Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
When I’m wearing something that I feel best expresses who I am. If I’m wearing something that’s out of the realm of what I feel is true to my sense of self, I feel myself shrinking. I hide. I shift. I’m not comfortable and that’s when I feel most unattractive, because it’s taken me a long time to feel strong enough to be comfortable with myself as I am and I’m not going back. My style isn’t terribly rigid, but I definitely know what I like by this point and no longer deviate from that. My experimental days are over. They were horrible, though, so good riddance!
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
On the street I especially love spotting really stylish older women. It’s so soul-crushingly difficult to just be who you want to be as a woman without the world telling you otherwise, so if you’ve managed to survive all that and come out the other side a badass elderly lady, I take my hat off to you. Maya Angelou talked about not just surviving, but thriving and the importance of that and I couldn't agree more. Especially as a Black woman. You made it! Despite it all, you're still here! There should be some celebration in that. I joke with my friends that I view stylish old women as my peers. I can’t wait to be one of them!
3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
I love to see women in complete looks. They don’t have to look polished or pristine, but I love a thorough commitment, even if it’s something I would never even consider wearing. There's something about a commitment to self expression through personal style that really appeals to me, regardless of the aesthetic.
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 went through a time in my 20s where my hair was everything. I have A LOT of curly hair, and it consumed all of my time and energy and was actually a pretty major pain in the ass, but so much of my self worth was wrapped up in it that I had lost all perspective. I got fed up one day and decided that I wanted to see what it was like on the other side, so I cut it off. It was a revelation. It sounds ludicrous, but it was. FREEDOM. The decision came at a time in my life when I was coping with a lot of grief and feeling weighed down by misery and life, so it's no surprise I did it, really. It now takes me 5 minutes to do my hair in the morning and I actually feel more confident, because I'm not hiding behind this mop anymore. I think it actually helped me heal a little bit.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
I once met an elderly woman on an airplane and we started talking. I told her how much I liked her outfit, which I can’t quite remember in detail now but which I definitely remember being quite fabulous. She thanked me and then said “every morning that I wake up and realize I’m not dead is a chance for me to say ‘fuck it’. So I dress like this.” That made me want to be more audacious about my own choices and not care as much about what anybody has to say regarding what I have on. I think this desire is also due to the fact that I’ve recently entered my 30s. I don’t think that conversation would have had the same effect on me had I been 24, because I would have been too anxious about what others would think, which is something that I’m not as concerned about now that my priorities have shifted along with my confidence in my own judgement. And that feeling of assuredness has bled into other areas of my life, outside of fashion.
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
I don’t think my approach is particularly unified, but I do try to apply the same enthusiasm that I have for fashion to other areas of my life.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
I have a very serious obsession with stripes. I own every form of striped clothing there is, as well as some accessories. Something about the freshness and versatility of a stripe is hugely attractive to me. I can't get enough.
10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
No, because I'm perpetually concerned about being a terrible gift-giver who doesn't truly know anybody the way I think I do. It taps into all of my neuroses.
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
Sneaker wedges. Either sneakers, or wedges, but never the twain shall meet in my mind or on my feet .
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
My mother is an incredibly stylish woman and had a killer wardrobe when I was growing up. In fact, most of the items in my closet that I love the most originally belonged to her. I learned a lot about style from her. She was always very elegant and highly original. Some of my favorite memories are of playing dressup in her room, while she would get dressed for one of the many dinner parties that my parents used to go to when I was a kid. Body-wise, I don't think I've inherited much from her, because I was an athlete growing up and therefore pretty muscular, whereas she was slim and curvy. I think she also had far less body image anxiety than I did/do. She worked out and health and fitness were important to her but they were never really tied to her self esteem regarding her body in the same ways that they were for me, or at least she never projected that anyway. I'm grateful for that because it didn't further reinforce my own issues. They festered and flourished on their own, though regardless.
