To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything . . .
-Joan Didion, On Self Respect
The old wooden door swings open, the air carries the subtle scent of Santa Maria Novella with a hint of palo santo - cool in contrast to the Santa Fe sun. Your gaze glides along the clothing racks, bouncing from texture and textile to color and pattern. Suddenly there it is, the piece you've been missing - you gently lift the hanger from its iron rack and hold it first at arm's length then bring it closer to see how it might fit. A brief daydream of the dinner party you'd wear it to, raking in compliments. The daydream fades, and you're reminded that the party was postponed, your next 'date night' is around the kitchen counter, and vacation may not come around this year. You ask yourself - "I love this but, where am I going to wear it?"
Welcome to getting dressed in a post-pandemic world.
We wake up, only to wonder what will be comfortable and presentable enough to pass our new zoom screen standards. Lipsticks are left neglected at the bottom of a bag that you haven't used since winter. Those pants that looked good with everything lay untouched in exchange for something easier, more comfortable.
For the past six months, most of us have grappled with the realization that our wardrobes were predominately built on the anticipation of the future; a date, an important meeting, a beloved friend's wedding, a night at the theatre. For years we have accumulated hard-working wardrobes that speak for us in every setting society could possibly demand, answering each sartorial challenge with "I need an outfit for that".
Understandably, for many, getting dressed is the least of our concerns right now. With much of our country in varying stages of lockdown, most of us are opting for anything that is comfortable. Unable to physically attend our places of work we abandoned our work uniforms with gusto and perhaps with a bit more hesitation, our favorite social gear.
It was fun, for a few weeks. We dove headfirst into loungewear or, more specifically, robes (footnote: robes were the most searched garment on google for a good month).
But we now finally find ourselves in a store, or online browsing. We come across a treasure we love, that brings us joy and confidence. And then, the question that swiftly eclipses our excitement - where will I wear this?
Too often we measure an outfit's success by its impact on the way people think of us. On the heels of the pandemic, we have mistaken personal style with performance, a service for others rather than for ourselves.
It's widely recognized that personal style is a powerful medium for self-expression. But what's often forgotten is that getting dressed is also a medium for self-affirmation.
The joy we find in an outfit or peice of jewelry is no less important or valuable than the joy we feel when we hear the first notes of a song we love or take the first bite of a meal that brings us home to ourselves. Wearing things that make us feel present, inspired, engaged, and beautiful is, in and of itself, enough. It's an act of self-care, certainly, and as Joan Didion never ceases to remind us, an act of self-respect, grounding you in your values, your taste, your agency, your story.
By all means, abandon fashion, trend, and the runway, but we urge you not to let this new-normal silence your voice or dim the light to tell your story through what you wear.
We have so little control over the way the world goes, now more than ever. Personal style is a way of anchoring us to ourselves, and therein affirming our existence. Get dressed for the market, get dressed to make lunch, get dressed to walk your dog. Or, my personal favorite, get dressed to wash your hands, and celebrate that brief moment when you catch yourself in the mirror and think "I look good".
Self-affirmation is reason enough. Give yourself permission to practice dressing as a foundational aspect of self-care. You deserve to feel beautiful, grounded, inspired, and creative, in spite of what you're daily calendar looks like.
A few last words from the greats:
“Style is character,” Didion told the Paris Review in 1978. And character, as she wrote in the influential essay “On Self-Respect,” is “the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.” Ergo, for Didion, style is a significant part of self-respect.
"Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life." —Bill Cunningham
"You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.” —Diana Vreeland
"Fashion is what you're offered four times a year by designers. And style is what you choose." —Lauren Hutton