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Mary Mann

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

A lot of this has to do with hair. Shitty hair makes everything else feel shittier. But when my hair's nice, and I'm wearing a comfortable, swishy dress, then I feel I look my best. But even when all those things fall into place, if my work isn't going well—if I am feeling stupid or weird or untalented that particular day—then the feeling of attractiveness goes away.

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

Women who seem very at ease in themselves make everything they put on look comfortable. Even in high school I knew these women as calm, collected, clean people—it seems impossible. Were they born with confidence? Were their parents just amazing at instilling it? I was an anxious member of the marching band who always had a smudge on her face. I still feel like that person sometimes. I probably won't become self-assured until I stop trying so hard to be so.

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

A bra isn't necessary when the fabric is thick enough. Short dresses should be worn with shorts underneath (this is mostly because I don't trust myself to be aware of how I'm sitting).

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

All my friends, male and female, talk about clothes sometimes. I think it's natural to be concerned with how you are perceived, and face, hair and clothing are the first things everybody sees. But transformative is not the word I'd use for these conversations. Mostly these conversations are soothing. Clothing is a part of life we can control to a greater extent than other parts (I can buy red pants if I want red pants, but I can't make someone like me if they don't already.) When a friend of mine was diagnosed with adult-onset epilepsy (not fatal, just really crappy), one of the first things she did was go through her clothes and bag things to give away. She couldn't clean out her brain so she cleaned out her closet.

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

Green shirts and dresses. I buy them because my eyes are green and I'm vain about them. I feel about my eyes the way Jo March felt about her hair, which her sister Amy called her “one beauty.”

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

It's impossible to live with friends as roommates for nearly a decade without borrowing their clothes. (Though I don't know if that's true for guys.) It's one of the things I miss most about roommates, now that I live with my boyfriend. Just trying on each other's things and talking about them. There's something so nice about it. So easy. Although as I'm thinking about it, I think this happens more fluidly when you're younger, maybe because your identity isn't fully formed yet. When I was eighteen my friend Allison and I would wear each other's clothes all the time. But when I lived with Martha eight years later we hardly ever wore each other's clothes. And Martha has great clothes.

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

My first office job changed my style drastically. And moving to New York—but these two things happened at the same time. For a few years after college I was kind of all over the place. I was a kayak guide for a while, a waitress, a hostess, and I worked on a couple farms. There were less clothes, because I was moving a lot, and they were all a little rattier than what I own now—just frayed cuffs, or sloppy seams I'd sewn myself. Corduroys. Overalls. I had this halter top I'd made by cutting up a little boy's shirt I got at a Goodwill. Anyway, I was in Vietnam when I made the decision to move to New York—I wanted to write and didn't know any writers, so I decided to move to where I thought the most writers and writing jobs were. My friend Dana went with me to a tailor called Yaly in the town of Hoi An. The town is known for inexpensive bespoke clothing and tailors line all the streets. I picked a pale grey fabric and decided to get a three-piece pantsuit made: pants, blazer, vest. Hoi An was very hot and humid and I sweated through the suit when I went for my fitting, which made me feel cranky and dumb and like I would never get a job. When I moved to New York it was the only suit I had and I kept it in the bathroom so the steam would keep the wrinkles out. I wore it to job interviews until I got one. I was always overdressed. Now my clothes are somewhere in the middle. Mostly dresses.

16. Please describe your body.

I just helped a friend make a Match profile and this was one of the questions. They gave options, though, like Slender, Athletic and Toned, Curvy, etc. She didn't trust her own judgment or mine (as a female friend with similar anxieties as hers she figured I'd be too complimentary), so she texted an ex she's friends with and asked him what her body type was, typing in the options for him. He said Slender. We have similar bodies, so I'll say slender too. I like running and yoga, but I also eat a lot of snacks.

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

It's burning up hot in New York City and I'm working from home, so I'm wearing underwear and my bathrobe, which is some sort of silky fabric, blue with yellow flowers. My hair is in a ponytail. Also I'm wearing my glasses, very normal black frames, which I don't wear too much in the outside world. I'm not wearing any makeup. My toenails are painted purple.

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

It feels silly to say, but yoga pants really do make butts look better than they do sans yoga pants. I worked at lululemon for a few spandex-and-body-dysmorphia-filled months, and while there I scored an impressive haul of heavily discounted yoga pants. My dream is that they'll stay attractive and stretchy for the rest of my life. It's been a couple years, and so far so good.

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

My apartment feels very comfortable to me, so it probably reflects my style. Brown couch. Green and white walls. White bookshelf. Lots of good books, and a few old kids books for when I feel anxious. Photos of family, friends, my boyfriend's family and friends. Odds and ends—seashells, a white and blue vase, a wooden fish mobile—which remind me of places I've lived or traveled. Things that make me feel comfortable. The two best things I own are both hand-me-downs from my grandmother: a little wood-fronted radio and an orange hard-bodied Amelia Earhart suitcase. They're special and beautiful partly because I didn't have to think about them. I didn't see them in a store and say “these would look special and beautiful in my apartment, wrap 'em up!” My grandma just gave them to me. Having at least one relation with good taste is helpful in life.

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

If I have to be somewhere early I'll have laid out my clothes the night before and then I just put them on, put in contacts and put on mascara, do whatever I need to do that day to make my hair work, and go. (I shower at night.) But if it's a normal day I like to get up early, put on my bathrobe and make coffee first. Then I can poke around inside my closet and pull things out of my dresser and see what feels good. I get into clothing ruts, when my favorite new shirt becomes my only shirt, and if I notice I'm doing this I'll make an effort to pick something new, because I don't want to get sick of the favorite shirt. It's like Zorba being obsessed with cherries and curing himself by eating all the cherries he could. He never wanted cherries again. I don't want that to happen with me and the things I like.

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

Attractive comfort. I admire glamour but have a hard time achieving it. Spilling things, or getting fabric caught on things, or sitting with my feet up on the seat all deglamorize clothes. And if something isn't comfortable I'll be cranky and distracted until I can change. I hope to look and feel like I belong in my clothes.

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

Most days I put on mascara. It makes me feel more ladylike. When I get dressed up I put on eyeliner. And in the winter I wear blush because otherwise I think I'm too pale. I admire women who can pull off a deep red lipstick but every time I try I end up looking like a kid who got into her mom's makeup drawer.

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

My closet is pretty neat, but my dresser is sort of a mess. My sister and I had to fold all the family clothes when we were kids, and my dad was particular about the state of his clothes (he wanted his shirts folded the way he learned to fold in the Navy) so I'm averse to folding. Laundry is also a pain so I tend to wash items as I need them in the shower with me.

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

There's always a cardigan on my body or in my bag. We are crazy people with our heaters and our air conditioners, and I always regret it when I don't have a layer to put on or take off. I especially like cardigans with pockets, not so much for putting things in (although that's nice), but more as a place to put my hands.

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