Growing up, my mom always made a fuss about what we wore to church; she wanted our congregation to see my brother and me looking picture-perfect. Even back then, I instinctively knew that, as a Black girl, I didn’t have the luxury of being anything but the best. I was also aware of the fact that looking put together at all times was about more than vanity—it was a necessity, and one less thing that could be weaponized against me in a world that doesn’t give a shit about Black women.
I understood the protective power of clothing from a young age, but it’s not until my early 20s that I started to enjoy dressing up and appreciating the beauty of colourful fabrics and voluminous silhouettes. I plucked influences from everywhere and could never settle on a single look—I wanted to try on everything. I didn’t think much about my purchases and their impact back then; all I cared about was experimenting with as many styles as possible. Now I buy quality pieces that really speak to me, either by shopping vintage or consignment, or by having something made bespoke, and I focus on what I feel comfortable in: colourful dresses, earrings that are impossible to ignore and menswear-influenced shoes.
I’ve been writing about style on my blog, I want – I got, for 14 years. Four years ago, I set myself a new challenge: to wear and document every single piece in my wardrobe on Instagram. During that time, I discovered that picking out clothes in the morning is often the most joyful part of my day. When the pandemic hit and I started working from home last March, I continued to dress up for the workplace—it gives structure to my days and is something to look forward to. I don’t tend to plan ahead, preferring to let my mood guide me. On days when I’m feeling low, I like to throw on a colourful piece to give me a jolt of energy and happiness. I live alone with Sally Sally, my brown tabby cat, and there’s no denying that the past 11 months have been isolating. I sometimes realize I haven’t spoken a word out loud for days.
But, since the pandemic began, I often get messages from strangers telling me how my outfit updates brighten up their days. Those little notes make me feel less alone; they connect me to a world outside my bubble. They’re also a way back to a sense of normalcy. They stand in for serendipitous meetings on the street and the elation of unexpectedly running into a friend at a party—a digital (albeit watered-down) version of the sweet surprises that await you in the outside world. Those small connections have buoyed me through two lockdowns (and counting), and it still surprises me that people share in my joy when I dress up.
Despite what my Instagram feed would have you believe, I’m not always at the top of my style game. There are days when I can’t bring myself to make an effort and play nice for the camera. But when I scroll through my past outfits, I’m reminded of the joy I felt putting them together and twirling in my living room, and how, on those days, dressing up was the antidote to despair and opened up a whole world outside the four walls of my empty apartment. On dark days, those memories keep me going and motivate me to get up, look inside my closet and find a special piece that’s sure to put a smile on my face.
Need some style inspiration? Scroll through Anita Clarke’s favourite pandemic outfits.
“I love voluminous dresses! This one’s colourful print is so fun. I spotted it on an acquaintance and I had to have it—she looked so radiant in it, and I knew it would bring me joy, too.”
“I fell hard for this sweet button-up shirtdress by Finnish design house Marimekko after spotting it on Instagram. The brand’s Talkoot pattern is exuberant, yet delicate. I love how it looks paired with my pastel Grenson boots. The juxtaposition of a long, sleek silhouette with chunky footwear delights me to no end.”
“My favourite thing about this frock is the removable frill— it’s like having two outfits for the price of one. The silver Tabi boots from Maison Margiela were a pandemic splurge. I know that the split toe is quite divisive amongst the fashion set, but I love these boots—I have no regrets, as I’ve wanted a pair for more than a decade.”
“Designer Warren Steven Scott showed me a sample of this dress a few months before it made its Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto debut, and the stunning gathering detail immediately caught my eye. The lug-soled platforms toughen up the feminine dress beautifully, and they’re really comfortable and practical.”
“Toronto-based tailor Philip Sparks always makes my bespoke dreams come true. This year, he crafted me a pair of trousers from a gorgeous oil-slick-inspired fabric by Malhia Kent. I love to go all out with texture and colour, so I threw on this fuzzy Sies Marjan sweater and picked my shiniest shoes.”
“This bold hand-painted jumpsuit by NorBlack NorWhite—a women-led Indian-Canadian design house and cultural platform based in Delhi—was another pandemic buy. It’s the perfect mix of style and comfort. I love that such a statement piece can double as loungewear. It’s proof that there’s no need to choose between looking and feeling great when it comes to fashion.”
“I own several colourful sweatsuits, but I have a soft spot for this zesty matching set by Toronto-based brand OkayOk. It’s comfortable but still stylish. The babouches are handmade from vintage Berber rugs by Canada-born, Paris-based textile designer Calla Haynes, and each pair is one of a kind.”
“This oversized Osei-Duro dress is ultra-feminine, so I balanced it out with a mannish pair of patent black-and-white brogues. I love mixing womenswear and menswear together—it creates unexpected combinations and gives even the dressiest pieces a more laid-back vibe. It’s when I feel most like myself.”
“I treated myself to a pair of Henrik Vibskov wide-leg pants recently. I surprisingly don’t own much plaid, but you can’t go wrong with such a classic print. I love how the pink tones soften the navy here, and it fits perfectly with my Topshop sweater, a leftover from my fast-fashion closet purge.”