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Rena Distasio

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I go out, whether to a party, for dinner with my husband, or to hang out with friends for pizza and a beer. Because I work mostly at home, those are the times that I really play with my wardrobe, hair, and makeup. So it's "fun time."

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

I always pay attention to the way women and men dress. To me, fashion is like home decorating—it speaks volumes. So I'm interested in how people decorate themselves, what they choose to say, or not say, about who they are with what they put on their bodies. Women who catch my eye make simple wardrobe staples—a great blazer, T-shirt, well-fitting pair of jeans, a heel in summer or boot in winter—look fresh and interesting. Since those items are my uniform as well, I am always on the lookout for inspiration.

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

I admire women who make their wardrobes as much a personality trait as their humor, intelligence, caring, ambitions, etc. Garance Dore comes immediately to mind. Likewise someone like Leandra Medine, who is fearless and funny and who has a fuck-it, no-holds-barred approach to fashion without being off-putting. If I see a woman who looks too slick—or the flip side, a woman who doesn't bother—I begin to wonder what she is afraid of, where did her joy go?

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 have been fashion-obsessed since I was a little girl, but I don't think I became really smart about it until my forties. Prior to that, I was always buying the wrong pieces or not putting the right ones together correctly. I always felt frustrated, and guilty for my endless purchases, as I tried so desperately to find my sartorial center. This was a time before the Internet, before the wealth of blogs and onsite fashion sites from which women could draw inspiration, and I lived in a city whose best clothing store was a Dillard's. There was little to draw from except one's own imagination. The magazines were not helpful—they were way too editorial. At any rate, once I hit my forties, things began to click. I can't say exactly why—the Internet had a lot to do with it, I'm sure—but it was then that I began to understand the role fashion played in my life. That it was something that was as much internal as external, something I had to THINK about rather than just react to.

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

Buy the best you can afford, because that way, you cry only once.

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

To paraphrase Victoria Beckham: "I can't think in flats." I'm one of only a handful of women I know who pretty much wears heels 90 percent of the time, but in my humble opinion, they make an outfit in a way that a ballet flat never will.

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

A friend of mine who admires the way I dress once asked me to take her shopping for a new look. At one point, we stumbled across a beautiful magenta pink quilted jacket, which looked amazing on her. Very stylish, but definitely out of her comfort zone. She reluctantly agreed to purchase it. When I asked her later why she rarely wore it, she said, "Because I don't want to draw all that attention to myself." It was a shock to me, as someone who loves clothing, to realize that not all women do. That some women believe clothing has the power to shame them. Who think that if they look too good, they risk derision as well as compliments. So it's easier to never take risks.

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

I make a lot of lists. I should own stock in Post-It-Notes. Wait . . . I think I do.

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

Blazers and leather jackets. I don't feel "finished" without one or the other. They are a kind of armor, adding a layer to what otherwise might be too vulnerable or incomplete an outfit. And as much as I encourage my girlfriends to liven things up, my taste leans very heavily to Alexander Wang/Rick Owens/Helmut Lang/Ann Demeulemeester. I like the simplicity and layering options these designers' clothing offer—the blank canvas aspect of their palettes.

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

Last year, I stumbled on this very cool bomber jacket on sale online and instantly thought of my very cool 21-year-old niece. I gave it to her one day during lunch and she was ecstatic. She kept texting me all day how much she loved it and how great she felt in it. I'll remember that, always.

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

You'll never catch me in Crocs, Uggs, or distressed jeans. I'm too old—and even if weren't, I find them too sloppy/lazy.

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

My mother was petite, with a good set of boobs. I am tall, like my father, solid B-cup. BUT, I did get my mother's shapely, vein-free legs. Thanks, mom! And she was German, grew up during the war, and urged me from a young age not to worry about price (that's what saving your pennies is for), but quality.

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

A very well-dressed friend of mine turned me on to the value of a good drapey cardigan. While our styles are different, we do often play off each other.

