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Maureen M

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I'm thinner. I'm middle-aged and there are certain things I won't wear-bikini's, short skirts, no matter what I weigh. I love black boots and jeans.

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

I teach at a university so I see young people. Lots of girls in dresses! So different from how proud we were to wear jeans! I like women who wear something just a little different, often slightly butch/dandy. Men's shoes, a hat, nice trousers.

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

I live in LA, but I've only lived here three years. What I like are outfits, rather than a pair of pants and a shirt.

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?

I've had so many moments, none of them stuck. I'm not very good at maintaining appearance.

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

Buy one good thing rather than several cheap things.

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

No sleeveless. No high heels except exceptional occasions. Wear it a lot.

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

Oh good lord no. Finances are relatively good, chores are binge.

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

Black and gray t-shirts. Black because it's safe. Gray because my hair is going gracefully gray and it works.

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

I bought my husband a bomber jacket that he loved so much that when it finally fell apart, I bought him another.

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

Lots. Most of them. My style is pretty limited.

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

My mom was very stylish and tailored and although I don't take near the care she did (I rarely wear make-up for example) I do love tailored clothes.

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

From family? No.

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

First I gained fifty pounds and got so disgusted that I only wore over-sized black t-shirts and jeans. I had ten black t-shirts in my closet. Then when I lost weight I had to Lear how to dress all over again. Crisp white cotton shirts with deep cuffs, indigo t-shirts, lots of things I'd never have tried before.

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

I won't wear things that I think make it too difficult to move, and I'm deeply aware of the differences between men and women's clothing and things like pocket size. I worry about sweat shops.

16. Please describe your body.

Short. Used to have big hips but now have to be careful about carrying weight in my belly.

17. Please describe your mind.


18. Please describe your emotions.

I'm neurotic and smart.

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

I'm in bed so my hair is short and tousled and I'm wearing an over-sized t-shirt, red, with a medieval skeleton banging a drum on it that I bought in Santa Fe over a decade ago.

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

It's the stage set for our life, the face we present to the world. Stuff is part of the story we tell ourselves and others about our lives.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

A couple of friends.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

I have to be presentable when I teach but this is California so not too formal.

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

I think I have flashes of both. Taste is a dance between self and culture, style is performance.

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

A pair of black boots from Nordstroms. The soles wore out in a matter of months. And they leaked.

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


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

My house gets compliments on decor and I cook very well. My writing gets good critical reviews.

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?

Of course! Lots! When nervous about presenting myself I tend to get more formal and put on make-up.

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 over think everything so I'm always weighing what my clothes say about my class, my life. I'm overweight again so that makes me feel as if nothing I wear can counter my weight.

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 born in 1915 so her views of clothing were so conservative that I got made fun of in school. As result, shopping and wearing clothes has always been fraught.

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

I'm 55. Post-menopause. The sexiest thing about me is my brain and what I say/do. Not my appearance.

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?

Confident can be either of two things. One is knowing you look good. The other is being like the writer Iris Murdoch, who never appeared to care or notice.

Comfortable--isn't that, like, yoga pants?

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?

Wear your clothes, don't let them wear you.

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

Beauty is an aesthetic judgement. It involves symmetry, a modicum of novelty, and an understanding of conventions.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Most comments on the internet?

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?

Generally. I make some mistakes but most of the stuff in my closet ends up being worn out.

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?

It's based on everything from my mother, to feminist and Marxist politics, to Project Runway.

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

Depends on what I'm doing. If I'm working at home, it's comfort. Oversized t-shirt and jeans.

On a teaching day, a shirt with some structure to flatter, earrings and bracelet to dress things up.

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

Again, depends on the day. If I'm working at home, I want to be able to answer the door if the doorbell rings.

If I'm teaching, I want to not be self-conscious about my appearance which means meeting a certain threshold.

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

Dressing up is a big deal and happens rarely. Last time I dressed up it was hair, make-up, stockings, spanx, skip, little black dress, nice shoes.

