Read Surveys (By Author)
Anna Maria Purcelli
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
1. In bed, with my husband.
2. Walking around a town in an outfit that is incredibly comfortable, but looks a bit sharp and stylish. Everything is just right.
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
All the time. I notice badly dressed, possibly overweight, unkempt women and it's only recently that I've stopped being contemptuous of them (a trait inherited from my mother and shared with my sister). I feel guilty about my past attitudes.
I also notice women who look like they've just tipped out of a lap-dancing club. It depresses me immensely that with all our progress - financial and status - women increasingly want to look like they earn their money from relying on men. Maybe the point is to be ironical, but that's only something you can pull off if you are white and middle-class and educated. And even then.....?
I admire women who look clean, comfortable and uncluttered. Stylish. Think Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.
They will look 'expensive' although it can all be done on a budget (even more admirable). They will look like they have very few clothes at home, but they are all immaculate and in the right place. Their skin will glow and their hair shine.
They have impeccable manners - not in a stilted way, but truly considerate of others.
They buy their own clothes.
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?
The first hairdresser who said I should grow my very curly hair as it was beautiful. I was about 30. My mother had always said it suited me best short (and frumpy). It took all the curl out. I looked like one of her dreadful sisters. My sister had pretty, wavy fine hair, like my mother's. I had my father's coarse Jewish hair.
I grew my hair and it looks fabulous (and keeps on getting better as I find different products). I spend a fortune on it - cut and colour at a top London salon, same hairdresser for 24 years. People comment on my hair positively. It's my signature.
Over time, this change in physical look has also had an impact on how I dress, moving away from classic to more minimalist and sometimes boho styles.
5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?
None - everyone should follow my rules. (small joke). I no longer judge what people wear (apart from the hooker look, but I'm working on that, honestly). Let everyone do what they want, I just know what I like.
I have lots of rules about shopping - partly to make sure I don't waste money, partly because I live by rules.
I spend a lot of money on a few items and there's the thrill of the find and the tension of the expenditure. Then the joy of it working out (deeply pleasurable and ongoing) or the irritation and disappointment of a mistake and taking it to the charity shop. I wouldn't sell a mistake as I want to do penance for getting it wrong and also give pleasure to someone else anonymously.
6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?
Again, a lot of rules about dressing.
I'm looking for a uniform - ideally the same for home and work, but that's not possible at the moment.
Home - blues and browns, dungarees, long cashmere dresses, Rick Owen jackets. Flat boots and shoes.
Work - black and cream and taupe. Long jackets (more like unlined coats). Scarves to protect the neck of the jacket (and stop it staining and smelling). Flat shoes and boots. Expensive handbag. Not an 'it' one, but under the radar. Stealth 'it' for the cognoscenti. I am a snob about some things.
I can't resist the occasional boho breakout. I've moved to deep in the English countryside where the second hand and vintage shops are amazing (inexplicable) and I've found a fantastic tailor. I can go mad and different at very little cost. Recommend highly.
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
Control. Spreadsheets - including one for my clothes. Planning. It's obsessive, but calming. My parents were volatile (which tipped over into physical abuse occasionally). Keeping on top of everything makes me feel safe.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
Many of my items are in multiple - because of the need for simplicity and a uniform and control. I worry about running out of something I love and is 'perfect'. Or not having the right clothes for the occasion. I didn't have many clothes as a child and was an incredibly physically awkward teenager and young adult.
Multiple examples are:
Tod's loafers - several colour ways, multiples of each colour way.
Wolford Cordoba t shirts - I'd like them all to be white but I have other colours so that I can be in one colour head to toe.
(Toast) dungarees - my at home uniform
Margaret Howell trousers - 3 identical pairs
Work skirts - I always buy 2 of the same if I think I've found the 'perfect' one.
10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
My husband. My favourite item of jewellery ever is his wedding ring.
My mother and my sister and a few friends used to get my cast offs, but I now give them to charity. They would arrive at my home and the first question was 'what have you got for me'? I would sometimes give them an item I still wanted because I wanted to make them happy ('buy' their happiness?).
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
Hooker, sexy, alluring etc. It's not funny. Think FGM, think burkhas, think of the control men have over women (and older women over young girls). Stop it please.
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 style is conservative but she really likes clothes, although she doesn't have many. I think she would have liked more. I dressed conservatively for too long.
Physically we are dissimilar. My body favours my father's side, although my features are from her father's family.
