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Ann Ireland

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

After a glass of wine but before dinner. Standing up. I don't feel attractive sitting down.

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

Of course I notice women on the street. The gamine look, slightly tomboy, wearing shoes that I can't wear because I need tedious arch support and a large toe box.. A woman who appears to be paying attention to her surroundings, head up, not locked in thoughts or frowning or hunched over. All ages.

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

See above. A woman who isn't afraid to dress costume-y (something I don't do). A woman who will watch and listen and be curious about people and not feel obliged to over-share. A woman who asks questions and is interested in the answers. A sense of being present to her surroundings and not locked in worry and fretfulness.

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 always felt like the third sex in public washrooms when I'd see women applying makeup in an expert manner and fluffing their hair. Heck, I still do. Except now I don't care in the least, because sometime in my 30's I twigged to the concept that I am no less 'female' or even 'feminine' than women who feel at ease applying mascara in a semi-public place. I think that's true. I want to believe it's true.

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

Shop alone. This is a serious business, not a social activity. One is so easily swayed by a pal's enthusiasm.

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

Your mother told you to buy good quality basics that you can accessorize. Is that how you spell it? Clearly I'm clueless. I rarely buy good quality basics because I get bored of clothes and want something new.

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

I was on an author book tour in Calgary and went into a bookshop to sign books, dressed very casually (probably jeans and leather jacket) and the owners kind of clapped their hands and said: 'You look exactly how an author should look!' I was taken aback, then realized it's true. People don't want artists to look the same as everyone else. We can get away with a lot. Phew.

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

I'd like to think 'no'. But come to think of it, there's a certain caution around finances (well, out of necessity; my partner is a painter). I've been with Tim for decades, so I guess that's not exactly stepping into a new relationship at the drop of a hat. And I do like a tidy house. Oh dear. I'm not liking how any of this sounds. However, in defense of my wild and crazy self, I did choose the life of a writer and to live my life with an artist. Tell me that's daring. Please.

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

Yes indeed. Slim black jeans or pants that are slim (but not leggings, eew) all the way down, and cropped so the ankle shows. I'm always in search of the perfect fit. I have been suckered into buying pairs with a percent of spandex, because aren't they comfortable? Problem is, after an hour of wearing them they go from being snug to drooping down my hips. Maybe this is because I have no visible hips.

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

No. Such gifts have always been unsuccessful and rarely worn.

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

Back in the day: hot pants with patch pockets. I'm proud to say.
Boot cut pants ( I like one line all the way down)
Pointy toe shoes or high heels (my feet can't)

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

Mum is shorter and more full figured than I am, so we wear very different styles. She prefers classics and neutral colors and I have a hankering for bright colors, though just one at a time. She dresses much better than I do. She spends much more money on pieces.

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

All the time. I see a look I like then I try and copy it, find the article of clothing, ask where she bought it. I'll stop women on the street and ask. Though not too often.

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

When massively pregnant I went to an event where I was to receive a prize and I wore a hot pink dress. I saw the photos, and swore off hot pink forever, even post-childbirth. I've been plump in life and I've been bordering on scrawny. Styles adjust.

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


16. Please describe your body.

I'd be called slim though a bit top-heavy. No hips or butt. Five foot 6 inches.

17. Please describe your mind.

Taurus. I pin down, focus, finish tasks, don't procrastinate. I'm always telling myself that my life (and my mind) would be better if I spent less time on the Internet. Then I wonder why I'm incapable of changing this behaviour. I like to play the Opposite Game, which infuriates most people. If you say, ' I think it would be good to eat less meat,' I'll chime in with; 'We need protein and iron.' If you say, 'I'm so tired of people who whine about their problems' I'm liable to say (even though I don't mean it) 'At least it's a launching point for conversation, and you can feel superior to them.' You get the idea. Throw a shoe at me. I dare you.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Not a radical pendulum. I'm a pessimistic optimist. I don't go around with a black cloud, yet I do anticipate the worst. What's that Tammy Wynette song? 'I wound easy, but I heal fast.'

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

Hair is short, a pixie cut. It's summer. Though I'm growing out the bangs. I'm wearing a summer dress with a black and white pattern; a young women on the street told me yesterday (oops, that reveals I've worn the dress two days in a row) that – 'I love your dress'. Yellow flip flops from Old Navy on my feet.

