59 weeks. FIFTY NINE weeks. That’s, like, one year and… (counts on fingers) one month and…. three weeks?? (Geez now I know why new parents age their babies in months).
For 59 weeks I peeled off my sweatpants, went to my closet, squeezed into an old dress, then proceeded to brush my hair (first time that week) put on makeup (first time that week) get a drink in hand (not my first time that week) and pose for a photo all in the name of the dumb, and now very old, pandemic internet trend: “Formal Friday.”
When I first did #formalfriday (soon-to-be #tafelformalfriday), on Friday, March 20th, 2020, I OF COURSE did not think I would proceed to do it 58 more times. Nor did I anticipate that it would become the pandemic safety raft I clung to as I floated through week after week of isolation and quarantine. The first time I did #formalfriday I was definitely still in the hopeful, peppy “Isn’t this interesting?? It’s like when the electricity goes out for a night and we have to sit by candlelight! Let’s make the best of it!” mode.
I was so young a year, one month, and three weeks ago. So, so young.
I first heard about #formalfriday from an episode of Jimmy Kimmel. The idea being that we should spend our Friday night getting really dressed up as if we were going somewhere, but instead stay at home in our overly fancy attire. (Fun fact: a few weeks into me doing #formalfriday, the Jimmy Kimmel team reached out to me on Instagram asking if they could show my posts on the show and, considering I was writing for The Tonight Show at the time, I got very scared that I would be breaking some solemn late night oath by saying yes so I just said “Sorry? I work for… other Jimmy?” and I never heard from them again.) I thought it would be a fun thing to do, a nice respite from a very trying and, honestly, scary week.
The week prior I was in New York, by myself, working my late night job and watching in real time as New York got very sick very quickly. The moment production shut down, I got on the first flight back to my husband and cats in LA (I actually wrote a blog about it: The Tinkerbell Pen!) and anticipated being back in New York in a few weeks.
The first #formalfriday was just me trying to have a silly, stay-at-home date night with my husband in our apartment living room.
The second #formalfriday was just me, surprised I was still there, trying to have another silly, stay-at-home date night with my husband on our apartment porch.
The third #formalfriday was just me trying to have a silly reconciliation that I was going to be working remotely for a while.
And the fourth #formalfriday was just silly me making it a silly thing. For I am a creature of habit. I am a person who does things when it becomes a thing.
And, boy, did #formalfriday become a thing.
59 times. I did it 59 times.
During this pandemic, people really got into being productive, making the most of their staying still, trying to tick off lists of accomplishments. Bread making, learning the guitar, language classes… I probably should have done any one of those things. But nope. I marked the time by putting on my Walgreen’s lipstick and then taking many, many photos of myself every Friday.
And it’s not like anything life-changingly huge came from this habit. I didn’t even become an influencer out of this, because, like how? And… why?
So really, with #formalfridays I accomplished absolutely nothing.
I did create a pretty solid pandemic photo album.
Or a photo journal, a documentation, a time capsule… whatever you want to call it. I did somehow create something that I can go back to for the rest of my life and go “that’s where I was when Shit. Went. Down.”
59 weeks of staying home. 59 weeks living through this time. 59 outfits.
That was #tafelformalfriday. And that’s what I want to write about today.
Here we go!
Okay, to start. I do not have 59 dresses just, like, hanging in my closet. While this tradition did make me realize I hold on to wayyyy too many old clothes, I would like to very adamantly note that 1. I refused to purchase anything new specifically for a #formalfriday post and 2. I occasionally threw in an old photo of myself from childhood and 3. I reused dresses ALL THE TIME. (No one ever pointed it out, which goes to show you I never really achieved influencer status – not that that was the goal, but it definitely confirmed it nonetheless.) I also justified the occasional sweatshirt, sweater, pants suit, and costume to count as “formal” if only because the look included me putting on makeup and also that BoJack sweater only comes out for very special occasions.
In the beginning, my husband Zach would join me for #formalfriday, as it was, at first, a tradition for the two of us to feel like we were having a special evening together. But he, being the logical human he is and not the obsessive “I’ve arbitrarily committed to doing this forever now” me, stopped around the time he also stopped putting on real slacks while working from home, which I think was about Week 7. (I was an immediate converter to “I work in pajamas now”, mostly because I started work at 6:30am LA time – to coincide with the 9:30am NY “Fallon” time – so I give mad props to my man for being fully work profesh for as long as he did. That said, it was a relief when he started wearing sweatpants with his button up shirts.)
