Last week, I mentioned in an editorial meeting that I’ve been having hard time trying to fill the purpose-sized hole that has opened up in my quarantined life where “getting dressed with intention” used to be. In other words, I can’t stop won’t stop wearing head-to-toe sweats, and it’s making me reflect on the intersection between what I wear and who I am. Leandra, on the other hand, has maintained her desire to put thought into getting dressed, even generating a literal hashtag (#goingnowherebutfuckitimgettingdressed) to this effect. Curious about why and how these different impulses are manifesting, we delved deeper via email. Below is a transcript of the conversation. Meet us in the comments for further discussion when you’re done reading, won’t you please? —Harling
On Fri, April 3, 1:12 p.m., Harling wrote:
I miss the feeling I got when I dressed up in an outfit I felt was an accurate representation of what I wanted to tell the world about myself on a given day, but at the same time I don’t have the desire to do that during quarantine. Not because I’m lazy (though that’s definitely a contributing factor), but because I’ve tried it a couple times and it just… doesn’t work. Dressing up without the intention of going out in the world and having people see what I’m wearing makes me feel like I’m putting on a costume. Like, hello! I’m dressed as my normal self today even though nothing is normal right now! You know what I mean? I’m curious what your experience has been like, since historically you have also relied on getting dressed as a primary vehicle for expression. Based on your consistent outfit documentation I’m guessing this is still the case, but has it been affected at all by the fact that you’re staying inside 99% of the time?
On Fri, April 3, 1:16 p.m., Leandra wrote:
Well, first off, how exactly are you dressing then? And does it make you feel any way at all?
On Fri, April 3, 1:20 p.m., Harling wrote:
Right now I’m alternating between a gray sweatsuit from Lou & Grey (so soft it feels like the inside of a baby’s elbow) and sweatpants from Entireworld with a tie-dye sweatshirt I made myself. Translation: never not wearing some iteration of sweats. I change only to work out or go to sleep–at which points I’m wearing leggings or a plaid flannel nightgown, respectively. Wearing these things right now makes me feel good, I guess, in the sense that I really am listening to what my heart of hearts otherwise known as my gut is telling me to wear, but not-so-good in the sense that I haven’t really felt like myself, or dare I say… attractive!?… in weeks as a result. What about you?
On Fri, April 3, 1:24 p.m., Leandra wrote:
Mostly wearing the same formula over and over–a sweater, a shirt, shorts, and calf-length socks. It’s funny because it’s not like I’ve been trying to dress as if I’m going out, but I have definitely put some thought, or at least intention, into fulfilling a sort of “brand identity” for getting dressed to stay home. You know what I mean? And I am definitely still using e-comm the way I always have–as a meditative scroll for inspiration. I still check Matches pretty regularly and evaluate my saved RealReal searches. Haven’t purchased anything, but there is something about the ritual (I guess that’s why they call it a ritual, ha) that eases the impact of uncertainty.
On Fri, April 3, 1:29 p.m., Harling wrote:
I haven’t been looking at online retailers as much as I used to, but I’m still interested in fashion to the extent that when I see a good “homebound” ensemble, I screenshot it quickly. A good one Juliana Salazar posted recently (that to my delight I actually experienced an urge to recreate): striped pajamas with gray New Balance sneakers and a felt wool overcoat. Not sure if I actually will recreate it, but the fact that for a moment I really wanted to was meaningful in some way. I’ve also been pretty inspired by your array of gym shorts.
On Fri, April 3, 1:33 p.m., Leandra wrote:
I didn’t even know I had so many gym shorts (three pairs, to be clear). Then again, I think that’s the thing about getting dressed for home that feels right–it’s allowing me to repurpose all these clothes I previously used so one-dimensionally, i.e. to exercise, in more irreverent ways. But regarding your aforementioned frustration, what do you want to tell the world about yourself, if anything?
On Fri, April 3, 1:44 p.m., Harling wrote:
That’s a hard question to answer without sounding corny! (I’ve been typing and deleting for five minutes.) I suppose it varies from day to day, but a common thread that runs through it is a desire to make clear the fact that I’m a delayed-release extrovert (that’s my way of saying I probably come across as an introvert at first, but at heart I’m pretty extroverted, it just takes time to become apparent). Wearing something intentional is my way of hinting at that, I think. And if I had to explain why that’s important to me, I guess I’d tell you it’s because one of my greatest sources of social anxiety is being written off as boring or un-funny just because the better parts of my personality aren’t immediately apparent if I don’t know the royal you very well… so here’s an outfit to get to know me a little faster!
On Fri, April 3, 1:47 p.m., Leandra wrote
Can I offer an alternative suggestion that you can absolutely feel free to debunk: I think recently we have really reconnected with the rawness that once defined and established Man Repeller. And for perhaps the first time in a long time, you are using longer-than-an-Instagram-caption writing to share who you are, which the more “editorial” stuff we have gotten into the habit of making here doesn’t get at.
