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"Since everyday is Corona Casual now, I propose we start doing 'Formal Friday.' Break out the tux or gown, do your hair, and settle in for a fancy day at home."

I posted that on Facebook on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The next day, I shared a photo of myself in a cocktail dress, pearls, and lipstick, laptop balanced on my knee, chaotic home office behind me.

In the weeks that followed, I would post a reminder on Thursday, and on Friday folks would post photos of themselves in their finery. These were friends from all aspects of my life, people who didn't know each other, using the hashtag #formalfriday and adding a little levity to an anxiety ridden time.

For me, it was one of the only bright spots. Work from home started March 12th. Five days before that, my husband had informed me our marriage wasn't working. And five days after, my mom went into the hospital, where she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Over the course of 10 days, my world had been ripped out from under me. The emotional isolation was crushing. Compounded with the physical and social isolation - I was living each day on the verge of collapse.

But on Fridays, I would put on makeup, jewelry, and a gown and pretend that everything was hunky dory for social media. That my level of fear, of anxiety, of panic were on the same level as everyone else's. I would take a photo, sometimes with my daughter, and post on Facebook. Then I would take off the sparkles and finery and return to the dull reality of leggings and dread.

Formal Friday went on for eleven weeks. I saved my favorite dress for last: A full-length gown with a black and white striped skirt (it has pockets!) and crop-top illusion. In the photo, my daughter is in her pajamas because we had given up on making her get dressed by then. I'm clenching onto her and she's flopped backward, totally over the whole thing. There's a smile on my face that doesn't reach my eyes.

After I posted it, I had multiple friends reach out to ask if I was OK. We were three months into a two-week quarantine, yet the pandemic was a solid third on the list of things I was most worried about. The strain was starting to show on my body, in my face.

Looking back at the photos now, I think about the illusion of social media and how easy it is to pretend that what someone posts is reflective of their full reality. I was going through the most challenging time in my life, but based on what I put on Facebook, I had enough joy to play dress-up once a week.

At the same time... I still had enough joy to play dress-up once a week. And it brought me joy to see other people do the same. Seeing my friends, and friends of friends, and screenshots of zoom meetings, where people were in suits, or gowns, or just putting on a little make-up because that's all they could muster, kept a flame of happiness glowing inside me and helped me get through those first eleven weeks. It was silly, it wasn't a representation of reality, but when my whole world was on fire, it was nice to feel beautiful with friends.

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This item was submitted on April 19, 2023 by Amanda Straniere using the form “Share Your Lockdown Staten Island Story” on the site “Lockdown Staten Island”:

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