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Amy Boutell

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

I feel most attractive when I am wearing a vintage dress that has seen me through romantic and creative adventures. A vintage dress that prompts me to reflect back on previous adventures, and to usher in new ones.

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

Yes, especially when I'm in a city. I tend to notice women wearing bright colors and bold prints, women who look like they're expressing something about themselves.

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 in high school during the Nineties, I rebelled against the way my glamorous mother dressed--in vintage. I went through many phases--preppy, Nautica attire, then finally, baby doll dresses, knee highs, and Doc Martens. Once I left for college in New York, and travelled 3,000 miles away from home, I could wear the vintage dresses my mom had given me and make them my own, as I started collecting my own stories that would arise whenever I wore these black beaded or velvet frocks from the 1930s.

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

I don't shop with rules, but basically, women should dress themselves in whatever flatters their bodies and their sensibilities.

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

Rules about dressing don't interest me.

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

I'm several years into writing a novel about vintage fashion, and a few years ago, I went to a literary conference in New Orleans and met with an editor at Random House who judged the contest in which I'd placed as a finalist. He was 20 minutes late, he edits some of the most "important" male writers of the century, and I assumed he wouldn't get my novel at all--but we had the most amazing conversation about the power of vintage fashion to transform the wearer's live, which helped me articulate something important, and which ultimately led to my getting an agent.

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?

Halter dresses. They are flattering, classy, and just one piece of fabric--very comfortable, transportable, and sexy. It's the closest thing to a nightgown one can wear out and about.

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

Yes, all the time.

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

I don't pay much attention to trends.

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

I would need about 50,000 words to begin to do justice on this topic.

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

Not so much friends, but there have been times, from elementary school through college, when it would drive me crazy when my friends would adapt elements of my style.

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

When I returned from a summer spent at a performing arts camp in Santa Barbara, CA to my first year of high school in Oregon with a pair of Doc Martens, in the early 90s, after participating in my first artists' community. I had changed dramatically over that summer--I started to write, I reinvented myself from the shy girl I'd been during middle school, to a bit of a vamp (so I imagined) with my two California camp boyfriends--and my style changed along with me.

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

I don't spend a lot of money on clothes, and much of my wardrobe is vintage, and therefore recycled, so yes.

16. Please describe your body.

Curvy in a retro, from-another-era way.

17. Please describe your mind.

Creative and inventive, in an obsessed-with-other-eras kind of way.

18. Please describe your emotions.

At this moment, I am not aware of feeling any particular emotions, other than having had a wonderful weekend, and that is nice.

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

I wish I were wearing something cuter--like the Pucci dress I had on yesterday when I went to the Women in Clothes reading at Skylight Books--but, alas, it's Sunday and I', wearing Old Navy yoga pants, this fuschia top from Macy's I bought in 2009 before starting a new job, which I wear MUCH too often because I can rarely afford to shop, makeup from Laura Mercier, hippie earrings from a crafts fair in Eugene, Oregon, a gold and diamond ring that my grandfather gave my grandma on her 25th wedding anniversary, which she gave me a few months ago for my 38th birthday, and my hair is down, wavy, still drying. I'm wearing a purple bra, with a semi-broken strap, cute cotton DKNY underwear, and New Balance Sneakers, and atheltic socks which may or may not match.

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

Because what women think about any aspect of their lives is important.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

My mom, my sister, my grandma, my friends, my coworkers, my dates.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

The institution that (barely) pays me pays me so little that I am forced to keep wearing the same dresses again and again...I rarely even windowshop, but luckily, I have a closet that keeps on surprising me with outfits I've owned for years, and long forgotten about, until they re-emerge like an old flame.

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

I have both taste and style.

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

I paid $250 for a pair of Rebecca Taylor pants, back in 2000 or 2001, when I worked in publishing and made qutie a bit more money than I do working in higher ed.

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

I have been known to use paperclips instead of safety pins when a hem is coming undone.

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

Yes, 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?

Definitely, yes.

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, but knowing what I like, in terms of clothing, often means knowing what flatters me. I do not gravitate toward clothing I may "like" if I don't think it will fit my body style. And yes, I am discerning about most things--the table I want to sit at in a restaurant, who I want to be friends with, which dates I will invite into my apartment, etc.

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?

Yes, my mom taught me a lot--more than I can say in this textbox.

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, over the years, I have perfected this art. In my 20s? Not so much, but in my 30s, yes.

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?

This "gaze" has now become the gaze of social media--and perhaps which man I am interested in the moment, what outfit will I want him to see me wear on Instagram, then Facebook, if there is someone I am flirting with.

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

I get dressed very quickly on weekdays, on my way to work; I consider how many people I will interact with that day, and if I have meetings from people in other departments, then I will wear a cuter outfit so as to maximize the impact of the cute outfit.

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


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

It would be a polka dot halter dress.

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

Paris in the 1930s.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?


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?


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

July 14, 1976, Eugene, Oregon. Now living in Santa Barbara.

What kind of work do you do?

I work at UCSB's Writing Lab.

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


How do you feel after filling out this survey?

I wish I had more time to fill everything out, or that I could come back and finish later.


Amy Boutell is a fiction writer who lives in Santa Barbara, CA. She has an MFA from the Michener Center for writers and is revising a novel about vintage fashion.

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