Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
When I am having a laughing conversation.
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
Yes, of course. I notice people who are swinging their arms, as if unaware of the space they are taking up or taking it up joyfully, whether it be with their arms, their bag, or umbrella. I notice people who smile back, and also who are dressed either immaculately or unusually.
3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
I'd say eye contact, a light weight in humour or a wry sense of humour are what I like. I do not like women who refuse to make eye contact. Or who use bad punctuation on purpose, it repels me.
I love how other women protect themselves from the elements. I love this. They should wear hats in the winter and summer, and shades, and have walking-wear. Children are an extension of ourselves. I dislike the fact that women dress little boys in drab colours, let them be dirty, and don't teach them to be proud, aesthetically. This then translates to the mother and how I perceive her.
4. Was there a moment in your life when something “clicked” for you about fashion or dressing or make-up or hair? What? Why did it happen then, do you think?
When I was in Kindergarten, my maternal grandmother, a stylish persona, was visiting. She was coming to pick me up with my mom that day, in our brown Pontiac car. I made sure my grandmother wore pants and not a sari to pick me up at school. She proudly greeted me in a pair she had donned for the occassion: maroon polyester, with one of her many tied-waist long coats. It's weird that I did that, isn't it? Reminds me of the times now when my son asks me to call him August and not August Sarat, the Indian part of his name. It happened then because I was learning how to ASSIMILATE like the Borg.
5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?
Shop mainly for things you can afford, and that are timeless. Do not be ashamed to shop at The Gap.
Don't ever buy cheap shoes or footwear.
6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
If something fits you exactly, it means it's too tight. This is like being early means being on time.
Wear orange lipstick. Actually I have been suggesting this one to many lady friends, cousins, aunts and my mother. I follow the rule of wearing slip-on shoes but wouldn't recommend it to others necessarily. Also… wear sunglasses at all times outdoors. Not everyone has to do this, but I do, because I have an eye disease.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
I don't know if this was transformative as such, but definitely memorable. We, my husband and I, were in India in the company of my most outspoken uncle and aunt. We needed to figure out what black-tie meant for a 50th birthday celebration for another uncle, and an English manor house. My Indian uncle and aunt insisted a sherwani, which is a high-necked suit jacket for Indian men, could be considered black-tie. "It is our black tie," my uncle insisted. I never got why the fancy dress of any country didn't mean black-tie, just India and England. Also, I had to wear a floor-length gown, and I didn't really understand that, either.
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
Do I? Messy perfectionist. Hedonistic procrastinator.
It is a unified way if you think of it in terms of doing things only when there's no other way out. You've gotta get stuff done. So do it as perfectly and as originally as you can. Then get out.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
Hmmm. I have many purses and pairs of shoes. The purses I am used to wearing in the last few years are flowered and a waxed canvas. This is nice, because it makes them waterproof, and because they are totes, they can hold a lot of stuff. Wine, my wallet, sunglasses, etc. Also out of necessity I must own several sturdy and comfortable pairs of sunglasses. I wear them almost all of the time outside the house.
Also, I have been buying the ankle-length legging jean from The Gap and J. Crew in multiple colours. I keep buying them because they fit and are colourful. That being said, I own pairs in both the size four and six because sometimes I muffin-top out.
10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
Only my son, and my nephew Durga Das, the six year old son of my cousin Kalapi. August, my son, dresses pretty nicely, and a lot of care is taken with his clothing. It's my pleasure to loan these items to my cousin Kalapi so she can dress her boy with these beautiful items.
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
Yes. Let me count them...
Canada Goose down-filled parkas. All the moms at my son's school have them, and I would to, if they are in fact very warm, if not for the price.
Press-on nails. Because they are press-on nails. It seems unhealthy.
The "eternity" scarf.
Stiletto heels. Impossible to walk.
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
Oh, it's so unfair. My mother doesn't have the big stomach like I do. Her minimal amount of weight carried in the upper portion of her lower body. She wore "mom jeans" forever. Maybe she had a tiny protuberance in her abdomen then.
