How One Writer Found Her Way Back to Dressing Up

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After a year when evening dress was replaced by the nap dress, aren’t we all desperate to be glamorous again? During the five years that I covered events for Vogue from my post on the editorial staff, I dressed up in black tie three times a week. Sometimes I had time to go home or get my hair blown out, but often I simply dragged my borrowed sequins or satin to the office in a garment bag—along with a tote stuffed with Manolo BB pumps, a pair of earrings, and my makeup bag—and under the harsh lighting of the Condé Nast bathroom scraped my hair back into a tight bun, slicked it with pomade to tame the flyaways, and swiped on an additional coat of mascara. Like most routines, it became second nature and, sometimes, tedious. Now, though, years later and after months curled on the couch in nothing more coordinated than the two pieces of an Entireworld sweatsuit, I pine for those days—even the fluorescent bathroom lighting.

For all those many galas and fêtes, I tended to wear borrowed sample dresses that, while up to the dress code, were straightforward in cut, color, and texture—like a sensible haircut. Once a year, though, on the first Monday in May, I was emboldened by the sartorial majesty of the occasion to wear something more extravagant to the Met gala, and it likely comes as no surprise that the most eccentric, over-the-top dresses often resulted in the liveliest memories and the best evenings. The paillette-and-shell-embellished Rodarte transformed me into a magical mermaid, even though in reality I looked more like a shipwrecked dragon; the jet-plumed Ferretti frock not only erased any nervous feelings of being an ugly duckling—it made me feel like an extra in Black Swan. And in a year spent observing practically the same bedtime as my one-year-old, these high-wattage looks were the ones I found myself reminiscing about.

The author, clad in Rodarte at the 2015 Met Gala.

Photo: Courtesy of Chloe Malle

Sitting in front of our computers in oversized knits to watch the Zoom shows of the fall 2021 collections felt like a taunting reminder of what we did not have access to: Paco Rabanne’s gilded girls in jewel-­encrusted chain mail; Louis Vuitton’s sequined sirens stalking through the Louvre to the tune of Daft Punk’s “Around the World” (when the only place I was going was around the block to the bodega for more Reese’s). Carbonated with the newly liberated frisson, everything on the fall runways seemed to be fringed, feathered, or bejeweled. The collective message appeared to be “Go big or stay home”—and considering how sick we are of the latter, it’s time to embrace the former with the same vigor we embraced sourdough starters.

Dressing up again is emotional because it signifies coming together again. And while the new clothes may be fantastical, designers such as Jonathan Anderson saw them as being more about “projecting what a new reality will hopefully be,” as he said at the time of his show in March. “Believe it, and it will happen.” The collections celebrated hand-wrought romance and, yes, tactility—the ability to finger the pearly shell shards on a friend’s Bottega dress IRL.

Over the past several years, a raft of essays and manifestos have emerged centered on reclaiming the power of dressing solely for oneself. I’ve read them; I understand the sentiment. I beg to differ: I do not dress up for myself—I dress for other people, and a year spent at home with no dinner dates, parties, or weddings to dress for has only confirmed that. Like all of us, I have missed seeing people during this long year, but I have also missed them seeing me.

The problem is that I no longer know how to get dressed. In late spring I had plans to meet two friends for drinks at the Odeon in Tribeca. I was half-vaccinated and hadn’t been out of the apartment all week except to walk my dog, Lloyd. Opening my closet, I felt like I was greeting old friends: some the easy confidantes you can add to any dinner party; others who require a bit more effort but whose eccentricity or wicked sense of humor makes the work worthwhile; and those you keep in your life because they were with you at your college graduation or helped you through your first day of a big job. I was happy to finally be reunited with all of them, but the paralysis I experienced was similar to the anxiety I have felt when returning to social settings.

While I once knew that my Marc Jacobs tweed blazer works with my navy Belgian loafers, which can be swapped out for suede pumps for dinner, now everything was a blank slate. I was surprised to find myself gravitating toward pieces I loved, rather than tried-and-true closet workhorses. I reached for my father’s monogrammed Charvet shirt, layered under the bugle-beaded Michael Kors cardigan that long ago migrated from my mother’s closet to mine. I added metallic Tabitha Simmons Mary Janes and a passementerie-appliquéd Alix of Bohemia bolero. When I finally checked myself in the mirror in my building’s lobby, it was too late—I made Helena Bonham Carter look like Phoebe Philo. The muscle memory was gone.

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