Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
—recently [March or April, 2013] at a pub following a book store reading. The book store was the most enticing and exciting and interesting book store I had visited in years, Book House in Dinky Town in Minneapolis. Of course, since then, my first visit, the book store is now scheduled to close after years of operation. I am told, optimistically, that it will move and the reason for moving is urban renewal. I miss Borders in Minnetonka and rue my visits if that is how we lost the chain. That is the pattern with banks and book stores and the reason I stay with one bank, so it will not follow me to the next bank when I move out of region, as it has done since the 1990s if I leave.
I was exceptionally attractive in the mirror of the women’s room at the pub across the street from the book store, where the poets gathered after the reading. I was very pretty, but it was just me. This almost never happens, and I almost never care. My age is 51. Men thirty or younger were vying for my notice as I breezed through the pub, traipsing to smoke natural tobacco cigarettes outdoors, and re-entering. I listened, rapt, to an unexceptional woman poet’s nice-man partner’s account of their plans to move temporarily across the country, to the western United States. I take that back: she is an experimental poet and artist of marked ability. We underestimated each other until she was leaving town. I was wearing a very expensive leather jacket that was too chill for the weather. I was wearing dark brown gladiator booties. I was wearing old jeans that have gotten quite large on me since I dropped my end-of-reproduction thirty-pound bloom, the second such bloom and drop, at the beginning of this year, without trying, leaving me in a position of having to explain the weight loss as not related to eating disorder, illicit drug use, and/or alcohol. Since I enjoy the benefits of government-sponsored health insurance, I have lived subject to misplaced forensic and sexist conjecture, especially flavored by bipolar diagnosis, at the primary care clinic. The leather jacket is the most expensive garment I have ever purchased. For unknown reason, I bought it without hesitation near my 51st birthday, the only garment I have purchased this year (2013). I regret purchasing the luxury watch back in November, though I would not have regretted it if the light-colored patent leather band had not become easily stained by a jersey-knit rose-colored pajama tunic, leading to my discovery that the watch is a new yet discontinued one, about ten or fifteen years past manufacture. I recovered $1,000 on the watch due to having purchase through Amex, and Nordstrom let me return the pajamas for full price after two years' use.
After I filed this survey, the man who made me beautiful that night, who made me happy, died unexpectedly. I found him in his kitchen after a massive heart attack. I spent the end of last year, months after his death, buying clothes inconsolably until I had assembled a wardrobe of suit separates for myself and handbags to give to women friends as their inheritance from me when I die in the long- or somewhat long-distant future. I went wild in spending, yet I worked carefully at it, shopping well and buying nothing I didn’t want to keep and wear for years, spending as little as possible on each item, which is not to say buying cheaply. I bought six pairs of Beautifeel pumps, size 40 (true to size). I bought Tory Burch separates and handbags. I feel beautifully work-ready in style and dress yet without hope in finding employment. When I stopped shopping, I nearly died of the weight of it, the loss of a way to funnel my time and energy. Morbidity flooded me instantly. It stalled all my actions, so the clothes went unworn and waited neatly organized for my return to fluid life on earth, to action in the world.
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
Yes. Some days I notice women most, some days men. It alternates like genre years in a grant competition, poetry/fiction. I notice women's highlighted blond hair. It sort of pisses me off that women are expected to dye and sometimes wear the wrong hair, as if borrowing a wig. In childhood many of us were natural blonds and were taught that dye is unnatural. I could not perceive the beauty of Marilyn Monroe when I was a child, only that she wore false eyelashes and had dyed hair. We shouldn't have touched our hair with dye. I have one friend who didn't. There is not a single gray in her beautiful, Irish-heritage true-brown mane. At fifty, she tried subtle highlights no different in appearance than her own long bangs turned a little lighter in the sun. Many of us changed our hair too much. I notice a really good blond highlighted head of long hair, as if seeing a waving flag I used to wear myself. I notice unmarked skin on women's tanned legs because mine is flawed by visible small veins that keep me covered or camouflaged by nylon hose in summer. I ignore other women's visible flaws, as if to forgive, and look at their dogs if the women are not thin.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
My sister is a child-inspired design, children’s clothing designer living in Linden Hills, Minneapolis. My childhood friend buys clothes she keeps tagged in her closet that she wears perhaps once before consigning them.
Once a friend told me she was shopping for the right black.
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
Izod shirts in high school.
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
Hour glass in belted full-skirted dresses, graceful arms, natural hair, and lipstick.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
Yes, very early, after my mother decided against sewing my dresses after Kindergarten and first grade. The dresses were exceptionally precise and beautiful. She worried that the other girls or their mothers would press her to produce dresses for their girls, something as the regional president of League of Women Voters that she did not care to do. So she worked unpaid, as I do, a family tradition that makes me sick and that she accomplished with the help and social protection of a husband and children before achieving paid employment as food shelf director. There were a few polyester dresses that I hated in early grade school. I fought for young hippie girl clothes for the rest of grade school and won. After that, no.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
I refuse. I do not believe in clothing symbolism. I believe in personal style and having one's own taste. When someone's style details are taken as symbolic without that person's knowledge, I reject it. There are days when I fear wearing my clothes, dressing as I do, in case left-wing and right-wing people I meet in stores and anywhere out of the house may disbelieve that I deserve who I am and with much travel and effort became or to have my own and inherited sense of taste.
