Before the pandemic, it might have seemed cheesy to get dressed up for a medical appointment. A year later, the world is different — it’s a place where people are actually excited for a needle in the arm.
It’s not all picture perfect, of course. Across the country, the overall Covid-19 vaccine rollout has, at times, been rocky and inequitable, and not everyone who needs a vaccine has been able to get one right away. Still, many of those who have been lucky enough to find an appointment have been posting about the experience and sharing their vaccine looks around social media. It’s kind of like an exclusive club: It’s still notoriously difficult to land a spot, there are lines out the door, and plenty of people, from celebrities to normies, want to look their best for the occasion.
These sartorial flexes have given rise to a new genre of photo: the vaccine selfie. Such selfies can lead to “vaccine shaming,” which Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos describes as being based in the perception that those who get the vaccine are “pulling the ladder up behind them,” but even with all the finger-pointing going on, it’s hard to resist snapping a photo of something many have been looking forward to for so long. Plus, it’s a pretty historic moment: People are vain, and we’d like to look cute in the photos we show off to our grandchildren as well as online strangers.
There are plenty of photos to prove it. One Twitter user, @ashlieatkinson, went viral for wearing a glittery-green floor-length gown to her vaccine appointment. It was somehow even more dramatic than what Dolly Parton chose to wear; the singer, who famously helped fund the Moderna vaccine, wore a sparkly blue cold-shoulder top and matching mask to her appointment, a fashion choice that allowed her vaccine administrator to reach her arm effortlessly. Hillary Clinton responded on Instagram with a throwback photo of herself in a cold-shoulder top, captioning it, “Shall we make this a trend?”
It might be well on its way. According to data from Lyst, a global shopping platform, searches on the site for “one-shoulder” and “off-shoulder” tops were up 27 percent in February compared to January. “Off-shoulder” sweater searches are also up 15 percent since the beginning of March 2021. Kiwi, a boutique in Brooklyn, began advertising a one-shoulder dress on Instagram for vaccine-appointment wear, inspired in part by Parton’s glamorous look. The aesthetic practicality of wearing a cold-shoulder top makes total sense. Instead of dealing with the awkward inconvenience of rolling up your sleeves, your shirt does all the work for you.
Anika Reed, a 26-year-old editor at USA Today, originally scheduled a vaccine appointment for May, but when she was suddenly able to move it up, she wasn’t prepared with an outfit. “Seeing other people get vaccinated and seeing celebrities like Dolly Parton inspired me,” Reed said. She was disappointed she didn’t have an off-shoulder sweater in her closet, but the weather worked out and allowed her to comfortably wear a white off-shoulder blouse she owned. She accessorized with simple gold jewelry, heart-shaped sunglasses, and a black Telfar mini bag.
“Moments where I finally get to leave the house have provided me with a small sliver of joy,” Reed said. Dressing up just made the occasion even brighter. “It provided an element of joy, but it was [also] functional and practical, instead of being stuck taking off like 16 layers. Now I have to go through all of my clothes and figure out what dose two is going to look like for me,” she added.
Others are not planning on full-on glam, opting instead for a more subtle statement. Alex Brown, a 23-year-old freelance writer living in Atlanta, doesn’t have a vaccine appointment yet. Even though it’s unclear when she’ll finally be vaccinated, she already knows what she’s going to wear: a T-shirt that simply reads, “The future is accessible.”
“The T-shirt was designed by this activist named Annie Segarra,” Brown told me. “At first I just ordered it to support them, because I really like their work and I liked the shirt. But then when I got it, I was like, ‘Oh, this would be a really cool thing to wear to my vaccine appointment,’ because it’s for disability activism. It’s also kind of like, ‘The future is within reach,’ if you take a double meaning of the word ‘accessible.’”
Brown, who is disabled, is hoping to land an appointment soon, especially since she has preexisting conditions that increase her risk for severe illness from the virus. “I’ve been isolating in my home for a year now, so I’m really looking forward to being able to see my family who don’t live in Georgia, and being able to return to more of the life I had before Covid,” Brown said. She hopes the state of Georgia creates better avenues for those who need vaccines to actually receive them, but until then, she at least has her vaccine outfit to look forward to wearing on the big day.
Still, not everyone arrives at their vaccine appointment feeling entirely giddy about the future. In fact, appearance was the last thing on the mind of Tammy Ingram, a 45-year-old professor in New York, as she lined up outside the Javits Center for her first dose in a hoodie, comfortable boots, and two masks.
“The outer mask was an RBG mask,” Ingram said. “We’ve all lost many things and people who were dear to us this year. That was my little tribute to just one of them.”
A few passersby winked at her or gave her a thumbs-up, but she still didn’t feel very celebratory. “So many vulnerable people still can’t get appointments because of shortages in other parts of the country. I feel grateful to have been able to get the vaccine,” she said. “I’ve lost a lot this year personally, and so have so many people I care about. Getting the vaccine won’t fix any of that, but it does feel like a big step forward.”
While the rollout has continued to improve in some key areas, we still have a long way to go. Ingram is right — there are plenty of people who still aren’t getting the access to vaccine resources they need. For example, as Fabiola Cineas reported for Vox, people of color are largely being neglected when it comes to vaccine-rollout efforts and access across the United States. Many older people and essential workers are being left out of the equation as well, even though they’re most at risk. None of this has been perfect, but for those who have managed to secure appointments, choosing a special outfit or fun accessory can provide a small sense of control, in spite of the rocky circumstances.
Ingram said she’s tentatively planning to meet a friend for a socially distant dinner after her second dose, so she might put a little more effort into that outfit. She’s also considering traveling this summer. “I will retire most of my soft pants, thank god,” she told me. “I am ready to have a reason to dress up and feel good again.”
In general, people seem excited for their vaccine appointments and, by extension, their outfits, as it’s their first big outing of significance in a long time. Many Americans have experienced months of Zoom birthday parties, FaceTime dates, and virtual happy hours. A vaccine appointment is the first step to getting back out into the real world, so you might as well step out. Clothing has long been a celebratory tool, and Covid-19 vaccinations are no different. It turns the appointment into a sacred ceremony, a coming-of-age moment. The pandemic is far from over, but we’ve made it this far, so we might as well celebrate by choosing fashion that makes us feel good.