Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
Wearing something simple, elegent, and classy (which I almost never do).
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
I live in a very diverse neighborhood, home to many sorts of immigrants and refugees. I love watching the women, especially those from East Africa. There is such a wide range of colors and styles (from very conservative, floor-length hijabs to what I call "glamazons"--Somali girls dressed up so bright and beautiful in form-fitting clothes that I can't help but stare).
3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
I love confidence. I love it when women don't look American. I love when women rock their hijabs and their scarves and their mis-matching patterns. I love a good bizzaro haircut.
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 just recently (thanks to Women in Clothes) realized that I mostly dress for protection. I live in the inner-city and work primarily with refugees from strict Muslim backgrounds. So in every sense I want to blend in, be unnoticed, to be able to do my job without adding even more distraction. But in the end, this is a rather depressing way to dress. I don't like much of my clothing, and when I look in the mirror I am always dressing for somebody else. I am dressing for the men that I want to avoid interacting with on the street corner. I am dressing for my students and friends, who are extremely gratified when I wear modest, Muslim-appropriate clothing. I am dressing for a world in which I am a continual stranger, where I am formless and void, where I surround myself with loose and ill-fitting clothing, where no matter how hard I try I don't end up fitting in regardless.
5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?
Due to ethical concerns I basically only shop at thrift stores and buy cheap, ill-fitting things. It would probably be a much better idea to shop higher-end consignment stores in order to have a small, long-lasting closet.
6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
I try and hide my body. I try to be as non-confrontational as possible.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
A writer and activist I greatly admire makes his own clothes out of burlap (in order to escape the oppressive systems in our world). He likes to tell the story of Mother Theresa's feet, which were badly deformed by the end of her life. It turns out that she would always pick through the donations for the Sisters of Charity and choose the worst pair of shoes for herself, which she would wear until they were in tatters. It ruined her feet, and no doubt caused her great physical pain. I think it is such a beautiful, horrible story. I can't stop thinking about it, even to this day.
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
I do try and live with others in mind, and am committed to fostering cross-cultural understanding. This stems from religious beliefs and a commitment to living and working with people in poverty in America. As a result, many of my personal preferences and choices need to be filtered through what the preferences and choices of my neighbors might be. I have to think about what is best for the community, not just what is best for me.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
I own several horrible floor-length skirts and seem to accrue plain, long-sleeve black shirts (which make me feel elegant but which in reality are rather ratty).
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
I come from Evangelical lower middle-class stock and for quite some time everyone I knew was really into shopping at Forever21. When I started researching labor conditions I was horrified at all the lawsuits I found aimed at F21. The next time I went into one of their stores and saw the bright garish yellow bags emblazoned with a Bible verse on the bottom (John 3:16) I just wanted to scream at the disparity. From that time on, if someone ever happened to mention to me that they bought something at F21, I would launch into a very long tirade. Shortly after, people stopped talking to me about fashion.
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
My mother is a very small and physically fit woman. All of her daughters are much bigger than her (especially in the bust area). She struggled with eating disorders her whole life and was careful to try and not pass that on to us (we turned out to be very robust eaters, all of us). Her style has always been conscious of what was popular (her outfits from the 80s are hysterical) and to this day she dresses like a cute, much-younger woman. She raised us all on thrift store clothes and she really enjoys the excitement of shopping in very random, worn-down places. Although her style is not particularly mine, I wish I could fit into more of her clothes, actually.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
When I was 13, I started getting really into punk rock and started to dress (without my realizing it) in a very androgynous way. I would wear pleated corduroy pants and baggy band t-shirts, skater shoes and dog chains around my neck. I cut off all of my hair and bleached it orange. I was a young evangelical pastor's kid, and I started my own Christian punk rock band (we toured all of the Christian coffee shops in Northern California for a year or two). I didn't fully understand, but even back then I was pushing against the constraints of gender that the church (and wider culture) had already put on me. I did not care that I was not conventionally attractive, or that I made people feel uncomfortable or a little on edge. I just wanted to be taken seriously as a bass player, as a punk rocker. And since I didn't see any other females in the scene, I decided to dress like one of the boys.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
My thrifted clothes do tend to send a message that I am opting out; my careful attention to modesty (out of respect for Muslim friends and neighbors) also seems to be a bit jarring to some. But I do believe in the value of giving up personal rights and preferences for the sake of the community, which is a political action.
16. Please describe your body.
Missionary Kardashian. Curvy and yet no-nonsense. No one would ever describe me as "slim."
17. Please describe your mind.
Conflicted. Obsessed with noticing.
18. Please describe your emotions.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
I am wearing a large, long dark gray sweater with a great cowl neck over orange pants. I am experimenting with going without shampoo (using baking soda and apple cider vinegar) and it isn't going well. Hence, my hair is up in a bun and I tied a bandana around my head, which I haven't done in years.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
I come from a place of believing it isn't important at all. Christians routinely reject the body and adornments as unholy, as distracting, as weirdly sexual. I don't believe in much of the modesty arguments/policing of my youth, yet the older I get the more modest I dress out of deference for the context I live and work in.
But if you believe in God you must believe in beauty, and it must go hand-in-hand with neighbor love. So my current struggle is this: in the ethical, political, fractured environment we live in--how can my clothing choices reflect a love of God and of my neighbor?
25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?
I wear most of my shirts and dress backwards (I am very busty, yet need to appear appropriate).
26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
I love a well-written essay or book. I do think I am a stylish reader.
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?
I like to wear something black when I am speaking in front of people, because it is a). supposed to make you feel calm and b). Johnny Cash did it as a way to represent people imprisoned and who couldn't attend his concerts. Pretty bad-ass.
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 mom taught me that it was terrible to spend too much money on clothes.
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?
Confident is a word I toss out a lot, but for me I suppose I just envy people who live for themselves. As much as I don't agree on religious/ethical concerns, selfishness seems to do wonders for personal style.
33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
Diversity. I mean true, spotty, uncomfortable, weird, deeply religious diversity.
34. What do you consider very ugly?
What white girls pin under the category "fall clothing."
44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?
I put on my glasses to teach and it magically transforms me into someone with authority. I usually pull my hair back as well.
48. Do you find it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?
It's comforting in a way to not appear sexual at all--I never ever get looked at, which I like. I can go on with the important business of living. But I do sometimes yearn for beautiful, well-made clothes--something I would wear just for myself.
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
I'm always so disappointed. I happen to think I am pretty interesting looking in real-life, but in pictures I tend to either looked spaced-out happy or I just have my resting bitch face on.
70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
I don't really like having a closet full of thrifted, not-quite-right-for-me clothes. I would like to have a spare, well-made closet of essentials. I want to live simply, and I want things that are well-made by people who are working in ethical conditions.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
7 years ago I purchased a pair of Dansko Mary Jane clogs. It was the first time I had ever spent more than $100 on any item of clothing. I worked in retail, and those shoes save my life. I still wear them for teaching. They aren't super stylish, but they go with everything and my feet never hurt. I have had them repaired twice and I adore them.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
1984. I live in the most diverse neighborhood in all of America--which just happens to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota (I know, right?).
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
I grew up conservative Christian on a tight (moral and monetary) budget.
What kind of work do you do?
I am in a Christian order among the poor and I teach ESOL to recently arrived East African refugees.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Married, one child (4) and another on the way.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
For many years now I have consistently brushed away the topic of fashion if it ever entered my brain. Women in Clothes sparked something in me, and I am grateful.