Will I ever wear a suit again?

Dear Willow:

Do you remember blue jean Fridays? When companies would “reward” their staff by letting them wear jeans to work on Fridays, as long as they weren’t ripped or stained. An exception was made for our old friend and colleague, Elbert, who somehow always managed to make ripped-and-stained look like a GQ cover.

Well, that’s out the window now, as we all shelter at home. The pandemic has been a boon for sweatpants, t-shirts, blue jeans, and probably even pajamas. And frankly, I’m in my element. I’ll put on a collar shirt when I have a video meeting scheduled, but otherwise it’s jeans and t-shirts. It’s easy, and I’m comfortable. What could be wrong with that?

But a few weeks ago, I was moving my winter clothes to the back of my closet and bringing my summer clothes up front. In the middle were all my dress pants, skirts, blouses, and suits, which I can mostly wear year-round. I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared, kind of wistfully.  

I have some nice clothes, I thought. I totally forgot about that cute jacket. I should have worn that red blouse more often. It would look great with that gray sweater. 

Why did I never see that before?

When am I going to wear these again?

Well, I got a chance last weekend when my neighbors held a socially-distanced ceremony for three kids on the block who just graduated from high school. A few neighbors planned the whole event. They dropped fliers in everyone’s mailboxes a week in advance, repurposed our block party stage, and pulled off the most intimate, personal, and celebratory graduation I have ever seen, complete with a parade, an inspiring commencement speech, touching and motivational speeches by the parents and kids, all culminating in a beautifully led singalong to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”

Life goes on.

And, you know what? Most people got dressed up! Even though the ceremony was in the middle of the street, and we all just brought our own lawn chairs, and it was a mid-afternoon on a beautiful June Saturday in Chicago. The kids were in their gowns, their parents in suits and dresses, and many of the 80+ neighbors who came were in appropriate graduation viewing attire. Not necessarily formal, but definitely not normal pandemic attire. Except for the face masks, of course.

I think people dressed up to honor the occasion and to honor the kids, but I also think we did it to elevate the occasion, and maybe even to elevate ourselves. I am fortunate to live on an amazing, supportive, and tightknit block. But that day, we really raised the bar and brought our best selves. And it showed in the love and joy and gratitude that we all felt, including—and especially—the graduates and their families.

People who know me would not consider me a fashionista by any stretch, and many would be surprised to know that I am a faithful fan of Project Runway. I’ve always thought it was because I love seeing the creativity of the designers. I would never personally wear most of what they make, but I am often in awe of what they dream up and then put together under extreme pressure.

But maybe it’s more than that.

Nice clothes help us rise to the occasion, for ourselves and for others. This is an incredibly stressful time, when many of us are spending a lot of time alone, or with just a few people. It’s easy to just throw on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt when all you’re doing is staying home. But, when we do get out, it’s nice to celebrate that, and honor each other.

Next time I get a chance to get out again, I’m going to wear that red blouse.


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