How Do We Dress When There’s No One – and Nothing – to Dress For?
A few days into my own self-imposed social distancing, I tweeted “Dressing for men < Dressing for other women < Dressing for your dog.” I was wearing a pair of black Nike leggings with my favourite purple Isabel Marant sweatshirt, and I’d forgotten to put on earrings, which is something I typically never forget to do. I was thinking about what I’d been choosing to wear when the only people I would see for the foreseeable future were my boyfriend, my dog (who certainly counts as a person), and my coworkers – but only from the shoulders up, via Google Hangouts.
While working from home often was nothing novel for me, the rest of my calendar was also desolate, which was new. Dinner reservations at that new restaurant in Silverlake? Canceled before I could make them, due to LA’s citywide restaurant shutdown. That meditation class I was planning to attend Thursday night? Postponed. The party I planned to throw on Saturday? Delayed. I’d bought a great ROTATE look for that bash, by the way. A pink crushed-velvet minidress with a Twiggy-esque ruffle at the neck and sleeves that I planned to wear with white majorette boots. The dress is hanging in my closet with the tag on it for the time being. Every time I see it hanging there, deflated, I miss my friends. I wonder what they would have worn to the party. I wonder if we’ll be OK.
Clothes are so often a reminder to ourselves: that we are worth small joys, and that we know just who we are – even when no one else is there to prove it to us.
The fashion world, like the world at large, has been derailed by the coronavirus. LVMH is halting perfume production in favor of making decidedly unglamorous, but desperately needed, hand sanitizer. The Met Gala is (finally) postponed. Retail stores are closing their doors as we all wait out the crisis. And on a microscale, many of us are questioning what roles fashion and style play in our lives when just deciding whether to go to the grocery store suddenly feels like a matter of life and death. We wonder what roles fashion and style play in our lives when there simply aren’t things to do or people to see.
I’ve always looked forward to approaching my closet each morning, ready to imagine the day as a certain version of myself. A strong-shouldered blazer to radiate strength in an important meeting; a swimming-pool-blue silk dress to feel alive in my body on a Summer night spent downtown. But in recent days, I found my enthusiasm for that ritual waning. When there’s no one to dress for anymore, how do we dress? Can clothes still bring us joy and self-expression when we’re all sitting alone in our homes? Do they lose their power without a witness?
I asked friends who are also social distancing how they’re getting ready in the mornings. My friend Bobby Solomon, a creative director, said he was still doing his grooming ritual and dressing as he usually would to retain a sense of normalcy. “Surprisingly, this has motivated me to go the full nine yards in getting ready, cologne and all,” he tweeted me. “I feel most like myself when I get fully prepared, and it validates the feeling that I do this every day for me, not for others.”
Other people told me they were prioritising comfort: “sweats and makeup free,” and “solid stream of athleisure.” A writer friend, Obehi Janice, has proclaimed overalls her new isolation uniform. I’ve seen and heard more than a few people admit they are still shopping online, despite the precarious economy, buying clothes for a postpandemic future in which we’ll have places and occasions to and on which to wear them.
My friend Kerin Rose Gold‘s take, though, was unique. Sure, she’s a designer herself, with personal panache to spare. But when she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16, she spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices, feeling unwell. Still, she wrote me: “I’d always dress up, and sometimes I’d wear a tiara, and it made a bad situation a little bit better. As an adult, I still adopt the concept of ‘dressing for yourself.’ I usually work alone in my studio and am a pretty big homebody. That doesn’t stop me from wearing sequin pants and a bright neon yellow jacket most days, even when they don’t make it onto Instagram.”
Clothes are a performance, an outward symbol, a message to the world. But clothes are just as often a reminder to ourselves: that we are worth small joys, and that we know just who we are – even when no one else is there to reassure us.
Today I woke up, put on a fitted acid green sweater and gold geometric hoop earrings, painted a swoop of cat eye liner across my lids, and faced another uncertain day with just a little more resolve. It turns out, Kerin was right. Dressing for men < Dressing for other women < Dressing for your dog < Dressing for yourself.