When was the last time you got dressed up? Or better yet, the last time you got dressed up for an actual occasion? I can’t recall an experience in the last year for which jeans and a T-shirt didn’t suffice. Then again, I’m not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and therefore, haven’t had to pick out an outfit for what Brooklyn-based actress Ashlie Atkinson — someone who has received her first shot — calls “the event of [the] year.” For her, the answer to the question above is easy: She wore a full-length, sequin gown to her vaccination appointment.
“When I finally got an appointment, I was really excited. It’s the biggest thing I’m going to do this year,” Atkinson tells Refinery29, days after her appointment. The dress, which had been gathering dust in the back of her closet for more than a year, was originally purchased for Atkinson’s since-canceled roller derby league’s annual gala last September. Not knowing when or if she’d get another chance to wear the formal gown, she wore it for her first shot — with white, slush-proof plastic boots, heirloom earrings that had been passed down from her grandmother to her mom to her, and a face mask that was given to her by one of her best friends. “I was fully representing all of my loved ones,” she says.
Atkinson had meningitis as a child and, 10 years ago, suffered a pulmonary embolism, which, in part, qualified her for the vaccine. When she received the appointment, she was excited to finally have an opportunity to go to the hospital under optimistic circumstances.
In the past, Atkinson says that she’s often felt the need to dress up when going to the doctor, because of the way people make assumptions about her based on her weight. “I don’t have the luxury to go in wearing UGGs and yoga pants,” she explains. “As a fat person, I always dress up as a self-preservation measure. I do it to make them understand that I have value, and that I care about myself, and that they should care about me as well, though I’m not normally in sequins.” Getting a vaccine was a way for Atkinson to dress up, not as a defence tactic, but as an expression of joy. “I just really wanted to celebrate the moment,” she says.
In Cheshire, England, Bethany Hughes, a customer service and sales agent for an airline, also recently got vaccinated. She, too, planned an outfit for the occasion: a white T-shirt printed with The Fortune Cat, a symbol of good luck and protection in Chinese and Japanese culture, on its pocket; a pleated skirt, and tights, with the caption. “I chose my T-shirt for two reasons: (1) It was recently Chinese New Year,” she says. “And (2) I was feeling a bit nervous about the vaccine as it was my first in nearly 10 years, and the lucky cat denotes good luck.” In addition, she says she wanted her outfit to show off her tattoos because they are a part of her self-expression. “My high-waisted, black, flare skirt makes me feel feminine and powerful, swishing around through the local rugby ground where the vaccines were being administered.” According to her, tights were a welcome escape from the baggy joggers she’s been living in.
Brooklyn-based blogger Yvonne Morel tweeted prior to her appointment: "I have my outfit ready for my vaccine on Sunday. I am going to be so extra. It’s deserved." As a Type 1 diabetic, Morel's spent most of the last year at home, worrying about her health and thinking she "would never see the end of this," she tells Refinery29. "However, as things started to look 'up,' I began taking advantage of the few times I have been able to comfortably go outside by making sure to dress up." For the occasion, she paired her favourite ASOS pants with Adidas sneakers and a sweatshirt with the phrase, "Daughter of an immigrant" printed across the front. The latter is from a brand of the same name, which was founded as a way to say thank you to all the parents that "bravely crossed borders" for their children, according to the website. "I always said I would wear this sweatshirt when I get my vaccine because my mom — along with my dad and brother — are very much the reasons why I have been able to remain as calm and positive as I have during this pandemic," she says. "She was born and raised in the Dominican Republic."
Chloe Tear, a disability blogger and content designer for a disability charity called Scope, also took her outfit into consideration before heading to get her first vaccine shot in Leeds, England. She wore a floral face mask, overalls covered with tiny (French!) cats, and a yellow raincoat. “I chose this outfit to make me feel empowered,” she tells Refinery29. Despite meeting the criteria for the vaccine due to her having Cerebral palsy, Tear wrote on Instagram that she was initially left off the list for England’s group-six qualification. She had to fight to get herself a shot — something that she recognizes is a problem, not only for her but for all people who have disabilities. “It’s not something we should have to fight for,” she says, “but these dungarees empowered me to keep fighting for my rights and to support others to do the same.”
Shelley Benhoff, from Orlando, Florida, wore heels and a tiara to her vaccination appointment on Friday. Like Tear, these items made her feel powerful and confident. Because she’s at high risk of severe illness from COVID, Benhoff has hardly left her house since last March. “Like so many, this past year has been very hard for me,” she says. “Fashion is a way of expressing myself that I have been denied for a year now.” In a way, her appointment marked the end of that chapter for her.
Atkinson echoes that sentiment. “We’ve had very little to look forward to. So, it’s really been nice to have something to be excited about.” After all, it’s not just a doctor’s appointment. It’s the aftertimes finally visible on the horizon.