One Dress, 100 Days
A teacher lives a lesson for us all
By Felicia L. Niven

Some people make a statement with bold choices and trendsetting styles. Julia Ranson Mooney made hers with a simple gray button-down dress. The former Moorestown art teacher rose to social media fame in 2018-19 for wearing the same dress for 100 days straight at school – a different kind of fashion statement for sure, and one which has launched a new career for this one-of-a-kind newsmaker.  

From keeping chickens to growing her own food, Mooney has always been a proponent of a sustainable lifestyle. So it wasn’t that farfetched to extend the idea to her wardrobe. “I was having a conversation with my husband,” she says, as she contemplated the beginning of a new school year. “What if I went to school in the same outfit that was practical and clean? Why adhere to this cultural norm where women have to give into the fashion culture that defines our society? What would happen? Would anyone even notice? Of course, if they did notice, then we could talk about all of these things.”

Mooney was new to the staff at William Allen Middle School. She was entering uncharted territory as it was, and was prepared to add this seemingly odd behavior. “I got a lot of strange glances, which were understandable,” she says. “After all, it’s pretty counter culture. It’s supposed to shake you up a bit.” 

And while the adults didn’t say anything at first, the 7th and 8th graders were much more forthright. They peppered Mooney with questions. “It started the conversation,” she says. 

Mooney documented the entire #OneOutfit100days challenge through her Instagram account. She encountered mostly support but also some pushback.

“Some people made the assumption I didn’t clean the dress,” she says. “I did clean it as needed. It’s made of hemp, which is antibacterial. Also, people said that by pushing this idea of consuming less, I was taking jobs away from people who make clothes. The project is not about that. It is about us consuming so much at such a high rate that it is actually hurting the people who make our clothes. We need so many clothes that we don’t want to pay a lot. We refuse to spend what they are truly worth.”

Mooney’s husband, a history teacher at Moorestown High School, also wore one outfit for 100 days. “It was a blue shirt and khaki pants,” says Mooney, “and it took forever for people to realize. That was telling. With women, it’s different.”

On Nov. 28, 2018, Mooney made her national debut on “Good Morning America,” and shared her message. Her Instagram started going viral, and media attention followed. Mooney started getting fan mail, including others who sought to follow in her footsteps. Two students in her middle school did the challenge for 20 days, and a second grader in her district hit the 100-day mark before Mooney did, because the young girl included weekends and not just school days. 

Twenty-two fellow educators joined Mooney in a 30-day challenge in January 2019 to help students realize that value comes from within and not from things. She also invited staff and students to do a 3-day one outfit challenge in February as she inched closer to her goal.

Mooney documented the finish on Instagram and hinted about the future of the dress. “You can take what you have and upcycle it,” she says.  “Along the way, the dress had some stains and so I embroidered some flowers. As an artist, I’m more inclined to do creative things.” She cut up the dress and made 2 new dresses, sewing a new skirt and bodice and modeling one of the dresses on Instagram the following day. “The project was amazing,” she says, “and more than I ever could have hoped. It really got people talking.”

These days, you won’t find Mooney in the classroom or wearing the famous dress in its new iteration. She resigned from teaching in October 2022 to buy My Fair Trade Lady, a fair trade boutique and gift shop in Haddon Heights. She sells clothing, jewelry, coffee, tea and handmade items from developing countries.

“It was my favorite store and the stars just aligned,” says Mooney of the career move. “One of the principles of fair trade is being eco-friendly, climate friendly and as sustainable as possible. I am honored to continue doing this important work.”

“Ever since I became a teacher, I had to see myself as a role model and feel that kind of responsibility,” she says. “People, and especially my kids, are watching and paying attention. I want them to value the things that matter and think critically.”

“I am living very intentionally and privileged to be able to do that,” she says. “You can’t do everything, but you can do your part.”

April 2023
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