Minutes before a recent Zoom meeting, I took part in a ritual newly relatable to many work-from-home professionals. I threw a presentable-enough sweater over my head before joining the video conference app and situated my laptop camera in a position to crop out my clashing Adidas tracksuit pants.
The outfit was comfortable and passable for the current situation, an ode to television news anchors dressed in half a suit. But the comfort also brought a sneaking sense of anxiety. Under normal circumstances, this combination of clothes would have never crossed my mind–rightfully so, I looked terrible. My desire for added comfort to help cope with the current disruption of everyday life seemed to clash with an equal and opposite desire to achieve a sense of normalcy. Like many, I wanted to feel safe and cozy in my choice of clothes, for some reason, I also wanted to be wearing normal pants.
Last month, Walmart noted a sales increase in shirts and other top garments while pant sales began to fall. Though not a great mirror for aesthetic trends in fashion, the retail giant’s data is still a barometer for the industry and economy at large. Whether you shop at Macy’s or Supreme, you’re likely to be facing many of the same obstacles as your neighbor during isolation. If retail clothing sales are sinking, pants are currently a dumbbell tied to the industry’s feet.
In the wake of non-essential businesses shuttering to help further prevent the spread of COVID-19, work-from-home professionals seemed to filter into two prevailing opinions about dress code for the new normal. There were those eager to shed the burden of typical uniforms and those striving to uphold the sartorial status quo within their new, makeshift offices. At the foundation of this tug of war seemed to be pants.
"If you put jeans on at any point in the last 14 days, you are the Chief of Police," tweeted Phoebe Bridgers, the popular indie singer-songwriter.
Bridgers' quib seemed to echo the more popular sentiment of the two: the present is a chance for respite from our typical clothing norms. I laughed along with the tweet before realizing the two sides of the pants debate may share more common ground than I had originally thought.
After a few days of my own sweatpant-focused, mismatching outfits, I felt the freedom to dress horribly within the comfort of my apartment and while on a Zoom call as an opportunity for rather than a fallback. I could experiment with new combinations within my wardrobe, pairing ends previously disconnected and pulling forward pieces time slide to the back row of my shelves.
The longer work-from-home has gone on, the stronger my desire to reemerge to the outside world with a new arsenal of manic outfits has become. Achieving such a reality couldn't be accomplished with only sweatpants and the more I began to weave my experimental styling into my new routine and social presence, the comfortable I began to feel about taking out into the real world.
Regardless of which side of the work-from-home outfit debate you fall on, both factions have built their new dress code in the hope of bettering themselves for a return to the real world. Like building an outfit, change, progress and healing can only be done one step at a time. Still finding the desire to occasionally wear pants (even jeans) through this period of change can feel like a frivolous pursuit but when the time comes to return to IRL work, social gatherings and dinner dates, a period of outfit meditation is a unique opportunity. Not one any of us would wish for again, but one that can still hold purpose.