder blue peasant dress or black turtleneck and New Balances, if it feels good and if you like it, you should wear it and then wear it again.