13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
Not much. Even as a student I dressed differently. I attracted attention unintentionally because I looked like a secretary. A few years later, my partner said I looked like a librarian.
My sister had more confidence than me about clothes when she was younger (the roles have reversed) and so I did borrow some of her stuff, but she repaid the compliment in spades.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
When I broke up with my partner after 16 years I started to spend more on clothes and dress my age (I was 40 and wore my first sleeveless dress in years for example). He had not been an inhibitor in any way, he's a very lovely man, I think I had just got into a bit of a rut.
15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?
I am left wing in most of my views, which I think is reflected in my attitude to dressing for men. I dress really for other women.
17. Please describe your mind.
I enjoy thinking about difficult concepts and trying to see if my thoughts are consistent and testing them against others - which is why I like debating. Most people don't like participating. I can be overwhelming.
18. Please describe your emotions.
It's a difficult time for me with my family. My father has died after a very long and debilitating illness and my relationships with my sister and my mother (who are very close to each other) have disintegrated completely and violently. I keep them out of my life now.
It's quite devastating - this situation and grief for my father colours my emotions.
My relationship happiness is through my husband and his family and a few close friends.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
Hair as always. Chin length blonde curly bob.
At home - so dungarees, white t-shirt, blue heavy cardigan. Wellies for outside.
Make up - light, simple. Very rare not to wear it now although I often only see one person all day. I do it for me as well as making sure my toes are always manicured - the same colour red.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
It is. And it isn't. It is, because
a. it's naive to think we aren't judged on our appearance
b. it's pleasurable to make an effort. Every day should be special, and for me that includes nice clothes and being well groomed
It isn't because
a. it's none of my business what someone else looks like, though I do take great pleasure from looking at someone who is very elegant but unaware
b. If you're working on a cure for cancer who cares what you look like
c. If many of us cared less it would matter less
21. With whom do you talk about clothes?
No-one really. That's why I enjoyed reading the book so much.
23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
Taste is what you choose, style is how you put your choices together for impact.
24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?
I love it, but I get little wear from it. A very long, deep navy, unlined Jil Sander coat. What was I thinking?
And it's a hungry beast as I keep buying navy clothes to go with it, hoping I might wear it more.
25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?
Pale colours always look more expensive and are immensely flattering as you get older, as are softer textures.
26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
Our home is uncluttered and everything is done to a very high standard. It had been renovated by a perfectionist, which is why we bought it. All our furniture etc (not much) fitted perfectly in size and style.
The only addition is a bespoke fitted wardrobe and drawers, turning a small bedroom into a dressing room for me. I do believe in the 'beautiful AND useful' mantra. It can be useful, but if it's ugly, it's not coming in.
We are surrounded by glorious countryside. We have great views, especially from the bedroom which has french doors and a Juliet balcony. I want to die in our bed, looking at the view. The thought brings me great peace.
I take immense pleasure from my home. My car? Not even sure what make it is (but it is always clean).
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?
To calm myself - I wear cashmere. Always something soft and unfitted.
To calm myself - I declutter and organise my clothes, and update the clothes spreadsheet.
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?
Always change into less expensive house clothes when you get home.
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?
Colour second (preferably no patterns).
They all have to be right before you should buy or wear.
I have been told that I dress with style and people ask me to accompany them shopping. I focus completely on them and work very hard to get the right result. It's taken for granted as people think that's how I like to spend my time. I don't really.
33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
Kindness. Who cares what someone with a lovely heart looks like?
34. What do you consider very ugly?
Violence, wrongful anger, shouting and screaming. Loss of control. Snot and tear streaked faces. Aggressive clothes.
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?
85% there. Be patient. It gets much easier to judge as you get older. But do be adventurous every so often.
37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
At home is easy as I wear the same 'uniform' of dungarees and white t shirt and navy cardigan (I have several items of each, all identical).
If I'm going out then....location, duration, function, weather, walking. All taken into account. And it must be comfortable. It always is, anything uncomfortable has been banished.
38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
Noticeable but subtle style. I do want to be looked at and admired and even be envied by other women. I never think about men looking at me.
44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?
Good handbag that can take a laptop.
Immaculately clean clothes.
Hair recently cut.
Light make up, professional red lipstick.
45. How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?
I work for myself so I suit myself more than if I were employed. I don't conform to the expected look and use beautiful knits (Marion Foale for example) or mid-thigh length unlined coats (Marni, Max Mara) to replace jackets.