I do wear a shiny lipstick as she has always done, but hers has been largely brown. Also she wears liquid eyeliner that doesn't quite line the upper and lower lids, it's slightly off. I don't wear eye makeup except line my eyes irregularly ever since my 30's. My mother is smaller than I ever am, but if I could I would wear all her sleeveless tops from the 80's. She bought one such top on the Janpath or outdoor shopping street in Delhi when I was younger, and I just wore it yesterday. It is white, high-collared, with a frill at the neck and shoulders and sleeveless. I wear it with the buttons slightly undone, in years when I can, and it's not busting open.
13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
Great question. Imagine if someone said no? I have taken my grandmother's cut-glass necklaces from her vanity after her death. I think she would've afforded me them. I wear cardigans just as my maternal and paternal grandmothers did, with frequency, to keep warm, and perhaps add style to my torso and arms. My mother dressed in wedge sandals in the 1970's, as did many of her generation. I like those. I do not like the heels she collected in the 80's. My cousin Moon in England has always had a deft hand in makeup. She is super-beautiful to me.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
Yes. After I had my son my weight ballooned. And then I got an eye disease 15 months later and went on steroids. It affects how I dress, for sure. My shoe size went up from a 6.5 to a 7.5. I can't find my pretty little dresses and a turquoise, denim high-waisted skirt I bought in Manhatten on my honeymoon 12 years ago. My favourite shoes, a pair of high-heeled Campers, are too tight. They are cerulean, or dark azure blue with a red heel and side-across strap.
I dress for practicality but cannot help but add whimsy and touches of colour. Also, when walking, I notice how my son and I are often in shades of turquoise with red accents.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
Nope, not so much.
16. Please describe your body.
I have a protruding stomach. I do not exercise intentionally. My body is nice, my skin is smooth, my face a window to whatever I am feeling. I have an autoimmune illness of the eyes called Uveitis. This I've had for 7 years, and it requires the use of steroids pills and immunosuppressants. These can't but help have physical ramifications such as weight gain, glassy-looking eyes, and hair loss on the head and hair growth on the face. Perfection.
17. Please describe your mind.
My mind is difficult. I like to be alone in the daytime and resist the use of the telephone. I use social media and the internet, and read books and listen to the radio. I find it difficult not to work as a writer in an office. Recently I had a 5-month position in an office and this really helped my mind and mood and level of productivity. It's hard for me not to feel grudges against people with different value systems, which indicates to me that I am flawed and fascist in my thinking. For example, I've stopped children playing with tree branches and trying to break them and lectured them on trees. Similarly, I've counselled my mother and my cousin Kalapi on the use of sunblocks and moisturizers.
My son knows that looking good is important to me, and that he looks good and feels pride in how he dresses is important.
18. Please describe your emotions.
My emotions are happy in the evening, with a glass of rose or wine in hand. However, alcohol alone doesn't factor into my happy or unhappiness. If I am writing, or have written, it is so satisfying and I feel inner peace. Like Kung Fu Panda. (He achieved inner peace). My emotions are really bad in the morning; muddled and confused, it takes me awhile to focus, have a coffee, get something to eat. Then it's medicine time. The medicines leave me spaced out or energetic depending on the kind. And hungry too.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
Right now I am only wearing deodorant, and I've not yet put on my moisturizer or face sunblock or body sunblock. I'm wearing a blue background with small white polkadot sundress with smocking on the chest and tied straps on the shoulders. No brassiere. I have my wedding ring, a fashion Bandaid which is part of a mod collection, with primary coloured polkadots. I have on three gold banlges. It is 27 degrees outside and 12:31 p.m.
My earrings are little diamond studs. Three baby diamonds set in gold, from when I was a little girl. My mother only found them again this year; and my grandmother had them made for me in Calcutta by her jewellery man, Monmoto Babu.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
Life is art. So is looking. Also, if you're of a particular mindset, you've spend a myriad of hours analyzing the looks and feelings of everything and everyone around you, including yourself. Naturally, this comes into play when self-evaluating, through clothing or looks.
