When South Jersey art teacher Julia Mooney kept showing up for school wearing the same gray dress every day, colleagues and students began giving her the side-eye about her attire.
Mooney kept it up for 100 consecutive days to send a message about eco-sustainability, image, and social acceptance. By the end, more than a dozen fellow teachers and a few students had joined in for the final three-day stretch, which ended Wednesday.
With applause from her coworkers, who gathered for a photo at William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, Mooney marked the end of the campaign, but not the end of her quest to promote healthy lifestyles that protect the environment. She plans to turn the dress into a new fashion statement.
“I think I made my point,” Mooney, 34, said after school in her art room. “I just like to get people thinking.”
Her campaign, known as “one outfit 100 days,” began in September, at the beginning of the school year, and caught attention around the country and and abroad. Some teachers in her South Jersey school district, including her husband, Patrick, a high school history teacher, joined in.
A student, Sofia Rubcich, a second grader at Baker Elementary, joined, too. She wore the same dress — a blue top with a gold sequined heart and attached skirt. Because she wore her outfit on weekends, she hit the 100-day mark in January.
“I’m glad I did it,” Sofia said Wednesday. “I feel like I am more aware of picking up trash from the ground and taking care of the Earth.”
Kelly Gartland, an art teacher, also completed the 100-day challenge. Gartland plans to keep wearing the same outfit, a blue denim dress, until the end of the school year.
But there were skeptics. Many came around this week, however, and accepted Julia Mooney’s invitation to participate for three days this week by wearing the same outfit — 17 teachers at her school did just that and loved it. Mooney said several students did their own version of the challenge, such as wearing the same sweatshirt for several days.
“We thought she was crazy at first,” said Jennifer Neidig, a fellow art teacher, who donned a black shirt and black pants for three days. “Now we realize she made a big impact on all of us.”
Science teacher Spring Williams said her eighth graders called her a “rock star” because of her outfit — black pants, a magenta shirt, and a black studded jacket. She said she wore the same outfit to support Mooney.
Mooney wanted her students and others to become more aware of how much they consume, often due to peer pressure to buy the latest fashions, and find ways to reduce their environmental impact. She also wanted to show them a cultural connection between art and social activism.
She didn’t use class time to talk about her project, but it crept up casually in discussions among her seventh- and eighth-grade students. She used her Instagram account “oneoutfit100days," which has nearly 3,000 followers, to document the project and help students and others learn about her sustainability message.
Moorestown High math teacher Beth Glennon joined the campaign for 69 days, until December. The mother of four boys, including a set of triplets, raided the polo shirts her sons left behind when they went off to college.
Glennon, 47, said the experience forced her to clean out her sons’ closet, but she was happy to wear her own outfits again. Her attire drew little reaction from her students, she said.
“The big takeaway is how little anyone cares what I wear,” Glennon wrote. “I’m still the same HS teacher trying to get my students to love math.”
Mooney posted almost daily about her campaign, with a countdown to Wednesday, and became a media sensation with an appearance on Good Morning America. During a visit to Uganda in October, Mooney took a second dress identical to the one that she has been wearing and gave it to a global health care fellow. She also left behind some of the clothing she took for the trip.
Curiosity-seekers had the same question for Mooney about the dress: “Do you wash it?" (She did.) She also wore an apron to protect her garment from stains, and occasionally added a colorful scarf or cardigan to slightly change her look. She recently added floral embroidery to embellish the dress with a new look. Mooney wore other clothes on the weekend.
She purchased the dress for about $50 from Thought Clothing. She selected the dress, made from hemp, a durable fabric, partly because the London-based company encourages customers to wear garments more than once before washing, repair rather than replace items, and give away unneeded clothing.
Mooney admits that it was hard at first wearing the same dress.
“I was getting sick of it,” she said. “But now a part of me is like, I have to figure out what I’m wearing on Friday,” she said with a smile.
Mooney plans to take the dress apart, and attach a floral skirt to the top and a cream-colored sleeveless bodice to the bottom to create two dresses. It is all part of her message to others to consume less and use what you have.
At home with their three children, Mooney and her husband also practice sustainability. The family raises chickens in their backyard and grows vegetables. Julia makes the kids’ clothes or buys second-hand items at consignment stores.
Now that the campaign is over, Mooney plans to hold a free clothing swap from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 10 and 11 at New Covenant Community Church, 255 Edgewood Ave., Audubon. Donations may be dropped off at the church March 8 and 9.