How Do You Dress When Nobody's Watching?


September 12, 2020 / Jill Risberg



A reflection on quarantine clothing and the merits of wearing a full outfit each day.


It was another indistinguishable day of online classes, and I was wearing pajama bottoms again. It was fine. None of my classmates even knew, and even if they did, they wouldn’t care. They were probably wearing pajama bottoms too. It wasn’t anything to be ashamed of ⁠— it was merely an adaptation to a new environment. With nowhere to be, no one to see, and an endless parade of bad news, the least we could do was provide ourselves with a comfortable waistband, right?

FaceTime calls with friends only validated that comfort was the new priority. Sweats, Soffe shorts, and PJ bottoms were the kings of quarantine, and almost everyone I knew was loyal to their rule. With, of course, one exception.

Like Harry Potter spared from Voldemort's curse, my friend Kirra appeared unaffected by quarantine and the wave of careless comfort clothing that came with it. As we maintained our friendship through our six-by-three inch phone screens, Kirra’s outfits often included colorful eyeshadows, chunky chains, and silky slip dresses. These looks were nothing new to me. I had witnessed her wearing them at parties, to class, and in the dining halls. However, to see her wearing what she always did despite the lack of an audience was remarkably admirable to me.

Around what could’ve been mid-June or July (I couldn’t tell you the difference), I started to fall back into one of the depressive slumps that the pandemic has subjected all of us to at one point or another. I was imagining the future and twitching at the thought of another semester of Zoom calls, isolation, and apathy when I thought of Kirra.

I pictured myself: rolling out of bed and over to my desk, breathing in bland, conditioned air, and growing paler by the day.

And I pictured Kirra: popping out of the covers, crafting a new outfit, and executing the day with a sense of purpose and joy.

Dramatic, I know. The point is, I realized that my elastic waistbands were yet another obstacle between myself and that sense of normalcy I craved. Maybe there was something to be said about wearing a full outfit, regardless of who saw it.

It is popularly suggested that putting on a full outfit leads to a more productive day. While that alone is an excellent reason to tug on some loose jeans and don a bandana, I don’t think the benefits stop there.

The more you style full outfits, the better you will get at creating looks that are both personal and interesting. Kirra has one of the most nuanced senses of style I’ve seen on a person that is not famous. This is in part due to her natural knack for fashion, but I think a great deal of her ability to craft an outfit comes from practice. By putting together an outfit (or multiple outfits) daily, Kirra has learned what she likes, what looks good on her, and how to pair up the items in her closet in a way that reflects her mood and sense of self.

Moreover, the more often you sport a unique outfit, the easier it will become to feel confident in bold attire. I have witnessed Kirra standing in a packed dining hall sporting a blue mini dress, bright purple eyeshadow, and pink fluffy high heels, looking so comfortable and assured in what she was wearing that not a single person looked at her twice. (Okay, maybe some did, but only out of admiration.)

Needless to say, confident outfit wearing — just like anything else — improves with practice.

Speaking to Kirra personally, she pinpointed that the main reason she crafts outfits each day is to feel like herself. An outfit makes who she is on the inside match who she is on the outside. This advice is especially important during a pandemic. When many of us can’t carry out the activities or be with the people that make us feel like ourselves, the least we can do is dress like ourselves.

Though quarantine may not be the best time to flaunt your most flattering pair of jeans, it does not have to be defined by an endless rinse and repeat line-up of sweats and athletic shorts.

Of course, if sweats and athletic shorts are what make you comfortable and happy during a time that is neither comfortable nor happy, then please do not listen to me. But if you are finding yourself looking wistfully at the majority of your wardrobe remembering sunnier days, it may benefit you to think of quarantine as a time to experiment with and perfect your style. After all, if a good outfit doesn’t make you feel better, your PJ bottoms are just a drawer away. ■






This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!

Graphic By:
Jennifer Jimenez
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