Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
When my hair isn't out of control.
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
Yes. My eye tends to catch elegantly dressed, well put together women.
3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
I love seeing women who can dress artistically, with unpredictable combinations, a mix of vintage and new, bold colors, dramatic shoes, things I could never get away with.
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?
Maybe years and years ago, when I realized that I didn't have to try to beat my wavy hair into submission and make it straight, which was the style back then.
5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?
My shopping rule is terrible. It is "Never go shoppping." I hate shopping. I get anxious in the store. I feel like I can't afford the things I'd really like to have, or that most things are suitable for younger women.
6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
I dress very conservatively, and always look frowsy as a result, I am afraid. So I wouldn't suggest that anyone follow that example.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
Hmmm. Not sure that I talk much about style. Probably why I don't look very stylish!
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
Hyper-organized. I am not spontaneous, and like to plan everything ahead. I make lists and do things systematically.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
Plain colored t-shirts; ugh. Not sure why I buy them -- quick and easy. And drab and unimaginative!
10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
Yes. When my mother was alive, it gave me great joy to buy her a complete outfit for Mother's Day -- a dress, shoes, and purse. My mother was very stylish, unlike me, her slatternly daughter. My mother wore the dress a lot, and used the purse and shoes often, and told me many times how much she loved it. I still feel wistful around Mother's Day every year because I can't do that any more.
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
Can't do the low-cut blouse thing. No bust to speak of, so that look would only accentuate what's missing.
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
Oh, if only! My mother had great style. I look at childhood pictures of her, and she is an elegant little thing in a matching hat and coat. As a young woman, she looks beautiful in her photos. Even the day before she died, she sat up in a chair with her cashmere sweater on, gold earrings, and tailored black pants, holding forth and looking elegant as always. Somehow I didn't inherit her style genes. My older sister was also a fashion maven. They both used to cluck their tongues at my sloppy look.
13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
Yes. My friend Laurie came to visit from Chicago, and she was sporting a beautiful purse from Roach Leather. Since she was going back to Chicago, I asked her if she would mind if I bought the same purse as no one would see us together. It's beautiful and I get a lot of compliments on it.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
I applied for a Vice President position at the consulting firm where I was working as a Program Director, never dreaming I'd get it. I thought I'd be passed over, and that it would be my signal to get another job. But I got the job. It was very high-level and required that I sit in meetings with major executives from all over the state. I had to quickly acquire suits and shoes that looked the part.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
Yes. I joke that I am an aging and bitter feminist. I don't do "eff-me" heels or super short skirts. I don't dress provocatively.
16. Please describe your body.
Wiry. No bust. Very strong. Not sexy, though. I am 5'2" and 109 pounds, but very strong for my age and size.
17. Please describe your mind.
Fairly smart. Organized. Systematic.
18. Please describe your emotions.
Always battling the demons. I am a champion worrier.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
Oh my! You had to ask. Fifteen-year old olive-colored khaki shorts that are beginning to fray. Crappy old aqua t-shirt that has pills on it. Not a spec of makeup. Hair relatively tame, but only because it wants washing ;-)
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
I've never made it important. I never wanted to invest the time or money to be fashionable. But, I think that has been a mistake. I think I would be taken more seriously and given more respect if I were always turned out perfectly. I don't really know why I resist it so much. Laziness? Stubbornness? Thinking that I don't know how and can't learn?
21. With whom do you talk about clothes?
No one, now that my mom is gone.
22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?
Have to show up at certain work events dressed appropriately.
23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
No, unfortunately. I think I have neither.
24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
Yes, a horribly expensive pair of jeans and silk blouse that I wore to go out on a date w/ my then-boyfriend, now husband. Went to a little boutique because going to department stores gives me hives. The two items cost a shocking amount of $. This was 23 years ago and I regret it to this day!
25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?
Wearing tinted sunscreen instead of real makeup.
26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
Yes, my writing.
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?
Oh, I wish that dressing in a certain way could calm me down. But no, unfortunately.
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 have good discernment in life, but not at all in style and clothing. I've been careful in my friendships, relationships, and with my jobs and finances. I think I have good judgment and that I think things through carefully. But malheuresement, that discernment doesn't extend to my fashion choices!
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?
As mentioned, my mother and sister were always beautifully dressed. While I observed and admired both, I never adopted their skill and taste.
30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
The occasional spot of lipstick. That's about as far as it goes. Is that pathetic?
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?
Unfortunately, comfortable means sloppy to me. Confident means dressing, speaking, and acting with a certain boldness, not to be confused with brashness, aggressiveness, or abrasiveness.
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?
Don't buy a lot of clothes, but buy a few very good things that will last a long time.
33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
Nature. Yosemite. The Milky Way. A peony.
34. What do you consider very ugly?
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?
Oh yes. I wear everything I buy. I buy so very little, that there is no way I'm going to spend $ on something and not wear it.
37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
Hurry, grab it from the closet, and throw it on. I've thought about it the night before to make sure whatever I am going to wear is clean, pressed, etc.
38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
Looking decent and comfortable. Not very high aspirations, but that's it for me.
39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?
Dressing up means heels, more makeup, more jewelry.
40. If you had to wear a “uniform” what would it look like?
Something by Eileen Fisher. Polished but understated and comfortable. A skirt and one of her sweaters, perhaps.
41. What would you say is “you” and what would you say is “not you”?
Not me is trying to dress youthfully when I am past the point.
42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?
Not sure there is any particular cultural link between being Irish-American and how I dress. Both my parents came from wealthy families, so both dressed in a very tailored, rich-looking way. I inherited neither their money nor their taste, unfortunately!
