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Elena Megalos

2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?

I’m more likely to notice women with whom I identify (in age or style/visible taste). I notice women who surprise me, and who seem to value their presentation or want to be noticed.

Also, my mother is half-Japanese. So—strange or voyeuristic as it sounds—I’m quicker to notice half-Asian women. Maybe the curiosity stems from familiarity. Maybe it's competitive.

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 15, I was approached on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and photographed for the "street fashion" section of a now defunct teen magazine called YM (Young and Modern). The photographer didn't weigh in with an opinion or description, but she took notes on my clothes (black Dansko clogs, a knee-length denim skirt, a pink tank top from a Weezer concert, a velvet red thrift store jacket, a thin black tie) and asked me to describe my style. I'd never been asked a question like this, and it triggered a new “outer eye”—the outfits I'd been assembling suddenly constituted a style! I was flustered, and blurted something generic like "vintage mixed with new." The issue came out (Shakira was on the cover), and I spent months wondering how I might have answered the question differently—with greater precision and a more impressive vocabulary.

This is embarrassing to admit, but even now, when I put a nice outfit together, the thought of that question (and desire to answer it well) motivates me on some level.

16. Please describe your body.

I’m petite. My breasts are small but proportionate. My legs are on the slim side, and I carry weight in my stomach and upper arms.

17. Please describe your mind.

I’m creative and thoughtful. I think “thoughtful” captures it better than “intelligent” (though I’ve always done well in school). I’m a careful observer and have a sharp memory. I’m more comfortable on the micro scale; I focus on details, and sometimes struggle to distill the big picture. I’m more articulate when I write than when I speak. I think and express myself visually, too.

18. Please describe your emotions.

I’m very sensitive, for better or worse. I take pleasure in listening to and advising my friends, but feel guilty leaning too heavily on them when I'm blue. I’m happiest one-on-one or in a small, close group. I’m prone to funks and self-doubt. I’m most comfortable relating to my surroundings on an emotional level. Sometimes, I wonder if this is something I should have outgrown.

24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?

This anecdote is more about disappointment than financial waste, but here goes: I bought my high school prom dress for a little over $200. It was by far the most lavish purchase of my teens (and to this day, a clothing purchase over $150 leaves me feeling guilty and a bit queasy). I found it at a small boutique on Santa Monica’s stylish Main Street. It was turquoise with an asymmetrical cut and large red roses embroidered all over. There was also substantial boob-padding stitched into it. I didn’t love my boobs at the time, but the padded versions were even worse. In the end, I ignored the awkward fit and bought the dress, convinced that its unique fabric (and steep price) would make the purchase worthwhile. I spent most of the evening uncomfortable and self-conscious, tucking and re-tucking my boobs every five minutes. Prom as a whole was an overpriced letdown. So maybe the dress was perfectly symbolic.

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" when it comes to clothing and most things. This discernment is probably rooted in my temperament. I’m most successful in zones of comfort/familiarity, and I have a tendency to play things safe. When I open myself up to something I love, I’m confident and loyal, but I take risks in baby steps (if such a statement is even possible). My clothing choices certainly evolve--and sometimes contradict one another--but I rarely go out on a limb. The quiet upside is that I almost never feel like I’ve made a “mistake.”

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 father has always been a dedicated second-hand scavenger. He rarely buys anything new, and has defined his style—if you can call it that—by his thrifty, eclectic finds. Over the years, I've learned from his resourcefulness and treasure-hunting strategies (he maps his yard sale routes with military precision and combs through junk with an eagle eye). Much of my wardrobe is from thrift and vintage stores, and the new stuff is typically purchased at a discount. My habit of accumulating “collections” (often collections for which I lack space) also comes from my father.

My mother has always emphasized quality and care. Unlike my father, she is willing to spend a lot of money on a new piece of clothing that is timeless and well-made. She taught me how to hand-wash, and hers is the voice in my head that scolds me to dry-clean my nicer items.

30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?

If I dress to attract someone’s attention, it’s typically a woman’s, and I do so by wearing an outfit that I’d notice or admire on someone else. It generally involves a well-cut vintage (or vintage-inspired) garment with a striking color or unusual pattern. It might also involve a piece of jewelry with a quirky charm—tiny animals, ladders, scissors, harmonicas—that someone up-close will reach for or ask about. It’s a way of making myself visible to someone who might share my eye, and whose taste in clothing might extend to other topics. It’s a kindred-spirit-hunting impulse, not a competitive one. I can be shy about initiating conversations. It’s nice when a clothing or jewelry compliment gets the ball rolling.

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?

This "other person" is feminine and hip, with an appreciation of past eras (in fashion and otherwise). She can speak intelligently on general culture—the arts, in particular—but she isn't overeager. She's somewhat standoffish; when she isn't smiling, people might assume she's cold. She's a writer or some kind of artist. She's tasteful and particular; she probably brings that eye to her own work.

This "outer eye" is based on the observations and assumptions I've made about women I've admired (some first-hand; most from afar). These are the women that—consciously or unconsciously—I've modeled my own style after. The above description only fits if I've put a lot of effort and thought into my presentation. It's a look that I work for, and that "other person" is always smarter and cooler and more interesting than I feel.

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?

I suppose it's an elegant, professional look: polished hair, a blazer and slacks, a pair of nice heels. I've always associated this look with ambitious, successful women who have their act together in ways that I don't and don’t expect to. I have a "business casual" outfit that I've worn to interviews, but I can never maintain the persona (in style or substance), not even when I'm offered the position in question. I don't think I identify with this variety of success, and feel phony when I try to play the part. (I also recognize the shortcomings of this association/assumption. Clearly, women can be professional, ambitious, and successful no matter how they look or dress. And on the flip-side, not every woman in a suit identifies with what I’m describing.)

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 had this embroidered purple shawl that my mother bought me on a trip to Copper Canyon, Mexico. It was lightweight and fringed, long enough to loop my neck twice. And it was vibrant: refreshing against my black winter wardrobe. An old roommate borrowed it without asking, and later admitted she'd lost it at a bar. I spent an embarrassing number of days feeling sorry for myself. I would have liked to participate in the item’s fate. At the very least, I should have been the person who lost it.

69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?

A sleeveless Marc Jacobs dress that my mother found on clearance and mailed to me two weeks before I started teaching for the first time. The dress has big, edible-looking buttons, and a textile pattern that reminded my mother of apples (I think they're actually acorns). I wore it for good luck the first day I ever taught, and have worn it on the first day of school every day since. It looks increasingly childish on me, but I can be sentimental (and superstitious) when it comes to certain associations.

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?

Nearly ten years ago, I found a pair of beat-up, electric blue Doc Martens at a yard sale. They were two sizes too big, uncomfortable. For some reason (the bold, unusual color?), I took them with me on a month-long trip to Japan. I was walking miles every day, which left me with unnecessarily sore feet by nightfall. But the experience was so special that my uncomfortable boots took on this "companion" status. I have a whole series of boots-in-landscape photographs.

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 was eight years old. Wolves were my favorite animals, and for two years in elementary school I wore anything with a wolf on it: t-shirts, jackets, baseball caps, jewelry. It was the first time I defined myself with an interest, and I remember hoping the imagery would inspire questions about my new-found area of "expertise". My peers found the obsession weird and geeky, but this only fueled my commitment. I enjoyed the attention; I felt like I had character. There’s still a stash of faded wolf shirts in my parents’ garage.

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

September 27, 1986. I was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles. Now I live in Brooklyn.

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