Originally featured on allbrightcollective.com by:
Illustration by Jordan Amy Lee
Fashion hasn’t been top of our minds this past year, but Jennifer Barton managed to find that dressing up daily could be a constant joy in her life, despite the chaos.
One day last March, with the UK's first lockdown looming, I put on a slick of hot pink lipstick. It was a panic-splurge from Hermès – I don’t even wear makeup most days – but I was feeling stressed about losing freelance work in the months to come and needed a pick-me-up.
The effect of the lipstick was instant. I went from sluggish to energised. Now I needed an outfit to show off my newfound exuberance. I started rummaging in my wardrobe and discovered it was packed with colour, prints and life, pieces I’d once loved that had mostly sat neglected for months (OK, years) in favour of my daily, easy uniform of jeans, a T-shirt and a leather jacket.
I chose a watermelon print skirt (it complemented the lipstick beautifully), a button-down cardi and glittery flats… and I walked the entire 12 feet from my bedroom to my desk to start work for the day. I felt different already. Confident and happy, I wanted to put something positive of myself out into the world.
Since then, I've been dressing up daily, wearing smart clothes as I’ve maintained professionalism, fretted with anxiety, sobbed with grief and enjoyed happier moments. Dressing up is just what I do now.
Sometimes, I make a game of it: I’ll pretend I’m a 1950s-era prom-goer in a full circle dress with a Wedgwood china pattern. I was too shy to wear this dress in public before the pandemic; now I find I sit a bit taller, a hint of a smile playing on my face as phone interviews – normally a major stressor for me – fly by with ease.
I’ve been inspired to clear out my cellar, packed full with boxes of my late mother’s clothes. It’s an emotional journey I’ve been dreading, which is why I’ve avoided it for the past 15 years. Now, channelling my late mother in one of her incredible designer vintage outfits, helps me feel connected to her again.
I’ve started pushing myself career-wise, vying for new work and opportunities. I’m fighting the imposter syndrome that has plagued me for years. I’m even smiling more, despite the strains and immense pain of the past several months.
And yes, I think that my clothes have a lot to do with it.
I’m not alone. From science to social media, there’s plenty of evidence that dressing up can be transformative and fun: in lockdown one, Lucy Walsh, founder of The Brand Ambassadors Agency in London, started the weekly #dressupfriday.
“What’s important about getting dressed up is being able to peacock and show off your outfit. Most women dress up for other women,” Walsh says.
“Doing this created a slice of normality – it was one of the things that I could control. Women told me it gave them something to look forward to, and many actually made friends with people, almost like old-fashioned pen pals, finding each other through their love of fashion.”
As we’ve gone in and out of lockdowns, the movement has grown, with over 40,000 posts on Instagram. Everyone from influencers to everyday folk in search of escapism while home has been sharing their lockdown looks.
Before the #dressupfriday idea came to her, Walsh noticed that wearing workout gear daily was affecting her own mental health.
“I tend to find that if I don’t get dressed up it affects my productivity and my mental attitude towards work. I have to set myself targets, I’m so much more easily distracted. Dressing up is like a switch that clicks in my brain,” she explains.
We know that how we present ourselves can affect how others perceive us, and the link between fashion and how we’re feeling is nothing new. There’s plenty of research to back up my anecdotal “dressing up for work at home” experiment.
In 2012, Northwestern University scientists Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky coined the term “enclothed cognition” to describe how clothes can affect a wearer’s psychology, especially when an item has a symbolic association – their experiment found that when people wore a lab coat they were more attentive, especially when the lab coat was described as a doctor’s coat (as opposed to a painter’s coat).
The University of Hertfordshire’s Professor Karen Pine, a psychologist and author, has done extensive work on clothing’s transformative power. One fun discovery? When her students put on a Superman T-shirt, they felt physically stronger.
Many who found themselves working from home while homeschooling or looking after toddlers used fashion to keep themselves upbeat through the pandemic, like jewellery designer Liz Kaye, of Poesy NYC, who feels getting dressed up is crucial to her ability to work and create.
“Getting dressed in the morning helps me set the tone for a creative day and gives my son a well-needed sense of normalcy and self. We show up for the day,” she says.
It’s a sentiment shared by New Yorker Allyson Moore, who runs The Curated Eye NRNY, which sells vintage and one-off pieces on Etsy.
“Dressing up is for yourself. I never wore sweats and I wasn’t going to let this pandemic take away the joy and art of dressing up even if I was only moving from upstairs to downstairs or from the living room to the kitchen,” she says.
“I even dressed up sitting next to my son who was in second grade, when school hadn’t quite figured out remote learning. I thought of it as respecting myself and the moment.”
Towards the end of London’s second lockdown, I put on a hot pink lamé Batsheva dress which pleasingly resembles a Quality Street wrapper for the school run, and went for a walk with another working mum friend. She’d worn sequins for the occasion, because, why not? Friends of ours were waving and shouting to us from across the road, giggling and smiling.
I wrote an article that morning while my youngest was in nursery, and then spent the afternoon snuggled up reading with her. That day sticks out in my mind because I remember thinking about why we save clothes for “best” – and what that really means.
My happiest moments aren’t the ones when I’m dressed up at parties, making small talk with strangers. I get fulfilment from my work, my friendships, my family, yet I never used to dress in a way that celebrated or reflected that. Now I see what I was missing. Try it out – I’d love to know what you think.