Identity

What We’ll Be Wearing When It’s Safe to Be in the World Again

When quarantine finally ends, here’s how to expand your wardrobe beyond the sweatpants and t-shirts we’ve been wearing for a whole year.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
March 23, 2021, 1:52pm
A pair of khaki cargo pants and a pink tennis skirt set against a dappled blue background
Images via 

Spring is here! Summer is on the horizon! Pretty soon we’ll actually get to see and be seen again without worrying about potentially deadly consequences! In short: a lot of us are transforming into the human embodiment of a “Life Is Good” t-shirt. Speaking of, though…  One anxiety hovers just below the surface of our sunny new outlook: what the hell will we wear when we reemerge? 

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All most of us have known for the past year are the same pair of sweats and a rotating cast of t-shirts and tank tops. As far as I can remember, this was not what people once wore out to events in public for fear of “looking sloppy” or even “getting asked what’s wrong.” And yet, it’s impossible to imagine “getting dressed” or “buying outfits” these days. Obviously, nobody can predict the future, but we tried anyway—at least, here are a few gentle SS21 suggestions that might spark a little something if you’ve found yourself staring into your closet wondering what the hell you’re going to wear to the orgy—uh, sorry, park karaoke. 

Passion for clashin’

When “eh, two or three weeks, max” of quarantine turned into “indefinite” quarantine, online shopping was right there to absorb the blow. Now that “indefinite” quarantine has turned into “oh shit, maybe this will actually end in a month or two” quarantine, it’s time to trot out all of the blatantly unhinged and impractical purchases made in the depths of April 2020. Katie will be rocking this deeply on-sale hot pink cow print Rachel Antonoff number, pictured below on Zooey Deschanel, that she convinced herself she would totally wear to work in the future. As quarantine dragged on, she found herself consistently drawn to statement pieces, the kind of items she had nowhere to wear… yet… but could be justified as an investment in getting attention in the future.

Bright colors and bold patterns dominated IG shopping tabs in 2020, so Katie probably isn’t the only person who turned to power-clashing in a time of hardship. As such, I expect to see technicolor monstrosities on full display this summer, in the form of this Paloma Wool print and its ilk, Online Ceramics tees out the ass, topped off with ugly-chic Crocs and Uggs in eye-searing colorways (she got her first-ever bright orange pair of the latter for Christmas).

The American Apparel revival cometh

If several viral tweets are to be believed, this post-COVID summer is going to be open season for all kinds of debauchery. What’s the perfect brand to wear while making up for lost hedonism? The 2010s uniform from the disgusting mind of one of cancel culture’s only true conquests: American Apparel. We’re having the dead-eyed, suggestively acrobatic, nylon-encased summer of D*v Ch*rney’s wet dreams, minus all the systemic sexual harassment (hopefully). We wouldn’t want to reunion-cry in the arms of a friendly acquaintance dressed any other way! 

The best thing about this incipient trend is that these items have probably been sitting unworn in the back of your closet since the time you tried to wear “riding pants” to a networking event immediately post-grad, or else they’re available for dirt on Depop and Poshmark or at your local Crossroads—which means it’s literally good for the environment* (and possibly avoids putting more money in a notorious creep’s pocket) to pull up to a function in a leopard-print unitard made in the USA.

American Apparel tennis skirts for sale on Depop

You're practically losing money by not buying one of these. Screenshot via Depop.

But it won’t be all visible nips and That One Tennis Skirt. Since we’re also doing a certain amount of social reintegration, odds are good that we’re going to be kind of... shy. That means any shimmery, mesh, holy-shit-are-those-actually-Disco-pants ‘fit might be liable to turn into “got asked to change for breaking high school dress code” ‘fit with the addition of ‘ol reliable: a big-ass sweatshirt. Breaking the rules (rules like ‘no skirt shorter than finger length with your arms flat against your body’) is what fashion is all about, right? 

Prepper chic

Once we’re out and about again, it’s going to be tough to go home. That’s why this spring and summer’s outfits will require ingenuity, planning, and a lot of pocket space—it’s no coincidence that utility pants are coming back with a vengeance. Where else are we gonna stash a pack of spare surgical masks, two portable phone chargers, and a packet of floss? In a bag? That’s where the book slash picnic blanket slash second book slash glasses repair kit goes, duh! 

