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Sanjida O'Connell

Dr Sanjida O'Connell is a writer and a TV presenter. Sanjida writes about science and green issues. Her latest novel, The Naked Name of Love, was published by John Murray in March. Her latest TV series was on BBC 2: Nature's Top 40, and was a guide to our top British wildlife spectacles. Find more details about Sanjida's work at her website, sanjida.co.uk

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Eco Chic: Should we wear a uniform?

Posted by Sanjida O'Connell
  • Monday, 22 June 2009 at 09:12 am

Last week I blithely ended my column by saying that to be fashionably ethical what we need to do is to buy fewer clothes. Yeah right. I bet even the people we know who are not interested in clothes have more than they need. I am and I most certainly do. There is something intrinsically hardwired in us, in our craving for novelty, the buzz we feel when we buy a new outfit, the feel-good factor from a fantastic frock or very sexy jeans.


I asked Tony Juniper, ex-director of Friends of the Earth and Green Party candidate, how he believed we could protect the planet by consuming less when most of us want more. He said, “We need to study psychology and find out more about the brain. Deep within us we have an innate desire for comfort, for security and for status. We need to get to grips with this and start crafting alternatives that get the same brain reaction.” Scientists have even found the part of the brain that we use when we want to buy something new (it’s the nucleus accumbens in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain).



So could The Uniform Project be the answer? The brainchild of New York based Sheena Matheiken, she has pledged to wear the same dress every day of the year. It’s actually seven carbon copies of one dress, which she jazzes up with vintage accessories, thrift store finds and e-bay purchases. She says, “Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade's boudoir.” The analogy makes me squirm, but Sheena certainly looks cute: she posts a photo of herself in her dress every day and adds a dollar to the charity she’s raising money for –  The Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is campaigning for more schools for the 7.5 million Indian children currently unable to get an education. She hopes we’ll all help out by donating dollars and accessories too.


Sheena says, “I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate. 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.” To turn to the practicalities, how on earth do you design a dress that can be worn all year round? Sheena’s friend, designer Eliza Starbuck, copied and modified one of Sheena’s favourite dresses. Sheena says, “The dress is designed so it can be worn both ways, front and back, and also as an open tunic. It’s made from a durable, breathable cotton, good for New York summers and good for layering in cooler seasons.”


I don’t have Sheena’s stamina for shopping, her creative chutzpah, nor her closet space for the accessories but I think this is an admirable way of cutting back on buying whilst still retaining a delight in dressing and fuelling our need for novelty. Could this be the return of the uniform?

Pictures courtesy of The Uniform Project


desire for more
1maia wrote:
Saturday, 25 July 2009 at 11:10 pm (UTC)
My parents claim they gave me ridiculous amounts of toys, and from their stories about the past, I figure they had about one twentieth of what i did: current small children seem to me to have ridiculous amounts of toys, perhaps we give our children our idea of 'extreme luxury' quantities, now that we can, which sets their idea of normal, repeat ad absurdum.????

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