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Ruth Gais

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

Not first thing in the morning. I think I look best at night.

5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?

Since I don’t shop very often, I rely on my instinct and try not to second guess myself and not buy what I am drawn to.

7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?

My mother was a model when she was younger and an executive for several important New York City department stores. She had plenty of thoughts about fashion and the cruelty of the fashion industry and told me never to go into the business. Maybe that was the most important conversation we had.

9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?

Blue jeans. I have a lot of scarves mostly because my students always give me scarves for a present. I return them when I can.

13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?

A lot of my clothes come from my daughters’ discards. I love that we all have similar taste and are similar sizes and I rejoice that the world has changed so that I do not have to dress like an old lady.

14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

As a child and an adolescent I dreaded the thought that growing up meant wearing a girdle, stockings, tight suits, white gloves – all the trappings of a well-dressed woman of the 1950s or early 60s. I was so excited when panty hose was/were(?) invented – I felt liberated and that invention, I believe, paved the way for miniskirts and bell bottoms, jeans, new slinky fabrics, and all the freedom of the late 60s and early 70s. It was wonderful!

19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

It’s 10:30 pm. I’m wearing a navy cotton t-shirt and on top of that a red and blue plaid cotton shirt, both from the gap. And in fact a pair of Capri length black leggings also from the gap. I’m wearing the remains of some lipstick, mascara, powder and eyebrow pencil. No foundation or make up ever. My hair needs cutting - it’s at that messy all parts going every which way time. I washed it three days ago in a lake in the Adirondack Mountains with Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile soap so it is quite clean but kind of dry. I wear it short and often run my fingers through it during the day. No shoes. Three rhinestone earrings in my ears.

23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?

Yes. I think these words mean an understanding of what I look good wearing. For me, my style, at it’s best is understated elegance. I don’t like fussy clothes, I don’t like many patterns. I like a classic look to which I can add surprises and personal touches.

26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?

Yes, mostly in choice of pens and books that I read, how I cook, and a desire not to have so much clutter – to have a house that is spare and clean and well- thought out. I love the house at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge that looks so lived in yet also with a keen sense of design and aesthetics.

37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?

If I’m smart, I chose my clothes in the evening but I usually don’t. I look outside and try to figure out what the weather is. I wear jeans or shorts and a shirt or sweatshirt and take the dog out first – then I remember what I’ll be doing – if I have lots of walking to do, then my shoes define the rest of the clothes. So I guess I chose what I’m going to wear for pretty pragmatic reasons. I wore a uniform to school for 12 years and still miss how easy it was to get dressed in the morning. I also loved my school and loved the pride of identity that my uniform gave me as I traveled about the city. The uniform was also incredibly functional. We wore it for gym and for class and I don’t think any of us smelled so bad. When we were older we put a button down skirt over the tunic which we took off for gym and sports. Very simple way to live.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

More than I used to.

53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?

When I see my younger self I am usually struck by how good I look and then wish I could tell my younger self to appreciate how really charming and sometimes beautiful I was then and then I try to tell myself the same thing now.

56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?

Frilly girl.

60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?

I ‘ve worn White Musk bath oil from The Body Shop for years now. It’s the only thing I’ve ever worn that people ask about all the time. That’s how I found out about it. The down side of it for me is that I can’t smell how nice I smell – it’s a very soothing and affectionate scent. I liked Aliage by Estee Lauder long ago. My mother always wore Joy by Worth which I have also worn from time to time. It’s a little too floral for me. My mother always said that it was the one fragrance that cab drivers always asked her about.

62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?

Subtle and always mascara, lipstick, blush and shadow. Sometimes eye liner.

65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?

I don’t know if it’s my favourite but I’m still wearing a mid-calf length liberty wool print skirt I bought in 1972, I think, from a store called Narcissa somewhere on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. It had a label that it was designed by “Eric Lund” whoever he is/was. I had it relined about 10 years ago and it’s doing fine.

71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?

I don’t think it was that much of an investment but I did buy a purple Norma Kamali “Big Dress” in the 1980s and aside from the shoulder pads wish I still had it.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

When I need something or when something I see catches my eye. I hate shopping for a particular item – that gets me hot and bothered. I prefer serendipity.

81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?


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 when I was about 4 years old and I objected strongly to wearing a scratchy organdy birthday party dress. It had puffed sleeves and smocking and I hated the way it felt on my bare skin. Also around that time I loved a pair of blue jeans with plaid flannel lining for the opposite reason - they were so soft. I a so remember the excitement of new shoes. This was in the early 1950s and shoe buying seemed to happen about twice a year. In the fall I would get a pair of oxfords, usually a nasty brown, but once I remember a pair that were blue with a u-shaped blue suede section above the toe before the laces. I loved the way the suede part felt. There was also a pair of black patent party shoes or red leather Mary Janes with little pearl button closures for which you needed a button hook - these were mysterious and wonderful shoes. In the spring I could choose red, blue or brown closed toe sandals and either red, white or blue Keds. I remember the agony of this richness of choice.

What’s your birth date? 
Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Manhattan and live now in Summit, New Jersey, about 20 miles outside NYC. I consider myself a New Yorker, though, and still can't quite figure out how I ended up in New Jersey. I have also lived for considerable periods of time in England, Italy, Princeton, New Jersey, the Adirondacks, and upstate New York.

What kind of work do you do?

I'm a rabbi and a hospital chaplain.

Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?

I am married with three adult children, a daughter-in-law and one grandbaby.

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