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Penny Henderson

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

After a long run, cycle or ski.

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

Androgynous, sporty and trim.

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

Simplicity, strong colour, tradtional fabric _ wool, tweed, denim, cotton.

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?

A job required me to appear publicly and I realized that, because I am short but not frail, I should avoid busy patterns and boxy jackets.

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

I only shop/browse in thrift stores. That way my mistakes don't cost as much.

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

Comfort, simplicity _ but for younger, and taller, women I would say go wild.

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

Not sure.

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

Yes, I try to keep everything informal. I recently had to attend a high school reunion (50 years) and was in a quandry about what to wear. I found a shiny jacket and yoga capris. Hoping no one would look down.

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

Outdoor jackets _ I have way too many. Because I spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking, cycling, running etc. and jackets fit me well and fabrics and properties of outerwear are constantly evolving. Although there is still no genuinely waterproof outwear.

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


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

Towering platform shoes _ I am too old and they are potentially crippling. Very short skirts; partly age, partly modesty.

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

My mother was short and stoutish and favoured white blouses and button-up woolen vests. I try to avoid this look.

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

Yes, a pair of black large cord pants that fit perfectly.

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

No, it just gradually evolved as I became older and more confident. I stopped buying things that didn't quite fit, or didn't really suit me.

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

Not sure if it is political, or cheapness, but I don't buy clothes in malls. I hate malls.

16. Please describe your body.

Five feet tall, 117 pounds, slender legs and arms, stout torso, no hips to speak of.

17. Please describe your mind.

Lively, restless.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Variable, from content to mildly anxious.

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

Hair is somewhat askew, wearing spandex black running pants (knee-length) short-sleeved green t-shirt, black zip-up fleece with no hood.

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

What you wear can make you look worse than you should. However, I have concluded over the years that it is how fit your are _ how trim and healthy-looking _ that is the key. If you feel pudgy and sluggish, that loose blouse isn't going to disguise it to yourself, or anyone.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

My exercise group _ and mostly it is about outerwear, which probably doesn't count here.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

They encourage caution and discourage innovation. They don't like colour, generally, except black and grey.

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

I think I have taste _ a cautious, unoriginal taste. As to style, it is mostly a question of avoiding mistakes.

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

It was a long time ago, when I shopped at malls and department stores and even the odd boutique _ I made many costly errors in pursuit of some magazine ideal that I could never (owing to my shape and size) meet.

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

I wear the same black skinny jeans (or whatever the fashion-of-the-moment dictates) all winter and no one notices. I switch up my tops.

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

Yes. I think I have a playful style when it comes to knick-knacks.

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?

Not really.

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 do know what I like. I like Eileen Fisher. I like tall and elegant and informal, although I will never be the first two. I like Ellen Degeneres' look. I love her hair. I like short hair. I have gotten more observant and more confident in my choices with age.

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 mother waged a decade-long war against blue jeans. She thought they were unacceptably rural. She had very traditional 50s taste, including the uncomfortable pointy shoes. I refused to conform. I was on my own, style-wise, and not terribly comfortable.

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

Run and shower.

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?

If I meet someone with both those qualities, I notice their clothes only in passing and am riveted by their dynamic personalities.

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?

Casual, compact, bold colour.

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


34. What do you consider very ugly?

Towering platform shoes; the "slutty" look on teenage girls. On men, comb-overs and polyester anything.

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?

I'm starting to figure it out.

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?

I see a person who is trying to look conventional.

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

What is ironed, the weather, my activity.

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

Comfort, height.

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

Dressing up causes some minor anxiety still: I associate it with weddings, giving a speech, attending some event with wealthy people, especially wealthy women.

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

Skinny dark pants, loose, long shirt with collar, leather shoes with blunt toes.

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

I would say a woolen v-neck sweater over a merino innerwear long-sleeve and hiking/skiing pants or shorts is my normal look. Not me: dresses, skirts, plunging necklines, bare arms.

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

Catholic schoolgirl circa the sixties; I'm not sure the nuns had any influence on how I dress. My mother's conservative dress ideas and lack of money, along with lack of keen interest in shopping, probably combined to influence my choices.

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. As a young (very young) professional, I had no idea how to dress and combined real fabrics with fake fabrics and wore horrible panty-hose and uncomfortable shoes. Generally, I was acutely uncomfortable until I discovered blue jeans. A hitch-hiking trip around the world simplified things enormously: I lost the hair curler, the polyester and wore jeans and t-shirts for a long, long time.

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

I have to wear makeup in a job, so I do it myself and go minimal. Normally, I don't wear makeup.

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

I think I conformed, although probably not well. I am retired now. There don't seem to be many expectations these days. It is dress-down day most days.

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?

No uniform. I didn't mind it in high school, since we had no money and I never really enjoyed shopping for clothes. Nothing fit me, anyway.

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?

Soft wool turtleneck sweater with jeans, black or blue.

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?

Yes. I love the Ellen look, which is boyish. I would say boyish rather than mannish.

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

It might be contemporary India.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

I can be. Depends on the angle.

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

Sometimes I think I look cute, sometimes I think I look grim.

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


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


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

Pole-dancer, hooker.

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?

Ellen Fisher.

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

Not really.

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

Don't waste money on clothes. If you want to look good, get active.

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

Don't wear it, don't like it.

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


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

Wear it when professionally required; occassionallyj when going out, but only a little.

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 really don't like dresses on short women. They make most of us look ridiculous.

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

Thrift clothes, outer-wear, basic earings. No rings, no necklaces, no bracelets.

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

A navy slim-cut jacket.

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?

There are always impulsive purchases that languish in my closet _ most often blouses, or tops, that don't really fit. Too tight across the chest or tummy.

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?

Smart, small jackets and black skinny jeans.

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?

Not really.

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

A down jacket.

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


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


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


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

Nothing in particular.

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

Not always.

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

Not really.

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

1947. Ottawa. Quebec.

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

Irish-Catholic, working class.

What kind of work do you do?

Retired; was in journalism.

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

Lesbian partner; two grown kids.

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

I filled this out, because I was curious to know the questions. This is the most time I have spent thinking about clothes and my "look" ever.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

Restless to get back to work.

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