Here's my answer from last year:
Control. You show you have control with how your body looks. Taste and style are perceived by other women who want to be with you, because you make them feel a certain way. If you are self-assured, including in your look, it reassures others around you. No one likes a nervous nilly. At least not after the first sympathetic encounter.
21. With whom do you talk about clothes?
I can't really remember this one. I talk about clothes most often with my 8-year-old son. He won't wear the rainbow of trousers I have bought him, and insists on blue this year. My husband says he is not part of WHAM! and so this makes sense. My husband, Bryne, is an editor at an art magazine. Despite this he too resists my compulsion, my encouragement, that he dress sprightly and in beautiful hues. He says he is not "an ice cream man". If I saw an ice cream man dressed nicely it would make me happy. I had a friend, Adam Gilders, who was obsessed with style. I was his tenant on the ground floor of his house, and so we'd glimpse each other daily. He would often approve of my apparel or look. I remember his fondness for sun visors and the like when he went jogging. I went fast-walking, and my accessory of choice was a Special K pedometer from inside the cereal box.
The most recent conversations on style I've had revolve around my white and grey hair. I'm 38 years of age and have been prematurely greying since the age of 26. A few weeks ago I attended the wedding of a cousin in Scotland. My uncle was there, my maternal aunt's husband. Upon seeing me after 5 years, he said it was good to see me, but not my grew hair. This infuriated my cousin, who proclaimed it being sexist. Another interesting thing happened while I was away. The singer Bobbie Gillespie approached me while I ogled desserts at Ottolenghi restaurant's Islington location. I saw him and thought he looked familiar. He told me I had a good look. "Sorry," I said. "You've got a good look, he said, as he literally circled around me. I was wearing fluorescent yellow legging jeans, my slip on twins Camper shoes in black and white, and a faded blue H&M jacket. He was referring to my hair, though, I'm sure of it. Thank you, I stammered. And then a few minutes later giggled with my friend as we realized who he was.
22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?
Well. If you're talking about school or university, I sometimes do take a class. Then I bring a bag large enough to hold a notebook and snacks, with multiple compartments. A cardigan or light jacket too for the evenings or air-conditioned classes.
As for work, I work from home. In an office environment, I've noticed the other women wearing really nice shoes, mostly heeled. So I would need those, and a blazer.
23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
Yes, I have taste. And I have "a" style. Taste to me means something that is cultivated, considered, and assured. I often think people have good or bad taste. It's fascinating. My particular taste, in clothing, in food, and in general aesthetic, is flawed, I think, because it's too messy. Too ill-considered. Too much blurring of the lines. And not on purpose. But that's what makes me me. And then we go into style. Style is entirely personal for me.
Since my son was born 7 years ago, and before this, I became addicted to buying everything at The Gap. My family jokes about this. Despite this preponderancy, I have lots to curate from because of a hoarding instinct.
My style is luxurious, and messy. My mother's side of the family was wealthy. My maternal grandmother greatly influenced my sense of style. She had a dressing room, and it smelled like her soaps and perfumes and talcum powders(she was the owner of Calcutta Chemical, a toiletries) manufacturer. She wore beautiful chiffon saris and printed silks in the hot days, and heavier materials at night. I played with her cut-glass necklaces. My favourite were the midnight blue and the aqua and pink refracted ones. In present day, people often ask where I've gotten something or complement an item of clothing. So I'm a good curator.
24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
Yes. It was at the Holt Renfrew warehouse. I bought a pair of beautiful and comfortable brown suede boots, ankle-length, for perhaps $120, although I can't really recall. Then they split apart in a week or two.
25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?
Oh ho! Wouldn't you like to know! Side parts make my face look better, most times. Wedge heels make someone 5.1/2 inch taller and more sturdy. Sunblock is for brown people. Don't doubt it. It will make you more beautiful. Use it.
Flat, slip-on Keds or Camper shoes in beautiful patterns enable you to literally get up and GO! To school or work. Also, having a handbag with a laminate coating makes it waterproof. I have two from Fossil that hold up in all seasons.
