Dressing Up Is My Not-So-Secret Weapon

by Chloe King
A collage with a woman wearing different outfits: A maxi floral dress in purple and an all-white out...

Something you should know about me: I am Marie Kondo’s worst nightmare. No – I’m not a hoarder. Of course I appreciate the rush of organization. But! When it comes to making decisions about clothing that “sparks joy”? I would need hours to explain the happiness derived from my closet (ideally narrated by fellow fashion enthusiast Diane Keaton).

But how to resolve that kind of enthusiasm in a time where clothing feels so… unimportant?

Lockdown in NYC came on the heels of Fashion Month. Like other people in the industry, it felt like a collective exhale to trade in a month of capital D dressing for sweatpants. But that relief was quickly eclipsed by anxiety and the realization that this was not some cozy hibernation but a city (country? world?) in real freefall. The air was heavy, and I slept very little, worrying about my parents, my pregnant sister, the trauma of friends going to work in hospitals every day, and my job hanging in the balance of a very precarious industry. Getting dressed felt secondary, or completely irrelevant.

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Unable to sleep, I started an old movie binge. I typically favor a dark murder mystery, but felt the urge to swap sociopaths for swaths of blue taffeta in Funny Face; trade perps for Cher’s iconic perm in Moonstruck; switch whodunnit for heaps of hairspray in Working Girl. And then one morning, as I passed my dark-circled, sweatpant clad reflection, I thought: who is that?

You see, somewhere in the fashion hypnosis of these films, I remembered: I love getting dressed. Getting dressed means a fresh start every morning. Staring at the contents of my closet, I do a little Queen’s Gambit mental shuffle, visualizing exactly who I want to be that day. Sometimes I reach for an old favorite, but more likely, I push myself to try something different. So, in a time when we are stuck in so many ways – isn’t this blissful creative blip more important than ever? Getting dressed is one of the few opportunities we still have to experiment, to play, to push our own boundaries.

Like picking up an old book or putting on a favorite song, getting dressed is also a comfort. The daily ritual is a chance to revisit people you admire, put on pieces that soothe you. When I take out a Dries Van Noten skirt, I feel a quiet sophistication unique to Dries and sit up a little bit straighter. When I pull on a Marc Jacobs beanie with a flash of horsehair pointed straight upwards, I feel some of the subversive wit that makes Marc great, like some sort of wicked Peter Pan. I look at an oversized denim shirt that I “borrowed” from my dad 6 years ago — it is lived-in and well-worn and instantly it makes me feel at home. I miss my friends and family deeply, and this textural scrapbook holds so many memories. I’m grateful for the daily visit.

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I’ve also realized, getting dressed is armor, empowerment. And after this summer, after the last 4 years, we all need to be ready to get some serious work done. In a landscape demanding urgent action in climate change and a system soaked in centuries of racism, clothing might not be the important work, but it can prepare you for that important work. If I’m phone banking or joining a virtual meeting demanding an anti-racist agenda from my alma mater, I can tell you I’m not doing that in sweatpants.

So how has getting dressed changed for me during a global pandemic? I suppose I cherish it even more. It is a daily dose of optimism, putting yourself together in a way that makes you feel the most you. It is a moment that prepares me to participate in world in desperate need of strong, engaged people. And because we don’t really get out much, I’ve become even more adventurous, and less precious with my clothing. I might wear a powder blue feather scarf just to pick up a prescription. I put on an uncomfortable but impossibly cool platform shoe – because I’m not going very far. I dust off my vintage puff sleeved polka dot number that’s more of a gown than a dress. After all, life is still happening! Dress accordingly.