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Research shows your clothes have an impact on your mind. What you wear during self-isolation matters

It’s time to replace your ‘day-to-night’ look with a ‘desk-to-couch-to-jog-around-the-park-for-five-minutes-before-giving-up’ look

Harriet Hall
Tuesday 24 March 2020 16:03 GMT
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Karl Lagerfeld once famously said that “sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants”. Lagerfeld clearly never had to self-isolate through a pandemic. In times of global crisis, loungewear will get us through.

The problem is, you can’t wear that Cath Kidston penguin set your mum bought you in sixth form unless you’re happy for your boss, teammates and HR department to lose the final scintilla of respect they had for you the second you Zoom call them. Video conferencing is here to scupper your apathetic aesthetic.

That’s not to say we should be going all out in our nine to five, pretend-to-be-a-professional office ensembles during lockdown. No, that would be a real waste of ironing time that could be better used to do sun salutations/read a chapter of your book/teach yourself Mandarin/sleep an extra 15 minutes/[insert personal quarantine goal here] before work. If there’s one thing we all deserve during a lockdown, it’s comfort – and that simply doesn’t come from a starched white shirt and pencil skirt.

There is a sartorial middle ground. Quarantine chic, as I like to call it, is all about striking that delicate balance between versatile, crease-free fabrics and ensembles that replace your usual “day-to-night” look with a “desk-to-couch-to-jog-around-the-park-for-five-minutes-before-giving-up" look.

It’s about taking advantage of not being constricted by a high-waisted trouser and shoes that pinch, while also being able to hop on a FaceTime call to your boss and still look like you’ve got your sh*t together. It’s an outfit that enables you to quickly dodge oncoming strangers to ensure you can maintain your two metres of social distance at all times. It’s an ensemble that says: “I haven’t worn a bra for 12 weeks, and my breasts have never been happier.”

The Instagram account Working From Home Fits has racked up almost 12,000 followers since it launched almost a fortnight ago, reposting the remote-working styles of fashion editors and creatives from New York to London. Scrolling through it will remind you what it feels like to enjoy clothes if you, like many, have forgotten what getting properly dressed feels like after just one week at home.

Making an effort while working remotely is more than just about fashion, of course. Who cares what you look like when the only person seeing you is the postman through your peephole or your pet goldfish? Well, psychologists have long investigated the way our outfits impact our behaviour. The “dress for success” mentality has been explored in numerous studies. One, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014, found that men wearing informal clothes had lower testosterone levels than those in formal business attire, and actually secured less profitable business deals as a result. Another, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2015, found that participants performed better in cognitive tests when wearing smart clothes than those in casual garb.

Ergo, it’s important to get fully dressed for work whether your office is the kitchen table or the metal bistro set you yanked off your balcony at the beginning of this new era of remote working. The act of getting dressed also prepares our mind and body for a day of work and separates the home space from the work, so you don’t end up getting too comfortable with the latter and yanking your trousers down to go for a slash mid-conference call in front of all your colleagues, like one poor woman did this week.

Clothes can have a direct impact on our mental wellbeing, too. So-called enclothed cognition is a theory that suggests the way we dress has a direct impact on our mood. If we wear something we perceive to be uplifting, it can lift our spirits with it.

So if your work usually requires you to wear a suit and tie or a uniform, now’s your time to shine. Ditch your TM Lewin shirt and swap it for a Hawaiian; dye your hair pink; swaddle yourself in cashmere; don that band T-shirt from that festival you once went to back when festivals were things that people went to. The power of clothes to lift the spirits is greatly underappreciated – and God knows we need a little uplift right now.

After all, is it not our civic duty to shop during this time, support our favourite businesses by burning some plastic online? I think so. The fashion industry, like many others, looks to suffer greatly from coronavirus, and one surefire way to help save the economy from imminent meltdown is by taking advantage of your spending power. It’s what the government wants.

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