Those first 8 weeks or so I actually spent the evening in the dress. Zach and I liked sitting on this tiny porch outside our apartment bedroom that overlooked our closed off apartment hot tub and the parking lot of another building, having martinis and whiskeys by candlelight and a shit view.
We really tried, folks.
We really tried because we also really tried to do our part, something I am very proud of us for doing all the way until the two week mark of my final vaccination. On the spectrum of careful, Zach and I probably landed on the more cautious arena. And it’s not because we are extreme germaphobes or anything, we are just very good rule followers. My job was to read the news every single day, and that was enough for me to be like “Yeah, I don’t need to go anywhere.” We didn’t want to add to the numbers of Covid cases, and, once more, we didn’t have to. It was pretty cut and dry how not to get it and spread it. So we opted to do that.
I acknowledge that staying home was an affordable privilege to us. Zach and I were extremely lucky to be DINKs with jobs that were not in jeopardy, and that we could both work from the safety of our apartment. We could afford deliveries, groceries or amazon. We had a spare bedroom with workout equipment. We had internet for zooming and all the other things you need the internet for now. And, thankfully, we both really liked being around each other, so we were okay keeping our in-person social interaction just between us. (It probably helped that I was in New York at the top of the year and it was exciting to be reunited again. Absence. Heart. Fonder. You get it.) So yeah, those early weeks of #formalfriday were ones that we were really, truly trying, because at all other times of the week we were really, truly trying too.
After all, this was temporary, right? Right?
Looking back at all these #formalfridays, it feels like the posts could be divvied up into phases. Those first 8 weeks? I’ll call that Phase 1 – the early days.
What will make 2020 a forever surreal year is the juxtaposed fact that even though it felt like the world had stood still, it was also a world that was moving very, very fast. Shuffled into our individual boredom periods were Big Happenings. I will always find it bizarre and difficult to reconcile those two things.
Again, for my job, I was required to get up at the crack and dawn and read ALL the news, scouring for ways to make it funny. (OMG IT WAS SO EASY DUDES – HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA ha ha ha sigh.) Everything happening in the world was at this heightened sense of importance. There wasn’t much levity to it. Things were hard and sad and eye opening and very, very terrible. All at once, it felt like posting a cute selfie on a Friday the week that a black man was killed by police on video was not only tone deaf, but completely wrong. So I didn’t. Instead I found a beautiful photo of a woman named Milan Bolden-Morris wearing a prom dress designed by Terrance Torrence (#formalfriday Week 12). The dress featured photos of black men shot at the hands of police. That dress was a beautiful, and formal, political statement.
I’m not here to say that social media activism is a noble cause and boy or boy I should be called a hero because I took the time to google something and post about it. It’s not like I was sitting there that Thursday night thinking: “But my legions of #formalfriday fans! What will become of the droves of them that came to my Instagram only to see me NOT do #formalfriday??” All I know is at this point – I guess we’ll call this Phase 2 of #tafelformalfridays – I was still staying at home, not going anywhere, and selfishly needing this weird Instagram thing to get me through the week. (It had become the thing I’d think about when I needed a break from all the other things I was thinking about.) But I also wanted to acknowledge this heavy world that was still moving, to say that even though I was in here (my apartment), I desperately wanted to connect to what was going on out there (not my apartment). I wanted to find a way to be part of the world while not spreading a sickness. I also knew that the more visibility an important cause gets (Black Lives Matter, registering to vote, frontline worker support, anything Fauci ever said…) the better.
So I was now tasked (or rather, tasking myself) with finding creative ways to continue #tafelformalfridays while acknowledging and supporting the things in the world that needed acknowledgement and support. To this day I am unsure if this was ultimately a vain, self-serving act, but in the end I decided that if I could get even one other person to become more informed and/or donate to a charity that I included in one of my posts, then that’s better than not having that post at all.
During #formalfriday I posted 16 links promoting: 8 charities, 3 activism lists, 1 online class, 1 petition, 1 volunteer opportunity, 1 voter information site and 1 small business (links to all the places here). I donated to all these charities, participated in many of the suggestions on the lists, purchased from small businesses, volunteered at the vaccine site and took the online class. 2020 was the year that I gave the most in charitable donations, and I now intend to beat that every year going forward.
I know, I’m a saint!
