Last week I was changing out of my pajamas to go pick up eggs from the corner bodega when I had the urge to not just put on clothes but to dress up. The impulse felt like discovering a necklace in a coat pocket that I thought I’d lost: unexpected, and maybe a little miraculous. Over the last eight months, my expression of personal style and selfhood through legitimate “outfits” has waned in favor of comfortable pragmatism (in other words, I tend to wear the exact same pair of sweatpants every single day).
Lest the desire prove fickle, I quickly unfurled a pair of opaque black tights and shoved my prickly legs inside them. Then I zipped myself into a holiday party dress I bought secondhand last year and saved for months, with the intention of wearing it to something festive in 2020. I knew when I looked in the mirror that this was the first and probably last time I would wear it this year. The prospect of buying eggs had never felt so auspicious.
It was 35 degrees outside, so I put on a hat and coat before snapping on my face mask and stepping out the door. The walk to the bodega took no more than five minutes. I let my coat hang open despite the freezing wind that licked my knees, harboring a tender and admittedly absurd wish for the outfit to be seen, even if it was only for a few seconds by a stranger with mostly obscured features.
Another miraculous thing occurred when one passerby paused and half-yelled through her mask: “GREAT DRESS.”
The words disintegrated almost as soon as I heard them, dispersing with the wind like the seeds of a dandelion. I smiled under my mask and willed the corners of my eyes to upturn with as much visible appreciation as possible. “THANK YOU SO MUCH,” I said back.
I reached the store and stood in the refrigerated aisle for too many minutes, my coat still hanging open, thinking about what I love most about dressing up in New York, even during this period of time wherein the old purposes behind doing so have been rendered mostly obsolete. I love how each neighborhood has a unique sense of style, as different as the grooves on a collection of fingerprints. I love that wearing a party dress on a random weeknight en route to purchase eggs will earn you a compliment instead of confusion. I love how the unifying thread that defines New York style is not a particular aesthetic or trend, but rather the mutual understanding that clothes can spark a conversation before we even open our mouths. I love that these conversations can take hundreds of different shapes. Sometimes they sound like an exchange shouted through masks, eyes crinkling. Sometimes they sound like nothing at all, communicated silently through a knowing once-over or nod.
When I got home, I put the eggs away and peeled myself out of the tights and dress. I put back on my sweatpants and sat in my favorite spot on the couch where I can look out the window while I work. Every so often, I glanced outside and watched as people walked by. I counted puffy coats, well-worn boots, flashes of brightly-colored masks. Tiny crumbs of inspiration, a trail of conversations waiting to be had.