The Year in Personal Style is a week of essays about how 2021 changed our relationship to getting dressed.
It wasn’t until I had purchased my sixth enormous sweatshirt that I realized if I were ever invited to dine with Fran Lebowitz, I would have nothing to wear.
Lebowitz is one of my all-time idols, and I want more than anything to impress her. However, I have reached the stage of pandemic dressing where if it’s not extremely soft and stretchy, and if it doesn’t conceal my shape entirely, I don’t want it anywhere near my already naturally itchy body.
Fran is famously judgmental about everything, and that obviously includes style. She despises gym clothes in the wild: She once said, “Yoga pants are ruining women.” If that’s true, I have long since been reduced to rubble. But can you blame me?
We’re deep into the “weighted blanket” phase of fashion. There’s a certain amount of swaddling that must be factored into our clothing choices right now. Considering what we’re enduring as human beings, it feels unfair to expect anyone to do anything beyond “serving tabletop” (which is where you flaunt only your décolletage, face, and hair in a Zoom meeting). Even that can seem unreasonable when you factor in makeup and brushing hair that may or may not still be white from dry shampoo. Until we’re confident enough to go through with in-person plans with any consistency, we are still dressing for ourselves. Personally, I’m not the kindest self-critic. But I’m trying to get more comfortable with being comfortable.
At one point, when leaving the apartment to socialize was de rigueur and masks were for Halloween or Eyes Wide Shut–style sex parties, I wore leotards, high-waisted jeans, fitted long-sleeved minidresses, wide-brimmed hats, snug vintage halter maxis that were probably used as nightgowns in the ʼ60s, and camisoles with a tank bra over an actual push-up bra. I tamed and accentuated my curves, and accessorized generously inseamed pants with—wait for it—heels! I’m laughing just typing the word!
When I costarred in the show I created, Difficult People, I used to wear shapers and control tops under clothes that were so snug, I had to consider my posture and what my abs were doing. If I chose costumes that demanded less bodily obedience, I’d find the task of editing footage of myself unbearable.
Now that my show is no longer on the air and I’ve been spending most of my time writing from home and making hummus from scratch, I’ve decided, well, a couple of things. One is that people on social media are lying about how happy they are and how good they look, and you should follow accounts belonging only to funny dogs. Another is that clothing-wise, anything with a button or a zipper is, at this point in my own personal history, tyrannical. Fabric without stretch is bullying. Boning is incomprehensible. And form-fitting clothing is only for working out, in the same way that swimsuits are only for swimming.
I used to tell anybody who would listen (God help them for being near me in the first place to bear witness to this particular bon mot) that I proudly didn’t own a single T-shirt. I have strong, broad shoulders, and unless a T-shirt is too tight to be comfortable, one cannot differentiate my breast projection from the relatively smaller size of my waist. So I didn’t identify as a T-shirt person in the same way that whenever I see a fun-lovin’ gal looking sporty kicking around in jeans and sneakers, my heart sinks out of outfit dysphoria—that “Are we the same species?” kind of disconnect, because she looks adorable. When I wear sneakers and jeans, I feel like somebody wrapped soggy towels around my feet and left me to sink in the wet grass. My legs, as previously foreshadowed, are relatively short; I don’t need them intercepted by mushy wads of rubber.
And yet, early in the pandemic, I bought my first giant “wear this outside” T-shirt: a Kate Bush Gildan four sizes larger than the size I’d instinctively buy for myself. It drapes generously, its sleeves are forgivingly wide, and I’ve washed it into an appealing faded black-on-off-white valentine to Ms. Bush’s early-1980s visage.
When it was warm out, I wore it with animal-print bike shorts and vegan Birkenstocks to get my iced coffee. I felt good, and I think I looked cute, too, but nobody took my photo so I’ll never know. Which is kind of the best way to go about things, I’ve decided. Whether or not non-selfie photographs steal a little of your soul, they’re absolutely capable of looting your self-esteem. Sometimes, especially during global crises, it’s best for your appearance to be off the record.
This winter, however, was going to be different. I had invitations to holiday parties! A work dinner! Friends were in town! I had to make a move.
I typed the word ruched into nordstrom.com in hopes of unearthing a flattering minidress and chose a low-cut number in an emollient fabric. I found black tights in the back of my sock drawer and even purchased shapewear (!) in my newly calibrated, post-quarantine size. I put on flat boots that I may or may not have “stolen” from the Difficult People costume department, a coat that wasn’t puffy, and attended one (1) event—Classic Stage Company’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins—looking like an updated homage to my pre-COVID, “high alt-femme” self. In other words, if I may say so, I looked cute as hell. And reader: I almost died.
“Sic semper tyrannis!” I barked after the show in my foyer, ripping off the trappings of sucking in. After transitioning from a Spanx-assisted hourglass into a cranky, nakey apartment baby, I couldn’t get into the “even softer” version of my oversized uniform fast enough.
Therefore, I half-regret to inform you that this is, at least my, if not the, Winter of the Giant Sweatshirt. My thick cotton hoodies grant me daily opportunities to show off how delicate my neck looks when it’s bookended with dangly strings. When it comes to covering anatomical territory south of the collarbone, the ideal billow is a personal choice, but in my opinion, unless my hoodie ends just above my knees, with sleeves that dangle a cuff and a half past my fingers when my arms are slack, it is too small.
Unlike my scrunchie-wearing babysitters of yore, I don’t wear my big hoodies with leggings and high tops. I am, perhaps delusionally, convinced that I am flattered by the same flared yoga pants that make Fran Lebowitz slightly crankier than she’d be on a day when she had, say, not seen any flared yoga pants. I wear them with Chuck Taylors and I feel adorable when I do. But are they restaurant ready? Absolutely not, unless I’m going to Sonic. (I am not going to Sonic. I have been banned.)
I hope I find something for my imaginary lunch with Fran. She did make a point of saying that if something is tailored or made for you, it is, as a general rule, acceptable. I am not above commissioning a bespoke hoodie-yoga pant combo. I just need to make sure the fabric is soft enough.