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Alisa Houghton

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

I feel my most attractive when something fits me well, moves in an elegant way, and is made of a nice (long-lasting, upscale, carefully constructed) fabric.

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

Always. I am highly critical (without even meaning to be) and I make snap "yes" or "no" judgments on any outfit I see. I don't judge the actual person, but I will take stock of whatever they've got going on. Silly, I know. I tend to admire women who appear to have a mission or interior world happening. They could be in jeans that fit their frame really well, and I like to imagine their joy at finding those. Or, if they're in something bolder, I mentally commend their personal choice to wear something without caring what someone on the street (like critical me) might think.

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

As I've gotten older, I've definitely come to appreciate the art of working with "what you've got" -- I love to see other women doing that, as it's something I struggle with, still. Letting their curly hair be curly, or wearing high-waisted pants that super-accentuate a big butt; whatever it is, recognizing what makes her different is the most attractive thing a woman can do. On the other hand, it's not attractive when women contrive their smiles and facial movements or poses to try to look a certain way. We all do it sometimes, but it's weird!

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?

Yes. I moved to New York City when I was 18 to attend NYU. I had never had a real grip on the idea of what to wear, and in high school I had felt foiled at every turn because I had pretty much no money or freedom of my own expression. When I got to NYC, I experimented with every look under the sun. I wore oversized sheer t-shirts as dresses, pale pink patent leather Doc Martens, and any strange men's shirt I could find at Salvation Army. I was empowered by the fact that NO ONE in New York cares. Wear whatever you want. The city has better things to do than pay attention to your lil' outfit.

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

If it doesn't FEEL nice, don't buy it. Fabric is very important, and even if something looks cute, you shouldn't buy it if it's cheaply made and the material will not wear well over time.

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

Experiment with different layers, and don't worry about whether or not it's necessarily "flattering" -- if you feel cool, you probably look cool. Also, don't mix leather colors (shoes/bags/belts) or hardware carelessly. Be careful about mixing "vibes" -- not patterns or textures or even weird color combos, but I don't ever wear something that says "fiesta" with something that says "mod," for example.

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

I've had to endure many, many conversations/light teasing about why I wear so much black. In fact, recently, I was complaining to my boyfriend that it has to do with not wanting to make a statement -- wearing all black makes me feel like I can absorb into my surroundings. He pointed out that by wearing (mostly) black, I AM making a statement. Few people had pointed it out to me until I met his family in Georgia, where wearing all black is definitely more uncommon than it is in LA or NY.

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

Sort of, though I am constantly in transition. However, one thing remains the same: I am organized and fastidious. If I want to plan something, I do it full-out -- maps, calendars, spreadsheets, whatever. I am what I would consider a confrontational person, in the sense that I am very proactive. I will often take charge of projects, pay my credit card early, and approach my boyfriend when I feel that something needs to be addressed. I have had eras where I was totally unable to make decisions or get in touch with my identity, but find that I am generally pretty certain of what I want. Aries pride!

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

I have several pairs of slouchy, comfy, tapered high-waisted pants (in black, duh). I like them because I can dress them up with heels, a nice top, and a leather jacket, or throw on a t-shirt and flat sandals and be set for a weekend of errands. I rank them in nice-ness order based on what material they're made of (polyester, cotton, silk). They're more forgiving than jeans, and I like to sit in weird ways at my desk.

I also have 3 of the same top from Aritizia. I have only fairly recently been brave enough to wear sleeveless tops, and this one isn't even the most flattering. But, it's chic, NEVER wrinkles, and goes with a ton of things.

I have way too many black and white t-shirts, because I will never, ever stop hunting for the PERFECT one.

And, lastly -- black ankle boots. They're just all so DIFFERENT. Right??

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

Yes, many times. I consider myself an enthusiastic and thoughtful gift-giver.

For Christmas each year, I give my boyfriend 1-2 big ticket clothing items that I know he really wants, but wouldn't necessarily buy for himself. He's incredibly picky, so I have to be careful. But, when I see him wearing the black denim jacket that I got him for Christmas 2 years ago for probably the 400th time, I am elated.

I also pride myself in being able to pick up on subtle preferences. If I know someone well, I can pick up on things that they might want for themselves -- a projection of a more fashionable self -- and get that for them. My mom is a huge fan of her bright orange leather tote that I gave her for her birthday a while back.

I love shopping. Always. Especially for other people..

