Read Surveys (By Author)
1. When do you feel at your most attractive?
When, in dress, jest and gesture, I feel most aligned with who I believe myself to be.
2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?
Yes I notice women on the street, on the bus, on their bikes, on patios – everywhere! What catches my eye are women who exhibit their own style, who don’t look like they just stepped out of a photo shoot for Monocle magazine or who’ve been “discovered” by The Sartorialist – both heavy on the “Brooklyn Bun and Beard Set” look, as I call it. What attracts my attention is personal flair that’s either channeling elegance, fun and casual, or even kookiness, all the while achieving a balance, or harmony, of some sort. I also very much gravitate towards either a muted tonal palette, or, contrarily, the vivid palette of the fauves.
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
Sadly, I haven’t enjoyed this kind of conversation with anyone. But I’ve nonetheless had a transformative experience of communication concerning clothing and style: I read the book “The Thoughtful Dresser” by Linda Grant. This is a stunning collection of writing that brings together essays by Grant, ranging wide with regard to clothing, people who care about clothing (and those who claim they don’t), style and so on. The essays are so stirring, engaging and profoundly thoughtful that reading them was as intimate an experience, and almost as satisfying, as having a live conversation with someone.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
I have a many things in multiple: I have my two favourite jeans in a few different sizes to accommodate fluctuating weight (I’m petite so 5 lbs more or less means new pants are required.)
This kind of multiple reminds me of something in a Clark Blaise* short story (can’t remember the title right now) I read about 20 years ago; set in Montreal, a girl lives next door to a “cool” family, and the “cool” mother has given some advice about buying clothes, specifically jeans: when you come across a pair of jeans that fit properly, buy two pair. And it’s true! Jeans are so hard to find in the right fit.
*Update: I facebook messaged with Clark Blaise this morning (I was stunned that he replied, and almost instantly!), and he’s pretty sure that this didn’t come from a story of his. As I replied to Mr. Blaise, it’s still good advice.
10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?
Because I’m a clothing designer/maker, I often offer gifts of clothing that I’ve made. Most recently, and most significantly, I offered a silk top to a business colleague with whom I’ve been experiencing enormous conflict. We clash on most every level at the moment, yet I’m mystified as to what’s at the heart of this dynamic. So, I simply offered my willingness to find peace between us, and offered her this silk top as one would pass the peace pipe.
16. Please describe your body.
Sigh, aging. I’m petite, slim, strong and fit. Well proportioned, though a bit pear-shaped, as they say.
17. Please describe your mind.
Do you mean my mind, or my brain? I’ve given a lot of thought to what these are, and their differences. So I’ll describe both:
I've come to see my mind as a beautiful and poetic, living and every-evolving core element of self. Different and separate from thoughts and emotions, yet composed of them too. I experience my mind as the place where my thoughts and emotions come together with my spirit and heart - it's from where I can become my most intentional and embodied self, and my most responsible and accountable self. So, my mind is my place of emancipation where I become, and from where I emerge, a free agent.
Fast and fertile, firing from both hemispheres equally (ie: very creative and intuitive, and very analytical and pragmatic).
18. Please describe your emotions.
Strong, deep, varied, pretty stable.
19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
I’m wearing a dress that I made in vicinity of 1990 that has since become a “house dress”; it’s so short, even after adding on about 4 inches to the hem, that I don’t feel comfortable wearing it out. (In the 90s I wore it all over Montreal, riding my bike, at work, no concern for its length – which was, remember, 4 inches shorter than it is now.) And I’m wearing just the dress as I’m at home, on my balcony with my feet up, at the end of a long and demanding day.
No make up.
My hair isn’t “done”, but I think it’s holding up alright. A choppy short cut for summer.
20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?
I think it’s hugely important. I see clothing as more than how we cover ourselves: it extends to how we carry ourselves, and to how we conduct ourselves.
Clothing is part of identity: like my Father in his sailor costume for the day, spinning tales; like me as Stephen on the train in my DIY boy scout shirt; we can explore who we want to be, play at being who we aren’t; and we can affirm and celebrate who we are, letting others in on the story with hints and invitations through our garb.
Clothing is also political, as we were so sharply reminded, again, with the April 2013 collapse of the Bangladeshi garment factory. How we clothe ourselves is part of how we concern ourselves with the world around us, and how we care for it.
So, for me, clothing is far more than what easily meets the eye; it’s about being conscious and conscientious.
