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Dressember: Dignity for all women

Abolishing modern slavery, one dress at a time

In 2009, Dressember was born, a quirky fashion movement in which women challenged themselves to wear a dress every day for the month of December. Some women even chose to wear the same dress every day, accessorizing it in 31 different ways for 31 different looks.

In 2013, the fashion challenge took on an activist edge. Participants wore dresses every day for a month and enlisted sponsors, raising funds for the International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM works with victims of violent oppression, including their rehabilitation and aftercare, and strengthens justice systems, particularly related to human trafficking and the sex trade. The IJM Canada office is in London, Ontario.

The Dressember Foundation takes some inspiration from “Movember,” in which men grow moustaches for the month of November. While Movember fundraises for men’s health, Dressember, in the words of its founders, leverages “fashion and creativity to restore dignity to all women.”

Hannah Cavey of Winnipeg, Manitoba, took part along with her then-four-year-old daughter Grace in 2013. Grace loves to wear dresses and enthusiastically selected one each morning. Hannah doesn’t identify as a “dress person” in general, but she says that the moments of discomfort she experienced, such as ruining a dress while reaching to catch a slipping toddler, helped her to appreciate her many freedoms. In her words, “God would allow these circumstances to remind me of how easy and free my life is. I have a plethora of clothes from which to choose; I feel safe walking around in a dress, or otherwise, in my community; my attire is not dictated by law; I have the same rights and freedoms as anyone else in my country.”

Hannah also found that the inconvenience of wearing a dress in temperatures below minus 40 degrees Celsius led to dozens of conversations about the reason for her clothing choice. When people noticed that the mother and daughter were “unusually fancy,” Grace would grin widely and explain, in her four-year-old voice, “It’s for the International Justice Mission,” an easy segue into a conversation about the work that IJM does.

Courage to act

Natasha Piersma of Bowmanville, Ontario participated in Dressember in 2013, and she took part again this year. She commented that participating in the heat of Australia’s summer, where she was stationed with Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in 2013, was simpler than wearing a dress in the cold of a Canadian winter this time. Natasha notes, however, that slight discomfort – which she has chosen to take on – reminds her of the many women who suffer every day.

Natasha also expressed her feeling of solidarity with women who are trapped in difficult circumstances. As a participant and leader in YWAM’s Discipleship Training School, Natasha travelled to Thailand, Russia and Latvia, where she befriended women who work in the sex trade, offering coffee, tea, conversation and prayer. Many of the women she met bore the pressure to financially support family and felt that they had no other option. Natasha spoke of how encouraged she felt to receive an email a year later from one woman who had found a way out of the sex trade.

When faced with enormous and seemingly intractable issues such as slavery and the sex trade, it takes courage to take action. Taking up the challenge of wearing a dress for a month offers a simple way to respond to a complex issue. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, it is the courage to put on “a garment of praise / instead of a spirit of despair” (61: 3). And courage is contagious. In 2013, the campaign raised over $165,000 for IJM.

Natasha spoke of the hope that in this, the twenty-first century, slavery will at last be abolished: “I would love to see that happen.” Until such a time, she hopes to take up the Dressember challenge each year, an Advent season to wait and to hope. 

#youcandoanythinginadress
Instagram shows a community of Dressember participants who cheerfully assert that #youcandoanythinginadress, such as change a flat tire or go ice skating at the local arena.
Hannah described her daughter playing floor hockey and herself playing basketball in dresses, as well as a more-formal-than-usual family road trip to Tennessee.
Natasha’s #youcandoanythinginadress moment came at a Young Life leader’s retreat she attended in December 2014. She was given the opportunity to send a child to camp for free if she did a “polar dip” in the ice-cold water of Clearwater Lake at Ontario Pioneer Camp. As shown in the picture on this page, she proved herself up to the challenge.

Author

  • Judith Farris lives in Sarnia, Ontario with her family.

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