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M.V. (not my real name)

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I'm at my skinniest (which is not that thin, maybe like 140 lbs), with big hair and wearing leggings or cutoffs, a little tan, good chill makeup but a bold lip, a loose-ish v-neck tee, smirking a bit. Too curvy/femme to be boyish, too slackerish to be really femme.

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

TALL WOMEN, thin women, women with great bangs, women with too much plastic surgery/trying to look too young, striking women, women who aren't interested in white and "mainstream" beauty ideals, women who are too invested in hegemonic beauty ideals, women women women I'm always watching others watching myself.

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

Confidence, undone-ness, approachability while still being cool.

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?

Grad school/working life. I think I realized I didn't owe anyone anything, and that "professional" doesn't mean Ann Taylor separates for me. I think it was a combination of losing some weight, moving to the desert, having a boyfriend, and just like, being slightly more comfortable in my skin.

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

Never buy fast fashion because it always looks like shit, buy the best bag you can afford, it's okay to buy that hat you're like never going to wear.

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

Don't wear a lot of color, miniskirts are the best skirts, don't wear too many prints, a tee shirt is an appropriate work shirt, less is more when it comes to accessories, there is a pair of skinny jeans/pants for everyone.

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

With my best friend, on tomboy femme-ness, classic looks, having fun with clothes.

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

UGH NO. I am the worst.

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

Wool mini skirts from J. Crew, along with their v-neck vintage cotton tees. Even though quality has gone down, they are simply the best for what they are, in my price range. I just love how I feel in them, how soft and worn-in the tee shirts are.

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? 

Pretty much anything from the Britney/Christina era of MTV, because I was kind of fat and not a fan of bold colors/anything overly girly. STILL PROUD OF MY DECISION.

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

Uh, everything. Tomboyish femme style, lots of dark neutrals, chambray before it was basic, big simple jewelry, makeup no matter what, and uh some boobs and hips and great legs and under-eye circles.

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

I think I totally stole my mom's swag from the time I could dress myself, and it was encouraged. I remember wearing her oversized, men's 70s suede vest from Saks to my fourth-grade class over a chambray top and everyone thought it was the coolest.

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

Just post-grad school - getting skinny(ish) and never wearing flares again.

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

I guess if it's political to not wear pink, or ruffles, or patterns even if I like feminine silhouettes.

16. Please describe your body.

Not perfect right now but serviceable. Curvy, puts on muscle fairly easily, loses it fairly easily.

17. Please describe your mind.

Antic, girly, poetic, sarcastic, nervous, searching, encyclopedic.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Too fucking much.

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

Body: long sleeve navy tee shirt, oxblood leather bracelet from the 70s with fake Native American designs painted in indigo, black wool mini skirt, and sadly, black Chaco flip flops (I live in Colorado, don't hate). Cheapo Target bra / underwear.

Hair: ponytail, kind of to the side, natural ombre because I'm too cheap for color, and very long. I haven't washed it in like five days.

Makeup: BB cream, mineral powder, orange balm crayon on the lips, waterproof Great Lash in black (pink tube for life), some blush/bronzer. Chipping orange nail polish, chipping burgundy toe polish.

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

It's real life / drag / being a female person but like, also just one person's experience. It's engaging with the dominant culture and capitalism and hating it and loving it. It's something I do every day and comforting / a ritual.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

Girlfriends, male partner (to an extent), mom.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

Not that much, I'm kind of not terribly professional at my job (higher ed).

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 little style, and mostly a uniform. I think neither of them really matters but you know when you see someone who has one, or both. I think having taste means you're discerning, you wear the best things in your budget, you know how to pair things. Style is a bit more personal, like putting your signature on a look. It's not manufactured.

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

An awful hippie sweater from ModCloth. Never again. I thought it was going to be like girly-Lebowski but it was acrylic and an itchy mess.

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

Not really.

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

Maybe my pop cultural interests.

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?

Party dressing, being around old friends and wanting to look hot, wanting to be seen as pretty. Sad, kind of.

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 don't think I'm as good at life and discerning things as I am at dressing myself. I think this is about self-doubt.

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?

Oh man, my mom taught me everything. I can't even lie. Neutrals, classic *is* cool, dress for the body you have, a little mascara and lipstick makes you look alive.

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

Dry shampoo for volume, mascara, a little extra blush at the end of a workday, denim.

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 - warm, expansive, chic without trying. Lots and lots of knits that are loose but fitted in the right places. Probably more expensive than it looks.

Confident - at home in body and clothes. Effortless or effortfull beauty, but OWNED. Like self-authored, mostly for the self, committed.

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?

Don't worry about what's trendy, or normal. Wear what makes you feel like you. Have a uniform.

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

Humor, laughing, dark colors.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Women who try to look like they're in their 20s when they're in their 40s/50s (be it through exercise, surgery, makeup/hair, clothes, all of the above). It just always looks desperate and takes away from what beauty is there. Also, being a jerk. And vocal fry.

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?

