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Ellen Ell

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I look put-together - clothing I like, hair blow-dried and in place, makeup on.

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

Women with a sense of style and a fashion edge. Usually more of a classic look. Confidence.

3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

I admire women who can go without makeup and/or have "undone" hair, or dress extremely casually, and still look chic.

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?

Two things. I like to look nice but do not have the ability to put together 'outfits' the way some women do. So I started shopping almost exclusively online from one retailer. I believe that puts the responsibility of 'curating' the fashion on the retailer and it is a relief to me. They make very simple, classic clothing in muted colors; items from one season go very well with items from several years ago. I started limiting my color palette so that I could focus on accessories in a narrower range of colors, and put on separates very quickly, throw on a scarf or necklace and look 'finished.' So, for instance, navy was tossed and I bought a wardrobe of packable knits for work and business trips. No more being caught on the hop for business or personal trips - now I always have the right items for any season, easily packable. It took several years, but I finally have a wardrobe of classics that work together in a very fluid way. Oddly enough, this happened when I was well into middle age and getting heavier than I've ever been in my life. Yet I looked at a recent candid snapped of me at a business event and thought, "dayyum, I don't look bad at all."

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

I shop online almost exclusively because time spent pacing a store is time wasted, to me. I limit myself to black, white and gray, plus blue, green, and a little bit of red. It seems to keep down closet cacophony.

6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?

I've always dressed in a very modest, subdued mode. Not flashy. Some women can carry it off, I cannot.

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

When my niece (12) asked me about "fashion!"

8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.

Think, plan, execute, then stop worrying about it.

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

T-shirts! Sleeveless, short sleeve, long-sleeve. In neutral colors that go with everything. I like comfort vs structured dressing. I have structured pieces in my closet, I just don't turn to them as often.

10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?

Yes, I bought my niece a very on-trend (yet somehow classic) ruffled t-shirt at a friends' boutique a few years ago, and was pleased to see it turn up in her first-day-of-school photo this year.

11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why? 

Lots. I stick with classic, muted pieces that will last for years - fast fashion is not for me. Too exhausting.

12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?

Not at all. She was tiny, I inherited my father's height and my taste is like that of my aunt and grandmother on my fathers' side.

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

A lot of my inspiration comes from street-style blogs, I think that's when I had the "AHA" moment that a simple outfit with sleek accessories is just fine - that I didn't need to overdo it.

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

I've noticed I usually go through a complete style overhaul about once every decade.

15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?


16. Please describe your body.

Tall, plump, wide shoulders, average breasts, slim hips.

17. Please describe your mind.

Forceful. Curious. Empathetic. Fiercely intelligent. Probing.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Calm on the outside, often turbulent on the inside (going through a lot of life and job changes right now).

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

My hair is in the same classic chin-length blonde bob with swept-aside bangs as I had almost fifty years ago and have kept almost always (save for a foofy period in the 80s) since. I'm wearing sage-green kitten-heel sandals, oatmeal-colored linen capris, a pale green t-shirt decorated with subtle embroidery and tonal color, a necklace of multi-colored jade, and hoop earrings with peacock-colored pearl dangles (an add-on, the pearls came from a separate source).

20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?

It's comfortable, it looks put-together in a casual work environment, I like the way the different green colors tone together (the sandals, the shirt, the necklace, the earrings).

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

Female family members, friends, co-workers.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

It depends on the interaction and the impression I wish to convey.

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

Both. Taste is instinctive; style is developed as you get to know yourself.

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

$500 on a Coach messenger bag around 20 years ago! Yet it's still in my closet, and if I polished it up I could use it today.

25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?

It's a uniform: pants or skirt, top, jacket or sweater, accessorize, shoes, DONE.

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

Home decor, cooking.

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, I recently went on a business trip on which I knew I'd be at a disadvantage because the trade show skewed young men and I am a plump, middle-aged woman. But the years of wardrobe prep worked and I walked on that floor with more mojo than I ever had in my life! It worked, too -- I gained a lot of new business and contacts.

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 wrote copy professionally as part of my job and one of my cardinal rules was to edit, edit, edit. I realized that this could be applied to all areas of my life: that I could curate what was part of my life, and what could be discarded.

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?

I did go for extensive extra-curricular sewing lessons all through high school and used to make my own clothes. It's still a skill that comes in handy. I can also tell when a garment is well-made and when fabric is high-quality.

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

I'm past the alluring / sexy stage of my life (by the youth yardstick, not mine). Perfume, a little makeup, heels, walk a little walk....

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?

That's how I finally learned 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?

Reach for what you like and buy it. Restrain yourself a few times -- it's good for your soul (and your wallet). Dress as an expression of yourself, no-one else.

33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?

A lot of nature, things outside, even bad weather. Museums. Art. Architecture. Urban decay. William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Hateful people. Bright, plasticky colors. Six-lane highways with endless strip malls on each side.

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 rarely impulse buy.

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?

I can usually surmise what people are thinking when they look at me. The 'outer eye' sees someone who is large, but confident, serene, and well-attired.

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

Haste more often than I'd like. The weather. The mood for the day. Any client meetings I might have or after-work events.

38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?