26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
Yes. The kitchen, a nice patterned armchair, bed linens, and table settings. Also we have four reproduction Eames chairs around the dining table. They are fuchsia, cornflower blue, aqua, and chartreuse.Those are their names.
I wish I paid as much attention to my finances as the uniformity of my table settings. I've written a blogpost on said table settings: http://noyaux.blogspot.ca/2013/03/cloth-napkins-and-plate-chargers.html
27. Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?
Yes, and again, a wonderful question. I had an episode of mental illness at the age of 26 or 27. I wore the same jeans and blue sweatshirt every day. The blue sweatshirt was from an artist called Sandy Plotnikoff, it fit perfectly and he had done some kind of hoodie project. My soft green t-shirt was from my cousin Kalapi, I associated it with her playing tennis and being a happy teenager at Glebe Collegiate in Ottawa in the 1980's. My jeans were small enough to fit my skinny frame at the time and were splattered with pink and red from the apartment walls I had painted.
28. Would you say you “know what you like” in the area of fashion and clothing? If so, do you also know what you like in other areas of life, that is, are you generally good at discernment? Can you say where your discernment comes from, if you have it? Or if you don’t have it, why or why not?
I know what I like in the area of fashion, clothing, and life. It's easy to edit if you know what you don't like. If you are discerning, eventually you do realize there are things you do like: depending on if you're a liker or disliker of things. My mother and grandmother and maternal aunt were all choosy when it came to aesthetic appeal. My mother was always more messy than her mother and sister. I've kind of adopted this mindset, too. I am messy but choosy. So I am surrounded by luxurious, beautiful things in my apartment, which is a phantasmagorical emporium of clutter. I have discernment, but need to edit.
29. Did your parents teach you things about clothing, care for your clothing, dressing or style? What lessons do you remember? Or did you just pick things up?
My mother was bad at caring for her clothes growing up. In her walk-in closet, she's got about 200 sweaters on a shelf at the top. The sweaters are cotton, angora, wool, and everything else. The collection spans from the 1980's onward. My mother keeps everything, but she should have let it go long ago. That way there wouldn't be moths. So I guess I try and avoid that. Just don't look in my closet.
30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
I get my eyebrows done, meaning waxed and plucked. Also, sometimes I'll wear a dress and some nice boots. I need nicer boots!
31. Many people say they want to feel “comfortable,” or that they admire people who seem “confident.” What do these words really mean to you?
These words mean that someone is able to just hang out or walk or work in their clothing without slinking down and being all kind of grub-like. Some people are comfortable in stiletto heels or Doc Maarten boots. I gravitate towards the people who are able to make a connection with others: not necessarily completely self-involved or extroverted, but just able to be.
32. If dressing were the only thing you did, and you were considered an expert and asked to explain your style philosophy, what would you say?
I'd say this: Be comfortable, don't ever wear all black more than once a week, and be able to run, squat, bend, and sit in your clothing comfortably. Emphasize your good points: eyes, humour, hair, whatever the case may be.
33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
Little details. My friend Nicole's daughter Bijou is gorgeous. She is quiet, but unafraid of seemingly anything. She is prepossessed of a joyful energy, huge irises in blue eyes, and most of all the ability to appreciate the unusual. She is really beautiful, and also she lets me have a cuddle.
34. What do you consider very ugly?
Well. Competitiveness in sports. Especially in children. It's ugly, and comes from the ugly feelings of the parents. Yuck.
I also consider fear of coloured foods and clothing ugly. Don't get me started.
35. Are you generally a good judge of whether what you buy will end up being worn? Have you figured out how to know in advance?
Yes, I think I finally have. Don't buy stuff that is going to look good only if you lose five pounds or you need to alter in some way.
36. When you look at yourself before going out, and you are trying to see yourself from the outside, can you describe a bit about what this “other person” is like? What do they like, dislike, what sorts of judgments do they have? Is this “outer eye” based on someone you know or once knew?
