JUMPSUIT - A Manifesto

JUMPSUIT - A Manfesto
A manfiesto for JUMPSUIT, written in collaboration with Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, fall 2015.
Originally published in Notes on Looking.

The Rational Dress Society presents: JUMPSUIT, a manifesto

We, the members of the Rational Dress Society, propose JUMPSUIT: a single, multi-use garment to replace all clothes in perpetuity. We suggest that the rejection of choice (otherwise defined as the yoke of relentless consumption within the capitalist paradigm) might open us up to new possibilities and better ways of living. What if you never had to pick out an outfit again?

In the nineteenth century, apparel production was standardized and ready-to-wear clothes were produced in greater quantities. For the first time, people were able to conceive of fashion as a site of mass social intervention. The feminist dress reform movement of the 1850’s marks the beginning of modern counter-fashion. The Victorian crinoline and corset were heavy, binding garments that limited mobility. Feminist reformers believed that fashion was a conspiracy to render women physically dependent on men by restricting their movements, thereby cultivating a slave mentality. Women like Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer were among the first to envision a model of clothing that would bridge the gap between the sexes.

Fifty years after the debut of the Bloomer, women began to wear pants in larger numbers. The 20th century offers many examples of avant-garde and utopian experiments in dress, from the Tuta of the Italian Futurists, to the collectivist garments of the early kibbutz movement.

In 1971, the clothing retailer Nordstrom went public, marking the beginning of a new era in the fashion industry. The neoliberal economic policies of the 1970s and 1980s led to significant changes in the garment industry and the emerging dominance of global fashion conglomerates. The North American Free Trade Agreement, passed by the Clinton Administration in 1994, was the culmination of more than a decade of free trade policies and deregulation. In 1985, 70% of our garments were sewn in the U.S. By 1995, that number was down to 50%. Currently, less than 5% of clothes purchased in the U.S. are produced here.

Deregulation brought other changes to the industry, including the emergence of fast fashion. For much of fashion’s modern history, clothes were produced on a 6-month, seasonal cycle. Now, clothing can go from catwalk to store racks in a mere 2-3 weeks, as companies like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara compete to bring consumers new garments at ever faster rates. With fast fashion comes planned obsolescence. According to industry literature, fast fashion garments are designed to retain their value for no more than ten wash cycles1, inducing consumers to keep apace with rapidly accelerating cycles of production.

The fast fashion business model is predicated on rapid turn-around and low overhead, conditions made possible by outsourcing each stage of production to a different region of the globe. H&M’s garments are produced in 1800 independently operated factories, in countries as diffuse as Cambodia, Bangladesh and China. According to Human Right’s Watch, conditions in H&M’s partner factories in Cambodia are characterized by mass fainting spells, child labor, discrimination against pregnant women, forced overtime, and denial of sick leave. Strikes for higher wages were violently crushed in 2014, when protesters were killed by the police. The vast majority of garment workers are women.

Capitalists prize economic growth above every other concern. No matter the lip service paid to “green” fabrics, sustainable production, and “living wages” the truth of the situation is this: global corporations answer only to their investors. These men and women demand ever-higher returns, the result of which is that any attempt to lessen the impact of each individual garment is undermined by the increasing number of garments in circulation.

You, the consumer, are the means through which these profits are achieved. We are trapped in an impossible situation, a fashion world dominated by two extremes. On the one hand, high priced, luxury brand are sold to us using the language of high finance (“investment pieces”). On the other hand, low quality knock offs are mass-produced under inhumane, unsustainable conditions.

Purveyors of fast fashion tout its benefits, explaining that we have an ever-widening array of choices and modes of self-expression. Yet, recent studies show that too many choices, can, paradoxically, lead to feelings of demotivation and dissatisfaction, a condition called “choice overload” or “choice paralysis.” When individuals are given a limited number of options to choose from, the act of choice produces a positive response. However, being asked to choose between large numbers of indistinguishable choices causes despair.2

This is the context from which we, the members of the Rational Dress Society, propose JUMPSUIT, an experiment in counter-fashion. JUMPSUIT offers a new way of thinking about clothes: an open-source, ungendered monogarment, to replace all clothes in perpetuity. JUMPSUIT is disseminated in two forms: as a pre-made garment for purchase, and an open source pattern, available to download free of charge.

JUMPSUIT features a short sleeve, and comes in a seven-ounce cotton twill. JUMPSUIT has a convertible collar and front fly closure with a heavy-duty zipper, and is entirely made in the U.S. JUMPSUIT is designed with a raglan sleeve for range of movement, and includes front diagonal seam pockets and two back patch pockets for storage. The JUMPSUIT features flat felled seams, tucks and pleats, and reinforced pockets for durability. Topstitching and other foundation strengths are used throughout. JUMPSUIT is available in black or white.

JUMPSUIT is an ungendered monogarment, a term coined by the RDS to differentiate our design from unisex garments of the past. Historically, unisex came to mean a garment worn by either gender. In practice, this usually means that a single garment is simply sized up or down. The result is an ill-fitting garment that paradoxically highlights the differences between genders, akin to a child wearing a parent’s article of clothing. JUMPSUIT achieves visual solidarity through a new approach to sizing.

Using anthropometric sizing data made available by NASA, three patterns were established, based on variable chest-to-hip ratios. To each of these patterns, bust darts can be added to accommodate breasts. The result is 120 sizes, accommodating a wide range of body types. JUMPSUIT embraces the differences between individuals, while maintaining the oneness of the collective.

Production of JUMPSUITS is currently underway. JUMPSUITS can be purchased from the Rational Dress Society for the low, low price of $149.99. The open-source patterns are currently being digitized and will be made available for free download on our website this fall. A percentage of each sale of JUMPSUIT will go into a fund to buy a full-page ad in American Vogue. The publication of the ad will mark the end of JUMPSUIT.

We live in an era of personal choice and free expression. We express ourselves in strip malls, in department stores, and on Rodeo Drive. The doctrine of style preaches the goodness of choice and the perpetual redefinition of self. We are told that our options are endless, that each day we are born again in the dressing rooms of Forever 21. But fast fashion is a false god. We urge you: reject choice. The ability to purchase one of a dozen mass-produced garments is no choice at all; it is the foreclosure of possibility. And that foreclosure is rebranded and sold back to us as self-expression, or art, or fashion.

What if you never had to pick out an outfit again? What bonds might be formed between JUMPSUIT-wearing individuals? Just as we reject the mini-mansion in favor of the city, refuse the automotive in favor of the train, JUMPSUIT offers a way to forgo the insular logic of self-expression in favor of forming communal bonds.  The time for action is now. Buy, make, trade or steal: in the future, we will be brothers and sisters3 together in JUMPSUITS!


1. Annamma Joy, John F. Sherry Jr., Alladi Venkatesh, Jeff Wang and Ricky Chan, “Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands,” Fashion Theory, Vol. 16, Issue 3: 283.

2. Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper, “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 79, No. 6: 996.

3. As well as fathers, mothers, humans, non-humans, and other comrades.

©maura brewer