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

- Chokers, right now. I think they were trashy in the 90s, and they are trashy now.

- Culottes, because my shape couldn't be more wrong for them.

- Black nails. I think they're scary and cheap-looking.

- Flared pants. See 'culottes'

- Tiny body con dresses. These do not flatter anyone!!!

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

My mom had a major life event that caused her to gain a considerable amount of weight, and so she is never happy with the way that she looks. She definitely has an eccentric style -- truly unlike anyone else's -- but I also know that a lot of things that she chooses are meant to hide her figure. From that, I have taken that it means a lot to wear exactly what you want to wear, because you feel like it, but I am also aware of not wearing things that are less flattering, with the intention of hiding something.

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

Sure! I have seen friends turn an otherwise average outfit into something unique by adding a little bit of polish -- buttoning a shirt up to the neck or adding dainty cap-toe, low-heel flats -- or, similarly, by toughening the look up a little bit -- wearing a white tee and jeans, but the shoulder is ripped on the tee, or there's a raw hem on a pair of trousers. I like things that are almost what you expect, but a little different.

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

As I said in my answer before, moving to New York strongly impacted my desire to exercise freedom of attire. I also lived with a friend whose fashion sense I admired, and we shared a lot of clothes, so that informed some of my transformation. Once I hit 22, I was making enough money to buy nicer things, though I still usually hunt on eBay or Goodwill for designer things that are in great shape, for way, way less.

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

Not really. I am not tempted to wear overly revealing things, because it does bring out the angry side of my low-key feminism when a guy clearly checks me out or approaches me thinking I'm an "easy" target. That said, I love to (occasionally) wear things that accentuate or reveal a specific asset or *gasp* my entire shape! My boyfriend appreciates it, and if I feel good in what I wear, I feel like a boon to women everywhere.

16. Please describe your body.

I'm 5'4" and 120-125 lbs. Very average. I was a dancer/gymnast/cheerleader/circus aficionado all the way through high school, so I am somewhat athletic in build. I got guns, a booty, and leg muscles. But, I am definitely still soft. Pretty good-sized chest and a fairly small waist. Sometimes I wear petites sizes because they fit a little better, but am a standard size 0-4 in most things (depending on the brand). My square shoulders and muscular arms make me appear more statuesque than I actually am. I think I'm knock-kneed, but my friends think I'm insane.

17. Please describe your mind.

I'm incredibly stubborn and pragmatic, yet also a constant daydreamer. I fully believed in magic (faeries, wizards, you name it) until I was pretty old -- probably still do, actually. My friends all agree that I can be both incredibly down-to-earth, and vibrating at a superhuman frequency somewhere up in the sky. I can appear calm, comforting, and mature -- or, frantic, high-strung, and scatterbrained. It's all in there. My general thought processes are pretty labyrinthine, but I can be incredibly focused and sharp.

18. Please describe your emotions.

I am a VERY emotional person. In fact, I once had a therapist say that "it was a miracle I don't have borderline personality disorder" -- so that's cool. When I brought that up to the people closest to me, they all concurred that I have all the feels, but that I recognize all of them and can usually make sense of where they're coming from. I am quick to anger, but very comfortable in a sincere apology. I think that my endless capacity for empathy is both a blessing and a curse -- I can help people feel that I am truly listening to them, but when I'm not careful, can become a sponge for other people's problems. I am very loving and fiercely loyal. I cry in movies and laugh easily.

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

I have a little makeup on -- neutral matte eyeshadow, brows gently done (because mine are naturally sparse/thin), black mascara, and bronzer as blush. No lip color -- I'm usually a lip balm type of girl.

My hair is parted down the middle, styled with a slightly tousled wave (I just discovered a curling iron this year, and I feel SO much cuter when my stick-straight hair has some texture to it).

I'm wearing:
- The sleeveless Aritzia top (low arm holes, high neck, long rounded hem) in a pretty dark grey/blue/green color. It brings out my eyes ;)
- Slouchy black pants, rolled up at the cuffs to show some ankle.
- My favorite chunky heel black Madewell sandals. They're slightly fancier than flat sandals, but easy to walk around in all day. Plus, they're visually heavy and balance out outfits with a lot of fabric.

- I like to mix metals with my jewelry. I wear 1-2 rings on each hand, a cool screw-cuff bracelet my boyfriend gave me, and a very thin gold chain necklace.

- Black leather everyday purse from Loeffler Randall that I love because it's so neutral.

