Celebrities re-wearing outfits we’ve already seen them in perhaps should not be headline-worthy — it’s not like most people are stepping out in brand-new fashion every single day.
But a recent uptick in stars wearing recognizably recycled looks exemplifies the unique moment style has found itself in after years of fast fashion’s rising popularity and social media’s gnawing, ever-present call for the next best thing.
“We’re experiencing an exciting moment in fashion right now, when suddenly it’s less about what you’re wearing and how it looks on you, and more about the statement your attire makes,” StyleCaster fashion and lifestyle editor Bella Gerard tells USA TODAY.
Celebrity fashion statements these days can say a lot: They can show support for an up-and-coming brand or highlight a sustainable clothing line, Gerard says. They can also tell a compelling story specific to the star in question.
The royal standard: Duchess Kate, Duchess Meghan repeat with a purpose
Kate wore a periwinkle custom Alexander McQueen dress she wore to a BAFTA event in 2011, while William chose a dark turtleneck and a green velvet suit jacket he wore to the 2019 Centrepoint Gala. The occasion was about environmental sustainability, so recycling past looks was a natural fit.
“It automatically takes the focus off the clothes and puts it on the engagement,” says fashion journalist Elizabeth Holmes, the author of “HRH: So Many Thoughts On Royal Style.” “(Kate does this) at a time when she wants to minimize the fashion discussion of that moment and focus on the cause or the engagement or whatever work she is there to do. I think she picks her repeats really carefully and I think it’s really smart.”
The British royal family – particularly the women – have all eyes on their daily fashion choices, from Queen Elizabeth II’s matching skirt suits and hats to the fashion blogs that monitor every single outfit Kate and Duchess Meghan step out wearing. Members of the monarchy walk a fine line between looks that are glamorous but also allow fans to relate to them. What’s more relatable than choosing something already in their closet?
“They need to seem fancy and frugal,” Holmes says. So re-wearing outfits is “practical, but it also serves a really important purpose in the discussion around them, because everybody is scrutinizing everything Kate and Megan do. So when you see those familiar pieces, it just makes them seem human.”
Prince William’s repeated formalwear is especially notable given the double standard for male and female celebrities. William, Prince Harry or their father, Prince Charles, can re-wear a black or navy suit dozens of times without anyone noticing, but when a woman re-wears something from her wardrobe it’s noteworthy – leaving female stars with a “burden of presentation,” as Holmes describes it.
“If you can repeat that look and get more than one moment of your return on investment, go for it,” Holmes adds.
What we can learn from Tiffany Haddish and her ‘gown that keeps on giving’
If anyone has gotten a return on their investment, it’s Tiffany Haddish.
When the comedian and actress was still an up-and-comer, she attended the 2017 premiere of her movie “Girls Trip” in a white Alexander McQueen gown, but felt she hadn’t gotten enough wear out of the more than $4,000 designer dress. So she wore it again. And again.
‘The gown that keeps on giving’:Tiffany Haddish re-wears her famous McQueen dress again
Thus, it followed her to her “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig in 2017, the 2018 Oscar Awards, the 2018 MTV Movie and TV Awards, and a 2019 appearance on David Letterman’s Netflix show “My Next Guest” and the cover of People magazine this year.
“My whole team, they told me, ‘Tiffany, you cannot wear that dress on SNL. It’s taboo to wear it twice,’ ” Haddish said during her “SNL” monologue. “And I said, ‘I don’t give a dang about no taboo. I spent a lot of money on this dress. This cost way more than my mortgage.’ “
Gerard notes that the comedian recycling her look was “quite the joke,” but also spoke to Haddish’s “practical values.”
“I think it can be funny. I think it can be extremely powerful. Both things can be true,” Holmes agrees. “The way that she spun it was entertaining, but it was also making a real statement. …We talk a lot about how fun it is and … the glamorous side of it. But logistically, it’s expensive (and) it’s time consuming.”
Angelina Jolie, Brooke Shields and the intergenerational re-wear
Other stars are inviting their children to be a part of these memorable fashion moments. Angelina Jolie and Brooke Shields have both gone viral for sharing previous red carpet dresses with their daughters for big moments.
Last month, Jolie brought several of her children to various red carpets for her new “Eternals” film. At one premiere, daughter Shiloh Jolie-Pitt borrowed a black-and-white Dior gown that her mom initially wore for a “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” press conference in 2019. At another, Zahara Jolie-Pitt wore the same vintage silver Elie Saab Couture gown her mother famously wore to the 2014 Academy Awards.
Brooke Shields also went viral over the summer after her daughter Rowan Henchy attended prom in the red strapless dress Shields wore to the 1998 Golden Globes.
“Why not use it as a sort of treasure chest when dressing your kids?” Holmes says. “If you have the means to have it tailored and cleaned and all the logistical elements … that’s such a beautiful thing. Those are special pieces and beautiful pieces and they deserve to see the light of day again.”
What can these moments teach us about the future of sustainable fashion?
The trend of celebrities wearing something once and the rise of fast fashion go hand in hand, says Holmes. Over the past 10 or 15 years, stars have increasingly borrowed clothes from designers for special events, which allows them to continuously show up to events in new styles.
“It became part of the Hollywood fashion scene where more is more and new is better,” Holmes adds. “And that translated into consumer shopping patterns.”
The rise of social media has only fueled the “new is better” mentality. In the age of Instagram influencers and Gen Z fashion reigning on TikTok, the trend cycle has been accelerated to a “frightening pace,” Gerard notes – one that is not sustainable for the environment – or our wallets.
“Right now, an increasing obsession with sustainability has shoppers turning to sustainable and eco-friendly brands,” Gerard says. “Unfortunately, buying clothing in excess from these brands is hardly sustainable.”
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But as much as social media has fueled celebrities’ fast fashion habits, it also proves audiences have a major appetite for talking about repeats, which can trickle down to consumer habits, too.
“Seeing big-time celebrities turn into outfit repeaters could seriously change the way we view our own wardrobes,’” Gerard says.
Holmes adds: “I want to do a better job of celebrating repeats, because I will totally admit that sometimes I’m (disappointed about) a repeat. (Repeats) can be as exciting. … I think it takes some work on our part to undo and unlearn the fast fashion way of thinking.”