Around this time last year, I’d made an important decision: I would use my time in shutdown purposefully and it would begin with my wardrobe. I began purging my closet of pieces and trends that no longer fit me, body, mind, or soul.
Back then I thought my revelation was groundbreaking. To quietly eliminate parts of my wardrobe that made me unhappy or self-conscious felt daring, as if forging ahead in only the softest, stretchiest and most comfortable clothes was a radical act. I wasn’t alone: On social media, it seemed like everybody was posting about their new approach to personal style. We may not have been able to leave the house, but we could still take control of our circumstances by removing anything that made us feel lacklustre.
Of course, I was as delusional as I was optimistic. I culled my wardrobe with the unfounded belief that in a few months the pandemic would end and I’d morph into an updated version of myself. I didn’t know how to break up with the part of myself that used clothes as a means of validation. I may have split with bags filled with clothing I didn’t care about anymore, but I still kept what I hoped to mentally and physically fit into again one day. I needed to know I could slip back into my former identities because the uncertainty of the future was just too terrifying.
Not that the past was better. For most of my life, I dressed for the purpose of being seen and I realize now I was playing dress-up. I’d pour myself into overpriced trousers and shirts that never really fit me, and told myself that my style choices were just that: my choice. But clothing had gone from being a source of joy and self-expression to a tool I used to measure my self worth. The clothes were always perfect, it was me who was flawed. By the start of the pandemic, I didn’t know any other way – until I draped myself in fleece and sweatpants.
With nothing but time, we’ve all been forced to take long, hard looks at ourselves and assess what’s been helpful, harmful or a combination of the two. It isn’t easy: To acknowledge your flaws and to begin making tangible changes is nothing short of nightmarish. And it’s made worse with the realization that this process usually means breaking up with the person you were – which can feel awful, regardless of how cruel they may have been to you. (And honestly, even the easiest changes can feel a little bit terrible.)
But where a year ago we were re-organizing ourselves for the purpose of killing time, the second coming of self-improvement starts with putting what you really need at the forefront.
Before we began our (seemingly) permanent shutdown, I started rebuilding my wardrobe at thrift stores and Value Village as I shed the clothing I’d been using as a form of social currency. I picked out what made me feel genuinely happy and stopped looking at sizes (which are inconsistent and arbitrary on their best days), and I only bought pieces that made me feel great inside and out. While reorganizing, I tackled my closet with the ethos that I wanted to emerge from our collective nightmare without the baggage I’d carried with me from outfit to outfit. I knew I had a long way to go in terms of conquering my self-image and self-esteem, but I still felt lighter with every donation bag.
I’d finally begun to acknowledge that what we’ve experienced over the year-plus we’ve been distanced and shut down will never be processed with the reorganization of one’s own jeans; that rebuilding your wardrobe won’t actually rebuild you. But these small acts still symbolize something massive. It’s overwhelming to take stock of your life. It’s heartbreaking to realize that you may not be happy. It’s a lot of work to comb through your past and decide what you want to bring with you when the world opens up again. Self-examination is excruciating. So why wouldn’t we start with the one thing we peer into daily? Why not jettison the slacks in which you can’t eat a full meal? Why not dress for yourself, first and foremost?
Especially since the climate awaiting us seems to be less preoccupied with trends and more of a space in which to happily exist. Not that any of us have to wait: there’s nothing stopping any of us from using our closets and clothes as another way to re-build. For you, that may involve a ball gown. Or maybe, like me, you’re still wrapped up in fleece, thrilled to be comfy on your own terms.
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