Pregnancy and the COVID-19 Pandemic Did Their Best to Make Me Reject Fashion
A fashion writer grapples with what to wear in a particular set of circumstances.
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Way before boys captured my heart, there was fashion.
Like my first kiss, my earliest memory of clothing has been etched in my memory forever. It was while I perched in front of the television with my mom gazing at old Hollywood starlets. Marilyn Monroe’s nude cocktail dress dripping in beads from the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot; Audrey Hepburn’s black sheath dress from 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Vera-Ellen’s homage to Christian Dior’s wasp-waisted New Look in 1954’s White Christmas. Each movie showed me how an outfit, no matter how simple or extravagant, had the power to depict emotion.
I went on to learn that stepping outside my front door every day in clothes I’ve chosen is like giving strangers a key to my heart, an insight into my personality.
As I grew older, I was the girl who wore navy-tailored trousers and a cropped blazer to a street party celebrating Prince William and Kate’s wedding; a little black dress to casual after-work drinks; a red fishtail gown with a scooped back to a wedding; red lipstick to work. Underdressing seemed like committing a crime; overdressing for something—anything—altered my mood and made me carry myself with my head held high. I was ready for whatever the day ahead threw at me.
Throughout life’s difficulties, whether they be going out for dinner to regain some normalcy after spending three weeks in hospital with a Crohn’s disease flare-up or clinging onto writing a luxury-brand insight while recovering from said flare-up and a horrific breakup, fashion never let me down. Even if I felt like I was falling apart inside, on the outside, my hair would be brushed, lips coated in red—a color that represented power and strength—and a blazer hung around my shoulders like a coat of armor.
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My Post-Pregnancy Wardrobe Consisted of Only a Few Items
Then in 2020, the coronavirus spread uncontrollably across the world, forcing us to stay home and isolate ourselves from the world. At the same time, I became a new mother and everything changed.
It was like I no longer bothered to carefully consider my style choices. Now there were just a few options I’d rotate throughout the week—various workout leggings, elasticated faux-leather joggers, hoodies, loose shirts and T-shirts—while my face remained bare and hair pulled on top of my head. “What was the point in making an effort when I was just going to stay home or attend a baby class?” I’d ask myself.
Staring into my closet each morning felt like peeking into someone else’s life, a snapshot of their memories: a tomato-red trouser suit worn to her 33rd birthday after a troublesome year; a black midi dress with tiered chiffon layers that hid her early baby bump but brought with it a maternal glow when she’d been feeling so sick throughout the first trimester.
What does it mean when I’ve spent a year in workout gear throughout lockdown and dressing a body I no longer recognize post-pregnancy? Has it made me reject fashion? As I gazed at the black jersey leggings and pale pink hoodie, I asked myself, where has that girl with the red lips and blazer gone? Where is the girl who was so fascinated by the story each designer told through their catwalk shows that she slogged through four years at university and worked until 10 p.m. to become a fashion writer?
But what was bothering me the most, for the first time in my life, was that I didn’t know how to dress my new body without waking up that negative bully in my head.
Dressing Postpartum Was No Longer Fun
After giving birth, I no longer fit into clothes that made me feel as strong as a warrior; instead, my mood dropped each morning with the task of choosing what to wear. All I felt was self-conscious. I didn’t fit into anything I’d loved pre-pregnancy. Those jeans that felt like reuniting with an old friend didn’t move past my newly expanded thighs, and the blazer’s fabric pulled across my shoulders and felt too snug around my arms. But what triggered painful emotions was my bloated and painful tummy appearing worse above my C-section scar, reminding me of my chronic illnesses: Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
I suppressed my emotions by choosing workout gear from my closet each morning. It didn’t matter if I was working out or not. And yet, I dreaded dressing up for friends’ birthdays out of lockdown. What once was an enjoyable experience was now making my body tremble with fear and paranoia over what others might assume (“Was she pregnant?”). Instead, I concentrated on raising my daughter and crawled my way out of the dark hole that postnatal depression and postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder had left me in. However, I figured out I wasn’t feeling myself mentally or physically, which had made me question who I was now. Was I just a mother? Or was there still that fashion-loving woman buried deep inside me somewhere?
I Eventually Embraced Postpartum Fashion
As the months flew by, and with the help of antidepressants and therapy, I started to feel like myself again. I wasn’t going to get my old body back or the life I was mourning, but I didn’t want them, either. My new normal meant I was a mom, first and foremost, and it was the most rewarding yet challenging job in the world. But I was also still me, a modern woman who wanted to show her daughter that Mommy worked and earned her own money doing something she loves: writing, whether that be about clothes or mental health, topics related to how I felt.
One day, I put my fashion knowledge to use and bought clothes in the silhouettes that suited my post-baby body: pleated or wrap skirts; shirred, smock or skater dresses; tops with a peplum hem; stretchy paper-bag waistbands. Then I cleared out my closet and filled four garbage sacks of clothes that were bought years before pregnancy and no longer felt comfortable on my tummy or for my mental state—the black midi dress with a tiered skirt, the jeans that were faithful friends—because life moves on, and we grow apart, even from those closest to us.