Prior to March 2020, the world looked completely different, and so did our personal style. Most mornings, we’d wake up early to gear up to face the world — dabbing on makeup or putting on some version of workwear before running out the door to go to the office. But as the coronavirus pandemic upended, well, everything, our daily routines changed, too.
While at first, many of those lucky to work from home were thrilled to trade their intricate getting-ready routines and corporate uniforms for a ponytail and soft pants, as the novelty wore off and reality set in, so did the craving to express ourselves through clothes. In turn, many picked up tie-dye shirt projects, knitting sessions, and embroidery as a tool to soothe their emotions and keep moving forward amid the chaos.
As witnessed through a myriad of Instagram posts and Zoom conversations, people all started dressing for comfort, not style. A sea of bike shorts, matching sweatsuits, and nap dresses emerged — with their accompanying face masks, of course — signalling that amid a pandemic dressing up was a means for survival, whether was through escapism or just plain protection against a virus.
“People were thinking, ‘How are my clothes helping to shape me during this time?’” says fashion psychologist and author Shakaila Forbes-Bell, adding that the notes of nostalgia and fantasy witnessed during the early days of the pandemic are manifestations of that. Take, for example, the viral tie-dye trend that had everyone DIY-ing clothes at home like a middle school project or aesthetics like cottagecore and angelcore that invited everyone on a make-believe trip to utopia. “It was a process of grieving certain comforts and then finding new ones,” says psychologist DaShelle Grant, a clinician at the online therapy service Thriveworks, who also explores the relationship between clothing and mental health. “I think in different articles of clothing, we can hold on to something, anything.”
The data backs this relationship between clothing, memory, and identity: A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Fashion Studies found that clothing is embedded with “personal meaningfulness” that reflects “personal development and autobiographical narratives.” Two years into the pandemic, the items that have brought comfort are also reminders of the months-long lockdowns and life-changing decisions that marked this time.
For many, a way to find comfort came in the form of one fashion item. Sweden-based lawyer-turned-student Liza Rosado bought a tie-dye sweatshirt to step out of her corporate persona. New York-based editor Christina Orlando reached for her high school jacket. Tel Aviv-based Hannah Sharron started wearing her best friend’s hoodie. Writer and editor Eboné Denise grabbed her hoop earrings to hold on to normalcy. Florida resident Kristina Carrodeguas found confidence in her body through a pair of bike shorts. These are their stories.
The Best Friend Hoodie
“A few years ago, my best friend Z was going through a really tough time after breaking up with his girlfriend. I would go around to his house every day after work and just sit with him so he wasn’t alone. One day, it was unexpectedly cold, and I asked to borrow a hoodie. When he saw how happy I was in it, he said I could wear it home and bring it back the next day. I ‘forgot,’ and somehow, when I packed up to move to the Middle East a few months later, the hoodie ended up in my suitcase. I haven’t seen Z since December 2019. He gives the best hugs, and when I was going through a shitty breakup of my own here in the Middle East, feeling very alone, Z told me to call him every time I felt like calling my ex. But all I wanted was a hug. His sweatshirt was the best substitute for that. It’s something about the weight and coziness of it that physically feels like being hugged, and it’s silly because it’s just fabric and doesn’t even smell like him anymore, but whether I put it on because I’m sad or I’m cold, that sweatshirt has got me through two and a half years apart and missing him all the time.” — Hannah
The Keep-It-Together Hoop Earrings
“My mother got these hoop earrings for me at a yard sale a couple of years ago. They are a very thin pair of large gold hoop earrings; super lightweight and a perfect light yellow gold. Wearing these earrings basically every day made me feel like at least one thing was still normal. Even if I had on sweats and a tie-dye shirt, I felt like my life was a little bit together. Like the hoops were holding it together and holding me down. Other than that, I felt like I barely recognised myself. My body, my style, my daily activities were all different and felt foreign, but the hoops were me. Not long ago, I decided to work from my boyfriend's house for the first time. About an hour into work, he looked over at me and said: ‘You're wearing earrings even though you're not on camera?’ I found it funny.” — Eboné Denise
The Confidence-Boosting Bike Shorts
“I love these shorts because they're a little compressive, super high-rise, and a decent length. More than that, though, wearing these shorts helped me normalise my body. I'm plus-size and have always been surrounded by thin people with body confidence issues. So if the people around me are a size 4 and 6 and self-conscious about their legs, how am I supposed to feel about my size 18 legs and cellulite? So these Girlfriend Collective bike shorts were comfortable, supportive, prevented the dreaded chub rub, and went with everything. Over time, I got so used to seeing my legs (and cellulite!) in them, that it didn't faze me. Being able to go through this 'normalisation' on my own in lockdown was amazing, because I built up enough confidence that, when it came time to go into the world in shorts, I'd already overcome the fears of other people staring. I didn't care anymore.” — Kristina Carrodeguas
The High School Hoodie
“It's not really a good hoodie. It's very thin now. It's been worn to death. It's not something I'll ever wear out of the house because it just doesn't look good. I [got it when I] went to a boarding school — a prep school — so it was very, like, blazer, khaki type of people, and I was always a goth scene kid. And so I was very attached to the clothes that I had because I was different. I spent a lot of time in the basement of the library, curled up in my head with my headphones on because I felt very alone on campus. I'm a very different person now… I don't feel as alone as I did, but there is a certain [comfort] element of retreating into the hoodie. I can't really explain it.” — Christina Orlando
The Break-Free Tie-Dye Sweatshirt
“Lockdown was very strict and long in Puerto Rico. I had never worn a sweatshirt before; I’m big-chested, and I always felt like it wasn’t for me. A friend of mine bought a tie-dye set, and I suddenly thought it was cute. I can't remember where I got this one, but it was soon after the lockdown started. I couldn’t take it off. I still don’t. My style before the pandemic was based on my work — I was a public defender — so it was very serious. But suddenly, I was shopping for comfort. Two years later, I’m studying in Sweden, wearing a tie-dye sweatshirt every day. ” — Liza Rosado