This Year, I’m Dressing For Myself

My style is emotionally prescriptive.

by Caroline Cala Donofrio
Originally Published: 
Photo credit: Danil Nevsky/Stocksy
dressing in 2022

Somehow, it’s 2022. Though I’m not quite sure when that happened, I think it’s safe to say a lot has changed in recent times. And in many ways, so have I. When I think back on the last two years, they resemble one of those movie montages where a character undergoes a big transition in a short amount of time, with ample wardrobe changes. There were weeks that saw only yoga pants. Days where a nightgown found new life masquerading as a dress. Boundary-pushing outfits that I proudly sported in public, with a clashing patterned face mask.

Through it all, the biggest lesson I’ve learned about life is the same one I’ve learned about fashion: All bets are off. As we settle into 2022, there’s a lot we don’t know about how this year will play out. But when it comes to getting dressed, I do know one thing. It will be for me.

In recent days, I’ve started practicing emotionally prescriptive dressing — fashion as the antidote. Every morning, I take stock of how I feel, like one of those mood questionnaires composed of assorted smiley faces. Then I choose pieces that not only reflect my current frame of mind but that also can actually help shape my personal landscape.

Am I in need of a hug? Then I reach for something with meaning — my well-worn college sweatshirt, my mother’s watch, the necklace given to me by a friend. Personal talismans are more important than ever, to help me feel close to the people, places, and experiences I may not be physically close to.

Am I in desperate need of a smile? (Or a vacation? Or, say, the ability to teleport?) Then it’s time to employ some sartorial optimism. Bright colors. Weird socks. The shirt embroidered with a fuzzy, nonsensical character.

For those days when I just can’t, I rely on two facts: Tailored pajamas make excellent tops. And any day is a special occasion if you decide it is.

As I write this, I am wearing a thoroughly impractical cocktail ring because it makes typing more fun. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t set foot outside today or that no one else will see it. Again, I return to my mantra of the year: Getting dressed is purely for me.

Where following trends once felt laden with pressure, they now feel like welcome sources of inspiration when viewed through a take-or-leave lens. While I may not have the height for certain silhouettes nor the budget to recreate Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Love Parade (one can dream!), I delight in adapting what works for me. Recently, this meant shopping from my own closet, pulling out candy-colored faux furs, wide lapel blazers, a belt bag stowed for years, suddenly given new life. Even if I’m only going down the block, these pieces add a touch of cinematic verve, a reminder that we are, as ever, the key players in the unfolding story of our lives.

In the interest of full disclosure, the yoga pants still make pretty regular appearances, though my relationship to them has changed. Where they once felt like “giving up” pants, they are now more like friends who are invested in my well-being. I rely on them to provide a gentle nudge that it’s always beneficial to move or stretch or take a walk whenever I am able.

Annie Dillard wrote, “How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life.” And I’d extend that to how we get dressed, too. Are we comfortable? Are we authentic? Are we true to ourselves? That’s all that really matters.

Another big lesson I’m carrying into this year is how much the little things count. 2020 was bolstered by favorite TV shows, comfort foods, and calls with loved ones, while 2021 was about walks and hugs and feeling the sun on my face. As it turns out, little glimmers of warmth can go a long way. The same is true of our wardrobes. I’ve found that small things — accessories, nail polish, lingerie no one else knows is there — infuse not only my outfits, but also my days, with tiny glimpses of joy. I’ve come to believe it’s our duty to extract joy wherever we can find it, in the best of times and also (especially) in the challenging ones.

I often think back to that iconic scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly Golightly is asleep in her bed, cat perched on top of her. She wears a robin’s egg blue sleep mask adorned with gold tinsel eyelashes and earplugs with lavender tassels that sway to and fro. It’s glamorous and ridiculous and amazing. That, in a nutshell, is the kind of energy I’m talking about.

When it comes to getting dressed this year, I maintain that fashion is whatever we need it to be. A place for lightness and experimentation, coziness and grandeur, sometimes all at once. Style can also be a means for change. A friend recently shared how refreshing it was seeing an executive at her job trade his starched button-downs for hooded sweatshirts (and subsequently relaxing his management style, too). Another friend, still working from home, has started wearing her best dresses for Zoom calls. The old rules do not apply. All that matters is how you feel.

When Emerson wrote “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” he was in no way talking about making fashion choices during an ongoing pandemic. But the sentiment holds true. In a rapidly changing, largely unpredictable landscape, the one constant is you. So I say, dress for that person. You can’t go wrong.

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