On Fri, April 3, 1:55 p.m., Harling wrote
So interesting that you bring that up in connection to getting dressed, because as hard as it’s been for me to motivate to put on a pair of pants that don’t have an elasticized waist, it’s been easier than ever for me to WRITE STUFF. To that point, one of the many ways quarantine has thrown me for a loop is that it’s really messed with my sense of purpose. The necessity of getting dressed every day used to be such a significant source of it for me, but with that taken off the table, I’ve sort of been like… okay, now what!? How do I fill the hole? Writing has been one way, for sure. I also think cooking is becoming another, much to my astonishment. It hasn’t been a seamless swap, though. I feel like I’m reentering the quarter-life crisis that defined my mid-twenties (which I only RECENTLY climbed out of) and therefore being forced to recalibrate who I am. Again. And that’s always an uncomfortable process.
On Fri, April 3, 2:07 p.m., Leandra wrote
So uncomfortable. But if you can think of it like the feeling of being in minute two of a plank when everything is shaking and an SLT instructor is yelling into your ear in her chipper-ass voice, “That’s the feeling of change!” and forget for a second that you hate her and exercise and this plank so much to acknowledge that it’s true, but also that when applied to your life, that discomfort is the feeling of growth–that makes it a little less unsettling. Or it has for me! The thing I’ll say about getting dressed is that it sounds like you’re giving it a lot more credit than you’re giving to yourself–the getting dressed is really just a vehicle for you to be who you are and serve your purpose, it’s not the actual purpose. I think deep down you know that.
Which I can only say, by the way, from the vantage point of having been in a similar place. Of course I have thought that I am the sum of what I wear–I built my adult likeness on categorizing the way I dress as “Man Repeller.” Sometimes I’ve wondered if the relationships and worthiness and respect that I’ve created in my adult life would unravel if Man Repeller went away, and at times it has paralyzed me–but over the last, let’s say, 3-6 months (and I think this is partially what settling into your 30s gives you), I’ve realized that all of it–the dressing, the categorizing of the dressing, the business and onwards–is actually just a vehicle that lets me act out my purpose. Does that make sense? And maybe this is also why my desire to get dressed hasn’t tempered in quarantine. Or you know what? Maybe it has tempered–it’s not like I’ve been putting on jeans and blazers and shit–and I haven’t even realized that until just now because, I guess, I’m still acting out my purpose? I don’t know why I have such a hard time owning this sentiment — see: the question mark, the sheepishness around the prospect. I have to figure that out — but to your point: Cooking has been an unlikely but welcome release of expression.
On Fri, April 3, 2:14 p.m., Harling wrote
Oof. Yes. Thinking about it in those terms is both relieving and terrifying at once. Relieving because, you know, wherever I go, there I am–in other words, the summation of who I am remains intact, regardless of where I am or how I’m feeling or what I’m doing or what I’m wearing. It’s inescapable. But terrifying because sometimes escape is such a delight, and right now it is unavailable in multiple respects. I’m spending so much more time inside my own head without the distraction of having to get up and get dressed and go out into the world and socialize and absorb. Because of that I’m scratching off the barnacles of some aspects of my identity that I think I was avoiding before. So maybe my angst about not putting together a legitimate outfit every morning isn’t stemming from a lack of purpose, but rather a lack of the aesthetically pleasing packaging I used to wrap my self up in every day. And what I’m left with is something that feels a lot more vulnerable.
On Fri, April 3, 2:16 p.m., Leandra wrote
That’s the thing about this quarantine. It’s forcing those of us who frankly have the privilege of self-reflection and examination during this time to spill into the cracks of who we are and clean out the residual gunk we’ve been trying to avoid.
On Fri, April 3, 2:17 p.m., Harling wrote
I’m glad you brought up privilege because it’s what my mind circles back to every time I think (or type) something remotely navel-gaze-y. This experience is hard for everyone but a lot harder for some people, and that doesn’t get lost on me, and our collective purpose is to try to help each other in the best ways we can.
On Fri, April 3, 2:23 p.m., Leandra wrote
I do the same thing. And I don’t know if it’s like this for you, but recalling how much worse it is for so many people makes me try to push my feelings down every time they come up, passing them off as not worth feeling because there are actual problems right in front of our noses. Sometimes I literally roll my eyes at myself as I’m writing stuff down because I can’t even believe I’m indulging myself when we are growing used to reading about an escalating death toll because of this virus that accelerates by the day. It is catastrophic and I don’t use that term lightly.
But then I think about Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which initially seemed like a disproportionate reference (he’s a Holocaust survivor who wrote about the psychotherapeutic method of finding a purpose that makes you feel good and to imagining yourself living it). But ultimately I realized that we’re always trying to survive–that is the rat race of life. But perhaps now more than ever before in our respective lifetimes, we’re all doing it for the same reason, at the same time. At varying degrees of magnitude, I really don’t mean to diminish the graver experience of another. But isn’t that something? If you can figure out a way to find meaning from the sidelines and survive–by reading a tabloid magazine, pairing a Fair Isle cardigan with cashmere shorts, cooking an elaborate recipe that calls for a handful of baby spinach, writing your guts out, then good. on. you. Don’t let anyone, least not yourself!, crush that enterprise.