Spending a Year Getting Dressed for No One Taught Me How to Really Dress for Myself

Thanks to 2020, I’ll never view getting ready the same way again.

getting dressed

Thanks to 2020, I’ll never view getting dressed in the morning the same again. Illustration by Melissa McFeeters

If you’d asked me a few years ago who I got ready for each morning, I would have quickly — perhaps even defiantly — answered: “Me.” I would have told you that of course I wasn’t carefully choosing a sweater or lipstick to please anyone other than myself. In 2020, I realized this answer wouldn’t have actually been true. Unconsciously, I had spent most of my adult life completing these daily habits while considering dozens of tiny factors: Was this outfit too formal for the day? Too casual? Too bold? It wasn’t until I stopped seeing other people altogether that I realized I wasn’t asking myself any of these questions anymore. Oh, and I had no idea what to wear.

When first faced with the prospect of weeks (then months) of isolation, I dressed the way everyone else did: I wore pajamas, loungewear, and pajamas that looked like loungewear. My mascara and blow-dryer became relics of a past life. When I decided to experiment with eyeliner again, I looked in the mirror and saw a member of KISS staring back. Had I always resembled Gene Simmons while sporting a cat eye? Probably not, but the question rattled me a little. Realistically, I knew these “getting ready” rituals of the past felt foreign to me in the same way that wearing sandals does after months of closed-toe shoes. I knew I’d get used to the feeling again soon — I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to.

Before 2020, I interpreted the careful thought I put into my outfits as confidence in my personal style. Now, I see it for what it was: a constant calculation of how to blend in. Instead of wearing a colorful full-length dress simply because I wanted to, I’d wonder if I’d look too preppy for that cool new restaurant in Fishtown. If I threw on a pair of Doc Martens and a beanie, I’d worry I looked like a try-hard hipster and change again. I spent so much time trying to calculate the right thing to wear to a brunch in Rittenhouse or a dive bar in South Philly that I didn’t realize I was overcomplicating the process altogether. My style has never been just one static thing (most people’s isn’t), but before, this fact frustrated me. Wearing the “wrong” thing in the wrong setting felt like a surefire way to take up space I didn’t deserve. Now, it just feels fun.

These days, the morning ritual of getting ready looks, on the surface, the same as it always has. The feeling, however, is new. For the first time, the experience actually belongs to me. The pandemic shrank all of our worlds down to individual private bubbles, and that will always be a loss. But it also raised a question, the one I now know I should have been asking myself all along: If you knew no one else was watching, what would you change? How would you take up space then?

Published as “The Clothes On My Back” in the May 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.