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

We present ourselves whenever we step out. Mood is reflected via clothing and posture and facial expression. People respond to us according to these elements. We invite them in or we push them away. We feel attractive or low. We've taken a little extra care or can't be bothered. We intuit these messages from each other and 'read' them, effortlessly.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

Girlfriends. Sometimes my mother. Sometimes my partner.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

We see the ads and perhaps note what style we might adopt because it suits body shape/age. We see clothing in shop windows. Institutions can mean a hospital. I have hospital visiting clothes. I don't want to look like a patient. So I'll wear a cheerful dress. Hello! I'm not sick. Mind you, if I'm headed to Emerg for that weird pain in my gut, I'll also dress well because I don't want to be taken for a marginal person. What's that disease where you keep going to hospitals with imaginary diseases? I don't do that, but I sort of get it, the idea of surrendering oneself to the care of others.

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

Taste is imposed by others and is a social agreement. It's a convention. I like to think I'm not influenced by 'good taste' but dream on, I am. I don't want to look like a kook. I affect, most of the time, a trim tailored look, sort of 'conventional bohemian' whom you'd trust to watch your bike while you whip into the convenience store. But you'd know I'm not a tax lawyer.

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

IN my first post-university job I was working at a magazine as 'assistant editor' and I hastened to The Bay and bought a three piece suit: vest, skirt, jacket. Black. I had this idea of myself as career girl. Didn't last long. I got fired. I was a hopeless career girl. It was an idea of myself that didn't fit. Funny, that word 'suit'.

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

I don't think I've invented anything. Sad, eh.

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

I guess I have a writing style.
Sure I do.
Here it is.

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?

Many times. Appearing in public. I have a red leather jacket with zippers that gives me confidence at such occasions. Wear that with slim black pants, black boots, a silk blouse, and I feel put together and reliably myself. But with a bit of zip. This is my public costume for way too long.

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?

Sure, I have discernment. I don't make goofy choices. People think that artists/writers/musicians are a wild and crazy lot , but in my experience, it's the opposite. When you live with little money, no known future, no possible five year plan, no faith that one can have a shred of control -- well, who needs to be wild and crazy in a visible way? However, in writing, I'm taking a risk every time I set out. Never know how it'll turn out, if years of effort will land on its face.

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 father used to dressin clothes from the army surplus store, using a sashcord for a belt and a ragged green corduroy jacket that my mother kept trying to throw out. These days he wears clothing that is really big and comfortable. My mother wears good classics in neutrals except when she wears fantastic embroidered Mexican Oaxaca dresses in the summer. I wear those dresses as nightgowns.

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

'Alluring' might be stretching it .... but I do like to wear fairly close fitting summery dresses. The clunky sandals spoil the effect, but I walk a lot.

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?

Clothes that you know how to wear and don't have to keep adjusting. Clothes that suit your body type. Clothes that aren't too complicated, where you have to keep tugging the neckline so it looks right. You want a certain amount of attention but not to be gaped at. I'm put off by smugness in the wearer, as she twirls about making a show of 'I know I'm pulling this off'. I think it should be up to others to say you look smashing; not for you to solicit the compliment.

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?

Yikes, what a concept. If dressing were the only thing I did, I'd be peeling off clothes all day and putting on other clothes. I'd been seen as a nutter and everyone would take several steps backwards, as they should. The very idea of a 'style philosophy' makes me snort. Poor dear; should we call her therapist?

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

I know it when I see it. Eyes and cheekbones and a sense of being alert and fully present.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Almost no one, unless their face is un-animated, no life in it. Dead features. That scares me.

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?

Fairly good. The waistband has to be comfortable and not overly optimistic. If I have to snap it open after eating, then it'll end up at the back of the closet.

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 other eye is based on an earlier more judgmental self. She was also plumper and didn't like her body With age I get bonier. This other eye, this earlier self, can be pleasantly surprised that I get away with garments that I couldn't in earlier life. On the other hand that 'other eye' wonders about what happened to my skin. Go take a hike. The lot of you.

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

I work at home. There's no process. Though if I'm going out I consciously try to look better than my home self. Come on, girl, nice pants, one of those sharp blouses you bought but rarely wear--will it kill you to make an effort? People notice. They treat differently. They notice. They appreciate.
More smiles on the street. Better behaviour all round.

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

Depends on the occasion. Comfort at home. If I'm going to an event, I want to indicate that I've thought about my outfit, that I take this event seriously and care. I want to look like someone that you'd like to talk to.

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

Dressing up is way more work. Out come a dozen or more garments on hangers. Try this with that. Nya. Doesn't work. On and on it goes. My window faces a large park. Can they see me if my light is on, wearing just underwear? Probably.

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

Slim black pants, cropped above ankle, black ankle boots, turquoise silk blouse. Leather jacket. Bright lipstick.

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

Not me is too girly or flouncy or fussy.