A pulled-together appearance that looks like I put more thought into it than I really did.

39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?

More time getting attired and more expense in the clothing being worn.

40. If you had to wear a “uniform” what would it look like?

Pants, a shirt, perhaps a cardigan or jacket, a scarf or piece of jewelry.

41. What would you say is “you” and what would you say is “not you”?

Classic is 'me.' Flashy/trendy is not.

42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?

I'm the grandchild of immigrants but we were taught the value of books, good music, and saving for 'better' things vs squandering our money on cheap instant gratification. I was trained as a classical musician so I was exposed to intelligent people early on. I feel most comfortable with intellectual, artsy, left-wing types, although I come from a strongly right-wing family.

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?

The eighties - it was just a more sparkly decade and my life at the time included a lot of black-tie galas. But the essentials of how I dress now were being formed then, I just didn't consciously think about it the way I do now.

44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?

Just put a little more effort - blow dry hair, apply makeup, wear better clothes.

45. How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?

I put a lot of thought into this. It's a 'casual' workplace but I am in sales so I am a rainmaker - mostly inside but occasionally clients come here or I fly out to meet with clients. I had to craft a look that would not look overtly dressy and alienate my co-workers yet still show a certain amount of authority -- it's a fine line!

46. Do you have a dress code, a school uniform, or a uniform that you wear for an extracurricular activity?


47. Are there ways in which you conform to or rebel against these uniforms?


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?

Black skirt, white top, black pumps, black and white scarf, pearl earrings. Simple and elegant.

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?

No; was a "girly girl" since I can remember (age 2).

51. If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?

18th century England.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

At times.

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

I could stand to lose weight.

54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?

Nothing I can quote off the top of my head.

55. Have you ever had a dream that involved clothes?


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

Very high-fashion, high-heel, structured clothing. Anything intensely cerebral, like Rei Kawakubo. Although, if provided with the clothing (which I can't afford), if it was simple and classic and understated, I'm sure I could carry it off.

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?

What I wear now.

58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?

Clothing sends a message, without a doubt. I guess I try to fit in yet still remain a distinct individual.

59. Are there any dressing rules you’d want to convey to other women?

I'm in no position to give advice!

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

Yes, and I change it seasonally and sometimes wear perfumes that "go" with certain colors since my olfactory and visual senses intertwine in certain ways.

61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?

Sometimes I will wear a spandex cami. I press clothes -- just a quick touch up -- and shine shoes on a regular basis.

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

Part of a finished outfit. My makeup routine is fairly simple and rarely varies, even for evening occasions.

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?

Whatever is being pushed in fashion magazines designed to sell you something.

64. Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing and jewelry-wise?

A pretty full closet that needs to be switched out by season. Same with shoes and handbags. A few divided boxes with necklaces; a small repurposed tool box for earrings. One bin of black/gray/white scarves, one of color scarves.

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

A number of things I own are delightful to wear.

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'm pretty ruthless about getting rid of items that have fallen out of rotation. The store from which I purchase my clothes donates give-backs to a shelter for abused women getting back into the workplace, which is nice. Oh - I did keep one pair of favorite pants, a size down. When I fit back into them, I WIN!

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?

Simple, classic neutrals.

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?

My aunt's fake-fur coat from the 40s. It was SO funky to wear in the 70s! Also, I tossed a bunch of vintage petticoats that I used to wear to evening functions in the 80s.

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

A grey, long-sleeve t-shirt.

70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?

Nothing, I think I've finally nailed it.

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

A gold ring from a famous jeweler on Fifth Avenue. I really don't wear it much anymore. Same with a pair of Tiffany earrings.

72. Was there ever an important or paradigm-shifting purchase in your life?

Not that I can think of.

73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?

I have more than I actually need...

74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?

Very tidy. In the closet, everything is organized by color and sleeve length, tops separated from pants/skirts and jackets/sweaters.

75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?

My husband gave me a diamond necklace.

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?


77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

Online, later at night or on the weekend, when I am relaxed. Usually, I've bookmarked the items first, then I will go back and review, typically remove some items, then place the order.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

Always scented, but not too much.

79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?

I'm dressing appropriately for where I work; I would probably have to change the mix if I worked elsewhere. Every workplace has its own unwritten style rules.

80. How does money fit into all this?

I purchase clothes that are nice but within my price range.

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


82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?

Someone told me I had "presence." I started to take it more seriously and use it in interpersonal relationships.

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?

A frilly dress and patent pumps when I was a tiny girl! I LOVED dressing up!

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

August 18, 1958. Born in Buffalo, live here now.

Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.

Grandchild of Polish immigrants; hard-working middle-class parents; middle-class income with upper-class tastes and habits of mind.

What kind of work do you do?


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

Married for the second time after being widowed young.

Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.

I am middle-aged, definitely sizey (some of my clothing is plus-sized, depending on the cut of the garment), yet older gentlemen still flirt with me and young men leap to open doors for me. It's funny, actually, that I feel so good about myself now when youth is long-gone.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?



Lifelong over-achiever. Slowing down a bit, but still high-powered. Have overcome a lot of tragedy and difficult times in my life. In a happy place now despite some personal and professional challenges.

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