Dressing up and staying in: Coronavirus' effect on fashion is more than skin deep

In quarantine, the self-expression of clothing has been somewhat lost to the monotony of sweatpants and T-shirts. For some, they're trying to hold on to their past identity by dressing up.

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

Matthew von Nida lives to get dressed up.

So when he turned 27 in quarantine last month, it wasn’t a question that he’d get dolled up with his roommate to celebrate the big day.

“I dress up a lot in general and it’s not particularly a new thing for this moment in quarantine. I think it’s something that brings more of a sense of normalcy,” von Nida said.

Although he knew he couldn’t leave his Brooklyn home, von Nida dressed as if he were going out on the town. His look consisted of an olive-colored bodysuit from Alice and Olivia paired with leather pants, heels and a matching olive bandana tied neatly around his neck. On his eyes, he wore glimmering ochre eyeshadow.

Matthew von Nida dressing up while working from home. Courtesy of Matthew von Nida

His glamorous outfit was fit for a pre-coronavirus world, but instead of heading to a party, von Nida's roommate organized a prerecorded video surprise party. Von Nida was greeted by about 25 friends and family members who had also dressed up in their chicest outfits, lip-syncing to singer Dua Lipa’s “Levitate.”

“The fact that everybody [got dressed up] for me to celebrate my birthday, outside of going out together, was the best thing I could’ve asked for,” von Nida said.

For people like von Nida, getting dressed every day, despite being stuck inside, is a tether to identity. Pre-coronavirus quarantine, clothing was a big part of his life and one way he expressed himself. So despite being stuck inside, von Nida said his sense of style is something he’s been determined to keep intact.

Mood and clothing are interconnected, according to Carolyn Mair, a behavioral psychologist and the author of “The Psychology of Fashion.”

“Unless we’re naked, our appearance is mainly made up of our clothing. Therefore, clothing is fundamental in how we are perceived. In turn, this affects our sense of self-worth and ultimately, how we see ourselves compared with others, our self-esteem,” Mair said in an email.

And for others, getting dressed and sharing those looks online have been a way to preserve a sense of identity and routine when so much of the world feels like it's spinning out of control.

“[F]eeling of lack of control is one of life’s biggest stressors,” Mair said. “Accepting that there are things we can’t control is helpful and controlling what we can, such as getting dressed, provides a sense of control.”

In quarantine, the self-expression of clothing has been somewhat lost to the monotony of sweatpants and T-shirts. Without being able to go out, with no one to impress and no reason to get dressed up, people who view clothing as a form of their personal identity have struggled with the reality of quarantine.

While Mair said clothing is a key part of self-expression and highly linked to mood, she said some forms of dressing and grooming have fallen by the wayside, occasionally for the better.

“Since lockdown, I’ve noticed many people letting go of their past grooming behaviors (mainly because they’re no longer available) and embracing how they look without fake lashes, hair extensions, nails etc. Many say they feel liberated and may not go back to how they created their look before,” Mair said.

For some, clothing also helps people to transition from work to exercise to leisure, and without having to get dressed up for different parts of the day, time begins to bleed together.

“In order to make sure that my day has some sort of routine to it, I pretty much try to dress like I would if at a moment’s notice I would jump on a subway and go into Manhattan,” said Matt Caldecutt, 42, of Queens, New York, who works in public relations.

For Caldecutt, clothing separates the day into parts. He wakes up, puts on an outfit to go for a jog before coming back home to shower and get dressed up in a button-down shirt, jeans and, although he doesn’t wear shoes in the house, he does keep his socks on.

When work is done, Caldecutt still doesn’t reach for the pajamas. Instead, he changes into a T-shirt and jeans.

“I think it’s important to try and keep as much of your daily ritual intact to basically continue to function and do your job as if something hasn’t really changed even though so much has,” he said.

But dressing up isn’t just about maintaining routine. For people like Liz Maupin, 33, of Los Angeles, getting dressed is an event to look forward to.

Maupin, who said she didn’t often get dolled up in her pre-quarantine life, has begun organizing Zoom videochat dress-up dates with friends, which has given the group a reason to get dressed for one another.

“Usually, in the mornings for work, I wake up too late and I don’t have time [to get dressed up], so the only opportunities I ever give myself to get dressed is when I’m going to a show or a birthday or special events,” Maupin said. “Since none of that exists right now, I’ve given myself time to experiment more with makeup.”

For one of the Zoom meetups, she wore a velvet blue and orange 70s-style dress and paired it with blue and black eyeliner.

“I think it was really fun for other people too, because it kind of provided a nonjudgmental space to try things,” she said.

Amanda Brennan, 34, of New Jersey, has also given herself a reason to get dressed up with her self-decreed “Fancy Fridays.”

Amanda Brennan wears red lipstick as part of her "Fancy Fridays."Courtesy of Amanda Brennan

“In my pre-Covid life, I’m always wearing cat-eye eyeliner, bright lipstick — I love bright lipstick — and really expressing myself through makeup and clothes,” she said. “Since I’ve been in quarantine, I haven’t felt the desire to do that.”

At the start of the quarantine, Brennan found herself leaning heavily on her coping mechanism of exercising and therefore was often wandering her home dressed in her workout clothes.

Knowing she’d have to be on a work-related Zoom call on Fridays, she decided that would be the day where she’d bring back the cat eyeliner, the bright lipstick and as much glitter as she could manage.

“I felt like … I was losing this piece of myself and it was really hard to look in the mirror,” Brennan said. “I do my makeup to express my identity. If I could open up my soul to you, it would be hot pink glitter … it’s been a struggle.”

She decided that she would make it a priority to continue doing her makeup as a way to cope with the challenges she, like many others, have faced with being isolated at home.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

She said that it’s not only helped her to get dressed up and share her selfies on Instagram, but seeing others do the same is also something that both makes her feel good and keeps her motivated to continue sharing her looks.

“I love seeing everyone else’s pictures, too. I’m doing it because it helps me feel put together and gives me something to look forward to … but [it’s helpful] to see people lift each other up and encourage each other to be happy,” Brennan said.

Having a reason to get made up has not only reinvigorated her during a time where there is so little to look forward to, but also grounded her sense of identity.

“It gets me up in the morning,” she said. “I do a lot of things to keep myself grounded, but having this day where I can feel like myself and really tap into this colorful expression has really given me a lot more drive.”