Like it or not, as mammals whose fur grows only in small, oddly-positioned clumps, we all need clothing. For some, getting dressed is a delightful exercise in composition. For others, it's a tedious and meaningless daily shuffling of materials to regulate body heat and to cover their junk.
The pandemic has had a remarkable influence on the way we dress. Inspiration for a person's unique manner of dress comes from social life, and we've now spent 15 months without the people, places, and events that inspire us. In isolation, the skills that allow a person to put together their genitalia-hiding, heat-regulating mosaic can feel like fluency in a dead language. For those who never felt fluent in this language, quarantine has been a vacation from the necessity to speak.
Now, with the Seattle economy reopened, some people are alive with the anticipation of showing off all the treasures they acquired during the plague. Others are dreading wearing pants again. To celebrate and record this tenuous, much-longed-for coming-together, I've interviewed six locals. They shared their thoughts about how the pandemic impacted their style and their feelings about returning to a social realm in which speaking the language of clothing is unavoidable.
Here's who's who:
What did a day's outfit look like for you during the darkest depths of quarantine?
TARA: I'd only say “the darkest depths of quarantine” because my basement apartment gets no natural sunlight. Every day it's a given that I have something covered in paint on. My most flattering favorites manage to get a droplet or handprint of acrylic paint. Spatter pattern is my new signature.
ADÉ: I wore a lot of relaxed clothes, usually a really soft black maxi skirt with a tank top and a long cardigan sweater if it was cold.
JACKIE: Well, a lot of the time I would be dreaming of one of my Dior or Chanel gowns, but I was mostly just wrapped up in the blanket off my bed, and nude underneath that.
CESAR: Mainly a dirty white t-shirt with food stains on it. I wore these gray sweatpants that have a mustard stain on the crotch from dropping a corn dog on them, and some blue Nike slippers. For a while I had a mullet and then I had the classic “Edgar” haircut, which is very popular among Hispanic people—especially in Arizona and Texas.
TOMO: I had my outdoor pants and my indoor pants and would change as soon as I walked in the door, so as not to track the day's virus into my living space. I found myself wearing the same gray hoodie I got in Sweden day after day.
NAA: My day’s outfit during the darkest days of quarantine felt like it was soap and hot water. However, I did manage to wear mainly sweats and hoodies and a large amount of black socks.
Was there anything you incorporated into your daily repertoire that either was never meant to be worn as clothing or was once part of a costume?
TARA: Binder clips/o-rings.
ADÉ: When I did my mask series I used a lot of household items and costume pieces.
JACKIE: I prefer to be nude, but I did put together some great outfits. It was during the time I had The Sound of Music stuck in my VCR. I watched that movie over and over for weeks. The part of the movie where they make clothes from the curtains really inspired me. I don't have curtains though, so I cut up my venetian blinds instead. They made the cutest outfits! I looked just like little Gretl Von Trapp.
CESAR: I had a moment during Covid where I had decided it was about time I learned to sew, so for Halloween I made this red lamé mask because I’d just watched the Watchmen TV show on HBO and was very impressed with how the Looking Glass character's mask looked and was like, "I can do that." It ended up looking more like a metallic red gimp mask, and I wear it around that house from time to time. It's particularly good for frying things, to keep your face safe from hot oil splatter.
TOMO: I have a pair of hiking boots that I ended up wearing pretty much every day because I did so much walking with my dog.
NAA: Surprisingly, I was never a big costume fan, but I did wear a baseball cap that was worn for a show as part of my everyday look.
What event are you most excited to dress up for when we return to society? And what is your dream outfit for this event?
TARA: I wore [the pantsuit and pearls ensemble pictured above] once for Pride at this group art show on June 10th, but it still needs a debut.
JACKIE: I am really excited to return to the Georgetown Trailer park shows. I miss them so much. I've been working on one of my denim muumuus, getting it all bedazzled & ready!
CESAR: As a musician, the easiest answer is to perform for a live audience. I have always wanted to dress up for shows but never did pre-Covid days, so hopefully I can return with a bang and dress up for shows. I’ve always thought Sigourney Weaver as Gozer in Ghostbusters was so Bowie-if-he-was-possessed-by-a-demon-while-also-just-having-stepped-out-of-a-bubble-bath, so I’d like to channel that.
TOMO: I'm looking forward to my first show with my full band. I just got a mint green suit with matching tie and shoes to fully live out my K-pop idol fantasy.
