Today’s ‘Lockdown Fashion’ interview is with Sarah-Mary Geissler. Sarah-Mary is a Northumberland-based historian and writer working in luxury fashion. Her research into costume, homemade clothing, and communities of dress reflect her background as a maker. While furloughed from work she has joined a nation-wide effort for home sewists to produce scrubs for frontline NHS and care staff; follow her progress on Instagram: @sarahmary.gee.
1) What is your daily routine for getting dressed to remain at home? If you don’t have one, why is that?
Now that time means nothing I’m trying to stick to a routine, and dress quite similarly to how I would dress in normal times – or at least how I’d dress on a weekend. I’ll get up and pop a sports bra on under my loose shorts-and-t-shirt pyjamas to do a Skype workout with my partner. I’ll then hop in the shower, probably not wash my hair, and then choose an outfit to wear from my wardrobe depending on what I’m doing that day. Most often I’m sitting and working, so I’ll opt for high-waisted trousers, a t-shirt tied at the waist or stylishly tucked in, and a cardigan or overshirt to top it off. I always wear underwired bras, they just make me feel like I’ve got my shit together. Once I’m dressed I’ll curl up next to my window to put on my brow pencil, eyeliner and mascara. My hair lives atop my head in a loose bun with a few tendrils hanging down, a messy style I’m quite fond of, so putting it up is the last step of getting ready.
I’ve struggled finding work in the past and have spent long stretches unemployed before. During these extended times being stuck at home and just waiting for anything to happen, my self-confidence would plummet, and when I’m at my lowest mentally my perception of my physical self drops with it. So going into lockdown, I knew how important it was to my own mental health to keep dressing with purpose, like if I stopped bothering with wearing sexy underwear or putting on a simple face of makeup everyday then I’d slowly slip away from myself, and I’d lose my grip on normality.
2) Thinking back through what you have worn since you’ve been staying at home, what has been your favourite item of clothing and why?
Not so much an item of clothing but an accessory. Since I was furloughed from work I’ve been sewing scrubs for the NHS and care home staff everyday. I’ve taken to wearing my thread snips around my neck on a length of scrap fabric for easy access when I’m working. It’s my favourite item for a few reasons; firstly, I love long statement necklaces in my regular style, so the long strip and snips pendant is a comforting weight around my neck. Secondly, I’m someone who needs to be productive and needs to stay busy, and the snips have become like a work lanyard I put on every morning and then take off when I’m done for the day, reminding me that I’ve got a job to do and subconsciously breaking up my work from my spare time too. Lastly, they double as a fiddle toy. The current situation has been difficult to manage with my mental health, so this item is somewhere to displace anxious energy through absent-minded play.
3) What are the social situations you find yourself in now (even if remotely), and how do you dress for them?
My social situations consist of watching tv with my parents, video chats with friends, and cheering for frontline workers on a Thursday; I don’t bother dressing up for these as I’m normally already presentably dressed and made up. On Sundays we have the extended family video chat with the Geisslers, where we’ve worn our matching Geissler University t-shirts for a laugh. I did partake in a social media Frock Up Friday event near the start of lockdown, because I do enjoy looking glam and I had friends sharing their looks too, but I was disturbed by the amount of attention my picture got from straight men rather than celebrated by others who were also dressing up, so the online voyeurism put me off doing that again.
As leaving the house is quite a daunting thing right now, I’ll make sure to wear something a little brighter, or more glam, or glittery. It makes me feel a bit more confident going about the day, and in my small hometown I’ve been told my quirky style makes people happy so hopefully it’s brightening up somebody else’s day too. I’ll also wear perfume when leaving the house and for some video chats just for a personal boost.
4) What’s your shoe situation at home? And how does this affect your sense of self?
I haven’t missed wearing shoes, never really been a shoe person, and haven’t been leaving the house much for my daily walk so at the moment I’ll go days without wearing proper footwear, or even socks. I have two pairs of slippers, both from Tesco’s, that I wear on rotation: a fluffy fuchsia pair of sliders and a fluffy multicoloured leopard print pair that have full foot coverage. It was a funny grocery shopping trip with my partner where I was in a dilemma over which ones to buy, agonising of the merits and shortfalls of each pair, and he just laughed and told me to get both. When I wear them it reminds me of this nice memory. Putting slippers on in the morning gives my outfits a completed feel, but has made me self conscious that wearing them too much might make my feet smell so I’m washing them much more often than I think I’ve ever washed slippers before.
5) How much does the space you are in influence your choice of clothes? Do some clothes feel “unnatural” to wear at home because they require, say, a bigger space, or is this not a consideration at all?
I like to look fairly put together, but I haven’t been wearing certain favourites like buttoned up shirts and high waisted mini skirts during lockdown. The reasons are quite activity based, as my current normal is sitting at my sewing machine, leaning over a desk, or curled up in front of the tv so my outfit needs to be comfortable, spacious, or stretchy. I’d be constantly fidgeting with my tighter shirts if I wore one when I’m hunched over, while if I wore one of my minis then it would just be riding up and twisting every time I sat down. In fact, skirts and dresses in general I’ve avoided since lockdown. I also haven’t been wearing socks or tights, they just feel weird to me around the house.
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.