Oh, this old thing? How to dare to re-wear

“Outfit-repeating” was long regarded as a faux pas, with the most admired dresses often unique, commissioned pieces. The sumptuous periwinkle-blue silk faille Valentino dress worn by Lady Gaga to the 2019 Golden Globe awards featured a 10-foot-long train, In 2020 Jennifer Aniston wore a retro-inspired Dior black strapless gown reported to have taken 25 metres of wool silk crêpe and 200 seamstress-hours to make. While such appearances can be as inspiring as catwalk shows, this conspicuous consumption for a one-off event is seriously out of step with today’s sustainability concerns.

In 2017, comedian Tiffany Haddish began to blatantly confront showbiz’s unspoken taboo, wearing a $4,000 white Alexander McQueen gown to the Girls Trip premiere in July, to host Saturday Night Live in November, to present a 2018 Oscar, and at the 2018 MTV Awards. She told Glamour, “A lot of people have been like, I love the dress. I love what you’re doing. And I’ve seen some people in the same outfit twice since then.” Outside the industry, she mentions hearing from a scholarship girl at private school whose classmates mocked her clothes. Now when they say, ‘Girl, you’ve got the same jacket on!’ she retorts: ‘I’m Tiffany Haddish today!’

In 2019, screen legend Jane Fonda, regularly arrested for protesting about climate change outside the U.S. Capitol, promised to never buy a new garment again. “You see this coat?” she told the crowd at one of her ‘Fire Drill Fridays’. “I needed something red and I went out and found this coat on sale. This is the last article of clothing that I will ever buy. When I talk to people about, ‘We don’t really need to keep shopping. We shouldn’t look to shopping for our identity. We don’t need more stuff,’ then I have to walk the walk too.”

In 2020, BAFTA provided guests and honourees with a guide specifically created by the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainability. But beyond committed re-wearer Kate Middleton’s gold and white Alexander McQueen dress, the response at the London event in February was disappointing. The Oscars were better. Elizabeth Banks wore the fire-red strappy plunge-neck dress she wore to Vanity Fair’s party in 2004 to the same 2020 event. “It’s gorgeous and it fits…so why not wear it again?!” says Banks, explaining her aim “to bring global awareness to the importance of sustainability in fashion”. First-time Oscar-winner Laura Dern appeared at the party in the dramatic custom-made black Armani gown she’d worn to the Wild At Heart premiere at Cannes 1990.

Cate Blanchett has long been outspoken about her enthusiasm for re-wearing. In 2018, the Australian actress told The Hollywood Reporter: “From couture to T-shirts, landfills are filled with garments that have been unnecessarily discarded. Particularly in today’s climate, it seems willful and ridiculous that such garments are not cherished and re-worn.” At the American Film Institute’s Award Gala in 2018 she wore a dress first seen at the New York Film Festival in 2015, and as a Cannes 2018 juror she looked gorgeous in a lacy, backless black Armani Prive dress she’d first worn at the 2014 Golden Globes. Ahead of the 2020 Venice Film Festival in September, she announced that, as jury president, she would commission no new garments for the event, to encourage others to rethink their red-carpet wardrobes. “We need to get the word out to get rid of this ridiculous notion that dresses cannot be worn twice!” says her longtime stylist, Elizabeth Stewart. “Beautiful clothes should last a lifetime.”

There are, of course, pitfalls to re-wearing. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Shop simple

Haddish’s white dress, Banks’ red one and Dern’s striking black are each stunning, classic looks which beg the question – Why wouldn’t you wear that again? If you do have to shop for a new dress, think longevity. If it turns heads once, it can turn them again. And it can, of course, be ‘new to you’ – you don’t have to add ‘more stuff’ to the world.

Make sure it still works

That said, things change. While Blanchett, Banks and Fonda managed to look as good if not better than the first time they’d worn their most famous repeat dresses, not everyone is flattered by the inevitable photo comparison. And Haddish was visibly uncomfortable in her famous white dress on David Letterman’s Netflix show in June 2019, admitting, “it’s getting tight”.

Tell a story

To present Best Film at the 2020 Oscars, Fonda wore a beaded, red Elie Saab gown she’d previously worn at Cannes 2014, while carrying the red coat she’d promised would be the last new piece she ever bought.

Blanchett says she enjoys the nostalgic side of revisiting her fashion archive: “Whenever you do re-wear something, you have this shadow memory of the time you wore it before.” She greeted Venice 2020 paparazzi in the shimmering midnight-blue Esteban Cortázar gown she’d originally worn at the BFI London Film Festival premiere of Carol in 2015. “We couldn’t see any reason not to re-wear a dress we love so much, and so many reasons to re-wear a dress,” said Stewart.

Also nodding to past glories, screen icon Rita Moreno presented the 2018 Academy Awards in the dress she’d worn to accept her groundbreaking 1962 Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story. Cheekily reminding us of the 50+ intervening years, she revisited the unmistakeable Pitoy Moreno (no relation) black puffed skirt adorned with embroidered and beadwork gold flowers.

Change it up

Moreno’s ‘60s high boatneck was replaced by a more formal, strapless bodice and a statement collar necklace to create a look more suitable to someone who, with her EGOT (Emmy, Grammy Oscar and Tony), has since become Hollywood ‘royalty’. Banks, essentially revisiting the last time she looked incredible in that red dress, added a new jewellery detail to the back. Perhaps our favourite example is the ornate, colourful beaded and appliqued Alexander McQueen bodice worn by Blanchett with a feathered evening skirt at 2016’s BAFTAs. She wore this again at the 2020 Venice Film Festival paired with stylish trousers to create a distinct, fabulous daytime look.

In the words of her stylist, Stewart:“It’s chic to repeat!”