13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
I had two older sisters and when I got old enough to actually fit into their clothes, it was like a dream come true, because I got to expand my wardrobe by dipping into theirs. I always felt much more advanced than my peers, because my older siblings were very cool and introduced me to so much, including new dressing ideas.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
I think that if you're a Black woman, any way you dress is inherently political, whether you intend it to be or not, because your body is politicized. When I was younger, I was outwardly political in my way of dress, but not so much anymore. It's going to happen regardless, so I just let it be and frankly, I don't have the energy to worry about all that.
16. Please describe your body.
Constantly in flux. It’s a cliché to say that I’m a work in progress, but I am! I like and accept myself more than I have in a long while, but I’m not quite entirely where I want to be.
17. Please describe your mind.
Healing. It's a process, and sometimes I feel like giving up, but I'm here.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
I'm barefaced, in pajamas and my hair is up in a bun.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
It's important because what we wear goes beyond clothes. What we wear is shaped by our experiences and by the ways in which we envision ourselves being. It's who we are and who we want to be, as well as who we aren't and who we don't want to be. It's everything and nothing all at once. That's why it's important!
21. With whom do you talk about clothes?
Nobody, really. It's actually a pretty solitary and personal thing.
22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?
I'm restricted by other people's rules about what is and is not appropriate in a work setting and sometimes with family, but outside of that, I pretty much ignore everything else.
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 both, but I’d rather be perceived as having great taste. Your taste informs your style, but also extends to other aesthetic areas of your life, so I’d go for the all-encompassing taste over style.
24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
I once bought an absurdly fancy purse because I somehow got it into my head that I was going to be a fancy purse kind of woman. I never even used it once because, surprise! I’m definitely not a fancy purse kind of woman. I’m barely a purse kind of woman. If I could have a floating container by my side to just carry all my stuff for me, I’d do it.
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, definitely. I think that when I’m feeling the most out of control in life is when I generally employ the most precision in my style as a means of control.
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?
Yes. I think it's something that I've honed after years of getting it wrong. I had to go through years of bad decisions to learn what works for me and that applies to fashion and clothing as well as life in general, but it's because of those experiences that I was able to come to this point. All it is is life experience and getting to know yourself better.
30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
Really voluminous, Diana Ross hair is hugely sexy to me and so if I'm in that mood, I'll spend a lot of time trying to get my hair to do that. It can, but it requires some work. Max volume, max allure.
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?
Fuck it (stolen from that lady on the plane, but it's mine now too!).
39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?
Dressing is how you look every day, and dressing up is an elevation of that. Of course, there are some people who dress up every day, but when I dress up, I view it as a fanciness challenge. How fancy can I get today? Let’s play!
40. If you had to wear a “uniform” what would it look like?
Stripes, leather, black, white. I'd be Janelle Monae, probably.
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
You need more sleep.
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?
I'd wear a lot of glamorous, Halstonesque, disco-era jumpers.
58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
I want to repel everyone, mostly. It's kind of my overarching goal.
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
I am obsessed.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I’ve never been much of a make-up person, but I dabble. I’m an amateur with a lot of admiration for the pros.
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?
Bodycon things. I just prefer a looser, breezier silhouette or a harder, more angular look.
69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
My beat up leather jacket. It's eternal.
70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
I’d buy high quality, but simple accessories, particularly rings and sunglasses, as well as a lot of leather items and items with interesting prints.
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
All of the jewelry I cherish the most comes from the women in my family.
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
As little as possible and strategically. I try to try on nothing and eyeball it, because I have no patience. I sort of speed shop, if you will. This generally works.
79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
How I dress is a direct reflection of my ambitions for myself. I want to be bold, creative and confident in my choices in both life and fashion, so when I pick things out to buy or from my closet, those greater ambitions are always on my mind.
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 wear a gold chain that my sister gave me.
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
I moved around a lot growing up, living in multiple countries on different continents. I was exposed to all kinds of cultures and people from all over the world, and I think that has had the most influence on my style in terms of its fluidity.
What kind of work do you do?
I work for a feminist disability organization doing community organizing and advocacy work with disabled women.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.
I'm a mess.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
Happy to be a part of this great project! These were wonderfully insightful questions.
Fatima is a writer and community organizer based in Canada, and is co-host of Black Girls Talking, a pop culture podcast centered on race and representation in media.