My Didu, my maternal grandmother, would do this look in the mirror with her purple lipstick on. My aunt Ruma does a similar look in the mirror. I can't see that well, and generally pull my lipstick out of my bag and just put it on. I see myself as being a bit too loud, and ridiculous. My son is really embarrassed by me in public, and he's a lovely-looking fellow who is nervous of seeming inadequate in social situations. I'm too old to keep being nervous about that sort of thing. I just wish I wouldn't get so obsessed by interesting people I meet sometimes.
37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
I consider the weather. From the bottom up, this helps determine whether I'll need socks or tights, or nothing. So then I know I'll wear socks with slip-on shoes, or boots, or sandals with no socks.
Then I pick a dress or pair of trousers, and a top that doesn't look too bad. Often I'll rifle through the closets and paw through my drawer. Umdergarments are laid out on the bed on top of the outfit. And then I do it, I get dressed.
38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
I am trying to cover parts of my body, like my stomach, and depending on the day want to offer a bold hit of colour, appear blandly neutral, or maybe just fit into my clothes.
39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?
Dangly earrings. More than one item of makeup on with a dress, and high heels. Maybe some perfume and a fancy purse, too.
40. If you had to wear a “uniform” what would it look like?
Sunglasses, flat slip on shoes or wedge sandals with a nice colour scheme, fitted trousers, a t-shirt, loose jacket, and handbag. In summer a loose-fitting sun minidress with sandals and sunhat and sunshades. Don't forget a bright lipstick, maybe a berry shade of lipgloss from Aveda.
41. What would you say is “you” and what would you say is “not you”?
Me: Camper shoes, wedge heels or flats, silk scarves, lipstick on my teeth, sunblock, sunglasses, a happy and excited look, or a harsh look in my eyes depending. Direct, nonetheless.
Not me: Nike or sports items. Neon sports clothing. Running shoes. Stiletto heels. Highlights or lowlights.
Frosted lipgloss. Tiny leather backpack.
42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?
My dad moved here at 8 from New Delhi, to Montreal as part of 5 siblings. My grandmother dressed in saris and cardigans on my father's side, even after she moved back to India in the 1970's. My mother moved here in 1974 from Calcutta. She was super-stylish in my view. Glossy long hair middle-parted, glossy maroon lips, tight high-waisted pants, and wedge shoes with a pleasant, spacey smile. My mother's family were luxuriously wealthy and the women, meaning my mom, her twin, and my grandmother, dressed in jewels and jewel-tone silks and were photographed before they went out. This kind of thing persists with my mom when she goes out now. But the jewels stay in the vault if it's not a wedding, whereas in the 70's they were out more often. People say I look like my mother, but when I see my recent photos my face seems to have a kind of grimace that doesn't look like her earlier photographs at my age.
My mother also has a preoccupation with shopping and purses, and so do I. This is passing on to my son. Sometimes, I cannot think of one thing he needs and I come out of the shop empty-handed.
43. Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now? Can you describe it and what it was all about for you?
I do remember at different points in my life dressing differently. I was always kind of dressy in my "going to work" office days. Between the ages of 23 and 27 I worked at Procter and Gamble. I wore makeup, meaning mascara, and sometimes eyeliner, and was just getting into the wedge-heel era of my days. After that, at different jobs, I wore skirts and heels, because I felt that it made me look professional. Now I am lucky to find a pair of trousers that fits and a non-Indian cotton top before I run off to pick my son up from school.
44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?
Oh, I look at what the other women are wearing. Then I pull things out of my closet that might be able to be put together for a "pulled together" look. Blazers, blouses, nice shoes, tights without holes, etc. A classic haircut is necessary not to feel sloppy too.
45. How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?
Well, as a freelance writer and stay at home mother, I don't know, really. I wear bright colours and dress practically. I don't conform because I don't wear Nike or Adidas sneakers. I do still wear my Converse. Also, I do not dye my hair...
46. Do you have a dress code, a school uniform, or a uniform that you wear for an extracurricular activity?
I guess if I were going to Book Club, I might wear a dress.
47. Are there ways in which you conform to or rebel against these uniforms?
No, not really.