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

I did wear a 'uniform' of black t-shirt and jeans for years. Right now I'm fighting the tendency to do that.

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

Me is clean, simple. Not me is flouncy, feminine.

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?

When I was in my twenties I was single and had some disposable income, it was forties-style suits, DKNY blazers, leather jackets and black jeans. I had clothes for work, clothes for going out. I was trying on identities, trying to decide who to be. I've never quite gotten over the idea of changing my identity with my outfit. Nor do I want to.

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

Mostly I'm neat.

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

Nothing. I don't really have to worry. It's California. I'm a 'creative.'

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


48. Do you find it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?

I hated it in a Catholic school. Loved my self-imposed uniform for years (less angst!). I miss some of it but I like the play of clothing.

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?

Jeans, t-shirt, blazer, half boots. There are a few places it won't go but mostly it's flattering and flexible and can be made a little edgy without much work.

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 wear men's shirts a lot. I wish I could carry a wallet in my pants pocket. (So convient!)

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?


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

Am I really that old?

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

Lots. Coco Chanel was amazing, although I don't dress that way. I admire a lot of fashion-fashion is an art form! From a The a House of Worth to Alexander McQueen. But I don't have to wear art to like it. Fashion may be clothes but most clothes are not art.

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

Probably. I've certainly had those dreams where I was in public in my underwear.

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

Anything involving heels.

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?

Tank tops?

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?

I have, but my husband claims it gives him headaches. (I like offbeat scents--citrusy kind of things rather than musky or floral.)

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

Not sure what you mean. Launder them? Hem the jeans? Shower? I need to be reasonably clean, not display inappropriate body hair.

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

I rarely wear make-up.

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?

There's a whole cover-your-gray, erase signs of aging thing in LA that I don't follow. Although this city has made me more self-conscious about aging than I ever was.

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

My entire wardrobe fits easily into one very small closet and a coupe of drawers. I own a little black dress, a ballroom skirt, and a lot of shirts and jeans. Less than a dozen pairs of earrings, about six necklaces, some silver bangles, a wedding ring and a turquoise ring. About eight pairs of shoes.

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

I have a pair of moonstone earrings I wear a lot.

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 have a bronze silk ball gown skirt modeled on a Carolina Herrera that I wore for my twentieth wedding anniversary that I keep because why not?

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?

My favorite was a pair of pewter Steve Maddens. I'm learning that a good pair of shoes can say a lot.

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 don't really want it back but I had a wonderful black blazer that I wore to rags. I live in LA so I don't need them but my real favorite items of clothing have often been jackets.

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


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

I just rebuilt my wardrobe a year ago because I lost weight. I don't know what I would do differently.

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

That black blazer. No, it's long worn out and out of style.

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


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

A great black leather jacket.

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

Eh. Sort of. I hang most things.

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

Years ago my husband gave me a beautiful Art Deco pin.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

When I don't have enough and need them.

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

I want to be an intellectual and not care, but of course, I'd love to be an intellectual who didn't care *stylishly*.

80. How does money fit into all this?

I've only had enough in when I was in my mid-twenties and in the last few years.

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 have a purse, by I can't say I love it.

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

'Why do you dress like you but your clothes in Ohio?' (I was poor, in grad school in New York City, and I bought my clothes in Ohio, or got them as presents from my family in Ohio, where they were cheaper.)

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 wearing a red velour coat and a red velour bonnet that tied under my chin. The bonnet itched. I was three.

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

Feb. 13, 1959. A Friday the 13th. I was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Loveland, Ohio, a redneck, blue collar town then (not now.) Right now I live in LA.

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

I'm one generation removed from dirt farmers in the Kentucky hollows on my mother's side, my father's family were what was once called 'lace curtain Irish.'

What kind of work do you do?

I'm a novelist and I teach interactive storytelling as a part timer at a prestigious university.

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

Married. One boy who is 29.

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

I grew up desperately wanting to flee Ohio and become someone else. I was a scholarship girl. Went to grad school in Manhattan. Always felt a fraud.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

Wow, I really dress kind of butch.

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