Starched Pants for the Soul Illustration

(Eleanor Klock/Emerald)

For many of us, our social image since the beginning of the pandemic has been limited to an 11-by-8-inch box. Under COVID-19 closures and gathering restrictions, the practice of changing into “real” clothes was eliminated from countless daily routines. At first, wearing pajama pants during work hours was a luxury; bare skin could finally breathe without a regular layer of concealer.

Ten months later, I fantasize about the scrunching sound that stiff trousers would make when I squatted to tie my shoe. In the throes of my night terrors, I follow the glint of my E.L.F. Cosmetics plumping lip gloss back to daylight. In my waking life, I am reduced to a floating head on a screen. 

Compromised ability dress is both a relief and an affliction. Considering the state of the world, it can be comforting to wear the same sweats you slept in for class. However, wearing clothing solely for function has especially impacted those who consider fashion to be an extension of themselves.

Fashion, for many, is a way to reflect an unseen identity or manifest a new persona. During pre-pandemic finals weeks, I wore my nicest coat and shoes in hopes that my test scores would reflect my appearance. I often used the routine of getting dressed as a means to become the person I wanted to be, even if I felt incomplete. Braiding my hair, buckling a belt or buttoning a blazer somehow solidified my existence in the world.

Third-year UO student Nate Strong says that while getting dressed during the pandemic has been more comfortable, there is less room for gender expression through fashion. 

“I think the ritual of getting ready in the morning was sort of dipping my toe into the water of fighting the binary,” says Strong.

Without physical classes to attend, many students’ ability to explore themselves through clothing is limited. Strong said that, for them, attending online school from their hometown can be restrictive in terms of practising visible gender expression.

“I think it does put me in a box,” Strong said. “However, I combat that. I do my makeup almost every day.”

While regularly posting outfits on Instagram is certainly an option, people like Strong have found other outlets to actualize their identity during the pandemic. 

The lack of jeans and dresses does not necessarily equate to a lack of wholeness. Self-care has been highlighted across popular media outlets, as well as the University of Oregon Counseling Center, as a tool to cope with our new way of life. Here are a few ways you can utilize self-care if your getting-ready routine was compromised while stuck at home.

Routine can be found outside of the closet. If getting dressed is not an option, try focusing on a daily skincare routine or reading a little bit each morning. Using the same premise as laying out your clothes the night before, give yourself visual reminders by setting these items on a nightstand or desk. Creating regularity with a small task provides a sense of accomplishment early in the day.

Though the creative satisfaction of a complete fit is limited to grocery trips and checking the mail, the pandemic has caused students to get crafty. 2020 saw a 63% increase in searches for arts, crafts and design; the scantily-filled art supply shelves at The Duck Store serve as proof. If clothing served as a creative outlet, consider taking up a new art project or hobby. Platforms like TikTok and Pinterest hold plenty of inspiration, from polymer clay earrings to do-it-yourself spiral candlesticks. If you’re taking the edible route, Instagram is laden with elaborate vintage cakes and beautifully latticed pies to attempt.

For those who need to get dressed for any semblance of structure, give yourself at least one errand to dress up for. This could be going for a walk or attending virtual office hours. Sometimes, pants are the only way to get the day started. If jeans feel too rigid, a loose pair of slacks or chinos might be a more comfortable option. Fancy nightgowns and collared pajama sets provide flair without constriction. There are no rules for full-body professionalism in a pandemic, so any mix of formal and casual is perfectly acceptable.

Regardless of attire, taking time for your well-being is crucial amidst a lack of environmental control. If you decide to put on a complete ensemble, don’t forget to commemorate with a selfie.