The Rational Dress Society wants you to wear a JUMPSUIT

by Emily Wells

"Before JUMPSUIT we wore less utopian clothing; it’s better now."
What if you could wear the same ungendered monogarment — a social class-defying, eco-friendly, ethically-made, futuristic jumpsuit — every day?

This is precisely what the Rational Dress Society wants you to do. The group has produced a manifesto, in which they urge consumers to reject the choices provided by fast fashion: "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."

The jumpsuit comes in 284 sizes, meaning that traditional, gendered sizing can be deemed irrelevant. The Rational Dress society has already made waves with their successful Kickstarter campaign and fashion week protests, and plans to end the project once they have raised enough profits for an ad in American Vogue.

"In the future," they say, "we will be brothers and sisters together in JUMPSUITS."

Appropriately, Rational Dress Society co-founders Maura Brewer and Abigail Glaum-Lathbury answered our questions together, in solidarity:

How did the Rational Dress Society find each other?

We met during our undergraduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so we’ve known each other for upwards of ten years. When we were eighteen we were both in a feminist art collective, and that was how we first started working together, and how our friendship began. In many ways, JUMPSUIT is feminist collective 2.0.

The idea for JUMPSUIT and the Rational Dress Society came out of a series of conversations that we were having in the summer of 2014 about the art world, the fashion industry and issues of identity and persona. JUMPSUIT started off as a response to a need – What do we want to wear every day But it immediately became broader, and connected to ideas about consumption and choice, and how we wanted to live in the world.

The RDS has articulated in "JUMPSUIT, a manifesto" that much of the opposition to fast fashion comes from human rights concerns and the lies of capitalism. But why standardization? Is there a place for expression through clothing, if it were able to be separated from the issues of late capitalism?

Rather than an argument for standardization or against freedom of expression, JUMPSUIT instead questions the conflation of expression and consumption. As a culture, how do we make that differentiation? Can we establish a difference between meaningful choice and meaningless choice? Fast fashion suggests that the more choices you make, the more you are expressing yourself. But if that choice is simply picking one out of a dozen identical t-shirts, is that expression at all?

In one way or another, people have to shop less. Our current economic system is simply unsustainable. JUMPSUIT pushes people to think critically about the system they are buying into. JUMPSUIT is not just an article of clothing, it’s also a conversation. The primary goal of JUMPSUIT is to open up a critical dialogue about our relationship to consumption. JUMPSUIT is just one approach to that conversation; it is a collective reimagining of our relationship to dress.

It's fascinating that you see the potential for alliances to be formed through the erasure of sartorial choice. How has this looked so far?

Our clothing is inscribed with all kinds of meaning and the creation of alliances between people wearing the same thing is surprisingly common. We see this is the donning of sports jerseys as a show of collective support or solidarity. In this case, individuals subsume their identities in favor of forming communal bonds between other fans. JUMPSUIT functions similarly, signifying a collective rejection of the yoke of relentless consumption we find ourselves mired in. We are team JUMPSUIT. We root for dress reform and not buying clothing.

The manifesto also says that once funds for an ad in American Vogue are acquired, it will mark the end of JUMPSUIT. Why stop there? Do you see the movement as one that will continue?

By the time that we acquire both the funds and the cultural capital to get into Vogue, which is carefully curated, JUMPSUIT will then operate on the level of lived social reality. At this point we will stop production, but the patterns will stay up on the website for people to make on their own. This definitive end point is important to the concept of the project, because it needs to maintain its position as a critical construct. The embedded “off switch” prevents the project from simply reproducing the system that it is criticizing.

Part of the problem with fast fashion is that capitalism itself demands continuous growth and that demand is the thing that has led to this situation, in which H&M must produce larger and larger quantities of clothing each year. In criticizing this model of production, JUMPSUIT cannot begin to simulate it. The end goal of this project is to put people in JUMPSUITS. When an ad in Vogue is finally attainable, we will no longer need to continue in the same way. People will make their own jumpsuits and it will live on. Utopia achieved!

Do you wear your JUMPSUIT everyday? What did you like to wear before?

Absolutely! Before JUMPSUIT we wore less utopian clothing; it’s better now.

How difficult is it to use the restroom?

We find it to be very easy! JUMPSUIT features a heavy metal duty zipper (made in Los Angeles) and fly front closure for ease of use. We get this question with some frequency. It’s not that different from a pair of jeans; the zip is just longer.

Why do you think in all sci-fi descriptions of the future, people are wearing jumpsuits?

Jumpsuits in sci-fi usually signify that we’ve evolved into a more tolerant society in which class distinctions have been rendered meaningless. For example in Star Trek, there is no currency. Technology allows for a classless society in which social solidarity manifests in the form of the jumpsuit. It also demarcates efficiency. In terms of the jumpsuit’s historical valence, the 60’s were when the garment really took off. It is completely linked to the space race - astronauts made jumpsuits futuristic and cool.

Photos by Lara Kastner