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, Lori Smith. Lori is an independent fashion history researcher with a specific interest in twentieth century underwear and textiles. She lives in south east London, UK, and would really love to have access to a garden or a balcony right now.
1) What were the social situations that you routinely found yourself in before the quarantine? And how did you dress for them?
I have a full time office job at a university and, although there is no dress code, I like to make an effort as getting dressed is a part of my morning routine that I really enjoy. My personal style is very important to me and so most people see the same outfits – I don’t change into something more ‘dressed up’ to meet friends after work, as I’m already quite dressed up by some people’s standards! – except for when I’m going to an event that has a different dress code (e.g. weddings, cabaret shows, fancy dress parties etc). The situations I found myself in most regularly were: commute, office, pub, restaurant, museum. The only way I would dress differently would be my footwear, which would depend on the amount of walking or standing that particular day would entail.
2) What are the social situations you find yourself in now (even if remotely), and how do you dress for them?
Now I am at home all day in a small flat with my husband, but have plenty of social interactions online. For work, I have regular video meetings on Teams (plus some purely social catch-ups with colleagues, to replace the office chatter while we made a cup of tea), and we’ve even had a leaving do on Zoom where everyone had to wear a hat – definitely made it feel more like a party than a meeting! I have also got into the habit of having daily video calls with friends, in the early evening, and I now view social media as more of a ‘social situation’ than it was before lockdown. Twitter has become much more chatty than it was at the start of March, with people getting into conversations like they did a decade ago (rather than just using it as a broadcast medium), and I’ve seen some very different discussions about clothing.
To begin with, I dressed exactly the same as I’ve always done, selecting colourful outfits in the morning to cheer my mood. My first two weeks of working from home saw me post weekly round-ups of my outfit selfies on Instagram (as I have been doing for the last 2 years), and my routine was unchanged. I had a realisation before the start of week 3 though, that a) I now don’t need to restrict my outfits to what is comfortable to walk around central London in, b) dressing up brings me a lot of joy, and c) I’m in the same building as my wardrobe for the entire day! So I decided to spend that week dressing ‘fancy’. I wore dresses that had previously been worn to Christmas parties, graduation, big birthday parties, and even my own wedding – posting photos on Instagram and Twitter daily, rather than waiting for the end of the week to do a summary. Not only did it bring me joy, but it brought a lot of other people joy too.
3) What’s your shoe situation at home? And how does this affect your sense of self?
I don’t wear shoes around the house but I do put a pair on for my outfit selfies, just to complete the look. Interestingly, I’m not really bothered about not wearing shoes at the moment, but I guess that’s because I’m so dressed up with the rest of my outfit that I still feel ‘put together’ without footwear. When I wore my wedding dress, I did wear a pair of leather ballet flats around the house though (clean – I checked!).
4) Is there anything you feel you can wear now that you couldn’t in ‘normal’ times? Why? And is there anything you miss wearing (and why do you not wear it)?
I’ve definitely found myself wearing a few things that I wouldn’t usually – e.g. dresses that are so long that they are impractical for commuting in central London, and things that are usually ‘too fancy’ for work – and think I’ll be doing more of that in the coming weeks, as it lifted my mood so much. The only thing I miss wearing is my lovely lace up winter boots. They’re not suitable for daily exercise and are not something I’d wear around the house, so they won’t now see the light of day until the end of the year (hopefully we’ll be allowed back outside by then!).
5) Has your self-perception changed in isolation? How so?
No, because I’ve made a conscious effort to not let that happen. I have been setting my alarm for a regular time on weekdays, so that I can be at my new desk (the dining room table) dressed and ready to start work at 9am. Following the same routine, albeit without the tiring commute, has meant that getting dressed and putting on make up still plays a big part in my morning and helps me get set up for the day. Nice clothes bring me so much joy that not bothering with them would inevitably have a negative effect on my mental health within a very short space of time. I completely understand the variety of reasons why some people have taken to a more relaxed form of dressing at the moment (or not getting dressed at all), but the lockdown has shown me that I really do dress for myself and would probably still wear everything in my wardrobe even if no one else got to see it.
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.