Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal asked those who opted in for our “From Afar” series to submit a work (written or visual) exploring what fashion means, if anything, when no one is looking. Here are a few of the submissions we loved:
Lady Monique Rodriguez, @moniqie_rdz
Photographer from Austin, TX
"For me, I’ve found fashion largely a concept to be shared with others, albeit strangers, friends, or lovers. So putting us in isolation has definitely moved the idea of fashion around as far as input, but I wouldn’t say importance. With the hours spent admiring garments and other pretty things online, fashion can be a form of escapism right now, and also a thing to look forward to. So while most of my attire has changed from that of my aesthetic to a priority of comfort, I have continued fashionable details only for myself. I have my satin scrunchie I wear at night, and a velvet one I wear during the day. And although it makes little difference which is adorning my hair at whatever given hour, to me, for some inexplicable reason, it matters. It makes me feel beautiful, and feminine."
"Fashion in the time of coronavirus. Let’s be honest - in a time of fear, comfort is a good counter. I’ve worn a uniform to work for years, so this time of teleworking has been a chance to embrace fleece, cotton, linen...is what it looks like important? Or, are all bets off when we’re alone, free to embrace the inner crazy cat lady? That might have won out at first, I admit, but then a deeper need to find order and beauty amid chaos took hold. Who do we preen and pretty for in the first place? If not for ourselves first, the outward manifestation is moot. So, thanks to Victorian nightgowns and daytime shifts of creative color and comfort to accompany self-care."
Lien Barboza, @goldenlotus
In the comfort of my home, my sanctuary,
I don my best sweats and p-jammies.
The gentle fabrics and untethered waistbands
saved for my eyes only.
For the physical comfort,
makes me feel less lonely.
Hair, let loose and frizzy and free.
Axillas, legs unshaved, this is new for me.
So I’ll wear the same thing I did the day before,
Because none of it matters to me anymore.
You can keep your makeup, and shoes, and Sunday best,
For me this quarantine is a time of rest.
To heal my mind and heart,
And search for the pieces of me
from which I have parted.
This wild woman has been set free,
From the cages of society."
"To me, fashion is the way we express to other people without even talking and therefore, the way others get their first impression of us.
During these days of isolation, I’ve been been thinking a lot about this. I'm used to take my time to dress up when I go out, but this last month I’ve been using a pajamas all day. As I’m living now in a very tiny place without mirrors, fashion has lost its sense here, given that no one can see me. In this little apartment, fashion does not exist anymore. My whole time now is getting spent on me: thinking about the past and my relationships with the people I love.
I discovered during my isolation that, as much as I love to dress up, make up and feel “myself” in society, I’m also appreciating this time for myself, like if I was taking a little break from all that."
Rosalind Lilly, @rosie.lilly.misc
"In Quarantine, I like many have struggled at times to feel good about myself. As I hermit-lounge more, clothing becomes about comfort. I'm pretty much the only person who witnesses myself, so any extra self-appreciation I can muster goes a long way. The world outside is scary, though rewarding, and requires extra equipment: a mask, gloves, a scarf, hand sanitizer. But I have gotten a boost from putting on make up, earrings, a nice dress and cute coat, a ribbon in my hair. Although it's hard not to feel the thrill of a nice outfit diminish as I don my mask. My roommate Julia recently encouraged such outfits for a walk in our favorite spot, Greenwood Cemetery, on Easter Sunday."
Photo by Julia Barrett Mitchell @juliabarrettmitchell, mask in hand.
India Blue, @manifaestations
Justine Trickett, @feral.elders
"I wanted to share the quarantine outfit that has brought me the most joy. It is not one which I have personally worn, nor is it an outfit which seemed put together to bring such joy, or even put together at all.
The woman wearing the outfit was making a delivery to a house on my street. She wore a blue vest top with some sort of vague pattern, made out of the kind of fabric that, no matter how hard you try, will always cling where you don’t want it to. It was also around a size too small. Her trousers were slouchy and dark, her hair was pulled back tightly into a plaited ponytail of no particular style other than functional, and on her face she wore black wraparound sunglasses and a blue surgical mask. The sound of her steps suggested flip flops.
Now picture that it is a warm and gloriously sunny day, the birds are singing and her delivery is of freshly cut flowers to a relative. And while doing this she has left her car running in the street, which is playing the most cheerful, lighthearted country music. I couldn’t help but smile at the contrast. The outfit said: caution, comfort, functionality. Yet her actions were of cheer, optimism and beauty. I started to get more of a sense of her than from her outfit alone and wondered if her top had not been chosen this morning for a perfect cut or gorgeous fabric but perhaps simply because that colour blue brings her joy.
