They Splurged on Fancy Clothes Before Quarantine. Now What?


In the weeks before the pandemic, Anthony Longhi, 28, a self-described shopaholic who’s a sales associate at Celine in Paris, found himself smitten with a pair of black leather Yves Saint Laurent pants. Their four-figure price felt indulgent, and he hesitated to buy them. Then came the news that France was about to go into shutdown.

That did it. Mr. Longhi quickly made his way to the YSL boutique on Avenue Montaigne and bought the pants. They waited in his closet for over two months.

On the day when lockdown restrictions were eased, he hit the streets in the leather pants, a plain white Zara T-shirt, a Celine moto jacket, a necklace with his own baptism pendant and Perfecto shoes. Alas, a heat wave was on, and he began sweating into the pants. Concerned that they would shrink, he raced back home to take them off, and now awaits cooler temperatures in the fall.

Mr. Longhi’s story is, he acknowledged, one of great privilege. But it also has a positive message: He has refused to let the virus hold dominion over him. And he’s unrepentant, planning to resume his fashion shopping full throttle ASAP.

Extravagant purchases innocently made in February and March, before the extent of the pandemic was known, have become markers of a fast-receding era of freedom. Some purchasers have even saved their sales receipts, as if they were historic documents. Many of these items now languish in closets. Others are put to good use.

Rating Dries Van Noten’s high-impact spring 2020 collaboration with Christian Lacroix “ingenious” and “operatic,” and predicting it would signal a return to couture, Li Edelkoort, 69, a fashion forecaster in New York, chose a red and black floral printed coat from that collection to wear during a spring world speaking tour.

The coat had been little worn; “voluntarily stranded,” as she put it, in Cape Town, where she’s been sequestered since mid-February. Nonetheless, it’s become a badge of her identity, worn for a publicity photo — “a great picture that came in handy for the avalanche of interview requests I’ve received over these past few months,” Ms. Edelkoort said.

Lately she’s shown up wearing the coat “on Sundays, intra muros, for private corona brunches.” At a local antique fabric store that upcycles interior textiles into face masks, she even found a matching red one.

From New York, days before the coronavirus news hit, the transgender performance artist and club diva Amanda Lepore, 52, ordered a custom-made ensemble — gown and matching pasties, garter belt, gloves, cuffs and G-string from Garo Sparo, the design house known for its corsetry.

The gown has yet to be finished, but the accessories arrived with time to spare, prompting Ms. Lepore to reach for a needle and sturdy thread and “stone” them, as she put it, with black Swarovski crystals (surely one of quarantine’s more glamorous sewing projects).

She would have worn the outfit to celebrate the Supreme Court’s June 15 landmark ruling protecting L.G.B.T.Q. workers’ rights, but had to rely on a Garo Sparo green glitter ensemble that she already had on hand to make a video singing “Get Happy” by Harold Arlen.

In the more workaday realm, jumpsuits were already a look pre-pandemic. With their easy informality they rival sweats as the semiofficial quarantine uniform. To some.

Julie Stahl, 54, the head of Blonde & Co., a creative content agency for the beauty industry in New York, had already amassed a sizable jumpsuit collection. But in early March, an off-white one in the window of Lululemon Lab in NoHo irresistibly beckoned.

She bought it, even though she’s “not one of those SoulCycling Lululemon types,” she said. Turns out the new jumpsuit is “insanely comfortable and perfect for anti-contamination — I just throw it in the washing machine at the end of the day.” And then Ms. Stahl added: “Ironically, it looks a little like a hazmat suit.”

The New York hat designer Lola Ehrlich, 72, also bought a jumpsuit, when she was preparing for Paris Fashion Week in late February (in gray, from Alex Mill, at the designer’s SoHo boutique). Accompanied by pearls and a frilly white blouse underneath, it proved perfect for her sales meetings.

As customers flocked in from Milan, where the coronavirus had already taken hold, “the big question for the French, who otherwise kiss constantly at trade shows, was whether to give la bise — the double kiss,” Ms. Ehrlich said. But now her main association with the jumpsuit is “wearing it when I was bis-ing or not bis-ing.”

She has yet to put it on since then.

Another attendee of Paris Fashion Week, the New York handbag designer Rafe Totengco, stopped then to shop at the Marais branch of L’Éclaireur. He snapped up a By Walid patchwork jacket, hand dyed and hand stitched from contrasting panels of antique and vintage table linens, silk kimonos, tapestries and dead-stock fabrics that its Iraqi-British designer, Walid al Damirji, upcycles and restores into contemporary casual wear.

“The jacket is a bit of disheveled glamour that I’ll wear with khakis or jeans,” Mr. Totengco, 51, said. He appreciates “that it’s not so precious.” As if anticipating the lessons of the pandemic that was about to descend, it’s also got sustainability bona fides. And doesn’t its collage construction suit the dissonant times?

Not so fancy footwear ill suited for padding around the house or skulking for necessities around the neighborhood. “Let’s not talk about the fabulous Maison Margiela ombre green snakeskin boots I bought on, the resale website,” said Edris Nicholls, 56, the celebrity hairstylist.

