Dressember’s webpage has a quote that reads, “Can a dress change the world?”
The growing campaign’s goal is to find a definitive answer to this question. So far, feedback and the following from hundreds of thousands of participants points to one answer: yes.
Started in 2013, the Dressember foundation is a nonprofit organization (NPO) dedicated to raising awareness of the epidemic know as human trafficking. The NPO’s CEO, Blythe Hill, says its efforts are to raise money and involve both men and women in fighting against what some may call modern day slavery.
Getting involved is simple and can be done in two fashions. Those willing to take the more popular approach will opt in by wearing a dress every day of December. Others, who may not have many dresses to wear or who may be a bit more warm-blooded, can still help out by donating to the cause. All of the money donated goes toward rescue operations and other foundations built on ideas focused on ending the sex-trafficking atmosphere.
Pua Coffman, associate director of Student Ministry at St. John Church in Ellisville, Missouri, has been participating in Dressember for four years. She first learned about trafficking in college and decided to donate for a few years before actively dressing for December herself.
“Although this movement has largely been carried out by women, men are invited to join as well,” Coffman said. “Men can wear bow ties or ties to be part of the movement. For those who identify as other genders, they can dress up however they'd like to. Even if you dress up once a day, posting about Dressember on your social media can encourage your friends to donate.”
Dressember made sure early on to collaborate with organizations like the International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s leading anti-trafficking organization. The trend was officially in after taking off in 2013 with the help of the IJM. In 2016 alone, Dressember has managed to raise 1.5 million dollars toward their cause, and 2017 is shaping up to thread together even more donations.
One of the most frequent questions popping up in response to Dressember is ‘So why dresses?’ It is a fair question to say the least. The site’s biography page is quick to address these concerns with a short couple of sentence detailing not only what dresses symbolize, but what the NPO wants them to eventually symbolize as well.
“The dress is our uniform, the flag of our movement,” the site says. “Dressember is an opportunity to reclaim and reappropriate the dress as a symbol of freedom and power; a flag for the inherent dignity of all people.”
Suddenly with this mindset, dresses and December seem to match each other perfectly. It is not about looking stylish, it is about setting a trend.
Dressember has spread all the way across the country and for good reason. Their official site makes sure to list a couple of more than minor statistics below some of their uplifting quotes in order to illustrate just how deep the sex trafficking rabbit hole goes.
The more egregious stats reveal numbers like 30 million people enslaved worldwide and more than 2 million children being exploited in the sex trade. Sex trafficking spares no one, and it can hit anywhere. Dressember aims to raise awareness so crowds can realize movies like 2009’s “Taken” are more than just fun fiction action.
Dressember and the movement to put a permanent hold on the human trafficking trades has even managed to catch the eye of one Green Dot member here in Maryville.
Sylvia Brand, a senior Green Dot certified psychology major and RA in Millikan Hall, says the efforts made by Dressember have done more than caught her eye, they’ve caught her interest. She says raising awareness about any kind of evil doings in the world is important, but Dressember manages to bring a little more physicality to the table.
“I first heard about it five years ago at camp,” Brand said. “…This year I feel like I have enough dresses to participate and I plan on asking my mom about spreading the cause to her clients; she sells women’s clothing. I think it would be really cool to see people stand up and fight against sexual exploitation by simply wearing a dress.”
Brand seems to be beating the issue to the punch, as she is aware how sex trafficking is a menace capable of striking anywhere at any time.
Hill and her team have managed to garner this global attention and have even done a TEDx talk called “How a Dress can Change the World” covering their passions and goals.
“I decided to create a style challenge for myself. I decided I would try wearing a dress every day for a month, and I did it,” Hill said during her TEDx presentation. “That next year something interesting happened. Some of my girlfriends approached me and wanted to do Dressember with me, so I did it again with them.”
The interesting thing about Hill’s story is not where it led her and thousands of others, but how it originated. Sex trafficking is a disease molded by an unawareness of its presents. Dressember is its opposite in every way, and it is on a sure fire path to being the cure of the unforgiving disease.
Erin Leatherman, a senior elementary education major, has never been involved with Dressember, but is interested nonetheless. She says standing up for others is something everyone should, especially when it concerns something like human-trafficking.
“A person should never be forced to do anything,” Leatherman said. “Human trafficking defies all human rights. A person has natural born rights that do not include being abducted by another person for the purpose of labor or exploitation. A human is not an object. We are people with feelings and rights.”
Dressember is still young, but it has managed to raise millions of dollars and has spread across the country to thousands. Human trafficking has become widespread enough and it is surprising it took this long for it to come to the forefront of public minds. Nevertheless, Dressember is making sure these bad trends are being put to rest with a little trend of its own.