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The Best Part of Dressing Up Is Changing Back Into Sweats

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With your fancy hair and makeup still intact.

Photo: Ben Bryant/Shutterstock

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Most of us, whether or not we work from home (as I do), have indoor outfits. They’re the clothes you look forward to changing into when you get home from work. They’re what you put on when there’s little to no chance that you’ll leave the house today. They’re things you would never wear outside, that you couldn’t really wear to a bar or dinner or certainly not to a meeting but that, in your own apartment, achieve a level of perfect artistry that public outfits often lack. I keep a file in the back of my mind of my favorite indoor outfits; I know which ratty T-shirts go best with which pairs of sweatpants, which college-branded hoodie best pairs with which pair of my boyfriend’s old jeans. I never feel better about myself, more attractive, or better put together than when I’m staying in my apartment all day wearing my favorite indoor clothes.

And the very best time to wear indoor clothes, the time when they achieve their truest meaning and highest purpose, is when one comes home from a fancy event. When I get dressed up, when I spend painstaking hours doing my hair or makeup, it’s not for the other people who’ll be wherever I’m going, or even for my boyfriend if we’re going on a fancy date. I get dressed up for my four-hours-from-now self, the one who’s going to take off her dress and her heels and put on sweatpants and a raggedy T-shirt. I get dressed up for my very-slightly-future self because I know, like anyone who knows what’s good knows, that the actual best look is when you come home after something you had to dress up for and put on an indoor outfit with your fancy hair and makeup.

This look can’t be achieved on purpose, either. Occasionally I’ll do my hair and makeup like I’m going to the Met Ball at the beginning of a day when I don’t plan to leave the house, hoping to achieve the alchemy of that post-event combination. It never works; sweatpants with fancy makeup, in the daytime, in one’s own home, feels itchy and self-conscious, an embarrassing distraction. I’ve had to accept that I can’t achieve my favorite look without the part where I actually have to go outside and walk places in my shoes and spend money and talk to people. (One exception here is that this does work when you truly intend to go out, when you get fully dressed but then something happens — a crisis, a phone call, a fight, getting way too high — and you unexpectedly have to stay in and ditch your plans. Then you can change back into your sweatpants with your fancy hair and fancy makeup and it all might come together perfectly. But you have to mean it. You have to truly, deep in your most honest soul, intend to go out before you change your clothes. Look, I don’t make the rules.)

This is much the same truth as how grabbing random clothing off the floor after sex often produces a perfect look that can’t be replicated, not even by combining the exact same items in the exact same way on purpose. Every so often, a bunch of magazines run features about how to style sex hair — hair meant to look like you had a bunch of sex and then rolled out of bed and got dressed without fixing your hair — for a work lunch or first date or whatever. This never works, either. Consciously styled sex hair looks bad exactly one hundred percent of the time. Sex hair only works in context. It’s just like how most flannel shirts look terrible because you can’t just buy a flannel shirt, you have to earn one, ideally by stealing it from someone you once loved and now don’t speak to anymore. It’s the same thing with sweatpants and post-event hair and makeup. Any “messy” fashion look only really works if it’s the product of lived experience rather than careful styling, so that a look becomes a trace of what happened to one’s hair and face and body on a particular day.

Indoor outfits are profoundly cozy, the fashion equivalent of a large bed, a couch with a worn-in butt dent, a small apartment when the radiator comes on in winter. This coziness is the reason I love my indoor outfits more than almost any of my fancy clothes. Coziness is a form of intimacy, offering the things that not everyone gets to see, putting the public self away for the night. Sweatpants with fancy makeup at the end of the night is the fashion equivalent of how a party only really gets good after almost everyone has gone home, when the remaining people have taken off their shoes and are drinking leftover wine out of whichever glasses are sitting near them and saying things about the people who just left that they couldn’t say when everyone was still in the room. The best party is the one that happens once the party is technically over. And the best part of the night is not going out in your careful, fancy makeup, but taking selfies on the couch in a sweatshirt afterwards.