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Rebecca Scherm

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

Weekend mornings. Not being in a hurry is attractive.

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

Women who can tuck in their shirts just right. I never get it right-- there's always a weird bulge or rumple.

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 started trying on clothes without looking in the mirror right away. I try on clothes facing away from the mirror and look down at them on my body, think about how they feel on my body. Most of the time, you can feel if they fit. If they don’t fit, don’t look, or look only for comedy’s sake.

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

I don't buy clothing out of season. Too often the thing has been, really, a longing for the other weather, and once the other weather comes, I realize I hate the thing I bought for it.

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


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

I have 11 gray t-shirts. I need more! They're all I ever want to wear. They are soft, indifferent, intentional, smart, blank, and real all at the same time.

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

My grandmothers both wear monochrome outfits sometimes, though one wears neutrals and the other wears bright jewel tones. I love to do that. Everything orange is an outfit today, everything gray is an outfit tomorrow. I just love it. It’s so clearly intentional.

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

From 22 to 26 I wore very elaborate "girly" clothes, florals on florals, twirly skirts, ruffled necklines, dainty sandals, and mostly pastels. When I turned 26, I became disgusted by it-- profoundly repelled by most of my clothes. For two years I pared down my wardrobe to what I could still stand and experimented, and by 28 I had found my new look: gray, black, blue, and white, angular shapes, tight pants, big boots and adidas sneakers.

The change had something to do with how I viewed my body. We are taught, as girls, to "compensate," to disguise our flaws, and my cutesy, hyper-feminine style was a way of compensating for my small breasts, my muscular thighs, my towering height. But at some point I finally understood that it's a kind of self-loathing. You should look more the way you are, not less!

16. Please describe your body.

I was thinking the other day about how people see their bodies, either as their selves or as carrying cases. My husband sees his body as himself, and as a tool to do what he wants to do. I see my body as a case for my self, which lives inside my body. I think of my body as my adversary, as something that often keeps me from doing what I want to do. I get frustrated with it as if were something apart from me.

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

a gray sweatshirt dress and black leggings, metallic green nail polish. No makeup except last night's eyeliner, hair loose.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

I have met many of friends through complimenting each other's clothes. It's an important way to tell someone you notice them, you see something interesting and cool about how they think.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

Oh yes. I'm always in a state of rebellion, no matter where I am.

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

Taste is too attached to class. Style is much freer and more thoughtful.

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

Those fucking rain boots everyone got at the same time. Not warm at all, very heavy. Stupid.

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?

Both my grandmothers wore whatever pleased them, which is the best style lesson I know. One grandmother dresses in this very slouchy, androgynous, chic style, which is becoming because she feels so good in it. The other wears brightly colored muumuus, hot pink scrunchies, fake nails, neon lipstick. My mother was always very concerned with what was flattering in certain ways, but my grandmothers were much freer, and I think my love of clothes comes from their sense that you should have faith in your own taste, and in the words of one grandmother, everyone else can go shove it.

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

For me, the sexiness of something comes from my intention when I put it on. Some days, I want to look really sexy in cutoffs and a white t-shirt, and I feel that I do, that my attitude translates. It’s about the care or the attitude when I chose the outfit, whether it’s a total sex-babe dress or baggy jeans. And perfume.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

I think vertical stripes are sad and awful. I can’t explain it.

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

I stand naked in front of my closet and wonder how I want to look today, how I want to feel. Some days, my clothing expresses something I’m feeling (celebratory or tired) and other days it needs to compensate for something I’m not feeling (say, organized or confident), like a vitamin boost.

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

I teach college students, but I’m only ten years older than they are. I have to cultivate authority. I wear heels or boots, something heightening and powerful. I’m tall, but I can look a little fragile, and my strategy is to convert that into strong angularity.

Once, when I was quitting a job where I’d felt underappreciated (I was very young), I wore a long white eyelet lace dress and flowing hair. It was totally inappropriate, but I didn’t care at that point. I wanted to hand in my resignation looking an angel.

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

To me, there are two kinds of makeup. Concealer, for instance is about my face, not my look. It’s “fixing” makeup, and it isn’t any fun. Eyeliner and blush and lipstick are about creating a look. They are accessories, like jewelry.

I remember having a conversation as a teenager with a woman whose daughter was a few years younger than me. The daughter wanted to start wearing makeup. The inexplicit rule in my house was that "adult" makeup was off-limits. No foundation, for instance, and no “adult” looks. I knew what my mother meant by that, even though she didn’t tell me. But I was allowed to wear all the green eye shadow and glitter gels and Lip Smackers I wanted, and so make-up was a fun thing for me. I plan to do the same with my own daughter.

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

I have a long, neon green floral Lily Pulitzer skirt that my grandmother wore in Fort Lauderdale in the 70s. When she gave it to me, she promised me her favorite hostess dress, a red paisley maxi that she hasn’t worn in decades. She found it in her closet and tried it on. “I still look pretty good in this,” she said, and she decided to keep it. She says I can have it when she dies. The idea of it is very, very dear to me.

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?

It’s a goofy red dress, 70s poly, with crochet cuffs and necklines. I cut the hemline in college and wore it on my birthday, and I’ve worn it on every birthday since. I wear it less and less at other times; it has become my Birthday Dress.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

I always shopped at thrift stores, but in the last few years I have moved to shopping only at thrift stores, both because once that is your habit, even discount retail prices seem ludicrous, and because I’ve come to like the experience better. I’m good at it, I have a good strategy to not get tired. You can’t pull every hanger aside and look at everything, you’ll go nuts. I walk down the aisle sort of feeling the fabrics and looking at the colors, and I only pull the hanger out if the fabric feels good between my fingers and I really like the color or print. Then I’m willing to look at the whole garment. You have to know what you like to do this, and I do.

When I think of where I’ve lived, I often think of the thrift store—I hated to leave the Bed-Stuy Salvation Army when I left New York.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

I have a whole cast of perfumes that I love, and which one I choose for the day depends on what I want to project-- to myself, mostly, since I only wear a tiny bit. Most of my favorites are "men's" fragrances with moss, wood, citrus, ginger. But I have one delicate floral called "Pretty Machine" that i wear when I feel sublimely feminine.

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

I dressed really wildly as a teenager—Palm Beach senior citizen one day, festival hippie the next—and I loved changing my daily costume. Really intentional, cohesive looks are like carrying around a piece of artwork with you every day, as though you’re saying “look at these things that I’ve chosen to represent me today, instead of looking at me.” Clothes can help us divide public and private self. Then, when I was eighteen, a weird thing happened: a teacher wrote a poem about the way I dressed and submitted it to our high school literary magazine, which I edited. I was so uncomfortable, and I could never really say why. It was a friendly poem, not mean or creepy. But I began to change the way I dressed, to turn the volume way down. I felt exposed, I guess.

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 black leggings and an oversized black “Shakespeare in the Park” t-shirt as a tunic. The shirt had neon green and pink comedy/tragedy masks on it and white letters. I was six years old. I remember it because my grandmother said I looked great in all black, “sophisticated” and “elegant.” Those words were new to me, but I thought, yes—sophisticated and elegant is how I want to look.


Rebecca Scherm's first novel, "Unbecoming," comes out January 2015 from Viking.

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