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December 7, 2020
I Still Love Getting Dressed For Dinner During A Pandemic
If you’re confused about what to wear right now, read this.
Written by

In the sixth grade, my signature accessory was a gold beaded necklace. I’d repurpose it as a bracelet, belt, or headband whenever I saw fit. I got it for free at a friend’s birthday party, and immediately felt a sense of safety and empowerment that I never wanted to lose. From there, I fell in love with the process of getting dressed—borrowing sunglasses, rings, and scarves from my mother’s closet to complement the loud, plastic beads. Personal style became my armor to face a world full of queer-bashing pre-teens, unbothered bus drivers, and traditionalist educators at my small, Christian school just 20 miles east of San Francisco.

From there, my style evolved from Party City to Palomo, Spain. Refusing to wear sweats to class, I gained a reputation in college for always arriving both fashionable and late. Once, as I searched for a seat in an already-packed lecture hall, a professor stopped to acknowledge my mustard yellow power suit and chunky platform boots. Casual didn’t mean anything to me, because I liked looking fly, and more importantly, felt good about my bold fashion choices.

moving to New York and writing about restaurants for a living has definitely changed how I get dressed.

There’s no real correlation between my sense of style and love for food. But moving to New York and writing about restaurants for a living has definitely changed how I get dressed. Before March, I would spend half an hour deciding on a dinner outfit, choosing a shinier trouser or higher neckline depending on whether or not the restaurant serves uni butter. But the first time I ate out during the pandemic was a much bigger challenge.

Senior Writer and friend, Bryan Kim, invited me to dinner at Carbone. I was anxious at first, but decided that passing up the opportunity to watch people take blurry pictures of the rigatoni at this Greenwich Village institution would be a huge mistake. Carbone is the kind of flashy, Italian restaurant where New Yorkers go to be seen. And even though there’s no official dress code, I wanted to look good. Like, Rihanna leaving Giorgio Baldi with a wine glass in-hand good.

Since I wasn’t comfortable taking the subway, my outfit had to survive a seven-mile bike ride over the Manhattan Bridge. It was also 80 degrees and humid, and I didn’t want to look like I had run to dinner after bikram. Panicked, I slipped a pair of black culottes over my biking shorts and threw on a leather tank top that my friend’s mom probably wore to a club in the ’90s. Staring at myself in the mirror, the final look had fallen short of Riri-level chic, but it was the best I could do.

It was the most casual group of people I’d ever seen on a Friday night in Lower Manhattan, where people usually throw on a going-out look just to pick up a few limes from the bodega.

To my surprise, I actually felt overdressed as we walked to our table in the middle of Thompson Street. My culottes were dragging across the floor like a Swiffer mop and the armholes of my tight leather top didn’t leave much breathing room. In flip-flops and board shorts, everyone around me looked like they had just hopped up off the couch and walked there. It was the most casual group of people I’d ever seen on a Friday night in Lower Manhattan, where people usually throw on a going-out look just to pick up a few limes from the bodega.

My experience at Carbone made me consider why I wanted to dress up for this dinner in the first place. Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t throw on an asymmetrical cut-out shirt and go dance to disco records at Black Flamingo. Or maybe I just miss turning a look at No Bar while sipping a can of Tecate in a cow-print booth. Now that the world is preoccupied with more important things than dress codes, the reality is that “dressing to impress” and “special occasions” aren’t really a thing anymore.

Nikko Duren

Restaurant workers, on the other hand, are still expected to dress the part. At Carbone, that means burgundy tuxedo vests, pastel pink button-downs, bright red bow ties, and face masks. It’s another glaring reminder of the divide between essential workers and privileged diners with expendable income and free time to dine out right now. And it’s just one of the reasons why, ever since that dinner, I’ve been intentional about dressing up in a way that feels respectful to the restaurant staff (and also, double-tipping). These actions may seem small, but acknowledging and compensating the people who keep this city running goes a long way.

Now, I’m dressing for myself. That means treating grocery stores, restaurants, and laundromats like the Telfar Spring 2020 Show at Paris Fashion Week. It also means trying a bright orange sweater with a red face mask - and failing miserably. Comfort is more of a priority than ever, which is why my oiled brown leather Dansko clogs have become an everyday outfit staple. Even though these round-toe orthopedic shoes look very different from my favorite chunky boots, they make me feel like I’m walking on clouds. They look great with bright socks and cropped pants that allow for just the right amount of ankle visibility. And they also come highly recommended from employees at some of my favorite restaurants in the city. But ultimately, my clogs work because they make me feel good. And right now, that’s simply enough.

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