This essay is part of Fashion in Isolation, a special issue on the intimate, contradictory, and ultimately inescapable relationship we have to what we wear.
In Stephen King’s novella The Langoliers, the titular monsters ripped through space and time, chewing them up into nothingness, a literary corollary for the effects of the coronavirus on society-at-large. “What is time, anyway,” has become today’s flat refrain. Comment, not question. After stay-at-home and physical distancing commenced, I started to flat-iron my hella curly hair regularly for the first time in my life. I didn’t turn on my laptop’s camera for anything, I was just looking for new rituals and ways to mark time.
All I wore during the pandemic lockdown were men’s black V-neck T-shirts, bought in plastic-wrapped multi-packs from Muji. I kept a constant supply of these staples in my wardrobe. I rotated through three pairs of black sweatpants. The all-black leisurewear was an attempt to subvert the nothingness by disappearing into it before it arrived.
In mid-March—days before everything went down—I bought a black wide-sleeved Henrik Vibskov dress with a belted waist and black-and-red Marni block heels to wear to a talk I had been invited to give. The speaker’s fee would have covered the cost of the outfit, but the event was postponed indefinitely. I had paid way too much, considering the precarity I found myself in and the realization that public events of that scale weren’t going to be a thing for years. The dress hangs in my wardrobe with the tags still on, the heels stored in dustbags, in the box they came in.
These outfits—tees and sweats, dress and heels—signified the tension between resignation and anticipation, the growing chasm between now and the possibility of what could have been. It mirrored what I was contending with daily. The loss of physical presence—at work, in the classroom, among friends—fed into my long-held desire to be left alone. But this tendency for introversion slammed up against my urgent need to insist on living, wholly and visibly, in protest of the violent deaths of other Black people.
As the pandemic continues, the nothingness looms constantly. It weighs a ton. It’s a depression, a promise, a uniform. I can hear it coming, closer, behind a million voices screaming for revolution, screaming for air. The collective noun for a group of Black people protesting is a grief. Black is a color for mourning.