Tongue in Chic: Playing dress-up provides a sense of normalcy amidst COVID-19

(Tiffany Kao | Daily Trojan)

When I packed up and went home for spring break, I mostly gathered my comfiest loungewear — big sweaters, worn-in T-shirts and ratty sweatpants. With my original Walt Disney World plans thwarted, I anticipated spending a week vegging out at home before returning to campus to resume life as normal. 

But, as I’m sure we’re all aware by now, things did not return to normal, nor will they for quite some time. As each day brought a new wave of sweeping changes, as USC shifted to exclusively online classes and postponed an in-person graduation, as cities tightened their travel restrictions and as nonessential businesses shut down, there were fewer and fewer reasons for me to go back. So I haven’t. 

Overall, I’m very lucky. I don’t have the virus and neither do any of my friends or family. Our secluded suburban neighborhood allows me to go for fortifying strolls whenever I want. Plus, my dad had the foresight to stock up with two big bags of King Arthur flour, so I can bake as much bread as my heart desires. As far as social distancing goes, my situation is about as good as it can get.  

Yet I can’t help but mourn my tiny USC apartment. My life would be indubitably worse if I were holed up there — at the very least, I would be subsisting on Bagel Bites and instant macaroni rather than home-cooked meals. But still, I miss it. I miss the wall outside my bedroom window that blots out the sunlight, the finicky gas stove that requires a match to light, the strangely sloped floor that causes my rolling chair to slide. But most of all, I miss my clothes. At this point, my apartment is just a glorified storage unit. 

In the past few weeks, my wardrobe has consisted only of the stuff I brought back with me for spring break. Sometimes I’ll put on old hoodies from high school declaring my membership in the school paper and Academic Decathlon. When I’m feeling really fancy, I might even borrow my mom’s silk pajama pants, paired with woolly socks and an oversized cardigan. 

To be honest, even if I did have my full wardrobe with me, I probably wouldn’t touch half of it. With nowhere to go and no one to impress, there’s simply no point. Why would I pour myself into skintight jeans just to sit at my desk for five hours straight?   

Before all this, getting up and getting dressed was the best part of my day. But I’m now realizing it’s not about the clothes themselves. It’s about the act of dressing up. I miss the task of perusing my closet and carefully curating an outfit based on the day’s agenda. I miss drawing on eyeliner and spritzing on perfume. I miss the feeling of having places to go and people to see. 

One of my favorite journalists, Rachel Syme of The New Yorker, started a hashtag on Twitter: #distancebutmakeitfashion. Every weekend, people post pictures of themselves sporting their Sunday best, for no reason other than to have a reason to dress up. So on Sunday, I got up at a normal hour. I washed my face and brushed my hair. I applied makeup, then put on my favorite overalls that I brought home with me but haven’t touched once.

And you know what? I felt better. More confident. More like myself, and less like a lazy oversized grub growing pale and plump in my moldy grotto.  

I’ll probably have to go back to my apartment soon just to start cleaning up and moving out. There’s no way I’m going to start wearing structured trousers every day, but I’ll be glad to bring back some clothes that can make these wild times seem a little more normal, a little more bearable. I hope you, too, have something that gives you that sense as well.   

Kitty Guo is a senior writing about fashion. Her column, “Tongue in Chic,” typically runs every other Monday.