During the most locked-down parts of the pandemic, I didn’t write a book, start a new hobby or make bread. I ate a lot of carbs, sewed some masks, and went on a months-long internet deep dive into historical fashion.
To help me face long days of pandemic ministry, the stress of tech problems, and wading through worship safety precautions, I turned to YouTube to de-stress. I found myself watching more and more (Euro- and US – centric) historical fashion YouTube channels, specifically covering roughly 1790 – 1900, such as Bernadette Banner and Abby Cox, plus following Instagram accounts such as “Not Your Mamma’s History.” As I binged these channels to escape the general pandemic mental breakdown, I started noticing time periods in films based on women’s clothing shape and style.
Fast forward to our current era, spring of 2021, and some of us are emerging from the covid cocoon. Many of us, myself included, are trying on our professional clothes that have not seen the light of day in an entire year… and discovering not everything fits the way it used to. I see post after post all over social media lamenting how our bodies have changed during the pandemic. Even those of us who intentionally attempting to have better relationships with our bodies, myself included, are struggling. Many of us find ourselves in need of new clothes, but this is not a reason for a new wardrobe that our culture has deemed to be “fun” or “good.”
I want to let you in on some timely learnings from my historical clothing deep dives that has saved my own sanity: throughout much of history, women’s fashion has built-in allowanced for bodies to change over time. Existing European and American historical garments have obvious alterations from year to year – both letting out and taking in, to accommodate our body changes in several ways – lacings for stays and corsets (also a deep dive all by itself), buttons, pins, drawstrings, gatherings, and pleats. Seasonally, it was normal for women (and men) to have new garments specifically tailored and have existing garments refashioned. Size wasn’t nearly as important as it is now – in fact, bodies of all shapes have been existing and admired in all historical periods! Instead, shape and proportion were held up as the beauty standard and could easily be achieved with both cinching AND padding for women of all shapes and sizes. Yes, women of any body type used padding to create and enhance whatever fashionable shape was in vogue at the time.
Again, fast forward to current day, and our clothing is less forgiving and less easily tailored than it was in the past. Normal yearly, monthly, and even daily fluctuations are not accommodated, especially in synthetic garments and “fast fashion.” On top of this, our bodies by themselves are expected to achieve beauty perfection in both size and shape all on their own, without the help of structure or padding provided by our clothing (as it had in the past). This is a lose-lose situation, and this reality has only been compounded by our communal pandemic body changes.
My historical fashion Covid escapism has reinforced to me that my God-created body is good and healthy just the way it is. As I struggle sorting my clothes that fit differently now, I try to make my mantra instead of “Why doesn’t this fit like it used to??” into “My body is good. It has gotten me through this pandemic.” However, this is hard. So, as I purge, I am working toward using this moment as an opportunity to curate not just a new wardrobe, but a new KIND of wardrobe. One that honors this God-given, capable body.
As our lives begin to unfold in a new kind of re-opening, I plan to be seeking out this wardrobe. I will look for clothes that make me feel fabulous, with flexible fabrics or adjustable construction reminiscent of the past, constructed sustainably and ethically out of natural materials if possible, that will last more than a season or two. Most importantly (besides pockets), I want clothes that allow my body to breathe, fluctuate, and be alive and mobile out in the world. Strangely enough, some of the old ways have shown me that a new way is possible, which should not have been all that surprising to me. After all, my own faith tradition worships the Risen Christ, alive in a body, raised by a loving God who makes all things new.
A Prayer for Post-Pandemic Closet Purging:
Lord, have mercy!
It’s so hard to worry about what to wear in the months of sweatpants I’ve been living in (and not minding that).
My entire body has not been seen by human eyes in so long!
Lord, my middle hates these pants now,
And nothing fits as it used to –
Shirts that were pretty, but slightly uncomfortable,
Makes me want to crawl out of my skin.
Lord, have mercy, what a pile of clothes that don’t work anymore.
Help me to say, “Thank you.”
Thank you to the shirt that was useful for a time,
Thank you to the dress that helped me through leading that difficult funeral.
Thank you to the pants with the grass stain from Capture the Flag with the youth group.
Thank you to that blazer I wore to the interview that I totally rocked.
Thank you to my body that helped me make it through this difficult time.
Things are different, I am different,
But remind me that you do not love me any less. Amen.