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During lockdown, why dress up?

Marielle Segarra Apr 30, 2020
Loungewear will do just fine while you're working at home. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

During lockdown, why dress up?

Marielle Segarra Apr 30, 2020
Loungewear will do just fine while you're working at home. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The other day, on her weekly shopping trip to Costco, Christy Ruiz wore an oversize T-shirt, leggings and fuzzy slippers.

Yeah, slippers. Outside of the house.

“It didn’t even dawn on me to not wear my slippers,” she said.

Ruiz lives in Orange County, California, with her husband and their two kids. 

“My husband is the kind of man who notices things like that,” she said. “And normally he probably would have sent out some sly comment like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna wear those? Like, that’s a bold statement.’ Nope, he didn’t even notice either. He was like, ‘Whatever.’ ”

Ruiz, who’s a middle-school teacher, has not been buying clothes since this whole thing started. She doesn’t want to spend the money, but she’s also kind of like, what’s the point?

Christy Ruiz with her son, James, and daughter, Charlotte. (Courtesy of Christy Ruiz)

“In my normal, non-coronavirus-quarantine life, I’m leaving the house five days a week, I’m going out, and so yeah, I’m putting on makeup and I’m making myself look cute and whatnot. But it is different now,” she said.

There’s nowhere to go and no one to see.

Sales at clothing retailers dropped by 50% in March. This is one reason.

When I talked to Chris Albu, a tech company executive in Chicago, he was supposed to be in Hawaii on vacation with his wife, Krissa, and their 11-year-old son, Teddy, who has a habit of growing out of his swimsuits.

“We were going to have to buy him a couple new suits,” Albu said. “All of us would need new gear for a new trip and gotta look good at night, and finally, an appropriate setting for a Hawaiian shirt too.”

With everything on lockdown, they’ve bought no Hawaiian shirts or swimsuits. Or Easter outfits. Or new button-downs for Albu to wear to the office. He’s been wearing the same thing, day after day.

Chris Albu in his “uniform.” (Courtesy of Chris Albu)

“My wife’s actually dubbed it my ‘uniform.’ You know, black sweats and a great gray sweatshirt.”

It’s something a lot of us take as a given. You get dressed in the morning. You try to look good. Why? Because you have an audience.

Robyn Murphy lives in Willington, Connecticut, and teaches at a community college.

“I always wore business slacks. I would often wear a suit jacket with it,” she said. “I would never wear, you know, anything more dressed-down, because we have to be perceived as this authority figure.”

Now that she’s doing audio-only lectures, she wears her pajamas all day. She admits that it can be kind of depressing. 

Because what you wear — whether it’s a suit or a fancy dress or sweatpants — can put you in a certain mindset. 

“Clothing does make you feel things,” said Denise Green, a fashion anthropologist at Cornell University. “Clothing can change your mood. It has dramatic psychological impact.”

Every night since the lockdown, she and her partner, Joan, have been getting dressed up for dinner. She’ll put on a vintage cocktail dress. Joan will wear a button-down shirt and trousers. They make it an event — like they’re going on a date.

Denise Green and her partner, Joan, in their formal wear. (Courtesy of Denise Green)

She says life feels surreal right now. There’s no routine. 

“And part of helping me to develop routine, and essentially a kind of coping mechanism for dealing with the uncertainty that we’re experiencing right now, is getting dressed every day,” Green said.

It seems like some clothing companies understand the psychology at play here. I’ve been getting promotional emails from LOFT telling me to “treat myself” and from Target advertising its “mood-boosting” graphic T-shirts.

Of course, you don’t have to buy new clothes to get dressed. You can just grab something from your closet. 

Maybe not the pajamas, though.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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