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 still worked in my previous career, I was recruited into a fairly elevated position in a prestigious organization. I soon discovered that the work, at that level, brought with it other staff that were very into their status and power, something for which I was wholly unprepared, never having encountered it before and having no interest, myself, in such aspects of work.
Within months, the work environment became unpleasant and bizarre, rife with personnel politics and power plays that were way over my head. I finally understood that I’d been set-up by one or two colleagues (never knew for sure) and when I was called on to the carpet, so to speak, I planned out my attire accordingly. On the brilliant suggestion of a friend, I wore something that I’d made to reassure myself of my talents and abilities, and to protect myself from the effrontery and ugly smallness of this place and its people. The piece I wore is called The Gauze Shield. It worked. At the end of the awful meeting, I walked out that door, leaving my 20-year career behind me, and walked into my new one as the clothing designer that I am today.
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?
I was pretty much left to my own devices, growing up. Both my parents had mental illness and had separated when I was infant. I lived with my Mother, and my Father took me out for afternoons until he was deported back to the U.S. from Canada when I was about 10. It’s not all as dire and spare as it sounds. Despite, my Mother’s mental illness encumbering her ability to be fully present to me, I experienced some wonderful freedoms from within that partially-abandoned place.
At 15, during one of my Mother’s hospitalizations, it was decided by workers who were empowered to make such decisions that I would be left to live in our apartment on my own during weekends when the social services-dispatched homekeeper left for her weekend off.
My Mother had given me money to buy my food during my time alone. I bought a dress with the money. When home again, my Mom saw the dress, duly loved it, and when I told her how I bought it she gave me a sly, approving smile. Her contentment was genuine: through me and my act of defiance and self-indulgence, she was happy and reassured in the knowledge that there was pleasure to be had in the world: there were seemingly irrational, frivolous purchases made by people who were so often diminished and overlooked, and there were no regrets.
My Father, a struggling poet who struggled mostly with his mental illness, enjoyed inhabiting characters in his day-to-day life. So on one of his visits with me, I remember he was dressed like a French sailor. We wandered Vancouver’s Chinatown where he lived, entering shops he knew where he’d tell tall tales about where he’d been and who I was. I loved this. I understood instantly the great power in clothing, and its connection to stories and identities – from that day forward, I’ve understood the narrative current that runs through clothing, and flows from it, and that invites playfulness and freedom.
30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?
I don’t tend to think in those terms, so I don’t dress that way. I dress for myself, wanting to find the right outfit to extend/channel/communicate who I am of myself in that day. If I feel comfortable in my clothing then I feel that I’ve achieved what might be considered, by others, the quest to be alluring – though in my case I’m trying to be “alluring” to myself, not to others.
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 be comfortable, as with being confident, means that I’m not compromising who I am with what I’m wearing. I strive to embody who I am in all that I do, and so my beliefs and values (around body-image, femininity/feminism, conscientious consumerism, marketplace/marketing dictates) inform how I dress, from a style perspective as much as from a sourcing perspective.
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’m very aware of colour and texture, and bring these aspects to bear on the less commonly considered elements of dressing – socks, jewelry, underwear, eyewear – as well as to the obvious ones; with all these parts now in the mix, shape and drape are then introduced into the composition. Harmonizing these things doesn’t necessarily mean making everything match, but rather finding balance and complementarity between them.
I also like to think about including some humour or levity, which is often achieved with colour, and/or print.
And, finally, though foremost, dressing is narrative; it’s the evocation of story, conjuring forth the worlds within us at a visual and tactile level, and connecting to the worlds around us. All that means that it’s really important to be self-aware, so that the story is true – so that the self seen is congruent with the self shepherded forward out outward. So, I guess it’s then important, for some, to have the boldness to bring self out, true self, so that we’re sharing true stories.
33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?
My interest in beauty is broad: I see beauty as part of living well, in gesture and endeavour, expressed through all the ways in which we engage the world around us day by day—beauty writ large. Am I gracious in this world, and toward it; are you? That’s beauty.
As for physical/objects of beauty: all of the work by Christo & Jeanne-Claude; phosphorescent water; Kim Basinger in The Door in the Floor; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou by Wes Anderson; Shopgirl by Steve Martin; the Mabou photos by Robert Frank; the still and quiet of boulevard Saint-Laurent after a big snow storm; the dunes of Holland; the aurora borealis; Sam Shepard in Days of Heaven; the badlands.
