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Home comforts: The high art of dressing down and why it matters

When we're feeling low, clothes can have the power to offer us warmth and security, especially at a time like this

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Cindy Crawford’s work-from-home outfit

Cindy Crawford’s work-from-home outfit

Kendall Jenner's red tracksuit is uplifting

Kendall Jenner's red tracksuit is uplifting

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Cindy Crawford’s work-from-home outfit

'Sweatpants are a sign of defeat," the late Karl Lagerfeld famously opined. "You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants." Well, what are we wearing right now? For the majority of us, the answer is likely to be some variation of sweatpants (which fashion has cleverly rebranded in recent years as 'joggers').

Or are you acting like it's a typical workday, with a crisp shirt and trousers, or even a shift dress and proper shoes? Maybe it's business on top and pyjamas underneath for getting around those pesky video calls.

The coronavirus pandemic has led most of us to work from home, forcing us to plot the tricky terrain of getting dressed when there's nowhere to go. On Instagram, Cindy Crawford poked fun at the picture-perfect WFH set-up in pink pumps and a silk blouse, while Alexa Chung joked: "I'm starting to refer to my pyjamas as my 'home suit.'" Even Kim Kardashian admitted during a remote TV appearance on Tuesday: "Today was the first day that I actually brushed my hair and put on some make-up."

Faced with a near-constant barrage of bad news, it's tough enough trying to work, let alone doing it in a skirt, tights and blouse. Yet in times of crisis, getting dressed can act as a form of self-care. For some, that means delving into our closets for a moment of stylish escapism: Sonya Lennon has encouraged her followers to join a "virtual cocktail party" on Instagram, showing off fabulous caped evening gowns and statement earrings for #DressUpMondays.

For others, that means wrapping ourselves in clothes that make us feel safe and secure.

"Never have I valued loungewear so much!" says Clodagh Shorten, owner of Samui boutique. "I've always had a great respect for quality fabrics and good craftsmanship, and this whole situation has, quite literally, brought that home for me.

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Kendall Jenner's red tracksuit is uplifting

Kendall Jenner's red tracksuit is uplifting

Kendall Jenner's red tracksuit is uplifting

"In pre-coronavirus days, I would have worn leggings and a hoodie only on my days off, usually to facilitate a bit of exercise along the way. But I'm finding that these days I'm reaching for a cosy cashmere knit and a soft scarf wrapped around my neck - I guess I want my clothes to comfort me right now, if that makes sense?"

Swaddling ourselves in a blanket scarf or oversized knit is akin to giving ourselves a hug, reminding us of being enveloped in a warm towel by a loving parent, or curling ourselves into the foetal position in soft new sheets. That 'new' feeling is key - you don't get quite the same feeling from a musty old sweatshirt.

"While there is an urge to just throw something on, you don't want it to feel like yesterday's clothes. It needs to feel fresh and neat to a certain extent and have a little bit of flair," says knitwear designer Zoë Jordan. "I think what we're seeing, hopefully, now is that comfort dressing doesn't have to mean slouchy [clothes] for lying on the sofa. It can feel put together and considered."

Who knows what Lagerfeld would make of our current circumstances, but when we feel like we have lost control of our normal lives, our wardrobes can help us regain some sense of control.

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Gigi Hadid in colourful tie-dye tracksuit

Gigi Hadid in colourful tie-dye tracksuit

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Gigi Hadid in colourful tie-dye tracksuit

Fashion is a form of communication - as the old mantra goes, it's how we express ourselves and how we connect with others. Our clothes tell our story to ourselves but, crucially, to those around us, whether it's our friends, colleagues, romantic partners, a potential employer or client. When we are shut inside, we can become a bit lost. What story are we telling now? With no one around to see us, does it even matter what we wear?

When Monday is Wednesday is Sunday, some draw comfort from maintaining the routines of getting dressed and undressed. A ritual as simple as swapping pyjama bottoms for something with a waistband can help to mark time and bring order to our disordered lives. Our clothes can motivate us, offering a sartorial pep talk of sorts and helping to establish purpose and concentration. That in itself is a kind of comfort too.

Zoë notes that the shape of our clothes can also play a role here.

"I'm turning toward things that are quite high-waisted and tucking something into them. It just feels more pulled together than a lower, slouchy waistband," she says. "There is a feeling of wanting to have a silhouette that feels more polished. Clean lines just feel like less fuss at the moment."

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Zoë Jordan favours natural fabrics

Zoë Jordan favours natural fabrics

Zoë Jordan favours natural fabrics

Certain fabrics have the feelgood factor. Many of us will have turned to leggings for a cosy spandex that hugs and supports us without feeling tight or restrictive. Karl Swaine, Head of Product for Irish athleisure brand Gym+Coffee, says his team have observed an increase in traffic to their site in the last couple of weeks, with people seeking out elevated takes on activewear.

"Hand feel is top priority when choosing our fabrics," he says. "Our leggings are a nylon/spandex blend, which feel like an extra layer of skin and buttery soft to touch, and our hoodies are primarily cotton/spandex so we get the balance of soft and stretch just right for lazing around the house all day."

Zoë favours natural fabrics such as wool, cashmere and silk, pointing out that they are more breathable, so don't require frequent washing, and even then, most can be washed at home on a cold wash.

"It sounds straightforward, but I'm reaching for things that are practical and comfortable, while feeling good on the skin. I don't think there's much point in wearing something that doesn't sit well on the skin," she says.

She adds that colour has become increasingly important, as it brightens her mood. Choosing clothes with a vibrant splash of colour can feel like bringing a smile to your outfits. Cheerful shades can spread positivity - with your co-workers on Zoom, with your family in a home workout or with your own reflection when you're brushing your teeth. See Kendall Jenner in a red tracksuit: so much more uplifting than the standard grey and black versions.

With a couple of weeks of home working under our belt and no clear end in sight, the novelty of being able to work in your pyjamas (or your pants) may have begun to wane. Yet we can rely on clothes to provide comfort as we navigate this new normal.

"This is my daily life now and I want to dress for it," says Clodagh. "I want to feel relaxed and comfortable, physically, but I also want to look relatively smart for myself emotionally.

"Most days, I'm happy to just wear a hoodie or sweatshirt, but I try to make sure it's a good one - well-made, quality fabric, a good fit. Nothing too sloppy. Acne Studios do a great sweatshirt.

"I'm finding that if I wear a well-made item, I feel better in myself. And I guess that's the purpose of fashion, isn't it? Even in the midst of a pandemic."

Irish Independent