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The Trials of Getting Dressed

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Welcome. When the season changes, at least in the Northeastern U.S., so does the weather, necessitating a change in wardrobe. “Layers,” we respond sagely whenever someone complains of not knowing how to dress to meet the multiple climates a single day suddenly might present.

Lately, however, the usual small talk about not knowing how to dress for a new season has a note of near-desperation in it. Not only is the temperature careening from chilly in the morning to height-of-summer-hot by noon, only to get weirdly tropical by sundown (and don’t get anyone started on the mosquitoes), but it seems like our internal thermometers are volatile as well.

“It took me 45 minutes to get out of the house to meet you,” a friend told me recently, in the baffled tone of someone who can’t find the keys they just a second ago used to open the front door. “I don’t know how to dress anymore.” I’ve heard the same from colleagues at the office, from people I’ve sat next to at dinner parties. I joked to a friend I need four to six weeks to get ready to go to the drugstore.

When we were mostly at home, our audiences were limited, and one set of clothes often sufficed for work and leisure, for errand-running and occasional meetups. A Zoom shirt was a passport to “fancier” virtual arenas, if necessary. Combine these new baselines with months spent paring down closets, an awakening appreciation for the time saved when one doesn’t have to get ready, changing bodies and changing fashion tastes, and it’s no wonder some of us don’t know how to get dressed anymore.

As Jessica Testa wrote in The Times, “For those who’ve neglected their closets during the pandemic, returning to a full wardrobe can feel more like a confrontation than a homecoming.”

It’ll take practice to get back into it. So what if I met friends for a sunny lunch in the park recently wearing an itchy black shift dress I’d last put on for a funeral in 2014? If they found it odd, they didn’t let on.


Last week I asked what the signposts are, for you, that fall has arrived. Here’s what some of you said:

  • “Fall is here when I have to wear socks for the first time since spring 😞.” —Wendela M. Roberts, Toronto

  • “In South Carolina, we feel like it is still summer. The temperatures are beginning to drop but we aren’t sure until November. Nonetheless, our grocery stores are pushing everything pumpkin. But if you buy a pumpkin in this heat, as I did recently, it will go soft and attract flies. If you wait until really cooler temps arrive, pumpkins will last until Easter.” —Bud Ferillo, Columbia, S.C.

  • “I know it’s fall the first time that I turn the furnace on in the house on a chilly morning, and then curl up on the floor over the heat vent, covered in a blanket. My own little sauna. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and I’m 43 years old!” —Madelyn Nygren, Woodbury, Minn.

  • “When the radiator awakens me for the first-of-the-season banging.” —Edward S. Lewis, New York City

  • “It is when the dry Northern California air loses some of its dustiness and there’s dew and a nip in the air. When the first leaf drifts to the ground. Autumn here is not the explosion of Vermont; it’s more of a one-tree-at-a-time thing. Slow-motion autumn is still better than none.” —Leslie McLean, Sonoma, Calif.



We’re in the business of helping you lead a cultured life, at home and away, but I receive a fair number of emails that share the sentiment of the reader who wrote: “I do not want to hang! I was hermit-adjacent before Covid, and having spent 18 months with Ray Donovan, Mrs. Maisel, various detective squads, unscrupulous lawyers, misanthropic politicos and waaaay too many N.B.A. talking heads, there is a good chance I am not fit for human companionship, or vice versa.”

Are you ambivalent about (or even against) increased getting out and socializing? Tell us about it: athome@nytimes.com. Be sure to include your full name and location and we might feature your response in a future newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for passing the time, wherever you are, appear below. I’ll see you Friday.


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