For as long as I can remember, I’ve been picking out the perfect outfit the night before school, Monday through Friday, August through May. When I was younger, I used to wake up an hour and a half before school—not only because they always played the best cartoons at 6 AM, but also to prepare my outfit for the day. I would stand and ponder the clothes in my closet for an hour, trying every combination to find the most outrageously fashionable fit I could. I never left the house wearing anything that I didn’t love. And I never stopped. It’s a tradition, or maybe a habit, that’s evolved with my sense of style and served as a way for my personality to shine through, quiet as I may be. Every outfit is picked intentionally; all my color coordinations are by design. From a young age, I knew the blue sparkle pants should never be worn with the neon yellow butterfly top.
I never thought this tradition would have to change, so when the news came that I’d be spending my senior year of high school online, my world crumbled. It never occurred to me that my fashion habits would be reduced to shoulder-up views and days spent completely indoors. The bottom half of my outfits would be lost to that dastardly small Zoom square. Initially, I told myself it wasn’t even worth it to put effort into my appearance. What good would putting fancy clothes on do if I was going to be stuck behind a screen?
I figured not trying would be a nice change of pace after years of looking put-together, but I found that I still couldn’t let myself go to sleep without picking out an outfit. There was something so inherently wrong to me about trying to sleep without a look picked out for the next day. Flashbacks of mornings spent frantically rummaging through drawers and looking in closets resurfaced. The fear of showing up to class unprepared, disheveled in my pajamas, propelled me to my closet. When I finally gave into the habit and let myself prep for the next day, I wondered—why shouldn’t I dress up for Zoom? Sure, I would only be seen from the waist up, and sure, no one was going to care whether I was in my pajamas or a button-up. But fashion isn’t necessarily about perception.
When I originally started dressing up for school, it was partially about how I would be viewed. In elementary school, sometimes making friends depends on the number of sparkles you have on. But as I’ve grown up, the way people think of me based on how I dress has mattered less. I don’t dress up for attention or compliments, but because I like to be seen. My clothes speak for me when my mouth doesn’t. And, despite my initial apprehensions, the process works exactly the same on Zoom.
Since Zoom classes started, I’ve pushed myself to pick out an outfit every day as if it was for normal, in-person school. Even though online school can’t even begin to capture the in-person experience, my outfits can. My clothes have been through normal school and they know what’s required of being a good student. They know how to handle long days in debate club and even longer nights spent doing homework while hunched over my desk. Dressing up for Zoom school has an unexpected benefit in that it’s tricked my brain into thinking that sitting in front of a screen all day is just as good as school, on a superficial level. It’s motivated me to do the work that’s being asked of me, in turn making online school a little bit more manageable. My clothes aren’t a miracle cure for the inadequacies of Zoom school, but they do make it more tolerable. Especially because my patterned tops and dresses are the things that speak for me in the silent classroom.
I can’t ever stay away from my fashion affinity for too long. I still enjoy hanging up my clothes the night before class; I love coming up with new pattern combinations and making accessories out of old clothes, finding little ways to reinvent my style from home. I couldn’t kill this habit even if I wanted to. In-person or online, dressing up is something I’ll always love. Clothing makes me who I am, and a screen can’t stop that.
By Sophia Moore