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In the days before New York issued the stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19, I received my spring wardrobe in the mail. These were the few pieces that I had selected and paid for months prior with the idea that they would form the sartorial framework of my life for mid-2020 and beyond. I had high hopes for these items and for the adventures we would get up to together. Call it wacky, call it overdetermined, but I see fashion as both utilitarian and fantastical: something that gets me through the day while also providing a magic carpet ride.
I don’t think I am alone in this. We all make our style purchases with tender emotion and expectations, invest our frocks and jeans and T-shirts with a pocketful of dreams. The jacket that will seal the deal, the caftan for the perfect getaway. When you buy new running shoes, don’t you see yourself...running?
I had envisioned myself wearing this: a strapless taffeta dress from Molly Goddard with a billowy, tulip-shaped skirt; the most elegant white silk T-shirt and satin-and-horsehair skirt by Zanini, all massive proportions and luxurious fabrics; and a crisp raincoat, also by Zanini, cut full to give it slouch without schlump. I had imagined chic dinner dates in my Goddard, that perfect high strapless line so lovely for the table. The white ensemble was an ingenious solve for the Met Gala, the theme for 2020 being timelessness in fashion: What is more timeless than a white T-shirt, even one scaled to house Mother Ginger and all her charges? And the raincoat? That was for dashing to meetings in inclement weather, a vision of industrious glamour. The best laid plans. These items have hung in my closet ever since, loved (for sure) but unworn: no dinner dates, no Met Gala, no meetings that involve anything more than the kitchen table and solid Wi-Fi.
Instead my early pandemic wardrobe resembled a version of what I would imagine many of us wore while we stayed home, a little downbeat (faded jeans, sweatshirts), a touch sporty (track pants), a smidgen Zoom-worthy (crisp blue oxfords). I have heard that online sales were up for fabulous tops and jewelry, new essentials for FaceTime courting. Not for me that trend, but I admire the pure optimism and ingenuity that has created a new normal out of wearing, say, a Johanna Ortiz ruffled bustier up top and saggy boxers below. Bare feet, boy shorts, and fully beaded Saint Laurent? Why not? Online dating in the midst of a world health crisis is a hopeful business. Why not dress like a child’s match-it-or-clash- it card game?
By late spring my new normal involved a loose, high-water pant and a short- sleeved, button-front men’s shirt. I wore Tevas and metallic FitFlops, and sometimes paired my dorky sandals with tube socks to cover non-pedicured toes. It wasn’t obvious to me at first, but I came to realize that I was dressing exactly like my memories of my father, a man whose personal style had been cemented in the early 1960s and never wavered. I even took to wearing a T-shirt under my button- downs, a habit of his that had caused me such embarrassment in the 1970s when other “cool” dads were living loose, without visible underpinnings.
There is a tendency to think that when we “slob out,” when no one is watching or judging, there is little going on except comfort, convenience, necessity. Not so. All of our choices are meaningful, and I would argue that the ones we make in private bring us closer to ourselves. I did not consciously set out to dress like my dad, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense: I spent my childhood watching him steer our family through highly precarious times. His demeanor throughout was one of unfussy modesty, a person fiercely committed to humanity, and to disarmament, almost oblivious to vanity. Who better to guide me this summer?
And who or what informed your choices? If you spent months wearing only yoga pants and a funny T-shirt, ask yourself: Why those yoga pants? Why that T-shirt? Why and how did they comfort you, or calm your anxieties, through these extraordinary times?
As I write, New York is emerging from its tragic slumber. There can be meetings and dinners, if not (yet) charity balls. I don’t know exactly who I want to be in this moment, but I want to retain a bit of the person that emerged while I was away from the public eye. There aren’t going to be big evenings for some time, and probably not many large dinner parties to preside over either, so my many long dresses will need to be recycled, upcycled, or cycled out. As for the Goddard, I hope to debut it barefoot, in my apartment, cooking dinner for some-one special. It’s too precious and too bare to be seen first at lunch alfresco, except perhaps on the Amalfi Coast in a post-mask era. It demands romance. And as for the snowy Zanini ensemble? I hope that sometime soon I will be able to fly to London and once again walk through an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, taking up lots of space in horsehair, satin, and silk—not the Met Gala, but special and glamorous nonetheless.