Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
When I'm talking to someone who finds me interesting and intelligent. When I know I'm looking after my body by eating healthily. When I'm completely comfortable in my clothes - they should not be so old and well-worn that I feel scruffy, but neither should they be so new and unfamiliar that I feel self-conscious.
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
I notice women of my age with what I think of as 'my style' - slighly androgynous, simple but with one stand-out, elegantly quirky item.
3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
I (grudgingly) admire women who don't mind looking as if they've put a lot of thought into getting dressed - something that many Englishwomen of my generation and background often seem embarrassed about.
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 fifteen I changed my appearance so drastically during the summer holidays that when I went back to school in the autumn, many people didn't recognise me. It was the era of New Wave and the early New Romantics and I realised that I didn't need to look conventionally 'pretty' or 'feminine'. It coincided with my getting contact lenses after many years of wearing hideous, heavy-framed National Health glasses which dominated my small face.
5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?
I've felt embarrassed about trying on very expensive designer clothes at times in my life when I've been heavier than usual. I feel those clothes are not for me (especially when the sales staff say 'We have other sizes', because they've only got the smaller sizes out on show. Actually, now I'm older (50) I feel self-conscious and out-of-place in most high-fashion shops.
6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
Not wearing my best clothes because I'm worried about spoiling them. (This means my wardrobe is full of clothes I have never worn.)
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
I can't think of a specific conversation but two transformative pieces of writing stayed with me; one was an article I read in a newspaper years ago about a beautifully-dressed older woman who turned out to be completely blind. She said she made the effort in order to show respect for and give pleasure to other people. The second was Linda Grant's 'The Thoughtful Dresser', which contained the story of a woman who attributed her (and some of her friends') survival of a German concentration camp to regular tiny gestures of self-beautification. These kept their morale up and stopped them from succumbing to despair. I've heard that dressing well and wearing makeup can make a great difference to the morale of terminally ill people, too.
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
I feel I have to be self-disciplined and sensible and in control at all times - paying bills on time, being punctual and reliable, looking after my possessions.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
I have lots of pairs of black trousers. I think I buy these because they are slimming, go with everything and don't draw attention to themselves.
10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
I gave my (British) mother a vintage silk scarf which was made for American G.I.s stationed in Britain during World War 2 to take back to the USA afterwards. She is the illegitimate daughter of one of those G.I.s so it seemed appropriate and meant a lot to her too
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
I've never felt comfortable in overtly sexy clothes (revealing dresses, super-high heels) because they don't suit my character. I feel like a little girl trying to look like a grown-up woman. And I feel there's something humiliating about it too - trying to appeal to men.
12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?
My mother's body is very different from mine - for most of her life she had a very slim, boyish, straight-up-and-down figure with no waist or hips, whereas I've always had quite a curvy figure with wide hips and a distinct waist. I used to feel my body was 'wrong' and embarrassing but now (at the age of 50) I feel more comfortable about my shape.
13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
In my early 20s my sister and I shared a room and a wardrobe for a year and she occasionally lent me her clothes. I liked this - I've always felt she is more beautiful than I am (she looks strikingly like Audrey Hepburn) and this gave me the sense that I was 'borrowing' some of her beauty.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
See answer to question 4. Another time my style changed was after my daughter was born - I felt my larger bosom made me look matronly and I didn't like it. I lost my sense of style and lived in 'mum clothes' - baggy, elasticated-waist trousers, t-shirts and shapeless cardigans.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
Yes - I try to buy garments and shoes which will last a long time and I look after them and mend them if they get damaged. I hate the idea of disposable fashion as it is so ecologically harmful.
16. Please describe your body.
I'm a classic British pear - small, sloping shoulders, smallish bust, wide hips, big bottom and thighs. I have long legs which are slim from the knee down. I like my body more as I get older.
17. Please describe your mind.
Curious, neurotic, inventive, nostalgic, humorous, enthusiastic, idealistic, self-critical.
18. Please describe your emotions.
Anxious, affectionate, regretful, envious.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
Face - moisturiser, sunblock.
Hair - short and tousled
Body - Muji black and white gingham smock, black ski-pants, old but clean Marks & Spencer underwear.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
It's extremely important but I act as if it isn't. Some part of me thinks it's frivolous, and disapproves of my spending much time thinking about clothes.
21. With whom do you talk about clothes?
With my mother (an ex-fashion journalist) and a couple of my closest friends.
22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?
Not at all.
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 both, to some degree. Style is much more important. Good taste on its own can result in dullness and conformity. I love the idea of each person having her/his own distinctive style.
24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
I bought a shocking-pink raw silk jacket which cost a vast amount of money and which I've only worn twice. The colour is too harsh and the style is middle-aged. I bought it because my mother liked it on me. (Shocking pink is her favourite colour.)
25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?