But then she did: “I’m a freewheeling Margiela girl who collects his split-toe boots. But I could not enjoy my latest pair during the spring and may not enjoy them in the fall.” Ms. Nicholls, whose clients include Naomi Campbell and Harper Bazaar’s new editor in chief, Samira Nasr, has hung her new boots on a wall and glares at them. “Cheers to our new normal — and realizing we don’t need things as much as we thought,” she said.

Ronne Brown, 36, the founder and C.E.O. of Girl CEO Inc., an organization in Washington, D.C., that advises Black female entrepreneurs, has also hung something up, on a closet door.

One of her clients is Anifa Mvuemba, a Congolese-born fashion designer, whose Hanifa clothing collection has been attracting attention. Early in March, Ms. Brown went to the Hanifa showroom-shop in Kensington, Md., and bought a low-cut, shape-revealing black slip dress with side slits and ostrich feather trim to wear the following week at the empowerment dinners being held at a March retreat in Cancún, Mexico, for the women’s organization EGL (Everything Girls Love).

The shutdown began hours after her return flight. Since then, the new dress has been on display — at least when her 17-year-old daughter, Amor, isn’t trying it on.

But Ms. Brown refuses to designate the dress for festive events at unspecified future dates. “I’m just going to dress it down and pair it with tennis shoes,” she said.

Then there is Mike Greko, 29, a musician, songwriter and D.J. in New York, whose eclectic style incorporates elements of Nu-disco, rock-edge pop and more.

He already owned a Ziggy Stardust-esque bespoke red sequined performance suit from Ammar Belal Custom Menswear, but back in January he ordered a second, “in gray silver with a teal blue hue when the light hits it,” he said.

It arrived just before the shutdown began. Now he sometimes tries it on, “pretending it’s the good old days.” Otherwise, he said, it’s hanging from a door hook, waiting patiently for when clubs reopen. But why two sequined suits? “They bring me joy,” said Mr. Greko, “and according to Marie Kondo that’s a good thing.”

Ms. Kondo would surely approve the use to which Muriel Favaro, 67, a Parsons School of Design accessories instructor, has put a humongous Comme des Garçons tote bag in a peculiar celery color that she began coveting when she spotted an identical one from last year’s collection on the floor of the Grove Street PATH train station.

An online search resulted in her own huge bag arriving from Italy just days before the shutdown. Her plans to show it off all over town foiled, Ms. Favaro wasted no time turning it into a knitting basket for all the random skeins of yarn that had been laying around her Jersey City apartment.

And she’s spent many busy pandemic hours knitting items like padding for a chair. “The repetitive motion is very therapeutic, especially at a time like this,” Ms. Favaro said, adding that the green color “makes me happy.”

A bid for joy also guided the propitious Last Purchase of Fred Dust, 52, a design consultant who has long spoken at public events and conferences. After decades wearing denim shirts to videoconferences, in February Mr. Dust had a style reckoning and decided it was time to liven up his on-camera presence.

So he went for a Sandro short-sleeve floral print shirt displaying Rorschach-y blue and purple flowers on a vivid yellow background — “a shirt that was specifically meant to trigger joy,” he said. “That way, I wouldn’t hate myself when I’m on Zoom.”

What luck: Mr. Dust now spends pretty much all his professional time videoconferencing.

Putting home exercisers to shame, Morgan Wolin, 58, a champion equestrian and sports psychologist in Chicago, is performing, spectator-less, this week. She and her horse, So Smitten, are at the kickoff event of the Saddle Seat Equitation Triple Crown in Lexington, Ky.

But she won’t be wearing the custom riding suit she ordered in February from a specialty outfitter, also in Lexington. The suit — its fitted show coat and starched white shirt evoking an earlier age — has yet to be arrive because the shipment of the suit’s wool-silk fabric was delayed in Italy, so she has to go with an old one.

In retrospect, Ms. Wolin regards this purchase as “symbolic, representing a different time — before we had to worry about personal safety the way we do now. Not that it will get me out of Covid.”

At least the race will be proceeding. Katrina Razon, 29, a music festival and cultural events producer in Manila, obsessed over dress choices for the March celebration of Tatler Philippines that she was staging. Her final choice? A Staud bubble gum pink halter-neck maxi-dress with a cutout waist and open back, summoned up online from Moda Operandi.

But the event, like so many others, got canceled, and has yet to be rescheduled. “This crisis has been an intense accelerator,” Ms. Razon wrote in an email. “I shake my head when I reflect back to how anxious I was deciding which dress to wear, and I realized very quickly that we are not the clothes we wear. Working in the music industry, my mind has shifted from little worries to survival.”

Verity Zisser, 16, a high school student in London, is confident the “loads of clothes” she bought for Glastonbury, Redding, Boardmasters — the summer music festivals — will get their airing next year. In the meantime, she couldn’t resist cutting the pants of a Depop blue-gray track suit into shorts and wearing them with her homemade abbreviated bandanna top and her Nike Air Force 1 high-top sneakers.

It’s summertime. Style goes on!


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