Her pupils weren’t the only ones starting to notice. She would hear whispers in the hallways and during class. She felt like wherever she went she was being eyeballed. “Is she still wearing that dress?” she would hear the girls snicker.
Any day now, the question would come, and then she’d have to explain herself. She never expected this to snowball so far, and that soon, people from all over the world would be asking the same question. But when they heard her answer, they were all taken aback.
The Proper Outfit
As a teacher, you have to show up at school wearing proper clothes. Some schools have uniforms for teachers, but others don’t. And this means that teachers must prepare in advance various outfits every day.
Julia had been a teacher for a while and has always made sure to dress nice and accessorize. As an art teacher, she loved colored clothes and interesting outfits. But her choice for the first day at school was rather strange…
Dressing To Impress?
34-year-old Julia Mooney had just accepted a new position as an art teacher at the William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, New Jersey, and she’d planned to dress for the occasion.
But this dress would soon cause such a controversy that her story made headlines around the world. What could possibly be wrong about an outfit? Julia had no idea just how much she would impress everyone when she bought that dress!
A New Dress
The new pebble-grey Jazmenia dress lay in its box, pristine – she’d ordered it never realizing just how much controversy she was about to stir. With a new job came a lot of excitement, but her night-before jitters were worse than usual. With all-new students and colleagues, she knew all eyes would be on her.
What she didn’t know was that her dress would be the talk of the school. Everyone was gossiping about it and Julia had to accept her fate before finally speaking up…
She Saw It Online
Julia saw the dress online and she knew she had to have it. However, nobody expected to see her wear this dress on the first day of school.
Soon enough, this new art teacher was going to draw so much attention that if she wouldn’t explain herself, she’d even get fired!
Who Is Julia?
If you’re wondering who is Julia Mooney, then you should know she is not just a middle school art teacher, but also a mom of two.
She lives in New Jersey and teaches at William Allen Middle School in Moorestown. But her lifestyle choices are not what you’d call normal…
Spending Time With The Family
Julia loves spending as much time as possible with her family. She takes them on farms and teaches them about animals, and she likes to knit clothes as well. On one of their trips, they went to an alpaca farm and she got some wool.
She also teaches her kids to do gardening and other skills that will be helpful in the future. As for her career, she has always been a beloved teacher. But things were a bit different at the new school. Here’s how it all started…
Mooney knew she’d get some strange reactions from the new school, but she never thought she’d be so self-conscious about her outfit.
"I don’t really usually think of myself as somebody who really cares that much [about] what people think,” she said. However, things were about to change!
After getting her two toddlers ready for school, she was on her way. Her new dress fit her perfectly and she was happy with her purchase, which hadn’t been cheap at $50.
While this wasn’t exactly the prettiest dress she could purchase, it was what she needed to achieve her goal. However, her first day at school was nearly a disaster!
The Temperature Began to Rise
Julia even felt optimistic. After tentatively introducing herself to her 6th and 7th-grade pupils, she felt like everything was going swimmingly... that is, until the outside temperature began to rise.
Julia strategically positioned herself underneath the air conditioning unit, but she didn’t feel any cooler. Her skin started to flush and she realized, “Oh no... I'm sweating! The horror!”
Hotter By The Minute
Embarrassed and fanning herself with a book, she tried to stay the course. But all she could think about was the summer heat – which had crept steadily past the 90-degree mark.
Hours passed and the day seemed to be endless. Although the students were eager to meet the new art teachers, Julia felt like she didn’t make a good impression that day.
Remains Of The Day
After a long stream of introductions, the classes felt endless! Each 13-year-old who passed through the doors to meet her was a new opportunity to make an impression, and she felt like she was blowing it.
Finally, the day was over and she retreated to her car, relieved. She was mortified to feel her dress stuck to her back like wet cheesecloth. At least tomorrow was a new day, she reassured herself, as she carefully scrubbed it in the sink and hung it up to dry.
The Second Day At School
That was only the beginning! When Mrs. Mooney arrived at school the next morning, some pupils had begun to realize that she wasn’t like their other teachers.
Some of her students noticed that the art teacher was wearing the same dress like the previous day. Another day passed and it became obvious and people started talking…
Starting To Notice
While others weren’t exactly receptive for the first couple of days, soon enough, everyone started to notice it. Was there something wrong with the art teacher?