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

After my divorce from my first husband (I was 30), I cropped my hair and bleached it a la Madonna in the "Papa Don't Preach" video, and started dressing like Courtney Love. Definitely harder edged than at any time of my life outside of my high school punk rock phase. It was a reaction, I'm sure, to the way I'd felt stifled in that marriage, but also a way to protect myself from the emotional and physical loss. I have led a fulfilled and happy life since then, but there's still a bit of that gal inside me—the one who uses clothing as armor. Probably always will be.

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

Not overtly so. But I do believe dressing well is an act of rebellion in a world that has become way too casual—on many levels.

16. Please describe your body.

I'm 5'7", pear-shaped, long legs, B-cup. Olive skin, brown hair, brown eyes. Would like bigger boobs, but not enough to fake them except with push-up bras. I have always been athletic, so things are muscled and lifted. I don't look half bad for a 50 year old broad.

17. Please describe your mind.

Quick, funny, inquisitive, always worrying about something.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Righteous indignation comes easily to me in the face of injustice, stupidity, and lack of personal responsibility. And I get very emotional around animals, small children, and older people—they can't speak for themselves. Otherwise, I'm stable and easy-going. People tell me I'd be their first choice in a foxhole-type situation. But by nature I am not one of those effusive, readily affectionate Earth Mother types. My personal motto: "Stop sniveling and over-thinking, and get on with it. There's work to be done."

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

I just had my hair lobbed, and some ombre highlights put in at the ends, so I'm digging it. Wearing a pair of cargo pants, grey T-shirt topped with a linen sweater, barefoot. No makeup, except lip balm.

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

I love skinny legged cargo pants—they are so easily dressed up or down—and there is a slight nip in the air this late summer evening, so layers are essential.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

My husband and one of my good girlfriends. Most of my female friends think my sartorial obsession is a tad . . . amusing, maybe a little superficial.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

They don't. I don't work for a law firm, school, or medical office. And I know enough to dress appropriately if for some reason I ever end up in court.

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

I like to think so . . . Taste is knowing quality from crap. Style is being able to look good, regardless of what something cost. And more importantly, not looking like you tried.

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

Hah! If I only had a dime for them all . . . Maybe my biggest was a long wool cardigan that promptly pilled and shed and stretched out beyond wearability.

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

I hide a slight muffin-ing out of my belly when wearing a tight T-shirt by wrapping a big wide leather belt over my jeans at the very top, rather than through the hoops. And even though my legs are good, I don't go bare-legged unless the skirt hits my knees or below. So I save short skirts for the winter, when I can wear them with leggings and booties.

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

I put a lot of thought into the interior design of my home and my garden, into the way I present the food I cook, and into wrapping presents.

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?

If I meet a new client, I almost always wear a version of the following uniform that I feel gives me confidence and presents me in my best light: a mid-length pencil skirt, merino wool top, blazer or leather jacket, heels. Also, because I am afraid to fly, I always make sure I'm impeccably dressed and that I am wearing an heirloom locket, passed down to me by my mom, that belonged to her grandmother. It's my good luck charm.

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'm discerning, but I always keep my options open, keep an open mind. My mother taught me this. Again, she just had such impeccable taste. And she grew up dirt poor, too, so it wasn't because she came from money. It's just that, from the time she was a young woman striking out on her own, she cared about quality things, both in her home and on her body. She researched them, studied them, saved for them. After she died, I found in her closet and in her drawers many of the pieces I remembered from my childhood, still in excellent shape, lovingly cared for over all those years.

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 taught me how to carefully hand wash cashmere and silk; how to wrap them in a towel and wring water that way; how to block them so they dried without warping. And how to iron. I can do one of my husband's shirts in minutes flat. My dad, who has held a series of jobs ranging from high school science teacher to butcher to home builder, nonetheless embodies the adage: "Dressing well is a form of good manners." And he always tells me that I look nice.