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

It's only important in the sense that we live in a world where people tend to wear clothes, and they do it every day. If you have to pick something, why not pick something that works for you? I don't feel it really matters beyond that. It's a luxury to be able to choose, and I take advantage of that, when I can.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

My girl friends. They all have very different personal senses of style -- and I love that, because I come to them about different things.

I'm also grateful that my boyfriend has a good sense of style. Sometimes, he doesn't "get" something that I'm going for, and that's fine. I can usually count on him to tell me if something makes sense overall, or is "weird" -- there's no full length mirror at his house, so I usually just ask him.

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

I think I'm definitely aware of things like "professional" and "appropriate" -- from whatever sources or experiences I may derive what that means, I try to keep it in mind while dressing (for work, mainly).

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 good taste, most of the time. Sometimes, I have style, but it's hard for me to see the gestalt of my clothing choices. I don't really think of them as "fashion" choices and I mostly look at fashion magazines for the photographic choices.

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

Hmmm. There have been a few. I bought a black wool coat in a panic that wasn't really the one I wanted, and I wish I'd waited instead of jumping the gun (typical me).

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

I often wear a long, flowy, high-quality skirt that accentuates my waist with a casual (but secretly nice) t-shirt. It makes me feel cool, somehow.

I also am the Queen of eBay -- or the princess, because there is NOTHING my mother cannot find on the interwebs. Doesn't matter if it's been sold out for years, she will find it. On sale.

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

I find that I'm much more open to color and variation in my apartment than I am within my closet. That said, most of my furniture and decor has been handed down from family members. Lucky for me, they are stylish collectors. I did just buy my first "adult" sofa, though! It's West Elm, and I was planning to go with a neutral tone, but ended up picking a nice blue tone (think overdyed indigo)... I surprised myself.

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 lived abroad in Argentina for 6 months, while I was in college. I went there with a program, but it was very loosely structured, and I lived on my own and attended the public university. I didn't like that men in that country will comment or leer at any woman not walking with a man. Every dude from 8-80 had something to say or a look to share, and after some beyond-creepy situations (exposure of private parts, harassment, etc.), I wore the baggiest, unsexiest clothing I could find. It didn't help that the local women, even the ones I considered friends who were just looking out for me, told me that my typical "American" way of dressing was lending itself to such behavior from the Argentine men. I gained 25 lbs and wore nothing but oversized t-shirts, loose jeans, and sneakers.

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 have had moments where I JUST CAN'T CHOOSE what I want to order, or wear, or whatever, but for the most part, I have a clear vision, and I act on that.

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 stepmom definitely did. She always had a lot of very, very nice things, and she took excellent care of them. She bought me a suede brush and showed me how to store and upkeep my nicer items. She bought me a Chanel purse, and had me hand the woman at Neiman Marcus the bills, so that I could be aware of how much that bag actually cost. I pretty much never use it, because it's SO nice, and I am super careful about keeping it stuffed and in its dust bag, etc.

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

I always like to wear a maxi dress/skirt that has an awesome drape and flows behind me when I walk. My hair looks best messy, and I have mastered a subtle cat-eye with liquid eyeliner. I always keep my nails short and manicured -- the moment they start to chip, I take off the polish and swipe on a nourishing base coat to give them a break.

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?

To me, it means that someone is wearing their own skin like the best, most favorite outfit they've ever had -- flaws and all.

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?

I would say:

- Choose nice fabrics. Spend more on well-constructed things, and have fewer of them.
- Definitely indulge in "fast fashion" when you want to try out a new trend or a look (ahem, culottes).
- Figure out what areas of your body you like, and keep them in mind when you're dressing.
- Wear your actual size. It doesn't matter if you size up a ton in a certain brand, and lying to yourself about your size will only get you puckered fabric or drowning in material.
- Try to identify what makes you happy about your favorite items, and seek that out in new ways.

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

Simplicity, candor, naiveté... I could go on forever. Not to sound cheesy, but there are infinite instances of beauty in the world.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Harshness, greed, intolerance. I also really don't like the color orange very much. Still on the fence about purple.

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?

Mostly? I have a gut feeling when I'm taking a chance on something, and can be very impulsive. Since I have to little free time, I will often buy something because I'll be annoyed if I didn't get it, and end up wanting it. I do return a lot of things, or, if I take the tags off, give them to my friends or sell them at resale stores.

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