Week’s Worth of Undies

It seemed simple enough… I’ll go on a trip, and the only thing I’ll pack in a tiny suitcase is the underwear I’ll need. All other clothing will be procured at thrift stores once I arrive at my destination. I’ll wear it, photograph it and have a grand ole time with it, but then I’ve got to give it away, returning home with only my original undies.

But what ensued was awesomeness on a level I’m not even sure I’m capable of processing. Let’s just say, short of every person I love having landed next to me in a giant rainbow-colored hot air balloon, I don’t see how life could have gotten any better.

In Summary:
10 Thrift Stores + $275 + A Week in the California Desert + 600 Incredible Folks + 1 Three-Minute Talk = AWESOMENESS OVERLOAD!

I have to attribute much of the magic of the week to where I chose to carry out this project for the first time: TEDActive in Palm Springs. That’s a yearly gathering of more than 600 uniquely intense and beautiful people out in the California desert. We watch TED2011 as it’s simulcast from Long Beach, meet one another, go on field trips, swim, bike, eat, dance and have a generally amazing time. What made this TED truly special was that we (WORKSHOP) actually worked with TED to create the visual identity for this year’s conference, The Rediscovery of Wonder. So as we were walking about, we got to see our design on posters, guide books, signage, iPad apps and more.

The most exciting yet nerve-wracking part of the week was that I was selected to give a TEDYou Talk about the Undies Project. Yippie and yikes at the same time! It was a lot of work for me and Josh to get up at 6:30 every morning to take photos of the outfits before each day got started. Plus I agonized over the words, the slides, pretty much every aspect of the presentation; you name it, I second-guessed myself. But in the end, the Talk felt like a huge triumph! So many people showered me with love, and I started to realize for the first time that my outfit obsession and quest to be true to myself could actually inspire others, particularly those brave souls known as teenage girls. 

Giving TEDYou Talk
On stage at TEDActive! photo credit: Michael Brands / TED

Get ready, because I’m about to post the 7 outfits (plus the set of pajamas) I found to wear during this unforgettable week.

If all you’re going to pack is underpants, they’d better be pretty special right? Here are the 7 pairs of organic cotton panties I hand-dyed to be the colors of the rainbow before heading out to Cali.

Creighton walks in the door and sees me stirring a pot on the stove and asks, “Whatcha cooking?” Me: “Just boiling up some green undies!” Creighton: “Mmmmmmm…”

first pair of undies: red

second pair of undies: orange

third pair of undies: yellow

fourth pair of undies: green

fifth pair of undies: blue

sixth pair of undies: purple

seventh pair of undies: pink


  1. Carolyn Sewell

    Pleeeeeeease tell me you’re gonna post your actual presentation…I’m DYEing to see it. (sorry, couldn’t help myself) Also, did you take the clothes back to the thrift stores? Or hand them out to fellow TEDers?

  2. Jessi Arrington

    I’m not really allowed to post video of the Talk (pretty sure; I’ll check), but I will be getting an archive of it, so I can show it to people in person.

    The clothes are going with me to Austin for SxSW (because I’m not going back to Brooklyn in between). Before I leave Austin, I’ll mail clothes to people who’ve requested them and donate the rest to the thrift stores there. So if you see anything you want in any of the subsequent posts, just LET ME KNOW!

    Thanks for reading, Carolyn!!

  3. swissmiss

    I am so proud of you. And I am not even your mother.

  4. Jana Rees

    I am so glad to see a new post! I am looking forward to hearing about your project and seeing the results. And I gotta say, you ARE an inspiration! Sharing how to dress and create a style that is all your own - one that makes you happy and is just for you. Salvation Army Thrift Stores of Canada are behind you 110%! :)

  5. creighton Mershon

    Fantastic. So impressed.  Senor

  6. Phyllis

    Are you gving a talk in Austin?  If so, details please! 

    Also, let us know which shops you donate to.  We are avid thrift shoppers, for clothing and home furnishings.  Hope you have a great time while here!

  7. Laura Howell McQueen

    Dying underwear…Oh! The memories!

  8. kathy kane

    Jessie.  Thanks for the shout out!  You were so fun to have around.  I was in Eisenhower and scored a great colorful blouse this weekend and the lady in your picture helped me.  I reminded her that I was shopping with you a few weeks ago and she remembered you very well.  She just loved you.  I hear that Tasha just loves her dress!  Thanks for sending it to her.

  9. Paulina J!

    This is such a cool project! I read your “about” page and got excited that you grew up in Starkville! I had your opposite experience in that I grew up in NY and am now in Starkville! We’re going to be moving in the fall though :(

    I’m going to miss this place so much! Great people and it’s growing a lot. Starkville ROCKS!!

  10. Sheila Anderson

    I wish you’d type out the ‘life lessons’ you spoke of in your TED talk! Good stuff!

  11. Jen N

    I just saw your TED talk. It’s very inspiring and wonderful and I’ve already Shared it here & there, FB etc.. My main question is (and it’s a major struggle for me right now), does any of this even work when you’re over 50 and not thin?

    I am an artist; I get the whole color thing. I love color. But I just wonder how many of your outfits could ever have been pulled off by someone over a certain age. Just wondering. It’s sad to see people dressing “too young” but it’s also sad to say goodbye to fun fashions just because of a certain year milestone.

    Struggling with my over-50, non-thin appearance has been really hard, because I LOVE fashion and creative clothing; just feel like until I get the body back in line, I can’t wear it.  So I walk around like a frump.

    Your TED talk was fantastic. I *LOVE* the way you buy-as-you-go and then donate it all back. What a healthy and fun approach!

  12. Jen

    Do you buy new underwear? What about bras?

  13. Gayle Rhoades Elliott

    And, I can say “I knew you when!”  Congratulations, Jessi!!!  What a bright, creative, and inspiring young woman you are!!!  I remember your creativity on several projects for 9th grade English back at SA.  You are a prime example that dreams DO come true.

  14. Amanda Zhu

    Interesting Talk~and you are a so lovely girl~you have the most beautiful smile in all lecturer of TED~^_^
    After listening you talk, I really want to try to find some beautiful things in second-hand shop~!

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