Last summer, Nicole Gordon posted an Instagram snap of herself framed in a doorway at home. In a slinky sleeveless dress, vivid makeup and towering heels, Gordon, a writer and art adviser, was the picture of cocktail-hour glamour.
Just weeks ago she posted a nearly identical image: her lips tinted scarlet, hair swept back from her face. That dress, as she noted, still fit, though she’d filled out in the interim. Her caption, a cross between boast and lament, read: “What a difference a year makes.”
Gordon, 51, was alluding of course to the pain and sense of powerlessness that the pandemic has sown. “It has stripped me of everything that I knew of myself,” she said last week — not least the semimonthly lash extensions and Botox treatments that were among her cherished maintenance rituals.
She had rigorously prepped for her most recent post, tugging on two pair of Spanx, rimming her eyes in dark liner, and coating her feet in Lidocaine to help her squeeze into the stilettos she had not worn since March.
“I told myself,” Gordon said, “that I was doing all this just so I could feel like my old self again.”
That sentiment has swelled among like-minded artists, fashion influencers and style-minded civilians, for whom pre-coronavirus life was a runway and personal style a performance. Robbed of a stage, some are at sea.
DRESSED, NO PLACE TO GO
“How do we continue to express ourselves through the joy of dressing with no place to go?” Ari Seth Cohen, asked plaintively. During lockdown, Cohen, 38, the creator of Advanced Style, a popular street blog, two books, and a film celebrating the sartorial quirks of the senior set, was hard-pressed to find subjects. Instead he posted pictures of himself turned out in gaudy turbans and leopard-print caftans.
At a time of widespread suffering and social unrest, that gesture can seem brazen. “Even among high-level fashion people, posting outfits is apt to be viewed as kind of tone-deaf,” said Lyn Slater, a professor at the graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University.
Slater, 66, who moonlights as a model and blogger, persisted nonetheless, coolly vamping on @accidentalicon, her Instagram account, in a wardrobe of slogan T-shirts and rainbow-hued kimonos, her trademark silver bob grown out during quarantine to shoulder length.
Social feeds have lately teemed with similarly colorful, often wickedly over-the-top fashion portraits and selfies. They proliferate these days on strikingly varied individual accounts and with hashtags like #quarantinelookoftheday and #quarantinefashiochallenge, reinforcing a sense of joy and connection, serving as a platform for self-promotion (and more rarely, social activism), and restoring, for many, a sense of self as fragile and faded as an old postcard.
“We’re all cobbling behaviors together to get through the days,” said Leandra Medine, 31, the founder of Man Repeller, a popular blog. Medine announced in June that she would “step back” from the company after being called out for a lack of diversity on the site. But on @leandramcohen, her personal Instagram feed, she shows off a playful cacophony of wildflower, stripe and kaleidoscopic tie-dye motifs.
Her posts are a reflexive response to the dreariness of lockdown, she said, “when there is no one to evaluate who you’re telling the world you believe yourself to be.”
DO IT FOR YOU
To some social media die-hards, posting in that kind of vacuum is life-affirming. “It’s a joy to be your own muse,” Cohen said, illustrating that notion in posts that show him garbed in a manner that is partly inspired by his grandmother.
“I’m wearing all her old jewelry,” he said. “During quarantine that makes me feel connected to her again.” He also draws for inspiration from a well that includes Marc Jacobs, who has created a minor internet sensation posting quasi-comic makeup tutorials and high-glam images that show him wreathed in pearls, and balancing on king platform boots.
No question, Cohen said, such flamboyant get-ups can bring comfort now and then, and express the hint of optimism that is a tonic during somber times.
The impulse to fan out one’s feathers can be deeply ingrained. As Eleanor Lambert, the venerable American fashion publicist, once observed: “You cannot separate people, their yearning, their dreams and their inborn vanity from an interest in clothes.”
Bella McFadden, 24, aka
@Internetgirl, publishes selfies primarily as a way of keeping her brand afloat. (Her thrift store finds are in high demand on Depop, a popular e-commerce app.) But posting during quarantine boosts her confidence as well, she said, and lends form to her vision, a fusion of late-1990s mall rat and Y2K Goth. Posing feline-style in a black sweatshirt and tiny kilt, she asks in a caption, “Anyone else playing dress up for a slice of excitement?”
McFadden occasionally splices her feed with enjoinders. “Pause,” she urged fans last week. “All lives won’t matter until Black lives matter.” Her account, like those of some contemporaries, doubles as a platform for activism.
On his Instagram account, @youngblackarchitect, D’ Smith Alexander, an architect and musician, captioned a portrait of himself dapperly turned out in a bright blue suit and patent leather loafers. “I am a Black man,” Alexander, 33, wrote, his post a call for unity. “I build. I don’t tear down other Black Men!”
Jason Rice, 44, has taken his activism in another, equally pointed direction. “For me, posting is an act of rebellion,” said Rice, a partner in Changez Hair Salon in Royal Oak, Mich.: one way, he said of ridding himself of the stigma of wearing women’s clothes.
“I grew up a queer kid,” said Rice, who appears online variously garbed in ultrawide paisley neckwear, layered jeweled chokers and, in one instance, a filmsy blush-tone off-the-shoulder dress. “For me posting is a way of stating, ‘I refuse to let this moment take me down,'” he said.
Slater, of @accidentalicon, posts, she said, in part as a retort to ageism. “Many older women have felt vulnerable [in] this crisis,” she said, adding that implicit in the ubiquitous messaging about at-risk populations is the notion that older people should remove themselves from society.
She is not having it. “For me posting is much more about expressing who I am,” she said, “regardless of my age or what others think or have to say about it.”