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Sadwear: dressing for comfort during a pandemic

2020 was a year of immense change, uncertainty, frustration, and adaptation.

The pandemic and our mental health

Since the first lockdown in March last year, many of us have been struggling to adapt to this massive lifestyle change. Our daily routines have been entirely disrupted and there is no certainty about when things will return back to normal. As a result of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to go to school, university or work as usual, have reduced access to health services, faced social isolation, and experienced financial uncertainty. All of these problems and major changes have been out of our control, and we have all had to struggle to become accustomed to this new normal.

For a lot of us, this has come with overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety and demotivation from the lack of control we have over the situation. The monotony of having to work, eat, relax and sleep in the same place every day has certainly gotten frustrating and draining. And it has certainly taken its toll on our mental health for many of us.

Of course, everyone’s experience with the pandemic has been different. While some people have been less affected and have managed to adapt fairly well, others have found it more difficult.

Regaining a sense of control

When people don’t have much control over what’s going on in the world around them, they tend to make smaller changes in their day to day lives to restore some sense of power and control. Overcome by the worries caused by the pandemic, and the frustration of being confined to a monotonous routine, many of us have sought to distract ourselves and uplift our mood in several ways.

One way people have attempted to regain control has been by changing the way they dress and shop.

Dressing for a pandemic

Research has shown that wearing certain clothes can impact and alter our emotional states. “The strong link between clothing and mood state suggests we should put on clothes that we associate with happiness, even when feeling low”. But during lockdown, with nowhere to go, and little motivation to get dressed up every day just to work from home, day after day, this can be difficult to do.

Since the first lockdown in 2020, many clothing brands reported a significant increase in their online sales and profits. In October last year, online retailer ASOS reported that their sales had increased by 19% as compared to the previous year. Meanwhile Zara reported that their online sales had surged by 95% in April 2020.

It seems like a lot of us have turned to retail therapy to get us through the pandemic. People have been buying new clothes to lift their mood and motivate them to get them through the day. Whether that be a new work from home outfit, new athletic gear, new pyjamas, or a nicer formal outfit to look forward to wearing out once lockdown is over.

‘Sadwear’ for a happier mood

As most of our formalwear and workwear has been temporarily been put to the back of our wardrobes until we actually have somewhere to go, we have turned to dressing more casually and comfortably as we spend more time at home.

Esquire Magazine’s style director, Charlie Teasdale, has recently coined the term ‘sadwear’ – which refers to clothing that “makes us feel better when we’re sad, specifically born out of the existential ennui of lockdown”. Despite the name, sadwear’s connotations are actually quite positive. Although the trend emerged as a result of people feeling frustrated, anxious and uninspired, it can help in dealing with these difficult emotions.

Sadwear suggests that wearing comfortable and cosy clothing can, to an extent, help us to deal with these difficult emotions and lifestyle changes. Acting as an uplifting 'comfort blanket', it can help you to take control to improve your mood when you’re feeling low. And it can make you feel better and more motivated when carrying out your daily tasks, such as studying, working, exercising, or running errands.

Teasdale states that sadwear clothing includes any items such as pyjamas, a pair of joggers, cosy sweatshirts or hoodies – or even your favourite beanie – anything with which we have attached the feeling of comfort to help us get through moments of difficulty.

Loungewear - the new normal

And so with comfortable and casual clothing becoming a more regular part of our lives - not only as a coping mechanism to lift our moods - but also a practical response to being confined to our homes, loungewear and leisure-wear has become a popular fashion trend. Since the start of lockdown, while the sales of formalwear have notably declined, the demand for loungewear and casual-wear has surged by 49%.

Although we don't have anywhere particularly nice to go to, apart from perhaps a trip to the supermarket or a walk in the park, this doesn't mean we should fall into the trap of failing to care about what we wear anymore. Actively choosing to dress ourselves in a way that brings us happiness and comfort, is a simple yet effective way to begin to deal with the emotional struggles we face during the pandemic. It can help us to regain some power over our feelings and uplift our mood, and motivate us to keep going despite the changes forced upon us, and the lack of control we have over them.


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