The situation made me think of how our environment - physical and social - affects how outfits are perceived. I am often led by mood and my outfits tend to reflect this. In quarantine times there has been something deeply satisfying, even joyful, about a functional outfit which gives myself extra protection from the potential transmission of the virus. I have greatly enjoyed a bobble hat with bands of bright colour, worn to keep my hair away from my face, with the joy in wearing it increased by its functionality.
When it comes to whether we should care about fashion when no one else is around to see us, I think my answer is that this will bring joy to some people, and therefore yes. It may even be an unexpected, unintentional joy brought about by the surrounding mood, either by way of contrast or alignment. For the lady I saw this morning it may have been the colour blue bringing her joy. And as for myself, the joy this week has been in wearing canvas shoes without socks as the weather warms."
"Fashion is power. I call this look 'Social Distancing High Priestess.' "
Devon Rawlings, @satinitas
On the Importance of Fashion in the Context of Global Quarantine
"When I wonder whether the importance of fashion depends on the company we keep or if its effect is just as potent as when we are alone, my mind quickly reaches a fork in the path and poses another question: what is the initial memory that sparks one's relationship to fashion? For myself, I bet I was only about 4 years old when I remember the notable effect clothing could have on a personal level, the potency of which depended on no other's company but my own. The way a plastic tiara or a floor-dragging dress made my child self feel was remarkable. Then I would have said a garment made me feel like a princess; today I would elaborate on this feeling by linking the heightened sense of self to the perceived power that objects of significance hold (such as crowns, capes, fangs, and chalices and other icons, each symbolic for their own storied archetypes), claiming this power is one I think humans begin to comprehend from a very young age. Fast forward through the teenage years of seeking validation and mistaking male attention as the most prodigious reward for artistic expression and we land in the modern day, and I know the true reward for artistic expression is self-actualization. That is to say, though I enjoy compliments when I dress creatively, the satisfaction of being noticed only takes root when I know that I took care, creative autonomy and means of artifice to present my chosen identity. The same satisfaction exists without or without compliments, with or without observation, with or without the participation of others. Thus, I clear the fork in the path knowing fashion has, for me, always been a matter of self-indulgence above all-else. What does fashion mean when you are alone? It means you hold priority for your chosen identity, that your identity deserves a place in this world even without acknowledgement, and that, barring you don't spend all day gazing at your reflection in the mirror, the pleasure of feeling identity is just as worthwhile as seeing it.
I am wearing a cream silk floor-length nightgown under a navy blue quilted robe. My hair is sticking out in all directions as I haven't touched a brush today yet, and I wear a light dabbing of red lipstick and absolute rose oil for scent."
"Outwardly, fashion maps the trends and changes in society and culture both popular and subversive. It allows people to connect and associate themselves with like-minded people and ideas, either by joining a broader societal idea of fashion or by cultivating a community apart from that.
When separation from others is a matter of social responsibility the external value of fashion falls to the wayside. Fashion can’t be about other people if there are no other people around. The usual signifiers of a group are less apparent and important in identifying members and values, so fashion becomes a more internal process, a matter of self-care and self-expression which has always been important for many, but is now refined with the exclusion of external perspectives
In isolation, fashion creates a sense of normalcy when there is no established normal. To change your clothes, put on your face and do your hair are the routines that help to ground the day and offer a moment of reflection and meditation which are purely personal.
While some may cling to the well-loved staples, the need to conform to societal ideas of appropriateness has changed, though they aren’t thrown out the window, they’re no longer relevant.
In a time of uncertainty, the need to balance your mental and physical well-being is important and for some, the familiar comforts of their individual fashion is an easy way to manage this. For others, softer fabrics and gentler forms, reminiscent of childhood and leisure, is preferred.
Neither option is right or wrong beyond the impact it has on the individual."
Ivy Medeiros, @softerthanstone
Her downy bed in Long Island, NY
"Knit sweaters and flowing skirts,
Soft socks or naked feet
Flowers and findings,
tucked into undone hair
Outfitting yourself is an intentional act
Whether in isolation or in public
A choice to change a mood
To banish or manifest a feeling
A moment of self-reflection
Something soft, something fiery
A comfort, a display
To feel like myself"