Dressing for a Pandemic

1963. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Smocked dress and white puffy blouse.  Catholic school uniform and Peter Pan collars. Mary Janes and Keds.

1973. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Peasant dress and army jacket. Bellbottoms and macramé belts. High School blazer and saddle shoes.

1983. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Kilted skirts and cardigan sweaters. Padded shoulders and tailored slacks. Designer jeans and tasteful flats.

1993. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Corduroy jumpers and denim overalls. Cotton turtlenecks and colored tights. Birkenstocks and tennis shoes.

2003. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Target basics, Talbot’s suits, and Tom’s shoes. Cotton sweats and running suits.

2020. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Summer dresses and winter dresses. Chuck Converse “All Stars” and Rothy flats.

I have both lost and found myself in my wardrobe. 

Middle child, parochial schoolgirl, head of the class.

Flower child, high school dropout, and rebel without a cause.

Computer programmer, Montessori School teacher, and Del Ray mom.

Half marathoner, storyteller and parish priest.

I have lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

So, in the midst of a pandemic I find myself lost. What do we wear when there is nowhere “to go”?

Washington Post fashion columnist Robin Givhan wrote a great piece: Our Clothes Tell Our Story. What Happens When the Narrative is Just Pajamas and Sweats?”

Staying in pajamas started out fun, right? As if stuck indoors in a major snowstorm – we thought this was just a temporary state of affairs. But as the weeks wear on, what do we wear when we barely venture beyond our living rooms?

Day pajamas? Night pajamas? A series of sweats? And shoes? Do you even bother with shoes?

“We dress to tell a story about ourselves and if there is no one to hear it, we’ve been put on mute.”

Partly this is vanity – and in truth there is nothing wrong with that. But the clothes we choose to climb into each day – tell the tale of our sanity in the midst of this pandemic.

We dress, not to just showoff, but to show others and ourselves what we are worth, our self-worth. I am valuable; I matter; I count.

Donning a business suit or putting on a uniform – be it for the office, the classroom or the packing plant – symbolizes that we belong to something greater than ourselves. Not just my work makes a difference, our work makes a difference. That nametag, building badge, and employee-of-the-month pin – connects us to our coworkers, colleagues, and partners in crime.

Clothes are our calendars, our clocks and our GPS: Pajamas. Work clothes. Dress clothes. Church clothes. Play clothes. Garden clothes. Yoga pants. Jeans and sweats. Clothes help us to create boundaries. They ground us in time and space.

Our clothes are a kind of Morse code, a measure of our mood.

At times, clothing might actually serve as a kind of barometer for our overall mental health. People who are dealing with poor mental health tend not to worry about what they’re wearing, couldn’t care less what they’re wearing, and lose interest in most things including their clothes.”

“Enclothed Cognition,” a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, documents the effect that clothes have on the wearer. 

Philip Eli writes in Vice:

“I was making my way out of a deep depression and I started to fully appreciate the psychological power of my wardrobe. Desperate not to feel worse, [I started] paying attention to how certain things made me feel. I could sense a pleasant mood uplift from little details, like the way the cuff of a sweater aligns with the shirt cuff and the wristwatch underneath… For the first time in thirty plus years, I saw clothing as a kind of magic – wearing a certain combination of garments – I could get a tangible boost of confidence and energy.”

So, what to wear in a pandemic?

May 2020. Open my wardrobe and what do you see? 

Let me model what’s working for me.

Pajamas are for sleeping, munching on toast, drinking lots of coffee and reading the news. Getting lost in a book, vegging out on my couch and binge-watching Sister Wives.

Work clothes are for work.  Not fancy, but functional and a different outfit every day. I “dress for success” going to my dining room office – just the same as I would “dress for success” headed to my Emmanuel office.

Play clothes are for playing — walking, biking, hiking, strolling and stretching (which I definitely am not doing enough of.)

Church clothes are for the Lord’s Day. Still a workday for this parish priest, I put on my Sunday best, take a picture of myself and post it on Facebook! 

Wake up, Emmanuel! Today is the day of the rising sun. Put on your church clothes, fresh pajamas, whatever you like and roll out of bed! Say some prayers and sing some hymns and join me in the Zoom Room for coffee hour at 11:30. I hope to see you there!”

In the midst of sorrow, in the midst of loss, this does my soul a whole lot of good. I hope it does your soul some good too. I love my job more now than ever.

And I am measuring the pandemic in Sunday dresses. As of today, I am coming up on dress #9. 

There is no Covid-19 dress code, of course. But how about giving this a try.

Tonight, lay out your clothes for tomorrow. A ballgown or sweatpants are equally good. Whatever grounds you, connects you, comforts you and supports you. Whatever helps you navigate in a healthy way through your day – wear that and put that on!

— Joani Peacock, May 2020

Mental Health Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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