48. Do you find it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?
I don't have a uniform, but I would like it. Imagine if all the school mothers who were freelance writers had a uniform, like The Stepford Wives? That might be nice. Especially if we got to eat chiffon cakes.
49. What is an archetypal outfit for you; one that you could have happily worn at any point in your life? What do you like about it?
Soft and skinny dark jeans, a tank top, and a blazer. Also, some nice sunglasses. I like that this look is classic. I wore a variation of this in grade 7, and would wear it today. It looks like me at my best.
50. Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man’s body? Was there ever a time in the past?
Nope. Although in grade 7 I did collect blazers and also waistcoats and wore them.
51. If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?
I would live in 2014 in Toronto, Canada. I can wear whatever I want, because whatever I want to wear is not ugly.... if only I could own whatever I wanted, too!
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
I photograph myself every day. This is in an effort to see how my look evolves, though I definitely do not think of myself as narcissistic. It's more a fascination with the Photo Booth application on my macbook. That and the fact that steroids and immunosuppressants, which I take for my autoimmune eye disease, affect the way I look. Plus, can I really see myself well?
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
I post photographs of myself on Facebook but don't actually think I look good. Past photos show me looking pretty nice. My look now, though, is kind of like a ridiculous caricature. Shameful sometimes. The photo below is my cousin and I in Edinburgh. I'm on the right. She is super-gorgeous!￼
54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
I really like my grandmother's style in the 1960's. There's a photograph I have of her, where she's wearing a 3/4 sleeve cardigan draped over her shoulders, a long string of pearls, and white cats eye sunglasses with a single colour silk sari. She's at her vacation home in Darjeeling, or maybe a restaurant there.
55. Have you ever had a dream that involved clothes?
I am sure I have, but cannot remember right now.
56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?
Slim-waisted pants with a silk tank top. It's fashionable and my body is not. Stiletto heels and a tight dress.
57. If you were totally comfortable with your body, or your body was a bit closer to what you wish it was like, what would you wear?
I would wear my size 4 Marc by Marc Jacobs minidress. I would wear it with my favourite Camper wedge heels. Alas, I have outsized both.
58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
Well, I don't know. I am trying to repel wasps and mosquitos even though I often wear blue. I carry a big bag and hopefully this repels drivers from hitting me with their car. Nope, I won't admit to trying to attract anyone.
59. Are there any dressing rules you’d want to convey to other women?
Dressing rules, yes. It's sometimes hard to know what suits you. So ask someone for help. Anyone is fine, but someone whom you admire is great. This reminds me of something. My middle paternal aunt is very critical of the way I look. She made a point of telling me my cousin wore only Indian kurta shirts with what she called capris on a recent family cruise ship vacation they went on. It didn't escape me that I was wearing a kurta top and some of my favourite ankle length (emerald green) legging jean trousers. "Like this," I pointed to myself. She nodded. So I didn't look good to her. She said if you wear an all-cotton top it needs to be ironed. "I hung it up," I told her, she responded "where?!" She also said one should never wear lycra in summer.
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
I wear it sometimes. I love the idea of the makeup and perfume gifts given to brides in India. My mother has a whole dresser of strange perfumes. Lanvin, My Sin.
My grandmother had a cosmetics and toiletry company and loved perfumes. I have her Chanel Number 5 talc on my dresser. My favourite perfumes are Shalimar, which I received from family friends on my 18th birthday, and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?
I need to go for walks to get my emotions in check. I need to put on lipstick when I leave the house, and moisturize. Hopefully, my clothes won't be too wrinkled and will fit me nicely. If a coat has been recently dry cleaned and steam-pressed, I feel put-together.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I love to wear lipstick or lipgloss in sprightly hues. I put on a cream blush sometimes, lesser times eyeliner because it can look too harsh. My eyebrows are big and a big hit, I think, so my eyebrow waxing lady doesn't make them super slim. She says I have a lot to work with.
63. Is there a certain look you feel you’re expected to like that you have absolutely no interest in? What is it? Why aren’t you interested?
