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Jennifer Armbrust

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

For me, feeling attractive — like radiant, magnetic attractive — is a near mystical experience. It seems to be a combination of:

All biological systems go — feeling healthy and energetic, no digestive issues or bloating, skin in relatively good condition, having exercised at least twice within the week, probably not menstruating.

Taking time for self-care. I feel most attractive when I get to enjoy the processes — bathing, shaving, painting my nails, hair care, thoughtful consideration to selecting clothing and accessories. Undertaking these acts with thoughtful intention is important. Looking in the mirror a lot seems to help, too. I don't know why.

Clothing that fits well, wears easily and conveys the desired emotion. Sometimes a tank top and jeans feels the sexiest — a declaration of nonchalant independence. Other times, it's a dress with heels and jewelry to convey a confident self-consciousness. I feel my best when clothing acts a second skin, a visual representation of my inner landscape.

There is a piece to feeling attractive that is relational too, having to do with receiving wanted attention. The electric synergy of experiencing someone else enjoying my beauty while likewise reveling in theirs is, for me, the most sublime experience of attractiveness. In that state, it doesn't matter what I'm wearing at all.

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

Of course I notice women on the street. Women are unmissable.

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

I am a fan of women who obviously dress to please themselves. I also admire women who embody gender in interesting ways. I like the contradictions, nuances and complexities.

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

I ask myself, "Do you love it?" If it's not a yes, it's a no.

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

I cannot bear words on clothing, unless the words themselves are some kind of conceptual statement and then only very rarely. Otherwise I feel like a walking advertisement.

I am unafraid of matching. Monochromatic outfits, color blocking and pairing stripes with stripes are a YES.

I am generally cranky about fabric blends. Clothes that list more than one fiber are undesirable. Blends with three or more different materials, totally unwearable. Too many fiber types seems like a sad statement of late-stage capitalism - like, "We had some surplus angora, nylon and elastane lying around so we threw in 5% of each with your wool sweater. Hope you like it!"

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

Judith Butler has been a huge influence on my style. Not that I've ever had a conversation with her, but reading Gender Trouble and thinking of gender as performance has been liberating in so many ways.

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

I would describe my life approach as integrated, intuitive, inventive, informed, honest, (overly?) analytical, complex, referential and theoretical. Also, I like improvising and breaking the rules.

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

I buy shirts, bras, and socks in multiple. Because finding the right size and style is the chore. From there it's just color play.

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

Please make this weird lumberjack / industrialist / Kinfolk heritage-chic thing go away. It's the worst kind of whitewashing.

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

At age 13, in 1990, a Jane's Addiction cassette tape changed my life and my wardrobe. It was my entreé to a world of what was then college radio, punk, "alternative music", and grunge. I started thrifting and shopping in the men's section. I was no longer attempting to assimilate an idealized femininity. Instead, my goal became to embody rebellion.

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

Yes. Always.

16. Please describe your body.

I am thin with a somewhat athletic build. My mother is a nutritionist and my father was an athlete. I feel lucky to have been given good genes and healthy habits.

17. Please describe your mind.

Active, agile, methodical, critical, cyclical and full of surprises.

18. Please describe your emotions.

So much (too much?) passion.

23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?

Yes, I think I have both. I see taste as the ability to filter and style as the clear and confident expression of one's Self. "Taste" is sort of a trap though because it often becomes a codified word for class—implying without questioning that richer is better. Is that really a value we still want to be plugging into, collectively in 2014? Is richer better? In this way, "taste" is a questionable virtue.

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

For the past three years I’ve been telling my stylist to cut my hair like a surfer dude. At first she cut it long and shaggy. Now it’s short with swooping bangs. This feels sneaky and subversive. Like, I look like a 36-year old woman but really I’m a 16-year old boy. Or maybe the other way around.

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

So much of what I do in life, personally and professionally, has an aesthetic dimension, whether it’s visual or gestural. Clothes are one expression.

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 love this question. In general, I try to buy clothes that make me feel comfortable and at ease. I do not like fussy or ill-fitting clothes. I seek out items that can be worn thoughtlessly. I wore a particular sweatshirt nearly every day for two years after I moved back to Portland from New York. I think it was part of my recovery process from a traumatic year. It felt like home.

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 am incredibly picky. Or finicky. Or whatever you want to call it. I am keenly aware of my likes and dislikes and never short on strong opinions in clothes and other areas. I don't know where it comes from but my mother rolls her eyes at me often in this regard, which makes me think I've been this way forever.