51. If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?
The future. It's fascinating and full of hope. I shall miss it.
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
No. Not at all. Thankfully, others agree. How awful would it be to know that you do actually look that dreadful to others.
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?
Jeans. I am envious of women who look good in jeans. It must make dressing so easy.
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
I don't like the smell lingering on clothes, so no perfume.
64. Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing and jewelry-wise?
A heavily curated, highly organised and almost themed selection of clothes, with many rules and deliberate duplications. Very simple expensive items (bought in the sales quite often) with several 'vintage' buys.
65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?
Apart from my husband's wedding ring, my favourite piece of jewellery is a very boho item surprisingly.
A bracelet made of gold wire with semi precious stones threaded into it and topped up with old earrings I no longer wear. I bought it in Browns after Joan Bernstein told me if I loved it I should get it. That made me laugh. Sadly, I found out that the Japanese designer died at a very young age of cancer.
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 beautiful Dries van Noten lime green skirt covered in silver matt 'sequins'. It used to fit me perfectly, but I never got a chance to wear it. I keep it because it brings me joy to look at it.
It also goes with my wedding coat (which I bought before I even thought of getting married and wore on the day with a quite romantic old rose chiffon maxi skirt).
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?
Cost per wear? Dungarees.
Joy and a fantasy about the life I want to lead? My summer clothes....barely worn. An unbalanced wardrobe given the country I live in.
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?
A draconian approach to decluttering when stressed, when the seasons evolve, when my life changes means there are many items that hit the charity shop too early. But they will have kept someone happy.
A diversion - A recent purchase from a vintage shop didn't work, so I put it in the charity shop. Only to find it in another vintage shop in pride of place.
69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
Dungarees to be practical but I can get more.
Jil Sander coat because I love it so much (and it was bloody expensive and irreplaceable).
My wedding coat because of the association and I'd never get anything else like it.
70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?
Choose one colour scheme which would mean I would buy less. Blue/white/grey? But could I give up taupe?
GOLD jewellery only.
Pale shoes only.
Brown leather only.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
A coach briefcase. To be taken seriously at work. Mahogany brown, heavy, simple, unlined. I loved it until it got scuffed to shabbiness.
72. Was there ever an important or paradigm-shifting purchase in your life?
They happen once every seven years or so.
A long suede skirt kicked off a habit and a change in style to softer and less classical.
A Rick Owns jacket proved to be addictive - but meant a move away from the suede skirts.
Margaret Howell black trousers (bought in triplicate) meant puffas and cashmere jumpers and wedges.
The bloody Jil Sander coat has meant a lot of navy and camel recently.
73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?
Expensive heavy silk plain scarves. Slubbed silk preferably.
74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?
Immaculate, obsessively ordered. Everything clean and in good repair. Not overstuffed.
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
My husband bought me a lovely sparkly bracelet with deep taupe stones in Berlin. The first piece of jewellery he ever bought me. The colour was just right (he'd learned about taupe) and the sparkle not like me at all. I loved 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?
I've never bought any item of clothing without much thought. How liberating that would be.....
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
On line when I'm stressed, but not too upset.
On line when I need a specific item.
IRL - the local secondhand and vintage shops are amazing. Deep in the far flung English countryside.
That's it, wouldn't really go into a shop otherwise apart from Liberty or Fenwick (mainly for make up and scarves).
78. Do you like to smell a certain way?
Clean. Unscented. Although Aveda used to do a couple of hair products - confixor and elixir - which smelled of lavender and rosemary. I loved it and so did many strangers who asked me what I was wearing.
80. How does money fit into all this?
I am pretty shrewd and thrifty with money, apart from when it comes to clothes.
It's got worse although my income has diminished somewhat. I can nearly always justify a clothes purchase.
It's to do with a whole host of emotional reasons that I'm still unravelling and this survey is helping.
82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?
I had to do one of those 'ask 12 people who know you what they think of you' exercises for work.
One of the very consistent themes was that I was stylish. 7 of them said it (and it wasn't prompted by any relevant question). I was surprised and enormously pleased. I now believe I'm stylish (and I think I've got even more stylish since then....).
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
I'm in my fifties, I live in England and always have done.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Married with step children and step grandchildren, who have brought me the greatest joy.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
Better. It's good to get it all down and it was swirling through my head after reading your book.