I started to lose my mind about nine days into self-quarantine. I had hopped on a call with a woman from some 1800-tax service and I ended up speaking to her about nothing really, except for coronavirus. I learned that she was from Tampa, and yes, the grocery markets there were also getting clogged with frantic shoppers. She was still working from her office. I told her about a video I saw on Twitter of a woman stealing toilet paper out of another’s overstocked cart. On Craigslist, people were gauging the prices of hand sanitizer. I had this 15-minute conversation all from the luxury of my bed, while wearing a pair of sweatpants from college and a local Boston band T-shirt I picked up back in god-knows-when. There was pancake batter caked on the sleeve. How many days had I been wearing this look, I wondered? (If you could call it that—a “look.”) Days blurred into hours and minutes and seconds. At the time, I was supposed to be writing a story on a Russian knitwear designer who recently graduated from Central Saint Martins. Did I ever write the piece? Yes, but not as fast as I would have liked to. It happened whenever my body, coddled by sweatpants, decided to force myself to type out those words, one by one, then finally press send. Whenever that was.
And then the Zoom meeting request came from my boss. For those who don’t know, Zoom is essentially a group FaceTime, albeit a little more corporate and complicated to set up. The concept of marinating in my T-shirts and creating a dent in my bed could no longer exist if I were to talk face-to-face with my superior. I couldn’t allow my boss to see me in my true, disheveled Castaway form, the freedom of loneliness slowly wearing away at my wardrobe and my mind. I knew the dress code for Zoom was more relaxed than, say, the office dress code. I didn’t necessarily have to change out of my sweatpants, or even wear pants at all. Zoom is usually filmed from the waist up, meaning I could put on a nice shirt and call it a day.
Nonetheless, despite the simplicity of getting dressed from the waist up, the mere thought of getting out of my isolated routine of nothingness and venturing out of my comfortable (yet grim) pit made me frustrated. “Let me quarantine in peace!” was my first reaction. Let me slowly disintegrate into the fibers of my sweatpants and lazily write whatever I needed to write to check it off my list. Then I can go back to watching Contagion on loop and further K-hole into Wikipedia-ing Nostradamus. I had truly never been so unproductive, and so negative. I began to think it was my wardrobe, simultaneously swaddling and suffocating me, slowly taking over my life.
So, I called up Professor Francis T. McAndrew, who teaches at Knox College in Illinois and specializes in environmental psychology—and yes, isolation—to see if there was a connection between getting dressed for the day and your general mental state. “If you look at how you are dressed, that signals something about what you are prepared to do. If you are dressed professionally and you’re dressed up, in some ways that raises your own opinion of yourself, and you want your behavior and demeanor to match the clothes,” he said. “So, if you’re dressed like a slob and you are in your sweat clothes, you’re either prepared to work out at the gym or clean out the basement, but you’re not doing anything professional or mentally challenging, and that spills over into your motivation and confidence.” According to McAndrew, I was a slob! I was a good-for-nothin’ loser slob just sinking further and further into my bed, into a black hole of overworn long-sleeve T-shirts.