Usually, because I kind of have a uniform and tend to regret deviating from it.

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 think she's not always as nice as she could be, too focused on pleasing other people. Likes: catching eyes, quietly flirting. Dislikes/judges: people who dress too perfect or bold. I think it's totally my mom talking.

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

Is it semi-clean? Is it kind of work appropriate? Does it make me look bloaty?

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

Coolness, a kind of aloof and not overly girlish girly-ness. Pinup gone 70s office manager / groupie.

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

Dressing up involves more time, actually doing my hair that day.

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

Casual: jeans/leggings, or cutoffs, v-neck tee, a loose cardigan in winter. Desert boots or flip flops.

Slightly fancier version: mini skirt instead of jeans/leggings, maybe boots in winter or a wedge in summer.

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

Me: dark colors, anything leggy / slim / short, solids, tee shirts, looser tops, big bold lipsticks, 70s-inspired hair.

Not me: pink, button downs, ruffles/lace, neutral makeup, contouring, empire waists, perfect hair.

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

American, Midwestern, Armenian-Irish. I guess less-is-more is kind of Midwestern, and if Kim and sisters are any indication, Armenian girls do like to show off what they got.

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?

I think I tried to dress more boyish and grungy in the late 90s/early 2000s (my teens). I think I was uncomfortable with my body and with the prevailing notions of hotness at the time and wanted to be seen as an iconoclast and above stupid shit.

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

I wear makeup to work every day, I sometimes try to wear better shoes.

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

I don't dress like an Ann Taylor catalog, but I live in Colorado so Grateful Dead tee shirts and Tevas are considered acceptable workwear. I think I try to bridge the gap between business casual and couldn't-give-a-fuck.

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?

Make it sexier.

48. Do you find it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?

Not at all.

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?

Dark colored, fitted-ish, long sleeve tee, shorts. It's classic like a night at the beach, subtle, and kind of sexy without being like "I'm SEXY, YA'LL!"

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?

Not really. But I love women who dress in menswear and kill it.

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

The US, the 1970s.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

Hell no.

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

How can my face be long and fat at the same time?

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

Probably Bob Dylan.

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

I think so, but I can't remember.

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

Anything designed for really tall, thin women - wide-leg pants with a high waist, going braless. Jeff Eugenides called it "that saluki look" which is about right, if you want to compare a woman to a skinny dog. So some of the 70s looks I love. Maybe I'm more 70s in spirit, like a Grateful Dead girlfriend with a mod twist?

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?

Probably I'd go sleeveless more, which I never do.

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

I want to repel lame people.

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

Be you, be you, be you. And someone is always going to think you look good. You should be the first person who thinks that.

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

I like it but I don't wear it. Maybe I should try it again? I used to wear Stella.

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

Makeup makeup makeup makeup. Be 150 lbs or less.

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

UGH IT'S EVERYTHING. I wish I had perfect skin.

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 feel like I'm supposed to be into business casual looks, since that's what most women my age buy a lot of for their working lives. I just think it's tacky on some level and like, I'd rather look like *me* than look like some mid-level approximation of someone in a higher-level job.

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

Tee shirts, tee shirts, tee shirts for all seasons. Jeans and leggings and minis and shorts. Loose open cardigans. Cool long pendant necklaces.

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

I don't even know. I have a really ratty slate blue v-neck tee that's basically see-through, with holes in it and I love it.

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 gold sequin party dress. It's very 60s / mod, I don't wear it because I never do anything fancy, but I love it and I hope my friends start throwing cool NYE parties again.

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?

Basics, but I'm not basic.

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?

Probably a dress so I'd have at least one outfit.

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

Maybe buy fewer jeans in hopes of finding a perfect pair.

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

Nice handbag, and yes, I use it daily.

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?

Perfect jeans: slim, dark wash, and not too long. And they never ever bag at the knees.

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

A hot mess.

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

When my grandmother sold her house, she gave me a vintage diamond engagement ring and it's valuable and beautiful and I love it.

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?

Some Banana Republic used jeans from Buffalo Exchange. They were the perfect, perfect fit and wash. Just amazing and they made my legs look great. And they hit at just the perfect spot on my ankle.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

Online, when they're on sale. Sometimes in stores. Sometimes I browse.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?


79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?

Not much.

80. How does money fit into all this?

I can't buy designer shit but I'm probs too fat anyway.

81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?

Big black leather crossbody bag, and lipsticks.

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

My best friend said I'm cool.

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?

Probably being a little girl and my mom had me wear pretty gender-neutral clothes sometimes, and not feeling like the other girls in my school with so much pink and purple and florals (it was probably the 80s).

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

January 983. Born in southeastern Michigan, currently living in Boulder, CO.

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

Suburban upbringing, middle class, 2nd generation American. Non-religious from childhood.

What kind of work do you do?

Higher education / student academic services professional.

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

Partnered for a long-ass time.

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

I'm over-educated and underpaid, English major all the way, lover of 60s/70s rock and all things R&B and hip hop.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

Girlish, smart.

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