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JoAnne Schafer

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

With makeup, hair straightened. Wearing jeans. After sleeping well.

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

Women that look confident, with simple sophisticated lines, sophisticated colors, not flashy or loud. Long hair styles.

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

They look pulled together. Maybe it looks effortless.

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?

When I was a kid, there was an ad that showed a closet with a simple, perfect wardrobe. It looked like everything would go together, like garanimals for adults. You wouldn't have to think too much, but you'd always look good. There were no embarrassing purchases, bad fits, or pieces that just didn't work. Beauty without effort. I think it mattered to me because it was one of the first moments I had in which I could figure out how one could be a successful adult.

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

Try on stuff that looks wrong but appeals to me for at least one reason. It might work.

Don't buy anything over $50. I don't try to do this, but it happens anyway. I just put the more expensive things back.

Buy boots with a squared off toe. It's a nice compromise between pointy (witchy) and rounded (biker).

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

No cowl necks, only classic turtlenecks.

No large old lady prints. Or pastels. They lack sophistication.

No oxford button-down shirts or any others that make me look like a man.

Try to dress ten years younger, especially after turning 50.

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

When I talked to my daughter about what I wear vs. what she wears, I realize that I always wanted to wear the bohemian styles that are popular now, but dressing like a waif wasn't cool in the yuppie 80s. And now my body and age don't work with it. Sure, I could do it, but I'd feel stupid, trying too hard. Like that lady still rocking the beehive hairdo. I started to realize I was [gasp] aging. It wasn't pleasant.

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

Wow, actually I do. Good question.


I like to streamline and create economy of process. I'm always looking to reduce waste, extra steps, extraneous actions.

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

I used to have several fleece vests, but my daughter said they looked mannish. She's the only person I'll listen to about fashion. As with most daughters, she can be harsh without realizing, but I try to run with a kernel of truth when I hear it.

Jeans, jeans, jeans. Perfect.

Long sleeve sweaters over cap sleeve shirts. Because of hot flashes. I used to wear turtlenecks.

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

When we were in our 20s, I gave my husband a perfect pin stripe button down. It was a little more expensive than I could afford, but it was classic and timeless.

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

Uggs. And I'm curious how many other people said this.

Uggs are ugly.

I like the idea of the comfort, and they could be more attractive, and less expensive, so why? Just why?

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

Saddlebags, chubby knees, and calves that move into feet without ever giving way to an ankle.

Style - I think she dressed like her generation, whereas I don't dress like mine. I like to dress younger, which I think means I detest Chicos.

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

My brother dresses in drab colors. Urban dressing, but without all the black.

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

When I went to work, I dressed in big bow over small print blouses that women wore in the workplace at the time. Hated it. I still don't like workplace fashions for women, they're just not comfortable.

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

I guess so. I've always dressed the way I want to, even if it might be slightly frowned upon. Braless in the 70s, waify in the 80s, etc. I believe people should dress for their personalities.

16. Please describe your body.

So much wider than it used to be. I now understand why Nora Ephron didn't like her neck. The chubby knees have got to go.

17. Please describe your mind.

Creative, curious, anxious

18. Please describe your emotions.

Deflated? Mid-life reckoning going on.

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

v-neck t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, hair always down

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

Everyone has to come to grips about what to put on their bodies each day, and it goes beyond whether or not you're hot or cold enough, or even comfortable enough. Are you cool enough? Unique enough? Pretty or handsome enough? Alternative enough? Fashionable enough? Are you enough?

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

I talk with friends who are also over fifty, and none of us is happy with how our clothes look or fit anymore.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

I have to buy slacks for my job in a school.

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

I have taste and style, but you wouldn't know it. Comfort is more important. So I like to buy tasteful and stylish clothes for my daughter.

They can be the same, but fashionable "styles" can lack taste. Personal style is expression, and it's hard to say that expression in any form isn't a good thing, or that it lacks taste. Although they say it a lot on "Project Runway."

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

I bought four things that went together for my first real job. They were 100 percent rayon. I continued to wear them because I didn't have money to go shopping, but they always looked like a hot mess.

