Why Getting Dressed During the Pandemic Still Feels Essential For This Working Mom
On a typical work day, I'd likely change clothes four or five times. I'd try on at least two outfits before deciding on the one I'd wear to the office, come home later and immediately switch into my "at-home clothes," and make a change later in the evening if my itinerary required, say, dinner with my husband or book club at a friend's house. Each occasion was an opportunity to comb through my closet and decide how I wanted to present myself to the world, to my coworkers, and, as it turns out, most importantly, to myself.
The last time I wore sweatpants and pajamas on end was during my five-month maternity leave, and the daily practice of wearing them now, trapped in my apartment, is bringing it all back. Yes, I was privileged to take five months with my baby girl, but as many new moms can relate, the time can also be anxiety-inducing and isolating. Most days early on, I felt nothing like my former self. My closet represented clothes for another time, another body, and almost another woman entirely. I didn't know that person who loved fashion or relished in creating new looks. Staying in my breast-milk-stained pajamas for days was the manifestation of that. I had gone from a woman obsessed with fashion and clothes to one who barely remembered to change her nursing bra.
The last time I wore sweatpants and pajamas on end was during my five-month maternity leave, and the daily practice of wearing them now, trapped in my apartment, is bringing it all back.
Finding a way back to myself in my new mom life came slowly, but gradually the joy in dressing was there again. First, it was finding a reason to change at all; even buying new leggings for a stroll around the block with the baby (an occasion!) became something to look forward to. Then, it was making time for small social activities, rejoining my monthly book club or heading to drinks. For each of these things, I again looked forward to an item of clothing or an accessory to wear — sometimes just swapping a pair of shoes I loved to dress up my lounge pants. The biggest change came when I went back to work.
Like so many mothers, my emotions regularly ran the gamut from excited to overwhelmingly anxious at the thought of leaving my baby as I prepared for my first day back at the office. The thing that started to feel particularly thrilling was the thought of getting dressed again — getting dressed for myself. I didn't have to think about what the baby might stain with spit-up or a blowout, or what practical footwear and fabrics would make the most sense while walking around the neighborhood or playing on the floor all day. I could wear anything. And I did. I had fun with clothes again — and shoes, oh the joys of wearing pretty shoes! Getting dressed each morning and getting out of the house helped to give me a sense of purpose. There was clear delineation between my mom life at home and my life as a working woman with a job I love. I could, once again, decide how I wanted to present myself to the world. I felt like I was on my way back to myself every time I reached in my closet and let my mood dress me.
When California issued its shelter-in-place directive over two weeks ago, I retreated to my sweatpants and sweatshirts, my coziest comfort clothes — and I didn't want to change. For the first few days, I clung to them like a security blanket. Maybe if we just hide out and wish it away, I thought. But the reality is that in the span of these weeks, things across the country and around the world are escalating and it feels like there's no end to it, that the weeks are stretched out in front of me in a never-ending space-time continuum (what day is it again?). When I stopped getting dressed for the office, and then, frankly, just stopped changing clothes entirely, I felt a lot like I did in my early days of postbaby life, like I was mourning a lost part of myself. This time the losses — like control, routine, and freedom — feel heavier.
When I stopped changing clothes entirely, I felt a lot like I did in my early days of postbaby life, like I was mourning a lost part of myself. This time the losses are similar — control, routine, freedom — but feel heavier.
For people who love fashion, style isn't frivolous, it's actually fundamental. It's helped me navigate a way back to myself or find new ways to express evolving parts of myself through some of the most challenging times in my life. I've discovered through breakups, cross-country moves, and a difficult pregnancy that something as routine as getting dressed for the day can offer something dependable to look forward to, some semblance of hope, and some small way to communicate to the world (regardless of who is watching), this is me. Not "mom" me, just me.
Now that the days are all starting to look the same again, that I'm experiencing my own Groundhog Day when my toddler calls from her crib in the morning and another day not so unlike the day before it it begins, I need things and outfits to look forward to. (Don't we all?!) It's not selfish; it's self-preservation. It's a way to dig into and allow me to be who I am, even when all the other things are stripped away. So, like I did for the many months that I was homebound with my baby, I will sit on the floor and play with my daughter, with not much planned beyond that — and working at home — for the foreseeable future. This time, however, I will get dressed in something other than the pajamas I wore the night before to do it.