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?
Yes. Loved $1 thrift shop frocks when I was young, and pants that my mother called "bus driver pants" (utilitarian gray, also from the thrift shop for $1). I used to wear big heavy construction boots and flannel shirts -- this was the horror of women's fashion in the 1970s. I also wore overalls that had the brand name "Big Mac." I wish I were kidding, but I'm not. In true hippie-dippie style, I used to fill the pocket in the front bib with flowers.
44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?
Dress simply. Low heels. Smooth hair, classic, vintage jewelry. Nothing showy.
45. How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?
Right now I work at a place where everyone dresses in dun-colored clothing. I would call the shades "mouse," "dreary," "putty" or "dingy." I like to show up in something brightly colored once in a while, just to break the trend.
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?
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?
Great jeans, a beautiful white shirt, smart looking boots. Classy, comfortable, timeless.
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?
51. If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
No! I cringe when I see myself in photos.
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
See above. I cringe. I think, Jesus, do I look that old? That scrawny?
54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
Jackie Kennedy. Michelle Obama. Both so stylish and beautiful!
55. Have you ever had a dream that involved clothes?
I'm sure I have, but can't recall one now, other than the classic naked anxiety dream, which is more about no clothes than clothes.
56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?
Young and sexy.
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?
Lower-cut blouses, if I had any bust.
58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
Well, I should try to look nice all the time just as a general rule, but I don't always.
59. Are there any dressing rules you’d want to convey to other women?
Be tasteful. Don't show off.
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
I've gone full circle. Used to love it and wear it all the time. Paris, Cabochard, Miss Dior, etc. My husband does not like perfume, so I quit wearing it for years. Then he bought me a bottle of Burberry for Mother's Day a few years ago, so I have been wearing that and enjoying it.
61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?
Clothes must be clean and pressed.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
Very little. I should wear more, but can't be bothered futzing with it. I do envy women who are beautifully made up, especially those who achieve a gorgeous looks with their eyes.
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?
The California look with sandals, big jewelry, big expensive purses. Too loud for me.
64. Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing and jewelry-wise?
All my jewelry is vintage, handed down from my mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt. My clothing is sparse -- a few classic things.
65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
My favorite piece of jewelry is a cloisonne locket that was brought from Paris in 1922 as a baby gift for my mother. She gave it to me when I was about 15 or 16. I have worn it all my life -- it's in all my high school pictures. It's simple and gorgeous. In those days, cloisonne was made with very fine gold wire and enamel. It's a lost art.
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 keep an Albert Nipon dress that I bought to wear to a wedding in 1982. It cost $350 dollars, which was an appalling amount of money in those days. I went into the ladies' room at Saks and cried after I bought it, terrified by the amount of $ I'd spent, and not really wanting to grow up and wear this kind of clothing (this was at the end of my $1 thrift store dress days). I keep it as a reminder of those days. I put it on a few months ago, and it still fits!
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?
Good shoes. Classic clothes that last.
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?
A multicolored dress my sister bought for me. It had pleats and was beautiful. I guess I thought I'd never wear it again, and I think I donated it. My sister died in 1988, not very long after she bought me that dress. I wish I had it as a reminder of her kindness and generosity, as well as of her keen fashion sense.
69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
Eileen Fisher black skirt.
70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
No t-shirts. No frumpy shoes.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
I guess it was that Albert Nipon dress. Still own it, but don't wear it, unless I were going to an 80's costume party.
72. Was there ever an important or paradigm-shifting purchase in your life?
That Albert Nipon dress completely shifted the paradigm from thrift-shop teenager to young woman.
73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?
Beautiful red shoes that I could wear for eight hours without them killing my feet.
74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?
Yes, very neat.
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
Handmade jewelry -- earrings from a dear, childhood friend who is an artist, and another pair made by a friend's young daughter.
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?
Yes, the Roach leather purse. Many compliments on it -- it looks great and lasts well.
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
As rarely as possibly, and always in a great hurry and with much anxiety.
78. Do you like to smell a certain way?
79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
I think my poor fashion sense has inhibited me. So perhaps my lack of willingness to play the fashion game is an indication of some sort of lack of ambition.
80. How does money fit into all this?
Always feel that I have to use $ for other things first; that I can't treat myself to smart new clothes until all the bills are paid, tuition is allocated, etc. It's a form of self-denial. My husband and son like to dress well, and I often buy nice things for them, but nothing for me.
81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
Cloisonne locket. I wear that almost every day.
82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?
Yes, my husband (then my boyfriend) said that my choice of outfit (jeans, running shoes) was poor. Or actually he said, "you're not wearing that, are you?" I realized at that moment, oh, I better start paying more attention.
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 loved dressing alike with my older sister. I remember a blue pleated dress that had a big white flower running up from the waist. I was about 4, and she would have been 7.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
Born in 1957 in the south. Now I live in southern California.
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
Irish-American. Catholic. Parents came from wealthy families, and they enjoyed every comfort and privilege. There were faint vestiges of this in my early childhood, but sadly, my father's alcoholism meant financial ruin and very lean, desperate times during my adolescence and young adulthood.
What kind of work do you do?
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Married, one 18-y.o. son
Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.
This was really fun. Made me think, geez, I shouldn't have been such a slattern all my life. Clothes and looks are really important, and I regret not having paid more attention to them.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
Resolved to dress better!
Treacy Colbert is a writer based in southern California. She wishes she sat down every day to write while wearing Prada, but she's generally clad in an old "Friends of the L.A. River" t-shirt.