Ralph Johnson, of Dixfield, dressed up for another day at the home office. Submitted photo

Every day, Ralph Johnson gets up and gets ready for work. 

You know the drill: Get a shower. Get a shave. Put on a clean, crisp shirt and a tie to match. Make sure the pants are properly creased and you’re ready to go, my man. Another day, another dollar. 

Then Ralph glides down the hallway, slips into the spare bedroom and sits down in front of the computer. It’s just another day at the office, all told, but you really can’t beat that commute. 

Johnson, who lives in Dixfield, is vice president of The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit watchdog organization based out of Washington, D.C. It’s an important job with lots of responsibilities and much of it these days is handled through teleconferencing. 

That’s not exactly why Johnson keeps dressing for the office each day, though, when he could get by in ratty sweatpants and floppy slippers. 

“Most of our interaction is phone and not video, so video isn’t what pushes me to stay dressing professional,” Johnson says. “I think that for me it is more about ‘having my head in the game.’ I feel like I am in my office, I am grateful to be employed in these times, unlike so many others, and I don’t want to feel like I am taking advantage of the situation. 

“I do think that if I let myself get more casual in my dress,” he says, “I would also be taking my position casually, which isn’t fair to my employer.” 

Meanwhile, in Auburn, Heather Louise Chisholm is pretty well committed to the concept of dressing up at home, too. 

And we mean, really, really committed. 

Heather wears dresses every day, and we’re not talking about off-the-rack stuff from Kohl’s. For her daily routine, which involves taking care of her 9-month-old daughter full time, Heather opts for vintage dresses — ’50s-era rockabilly and ’20s-era flapper style, in particular. 

In these weird days when people tend to roam the world in sweat pants and pajamas, some folks seem to appreciate Heather’s more lavish style. 

“No matter how bad times are,” she says, “people stop and smile and tell me it’s beautiful. Even now, when everyone is scared of each other, I still get smiles and sweet greetings from people. It seems to cheer them up.” 

For Heather, this preference for vintage clothing predates the coronavirus. But now, as the world adjusts to a stay-at-home mentality, she finds her dresses as comforting as she did in the beginning. 

“What started my dress obsession was very severe social anxiety,” she says. “I can’t go into a store alone, and even with someone I struggle. A few years ago I decided I needed to find a way to feel comfortable. I had this ridiculous ball gown that I bought on Amazon. I had nowhere to wear it, but it was beautiful and a good deal. I wore it to the store because it made me feel elegant. Suddenly I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I didn’t walk through the store, I held my head high and glided through the store.  

“When I came home from the grocery store I decided to go to my back yard and get some photos because I felt so good about myself,” Heather says. “I felt beautiful. I continue to wear dresses not just because of the confidence boost, but also for people’s reactions.” 

Heather Louise Chisholm and 9-month-old Freyja at home. Submitted photo

THE RULES ARE, THERE AIN’T NO RULES 

We’ve all seen the memes floating around Facebook. We’ve heard the jokes, too: The most popular style of dress these days has been described as “The work-at-home mullet: Business up top, party on the bottom.” 

And who could blame folks if they dressed nice from the waist up but took a more leisurely approach to the bottom half? Video conferencing generally only focuses on head and shoulders, so if you’ve got Spongebob pajamas on down below, who cares, really? 

Even Johnson, a man who dresses for success no matter what, isn’t above it all. 

“I will concede,” he says, “that I don’t wear my wingtips in the home office — I am wearing comfortable slippers all day.” 

What do the experts say about all this? It depends on which expert you ask. Some say dressing down is completely OK in the home environment. Others frown deeply on the concept. 

“If you dress for bed,” fashion writer Hadley Freeman told Today.com, “your brain will think it’s bedtime.” 

Yet, in the same article, Hollywood costume designer Leesa Evans gave the opposite advice. 

“On days when you do not need to interface visually with clients or co-workers,” she said, “I think wearing your favorite sweats can feel incredibly relaxing and put you in the perfect serene mood to dive in and get a ton of work done with maybe a bit of extra time to meditate or do yoga somewhere in your day.” 

Most people who responded to our query wrote about how their own daily attire made them feel, regardless of whether they were dressing up or dressing down. Even the experts failed to mention how others feel having to live in the same household. It begs the question: Are you OK seeing your wife, husband or significant other in the same ratty pajamas day after day while the walls continue to close in? 

Not Kathy Williamson, of Auburn. 

“We both get dressed every day,” she wrote, “because it’s too depressing when your spouse has to look at you in PJs or sweats.” 

The rest of our readers who responded to our recent query, though, were all about staying comfortable no matter how it looks. Freshly ironed suits? Immaculate blouses and skirts? 

No thanks, say those readers. 

Molly Brooke Butler, Auburn 

“Leggings and tank tops are now office wear.” 

Pamela “Farmer” Morris, Lewiston 

“Um, pajamas! What are bras and underwear?” 

 Jennifer LaPointe Warriner 

“PJ pants and a nice top. Two days before wash.” 

Jessica Laura, Waterville

“I try to make myself dress in at least jeans and a sweater and do hair and makeup most days. But Day 27 of house arrest has led to three days in a row of (clean) sweats and baseball hats.”

 Bethany Meehan-Poulin, Dixfield 

“The mullet: business on the top, PJ party on the bottom.” 

Debra Fleenor, Lewiston 

“Yoga pants and proud of it!” 

Robin Graziano, Lewiston 

“Jammies. But if I shower I feel like I should put jeans on — it breaks up the day.” 

Karen Schneider, Cundy’s Harbor 

“Yoga clothes and my lucky sweater for me! No makeup, and I’ve decided I’m not going back to it. So there.” 

Casey Tripp, Sumner 

“Today, leggings. Friday through Monday, I will be putting my scrubs on — can’t do my job from home.” 

Janet Malia Descoteaux, Rumford

“Sweats ‘n crocks with socks . . . not a lot has changed, frankly.”

Faith Whitney, Buckfield

“Sweats and hoodies, bed head. Muck boots for farm chores.”

Eva O’Reilly Wagner, Hampden 

“Yoga pants, stretchy jeans or PJs. And yeah, I’m only washing them every other day.” 

Laurie Charest, Auburn 

“Day jammies and night jammies! We’re very lucky to have a home office.” 


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