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.

When I was a teenager, the term “vintage clothing” did not exist. No one in their right mind would’ve worn what I called “dead grandma things,” a term unimaginatively coined as a result of cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment after she died. In the back of a closet, I discovered an old suitcase packed with clothing made of thick silk and rich velvet, clothes that closed with tiny snaps instead of zippers, along with a (gasp!) hand-beaded, gold-colored flapper dress.

After that, I shopped exclusively at thrift stores, buying, for fifty cents to five dollars, other people’s dead grandmas’ things. Eventually I‘d accumulated racks of exquisite Art Deco eveningwear, but despite years of Holy Grail-type searching, I never found any casual clothing from that era. Did the people who lived through the Great Depression put fancy-wear away to be preserved like wedding gowns, while dresses of cotton, linen, and burlap were worn and washed, washed and worn, eventually reduced to rags?

In this time of our plague, I’ve been wearing nothing except old t-shirts and my ratty flannel bathrobe, the sartorial equivalent of comfort food. It could be that I am bored, or it could be the social isolation. But, no matter what it is, I feel my depression making a comeback. Two early warning signs of depression are the compulsion to shop and the pressure to think about nothing, which is why I’ve been spending an absurd amount of time on eBay, mindlessly scrolling through “Mid-Century Lamps” and “Vintage Clothes 1920s-1930s.” But then, there it is, my dream dress: periwinkle-blue linen, three-quarter sleeves—and from the drop waist to below the knee, appliqued in black linen, a pattern to rival the Chrysler Building. Size Small. Pristine condition. Priced reasonably. Definitely Buy It Now.

Yet I hesitated. Would I be socializing this spring? Meeting a friend for a drink? Dining al fresco on a warm night? I could buy my dream dress and put it away for next year, but between the ravages of climate change, white supremacists toting guns, the possibility of Trump’s re-election, and what the virus has wrought, the depression looming over me and the world seems here to stay. Will there ever be another spring?

Binnie Kirshenbaum

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of one story collection and seven novels, the most recent of which is Rabbits for Food. She is a professor of fiction in Columbia University's MFA program. Currently, she's working on a novella and stories that are centered around what we choose to forget.

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