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What Are We Going to Wear When the Pandemic is Over?

As Covid rates fall and more of us are vaccinated, a summer full of in-person socializing peeks over the horizon. With it comes a hearty dose of outfit anticipation—and anxiety.

By Caitlin Abber

March 20, 2021

There was a point last year when sweatpants felt liberating. Jeans, trousers, and anything with a zipper (otherwise known as “hard pants”) became the enemy, and mullet-dressing—a work-appropriate shirt on top, and anything goes on the bottom—wasn’t just a silly new phrase, but an entire lifestyle. In August, The New York Times published a story with the bold headline, “Sweatpants Forever,” and many of us sighed in relief. 

But now, a year later, as Covid cases fall, and more and more people are getting vaccinated, I can’t help but notice a shift in how we’re feeling about clothes. Yes, there’s a “new normal” in terms of hybrid dressing—as in, wearing work clothes that work for the weekends, too—but there’s also a renewed interest in putting in a bit more effort. M.M. recently conducted a poll on Instagram, and 87% of those who responded said they were optimistic about the summer, and they were already making plans (Housewarming parties! Overdue baby showers! Vacations! Reunions!). Somewhat fewer, but still the majority—74%—said they were looking forward to getting dressed up again. 

You can almost smell the sunscreen in the air. Very soon, we are going to get to go out again, we’re going to see people, and more importantly, people are going to see us. Do we want to be wearing sweatpants to our big reunions? Probably not. Which means it’s time to ask ourselves a very important question: What are we going to wear when the pandemic is over?

"I love how putting on a special outfit opens up possibilities for the day or evening ahead. An outfit is the beginning of a story, in a way."

For me, this has been a delightful thought exercise. I gave birth to my first child at the very start of the pandemic, so regardless of having to shelter in place, between accommodating nursing and healing my postpartum body, I was going to reach for stretchy, low-maintenance clothes. When I returned from maternity leave but still had an infant at home, needing to change diapers and pump between Zoom calls only added to the desire to wear things that were comfy and machine-washable. But that was a slippery slope, and before I knew it, throwing on a pair of jeans and some eyeliner to go to Target felt like going to the Oscars. 

The thing is, I love clothes, and I love having a reason to get dressed up. Doing my hair just to sit inside on Zoom calls isn’t cutting it, and I’m ready to feel like myself again. That means embracing a little whimsy and wearing things that are occasionally impractical, like a fabulous dress on a Sunday or a pair of fierce ankle boots instead of sneakers. It doesn’t matter where I am going—just the fact that I can be out in the world again is going to be an event. 

Other women I spoke to for this story had similar aspirations. One new mom told me she was getting rid of all her clothes and starting fresh. Another said she would welcome real pants as long as they’re stretchy, and she plans on pairing them “‘Miami Vice’-style—with floral shirts, gold chains, and loud sneakers.” Writer (and M.M. family member for life) Tory Hoen said she couldn’t wait to put on a pair of really impractical heels and “Something crazy!!!” A single friend of mine is planning on dating in person again, and said she was looking forward to wearing “as little as possible.” As I talked to women for this story, I heard a lot about dresses, florals, and crop tops (from women of all ages).

Cate Luzio, the founder of the women’s networking community Luminary, is specifically looking forward to “going-out clothes.” “I cannot wait to make plans and be able to get dressed up to the nines—high heels, a great dress, jewelry, a bag—the works. First stop, a night out with my girlfriends to reconnect physically and enjoy being together again, all of us in real ‘going-out’ clothes, looking our best.” 

Nadia Owusu, the author of Aftershocks, is also looking forward to getting dressed up, but has slightly different expectations for her post-pandemic social life. “I love how putting on a special outfit opens up possibilities for the day or evening ahead,” she said. “An outfit is the beginning of a story, in a way. I love summer dressing the most—lots of colors, bare shoulders and legs. I’m pretty modest in my hopes for where I might go. At this point, I can see myself getting dressed up to have a picnic with a friend in the park. Seeing a friend in person will feel like an occasion.”

Cleo Stiller, the author of Modern Manhood, is also excited to dress up and is looking forward to enjoying the upside of her work-from-home situation. “Now that the weather is getting warmer and hope is in sight, I fantasize about summer dresses. Perhaps one benefit of not having to report to an office is that my home office air conditioner will be programmed to my preferences, and not the preferences of the folks in two-piece suits.”

Of course, it’s not all picnics and a perfect 75 degrees. The last year took a real emotional and physical toll on many of us. “Everyone I know is freaking out about fitting into their pre-Covid clothes,” said Cleo. “I just bought jean shorts one and two sizes bigger without even thinking about it, because why even torture myself?” For every woman who told me she was excited by the prospect of getting dressed up again, I heard from someone who was dreading  it. “Am I the only one who finds this prospect overwhelming?” said one woman. A lawyer friend of mine said that she’d consider a dress, but “pants sound bad. Pantyhose sound even worse.” A few women told me that nothing in their closets fits anymore. And some just weren’t ready to make the switch. “I miss my old clothes,” said a dear friend. “But I love my sweatpants.”

I can relate to this feeling, too. As excited as I am to get dressed up again, I haven’t actually looked deep in the trenches of my closet yet, where I stashed my pre-baby/pre-pandemic shorts, skirts, and dresses. I honestly don’t know if any of them will fit or if I’ll be in the same boat and need to buy a bunch of new pieces. But if that is the case, I’ve decided I’m going to be okay with it. This year has been hard in ways none of us anticipated. My body has been through a lot. I refuse to let negative feelings get in the way of any opportunity to see people and have fun outside my apartment. Besides, the sweatpants will always be there when I get home. They’re forever, after all.  

Written By

Caitlin Abber

Caitlin Abber is the Brand Editor at M.M. LaFleur, and an award-winning writer and content creator. Over the last decade she has held senior editorial positions at MTV, Women's Health, Public Radio International, and Bustle, and has bylines at InStyle and

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