As I write this lede, it’s the second week of New York’s social distancing mandate. I’m wearing a t-shirt I slept in, woke up in, slept in again, and woke up in once more; a pair of besmirched jeans; some questionable socks; a battered cotton bra; and no panties. Rumpled, mussed, probably more than a little fragrant, I am wearing the clothes of the classic scribe.
Writers, curled like commas around our laptops or notebooks, tend not to think about what we’re wearing when we’re working (there are the oddballs, Susan Sontag in her bear suit; Maria Dahvana Headley, who sometimes writes in sequined ballgowns; Rachel Syme who believes in the life-changing power of outfits). But don’t misunderstand me — writers’ slovenly, negligent sartorial choices are a de facto power move. We don’t have to get dressed, we whisper our stretched-out yoga pants and vintage Pavement t-shirt, and then we laugh at you in your Ann Taylor Loft shift dress.
In this Plague Year of Our Capitalist Overlords 2020, however, everyone’s a writer, at least as far as our clothing and our hunched posture go. The scribe look is very now, very in, very today; everyone who’s anyone — from the investment bankers who plagiarized all their college essays to the duped college professors themselves — is rolling out of their beds and into their lives with the scented, wrinkled seamlessness usually reserved for those of us who make our money by the word.
In this context, my choice to move my nightclothes to daywear and back again is no power move. It doesn’t differentiate me from my 9-to-7 neighbors. It doesn’t mark me as intellectual, or cool, or special. It marks me as quarantined, terrified, mourning, bored, and dreaming of a life where I am looked at, and thus have a reason to care about what I look like. In a world where everyone is dressing like a writer there’s no power in looking like one.
Like time, glass, or water, power is always shifting, and the prismatic nature of power means that you can’t easily define what power-dressing is. “The power of fashion is symbolic,” writes Emma McClendon in Power Mode: The Force of Fashion, her companion book to her FIT exhibit of the same…