Yes - filling in the neck of an excessively low U- or V-neck with a simple camisole. Low necks don't suit my proportions or my introverted nature. It's a way that I can continue wearing items I bought before I realised this. (It is surprisingly difficult to find women's tops which aren't cut too low in the neck.)
26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
I think I have a distinctive style in interior decoration as well as in my creative work (music, illustration).
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?
When I first started work in London's financial district ('The City') in the late 1980s I wore a very strict navy tailored suit and a pinstriped shirt as I felt very young and out of my depth. I felt as if I became a different person, very cool and efficient, when I put on that suit.
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 - I know exactly what I like and dislike in most areas of life and could probably do with being a bit more open-minded and adventurous.
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 had very strong ideas about what I should wear (pretty, slightly old-fashioned English-rose styles which I rejected utterly once I was able to choose my own clothes). She and my grandmother were quite critical of my appearance (especially my weight and hair) so it took me a long time to develop any self-confidence about my appearance. I felt for a long time that certain clothes were not for me because I was not the right shape, because that is what I'd been told. I was brought up to look after my clothes because we didn't have a lot of money to spend on them. I can still remember most of the garments I owned as a child and young teenager. One thing I am grateful for is that she encouraged me to make clothes so I now know how to judge whether garments are well-made and fabrics of good quality.
30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
I don't think in those terms any more. I merely want to be the best version of myself that I can be, and don't feel that sexiness is necessarily part of that. Nor am I trying to attract anyone.
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?
'Comfortable' means being so at home in your clothes that you can't even remember what you're wearing unless you look down at yourself.
'Confident' people are as comfortable in their clothes as they are in their personalities - there is no mismatch between who they are and what they're wearing (unless they want there to be).
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?
My style philosophy is: be true to your own nature, find out what gives you pleasure and suits you and dress accordingly; don't pay too much attention to what other people are wearing. Aim for comfort, both physical and emotional (which to some extent means dressing elegantly and appropriately for the occasion so you do not feel self-conscious).
33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
What is beautiful, for me, is natural materials with interesting textures that age well. Colour is very important to me - lovely combinations of colour. Maybe something quite low-key, subtle, even dull, with a contrasting flash of brightness.
34. What do you consider very ugly?
Clothes which are too tight, badly-made, stained, not well maintained. Colours which don't suit the wearer's skin tone.
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 a very bad judge of whether I will wear something. I've bought a number of items which I think of as 'too good' for me because they were so expensive and then I never wear them because I feel guilty at having spent so much on them.
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 don't have enough mirrors in my house and tend not to look at myself in a full-length mirror before going out. I don't have a sense of myself as a whole person, just as a collection of body parts, thoughts, and memories. I piece together a sense of how others must see me from past comments from friends, family and strangers, many of them contradictory. I am very self-critical - my mother's voice still echoes in my head, together with the voices of many others who've offered unsolicited criticism. When I'm smartly dressed I worry that people who don't know me will think I'm a snob, 'stuck-up', whereas if I'm going to a smart part of town I think people will look down on me and think I'm dowdy.
37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
I throw on whatever is to hand as long as it's clean. If I'm going out later, I will change my outfit, but I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I will make an effort for certain people but mainly to avoid criticism, not to elicit admiration.
38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
I'm trying to stand out a little but not too much.
39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?
'Dressing up' sounds like something a child would do. We had a 'dressing up' box with old dresses and stiletto shoes of my mother's which we used to stumble around in as children. 'Dressing up' suggests preparing yourself to play a rôle, rather than simple 'dressing', which is the act of putting on clothes simply to keep yourself warm and hide your nudity.
40. If you had to wear a “uniform” what would it look like?
My uniform would be elegantly utilitarian - a beautifully-cut cotton drill jacket and trousers or simple A-line skirt with women's brogue or Oxford shoes.
41. What would you say is “you” and what would you say is “not you”?
What is 'me': cotton, wool serge, corduroy, linen, trapeze line, plain white cotton underwear, short hair
What is not 'me': lace, frills, ribbons, skin-tight, high heels, synthetics, pencil skirts, lingerie, long hair
42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?
My mother came from a working-class London family with very little money but her mother made all her own clothes and always looked elegant and fashionable. My father was in the armed forces and wore uniform but was always a little bit untidy - 'the scruffiest officer in the Navy'. His mother loved clothes but hated spending a lot of money on them, having been very poor at one stage of her life. She, like my other grandmother, was always immaculately well-groomed. (She once advised me to get my clothes made by a military tailor - something which, strangely, I've never done.) So I felt (and feel) a certain pressure to make an effort with my appearance but am held back by natural laziness and a lack of self-confidence.
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?
As a child I wore quite conventional, even old-fashioned, pretty dresses and skirts. And a lot of hand-me-downs. I don't think I had much of a say in how I dressed.