NAA: I would love to visit a play or a small intimate concert in a tailored suit created out of kente cloth with adinkra symbols stitched in with intention.
What item of clothing or ensemble are you most excited to show the world?
ADÉ: A black fishtail evening gown with floor-length cape sleeves. Paired with a big statement necklace and statement belt!
JACKIE: I've been going around nude so much, I haven't given it much thought. Speaking of nude, I was on the E Line bus & this dirty old man was undressing me with his eyes! At first I was disgusted, but then I thought about all the exotic places he would take me. Tunisia, Tahiti, Tukwila, E Marginal way S. I became wild with passion.
CESAR: I really like bolo ties and have so many that I underutilized in the Before Times that I think I’m going to use more often. That and wearing more crop tops this summer.
NAA: My brown dress shoes. I feel they force me to be as versatile as I can.
If you went out in “costume” every day, what would you dress as?
TARA: Well my friend, Max, he got me this fantastic outfit— it's a flamingo costume. That’s going out on the town. Also I'm just going to mention here that I'm so excited that Trendy Wendy has opened back up on Broadway.
CESAR: I’ve always wanted to wear an outfit that pop stars wear at big concerts.
TOMO: A fully functioning adult.
NAA: I would wear the black Green Lantern costume.
Who do you imagine as an audience when you're trying on something you just got that you love?
TARA: My audience is pretty much anyone who comes over. If there's ever an awkward silence for like a minute, I put on that flamingo costume!
ADÉ: I don’t think about who’s going to see it. I just want to wear it!
JACKIE: People with tons of cold, hard cash! Ready to hand over those tips! Oh, and I really like Hawaiian cops.
CESAR: I like to imagine walking down a busy city street and turning heads as I walk down the middle of the road while everyone around me sings Andy Gibb’s song "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," but instead of them saying "I, I, I, I just want to be your everything," they are saying, "Ce-sar I just want to be your everything," in that classic Bee Gees falsetto.
TOMO: A million Zoom meetings.
NAA: It’s a step-by-step process: I am my first audience member, then my wife, and then I hope I’ve done right by my fashionable ancestors who have come before me when I step outside.
Who is your personal style idol?
TARA: Peggy Nolan, Andre 3000, my friend Michael McKinney, and Lil Kim.
ADÉ: My grandmother.
JACKIE: That crazy lady on Broadway with teased-up hair, wearing sweats & high heels.
CESAR: I don’t know, I guess I’ve always liked how Tom Waits dressed in Down By Law. Those black leather boots with the metal tips are just something else!
TOMO: The Master from Midnight Diner
NAA: My personal style idols are various people, so I’d say the pictures I’ve seen of my mother’s father (sharp and classic), traditional clothing in West Africa, and 1990’s hip hop looks.
Where do you look for inspiration?
ADÉ: Everywhere. Old Hollywood, fashion through the ages, music, visual art, photography, Pinterest.
JACKIE: I look in the alleys, taverns, Aurora Avenue...
CESAR: The new Tik Tok teen, obviously.
TOMO: Japanese dramas.
NAA: I look for inspiration in comfort, color, and design.
If you listen to music while getting dressed to go out, what do you most often choose?
TARA: I never tire of “Brand New Key” by Melanie, “My Time” by Ann Steel and Roberto Cacciapaglia, or “Walk On” by Dionne Warwick.
ADÉ: Brazilian jazz or disco!
JACKIE: "Hell Awaits" by Slayer.
CESAR: ABBA or Bee Gees these days. Can you tell that I just watched that new Bee Gees documentary?? Though that probably doesn’t represent how I end up looking. Also 1970s pop.
NAA: I usually listen to afrobeat music to hype me up.
What article of clothing or aesthetic element seen as a necessity by our culture at large do you wish would just die?
ADÉ: Baseball caps and sports jerseys.
JACKIE: Undergarments! I wore my daughter's underpants as a face mask by accident one day. So embarrassing! Do away with it all!
CESAR: I don’t have much of an opinion on that, but I do wish plaid shorts that hang lower than your knees and flip-flops as a combo would die.
NAA: I’m not sure what article of clothing or aesthetic element should die, but I hope whatever we are led to believe is a necessity for us to look good should be obsolete.
Do you think people should be able to go naked in public?
JACKIE: Absolutely! It's time to bring out the nude you!
CESAR: Sure, I wouldn’t mind as long as they’re mindful of other people’s space.
TOMO: Sure, if they're vaccinated.
NAA: I think there should be more places that allow folks to be free physically.