The new reality of working from home may have prompted a skyrocketing in sales of loungewear brands as females eschew corporate clothing for laid-back tracksuits, but while athleisure may certainly be trending right now, there are women who are amping up the style stakes, instead of dressing down, on social media.
Some in the UAE have taken to decking out in ballgowns and the best of their wardrobes – including their wedding dresses – to help stay motivated, creative, entertained and sane during this tumultuous time.
Hashtags like #quarantinequeen and #dressupkarona have begun trending across the globe, and Dubai-based stylist Sophie Williams (@styled.bysophie on Instagram) launched the #alldressedupwithnowheretogo challenge on Instagram.
“As a stylist, two of the things that bring me the most joy are interacting with other people and playing dress up. Due to the current situation and the important need for us to stay safe and stay home, I found myself doing neither. So, being the creative and social-interaction-craving extrovert, that I am, I thought it might be fun to ditch the lycra, engage with my friends on social media and get all dressed up with nowhere to go,” she explains.
“That way we could interact in a creative, slightly mad and outrageously fun way on social media.” Open to everyone on Instagram, the challenge asks that participants dress up in their favourite outfits and document the highlights of their days spent at home. They share these on Instagram, mention who initially challenged them, and then challenge new friends to take part.
For her first post, Williams wore her wedding dress. “I wanted to wear the most special thing I own. I hadn't put it on since my wedding day, so being able to somehow squeeze into It was a nice surprise in itself, but it really did the trick, my mood was immediately lifted, and it brought back beautiful memories. It was also absolutely hilarious trying to potter around the house with a 6-foot train dragging behind me,” she says.
Her highlights included eating lunch alone in her formal dining room with fancy cutlery, attending webinars and online classes, and snuggling on the coach with her pet dog Elton.
Of course, amid a global pandemic, this is a challenge that will only resonate with women who are living in sheltered, safe environments and can afford to stay at home to self-isolate; turning to dressing up to counter boredom and low spirits, is certainly a #firstworldproblem.
But dressing up at home, though perhaps not in one’s wedding attire, is not as bizarre of a concept as it may seem. It dates back to days of “dressing for dinner” – a custom ingrained in the culture of 18th-century England for instance, where upper-class women would change outfits and dress elaborately for just a family dinner at home.
This practice is now gaining traction in a new, digitalized way to comply with social distancing rules – last week, Williams posted photos of herself dressed up in an enchanting red gown, to “attend” a birthday party via online video calling service, Zoom.
With wardrobes bursting with festive, fashionable clothes, and no out-of-the-house occasions in the foreseeable future, this challenge has naturally captured the hearts of style-savvy women in the UAE, who are spreading the word through hashtags and mentions on Instagram.
“The response has been amazing,” says Williams. “Every time I see a new person taking on the challenge it brings a huge smile to my face and it has also sparked some really fun conversations with people I have never met before.”
Two days after Williams posted the challenge, Jess Hardie, a fashion and lifestyle blogger who goes by the name @blondebedouin on Instagram, took part in the virtual game. Dressed in a romantic floral dress, glittering gold heels and statement earrings, she posed for photos on her dining table and in her bathtub, captioning her photos with the hashtag #quarantinechic.
“It was a positive way to pass the time and it was quite a laugh, picking my favourite outfit and shooting in my favourite spots around my house,” she says. “When you can only stay indoors you need to switch your perspective and turn your creativity in a different direction. I see many Instagrammers embracing their isolation in creative ways which I find truly inspiring.”
For local fashion labels in the UAE, the challenge serves not only as a fun creative outlet, but also as a digital marketing opportunity. Dubai designer behind fashion and interiors brand Wear The House, Jennifer Black (@sojendecor on Instagram), says that it’s giving her a chance to dig into the archives of her closet, while innovatively styling her new collection of silk pyjamas.
“I am using this downtime wisely to focus on my brand and how I am going to take things to the next level after all this is over,” she says. Black explains that playing dress up for the challenge has now become her regular weekend highlight.
Her first challenge post saw the pairing of one of her silk pyjama tops with a voluminous tulle skirt, blue feathered heels and a matching blue dusting brush depicting the dichotomy at play – even while all dressed up, many of these women are still running their houses, keeping their children occupied, cooking and cleaning.
Malaysia’s Minister of Women, Family and Community Development made headlines when it advised women to “avoid wearing home clothes”, “dress up as usual” and “put on make-up” to achieve “household happiness” while at home with their husband during COVID-19 lock-downs.
Obviously, these were highly criticised as sexist statements, and the government eventually apologised. Women don’t need to dress up for the pleasure of men – they do it for themselves. “I think there is a danger of staying at home and not bothering to make an effort, but it's important to feel confident, and feel you,” says Black. “You need to keep going, and keep focused. This is a period of time at home to still do what you love and for me that will always be playing with my style and experimenting with my make-up.”
Williams says that aside from offering comic relief, there’s a psychological element driving these dress-up challenges. “Studies have shown that 'power dressing' can increase your confidence and your ability to think expansively and abstractly; allowing you to focus on the big picture instead of the more detail orientated tasks,” she explains.
The experts agree. “Your clothes can either change your mood or reflect your mood,” explains Linda Sakr, counselling psychologist at Health Bay Holistic Centre in Dubai. “Wearing clothes that evoke positive feelings or that tend to remind us of positive experiences, tend to make us happier.”
Williams adds that not only can your choice of clothing impact your own self-care, but also the spirits of the family members you’re self-isolating with. “Dressing well, even when working from home of helping kids with home schooling can have some really positive side effects,” she says. “Now, I am not saying to help your kids with schoolwork in a ball gown… or maybe do! It might just keep their attention for longer.”
From overwhelmed mothers seeking 'me time' to fashion fanatics itching to wear their fancy clothes and bloggers seeking new avenues of creating content, this challenge is one that appeals to a variety of women who are self-isolating. As social distancing measures continue, over time, they may even get more outlandishly flamboyant with their outfit choices – Williams says, “I have rummaged deep into the depths of my closet and I have some crackers lined up for the coming days.”
Photos: Sophie Williams and Jennifer Black