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

WASP background. Arty background. CBC and NFB types in our house when I was a kid. Guests at my parents parties would wear ascots, or turtlenecks, or medallions or Mumus. Stuart wore leather pants. Mum sewed her own clothes from Vogue patterns on a treadle sewing machine. She sewed many of my outfits, even my favorite hippie pioneer dress with viyella paisley and charro buttons. She and I will sit around drinking wine and recalling, in detail, the clothes she made for me when I was a little girl. We'll recall the clothes she made for herself, like her Greek toga.

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?

You'll see above that there was a year when I worked for a magazine and fantasized that I was a career girl. It was a costume that didn't fit, in more ways than one. I'm a writet, so I don't have a career.

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

My profession is, thank God, my actual Self. Is that lucky? I think so.

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

See above.

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

I don't like 'athletic gear' as I feel that people should just wear ordinary clothes that have gotten old. Except for the shoes. However, when I'm in California, hiking, I'll wear specialized gear like a gore tex jacket, light pants with deep pockets tucked into non-blister socks ( I worry about ticks) and trail shoes from REI. I wouldn't wear such clothing in an urban setting.

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

A way to rebel against Writer Uniform would be to wear professional clothing, like a very good suit with heels. I don't do that. Can't be bothered. Don't want to spend the money.

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?

I've answered that above.

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 am often attracted to men's clothing and accessories, and certainly grew up as a tomboy. As a girl I liked my brothers' jeans, those kind with the flannel lining.

It was a bit tough until I realized that women can dress and present any way they want, and still be one hundred percent female. I can't say I liked adolescence and all the attention it brought.

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?


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

Oh dear.
Or sometimes: 'That's not too bad.'

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

KiKi of Montparnasse.

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

Just the usual dreams of being bare naked in a public place.

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

Femme Fatale

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 like my body. No Complaints. I'm just glad it works.

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

Of course. But it depends on who is around.

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

Absolutely not. Here's to dumping all rules and allowing for individual expression.

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

Occasionally tea rose. OR there is this lavender face spray that I've been assured is organic and non toxic.

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

Have a shower.

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

Lipstick. But I'm not very bold about it. Probably no one notices I'm wearing it. But really, I am. Always. Cradle to grave.

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 strongly dislike 'interesting jewelry' which artistic women of a certain age are perhaps expected to like.
Those clunky overdesigned things.

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

See above.
I own lots of silver jewelry I got in Mexico, inexpensive. But I'm so lazy that I wear , for months on end, one silver necklace, because I don't like taking it off. I don't like jewelry that I have to remove at the end of the day. Then I have inherited family jewelry that I fear is worth quite a bit and that my mother says I should get insured. But I don't. I don't wear it either.

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

This simple silver necklace from Taxco, Mexico.

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 sarong made of beautiful shot silk, that I haven't figured out how to origamically fold and thus wear- but there's not way I'll dump it. Such beautiful material. Such a lush blue.

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?

Silk blouses that are one color (the prints I rarely wear). The slim pants that are black or grey.

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?

Susan gave me a scarf for my birthday a couple of years ago and I lost it in the ship museum in Stockholm a few months ago. I searched everywhere, I asked the people at front desk, but no dice. It is the the scarf in my most recent author photo. I hope that whomever found it likes it.

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

The red leather jacket with zippers that Mom bought for me 20 years ago and still looks great.

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

Have fewer items. One of each. Very spare.

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

See above when I speak of the 'career girl ' suit. I got rid of it after I was fired from the job.

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

I went to Stockholm in December and decided I wanted some more interesting and better quality clothes so I went to a designer in Toronto and dropped two grand. Thanks parents! It was fun.

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

Not so neat. A bit confused.

80. How does money fit into all this?

Crucial. That's why Joe Fresh was invented. Though watch out for material that will shred or fade after two washings.

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

I was very pleased, way back when I was working in a used book shop on Queen Street West in Toronto, when a customer said I looked like Laurie Anderson. I think because I have a long face and short hair. I suspect the resemblance has long faced.

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 a red bathing suit, age 2 or 3, and my mother suggested that I suck my tummy in.

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

1953. Born in Toronto. Live in Toronto most of the time. Berkeley California as well.

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

WASP. Artistic parents.

What kind of work do you do?

Writer. Teacher of creative writing.

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

Common law spouse, Tim. One 26 year old son.

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

I don't spend a good deal of time thinking about what I wear, unless I'm headed to an event. I have certain reliable garments that I reach for. Working at home, teaching on line-- all this means that there aren't so many occasions where I need to look sharp. Too bad, really. It's a good exercise to dress up.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

My wrists are tired. It's a very long survey. I want to examine my closet and get rid of duplicates.


Ann Ireland is a prize winning novelist, a past president of PEN Canada, and a teacher of creative writing at the Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto

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