Sustainable fashion and the loss of the “freakum” dress

Sustainable fashion and the loss of the “freakum” dress

As I eagerly await my turn to attend the Renaissance tour, whilst watching all of the preview content online, I have been revisiting Beyoncé’s illustrious discography. Her sophomore album features “Freakum Dress”, an up-tempo call to arms for women to seduce their lovers with their go to, sure fire, guaranteed winner, sexy dress, known as a freakum dress.

Setting the pickemism themes (which were very common in the 2000s) aside, I realised I too have a freakum dress that I often reach for – a go to back up when my outfit doesn’t work out. But in the era of over consumption, fast fashion and forever growing landfills, are we losing this essential part of our wardrobe? Do you have a freakum dress? How many times have you worn it?

Growth of Clothing Sales and Decline in Clothing Utilisation since 2000; Source: Euromonitor International Apparel & Footwear 2016 Edition (volume sales trends 2005–2015); World Bank, World development indicators – GD (2017)

Now this idea of having an item that you wear again and again isn’t exclusive to dresses that you put on “when he act wrong” as Beyonce would say. A lot of church-goers, for example, reserved the best quality pieces for days of worship, giving us the phrase “Sunday best”. In today’s times however, there is a hesitation around wearing what people have already seen you in, despite the fact that almost all of us have access to washing machines, dry cleaners, or at least running water.

So why are we wearing our pieces less now? As always there isn’t a simple answer, but perhaps a multitude of societal, economic, and environmental reasons.

Many publications have put the blame or at the very least cited influencers and influencer culture as the cause. I disagree. Lucy in Bedford with 600,000 Instagram followers isn’t the sole reason for the increase in the number of clothes that end up in landfills. Yes, aspiring fashion influencers or content creators do need to have a wide variety of clothing to create content and build their careers, but this cannot be pinned as being the root of the problem. A lot of influencers are also being loaned product from brands, enabling this varied content to take place without the same amount of waste.

L-R; Rita Moreno in Pitoy Moreno at the 1962 and 2018 Academy Awards, Kirsten Dunst in Christian Lacroix
at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in 2004 and Chopard presents the Garden Of Kalahari in 2017

Loans have always been common in the fashion industry, although initially this was a privilege reserved only for celebrities and editorial stylists.  Now, with the introduction of renting platforms being open to all, this is an easy way to have access to clothes that you may choose to only wear once without having a negative impact on the environment or your wallet. However, this is simply a plaster and not a full fix to address the issue of the disposability we assign to clothing, the exact antithesis of the freakum dress. How do we return to that?

Firstly, filling your wardrobe with easy to style, versatile, classic pieces is a positive externality of shopping less, shopping better and a sign of a true sense of style. When your sense of style is rooted in your lifestyle, your likes, your dislikes and not in what’s trending, you’re more likely to like your pieces for longer. My freakum dress is a midi length, figure hugging, off shoulder black mermaid dress. As the saying goes; you can never go wrong with a little black dress. Also, having an outfit that you know looks good serves as a safe base, leaving you free to experiment with other things to make it that much better – accessories, hair, makeup, fragrance, poses, walk. 

Secondly, have a look at your wardrobe and see what you naturally gravitate towards. For example, everyone says bright colours look great on dark skin black women but if you’re always reaching for whites and neutrals don’t go and buy a bright orange dress because you’ll never wear it. Similarly, ignore the idea that “interesting dressers wear prints” if you’re more confident and comfortable in monochromatic looks. Even though my freakum dress is a classic LBD, I’m a lover of big, bright faux fur coats so I always wear them to death. Essentially, a sense of style is personal, so I would argue that actually interesting dressers are those that wear what they like, for the reasons that they like it! 

L-R; Rihanna wearing a YSL heart shaped red fur coat in 2016 and 2022

Lastly, think before you buy. Fashion today is no longer use based; ie we don’t buy a new pair of jeans because the old pair are beyond repair. We buy a new pair of jeans because we (think that we) need a new pair of jeans. As someone that owns 6 pairs of wide leg jeans in very similar washes I might be the worst offender. Life is about learning and our style changes as our lifestyle and bodies change, so feel free to shop around and experiment, but don’t become a hoarder!

Once you’ve found that “something big, I want something that says I’m here, Beyonce” piece. Wear it. Wear it. Wear it. Because the true power of a freakum dress grows stronger and stronger with every wear.

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