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

I have two or three pieces of jewelry that make me feel put together. I don't wear jewelry often, but when I wear one of those pieces, I feel like I don't need a ton of jewelry. I don't want to always get caught up in having something new.

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

Much better expression in home decoration, although comfortable furniture is still key.

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?

Before going before a class, I'll put on a little more makeup and try to wear slightly more hip clothes and shoes.

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?


Maybe my mother, she was never indecisive.

My biggest problem is that I know what I want, but sometimes it isn't on the market.

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?

With two brothers and a sister, I always had a very small wardrobe. That never bothered me. When I bought my own clothes and had more money, I still kept the wardrobe small. It only bothers me that I have a hard time spending money on better fit or materials.

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

I used to go for plunging necklines and long hair. I like eyeliner to bring out my eyes.

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?

Comfortable is soft and warm, or practically naked if it's hot.

Confident is whatever makes me walk out the door not caring who I see. Ready for whatever.

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?

Sorry, I was an editor. Read that sentence and tell me which word is missing. [you]

Keep it simple and dress for your body shape, like the French. Don't use patterns, unless it's a pattern you love. You want the focus on you, not the outfit.

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

Faces with small noses and big eyes, and shapely legs, none of which I have.

Engaging, creative people.

People being sincere with each other.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

My legs and nose, I'd trade them.

Raging cystic acne, I feel so bad for people battling that. It looks sooo painful.

People with ugly, shallow personalities.

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?

Yes, but sometimes I'm still caught buying something that's absolutely perfect in ONE way, but loses the thread in all other respects. For example, great style, ugly pattern, bad fit, and isn't really MY style.

I do kind of have a checklist in my head.
Acceptable color/pattern
Does it fit my shape and my style
Do I have places to wear it
Do I have other things to wear it with

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?

That person thinks women should look intentional. Their hair should not be frizzy or fat. She enjoys some order, but looks for something creative that speaks to the person under the clothes. But that creative thing she looks for has got to be classy, not ridiculous or forced.

I think the orderly, classy person is my mother. The creative is me.

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

No granny panties. I can at least do that for myself.

Lots of peasant shirts and simple vneck tees. Considering comfort. Jeans on the bottom. Would like to wear leggings, but the legs aren't great, and not a lot of over 50s over 150 go there.

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

Trying to achieve wearing clothes, when I'd really rather go naked.

I think I really prefer seeing and thinking about fashion over actually putting fibers on my body.

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

Both are some degree of painful.

Dressing up is something I don't do unless I have to.

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

Jeans, short sleeve peasant blouse. Fuzzy clogs or flipflops

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

Me - jeans, peasant blouse, flip flops

Not Me - Chicos, Talbots (stuff I'd be expected to like at my age of 53)

Not Me - working chic, upscale

Not Me - yuppie, button down blouses and wool sweaters

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

Central PA German-American

I rebel against that look, and the big pastel kitty sweatshirt it comes with.

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?

not really

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

The big chunky bracelet that makes me feel like I'm wearing jewelry, but it's not overdone.

The restrained eyeliner.

Pumps, which I hate the feel of.

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

Open toed sandals.

No nylons.

Pants that come dangerously close to jeans. Okay, they're colored jeans.

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


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


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


I'd think it would depend on the day, who I was seeing, whether the uniform was attractive enough, or flattering to my body.

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 and v neck tee, clogs

v neck is more feminine than a crew neck

jeans, comfort without sloppiness

clogs, the kind that don't kick off, comfort and cute

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 wish I could go topless in the ocean, or pee without the undressing. I desperately wish bras didn't exist.

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

Africa - dashiki, is that the right spelling?

It's kind of a house dress with more style, although NO big flashy prints.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

not at all my daughter is very

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

dark sunken eyes, serious looking

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

I hear the girl from Fault in Our Lies wears very simple clothing and gave away many of her possessions.

Jamie Lee Curtis once had a thing for black, for the simplicity. I prefer brown, but same.

Cher dressed for her body. Except obviously she was flashy too, so not that part.

I'm still looking for the person who can inspire me how to dress "cool" for my current age and body.

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

Just the showing up for school with no pants dream. Hasn't everyone had that?

