It started slowly. High heels pushed to the corner of the closet. Stiff button-up shirts abandoned, outerwear has become forgotten. Then, steadily but slowly, sweatpants became a kind of uniform. Loungewear, athleisure wear’s cozier and softer cousin, became an infamous search term. Matching tie-dye pajama sets took over online retailers. Many traded stiff slacks for more comfortable clothing as the coronavirus pandemic forced us to attend school and work online. Adobe Analytics found that in April of 2020, online retailers saw a 143% increase in pajama sales.
Some things were abandoned with little remorse, mostly pants, bras, any kind of stiff denim. Stuck on a continuous stream of Zoom meetings, some people adopted a new kind of business casual: formal tops for the video feed and comfortable flexibility below, most likely covered with knit cotton jersey.
As many college students started their fall semester from the desk of their childhood room, attending seminars and lectures through a pixelated screen, daily uniforms have fluctuated. Some choose to dress up, others are fully embracing the athleisure wear lifestyle. Colder weather and early nights beckon all of us to embrace cozier clothing. Most notably, many of us have found that this time in isolation is cementing our sense of personal style and the fashion we gravitate towards.
Sophia George, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said, “Knowing that only I was going to see me… I felt more comfortable dressing exactly how I wanted to. Sometimes I would wear a sheer mock neck under my sweatshirt and I’d be like this is enough for me, but I would never do that before. I think that just knowing that only I would see me allowed me to explore what I really liked,” she said.
Many have found the act of getting dressed helps maintain a comforting routine. The familiar pattern of waking up and choosing what you’ll wear that day acting as a helpful transition from home to work, even though there is no longer a physical separation between those two spheres.
We have also found that our creativity has been stifled in isolation. Our ability to express ourselves has been impacted by our current surroundings. For some, fashion, which so often serves as a mechanism to showcase our identity, has become a haven of sorts. Exploring our style and experimenting with trends in makeup and clothing have offered simple joys and an escape from the anxiety of the moment.
For UMass Amherst freshman Gwendolyn Baptista, she found that “Being at home allows me more time to…hone in on what style I like. I don’t think it changed [my style]…as much as it allowed me to develop it a little more.”
She doesn’t hold herself to a certain uniform or formal structure when dressing; she just wears what feels right that day. Like many of us, she loves the act of getting dressed to go out, “going outside of the house, to the grocery store, I’ll get all dressed up because it’s something to do,” she said.
Beyond experimenting and establishing her personal style, Baptista has also created her own small business called Made With Thrift. She makes clothes, and more recently, masks from thrifted materials. The pandemic brought on a dramatic shift in the environment she was in and created the opportunity where she, “…stopped caring about what anyone else thought about how I was dressing and started dressing for myself.”
For George, the style she gravitates towards has remained consistent throughout social isolation. “Athleisure, leggings, and sweatshirts…comfy and cozy. I love being cozy,” she said. Being a shoe lover has been hard, however, with limited places to wear her finds.
“I wear them in the house…I still buy shoes because I’ll wear them when I can go out,” she said while laughing. Being in social isolation hasn’t dramatically shifted the way she dresses but instead, “It has solidified my idea–instead of that being the only thing I can wear–that comfy cozy is my style.”
Style is a continuously evolving process. It is also an exercise in innovation and reclaiming from the past. In the years to come, as we return to a sense of normalcy, leisurewear and leggings may fade, but will never be far away. Fashion has not permanently changed just because people are stuck at home. It is simply the nature of fashion to be changing, continuously.
What will remain from this time period is the sense of adventure many found in exploring their closets and allowing their style to be a form of authentic personal expression. Our sense of fashion and personal style in isolation morphed from something we wear to be seen in the world around us, to something we use to illustrate who we are in the moment. Sometimes, that means a good pair of flannel pants to comfort us in a time of such uncertainty, or perhaps a structured plaid blazer for motivation.
Email Grace Fiori at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @grace_fiori.