Picture this. You pull the nicest clothes out from the back of your closet and spend ages picking out the ones that complement your figure. It takes you at least 15 minutes of straining to paint little triangles onto the outer corners of your eyes, and 10 more to brush your eyebrows up to look like an Instagram model. You slip on your best pair of shoes, twirl under a spritz of perfume and are nearly out the door when your phone pings: plans have been canceled. You slump, defeated, recede into your mess of a room and opt for sweats.
Traditionally, the American idiom “all dressed up and nowhere to go” encapsulates a somber sentiment, in which an individual has gone through the effort of dressing nicely only to find out that their plans have fallen through.
Throughout U.S. media, from chick flicks to music videos to songs such as Lana Del Rey’s “Love” and Jay-Z’s “Murder to Excellence,” the idiom’s fashionable disappointment has been so popularized, embellished and even romanticized.
The news of the cancellation is tragically unexpected, and the abrupt plunge from hopeful to downcast is characteristic of this expression. There’s a feeling that something has been lost, irretrievable or even wasted. On a larger scale, this expression is moreso about our hopes being dashed.
During this all-encompassing lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the expression seems to fit perfectly with the circumstances, but in a quite unexpected manner.
Countless pieces of evidence are playfully sprinkled throughout my Instagram feed: pictures revealing dyed hair or new bangs, self-timer photoshoots, backyard mirror selfies and outfit of the day pictures. Captions read, “Quarantine got me acting up!”, “A selfie a day keeps the boredom away,” “Hopping on the quarantine self-timer photoshoot trend,” and of course, “All dressed up and nowhere to go!” As of May 1, the #quarantinefit hashtag has been mentioned in more than 11,200 posts on Instagram and the #quarantineselfie hashtag has been tagged in more than 38,100 posts.
Nowhere could I find a trace of the traditional disappointment associated with the idiom. Rather, the social media posts have been overwhelmingly positive.
In a time structured by confinement and isolation, people are, on the contrary, being more expressive; the act of dressing up has become something subversive, even.
Dressing up, after all, is an act performed with intention; there is always a destination in mind, a finish line. When our destination is snatched away or when the finish line disappears, it seems like we indeed have “nowhere to go.” The difference is that now, from the very beginning, we know we aren’t going anywhere. We indulge in dramatic makeup, playfully experiment with our wardrobe, style our hair and apply a coat of bright red lipstick, all the while knowing that our plans have been canceled from the start. There’s no plunge to disappointment. No unexpected turns. We become canvases for artistic experimentation, and as the saying goes, there are no mistakes in art.
We indulge in dramatic makeup, playfully experiment with our wardrobe, style our hair and apply a coat of bright red lipstick, all the while knowing that our plans have been canceled from the start.
Rather, we create the purpose for dressing up. Our “nowhere” becomes “somewhere.” It’s about rediscovering these nowhere spaces and reorienting ourselves toward the somewheres we have left behind in the busy uproar of our lives before quarantine: the worn sidewalks of our neighborhood blocks, the familiar aisles of the grocery store, the sanctuaries in our backyards and the intimate corners of our homes where the sunlight puddles in a way that we may have never noticed before. Being limited pushes us to make spaces for ourselves to be expressive in.
Though events have been canceled and there seems to be no explicit reason to change out of the pairs of sweatpants we’ve been wearing for a bit longer than we’re comfortable with admitting, continuing to dress up is a valuable act for many reasons.
Taking the time to dress up has been proven to benefit mental well-being. A subsect of psychology called enclothed and embodied cognition (and appropriately so) indicates that there are definite correlations between our external appearances, namely clothing and makeup, and our mental states. Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, led a cutting-edge experiment in which two groups of participants were asked to perform numerous tasks that measured their cognitive skills, with members of one group believing they were dressed more sophisticatedly than members of the other. Surprisingly, the performances and self-perceptions of the participants from the former group were significantly better than the group that did not feel as well-dressed.
Perhaps during a time when it’s difficult to summon motivation, this can be our starting point.
Dressing up is a symptom of a larger purpose. Normally, we dress up when we have somewhere to be or something important to accomplish. But can our purpose be generated solely by our decision to “dress up?” Can we dress up and find meaning within the act? More importantly, what is there to discover about ourselves and the world around us through this process?
So, I encourage you to get all dressed up with nowhere to go. Throw on a dress and a kerchief. Take advantage of the stillness and the lack of a destination, and craft a purpose. Dressing up doesn’t necessarily mean going all-out in a formal gown or a suit. It can be subtle: wearing a pair of your favorite earrings, a scarf. Maybe it is wearing a gown. Or a pair of jeans. It’s whatever makes you sparkle.
Though the future may be uncertain, what is certain is the importance of caring for ourselves. Because we have nowhere to go, let’s indulge in seemingly frivolous pleasures: let’s dress up and embark to find our somewheres.