How to Dress for Work When You Never Leave Home

The first rule is: Pretend you’re leaving

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Photo by Gábor Szűts on Unsplash

I put on high heels today for the first time in — I don’t even remember. Six months? Eight? It was ridiculous in every way. I was giving a talk via Zoom to a group of folks in Paris who were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their library, so it was a gala affair, and even though it was only 10 am where I was (Los Angeles) it was evening in Paris, and they were dressed up, so I thought I should dress up, too. Since the pandemic, I’ve been dressing from the waist up when it comes to Zoom, because unless I stand on my desk, no one sees anything below my shoulders. For this Zoom talk, I put on a black cocktail dress and was about to slide into my usual Birkenstocks when I was seized with the rare urge to put on heels, which really were more appropriate for the dress.

Once shod, I clunked across the living room and out to my office, wobbly as a colt, because I have completely forgotten how to wear heels. I think I scared my dog, who is outraged by people making odd movements (i.e., roller skaters, skateboarders). As I began my Paris talk, I almost wanted to hoist my leg up and show everyone that I had dressed for the occasion, but I thought better of it. The second I was done, I clunked back into the house and put my heels back in their box, where they will sit for another six or eight months, I’m sure.

I actually despise wearing heels, and I’m bad at it. I wear them so rarely that I always feel like a little kid playing dress-up when I have them on, and I can’t get used to the sight of myself wearing them. This was a source of immense disappointment and puzzlement to my mother, who wore high heels every minute of every day of her adult life. She would sometimes look at me in a pair of, say, Doc Martens, and exclaim, “My god, Susie, don’t those hurt your feet?” I never was able to convince her that feet are naturally flat. The thing is, hers weren’t; all those years of wearing heels had extended her toes and shortened her Achilles tendon, so her foot was in a permanent flex.

I will say, though, that I do not advocate slob-dressing at home. I’ve been working at home for almost twenty years, and one of the first things I realized was that there are two camps of home workers: Those who stay in their pajamas all day, and those who don’t. I don’t. I feel like I can’t think well unless I’ve showered and put on something decent. I certainly don’t dress up and you better believe I don’t put on heels, but I always wear something that I wouldn’t wear to wash the dog and that I could wear if I went out to lunch. It helps me feel on task. It’s hard enough to delineate home life and work life if they occur in the same exact space, so I do whatever I can to draw a few bright lines. Getting decently dressed is like putting me in the traces; something about it signals to me that I’m ready to work. But I don’t overdo it. I once had a boyfriend who worked at home and insisted on wearing a button-down shirt and a tie every day, while sitting at a desk in his kitchen. It was, in my opinion, a little weird, a little bondage-y. It may have contributed to our breakup, as a matter of fact.

When the pandemic lockdown began, I saw lots of people on social media crowing about how they were going to stop showering and stop wearing bras and start working from bed. That would never suit me. In fact, if I were doing that, I would have stayed sound asleep since March.

Written by

Writer, writer, writer. Oh, I also write. Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…

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