Behold, The 'Vaccine Outfit'

Investigating the final frontier of pandemic style.

by Sara Radin
Vaccine Outfits Are The Latest Fashion Trend To Come Out Of Quarantine
Courtesy of Subject. Instagram/DollyParton.

When it came time to choose an outfit for her Covid-19 vaccine appointment, comedian Karolena Theresa, 30, went into her closet in search of items that spoke to her. She wound up choosing a hemmed white dress from H&M, black cowboy boots, a fake fur from Urban Outfitters, and a brown leather fanny pack. “It made me feel cute but practical,” she tells Bustle.

After her therapist asked how she felt about qualifying for the vaccine because of her shape, Emma Zack, founder of curvy vintage retailer Berriez, decided to make a vaccine styling video with a colleague. “We wanted to look as glam and ridiculous as possible, hence the sequins and feathers, showing that we can be fat and fabulous and vaccinated,” says the 28-year-old. Although she didn’t plan the outfit ahead of time, she knew she wanted to wear something with a fitted silhouette to highlight her curves, and ultimately went for a cropped checkered print top and black high-waisted pants.

After more than a year of living in athleisure, many people are viewing their vaccine appointments as an opportunity to get out of their sweatpants, whether they decide to dress up or simply choose to dress intentionally. The so-called “vaccine fit” and corresponding “vaxxie” (a vaccine selfie) have quickly become a rite of passage for those who’ve gotten a Covid-19 shot.

Courtesy of Karolena Theresa

“There’s something about a long-awaited and hard-fought event that compels people to put on a look in commemorative excitement,” says Carrera Kurnik, director of culture and innovation at trend forecasting company Fashion Snoops. “After a year devoid of occasions and celebrations, getting vaccinated becomes the first occasion of a new era — and one worth commemorating with a fit.”

The vaccine fit is also functional, Kurnik says. “Key to the ‘vaccine fit’ is the playful utility of having both arms or one arm exposed for a needle's easy access.”

The “cold-shoulder top,” a shirt with openings at the shoulders, saw a resurgence in popularity after Dolly Parton was seen wearing the style when she got her shot in early March. Fashion e-tailers like Revolve are now jumping in on the trend with a “Vaccine Ready” subcategory in its Tops section.

“Certain savvy brands like Revolve are capitalizing on this by offering a variety of off the shoulder, or one-shoulder tops — many of which are in bright and uplifting spring color palettes,” says Kurnik. (People quickly started mocking it on social media.)

Since the start of the pandemic, Fashion Snoops has been tracking the rise of "mood-boosting" styles and products meant to satiate consumer desire for moments of joy during tough times. “The playful, skin-displaying design detail in exciting spring colors acts as a "pick-me-up" purchase and wardrobe staple for spring,” says Kurnik.

Case in point: Marc Jacobs. With a strand of delicate pearls around his neck, the fashion designer wore a leopard-print coat, a bubblegum pink shirt, sequin shorts, and white platform boots to his final vaccine appointment. On Instagram, he captioned a photo of his vaccine outfit: "Spring has sprung and second vaccine done!"

Stylist Imaan Sayed says getting a vaccine is the first step toward a return to normalcy, and a future without the virus — and that it only feels natural to want to celebrate that moment. “Getting a vaccine is a freeing feeling,” she says. “We’ve been stuck in this limbo of making do with the situation and trying to live life when nothing has actually been OK.”

It’s why Bonnie Robbins, designer of Daisy Chains, chose a leopard-print top for her appointment. “It’s a powerful animal print and getting a jab feels very powerful after a year of feeling helpless at the whim of an uncontrollable virus that killed my friends and loved ones,” says the 28 year-old. “It made me feel strong to wear a sleeveless top that accentuates big shoulders, like a Michelle Obama moment.”

Courtesy of Bonnie Robbins

For others who are immunocompromised or have underlying conditions, receiving the vaccine is the first of many safe forays into public life — “a kind of debutante ball of re-entering society after a year of isolation,” Kurnik says. “Simply showing up in sweats and slides doesn’t convey the excitement and cultural importance of receiving a vaccination.”

Blythe, who declined to give her last name to protect her privacy, wanted to wear something elaborate because it felt like a celebration. “Part of me thought maybe I should wear something ‘respectable’ so that people wouldn’t think I was a young whippersnapper jumping the line and would believe me when I said I was disabled,” says the 25 year-old Massachusetts resident. “But I decided to push back against that instinct and ended up getting very dramatic.”

She wore a 1950s-inspired dress with slightly puffed sleeves, a sweetheart neckline, and a full skirt. She layered a black tulle costume skirt underneath the dress with black compression stockings for medical reasons and red fishnets on top. As a finishing touch, she added black leather elbow-length gloves, heavy black and red makeup, and silver earrings. “It was really fun to dress over-the-top and stroll in and calmly announce that I’m super disabled and here for my vaccine appointment.”

As more people become eligible to receive the vaccine, Kurnik expects to see more vaccine-themed fashion content springing up on platforms like TikTok. “With more people being able to get vaccinated as the age eligibility window reaches people in their 20s and 30s,” Kurnik says, “I think we’ll see influencers do what they do best.”