THE ULTIMATE QUARANTINE DILEMMA: jeans or sweatpants?

I literally just forgot that phase where we all wore tie-dye sweatsuits. That's how long quarantine's been.


Remember that phase of quarantine when we all tie-dyed Walmart sweatsuits? When we couldn’t escape from Tiger King memes? When mastering the “savage” Tik Tok dance was an accomplishment? I do. In fact, I’ll plead guilty to partaking in all three forms of quarantine-ment. But even in the deepest depths of isolation, nothing could replace the simple joys of life pre-Corona. I missed Sunday mornings in coffee shops, blissfully buying into the illusion of productivity. I missed piling into cars with friends and I missed the cacophony of chatter in restaurants. But most of all? I missed the thrill of dressing up to go somewhere. The thrill of getting dressed with purpose.


Quarantine undoubtedly upended many aspects of life. Among all the sudden changes, our style certainly did a 360. When the world was challenged with a common evil, what we wore became a side note. We realized how delicate life was, how fleeting. Why would fashion matter? It didn’t. So, we embraced comfort and practicality. Loungewear became our uniform, a sad surrender to the virus. Silently, we witnessed staples of daily fashion become obsolete. The bright sundresses in my closet looked forlorn. My sandals no longer seemed optimistic and my sweatpants were begging for a break.


More than ever, we saw fashion as a reflection of the times. Fashion mirrors how we feel, how we act, who we want to be— and hopefully, who we actually are. It is a vessel through which we respond to the world around us, in agreement or in rebellion.


It is no coincidence that minimalism became popular after the 2008 recession. Wealth became something to be ashamed of, so we traded the insignias of Louis Vuitton for plain t-shirts. It is also no coincidence that during the Great Depression, style became an escape from the dreariness plaguing America. FIT’s museum director, Patricia Mears, writes that “it is a compelling irony that the elegant and progressive qualities of 1930s fashions emerged during one of the most tumultuous periods of modern western history.” How will the fashion world respond to this pandemic? Face masks are already functioning as an accessory and chic sweats are the new boyfriend jeans. Nonetheless, the impacts on the fashion community at large will last beyond these next few months.


At a more personal level, quarantine sheds an interesting light on how fashion functions in our daily lives. Following the whirlwind of sudden closures, the unspoken dress codes that we all mindlessly followed vanished. We could wear old Christmas pajamas to class or embarrassing cat slippers to the office. “Dressing for the occasion” seemed like a strange social construct when the only occasion was walking the dog (shoutout to my sociology professor for the social construct lesson). For the first time ever, what we wore did not matter— it was both liberating and unsettling.


Yet even though I could shamelessly lounge in Garfield pajamas all day (which are just as comfy as they are embarrassing), I missed jeans. Scratch that— I missed fashion. Desperately. I struggled to feel confident in leftover high school sweatshirts. Even worse, my daily color palette was just as bland as the landscape of March in New England. My self-worth dwindled. The plush fabric of sweats was nothing compared to the rush of composing a stylish ‘fit. I felt like the rough draft version of myself, wholly incomplete. Saddened by a cycle of loungewear, I did what any style deprived girl would do. And no, I didn’t purchase a tie-dye sweatsuit. Instead, I reclaimed a simple, essential ritual: getting dressed for the day.


As soon as I swapped Garfield pajamas for Levi’s, my confidence was reborn. It became apparent that my identity was an incomplete puzzle without my personal style. Call it an unhealthy relationship, but I think the fashion greats would agree: our identity is tied to what we wear. If it wasn’t obvious to me before quarantine, it is now a blatant, bold-lettered truth. After all, we “use our clothes as a proxy for language” (Corner 91). Our clothes shout our confidences, whisper our insecurities, and sing our creativity. Every time we get dressed, we speak to the world around us. We let them listen, accepting that our words may be misunderstood or misconstrued.


However, during quarantine, a key variable in this relationship with clothes was removed: other people. We were truly getting dressed for only ourselves. It was only us and the mirror, putting our relationship with style under a magnifying glass. With no one there to listen, I was essentially talking to a wall by getting dressed in quarantine every morning. But personally, I preferred talking to myself over not using my voice at all. Not everyone felt the same, however. Many embraced this window of opportunity to ignore all remnants of fashion. Confidence and “feeling like myself” was motivating me to get dressed every morning, but what motivated others?


As any unscientific scientist would do, I explored this question by asking my friends why they got dressed in the morning (or didn’t). I got a barrage of similar comments— including, but not limited to:


“I put on jeans and a blouse to normalize my day.”


“Getting dressed makes me feel more productive.”


“I’m less motivated to look cute now because I don’t see anyone, so loungewear is my go-to.”


“No jeans allowed in quarantine.”


“I only put on athletic shorts, sweatpants, or leggings. I no longer care what I wear if no one sees me.”


My friends echoed exactly what I already suspected—isolation impacted the way we dressed. It revealed how people used fashion: either as a core part of their identity and self-worth or as a side note, style being dependent on other people seeing them. Everyone landed somewhere on the spectrum between “I’m-getting-dressed-for-no-reason” and “why-would-I-get-dressed-for-no-reason.” To get dressed for no reason, or to not get dressed for no reason? That was the quarantine question we all faced.


Many fashion publications explored this idea, tossing their two cents into the fountain of fashion theory. Man Repeller, for instance, tackled both viewpoints in their article, “Is Getting Dressed Only Satisfying If Other People See it?”. Founder, Leandra M. Cohen, upheld that, “I don’t actually think personal style is contingent on other people seeing it. I get dressed in quarantine because I feel like shit when I don’t–it adds shape to my day in a way that is similar to meal planning, preparing, and consuming.” At least Leandra and I are on the same page (which is probably the only gratification I need). Conversely, Man Repeller writer, Harling Ross, did not feel motivated to “put thought” into what she wore during quarantine. Her philosophy is that “style is contingent upon other people seeing it.” She also wondered what that said about her relationship with style, that she was “willing to let it fade” from her life “so easily.” It seems there is no clear answer in this divisive debate—because there isn’t. The only thing that remains clear is that everyone’s relationship with style is different. How did quarantine affect what you wore? I urge you to evaluate the way style functions in your life, as a way to tune into your personal connection to fashion and clothing.


As states begin to lift restrictions, some of us are opening our closets with reluctance. Others, however, are treating the first phases of opening like Milan fashion week. Quarantine certainly revealed more about our relationship with fashion, but the lessons from these past few months go beyond clothing. We were forced to reckon with how unpredictable the world is—and consequently, how precious human life can be, as cheesy as that may sound. Moving forward into an altered “normal,” I hope we all hug the world with a newfound optimism. In the meantime, I’ll continue dressing like every day’s a party at the Met gala. Because, why not?


P.S. If you are looking to refresh your wardrobe this summer, please consider supporting these incredible black owned fashion brands. Or, instead of spending money on new clothes, donate to this GoFundMe in support of Elijah McClain, an innocent and sweet soul lost too soon at the cruel hands of racism and police brutality.


Maren Beverly is an 18-year-old writer from West Hartford, CT. She attends Wake Forest University. In her free time, she enjoys romance novels, Timotheé Chalamet movies, and Vogue. You can find her on Instagram @marenbeverly.


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