Nobody could understand why the new teacher wasn’t changing her outfit. She did change her boots and added a scarf, noticed one of the students.
The Girls Were Talking
Girls at thirteen find themselves increasingly aware of their image and of the clothes they wear, coveting fashionable items and designer labels. So it was no wonder that some of the girls had noticed Mrs. Mooney immediately.
You’ll be shocked when you see the reasons why Julia wore the same dress as days passed. She didn’t just wear that dress at school, but also during the weekends and while she was in the city!
Why Did She Wear That Dress?
While nobody had asked her what was the reason behind her choices, Julia knew it was only a matter of time until someone would say it.
What Julia knew was that she will have to answer a lot of questions when people would find the courage to express their concerns about her unchanging outfit. Would she be in trouble at the new place of work?
Soon, Julia was the talk of William Allen Middle School. She had worn her grey dress every day that week, and people were beginning to notice.
Speculation began to fly. Some teachers were concerned. Was Mrs. Mooney struggling? Pupils were beginning to wonder, too. But, as everyone who has been in high school knows, teenagers can be incredibly cruel.
Julia, carefully avoiding the elephant in the room, continued to teach. She was aware of the snickers and whispers that followed her in the halls and on the playground.
Even her fellow colleagues had begun to regard her differently – treating as if she were fragile but refusing to ask her about her wardrobe outright. But she knew she had to ride it out. She had to stay the course. So, she put her head down and continued in the best way she knew how.
She Hadn't Broken Any Rules
As you can all imagine, the comments around her were whether Julia wasn’t a bit too strange to be a teacher and was her behavior affecting the children?
Some of the parents even talked to the principal, suggesting a meeting. Was Julia going to be fired for wearing the same dress every day? She wasn’t breaking any rules, though…
Problems With Money?
Was the new teacher struggling with money? No matter how poor you are, it’s impossible you only own one single dress. Plus, Julia did come wearing different shoes and scarves from time to time.
She even had different sweaters and other accessories like aprons for her art class. So what exactly was the story behind the grey dress? Everyone was curious and this couldn’t last forever. Or so people thought!
Driving Others Crazy
Some people were just driven crazy by the never-changing outfit. Others thought Julia’s lifestyle was disgusting.
Among the different opinions, most believed that for an art teacher, wearing the same grey dress was boring. But Julia had a few reasons to wear this dress. Once the mystery is solved, parents are shocked to learn the truth about their kids’ teacher!
What Was The Reason?
By the end of Julia’s third week, people couldn’t contain their curiosity any longer. She saw the question on all their faces.
And she knew the time was coming to address it. But just what was the grey dress’ story? And why wouldn’t Julia take it off? By now, everyone was dying to know.
"Is She Still Wearing That Dress?"
You see, Julia had a plan brave up her sleeve. Everything had been carefully planned out, and she’d picked that plain grey dress for a reason.
“I’m walking down the halls and they’re like, ‘Is she still wearing that dress?'” Julia said. But when more and more people took notice, she couldn’t help but smile.
“I needed to pick a dress that was going to be versatile because I’m going to be wearing it through the winter, and when we started the school year it was 90 degrees,” she explained.
And when her students finally mustered up the courage to ask her why she had worn the same dress for weeks, she directed them to her Instagram page – and it held all the answers.
One Outfit, 100 Days
Her first post on her Instagram page, called one outfit 100 days, reads: “For at least 100 days I'll be wearing this dress, through ceramics projects, blizzards, whatever.
"Boring? Sure. I love to express myself through what I wear as much as the next American. This is a challenge.” But still, why would anyone do such a thing? – She has four good reasons.
Julia’s first reason for choosing to wear the same dress for 100 days is a simple one: it saves time. With two toddlers to take care of, a minimalist lifestyle makes sense.
Saying goodbye to the agonizing “what to wear” question, she has more free time to enjoy with her loved ones. But her reasons don’t end there. She has a much deeper message for consumers everywhere.
Advocating Slow Fashion
Julia is an active advocate of ‘slow fashion’. So, what is ‘fast fashion’? ‘Fast fashion’ is simply cheap, trendy fabric and clothing that is cost-effective, but unfortunately doesn’t last long. Think Forever 21.
“We demand lots of clothes cheap, so retailers have to produce in foreign factories where US labor laws don't protect workers,” Julia explains. ‘Slow fashion’ is just the opposite -- promoting good quality and fair labor practices. But Julia is most concerned with another problem that seems to be on the rise.
