How are people dressing when in lockdown and isolation situations? How is this different to the way they dressed before? Has it affected their sense of self? This project aims to shine a light on those changes and reveal some of the many and varied personal stories relating to fashion and dress in 2020. Today’s interview is with one of the project’s creators, Jana Melkumova-Reynolds. Jana is a lecturer in fashion theory and cultural studies. Before moving to academia she had been a fashion editor for over 15 years.
1) Can you describe what your personal style was like before lockdown?
I mainly wore black, sharp and structured or, on the contrary, oversized and asymmetric pieces, and a lot of statement jewellery. I hardly left the house without jewellery! I have a collection of tailored jackets that I love, and a collection of sharp black dresses. In my daily life as a lecturer I would normally wear these. On days I spent in the British Library I felt less visible and less like a performer, so I wore more knitwear than tailoring. On days I felt more visible and more on stage, I wore boots; on days I felt less visible I wore sneakers. I have also been getting into wearing bright lipstick on my teaching days. I used to jokingly ask my husband when leaving the house in the morning “Do I look like a fashion history professor?” Yes, he would say; yes, you do.
2) How would you describe your style now?
I don’t know if “style” applies to me now! I still wear black and grey because I don’t own any other colours. But I haven’t worn jewellery for weeks, and generally I wear whatever is warm and comfy enough to sit around in for hours without thinking about what I’m wearing. Usually it’s a long jumper and leggings. We have a no-shoes policy in the house so on my feet I wear socks or slippers, which further removes the ‘structure’ from my dress, it feels.
3) What is your daily routine for getting dressed to remain at home? If you don’t have one, why is that?
I don’t have one anymore. Firstly, because my husband, who is sick, is occupying the bedroom where the wardrobe is (I am sleeping in the spare room where there isn’t enough space for a wardrobe, or indeed for a mirror). So, I am effectively cut off from my clothes – not that I don’t enter the bedroom at all, but I almost instinctively try to stay away from it. Secondly, I now feel even more invisible than on days I went to the British Library (much more invisible, in fact, as I almost always ran into at least a couple of people I know in the library!) It feels like I don’t need to negotiate my place in the public space, which is what clothes used to help me to do.
4) Has your approach to fashion and style changed as a result of the current situation?
Yes, tremendously. I’ve pretty much lost all self-perception as soon as I removed myself from public life. I don’t even look at my reflection in shop windows when I go to buy groceries (I have recently left self-isolation for the first time after 2+ weeks). I can’t help wondering if this invisibility is how many people feel as they get older. I have to admit I don’t mind it; in fact, I am surprised at how little I miss my lovingly curated wardrobe full of statement pieces. Invisibility is comfortable.
I haven’t worn jewellery, or tailoring, for weeks. Every Monday and Wednesday morning I do put on (minimal) makeup as these are my teaching days. But it (dash of concealer, mascara and eyebrow mascara) feels incredibly artificial now, and I don’t think I will bother with it after the Easter break. Having said all this, I wonder if I am so lax about dressing up now because there are things that make me into a “social addressor”, as per Ingrid Loschek’s definition (or was it Joanne Eicher?!) I don’t blur my background when I do online seminars or team meetings, and my students and colleagues can see my living room with its (very particular!) pictures, furniture and books. I wonder if they have taken on the functions of ‘fashioning the self’ that my jewellery and tailoring carried out before, so I don’t need to wear my identity on my body anymore?
5) Thinking back through what you have worn since you’ve been staying at home, what has been your favourite item of clothing and why?
I don’t know if I should be publicly admitting to it, but I’ve been wearing a grand total of three jumpers interchangeably, and occasionally even sleeping in them! All of them are my favourite – they’re comfortable, warm and look reasonably presentable on camera (they are black rollnecks, and these are inherently respectable). Underneath them I wear near-identical nondescript Uniqlo Heat Tech tops, which, again, I love because they’re warm and comfy and don’t remind me that I have a body.
If you’d like to take part in the project yourself, you can find all the information you need in the blog post entitled ‘Lockdown Fashion: an exploration of dressing at home in 2020‘ dated 9th April 2020.