Anyone who lived through the past year and a half has spent serious hours considering the human body. These meat sacks we live in! Their resiliency and vulnerability, their fine-tuned functions, and most of all, what it’s like to be isolated from other bodies, trapped with oneself.
Naturally, this rumination led to everyone buying sweatpants.
With nowhere to go and nobody to impress, sweatpants and comparably cozy bottoms were soon the uniform of extended lockdown — except “uniform” itself was too strong a word, because there was nothing de rigueur in this fashion. We simply wanted to be cosetted with the softest fleece and cotton, and to hell with anyone who judged. In fact, when a L.A. Times writer dared to challenge this impulse, scolding people to keep up with business casual attire while working from home, he was brutally dogpiled for it. Just as you ride out an ordinary sick day or hangover in your favorite pajamas, we were ready to live through a harrowing part of history in clothes that were baggy, forgiving and permeated by a range of intimate odors.
My Instagram feed, almost overnight, transformed into a parade of ads for expensive leisurewear. But as I started clicking through and buying from these companies, it struck me that a quiet revolution had already taken place. Was I not shopping for brands that, with their elastic waistbands and ultra-fine materials, conveyed the enviable status of not giving a fuck? I had seen these yoga shorts, joggers and lightweight hoodies a million times at high-end coffee shops and the Sunday farmers’ market. The fits that say, “I could exercise wearing this, but only if I feel like it.” To dress down in this manner releases a person from public scrutiny. You can’t critique their style; it’s too effacing. It’s not quite “normcore,” but a rejection of cyclical taste.
I realized, too, that long before COVID, my wardrobe had grown increasingly flexible and loose-fitting, without any corresponding weight gain on my part. I was just exhausted from trying to cut a nice figure in a tight shirt, and especially fed up with pants that couldn’t adapt to my waistline if it slightly fluctuated one way or the other. I hated that no two manufacturers could seem to agree on how large size 32 shorts are supposed to be, regardless of the precise measurement asserted by that number. These frustrations are hardly new — and they are all the more acute in the women’s section — yet it was only well into adulthood that I sought to get around them. Why, I began to ask myself, should I be a hostage to a fixed, unyielding garment that happened to look okay in a dressing room mirror six months ago? Elastic jeans appear the same as the conventional kind, and I can count on them to be comfortable again and again.
Following many months of freedom, this summer brings us to a crucial standoff. Restrictions have vanished. Routines have gone back to “normal.” So, will we bend to corporate overlords, donning our collars, blazers, belts and Oxford shoes? No doubt some are eager to show off their tailored suits and yearn for the refined atmosphere that a dress code is thought to impose. I am certain the far greater majority of office workers, however, will resist the often arbitrary and unfairly applied rules of individual appearance. We’ve learned that clothing ourselves as we like is no impediment to productivity or professional conduct. The illusion has been shattered. How could any young man be convinced that he needs a dozen neckties to be taken seriously? Plus, sticking to our low-key daily fashion means breaking out nice threads is an occasion of its own.
If the pandemic allowed us to take stock of big issues — health care, misinformation, what we owe each other and how we take connection for granted — it also came with smaller epiphanies. Such as: “I deserve to enjoy what I put on and around my body.” This was always the desire, of course; what shifted was our awareness of labor culture presenting an obstacle to its fulfillment. With the traditional structures of the 9-to-5 job obliterated, we tasted the potential of never dressing up for your boss, or worse, to accommodate some vague social pressure. Hard to imagine we’ll rush to a Brooks Brothers sale after that. No, it isn’t “giving up” when your pants are plush and accommodating, a pleasure to slide into.
That, my friends, is a victory.