With huge amounts of clothes being produced abroad to satisfy the growing market for cheaper goods, many companies unethically employ underage workers in their factories.
What’s worse is that there are no laws in place to protect these children. By buying less clothing items, Julia is helping to stem the demand for cheaper labor. Although it’s the main reason for Julia’s decision, it’s not the only one.
Reducing Her Carbon Footprint
Julia is determined to be a conscious consumer – and she’s fighting the fashion industry’s environmental impact, too. With the consumption of clothing at an all-time global high, it’s no wonder that unsustainable environmental practices are depleting the planet’s valuable resources.
It takes a staggering 713 gallons of water to produce a traditional cotton T-shirt, while a polyester T-shirt may not use as much water, its manufacturing process emits twice as much carbon dioxide. Julia avoided adding to her carbon footprint by choosing a fair-trade hemp dress from a London-based clothing company called ‘Thought’. So, what have been the reactions to Julia’s project?
"Do You Wash It?"
The most common reaction she’s received is disgust – some people just assume that it’s not hygienic to wear the same item of clothing every day. And her answer is food for thought.
“I just tell them: this is not a project about hygiene. I wash it as needed. I come to work clean. Lots of people wear uniforms and they are not assumed to be dirty." Julia’s one outfit 100 days challenge has another thought-provoking takeaway.
A Culture Based On Image
“Do we really need so many new outfits? Are we just perpetuating a culture that defines us based on what we're wearing rather than what we're doing?
What if we spent our energy trying to BE good, interesting humans instead of trying to LOOK good and interesting?” And people all around the world were staggered by the teacher’s message. Most were supportive.
Julia’s Instagram quickly blew up with comments and she gained over 6,500 followers. “All for integrating sustainable strategies into everyday items, what a movement this teacher started!” one supporter wrote.
Soon, some of Julia’s pupils and colleagues were following her example, with 17 teachers joining her cause – including her history teacher husband, Patrick, who wore the same shirt for 100 days, too. Soon, local news stations caught wind of the teacher’s story.
Staying The Course
"Some people will not want to listen and prefer their own rationalized [sic] conclusions. Respect that we are all riding on very different journeys through life. Stay friends while you stay the course."
She added that she's realized that hemp is the "ultimate rockstar fiber" and that all dresses need "deep pockets".
Think Before You Buy
"The challenge I'm presenting is this: Let's think before we buy, wear, discard, and buy again. Can we buy clothes used? Buy responsibly? Buy LESS? Learn to sew a few things?" she asked.
"Do we really need so many new outfits? Are we just perpetuating a culture that defines us based on what we're wearing rather than what we're doing?"
When It's Over
Julia provides more food for thought on her Instagram feed: "When this is over I'll change more often, but it won't consume me like it once did. I'll shop, but I'll do so mindfully. I'll have less, but not to this extreme."
"We shouldn't let our inability to do everything stop us from doing what we can."
Julia's challenge came to an end on February 13th, 2019, and she shared a photo of fellow teachers and staff at the school she works at wearing the same clothing as her in the final three days as a show of solidarity.
The caption said: "Turns out I work with a pretty cool staff. Here's a shot of 17 teachers just in my building who chose to support this project by wearing the same thing for these past three days. Great way to end #OneOutfit100days on #day100."
She celebrated the end of her mission by using parts of the dress to make new ones and detailing what she'd taken away from the project.
"In the face of criticism, petty or otherwise, consistently challenge yourself to respond with equal parts grace and hard evidence. Never get defensive."
A Lost Art
"Who mends clothes anymore? With clothes so cheap and nearly disposable, it doesn't seem worth our time ... So much so that this is a lost art. Maybe we should reconsider this."
"Maybe it's worth fixing our clothes so they continue to serve us. Maybe if we spent more on durable, ethically produced clothes, we'd value them more and be more motivated to fix them. Seems like a better option than the landfills."
Could You Do It?
“I like to wear clothes; I like to express myself... I know that we are all looking at what the other person is wearing,” Julia said in an interview.
“To wear the same thing every day is uncomfortable because we have this deeply ingrained cultural expectation to change every day. It’s weird, but because it’s weird it’s making us all think.” What do you think about Julia’s cause? Could you take the challenge and wear the same outfit for 100 days?