A full-length Gül Hürgel dress with huge sleeves. High-waist tailored evening trousers with a Victorian-style blouse. A silk shirt and culottes with fringes on the hemlines. A red jumpsuit, a handful of gold necklaces, and multicolored Nike Air Maxes. A pleated skirt from Boden with a mohair cardigan. A Hillhouse Navy Tartan Nap Dress and black turtleneck with a pair of Gucci loafers.
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Would you believe me if I told you these outfits were worn not out to dinner, or to a party, or to work, but to doctor’s offices? Maybe not, if I’d asked a year ago before new, pandemic-induced definitions of normal were established, and new rituals were born to make sense of them. Now, though, a decision that might have once come across as eccentric, or even unhinged—like wearing a cowl-neck sweater, camel trench coat, jeans, sneakers, a statement hat, and gold earrings to go see a new gynaecologist, despite the inevitability of being asked to strip down and change right away into one of those grim paper robes — probably seems utterly credible.
For confirmation, you need only glance at the comments underneath Business of Fashion Chief Correspondent Lauren Sherman’s recent tweet:
Paper Magazine Editorial Director Mickey Boardman responded, “I wore my new Marc Jacobs coat to the dentist. Twice.” Likewise, Bustle’s Deputy Fashion Director Jessica Andrews wrote back, “This is me.” Fashion blogger Bryan Yambo chimed in with an encouraging, “As one should!!”
Stylist and brand consultant Amanda Murray received a similarly collective response when she started posting the outfits she was wearing to the doctor in the months leading up to a surgery: “From August all the way into January, I made weekly visits to my doctor, and every single time I would make it a point to get really dressed up. When I began posting about it on Instagram, a lot of people started tagging me and saying, ‘hey, I’m going to the doctor, and I’m doing this too.’ It created a mini-movement.”
The enthusiasm of said movement was palpable when I posed a question on my own Instagram about dressing up to go to the doctor and received hundreds of replies. “Last Saturday, I went for a 10 a.m. pap smear and changed about 12 times before I left the house as it was literally the biggest event in my calendar,” one woman told me. Another said, “I used to hate going to the doctor, but since quarantining, I’ve booked so many appointments as a way to finally put on real clothes!” (To a recent appointment at her gastroenterologist, she wore thrifted red cowboy boots, a silky white slip, and a furry red bucket hat).
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Lauren Sherman theorised that medical appointments offer a unique opportunity for outfit display compared to other mundane errands. She told me, “You’re taking off your coat. You’re not rushing in and out like you would when you go to the grocery store and try to avoid other people. You’re actually going to interact with someone.”
Last Saturday, I went for a 10 a.m. pap smear and changed about 12 times before I left the house as it was literally the biggest event in my calendar.
To her point, Miuccia Prada once described fashion as “instant language,” referring to the way in which what we choose to wear can communicate things about who we are before we even open our mouths. But fashion is language in another sense, too, in that it provides a conduit for one of the most endearing forms of human interaction: compliments.
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One woman I spoke with who recently wore “voluminous, JNCO-style jeans and a perfectly broken in, buttery 70s-era leather jacket” to a doctor’s appointment said that when both receptionists mentioned they loved her jeans, she “almost wept” at the revelation of how much she’d missed having strangers compliment some part of her outfits. Another described a similar reaction when her therapist complimented her beige turtleneck sweater during her last in-person appointment: “It was such a nice feeling that I hadn’t had in ages.”
In addition to necessitating new rituals, the past year has also clarified the absurdity of old ones — i.e. “saving” outfits. Historically, I myself have been a notorious proponent of this habit, routinely waiting until I had the perfect occasion to wear something for the first time. The few pieces I bought last spring and never wore for this precise reason hang in my closet like art in a museum, a ghostly exhibit of the person I could have been and the things I would have done. It feels silly now, to have waited a whole year, especially a year in which the meaning of “occasion” has collapsed and reformed. Many people I spoke with cited “outfit saving regret” as the primary driver of their desire to dress up for doctor’s appointments—an occasion in its own right these days, it would seem.
It will be interesting to see if the broader definition of the term persists even after familiar iterations of “occasions”—like parties and weddings—become commonplace again, which seems increasingly likely with vaccine rollout ramping up. One person who responded to my Instagram query suspected that, for them, it would: “It’s been fun to treat all aspects of my life with more intention, including what I wear. I have always romanticized the Pan Am jet-set era and old photos of my grandmas where you can see the effort and care that went into fashion, even for life’s smallest events.”
While it’s not clear whether the current wave of dress-up desperation will spur a long-term trend of forgoing the comfort of sweatpants in favor of buttons and zippers at airports, one thing is certain: There’s never been a better time or case for carpe-ing your diem.
“Clothes bring me a lot of joy,” Amanda Murray affirmed, “And I sometimes feel like we have this one life and no one really knows what’s around the corner, and if anything the pandemic has compounded that. So why would I save outfits? What is it that I’m saving for? A moment that I’ll never have? This, right now, is a moment that I do have, and I want to show up as myself.”
This story originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US