Jkjkjk. Again, I know it is just a drop in the bucket for what needs to be done for real change to come, but I have to say, if it wasn’t for #formalfriday, it’s possible wouldn’t have gone through 2020 doing any of those things. Not donating and learning about cool charities. Not mailing hand written letters to get out the vote. Not taking an anti-racism course, which completely expanded my mind and incentivized me to do more with my privilege. And not volunteering with CORE, which ended up being my first big step back into civilization and an extremely gratifying experience. If I was doing #formalfriday for me, and make no mistake I definitely was doing it for me, then it weirdly made me a better person.
I’m, like, laughing at that last sentiment. Because it is so fucking corny, and yet so very true, and both those things sort of make me sad and grateful all at once.
Oh, yeah, also #formalfriday has made me a crier. Or maybe it was just the year? Or maybe it’s just getting older? Whatever the reason, I’m a crier now. A big, dopey crier.
What was sad was definitely Phase 3 of #formalfriday, the part of the 59 weeks that we had reconcile that, no, we were not be going home for the holidays, and yes, it will be well over a year before we’d get to see family and loved ones, and, no, we don’t have a hold of this pandemic, and, yes, we now know multiple people who have died from this terrible virus.
But prior to the sad phase, Phrase 3, I was really in the groove with #formalfridays, using whatever was happening that week as inspiration. The looks were getting harder and harder, so it’s so helpful when a gal can get a prompt! Hamilton is premiering on Disney+? We’re going to the theater baby! (Week 16) It’s Halloween-time? I got a ghost dress baby! (Week 32) Trump got Covid after insulting people for wearing masks? GET MY BIG ASS MASK ON BABYYYYYY (Week 29).
Phase 2 right before Phase 3 was a giddy #formalfriday time. (I mean, as giddy as you can get as thousands of people were dying per day, an intense presidential election was underway, and never leaving a two bedroom apartment.) By this point I was really depending on my posts to be my weekly dose of joy, and, honestly, the strategy was working. I loved getting texts from friends and family about the posts. I loved hearing people ask me about it at work. It was just… nice. A nice time in all the muck.
Also, I should note, I was no longer spending the evening in these outfits, like I did in Phase 1. I did the photos, then was in my pajamas again. Albeit, nicer, Friday pajamas.
It helped that during this time I had my greatest career achievement to date. The BoJack Horseman episode I wrote “The View From Halfway Down” was nominated for an Emmy. It was a treat to revisit that job. I deeply adore all the people who I worked with on that show, so it was great to reconnect, and talk about my favorite TV show of all time yet again.
In normal times there would be cool events and promotional things I would’ve gotten to go to, but because we were where we were, #formalfriday was really the only place I really got to celebrate and cherish the moment. (Well, #formalfriday and that Netflix promo where they mailed us a giant box with confetti.) Again, grateful to have #formalfriday at that time, because otherwise the nomination would have very much become a “if a tree falls in the woods” situation. (Week 27)
But then we lost to Rick and Morty. That sucked.
And that brings us to Phase 3 of #formalfriday. The sad part. The sucky part. The part where I didn’t want to do it anymore. But I did it. Because I commit to shit. And also, I desperately wanted to end it when I could officially go out on a Friday night safely. Not because it beat me.
But yeah, Phase 3 started with the beginning of the holiday season. Numbers in LA were way up. People were getting restless and going out, making me sour. Trump was still here, and so were all his racist friends.
Worst of all, I was OUT of cute outfits!
Hahaha, but really. It was a rough time.
And it was hard with outfits. Things weren’t zipping up. And while that may be a small thing for some, for people like me, it was earth shattering. As someone who has dealt with body image issues and obsessive dieting and exercise my whole adult life, the no zip was really the straw that broke the camel’s back. We are 9 months into this thing, the world is still sick, Trump is still on TV, and NOW I “lost” “control” of my body because a dress from five years ago won’t zip all the way?! But I have been working out! And eating “right”! What is wrong with me??
I would spend so much time fretting over photos my husband started asking if he should stop taking them, if this was even good for me.
Thank goodness I found Kate Huffman and her Body Positivity training. Thank goodness for therapy and The Fuck It Diet and Intuitive Eating and, did I mention Kate Huffman and her Body Positivity training? After joining a zoom course full of women from all walks of life dealing with the same stresses and anxieties and disordered eating habits, I have discovered and unlocked the world of Body Positivity, and it has been a huge, huge – yeah I’ll say it – life changing thing for me and my body. Going into detail about it now is for another blog post, but the cliffnotes are: I kinda like my body now as is? We should all kinda like our bodies? If a dress don’t zip, get another? And finally, we weren’t put here on this earth to look the same. As Kate says, bodies are like trees. Different and gorgeous and should be celebrated in their unique forms.
