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The M Dash

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How the Pandemic Has Changed the Way We Dress

It won't be sweatpants forever.

By Sofia Rainaldi

My finest work this summer has been done while laying with my ankles hooked up on my dresser, racing against time until my feet go numb. Everything has shifted—the way we greet each other, visit loved ones, clean, and work. It’s all changed in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Personally, I’ve been treading water—trying to keep my head up, while simultaneously trying to figure out which way even is up. To say that this has been a season of stylistic and personal growth would generously be called a fib. But as I continue to figure out this “new normal,” the way I dress is changing, too. 

If you ask me, during this time, we didn’t suddenly learn anything about getting dressed; we got to selectively forget instead. We got to forget the bounds of propriety that didn’t serve us: dress codes that mandated fussy clothes or uncomfortable commutes. We got to explore who we wanted to be when no one else was watching. Wherever we go next, here are some rules I’m following as I get dressed in the morning. 

You should be comfortable.

When we first shifted to a home-based lifestyle, most of us seemed to take the opportunity to get a bit creative with previously maintained dress codes or practices. After a few weeks of sweatpants, however, I personally felt a bit sad; I had backslid into wearing outfits that put me in the mindset of my college finals. The LA Times was more direct: “I can’t take it anymore,” wrote Adam Tschorn, as we hit the end of April and college tees made the rounds on Zoom calls. 

There was something to that desire for comfort, however; things were hard enough without having to pull on something constricting and polished. Luckily, constricting and polished aren’t necessarily synonyms. I switched out my sweatpants for the Colbys, mentally noting that elastic waistbands should have been a given this whole time. The comfort of sweatpants remains, but now with a bit of sophistication. Lying on the floor answering emails, all the while using the dog as a pillow? A hit of goodness in these trying times. And the Colbys? Unwrinkled and unbothered by my decision to do so. 

You can make your own dress code, but follow a dress code.

After the initial pajama rebellion of April, most people I spoke with reverted to some midpoint between their previous selves and their pajama selves. My mother, for example, has made a personal rule: half of her outfit has to be “pulled together,” so she wears either nice trousers or a neat blouse—no need to go crazy and wear both. One friend sets the bar at putting on an underwire bra; all bets are off for any other details. Another friend has to wear a button-down and earrings, but leggings make an occasional appearance (see: Mullet Dressing). For me, a simple knit top or T-shirt tucked into my Milo jeans feels refined, but still easy. Observing this dress code, I’m well dressed enough to know I’m not heading for a nap, but comfortable enough to know that I don’t have to fuss with my clothes. 

Have one “instant polish” piece, and have it nearby.

We’ve all had that moment of panic when a calendar notification pops up that we could swear came three hours early. During those critical few minutes when I pull myself together, it’s key to have one piece I can reach for that will do just that: pull me together. An easy but structured blazer; a crisp and unruffled jardigan; or even an elegant and bright turtleneck—it only takes a moment to throw one on and turn a tank top into something a bit more formal. For days when I need a total outfit change in less than a minute, I reach for an adult onesie: a stretchy but elevated knit dress is my best friend.



It needs to be machine-washable.

This tenet was a guiding principle before, but my god, it’s even more so than ever now. I miss my dry cleaner; she gives great pep talks on slower mornings. But now, I’ll save trips out of the house to see her for certain investment pieces, instead of visiting for weekly rounds. When structured trousers, elegant sweaters, and even silky tops are machine-washable, there is much less reason to spend that extra money. 

You don’t need an excuse to dress up.

There is a bright joy in taking a moment to make yourself feel special. A red dress you’ve been saving, a structured and elegant blouse, a swoop of eyeliner—these things don’t require a special event in order to be called on. For days when things are grey, I’ve been reaching for a bright yellow dress, putting on lipstick, and pouring myself a glass of wine like someone who is socializing with people outside my family, even though I’m not. There’s something both eccentric and happy about being an object of admiration for yourself. After all, you’re worth dressing up for.

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Sofia Rainaldi

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