image: Unsplash

image: Unsplash

Buying lower-priced garments on a whim, wearing them once, maybe twice, maybe not at all, and ultimately discarding them in favor of newer ones is the behavior upon which many mainstream retailers’ model is built. It is how Zara remains wildly profitable and how H&M has been able to continue to expand rapidly. Add the pressures of social media to the mix, and companies like Rent the Runway (the most sustainably-minded company of the three) have been able to thrive; many women – particularly young women – simply do not want to repeat dresses for various occasions. “The photos are on Instagram,” after all.

There are numbers to back up this trend. One recent study, commissioned by Hubbub, a London-based sustainability firm, found that 41 percent of all 18-25-year-olds feel the pressure to wear a different outfit every time they go out. Another 33 percent of women – regardless of age – consider an outfit to be “old” after wearing it fewer than three times. And when it comes to dresses, it is even worse: Various studies show that some 72 percent of women will wear a dress only once. Do note, none of these statistics include men … because men are routine outfit repeaters.  

Far from merely being a sartorial headache and necessitating shopping on a seemingly regular basis, “there are real issues at play here,” says Arianna Huffington, who is taking on the topic on her newest platform, Thrive.

“Women already pay a higher price than men in our culture of sleep deprivation and burnout. And notions of professional dress are as outdated as the idea that burnout is synonymous with dedication,” she wrote recently. By repeating outfits, she says, “we’re able to reclaim all the time and energy lost to picking out clothes and getting ready, we’ll gain a serious competitive advantage.”

And still yet, she says, “It’s a great way to begin to close the style gap, affording women the same freedom (in the form of time and money and thought) that men have in putting together their outfits. That doesn’t mean we can’t still take the time to thoughtfully select an outfit for a certain occasion — it just means we no longer feel like we have to.”