Finding inner empowerment through personal style is far from a new concept. While we’re often speaking about it ourselves, designers like Prabal Gurung, Diane von Furstenberg, and Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior have chronically put the emphasis of their work on the women who wear their clothing and not the physical product itself. But Blythe Hill, creator of Dressember, is leading a charge to not only encourage style as a form of power but to also use it as a vehicle for social change. And according to her, it can be as simple as wearing a dress—for 31 days in a row.
The founder of Dressember came up with her philanthropic endeavor in college. “[I was] feeling a bit stifled by the academic routine. I created a personal challenge to try and wear a dress for a whole month,” Hill told us over email. However, outfit repetition was far from her most significant lesson at the time. “The first time I learned about trafficking was while I was in college and hearing a number of press stories explaining the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls in countries like India, Cambodia, and Thailand. I learned that upwards of 25 million people were trapped in slavery—more than any other point in history—and that women and girls across the world were forced sex workers.” Inspired to do more, Hill—herself, an outspoken survivor of sexual assault—eventually melded together two goals, and Dressember was born.
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“I had no idea whether it would work,” she admitted to us. “2013 was Dressember’s first year as a campaign, and I set what felt like an ambitious goal of $25,000 that the campaign hit on the third day—and eventually raised over $165,000 that month.” Hill had partnered with the International Justice Mission, an organization that helps to protect unprivileged communities against violence, and she had enlisted the participation of over 1200 people. “I realized this was a much bigger idea than I thought,” she said, “and last year we raised nearly $1.5M.”
Currently, Dressember, which now also partners with A21 Campaign, a nonprofit that aims to end all forms of slavery worldwide, has brought in over $3 million for its cause. And tomorrow, December 1, marks the latest challenge, which technically doesn’t have to require a month’s worth of dress outfits if that’s not really your thing. “We’ve had more and more men join in by wearing ties or bow ties during the month. Women who are more inclined toward ties than dresses can participate in this way as well,” Hill told us about getting involved. “I’ve also seen people join in by sharing and promoting their friend’s campaign and help their friend hit their goal. Spreading the word is a huge help, as is making a donation directly to a friend’s campaign or the campaign in general.”
We’ll admit that this year’s initiative is kicking off at a very interesting time, as national and global headlines are proof that sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and widespread inequality are relevant problems. Of course, Dressember is but one of the ways to make a difference in the lives of those who are victims, are less fortunate, and simply don’t have a voice. But even more importantly, as Hill suggests, this is not the only time to take action. “Throughout the year, there are many ways to advocate for the dignity of others. I think it begins with seeing your own power in a new way and considering the reality that every decision you make—the things you buy, the things you wear, the things you say, and the way you spend your time—are all an opportunity to advocate for others.”
If you’re up for this style challenge as a means to serve a greater purpose, check out Dressember’s site to learn how you can join the cause.