44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?
I don't need to feel professional.
45. How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?
I am self-employed so this doesn't apply.
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?
I would quite like to have a uniform. Free choice sometimes bewilders and paralyses me.
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?
A plain cotton long-sleeved shirt and cotton drill A-line skirt. I like the crispness, simple elegance and utilitarian nature of this outfit.
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've been attracted to men's clothes, especially shoes, coats, jumpers and shirts, and have even dressed in men's evening dress but have never, ever wanted to have a man's body.
51. If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?
1950s New York. I love the American designers of that era.
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
I am very self-critical. I do not feel I am looking at myself but at some stranger.
54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?
Diana Vreeland, Margot Fonteyn, Isabella Rossellini.
55. Have you ever had a dream that involved clothes?
Yes - the absence of clothes and the consequent embarrassment.
56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?
A conventionally sexy woman.
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 would wear clothes that were more fitted at the waist and hips.
58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
59. Are there any dressing rules you’d want to convey to other women?
Dress for yourself, not for others.
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
I love perfume and used to wear it but something changed a few years ago and now it does strange things on my skin.
61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?
I can't wear clothes that are dirty or falling apart. I can't reveal too much flesh.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I've always worn very little makeup and find that the less I wear, the less confident I am about putting it on.
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 sometimes feel I should like more 'feminine', 'sexy' clothes but I don't feel they suit my personality at all (although they might suit my body).
64. Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing and jewelry-wise?
I own a lot of simple, basic clothing with a small number of interestingly-cut items. I don't wear much jewellery - just a few small, minimal, sculptural pieces.
65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
Probably my great-great-grandmother's Indian ring.
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?
The satin dress I bought from Modern Classics in 1981 (see answer to later question). It doesn't fit me any more but it reminds me of an exciting time of my life and I want to leave it to my daughter.
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?
Comfortable, well-made shoes. (I have a pair of Bruno Magli black ankle boots which I bought in 1990 and which are still as good as new, despite much wear.)
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?
It was a fitted jacket with a mandarin collar from the French label Plein Sud in an olive cotton brocade with roses on it and little brass buttons. Not the sort of thing I usually buy at all but it fitted perfectly and got me lots of compliments. I gave it away when I thought it wasn't really my colour. I'd like it back because I realise I was wrong. I could imagine wearing it for the rest of my life - it would never be inappropriate or go out of style.
69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
I would keep a big black cloak-like wool coat with a shawl collar which doubles as a hood.
70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
I would try to stay true to my style. I would buy clothes which worked together in outfits rather than single 'orphan' items.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
A black double-breasted cashmere coat which I bought with my first pay packet. It was far too grown-up for me and didn't suit my figure. I gave it away many years ago.
72. Was there ever an important or paradigm-shifting purchase in your life?
Yes - a dress I bought from the shop Modern Classics in Shoreditch in the early 1980s when that part of London was a sea of derelict Victorian warehouses. I'd seen the designer (Willy Brown)'s Victorian workwear/Russian Constructivist clothes in the magazine The Face and it was love at first sight. (He now sells clothes under the Old Town label.)
73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?
The perfect lace-up flat shoes.
74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?
My wardrobe and drawers are extremely tidy but only because I seldom take things out of them, dressing for the most part from a small range of items which are constantly in and out of the wash, hang on a rail in my bathroom and feel like old friends.
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
I was given a ring that belonged to my great-great-grandmother, an amazing woman who was born a poor Anglo-Indian soldier's daughter in Madras, survived three husbands and ended up as a successful hotel proprietor, entertaining rajahs and viceroys.
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?
My black cloak-like coat turned out to be the perfect garment for protecting myself and my baby during a particularly harsh London winter as it wrapped easily around us both. (She was strapped to my front in her baby sling.) It enabled me to sneak her into the cinema for matinees (in the days before mother-and-baby screenings were introduced).
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
Very seldom - there are one or two shops which I go into occasionally to browse. I like the department store Liberty's - their sales are good.
78. Do you like to smell a certain way?
I like to smell clean, like good-quality, old-fashioned soap.
79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
I don't understand this question.
80. How does money fit into all this?
I could probably spend more money than I do on clothes but my Puritanical streak prevents me from dong so.
81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?
A silver ring made in the shape of a rosemary leaf which I wear on the fourth finger of my right hand and fidget with constantly.
82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?
I remember being utterly crushed by the response of a boy I fancied to one of my early proto-New Romantic outfits.
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 remember my sister and I wearing velour pyjamas with white edging - hers was bright yellow-green and mine was blue. I remember thinking hers were nicer.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
1964; south coast of England; London
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
British, middle class.
What kind of work do you do?
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Divorced with one daughter and a long-term partner (male).
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
More aware of how complicated my attitude to clothing is.