Woman in gray cargo pants

She's probably looking for more stuff to put in her cargo pants.

If we’re going to be going day-to-night-to-day-to-night again, we’ll need to dress strategically. That means roomy, workhorse tote bags, compact layers, sneakers that can take a beating without looking ugly,  and, yes, the occasional bathing suit as underwear and/or shirt (for more on that, keep reading). How else are you supposed to take your look from coffee date to protest to beach to house party? Dress smart not hard, people! 

Athleisure x going out top collab

Outdoor Voices exercise dress

via Outdoor Voices

The Exercise Dress, $100 at Outdoor Voices

While the thought of wearing a nice shirt doesn’t sound awful, and even sounds pretty fun, the task of wearing a full-ass going out outfit feels insurmountable. Enter: A collaboration between the moderately chic sweats you’ve been rocking since March 2020, and the stupid, tiny, won't-even-fit-one-boob shirt you recently bought from Urban Outfitters. Odds are, we have all dropped major coin on some variation of “athleisure” in the past year. It would be foolish and wasteful to stop wearing it just because bars are open. Also, as we have all learned, athletic clothes and sweats are comfortable. We can build a better future, a future in which it’s appropriate and encouraged to pair a fun shirt with bike shorts, sweatpants, or—for those who got in real deep—layered over an exercise dress

The jury is still out on what constitutes “going out pants” (pants, and where they should hit on the waist, is such a fraught topic, we don’t dare get into it here), but the phrase “going out top” can still be understood as any sort of flouncy, gauzy, button-y, blouse-y shirt. It conjures an image in your mind, surely: some sort of cropped number, maybe with complicated straps or an open back. A going out top! The kind of shirt you probably haven’t worn in over a year!

Hannah will be rocking some combination of this Outdoor Voices skort she can’t stop wearing and a crop top from Urban at all forthcoming social engagements. To liven it up slightly, she’ll add a leather blazer I thrifted that looks like the ones Gen Z is obsessed with on TikTok.

The t-shirts you bought to save restaurants: remixed

Since we couldn’t go to bars, we were told the best way to support them throughout the pandemic was to buy their merch. Now we are all sitting on piles of flashy graphic tees from local establishments, none of which have gotten their proper public debut. Now is the time! Show off your good Samaritanship by wearing bar-and-restaurant merch to the very bars and restaurants you bought it from. 

To add some spice and some coveted Y2K appeal, break out your scissors and the 2006 classic, Generation T: 101 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt. We’re talking t-shirts transformed into baggy tank tops, t-shirts with knots up the sides, t-shirts turned into halter tops, etc. When all your friends show up accidentally matching in the local bar t-shirt, you’ll stand out in your chic recreation of the same garment. 

Bathing suit tops as shirts 

FrankiesBikinis-PeaceTop-FarOut

via Frankies Bikinis

Peace Strapless Bikini Top, $95 at Frankies Bikinis

While bars are still in the process of safely reopening, parks remain the primary social venue. And the best thing about the park is, you can wear whatever the hell you want there. And if that’s the case, why not wear something that isn’t even technically a shirt?

We think the skimpier and strappier, the better. A girl on TikTok recently showed off some impossibly small swimwear from Frankies Bikinis and I.Am.Gia that feel ideal for wearing as a top. Or, if the idea of going full-boob in public is not your “thing,” we love these honest-to-god tankini tops from Frankies and Target

DIY jorts weather

This is not so much about how DIY jorts look, but more about what they represent. Which is, ultimate freedom. Freedom of thigh and of scissors. DIY jorts are an ideal, summer-friendly (and sustainable!!!) way to repurpose the pants that no longer quite fit your thighs; we know this from our previous experience with puberty, when we began cutting off our own pants into miniscule shorts that resembled bikini bottoms more than daytime clothing. This is precisely the vibe for summer 2021. 

You can buy jorts from Depop et. al., but the real thrill here is in taking the scissors to a pair of frustrating pants from your own closet. A hack we learned: Once you’ve cut the pants to your desired shorts length, you can cut a tiny, vertical slit on the outside of each leg to add some room for your thighs to rock freely. In fact, the more distressed your jorts are, the better.