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COVID-19 impacts students' outfit choices

Students say that online classes have influenced their style

Kenzie Myhr gazes over the top of her computer as she works on her internship from home in sweatpants on December 7th, 2020. // Photo courtesy of Kenzie Myhr.

By Sienna Boucher

Fashion is how one can express themself to the world — everyday sidewalks become catwalks, and passers-by are the audience.

But how does one dress when these days most connections to the outside world are made through a laptop?

“Honestly, I wear sweatpants every single day,” said Kenzie Myhr, a student at Western Washington University. 

“I alternate between different pairs of sweatpants, of course, I haven’t gotten that bad yet,” Myhr said, laughing. “But still, sweatpants nonetheless.” 

She’s working on an internship that was supposed to be in person but moved online. 

“I’m an organization freak when it comes to my work and school,” Myhr said. “At first, when COVID[-19] first started, I was researching how to go about working from home, because I really like my internship and wanted to handle the situation the best I could.” 

Much of the online advice Myhr read emphasized the importance of dressing up for school or work even while at home.

“I tried that for maybe the first week, and let me tell you, I knew as soon as I tried that it wouldn’t last,” she said. 

Despite instantly knowing she wouldn’t be able to bear wearing professional attire while sitting at home, Myhr said the process still seemed to creep up on her. 

“I still would put on actual pants to go to the grocery store or something,” Myhr said. “Now, I rarely ever even do that. I even wore sweatpants out to a brewery one night, and pre-COVID[-19] me would never be caught doing that.” 

Emma Jacobsen is a Western student studying in Woodring College of Education. 

Her practicum, which involves Woodring students visiting classrooms and interacting with students, was moved entirely online. The shift to an online format was upsetting to Jacobsen because she lost the real-world experience that practicum offers many students.

“When I’m doing my practicum from home, I will wear a nice shirt, but waist down I’m always wearing something comfy,” Jacobsen said. “But I wouldn’t dress that way if I were doing the practicum in person.”

Jacobsen said she thinks learning to dress like a teacher is an important aspect of the job, and she was excited to pick out clothes for her practicum. 

“Dressing for the job as a teacher isn’t actually as easy as it may sound,” Jacobsen said. “I know some girls who had a practicum before me, and they’ve worn things that they realized aren’t practical once they wear it in the classroom.”

Sarah Godoy, director of Western’s counseling center, explained the impact that clothes can have on one’s mental health. 

Clothing has different impacts for everyone, but “behavioral activation” is universal, Godoy said. 

“Behavioral activation as a therapy technique encourages people to do the activities that are positive reinforcing — that make us feel good, even if our emotions are still quite low,” Godoy said. 

Despite Myhr saying it didn’t feel helpful for her to dress professionally while being at home, Godoy does support the notion. 

“With the pandemic being such a drain on our emotional resources, this avoidance might serve the short-term purpose of saving energy, but long-term it might make us feel quite lethargic,” Godoy said. 

It’s important to notice how certain clothes make you feel, Godoy said. Just as sweatpants can encourage relaxation, a blouse may inspire productivity.

As Myhr and Jacobsen expressed, it may not feel right to wear work clothes in the home. Godoy credits this to habits that formed over a long period of time by people being conditioned to wear different clothes at school and work as opposed to home. 

However, these boundaries are shattered by the pandemic. 

“For most of us, we defaulted to wearing the clothing associated with the physical environment we are in, not the virtual environment we are in,” Godoy said.

Yet, conditioning does not mean permanence, and Godoy emphasized that, “it is never too late to start a new routine.”

When it comes to breaking habits, Godoy said determination is key. 

“The key is to keep trying, even if you mess up one day or lose motivation,” Godoy said. 

While breaking habits and forming new, healthier ones may be a difficult task, Godoy reassures that your emotions and motivation will catch up to anything that is repeatedly practiced. 

Consistent reminders, even for small tasks like waking up or showering, and small rewards are at the top of Godoy’s list of tips for starting a new habit successfully.

She wants everyone to keep in mind that everything depends on the individual. If someone feels they are productive in yoga pants, then keep at it. But if someone feels less productive wearing pajamas all day, then it is time to practice change. 

“Establishing boundaries is crucial,” she said. 

It can look like setting up clear work or school hours or creating “zones” exclusively for being productive. Simply sitting at a table to do homework instead of in your bed can help, Godoy said. 

“It will feel amazing for your eyes to look at something other than a screen, and movement will greatly improve your energy and focus,” Godoy said.

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