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 mother taught me about quality and craft and how to pick out a well-made piece of clothing. When I was quite small, she taught me how to sew and I learned about different fabric types. She made most of my wardrobe until I was in fourth grade and I became self-conscious. She also taught me how to care for clothes so that they last. I wish I could remember all of her stain removal techniques but instead I have to look them up on the internet.

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

Clothes and make-up don't make me feel sexy. Lovers do.

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

Last week on Twitter, Yoko Ono posted, "What is beauty? It's what you love." This seems true.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

I think there must be some sort of connection between ugliness, fear and shame.

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

I am usually seeking congruency between the internal and the external—some sort of intuitive harmony between color, texture, shape, how I feel, the emotion I want to convey, how I will be using my body and the weather. I like to be totally at ease in my clothes and unselfconscious about what I'm wearing. I loathe having to adjust, tug, maintain, second-guess or otherwise monitor my outfit once I'm in public—I feel it makes me look insecure.

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


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

I would describe my upbringing as white, middle-class, Lutheran, active, social, creative, outdoors-y and family-centric with an emphasis on education. I grew up in Olympia, Washington, in the 90s, so I would also describe my native culture as feminist, punk, and politically radical. Together, these have imparted a sense of practicality, play and rebellion to my general aesthetic.

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

Converse sneakers usually provide the right amount of levity.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

Sometimes yes.

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

Feelings of surprise, fascination and backwardness.

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

My recent style icons include Patti Smith, David Byrne, and the Bones Brigade with an homage to Esprit from the 80s. I appreciate their playfulness, utilitarianism and irreverence.

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

In my early twenties, I was a bartender with lots of free time. I took up thrifting as a hobby. During this time, I had a dream that I found a blue, A-line nylon quilted coat with gold buttons on the rack of an unspecified thrift store. Two days later I found the SAME COAT at the Goodwill. The exact coat I dreamed. I bought it, of course. I didn't even particularly love it, I was just so enchanted with the kismet of it all. I now have psychic dreams quite regularly, but this was one of my first.

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

Yes, my life partner. Attract, that is.

Answering this question is the first time I've consciously realized that what I wear is part of a larger project to rid my life of [male] harassment, objectification, and patronization. Looking too feminine often makes me feel vulnerable. A a singly, social woman, personal safety is definitely a concern, especially when out at night alone. The way I dress is often an attempt to repel or avoid physical, sexual and emotional violence. A lofty thing to ask of clothes in retrospect, but it feels very real.

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

I feel positively towards essential oils. I like particularly like wearing scents derived from plants. I generally dislike commercial perfumes, especially anything with pheromones. Except that every now and then a lovely, well-dressed lady will swoop by in a soft floral cloud and I appreciate her well-perfected femininity.

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

I don’t wear much. I quit wearing mascara a couple of years ago after wearing it everyday for twenty years. Coincidentally or not, a couple of months later I became I public crier. I’d never cried much in front of others, aside from movies, but now I tear up easily. It feels good and human and soft. I fear that if I start wearing mascara again, I may be less apt to cry.

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

My favorite piece of clothing is a soft, oversized grey sweatshirt that I wore nearly everyday for two years. I used to call it “my boyfriend”. Now it’s so old and worn-out that I can’t wash it for fear it will totally disintegrate. So, I only get to wear it on special days. So, I now call it “special sweatshirt”. Wearing it feels like therapy, cuddling, yoga and a nap all at once.

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

A pair of Vasque hiking boots. So unglamorous. I bought them when I was twenty. I still own them. I rarely wear them. I usually hike in sneakers because the boots are so cumbersome and stiff. They are useful for snowshoeing because they are waterproof.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

I would like to smell like the forest.

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

Someone recently told me I have "style for miles". I never would have thought this about myself but I'd be okay with hearing it again.

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?

I remember being three years old and wanting to wear "the monkey shirt" with red overalls above all else. It was my first favorite outfit. The shirt was a red and blue plaid blouse with rounded collar, so named by me because there was a small monkey embroidered on the tag. I liked the overalls on one hand, but disliked them on the other because they made it so much more difficult to show my best friend Marie which Underoos I was wearing — Wonder Woman, Super Woman or Spider Woman.

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

November 18, 1977. I was born in Olympia, Washington and I live in Portland, Oregon.

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

I am white. My upbringing was very squarely middle-class.

What kind of work do you do?

I am an artist and creative consultant.

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



Jennifer Armbrust resides in Portland, Oregon. She makes a living advising artists, writing, curating, devising conceptual projects and designing websites. In fact, she designed this website you are looking at right now.

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