Another helpful moment in Phase 3 was starting a new, exciting job and moving into a house. After being stuck in a two bedroom apartment with my husband and two cats, we now had a lovely home we could enjoy and explore and, of course, take more #formalfriday photos in.
So, although this was our first holiday season just the two of us, I still took the time to think about the upcoming #formalfriday posts. I decided to use them as a way to say to loved ones near and far : “Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Holidays! I love you! I miss you! See you soon! Please be safe!” (Xmas and New Years were on Fridays in 2020, FYI. Not to mention Black Friday.)
And then that brings us to the final phase, Phase 4: A New Hope. While January got off to an immediate shit show start (I wrote about January!) I found myself motivated and excited for #formalfridays again. I was feeling more comfortable in my body, I was excited for a new president (excited is an understatement) and I started counting down the days I would be actually be done with my #formalfriday posts.
That’s right, #tafelformalfriday was going to come to an end, two weeks after my second vaccine. Suddenly I found myself very graduation goggle oriented with #formalfridays. What were going to be my final posts? What dresses did I want to re-wear?
As #formalfridays neared to a close, I had to give it props where props were due. Something as silly as an Instagram hashtag got me through this pandemic. I know the pandemic is not over, I know there is still a lot of sickness out there. But in the end, I can at least know that I did my part, including getting vaccinated, and so now is the time to enjoy the little things again. Having friends over. Going out for a drink. Seeing my parents at the end of the month.
The mundane never seemed so thrilling. I’m going to now spend my Fridays cherishing it. Last week’s final post was a truly, wonderful feeling.
And before I end this rant of dress/pandemmy reflection, I want to leave you with a good old fashioned list of superlatives! Here we go.
Favorite #formalfriday – Hands down Week 30. That was my last day on The Tonight Show, (I left to work on a new, exciting Netflix project!) and so the day was filled with really kind goodbyes from so many people I liked working with – and then I proceeded to crimp my hair and throw on an old 80’s thrift store dress that I got for a college theme party. The big bow, the pink lips, and my favorite beer in hand (Allagash Curieux), that was one of my favorite evenings and, yes, I stayed in that dress all night. I loved it that look.
Least Favorite #formalfriday – Week 40. I bought that dress at H&M one Christmas season thinking I could pull it off, and every time I wore it I was like: “I can’t pull this off” and that night while Zach was taking my pictures I was like: “I really can’t pull this off.” After that, I donated it baby!!
Most Surprising #formalfriday – Week 50. So many people loved that my mom made me a skull dress in 2018 (the year I was getting married she made it to test out a pattern she’d later use to convert my grandmother’s wedding dress into a cocktail dress) and it was a little tight on me and I was very sad how I looked in it but then I got a rush of texts and compliments and I realized that I should love my body and all that business. Then, that Sunday, Gillian Anderson wore a green skull dress to the Golden Globes! So, I think I was ahead of a trend?
Most Popular #formalfriday – I haven’t really sat and counted but there was always an uptick for anything BoJack related (Week 20, Week 27, Week 39). Also, people really dug my old bachelorette party dress (Week 14).
Did You Not Get It? #formalfriday – Week 48. I was trying to replicate Britney’s amazing yet odd Instagram posts, and got a text from my mom being like “you look gorgeous!” and I was like “I have gobs and gobs costume makeup on? I’m doing a thing? Do you not get my thing?” Also, Week 44 – has no one seen the movie It Takes Two? It’s a classic!
Most Important Takeaway of #formalfriday – I took many photos, at many different angles, and wore spanks, and added filters, and spent a lot of time finding the most flattering photos before posting. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting the images that made me feel good, but in reality my body is insanely and beautifully normal, it has flaws and is squishy and I just think it’s important for people to know that. The posts were all an illusion!!
Anyway, thanks for reading (Mom!). And thanks for commenting and following and all that stuff. Would love to know your favorite posts, because I’m vain. Don’t tell me your least favorites, because, like, that’s mean?
As I said in my last #formalfriday: It was real. It was fun. It hasn’t been real fun.
“Gonna dress you up in my love! All over your body!” – the lady from A League Of Their Own