People in fashion like to say that clothes are a means of self-expression, that getting dressed is a way for people to do something strictly for themselves. I, however, have never quite been able to see it like that.
Instead, I’m more of an outward dresser. When I was ten, wearing bright yellow cargo pants from the boys section at Gap Kids, a belly top courtesy of Limited Too, and a bandana wrapped around my head, my outfits were put together almost completely for the benefit of other people (to make them laugh, to fit in with them... The list goes on). Even now, as a 24-year-old who works in fashion, a lot of what I wear has to do with what I think others will think. I like dressing for other people. It’s good motivation.
Of course, now that I’m quarantined at home, with no colleagues, publicists, managers, or anyone at all around to see what I’m wearing, there’s no one to dress for, no one to impress. The only person left to get dressed for is myself.
And, honestly, for the first few weeks of quarantine, I was a total mess. The New York City that I’d come to know and love over the last two years had transformed into the epicenter of a virus, the impact of which no one, not even those who we’re supposed to look to in times of uncertainty, could have predicted. Restaurants I’d sat at just weeks prior were potentially closing their doors forever. Friends and family were being furloughed, or worse, let go. The news reports were getting more frightening every day, with messages of panic and loss coming out of hospitals sometimes just blocks away from my apartment in Brooklyn.
The anxiety and dread that coincided with waking up every morning were getting unbearable, and it showed in my appearance. After snoozing four alarms (I've never needed more than one alarm before), I was pulling on the same pair of baggy sweatpants that I’d left outside my bedroom door the night before, throwing my unwashed hair into a bun to avoid being confronted with my overgrown roots, and slipping into whatever sweatshirt was in closest range to the makeshift desk I’d set up weeks prior. I have a strand of pearls that I’ve been wearing day in and day out for I don’t know how long. They were my only saving grace.
On my last day in the office, which feels like a lifetime ago, I wore a black Khaite puff-sleeved dress from Rent The Runway that could’ve been considered black tie with the right pair of shoes, second-hand Gucci platforms, and a bow in my hair. I even wore makeup. Two weeks later and I was barely managing to switch from men’s boxer briefs to sweats in the morning.
Our new reality of constant fear had quickly changed my aesthetic. That, and by being forced to stay inside with no one around to talk to, to cope with, to make sense of our current situation with, I stopped feeling the need to dress for people, myself included.
In the weeks since, while still frightened and full of uncertainty, it’s clear that some things are looking up, relatively speaking. The first countries hit with COVID-19 have initiated steps for returning to normalcy. Governor Cuomo of New York has announced a plateau in the number of cases in the state after what felt like bad news after bad news. On a much lighter note, WWD is reporting that China’s second-largest Hermès flagship store made $2 million in one day this weekend.
Staying informed provided me with a sense of control; the feeling that by staying indoors, social distancing, and wearing a face covering and gloves when exercising outdoors, I could do my part to “flatten the curve.” That same feeling of control is what finally drove me to get off the sofa and out of that same pair of sweatpants (the likes of which were in dire need of an extra-hot washing cycle).
I finally tackled the monster-sized laundry bag that’d been piling up for the last three weeks. I spent the entirety of a Sunday evening tidying (and disinfecting) my apartment. And I promised myself that come Monday morning, I’d take at least one step in the direction of getting dressed, whether or not I had a Zoom meeting scheduled that day.
Before you make any assumptions, no, I did not put on another black-tie dress just to work inside my apartment. I’m not a masochist.
Instead, a pair of vintage high-waisted trousers that I’d purchased years back at Wasteland in LA came to mind. They’re tailored, yet flouncy, with an ‘80s balloon fit that allows for ample movement. They remind me of Diane Keaton. Those, paired with the same Gucci platforms that I previously mentioned, and a white button-down felt manageable and right for me. And I blow-dried my hair, because why not?
I won’t say that by getting dressed simply for my own benefit, I all of a sudden felt like Wonder Woman. I didn’t. We’re in the midst of a pandemic that’s made it impossible to be in close quarters with the people we love most. COVID-19 has taken the lives of over a hundred thousand people and threatened the lives of countless more. It has jeopardised livelihoods and forced many to flee their homes — and its end is not in sight. Because of all this, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who feels like Wonder Woman right now, in any outfit.
I can tell you that by putting on clothes for myself and myself only, I started to feel like a person again. And with everything that’s going on, that, in and of itself, is reason enough to give this newfound mindset a fair chance.
As I write this, exactly 35 days after I was told to start working from home, it’s pouring outside and I’m on my sofa, wrapped in a blanket. A candle is burning and my attempt at a homemade oat latte is sitting beside me, half-empty. You might think this was the perfect scenario for my old sweatpants.
Instead, I’m wearing jeans (they’re from Aritzia and make my butt look good), the Ganni collared button-down I splurged on after writing about big collars during fashion week, and a bright red scrunchie in my hair. There are no shoes involved (again, not a masochist), but a pair of striped red and blue JW Anderson x Uniqlo socks adorn my feet. My roots, of course, are still as dark as ever. But hey, after 24 years of dressing for other people, the fact that I’m dressed, with no one but my cat here to see it, is enough to make me feel accomplished.
I know that discussing the recent change in my style habits while in the middle of a pandemic is self-indulgent. At the same time, it’s during frightening times such as these that we seek comfort and methods of healing, frivolous or not. A little self-indulgence to feel normal isn’t such a bad thing. If you’re feeling, in any capacity, as confused and out-of-control as I was just days ago, perhaps taking back some of that control in the form of your fashion choices could be just the temporary fix you’ve been searching for.