The reason some women are wearing dresses every day in December
Worn to weddings, holiday parties, dates or a night out with friends, dresses are a staple in modern-day fashion. But they haven't always represented fun and freedom for women and girls. For some, they represent fragility, weakness and inequality.
Blythe Hill, CEO and founder of the Dressember Foundation in Ashland, Ore., aimed to shed light on the garment's inconsistent messages.
"(Blythe) was hearing about sex trafficking and how prominent and prevalent it is," says Alexis Schermer, 23, of Fargo. "She was surprised by it and, naturally, wanted to do something about it."
While Hill didn't have experience in medicine, law or social work, she utilized her passion for fashion and trend analysis to raise awareness. What started as a self-challenge to wear dresses for the month of December in 2009 eventually became an international campaign to fight sex trafficking called "Dressember."
"I think Blythe wears the same three dresses for the whole month and just styles them differently," says Schermer who participated in Dressember in 2015. "She wants to make it accessible to anyone who maybe can't afford to go out and buy 20 more dresses."
Participants commit to wearing a dress every day in December, set a goal and create an individual or group fundraising page on Dressember.org and crowdfund for the cause.
Profits benefit International Justice Mission, A21 and McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center.
The horrifying reality
Schermer says her motivation came from the feeling she wasn't doing enough. She wanted to give back but didn't know how.
"As a recent college graduate, I didn't have a lot of money or time to give so this was one way I could do that," she says.
Recruiting her sister and a coworker to join her, Schermer had fun with the challenge, thrifting for flannel nightgowns and other dresses to wear. She found that sporting a dress in winter — and to unexpected occasions — created conversation.
"When my sister and I wore dresses to go ice fishing with our brother, that was a conversation piece," she says. "When you live in a colder climate, like here, it's kind of odd that you'd wear a dress (in winter), so people ask questions."
In participating, Schermer learned more about human trafficking and the challenges that come with fundraising.
"We didn't raise a ton of money. That piece was hard," she says. "We say 'no' for people before they even have the chance to respond."
But Schermer also recognized the inconvenience of wearing a dress every day didn't compare to the experiences of the human trafficking victims she was trying to help.
"Even those (challenges) don't compare when we're talking about what I'm actually sacrificing for these people who have been through horrendous things," she says. "That's humbling in and of itself."
Schemer's sister, Rebecca, 21, also of Fargo, says she loved what Dressember advocated for.
"It fights to help, protect and save them from such a terrible thing that happens every day," she says. "I wanted to be a part of something that truly matters and be one of many who help bring awareness to such a strong movement."
While Dressember is a "great way to give people an access point to do what they can to help," internationally, Christina Sambor, FUSE program manager at YouthWorks, says the issue also lies close to home.
In 2016 alone, FUSE, a statewide anti-trafficking coalition in North Dakota, served 91 victims.
"Fargo-Moorhead has the largest number of cases of victims and survivors that we're serving," Sambor says. "This is not just a 'Bakken' or 'Oil Patch problem'. We've had cases in Bowdon, Gwinner, Garrison, New Town (N.D.) — it's not like this is only happening in our larger communities. We see it in rural communities. We see it in the east. We see it in the west."
Still with these crimes taking place in the shadows, it's easy for locals to be oblivious to the issue.
"I think human trafficking, in particular, can be something that can really fly under the radar," Sambor says. "It's really important for people to find ways to support these kind of efforts. Something like Dressember is a great opportunity to do so. I also encourage people to keep an eye out for what programs like YouthWorks, Rape and Abuse Crisis Center and YWCA are doing in the local community to engage there as well."
For those who choose to get involved, Schermer says the benefits are multi-dimensional.
"If you volunteer and get involved in your community, you feel connected to people," she says. "There's a million studies that talk about the positive benefits you receive from helping people."