A little over a year ago, I was inspired by a review of my own handsewn wardrobe–following months and months (and months) in a sewing rut–to GET DRESSED TO STAY HOME. I have worked from home for more than a decade, and had begun to think of getting dressed as an unnecessary waste of time, something I could skip in favor of More Important (or more enjoyable) tasks. It took a huge toll on me, y’all, in a quiet, sneaky way–breaking free from that has been work, but it’s been JOYOUS work. I’ve actually been cataloging the outfits I put together each day and taking photos of them, and am developing the whole series into a project I’m sharing with the League of Dressmakers, where I’m pairing sewing pattern suggestions and video guides with the four concepts I’ve developed to formalize what’s worked for me.
Given the Current Situation, where nearly the entire globe are now finding ourselves sheltering in place and unexpectedly, indefinitely staying or working from home, I want to share these ideas in a five-part series here with all of you. These posts are about getting dressed, but they’re also about taking active steps to keep ourselves mentally well when we don’t “have to” go anywhere–and are tempted to stay in pajamas all day, every day.
I knew I wasn’t wearing my handmades. I also knew I was wearing more or less the same thing every day: a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, a cardigan. Done. And I felt unproductive, unattractive, unworthy, and uninteresting a large proportion of the time. What I learned, through trial and error, is that I can improve my mood; create a healthier mental space for myself; set and achieve daily, specific, measurable goals; and experience better, more memorable moments in my relationships simply by deliberately and intentionally CHOOSING to get dressed, like, Get Dressed. Like, every day, rain or shine, meeting or no meeting, I get “dressed up” to leave my bedroom and head to my basement.
Let me tell you why.
I learned as I was going through my own closet and dresser drawers that I tend to wear the same clothes over and over again. And again. Which meant that when I look in the mirror, I saw the same tired version of me, in the same clothes that were getting increasingly thread-bare. My outside-me was looking droopier, which made my inside-me feel LESS: less worthy, less attractive, less productive, less invigorated. I didn’t see ME in the mirror, a lot of days, I just saw…kinda the inevitability of every negative stereotype? Like, I didn’t look BAD, I just looked like “A Mom,” like a cartoon version of myself, but in sepia tones of disillusionment and depression.
I realize that sounds pretty dismal. The reality is that I spent a large portion of the past few years suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression. As I have worked to seek treatment and heal, I needed not just to FEEL better, I needed to SEE better: to learn to re-frame circumstances, to see myself in a new way. But also an old way? If that makes sense. To rediscover the version of me that’s the most ME of me. To track down the Best Version of Myself and bring her out into the open.
By intentionally getting DRESSED each morning–not just “putting on clothes” to check a box, but wearing clothes for the purpose of making my outsides match my insides, I’ve made measurable in-roads into seeing myself in new ways. The ad-hoc rules I developed along the way have helped me do that, and I’m sharing them over the next week with the idea that they can be easily generalized to lots of different lifestyles, with similar positive impact for others.
These four guidelines developed pretty organically over the past two years as I was trying to stretch myself a bit, and they’ve been priceless in the way they’ve allowed me to show up as the person I most want to be. By setting limits around what I would or wouldn’t wear each day, I reached further back into my closet to wear things I hadn’t worn in a long time, and occasionally discovered facets of myself I’d forgotten. Other days, I wanted to SEEK OUT a particular feeling, like joy or courage, and discovered I could use my wardrobe to fake-it-til-I-make-it, to invite an emotion in and use my clothing to host it until it took root. The temptation to give in to resistance was very, very strong and those years of habit were hard to break–on many, MANY days I discovered I was grateful that I’d set boundaries for my own getting-dressed that REQUIRED me to try something maybe I wasn’t in the mood for, because I discovered that frequently the mood FOLLOWED the clothing, and that I could CALL UP FEELINGS ON DEMAND.
WITH MY CLOTHES.
This was revolutionary for me. As I learned to change my clothes, I learned to change my mood, which helped me to change how I see myself, which changed how I interact with the world, which improved my relationships and my work life and my housekeeping and my skin. (This is all true, I’ll swear it on the stand, even MY SKIN IS BETTER.)
In the process of taking photos for this series, I saw some trends in how I dress start to emerge that didn’t particularly surprise me: I love stripes, solids, and texture; I create outfits by balancing a fitted bottom with a looser top or vice versa; and I lean toward bright pops of color combined with neutrals almost across the board (heavy on the yellow). I DIDN’T expect to transition from feeling self-conscious about taking a picture of myself each day to looking forward to it (and since I text them to my husband both for accountability and to flirt, he doesn’t mind it, either). I learned I can step back and analyze both my clothing selections and what they say about my current mental state, and use that information to grow.
I was surprised, too, by the way this project SERIOUSLY impacted my Future Sewing Plans, causing me to re-evaluate WHAT items I want to add to my wardrobe, WHEN to prioritize making them, and HOW to select the shapes & fabrics I’m using. The intentionality was contagious. Better skin AND better sewing?? I mean.
I’m so excited to share the outline of what I’ve learned with this series, and to talk (at length) about it with the League of Dressmakers. I know so, so many of us are sheltering in place right now, and finding ourselves unexpectedly NOT NEEDING to “get dressed.” I really struggled, for years, with the ennui that stemmed from treating my outside-self as an after-thought, and while I don’t think that necessarily develops into depression for everyone the way it did for me, I think there’s room right now to have a frank conversation about things WE CAN CHOOSE, just by reaching in our closets, that can make quarantine not just more bearable, but a legitimate growth experience.
I hope you’ll join me over the next week and share your thoughts in the comments!
Full disclosure: not all the outfits I share in this series include handmade garments. This isn’t a series about how you MUST sew your own clothes or BUY anything new in order to improve your mental health. The guidelines are valid for BOTH handmade and store-bought clothing, and I’m learning as I go along that I’m more likely to wear my handmades when I combine them with my purchased clothing, making new looks that are more versatile; as a resource, the vast majority (like, nearly all) of the purchased garments in these images came second-hand via Poshmark or Goodwill, or off the end-of-season sale rack from local designers like Billy Reid or Ann Mashburn.