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Sarah Carlson

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?


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

I notice women on the street who make bold, interesting choices about how to dress. I pay attention to women around me who dress well consistently. Consistency seems very difficult.

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

I admire women who wear scarves, which always baffle me technically (how do people put them on?) and feel like a costume.

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?

No, getting dressed and passing as adequately fashionable has always been a struggle.

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

I love consignment shops in wealthy neighbourhoods, because people throw away incredible quantities of perfectly good clothing. I don't necessarily recommend this to others because it could be seen as embarrassing to wear last season's trends (which I wouldn't be able to spot myself).

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

I never wear capsleeves, shorts or skirts above the knee, anything sheer or silk, anything leather or fur, or anything that shows breast or ass. I am very conservative about showing my own body, but I respect other women who are comfortable doing so. I am much more comfortable going naked in public in accepted venues (nude beaches, topless sunbathing at Hampstead Heath Ladies' Pond).

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

I wish I had had a transformative conversation with someone on this subject.

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

Minimize effort, particularly when I suspect that men are less burdened with responsibility.

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

I have multiple pairs of Gap jeans, because they are comfortable and versatile.

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

I have given my mother and sister-in law jewelry from ETSY or museum shops. My mother relays her compliments on the jewelry from fashionable middle-aged ladies in her NYC office.

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

The 90s revival. It was horrible the first time around. I was a pre-teen and I experience unpleasant flashbacks to that time in my life when I see people wearing 90s clothing on the streets.

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

My mother has a very good figure, but can't dress it at all. I am probably the same in both respects.

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

Friends have given me their old clothes, which I then wear for years.

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

When I started teaching, I was very nervous about looking appropriate consistently. I adopted a uniform of a button-down shirt and jeans or trousers.

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

I used to wear T-shirts with political statements, such as This is What a Feminist Looks Like, and so on. I don't buy T-shirts at all anymore, but I would wear my old T-shirts on errands around town if I still had them with me.

16. Please describe your body.

Objectively, very good: firm and curvy, petite, strong and flexible. I wish I were taller and more androgenous. In particular, I know my breasts are very good and feel somewhat proud of them; nevertheless, I'd be happier not to have them at all.

17. Please describe your mind.

Also very good, though easily bored.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Socially anxious, tempermental, pleasure-seeking

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

Standard Gap jeans, old brown leather belt, slightly smelly undershirt, purple sweater received as gift from aunt 15 years ago. Hair down, barely brushed. Face bare, slightly spotty.

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

I think it is extremely important. Appearing in public presupposes time, effort, and money at unreasonably high levels. It pisses me off, actually. I hate to think that people can have this expectation of me and that they learn something about me from how I dress. At the same time, I enjoy watching others and making guesses about their lives on the basis of their mode of dress.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

My husband, rarely.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

Work requires me to put on a costume of authority for my students, who are usually less than a decade younger than me. I also try to pass as a youngish peer for my older, more fashionable colleagues.

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

My taste and my style are divergent. Taste is what I like to see worn by others, or what I think looks good understood impartially. Style is what I adopt for myself. My taste is much better and bolder than my style.

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

Yes, wearable equipment for outdoor sailing in cold weather. Absurdly expensive and barely used. It was waterproof overalls, which thankfully my mother stole and used later on an Alaskan cruise, and booties. Also a waterproof warm jacket that has been slightly more useful to me.

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

I wear the same jewelry, a necklace, every time I teach. It makes me feel like I am stepping into a role.

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

I think the interior design of my flat reflects my and my husband's style. We like mid-century modern furniture paired with bold colourful touches, like a pink woven rug and my sister-in-law's paintings.

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 put on my work uniform when preparing to teach or give a professional talk.

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 think trends tend to grow on me over time. Often I am very reluctant to appreciate new developments. After they become familiar, I can accept some of them.

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 parents hardly ever took anything to the dry cleaners. I think that's a valuable lesson. Clothes that require specialty care are not worthwhile.

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

Wearing summer dresses feels sexy

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?

People look terrible when they are in uncomfortable clothing or in clothing that doesn't hide what they want it to hide. I think comfortable and confidence mean an absence of fidgeting, pulling on fabrics, visible sweating or keeping oneself warm.

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?

Layers and minimal effort.

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

I love colour

34. What do you consider very ugly?

I dislike tight, constraining clothing, even the look of it.

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?

I often can tell that clothing is "aspirational," but sometimes I buy it anyway on the hope I will wear it and look better than I currently do.

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?

My husband often tries to fix my collar or tell me that my colours clash before I go out. I find it very irritating when it is unsolicited, which is nearly always.

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

I do consider the weather and often go check the temperature on my skin whilst mostly still undressed.

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

I usually am trying to pass off as a normal person

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

Dressing is a standard level of effort to pass off as a normal person, whilst dressing up is an extraordinary effort.

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

Button down shirt, nice trousers, boring shoes. What I actually wear.

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?

Yes. I'd certainly like to lose the breasts so my shirts would fit better.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?


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

i despise perfume

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

i hate that other women wear makeup. i would never wear it and its absence marks me as different

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 had to dress up as a bridesmaid for a friend's wedding. It was horrible. I hated the dress (JCrew, 200 plus dollars) and my friend insisted I wear makeup. I drew the line at paying for a hair appointment to make my hair "beachy." Instead I went to the fucking beach!

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

29 April 1984; Born in NYC, now living in London.

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

White, confused about my economic background

What kind of work do you do?


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

Married, no kids

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