16. Please describe your body.
I do not take off my clothes even at work.
That is my idea of a joke, a line that came to me last week. I was an easy nude, comfortable in it and in sex, and now I'm not a nude except if I must finally take a shower or a bath. I like my body and I like to be on the thinner side of normal. I enjoyed having fuller breasts and nice arms at a somewhat higher weight. I am 5'10".
17. Please describe your mind.
Male by accusation of being male by women, especially for some reason related to deity I think, non-practicing Catholic women who three times in person and in groups suggested it. Now I think matrons and happily set divorced women have fantasies about someone like me, a man who is not a man who wants their flesh. I have gay men friends and a rather happy past in relationships with men and friendships with literary and academic women. Intelligence means male to many people. I know emotive men and do not censure it in them. I feel constantly fed up with poverty non-wages, isolation, and the feeling or suspicion that jealousy is the only emotion admitted in my new class. I prefer belonging in the class that I was born to and the sense of denominational religion we had when we were young. Church was not the only opening in life. There was school that I loved.
18. Please describe your emotions.
PTSD yet peaceful by natural temperament.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
In winter, an excellent overcoat, mid-thigh length, knee or longer, wool or cashmere perhaps with shearling or beaver or Finnish fox trim.
22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?
People may think I am or came rich, but I am not and did not. I will not survive as long fiscally as my natural life.
23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
It was my sister who told me she had inherited a sense of taste at home. I may have taken my or my family's sense of taste for granted yet known about it. One friend in graduate school, a friend of everyone and girlfriend, once, of one, said and it got back to me (as hopeful gossip) that I had the best taste in that school. I lived on a budget that didn't include clothes, though I stayed dressed rather well for school. Taste in writing may be what she meant.
24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
Two Gautier dresses that I bought for quality after having and liking a Fuzzy dress. The new dresses were overpriced and not nearly as well made as the first one.
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?
Except for writing and dressing, it almost seems it cannot matter that I can discern.
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?
Clothes need to be groomed as hair and bodies do. They need to belong in a place, folded gently or on right-sized hangers in the closet.
30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
Sex is mostly stupid and misleading in that it creates a sense of promise and corrals young women into believing that they have the one option of looking and acting beautiful and hot, out of habitual hoping that leads all except 1% to die on welfare. Sex at 49 was unreasonably great. I didn't think about my appearance in preparing for it, just of cleanliness. My appearance seemed unrelated to what happened, though from his point of view, that probably is not right.
39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?
I feel almost always overdressed. I have wished that people could simply wear the clothes they already have in their closets, begin to wear their clothes and not save them for a certain type of event.
41. What would you say is “you” and what would you say is “not you”?
I do not like to wear bow blouses. I like nice textures and thick weights that drape well and subtle colors.
42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?
Professional middle class. Other members of my family were probably more affluent, all professional in their careers, many professions, especially science and teaching, except lawyer, and women behind the men, all great in my memory. I am the first member of my family to be on any type of welfare, medical in my case, and it was in no way my goal. I am the most educated member, with three degrees, of my immediate family. My maternal grandfather was a railroad switchman whose ancestors came from England in the 1600s. My mother’s sister was a nuclear and astrophysicist. My Swedish grandmothers’ ancestors arrived in the mid-1800s. My paternal grandfather’s Scottish ancestors arrived in the mid-1800s from Glasgow to farm.
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?
Turtleneck of wool or cashmere or nylon with thumb holes in the cuffs, jeans, a belt, colored western boots.
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?
I like my height and to feel strong. I like men. I like feeling strong enough to survive alone and to be a woman.
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
No, but I have had some luck in knowing both good and cheesy photographers. The cheesy ones try to discredit people they know in taking their image and they come off seeming like members of the CIA.
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
Cellfies are three good ones and the rest came of a stupid wish, a good wish but the images look stupid, to see someone else, a friend, I almost never see in life.
54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
I liked Anne Sexton's dresses, and I heard that she had poured a double-shot bottle of whiskey in her low-heeled pump and drunk from it in her class at Boston University the fall she committed suicide. She had a band. She didn't need to be best of her tribe. She covered hospital from a journalism angle in poetry, what it was like to be temporarily inside. I wonder why she didn't diarize or poemicize incesting her daughter—it is a sign of poorer breeding than hers when ridiculous forms of a word serve as verbs—who was 21 when Anne Sexton died. It must mean something that Sexton put those other experiences on the line and hid that one?
58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
Coat(s) for winter and shearling boots.
74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
Yes, a cashmere jeweled three-quarter-length sleeve sweater from T., the color of silver gray.
80. How does money fit into all this?
I have needed to stop spending, and that is hard in an otherwise financially inactive world. I keep some form of generosity to myself and others in my life.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
May 1962. I live in my birthplace now, eight miles east of my hometown.
What kind of work do you do?
Read, edit, write.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Happily single, happily never divorced, and unbelievably deprived of cultural life.
Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.
I love the thought that seems to have gone into Women in Clothes and their events.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
I answered a different set of questions when I turned in the survey in 2013 than I answered this time, with some repetition. I feel glad to consider life from a clothing perspective and the associations it provides.
Ana Verse is my blog.