The Silver Lining of Quarantine Fashion

It’s a very soft lining!

A selection of various types lounge clothes stacked on one another to create outfits
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Fydorov, Tarzhanova, chaoss, fongfong2, andriano_cz, Piotr Polaczyk, Chiyacat /iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Three of my co-workers have worn swimsuits to work lately. Trunks, after all, are made of “a light, breathable fabric,” says Gist producer Daniel Schroeder, who wears them regularly while working from home. “There’s no need for underwear.” Two other colleagues, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed it’s a pandemic-era trend. One said he put on trunks one day because he woke up late and “they were on my dresser.” Another admitted she wore a speedo when working from her parents’ house. I make it four. I’ve sat around in a one-piece bathing suit under the same logic as my co-workers (no underwear needed—it was there). Also, it was an expensive swimsuit, and I wanted to get more use out of it.

We’re learning a lot about ourselves, our loved ones, our country while in ongoing semiquarantine. That includes what we wear when left to our own devices and mostly unobserved (from the chest down, at least). Now that we’ve been at home for several months—and still should be, at least as much as possible, for the foreseeable future—it’s a good time to take stock of the quarantine wardrobe.

Isn’t your quarantine wardrobe just your work-from-home wardrobe? Not necessarily. For one thing, there are masks to contend with now. But also, in quarantine, we don’t just work from home—we do everything from home, except for the precious few activities that can be done at a park. Quarantine wardrobes, therefore, must include work-from-home clothes but also night activity clothes, date clothes (these can be different from night clothes), brunch clothes, and so on, worn over Zoom, or with one of a select few people you’ve been seeing way too much of. I surveyed my co-workers on what their quarantine repertoire looks like. “I now think of my wardrobe as daytime pajamas vs. nighttime pajamas,” said Torie Bosch, the editor of Slate’s Future Tense. Mark Morgioni, director of research and data, has been marking different occasions by cycling through three different robes, a cotton one for wearing over pajamas, a silk one for over a T-shirt and shorts, and one that’s “more of a smoking jacket situation” for chilly evenings.

Some are finding silver linings (sometimes literal ones!) after realizing they can be dressed down all the time now—what better excuse to invest in around nice, comfortable things? A few weeks into quarantine, Slate’s news director, Susan Matthews, bought “quarantine bras: basically just comfortable, wireless bras.” Two co-workers invested in Birkenstocks made out of a Croc-like material. (In their defense, these do not look anything like Crocs.) Others have stocked up on soft, baggy T-shirts and sweaters and loose midi dresses. For me, quarantine has been an opportunity to finally more or less stick to a uniform, not just for work, but for everything: I began shelter-in-place orders by throwing the exact same sweater over whatever I was wearing prior to video calls, and have recently evolved that look to attend most Zooms in the same exact tank top I wear nearly every day. It can tie into a crop top and therefore make me feel like I am cycling through two tank tops. I gave up on non-athletic pants even earlier, since they cannot be seen on Zoom. In the cooler early days of quarantine, I pretty much only wore a pair of gray Gap sweatpants. Now, it’s track shorts.

Maybe my co-workers and I are just more pro-comfort than most? To check, I texted with an expert, Justin Krajeski, my former colleague and roommate who writes about style for Wirecutter. In quarantine, he’s as laid-back a dresser as the rest of us. “Lounging at home and running outside is like 80 percent of what I do now,” he told me. “So I’m in a tank top and gym shorts 80 percent of the time.” His office and nightlife gear have remained in his closet, and on video calls he’s been wearing shorts and Henley tees, which are soft and cozy but also have prominently placed buttons so they look fancier than T-shirts: “There’s something to be said for comfortable pieces that trick your co-workers into thinking you’re more dressed up than you are.”

I do miss dressing up regularly; I especially miss wearing heels. I will sometimes make a bit of effort, a soft dress for a video friend hang, or a romper for a trip to the park. Now, putting on an outfit for a high-stakes Zoom call, or distanced friend hang where you’re feeling fancy, gets to be a true occasion. When we’re not burdened by looking nice all the time, looking nice can be more fun. One of the little hopes I have for this god-awful period in time is that we can return to offices someday wearing clothes that are more comfortable in our outfit rotations. That includes the kind that Krajeski is referring to—soft, cozy, and quietly good-looking. But also, may it become socially acceptable to show up wherever we go in our lives looking a little sloppier. If not in swim trunks, then at least sweats.