Oh, yeah. I feel like I'm expected to like the skinny-thighed Gwyneth Paltrow look that looks great in a bikini. This look isn't achievable to me, nor the lifestyle.
Also, the jogging-lady look. Man. I wish I was more interested, because I'd be healthier.
64. Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing and jewelry-wise?
Oh man. Are you serious? It's a maelstrom. I have lots of kurta-style and 100% cotton tops from India. My mother brings them back every year. I have loads of jeans, and some party dresses too. Not all of them fit.
There are many green t-shirts, and Keds sneakers which are flat or wedge-heeled.
I like red wedge sandals, and recently bought a pair of Marimekko Converse with blue strawberries on the outside and red ones on the inside. You can flip them over, they're high-top.
65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
That's kind of hard. I like my wedding ring, which is white and yellow gold, and filigreed. I like my loha, which is the iron bangle I wear to signify I'm married. It's covered in yellow gold. The iron, I'm told by older generations, is to rub off into your skin and go into your blood so you get iron. My favourite item in the world, or one of them, is a diamond leaf necklace my Didu, my maternal grandmother, bequeathed to me. There is also a fascinating diamond ring which looks like it is lots of eyes. Another very fascinating piece of jewellery is one I'm wearing in a wedding photograph, decked out in my Bengali wedding regalia. It's a butterfly choker. The butterfly has 9 types of gems set into it.
66. Tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear. What is it, why don’t you wear it, and why do you keep it?
I will always keep my Marc by Marc Jacobs minidress. I don't wear it anymore because it's a few sizes too small for me. But I love it and I love that I've worn it sometimes before. I also totally love my blue and red wedge Camper shoes, but they are too tight and small. I still tried to wear them to work a few years ago, one day.
67. Looking back at all your purchases over the past five to fifteen years, can you generalize about what sorts of things were the most valuable to buy?
I will say practical items for the elements: sunglasses, down-filled coats, El Naturalista leather boots with recycled rubber heels. Oh, and my umbrella.
68. Is there an item of clothing that you once owned, but no longer own, and still think about or wish you had back? What was it, what happened to it, and why do you want it back?
I wish I still had this one sleeveless pink and navy blue cotton shift. It was from a shop in the Byward Market in Ottawa called Allegro that was my favourite store as a young adult. Like many items of clothing, I can't begin to know how it disappeared...
69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
I would keep my black woollen shawl with multicoloured embroidery, that was my maternal grandmother's.
70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
I wouldn't have so many ridiculous Indian cotton tunics in size small! Why did my mom do that?! She has bought me so many of these.
I would invest in some nice jeans, and more boots.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
The first "investment" item I bought was an Eddie Bauer down-filled parka in navy blue. I bought it at age 19 with the savings from my job as a reporter on The Green Team, a documentary and feature-making ecological news team for CKCU radio. When I moved away from Ottawa, I gave it to my mom for a few years, then wore it again a bit later in Toronto. Last year I finally gave it away to The Goodwill.
72. Was there ever an important or paradigm-shifting purchase in your life?
My white gold with yellow filigree wedding ring from Birks. It cost $625.00 but is too small for me now.
73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?
The perfect pair of black ankle-length square-heeled boots.
74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?
I'm trying for my apartment not to be Grey Gardens. So we've started giving stuff to The Cerebral Palsy Society, which picks up monthly, if you're organized enough. Right now we've reached a crisis we come to every few months. Too many books, too many clothes my son has grown out of. Too expensive to donate. What to do?
When I was pregnant, 8 years ago, I purchased new furniture with the aid of my parents. This includes lots of wood storage from Ikea. At the time I put in little beige baskets in the chests of drawers to separate underwear, jewellery, and socks. The system was a good idea. Things have devolved a bit since then but now is the time for change!
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
My grandmother left me a diamond earring and necklace set with a ring, to be given to me for my wedding. The earrings are like seashells, and the ring has many evil eyes in it made out of diamonds. Although my grandmother is gone, it's nice to know she willed such an important set to me. It shows me she thought I was really important.