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

petite cute mommy

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?

shirts that were tighter around the mid-section,

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

I think I used to hope I wasn't attracting redneck boys when I was growing up in a redneck town. Except when they were cute, because, hey, I still lived there.

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

Don't wear current trends that don't look right on your body.

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

Rarely. Actually, VERY rarely.

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

straightening iron

If I don't shower first thing and brush my teeth, I feel scummy.

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

Usually lots of foundation makeup under the eyes and covering splotchy areas. Some eyebrow pencil.

Sometimes eyeliner and a little mascara

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 don't want to look old and dumpy! And the patterns and colors for women my age are hideous. It's like we're all going on a cruise on the love boat.

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

I am basic. This is easy.
Peasant blouses and v neck tees.
Sweaters that complement them.
Sweatpants I don't wear out of the house.
Flip flops
Cute sandals
Winter cozy clogs
Enough dress pants and dresses to scrape by.
The odd shopping error in the closet
Jewelry, bracelet, my mom's necklaces, a handful of earrings, all fits in a small box

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

Amber glass chunky bracelet, TJMAXX, ten years ago, probably under $15

Goes with any earth tone outfit, or black

Doesn't seem to go out of style

Makes me feel jewelry'd up enough

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?

A sleeveless silk blouse.

Don't feel comfortable in sleeveless anymore.

I feel like I'll figure out how to layer it with something.

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?

stay at home mom

jeans and tee shirts

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 had high suede winter boots that laced up the front. They were unique, noone had them, they were cozy (like uggs, haha, but way cuter). They wore out decades ago.

Not sure I'd want new ones like that, I go for easy on/off now, in and out all day. My fur-lined clogs give me the same cozy.

My daughter has similar ones for northern college. She loooves them. Yes, I fashion vicariously though my daughter, thought that was obvious by now.

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

favorite peasant shirt

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

Don't buy anything that doesn't fit. Don't buy a weird color or pattern just because it does fit. I'd have to go naked for a while to make these rules work.

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

A dolman-sleeve dress that was actually a blouse and skirt, first credit card purchase.

No, it was decades ago.

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

Platform Clogs when I was a kid.

I realized I didn't need to have a ton of stuff, but to have one or two things I really loved was worth it.

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

A short sleeve shirt that hides muffin top. Hypothyroid, who isn't?

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

Underwear and bras, a chaotic mess, nothing folded. Everything else, pretty orderly.

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

My brother gave me a sterling bracelet when we were kids.

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?

Packable down coat
I stash it anywhere, it drapes over my purse when I don't want to wear it, doesn't fall off or get in the way when it's there. Brown, doesn't show dirt, but has a bright orange inside that makes me happy. Washes in the washer. Doesn't make me look fat. Can wear a down vest underneath for winter sports or coldest weather. Awesome.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

After all my sizes are gone. Not very thoughtful about when to shop.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

I like clean.
Or Aromatics Elixir (grassy, musky)
Don't like flowery scents.

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

I should dress nicer?

80. How does money fit into all this?

I'm cheap and like to shop at TJMaxx when really I should shop at high end stores to be happier with what I buy.

81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?

jeans - I'd wear Levis 515 every day if I could

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

A creepy high school teacher told me I had beautiful "cat" green eyes.

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?

Play clothes with patches. Not a negative feeling, just recognizing that my knees had multiple patches. And that was before cute patches, I mean the shiny iron-on gray rectangles. But I thought, well I still like these pants, they're cozy and match the animal on my shirt, so cool. I get to keep them longer.

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

Nov. 1961
Steelton, PA outside Harrisburg
West Chester, PA outside Philadelphia

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

Poor town growing up, but one of the better off families
Live in a wealthy town now, conspicuous consumption all around me

What kind of work do you do?

potentially returning to work after raising kids - substitute teaching

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

married, two kids 14 and 19

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

creative, love to write, think of things in a new way, enjoyed your interview on NPR tonight, going to get the book on kindle if available

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

I liked seeing the connection to my mom and brother, and how I'm passing some of it on to my daughter (not my son, Mr. Bling, sigh)


I spend a lot of time thinking about what I like in fashion and in life, then trying to foist those ideas on my daughter and son.

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