We went in to work for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
By “we,” I mean a group of people who were hired after the shutdown. We didn’t know where to park. We didn’t know our way around campus. We couldn’t find the cafeteria. We didn’t know where our desks were. We didn’t even have security badges.
That’s why we went in, for a site tour. We’re not actually officially back yet.
Like a lot of office workers, we’re in a weird condition right now. The rules vary a little bit depending on what state we live in, and there’s a certain amount of subjectivity. I don’t think anybody really has a sense of what would be the smartest, most efficient thing to do.
I was in quite a tizzy before we went in. My husband and I got rid of our car over four years ago, so I didn’t have an obvious way to get there - or, more significantly, to get home again. When I tried to call a rideshare home, I couldn’t get a Lyft and Uber canceled my ride. I walked over five miles that day. That’s one issue to overthink.
I hadn’t had a regular day job for over ten years before I got this job, and not only do I not have a corporate-appropriate wardrobe anymore, I realized that I don’t really know what women are wearing to work these days. At least, not in an office that leans business-professional.
This was the toughest part for me. I knew I would have to go in and get my picture taken for my badge. To say that I don’t photograph well would be a massive understatement. If I ever had a mug shot taken for some strange reason, everyone who saw it would automatically assume I was guilty. I always blink in photos, so they have to be reshot, and the photographer always tries to trick me by taking the picture before the count of three, and I’m trying not to blink, so I get crazy eyes. I’d show you but I don’t need the evidence floating around the internet.
So I get to wear this thing around my neck on campus all day, every day? Terrific. Now everyone can assume my baseline personality is angry and insane.
I took a vacation day before our site tour. I knew I would need time to find something that fit and looked reasonably appropriate.
The problem with staying home throughout the pandemic is that I bought a bunch of comfy stuff to lounge around in, my work pajamas, and none of that stuff is suitable to wear outside my apartment. More than that, it is very nebulous on sizing.
I couldn’t order something to wear in to the office because I had no idea whatsoever what size I am now. All I know is that it isn’t the same size I wore in 2019, because none of my normal clothes fit anymore.
It was the first day of the reopening in California.
You could go to our local mall before this, of course, or at least that’s what I heard. I hadn’t been anywhere near it since February of 2020. It was so strange walking in those doors like nothing had happened and seeing the same stores, with people walking around showing their bare faces. Like we had gone back in time.
I still wear my mask indoors, because nobody can stop me, and I most likely will for the rest of my life.
The other thing that hadn’t changed since the last time I went inside the mall was that none of the clothes made any sense.
This is going to continue to be a problem, because I still have a need for more than one outfit.
I went directly to the store where I had the most success finding corporate-type clothes that fit my build. I thought I would find a few things and try them on in three different sizes, and then I’d buy whatever fit, and then we would leave and eat lunch.
My friend was helping me, and now I owe her, because nobody should be forced to try to shop for clothes with me.
We both looked through every item in the store, and it was nothing like what I remember, because every item on the racks screamed “vacation,” not “return to office.”
Bare midriffs. Nobody should have to look at my midriff, especially not me.
Spaghetti straps. Low-cut tops.
Ruffly, fluffy floral dresses.
Shorts and more shorts.
“Is everyone going on a cruise?” I asked.
There was literally not a single garment I would wear into any office where I had ever worked or visited.
We left and went to a second store, where the problem was, if anything, significantly worse. I tried on a garment that was completely unsuitable, just to be polite, and it hung on me and fit oddly and was unflattering to a devastating degree. It was also $450, which I would almost have been ready to pay if it would get me out of this situation with something I could wear the next day.
We left and went to a third store, which had the same problems as the first two, only on a smaller scale because the selection was smaller.
We left and went to a fourth store, ready to give up. We got separated looking through all the racks.
Finally I found something that I would rate as a 2.5 out of 5. Under ordinary circumstances I would never have chosen it, but at least it looked workplace-friendly. I tried it on. It was so low-cut that I would have to wear something like a camisole under it, but it would have to do.
Then my friend called to me. She had found something. I called her in to the changing area, where she brought… the exact same dress in the exact same size as what I had just tried on. We couldn’t even laugh.
Unfortunately, I still don’t know what size I am now, because this dress is a “medium,” the vaguest size with the broadest range of all.
Everything about the experience of “returning to the office” was awkward, stressful, and inefficient.
I still don’t know where I’m going to sit or when I’ll be expected to start going in. I still don’t know what I’m going to wear or where I’m going to find it. I still don’t know how I’m going to commute in each day, or if I will have to.
As much as I’d like to visualize myself and my colleagues, happy and thriving on an ordinary workday, all I know is that I’m going to have to walk around wearing one of my all-time worst photos around my neck.
Can’t we all just stay virtual?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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