Based on the recent reaction to one of his Facebook posts, not many would disagree that Atlanta poet Hank Stewart can hang a suit. On any given day, his look would fray the fashion sense of any top model.
I mention that now because, amid all the wrinkles that COVID-19 has wrought, I received along with the rest of his thousands of other FB friends this missive: “I thought I would get up, workout, get dressed and go work in my home office. I haven’t put on a suit in a few weeks now. I miss my suits lol. I refuse to take more than 3 naps today lol, maybe if I sit at my desk I’ll stay awake lol.”
The women went crazy, responding with fire emojis and a hundred or so other comments. I confessed that not only had I not put on a dress (my absolute favorite staple) in the past month and a half, I hadn’t even bothered to comb my hair.
“I wear a cap,” I admitted.
And so when my fellow fashionista Amanda Hallay reached out days later to tell me about her recent project, “ISOLATION INSPIRATION: 100 Years of ‘At Home’ Fashion,” I just had to share it with you.
Oh, just because I only come out of my pajamas these days to take a walk or make a grocery store run.
Hallay, like my friend Hank, somehow knew I needed inspiration. I’m thinking you might, too.
Surely a century’s worth of work from home – my choice of words, not hers – fashion will be enough to get us to the end of this nasty pandemic.
“Whether isolating alone, with flatmates, or with family, we owe it to ourselves to be our best,” said Hallay, a fashion history professor at Manhattan’s LIM College.
Tip No. 1: If you usually wear makeup, continue to do so and wear scents as in perfume.
“It’s such a boost to the spirits, even if there’s nobody around to smell it,” she said.
Tip No. 2: Fashion extends to lifestyle, and instead of cracking open a beer and boiling up some pasta, why not make yourself a plate of elegant hors d’oeuvres and a fancy craft cocktail?
“You’ll feel that you’re on a date, even if you’re by yourself,” she said.
And tip No. 3: If the present seems dreary and depressing, find comfort in the past; stream glamorous films from the ’30s or empowering movies from World War II.
“It will remind you that we got through awful times before, and if we work together, stay safe, stay home, and stay supportive of each other, we’ll get through this one, too,” she said.
This all came to Hallay while at home, of course, trying to figure out what to wear on yet another day of isolation.
“It suddenly struck me that fashion in the 21st century offers very little choice for stylish yet comfortable clothes to be worn exclusively at home,” she said. “Of course, there are yoga pants, jeans and engineered athleisure wear, but what are we supposed to wear if we never subscribed to those trends, and don’t have any of these garments in our wardrobe?”
As a fashion historian, Hallay was well aware that other than nightwear, there were garments specifically designed to be worn at home, either alone or with guests, so for some “isolation inspiration,” she cracked open her vast collection of fashion history books. She was surprised by how much of what was stylishly worn in living rooms of the past could be duplicated with garments most of us already have in our wardrobes.
“Belt a silky bathrobe and wear it with shoes and a fancy brooch, and it’s essentially the same look as the elegant ’30s housecoat,” she said. “The summer staple of embellished caftan worn with jeweled sandals is a glamorous – yet equally comfortable – equivalent to yoga pants or sweats. Add a pair of statement earrings, and you’re suddenly the star of a Slim Aarons photo! (Aarons was known for photographing socialites and celebrities.) And on it went, a day spent going through my wardrobe and finding isolation outfits that evoked past decades.”
I like the ideas but I’m wondering now how to break out of this rather complacent fashion rut in which I find myself. It’s so bad I panicked when my editor suggested a Zoom meeting this week “to catch up.”
Should I comb my hair? Should I cover my pajamas with my bathrobe? Should I don one of the new dresses I recently purchased online to, ahem, help keep the economy humming? Should I be feeling guilty or some other kinda way?
Is this somehow a sign that deep down I’m just a slob?
“It’s understandably easy to let one’s style slip in these anxious and stressful times,” Hallay said. “I know that I did.”
Isn’t she a sweetheart? Now you know why I love her so.
Once past the first two weeks of isolation, however, Hallay discovered what a cheerful morale boost it was to make a daily effort with her appearance.
Looking through her fashion library, she was reminded of efforts women made throughout the Great Depression, for instance, to maintain a ladylike elegance, and how striking and stylish fashion empowered women during World War II.
“Sartorial self-esteem wasn’t a casualty of either of these social crises,” Hallay said, “and neither should COVID-19” take that away from us.
She’s right, you know. And so is my friend Hank. Guess I’d better get in gear.