34. What do you consider very ugly?
Again, it’s first about behaviour and how we treat each other: smallness, disingenuity (? disingenuousness ?), hypocrisy, self-righteousness, greed, narcissism – all come quickly to mind as forms of ugliness.
In the material: litter/pollution; logo-plastered anything
38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?
I’m trying to best align my outer appearance with my inner landscape for that day/moment/event – the purpose for which I’m dressing, which includes simply being at home too.
42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?
I’m a white Canadian woman of Irish and French descent on my Father’s side, and British mongrel mix on my Mother’s. I grew up on the west coast in Vancouver in the 60s and 70s – which was then a much gentler time and place. My Father is American and my Mother is Canadian.
Although I was raised on welfare by a single Mom who struggled with mental illness, I was raised with enormous unconditional love: my Mother thought that I was amazing, and that everything I did was amazing too – my writing, my artwork, my sewing, how I decorated my room; even my thoughts and attitudes. So while plagued as most teens are by all kinds of social pressures, and with little means in terms of family wealth, I nonetheless had a strong sense of myself and my own worth.
My Mother was a very bright woman (probably born at the wrong time), and had a pretty sophisticated understanding of power, authority and the workings of social order; and, perhaps because of her own experience at the bottom of these things, she held much of it in disdain, ruing convention and its attendant rules – all this she passed along to me.
So the self-confidence I possessed growing up, and the awareness of (and disregard for) aspects of social conditioning, catalyzed into the freedom I’ve enjoyed to be me, and to wear what I want, unbothered by the opinions of others. So, since my teens, I cultivated a strong personal style that exists somewhat outside such prescriptions of fashion industry as the Panetone colours for the season, the length of the hemline, the width of the pant leg, and so on.
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?
Between 2006 – 2008, when I worked in the most mainstream of work environments during my previous career (I worked for a national not-for-profit, but my office was located within my local school board building), I tried to wear “professional” attire. I did my best to conform, acquiring pieces that seemed to me to be totally in keeping with officewear, though whenever I attended meetings I was always the “one of these things doesn’t belong here”. Yet, those clothes, my straight disguise so to speak, existed far outside of what I would otherwise wear, at any time; and I was always keen to get home and change into something that more resembled me, and felt right.
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 loved being female for a very long time. However, I was a diehard tomboy as a girl, from the ages of about 8 to 10 or so (before that I wore beige leotards on my head to have long “hair”, wanting very much to be girly).
When I was 8, with the complicity of my Mother, I passed myself off as a boy during a summer vacation when we traveled through Alberta to visit my Mom’s two maternal aunts, and with my pixie haircut I was convincing as “Stephen”. At some point before that trip, I had sewn cut-out bits of an old sheet onto a shirt of mine, and with no apparent concern for verisimilitude at all, I considered these bits of cloth my boy scout patches. This shirt I wore throughout our Alberta visit, and during the train ride home to Vancouver from Edmonton – Stephen’s summer road-trip.
When I was 10, I spent the summer in the backwash of Texas, at the end of a dirt road outside Hunstville. The family I was living with sent us 4 kids to bible camp every day. There, I passed myself off as Mike, and the 3 kids from my house went along with this gleefully. One day when camp was out, one of the camp leaders, a middle-aged Texan matron, came down that dirt road for some reason. We all stood around her car, the adults of my house, the Texan camp matron, and us kids. The matron was talking on and on in her Texan matron drawl about Mike until finally one of the adults had to ask: who’s Mike? I have no recollection of what happened next – what might be the funniest part of the story is gone forever.
56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?
High heels. Frothy, poofy. Botox bombshell babe.
58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?
I’m not that object-oriented, so no; though sometimes I wonder if I might be better served if I were.
61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?
I like to feel clean, so washing is important, which includes brushing my teeth; I rarely run a comb through my hair, but I always brush my teeth.
As for dressing myself, as I’ve emphasized throughout this piece, I wear what feels right to me each day. So, this means, almost always, that I wear something different every day because I don’t feel the same way every day. I feel very uncomfortable wearing the same thing over and over again, and it almost never happens anyway (camping being the happy exception).
