Clothing has always been a way that I express myself. As I recently exited my 30s, I was fairly confident in that expression. Based on random compliments from strangers and the popularity of my items at swaps, I thought that I had really figured out this whole “getting dressed” situation.
But during the pandemic, I found myself behaving very differently when it came to fashion. As urged by fashion Instagrammer frisky_gatos, a Minneapolis nurse in her late 30s, I began to embrace the #Listen2urLizard way of dressing: Instead of worrying about what you think you’re “supposed to” be wearing, you listen to your most primitive brain and figure out what makes it happy. I started to listen to those instincts and reshape my wardrobe, and soon found that I was truly dressing for myself and not other people. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
1. My lizard brain wants to be a Peacock.
When I became a lawyer, I thought I had to show the world that I was a Serious Person. And Serious People wear a lot of black and cream and grey, of course. But my lizard brain rarely wanted to wear those colours during the pandemic, unless there was a Zoom call during which I knew I might get particularly sweaty. My lizard brain wanted FLORALS FLORALS FLORALS and a lot of vibrant colours: Maroon, red, and emerald green in the fall and winter; cobalt, lilac, coral, and hot pink in the spring and summer; colours that I previously thought weren’t right for “serious” me. My brain wants me to dress like flowers (my favourite pick-me-up), a flamboyant romantic peacock, like Rihanna’s slightly older sister, a less revealing Beyoncé. Florals, patterns, and bright colours make me feel more joyous, giving me a little lift when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror or glance down, a lift we all need right now.
2. Buy clothes for the body you have, not the body you think you should have.
Seems obvious, but I have been guilty of aspirational shopping my whole life. With the advent of the age of ‘Rona, and not knowing when I’d have to wear clothes in front of other people, buying clothes for a future me that gets back into shape no longer had the same appeal. I no longer feel the urge need to buy that very nice skirt that I know is an inch or two too small, because I have no idea when I’ll be wearing leather pencil skirts again, let alone when I’ll get back into the gym to do the work to fit into a leather pencil skirt a size too small. I began to fully embrace the body that I have, the body that is resilient and living through a global calamity of a scale unknown in my lifetime. I see the beauty in a body that carries groceries, takes walks with friends, took up tennis for the first time, and puts together furniture. My brain has decided to buy beautiful things for the badass body I have right now.
3. My skin likes to breathe.
I learned that my body does not like synthetics. They may have glittered and beckoned from my closet, but my hands did not reach for the polyester or acetate in my wardrobe. Nylon was another no go, as was most spandex. Some rayon was okay, as it is semi-synthetic, but it was always the ones that felt like a natural fibre, like Tencel, or a blend with a natural fabric. Instead, my body reaches for the natural—silk and worn-in linen, or cozy cotton, like the hot pink cotton gauze dress I purchased from Collingwood’s Red Sky.
4: Denim without stretch is a torture chamber only to be worn when you don’t have to sit down.
I own a lot of jeans. I have worn only one pair during the pandemic–the only pair with some stretch. My body does not want to sit in Levis for 8 hours. Don’t get me wrong–I look forward to attending a concert at the Danforth Music Hall in said Levi’s, surrounded by people, completing the Canadian Tuxedo with a denim jacket. But unless I’m going to be standing the whole time, jeans are not for this body.
5. I cannot get work done in leisure wear.
I envy those of you who roll up to your computer in a sweatshirt and leggings. Having come of age in the 90s, I still cannot see leggings as pants. Sweatsuits feel like something I’ve thrown over my sweaty tank top for the long car ride home from a frisbee tournament. If I want to feel productive and get real work done, I need to put on real clothes. Pants with a zipper. A shirt with some structure. Even a little blush and mascara. Putting on something different from pajamas brings a focus that I just don’t have in sweats. I’ve gotta dress up, even if it’s just for me and my lizard brain.
6. Sell or get rid of the clothes that you don’t like, so you can get clothes you do.
Pre-pandemic, I was a frequent host of clothing swaps, getting my closest fashion gal pals together for wine and swapping. Without that luxury during the pandemic, clothing started to pile up, and weigh on me mentally. So, I decided to channel my inner Marie Kondo and get rid of everything that didn’t “spark joy”– the fabrics that didn’t work for me, the clothes that didn’t fit, the darker, more sombre colours that my brain was not gravitating to. I posted pictures of my clothing in my Instagram stories, where many were snapped up by my friends, the remainder waiting to be donated to Sistering. Now, my former items get to have a new life, in a new closet, where they are loved and are exactly what someone else’s lizard brain wants. I get to have a less cluttered closet where I love every single thing I can reach for (which brings a whole different level of analysis paralysis, but I’ll figure out that very first world problem.)
7. We have SO much amazing design in Canada, more than enough to fill an entire wardrobe.
As I saw the impact of the pandemic on those around me, I resolved to do most of my shopping locally. I have now transitioned my wardrobe to be almost entirely Canadian and/or secondhand. Who wants to pay $35 for shipping from Texas? Nah, sis. I buy vintage from Canadian Etsy stores and shops like Sub Rosa and Chosen Vintage. I buy Canadian design from the wide selection at B.C.’s Adhoc (in Penticton) and One of a Few (Vancouver); Toronto’s Frock and Coal Miner’s Daughter; and Montreal’s Boutique Unicorn. I buy directly from designers who make their clothing in Canada—the crisp linen and slow fashion of Beaton Linen, Shelter, Nicole Purdy; the whimsy of Ovate, Eve Gravel and Eliza Faulkner, the colourful jewelry of Warren Steven Scott and Corey Moranis. And of course, there’s my beloved Horses Atelier with their magical jumpsuits, designed and sewn right here in my hometown of Toronto.
I couldn’t tell you who the CEOs of Aritzia or Simons are, but I have gotten size advice directly from owners Regine and Katie of Ottawa’s Victoire Boutique. I regularly exchange messages and heart emojis with Horses Atelier store manager Gabrielle, the only person I’ve hugged this year besides my boyfriend. Sammi of Soft Focus and Zai of Ease kindly dropped off orders at my house when I was injured and couldn’t walk. I’ve gone to Amanda Moss’s workshop and chatted with her at Frock while smizing at her adorable baby. I know these people. They are my neighbours, my friends. I celebrate their work and design and they have celebrated my work in kind, sharing it on their own pages. When I purchase locally, I feel like I get to be part of this super cool club of terrific women designers and entrepreneurs. And this makes my whole brain very, very happy.