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

I curl my hair and do a cat eye with a pale lip for evening—that always makes me feel sexy. I don't like to show too much skin, but always feel alluring in a skinny jean, silk blouse unbuttoned just so, lots of dangly necklaces, and sky-high heels. Oh, and one of Donna Karan's body con dresses. I saved for two years for one. I always feel like a bombshell in it. And I put on a bombshell perfume—Fracas, Joy, Shalimar, No. 5, Tabac Blond, Youth Dew. Only, not all at once.

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?

My hackles always raise at the mention of the word "comfortable" when talking about clothing, because so often it's just a way to justify sloppy. To me it's more mental than physical. A person is comfortable in their own skin, confident enough to take whatever comes their way.

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?

Figure out first and foremost what looks good on your body. It's going to take time, and money, and it might be a frustrating process, so try and have fun with it. Buy the best you can afford. I won't say buy investment pieces, because those pieces are different for every woman, depending on her work and lifestyle. And do the psychological work. Just like you can't love someone until you love yourself, you can't really dress yourself until you know who you are, what you want, and what messages you want to send.

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

The natural world—I live in an incredibly beautiful part of the Desert Southwest and am continually inspired by its vistas. I'm very attuned to the seasons, the way things look and smell and feel as the seasons shift.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Meanness of spirit.

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?

Much better than I used to be, but sometimes I still make inexplicable purchases.

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?

Great question. I suppose the outer eye would see an attractive, well-heeled gal who cares about how she looks. Maybe she's a little stuck up? But then she opens her mouth and makes a joke or shows concern or compliments someone, and the outer eye relaxes. This outer eye is a woman, no one in particular, just a general female presence. But definitely female, because women tend to judge each other.

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

If I'm working at home, I'm usually in my running clothes until after lunch. Gross, I know, but that's the way it goes when I'm busy. If I'm leaving the house, my outfit depends on what I'm doing—running errands or meeting clients?

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

I'm always trying to achieve an attractive, interesting look.

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

About 1" in the heels.

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

Wonder Woman's. Or maybe Black Canary's.

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

I can't really answer this question; I don't think in those terms.

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

Both my parents are European. So I think I have a more Continental outlook because of that.

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?

See question #14.

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

N/A

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

N/A. I work for myself.

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

I run, bike, swim, golf, hike, etc. So I have clothing for all that.

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

N/A

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

N/A

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?

Tailored black blazer or moto jacket. White V-neck T-shirt, not too low cut. Simple black belt. Skinny jeans that hit right at the ankles. Kate Spade Licorice pumps in nude. My great grandmother's gold locket, my wedding ring, my Tagheur watch, my PS1 handbag, in military green. It makes me feel stylish and put together, sexy without being obvious, it goes from day to night, it is four season, and pretty much appropriate for a variety of situations.

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. But I do love to dress a man's body, specifically, my husband's.

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

New York City in the late 1940s; California in the 1970s.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

Actually, no.

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

That the angles of my face look better in person than in 2-dimensions, and that my mouth is too wide. Because of this, I always have a slightly wary look about my eyes in photographs. My smile does not reach them.

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

Oh, gosh, so many! Off the top of my head: Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Hutton, Debbie Harry, Courtney Love, Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, Sharon Stone, Leandra Medine, Emmanuelle Alt, Kate Lanphear.

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

Oddly, no, I don't think so. But I do dream on occasion that I'm not wearing any clothes. That's really uncomfortable.

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

Something very preppy or hoochy.

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?

Hmmm . . . nothing. I like the way my body looks in clothes the way it is now.

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

I suppose I always want my husband to think I look great. If I go out, I'd like people to look at me and think, "There goes a well-dressed gal. I like how she looks." I'm always pleased when someone gives me a compliment on how I look.

Repel? No. I don't see the need to do that.

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

Nope. Everyone's rules are different. Just don't be afraid TO dress. Clothes are not the enemy; neither is your body.