Lastly, despite all my talk of my rugged individualism, and self-actualization through clothes and so on, I don’t like to stand out, which may sound like an enormous contradiction. But I don’t think that it is. For example, if I’m going to a wedding, I’m not going in jeans – but I wouldn’t feel like wearing jeans anyway because I’m going to wedding and I don’t want to stand out. I will wear what I think is presentable and appropriate for the wedding, from my own closet. So because I’m pulling from my own wardrobe, my curatorial eye, so to speak, what amounts to my personal and individual self, has already intervened and informed the selection from which I will make my final sartorial choice. And, as per almost usual, I will still stand out in terms of what others are wearing, but I feel ok because I’ve been true to myself as much as I can be, so I feel presentable.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I occasionally use make-up, but rarely; and when I do it’s so light that I’m sure no ones knows but me. In the summer, when I think to, I wear nail polish on my toes.
75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?
When he was 20, my son spent some time in Morocco and came home with a beautiful, muslin gauze scarf that I coveted. My son though, a bit of a clothing hound himself, wasn’t shaken enough by my persistent begging to relinquish this memento. But, two years later, for Christmas, this was his gift to me. The scarf still had his scent on it, and wearing it was divine. The scent has long dissipated, but I still love and cherish this scarf.
77. How and when do you shop for clothes?
I don’t shop much for clothes now, given my retracted budget as a self-employed emergent clothing designer. If I do, I mostly shop in a great consignment shop here in Vancouver, where I’m selling stuff out of my wardrobe to them and then using the revenue to make purchases in the store.
Becoming broke has been a very expansive experience, yielding some very Buddhist-like perspectives and practices with regard to acquisition in general, so the drop off in shopping has been a powerful shift, and it’s all positive.
I should hasten to add that I have a lot of clothes so shopping really isn’t necessary: my wardrobe is amply stocked from my “past life” when I made money and shopped, and also it contains a lot of my own work as a result of me working out designs till they’re ready for the racks for others.
So while it’s true that I don’t really shop much at all anymore, I still continue to come into new clothes on a regular basis.
78. Do you like to smell a certain way?
The only scent I wear, when I do, is Guerlain Vetiver for men.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born Sept 23, 1961 in Vancouver, Canada; and much to my puzzlement, and chagrin, I live in Vancouver at the moment.
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
I'm a dual citizen, Canadian/American, and connect deeply with both identities.
What kind of work do you do?
I currently closing down clothing design company – I did it all: design, make, promote, manage – which included operating a store in Vancouver. I now focus my creative work on photography and writing.
Prior to all this, I worked for 20 years in the not-for-profit world, first in media arts, and then in community development in the social and education sectors.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Single (I refuse to employ the term “divorced”, though I’m that too.)
I live alone in my own live/work space.
I have a grown-up son who currently lives in Montreal.
Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.
I’ve loved writing since my youth. I was published a few times in the 90s – a poem in French in la revue des aminmaux, and a photo/text, also in French, in Ciel Variable – and I’ve returned to photo-based work that incorporates text. I also make books, which is more of a conceptual practice than a literary one.
Since this spring, I’ve entered a very creative time in my life, perhaps unleashed now that the trauma induced by the vanishing of my ex-husband is now behind me (at 23h during the 2010 xmas holidays he just walked out the door to the new apartment he’d acquired on the sly; with no conflict or indications of unhappiness up to that point, this event was a complete shock). I was in the midst of the final steps to launch my clothing company in the month before he left, so that fateful night put everything on ice till I recovered, which took a long time. (He’d been supporting me financially during the lead-up to the launch so his departure was devastating on virtually every level.)
BUT, I’m now “back”, and my energy, interests, ideas and focus, are coming together in a variety of creative projects that bring together and utilize the many practices I’ve engaged in over the years – making clothes, making films and photography, and writing; even all that management and development work is coming in handy.
This Women in Clothes book project, and my contribution (for consideration) to it, is all part of the creative trajectory unfolding before me, where opportunities roll toward me as much as I reach out to find them.
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
Living with these questions, and my answers, for a few days, I’m struck by the linearity or logic to the evolution of my relationship to clothing, and to my thinking on the topic. The root system is so well defined. From early on, it seems, I was being prepared to be exactly who I am today.
What stands out most, perhaps, is the centrality of how one thinks to how one behaves, and in this context, to how one dresses – at least, in my case. And it occurs to me now, at this very moment as I type these words, that all this is summed up in the tag line I developed for my clothing company: think slow | dress with your mind. (The “slow” referring to slow fashion, which is I what I do.)
The other thing that welled up and feels so good is the love and admiration I feel for both my parents, and my sense of thanks for what they gave me, in the face of enormous adversity, and maybe because of it.
Zoe Welch makes photographs - zoetrope.me - and makes women’s clothes - libdesigns.ca. She currently lives in Vancouver, but is planning her get-away.