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pandemic closet

How Being Separated from My Closet Changed My Relationship with Personal Style

Here’s what I bought in 2020 to sustain myself.

By: Camille Freestone

My story is not exactly an uncommon one. Come March, my roommates and I watched from our East Village apartment window as the crowds on the street dwindled to almost nothing as of Monday, March 16th. Suddenly, our already tiny apartment—because why not get the smaller place in the better neighborhood since we’re never there?—seemed more crowded and cramped than ever. So we boarded planes, trains, and automobiles and each traveled to our respective hometowns. With tickets booked at the last minute, we were packing our carry-ons as if the house was on fire—grab what you can and get out.

I arrived at my parents house in a suburb outside Dallas, Texas, with clothing packed for a couple of weeks—because this pandemic won’t last longer than that, right? The inner contents of my suitcase consisted of a couple pairs of leggings, one pair of blue jeans, a few t-shirts, some sweaters, a leather jacket, Converse, and that’s pretty much it. So that’s what I wore.

A feeling unique to no one, fashion ranked rather low on my list of priorities at the beginning, despite the fact it is my job to care about it. Fortunate enough to be working from home, I think I left the house no more than a handful of times that first month, but as the dust begrudgingly settled, I began to tire of the same sweater, t-shirt, leggings combo I was wearing every single day. This was the point in most people’s pandemic-induced sartorial reckoning where they slowly began to delve into the realms of their closet they had left untouched for months, except I no longer had access to mine.

 

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“This was the point in most people’s pandemic-induced sartorial reckoning where they slowly began to delve into the realms of their closet they had left untouched for months, except I no longer had access to mine.”

 

As someone who truly believes in the mind-altering powers of a great outfit, I wanted clothes that made me feel good again, about myself, my industry, and everything in between. Shopping, a ritual I savor, quickly became a task versus a hobby, an exercise in controlled restraint. Though I’m not sure need is ever the correct word to use in fashion-related situations, it was the closest I’d ever come to needing clothes. Then counter that with a limited budget. As much as I would have loved to redo my wardrobe with the latest and greatest designer finds, I couldn’t afford a sartorial free-for-all, nor did I want one—overconsumption these days feels less than tasteful.

Around this time, we started to realize that things were not going back to normal anytime soon. Not to mention, summer was coming hard and fast—and in Texas that means H-O-T weather. The challenge then became checking a potentially problematic set of multifaceted conditions, locating garments that were seasonless yet stylish yet versatile yet polished yet relaxed, etc. Most important, I wanted what I purchased to complement my pre-existing wardrobe upon our eventual inevitable reconciliation. I’ve never been a huge proponent of the capsule wardrobe—this fashion girl likes a touch more indulgence than that—but that’s basically what I was striving to create.

 

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“I’ve never been a huge proponent of the capsule wardrobe—this fashion girl likes a touch more indulgence than that—but that’s basically what I was striving to create.”

 

My hunt began with, you guessed it, menswear-inspired staples—the J.Crew men’s section being my drug of choice. I found solace in the modern timeless silhouettes of Tibi—their newly launched outlet is perfect for those on a budget. I rivaled Nicolas Cage in my quest for pre-owned treasures, sifting through the contents of theRealReal like it was my job. Boxy t-shirts, oversize button-downs, a light dose of cashmere, modern leggings, faux leather relaxed-fit pants that might as well be sweats—a list of items that made the cut. The process was an exercise in defining my own personal style then underscoring it with function above all else. The main thing to avoid was wasting money on something I wouldn’t wear, which meant I only bought into a trend if I believed it could last in my wardrobe.

As the first leaves faded to orange, I finally graced the door of my Avenue A walk-up once more, and upon entry into my bedroom, the sight of my cramped closet, garments bursting from its seams, was overwhelming. I rejoiced at finding those specific items I had pined for since March—my vintage Miu Miu cableknit sweater, my patent leather loafers—but the rest just seemed excessive, especially when framed by Manhattan’s lack of closet space (or rather, space in general). I had taken great pride in my capsule, and this mess threatened to undermine it.

 

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“I effectively put my entire closet on probation, working it back into my life piece by piece, wear by wear.”

 

In true yes-I-was-a-business-major analytical fashion, I typically reserve a section of my closet for the items I put “on probation,” and if I fail to wear something in roughly a year, I send it on its merry way to the next stage of the fashion life cycle. So that’s what I did. I effectively put my entire closet on probation, working it back into my life piece by piece, wear by wear.

As the months passed and I explored the contents of my forlorn wardrobe, the bad taste in my mouth mostly subsided. I’ll extend my probationary period until after real events resume—despite its lack of use, that vintage Dries sequin tank I scored at the Neiman Marcus Last Call isn’t going anywhere—but I feel I have a much better understanding of what I really want to wear, and my style has become more, dare I say, practical. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee I shy away from making a fashion statement, it just means I better be prepared to make that same statement year after year.

Not everyone will be able to physically isolate themselves from their closets—though I’m sure there were more than a few in my same position—but I think the fundamentals were, for all intents and purposes, the same, as we relegated ourselves to the same few lounge-yet-Zoom-appropriate items and dust gathered on any form of sequin, feather, tulle, lame, leather, etc. We have all in essence separated ourselves from the bulk of our wardrobes this year in some form or fashion and will hopefully return to them with some added clarity, whether that be of mind, of body, or of style.

Here’s what I’ve purchased since March to create my makeshift capsule wardrobe:

Tibi Crispy Nylon Shorts

$175 $70

In my all-too-common WFH-induced aversion to jeans, these were my savior. I wore them all summer long with t-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, you name it.

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Live the Process Ballet Legging

$128

I am simply not a sweatpants girl, which entails spending an ungodly amount of time in leggings these past few months. Subtle twists like this ballerina-inspired stirrup adds a little intrigue to the overused silhouette.

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J.Crew Broken-in Short-sleeve T-shirt

$35

Having a white t-shirt peek out of the neckline of a sweater somehow makes every outfit instantly cooler. I have this style in both navy and white, and as someone with a fuller chest, the fit is pretty darn perfect.

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J.Crew Slim Stretch Secret Wash Shirt

$60

This was a nod to a certain Princess Diana look from The Crown I found myself obsessing over this fall. My favorite way to wear it (for a very dressed-up grocery store run) is with a navy blazer, blue jeans, and loafers.

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Pangaia Lightweight Recycled Cotton Sweatshirt

$130

This sweatshirt is polished enough to pass for casual workwear—just add a gold chain necklace and you’re set. It goes with literally everything from jeans to leggings to leather pants.

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The Frankie Shop Kate High Waist Paperbag Pants

$210

A pair of oversize leather pants won my quest for a pair of comfortable yet sleek and sophisticated pants—that weren’t leggings. If I need to feel like a real person, I’ll put them on with a sweater, and I surprisingly don’t feel silly curled up on a couch in them all day.

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Victor Glemaud Striped V-neck Sweater

$150 $90

Defining your style doesn’t mean you have to be boring. I’m a minimalist at heart, but these days a *controlled* dose of color or pattern goes a long way. Victor Glemaud always has the best knits, so I find myself keeping an eye on his pieces at all times.

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Calvin Klein Collection Blazer

$50 $38

I scored a vintage blazer similar to this one for roughly $7 at my local thrift store and have since worn it every which way possible—on its own, belted, over a t-shirt, turtleneck, or bodysuit, you name it.

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