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

I'm a perfume junkie. I own about 50 or so bottles. Wear it every day. Would feel naked without it.

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

I need to make sure my clothing is ironed. And I always wear a good push-em-up bra.

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

I wear eye makeup and lipstick pretty much every time I go out, and I play with all kinds of colors and application techniques. I add foundation with a dusting of highlighting powder at night.

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?

N/A

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

Probably way too much, in spite of my on-going efforts to winnow and consolidate.

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

A long, slim blazer with leather sleeves. It's the perfect blend of elegant and rock and roll.

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 turquoise, ivory, and brown silk snake print peasant blouse with ruching at the cuffs and hem that I've had in my closet for 10 years and have never worn. Very Pucci. I keep thinking, one day, we'll take the kind of vacation at which it will be perfectly appropriate to pair with flared white jeans and little strappy gold sandals. But so far, we haven't taken that kind of vacation. I suppose I keep it because it's just so pretty, and I'm not yet ready to give up the idea that I still have potential as a French Riviera Hot Mamma.

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?

Over-sized cashmere V-neck sweaters in basic neutrals: camel, black, navy, grey—they go with everything. Skinny jeans. All my jackets/blazers—from cropped to boyfriend, they can dress an outfit up or down in an instant.

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?

When I was 18 years old, I bought my first designer piece of clothing, a Norma Kamali yellow floral print dress in a 1940s style with a mermaid hem and tie at the waist that was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It cost $100—a fortune in 1983!—and I bought it through layaway. That dress made me feel not only beautiful, but special, like I'd hit on some magic formula of cool. I wore it for ages and always felt spectacular in it. Five years ago, in a fit of reorganization, I sold it on eBay for $50. And have regretted it ever since.

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

My Balenciaga black moto jacket. Hard won and oh-so-cool.

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

Buy less.

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

See question #68.

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

When I bought my Balenciaga moto jacket. WHY did I spend so much money all these years on crap clothing or almost-but-not-quites, when I could have saved it and splurged on one or two REALLY special items each year?

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

Several years ago, I saw a photo of Giovanna Battaglia in a white Derek Lam dress that was utter perfection. I regularly scout all the fashion consignment sites and eBay in search of it but so far . . . nothing.

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

For the most part, things are neat and easy to access.

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

Six years ago, I was flipping through the pages of Vogue during a flight with my husband to visit his parents. "That's awfully unusual," I remarked about a Chanel ring in one of the ads. My husband scouted the Internet to find the nearest boutique, and bought it for me for Valentine's Day. We went hiking in the woods with our dogs, and he'd stuffed the box in our backpack. When we took a break to eat lunch, he said, "Reach in there and pull out our sandwiches." I pulled out the Chanel box instead.

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?

N/A

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

Mostly online, on the weekends while I'm relaxing. My city's options are limited. I travel every couple years to NYC to visit the shops there, consignment and designer.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

Nope. I like all kinds of perfumes. I suppose I'd rather not have bad breath or B.O., though.

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

N/A

80. How does money fit into all this?

I have more money now than I did when I was younger. Which, oddly, does not mean I purchase more. I do purchase better, which does not always mean more expensive. Everlane's $15 T-shirts are terrific, I'd never pay $100 for something designer, for instance. However, expensive shoes are, for the most part, worth it.

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 am obsessed with time. So I'm never without my watch.

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

Several years ago, I was working out with a friend and she said to me, "Man, I'd love to have your back muscles." And I said, "Back muscles? What back muscles?" I was completely surprised. I mean, it's not like I can SEE them, right? But the next time I had to buy a dress for an event, I remembered that, and bought one with a low back.

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?

First grade, I think it was. My first birthday party. My mom bought me new shoes for the occasion—black patent leather Mary Janes. They squeaked. I loved them.

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

Born in Cuba, New Mexico. Live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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

My mother was German, my father is first generation Italian.

What kind of work do you do?

Freelance writer and editor.

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

Married, no children, two dogs.

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