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I Wore the Same Dress Every Day for a Month for Charity

I like a challenge. Whether it’s becoming a morning person, avoiding dining hall desserts for a month, or doing an independent study in gym (yes, really), I’m always up for something new. But I had never done anything like this.

For one full month this fall, I wore one dress. The same dress, each day, every day, except when I was sick, working out, or doing laundry. You’d think that would be enough, but I had an even bigger goal—I did it to raise money for Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education. Camfed is an amazing charity that invests in the education of girls in sub-Saharan Africa, providing them with funding and support so they can go to school. When I learned about the work they were doing, I wanted to help them make a difference.

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Wearing a dress might seem like a strange way to raise money for charity. But clothing says a lot about us. We use it to show who we are to the world; to help ourselves feel better; to make us invisible, or stand out in a crowd. Why not use it to make a different kind of statement?

To do just that, every day for a month, I put on my “uniform”—a simple blue dress—to represent the school uniforms that 60 million girls around the world can’t wear because they can’t go to school. I hoped that by giving up a small freedom of mine—the choice I have in what I wear—I could help secure them something much bigger: the opportunity that an education can bring. My goal was to raise $300 in one month, enough to send one girl to school for a year.

The first few days of the challenge weren’t too bad. If I’m being honest, wearing the same outfit a few days a week is something I want to do sometimes anyway, especially with a new dress. But after about the third day, I started to get frustrated. I had only planned ahead for a few outfits—a scarf and headband one day, a cardigan and boots the next. Around the end of the first week, I dreaded putting on the dress in the morning. I would sometimes “cheat” by wearing my pajama pants to breakfast instead of getting dressed right away, or by wearing a sweater over my dress.

Asking for money was also really hard at first. As a college student, I know how challenging it is to survive on a standard budget, even without setting aside money for charity. I was worried people thought I was weird, or crazy, for wearing the same dress every day. But after a week or so, I figured out a routine.

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I had a few buttons printed: “Ask me about girls’ education,” “I’m wearing this dress to support girls’ education,” and “Ask me why I’m wearing this dress.” No one took the bait when I wore the first or second button, but the last one really caught people’s eye.

“Why are you wearing that dress?” they would ask, pointing to my button.

“I’m wearing the same dress every day for a month to raise money for girls’ education,” I answered. If they seemed interested, I would tell them more, and offer them a printed letter from my backpack, which included statistics and links to where they could donate.

But while asking for money got easier over time, wearing the same outfit did not. I don’t own many accessories, and I don’t tend to wear much makeup, so when I wore the dress by itself, I felt plain and dull. Even though I washed the dress every two to three days, I felt a little gross, and people definitely noticed my repeat streak. Worse yet, the money trickled in very slowly; half-way through the month I was less than one-fifth of the way to my goal. Many people were reluctant to donate to someone they didn’t know well, and because I didn’t push donation, it may have seemed like someone else’s problem.

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So at the half-way mark, fifteen days into my outfit repeat streak, I turned to social media. I started emailing friends individually to ask them to donate money. I messaged people who I had given favors, and asked if they could donate as little as $5 to Camfed. Within 24 hours, I had raised more than $300 out of my $300 goal.

I could have thrown in the towel and put on something else for a change. But I made a commitment to 30 days, and I planned to stick it out.

By the end of the month, I raised $500 of my $300 goal. I was so eager to take off that dress at the end of the last day, and even more excited to put on something new the next morning. I’m so glad I did the project; while $500 may not seem like a lot of money, it’s a lot to me. It’s a lot to a girl whose tuition, uniforms, health costs, and school supplies are being paid for this year because of something as simple as a dress. And that’s what matters, outfit streaks be darned.

Sara Laughed is a blogger and freelance writer, a senior at Wellesley College, and an alumna of the Visiting Student Programme at Oxford University. She runs the popular blog Sara Laughed and manages the site College Compass. Her greatest aspiration is to live a creative life fueled by love and coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @SaraLaughed.
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