76. Did you ever buy an article of clothing without giving it much thought, only to have it prove much more valuable as time went on? What was the item and what happened?
I bought my white Club Monaco plastic sunglasses about 7 years ago. I knew I needed sunglasses all the time because of my photosensitivity, so there was that thought behind the purchase. However, one time, they broke. I took them back to The Sunglass Hut at Yorkdale mall and they fixed them for me with the aid of Club Monaco. They have been my most signature accessory, and the most resilient. Also, my son makes fun of them and says this is why he thinks I startle people.
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
I kind of am always shopping. In debt, in person, online, mostly for my son, but a shopaholic. I may just do it again after completing this survey.
78. Do you like to smell a certain way?
Apart from my own natural pheromones, I want to smell clean. What this means is not necessarily perfumed, but kind of fresh. It doesn't hurt to smell like cookies, either.
79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
Lovely question. In my last paying job, I met lots of women who dressed wonderfully and interestingly. Some of them have said, (overheard on social media- to dress for the job you wish to have, rather than the one you have now. So I should've been wearing blazers. Always get a couple of casual blazers for work. I have only one nice one, and I wore it in the U.K. to a wedding event, and it worked beautifully with a party dress.
I try and dress with some eccentricity and colour, because I am that way. That being said, I now believe I'm intelligent enough to know how to interact successfully in society. So if an occasion calls for seriousness or class, I can do it.
I am proud of the way I dress in general. I feel like it's obvious if someone's "trying too hard", but being older as a woman (39!) also means being more understanding. I understand the woman who wears all COACH and this kind of thing. It makes her feel safe.
80. How does money fit into all this?
I am in debt. But when I'm working, which is seldom, as I've stayed at home for most of the last seven years with my son), I buy some presentable items for work. And every time I get a new job I reward myself with some new item of clothing, usually shoes. Last time I had a paying gig, I got myself a pair of short, blue, shiny Hunter boots.
81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
I like to always have my sunglasses, at least one pair. I cannot see outside or keep my eyes open without them. Also essential for me is lipstick from Aveda. They are nontoxic and almost edible and look great. Right now I like a pinky-orange one called Peruvian Lily, and a slick gloss tube called Berryblast.
82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?
When I was 21, my favourite getup was a pair of jeans with holes in the knees, and a faded, light blue t-shirt that said Baker Lake on it with a brown stain on the back. I wore black suede Simple sneakers.
That year, I spent 5 weeks in London, England. When my Indian uncle Swapan, who was doing a job stint there, saw me, he was dismayed. I was dressed just like him at the same age, but he failed to see that. Instead he took me shopping to Top Shop on Oxford street and got me some new outfits. One was a blue velvet miniskirt, another a light blue corduroy jacket. :I want you to buy clothing and maybe a jacket that you will be wearing 5 years from now", he said.
83. Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?
I remember being four years old at my aunt Ruma's wedding. My grandmother had me wear a little red and gold Benarasi sari, and I was wearing a tikli, which I loved. The tikli is a piece of (gold) jewellery that makes a line down the centre of your head and culminates in a dangling ornament at the temple.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
March 18, 1975.
I was born at The Ottawa Civic Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. I now live in The Annex in Toronto.
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
I am Bengali. My family is from East and West Bengal in India. I was born in Canada, but have been back to India many times. I grew up middle class in the suburbs, in Nepean, Ontario.
What kind of work do you do?
I am a writer. I have edited many things, went to a terrible journalism school 15 years ago, and have evolved. Sometimes I do arts-admin or editorial intern work.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Married, stay at home mother of an 8.5 year old boy. I am looking for work that is flexible enough so I can still look after my boy, or can alternatively pay enough to afford childcare.
Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.
I first filled this survey out in June of 2013. Some of my quotes will be published in the book, which I'm looking forward to! I've kept some of the answers the same in this survey, and added more.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
I still feel like I have a cold. But I did it, I answered more than 83 questions!
Shalini Roy is a writer and mother of one who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. You can see her work at www.food52.com, www.ivillage.ca, www.todaysparent.com, and www.noyaux.blogspot.ca