What is the role of style in a woman’s life?
This is one of the main questions that authors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, aim to answer in their crowd sourced book forthcoming from Penguin in 2014. (For anyone who’s interested, they are accepting surveys until the end of this month. More information can be found here.)
The questions in their survey were probing without being intrusive. In the process of answering the questions, I uncovered a lot about my own motivations of existing as a person.
I realize that this blog post isn’t directly related to my own writing / writing process, but at the same time, the answers I came up with revealed the ways in which I approach my writing as well. Here is an edited version of my answers:
THE STYLE SURVEY
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 was 12 years old and I was in (puppy) love with a boy four years older than I. I think I became conscious not only about what I was wearing, but also about my weight. At one point, I even started watching my food portions. I think that was when I started to adjust myself to my new body where I stopped wearing oversized t-shirts to hide my breasts and opted for more fitted clothes.
When do you feel at your most attractive?
When I have dressed up with care, my clothes carefully chosen, my makeup carefully done, my contact lenses on—this is when I begin to walk with a confident swagger. Sometimes, I become aware of men looking my way and that boosts my ego even more. And when equally confident women also look my way, I know I have got it.
Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you keep buying this thing?
Not really. I try to adapt my clothing to the season and my body shape. Usually, I won’t buy something because it’s in fashion or because it’s trending. I buy stuff that flatter me and is also comfortable. For example, I have started wearing shorts with flowing tops in pastel shades this summer. I am careful to choose colors that suit my skin tone and make me look attractive. The shorts enhance my height, since I am very petite. I also wear flats because I am uncomfortable in heels, even though heels make me look taller.
I am also careful about the durability of the piece. How long will this piece last? Can I wear it through multiple seasons? etc.
What’s your process in getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
It depends on where I am off to. If it’s a meeting with my thesis advisor or a class I am TAing, I will dress more formally. The make up is usually done to enhance my eyes (my best feature) and I leave my glasses on. I might wear a formal dress or a shirt/top with formal pants. If it’s just to meet friends or an errand, I will put on something casual, maybe jeans with a tee? I love t-shirts and have a lot of them. However, I make sure to buy t-shirts that are comfortable and “different”. I have a lot of t-shirts from a green company in India, No Nasties, who specialize in organic and fair trade cotton t-shirts. I keep buying their tees for the comfort and fit, even though they cost a little more.
What are some dressing rules that you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to anyone else, but which you follow?
Be confident in whatever you wear. It’s all about being able to carry it off, even if you are unsure inside. Projecting confidence is important.
What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style? What was said?
Do you think you have taste or style? What do these words mean to you?
I think style and taste are very arbitrary words. I mean, what I might find stylish or tasteful may offend someone else’s aesthetic sense. However having said that, I think I wear stuff that makes me- as an individual- come off as tasteful, if not stylish. I like to look good in what I am wearing, but feel comfortable at the same time. I also believe in being able to look sexy without revealing too much skin, and I believe that is something I have mastered for myself. Then again, if one can be confident in what they are wearing, regardless of whether it’s considered stylish or tasteful by mainstream fashionistas, then does it really matter?
a) Do you consider yourself photogenic?
Yes, at certain angles.
b) When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
It depends on the photograph. Sometimes, when I smile too much, my nose begins to look dumpy. Also, when my neck isn’t visible in a photo, my face looks fat. But to be honest, I do not like being in front of the camera much, as much as behind it. When I was in India for four months, I traveled a lot and took a lot of photos, yet there are only a handful of me to document that I had actually been to certain places and seen certain monuments.
I sort of regret not being a camera whore. I have been trying to change this, and trying to document myself more, through photographs. However, I have realized that if I don’t do this consciously, I don’t get photographed. Le sigh.
a) What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?
Mostly confidence. I envy confidence, because I have to keep reminding myself that I can be all that if I only believe in it. There is a woman I particularly admire- Sharanya Manivannan. She is a poet and writer based in India, and she knows how to dress with panache.
I also admire my younger sister’s ability to throw together stuff and manage to look ravishing. I think I have learnt a lot about fashion and make up over the years from my sister.
b) Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?
a) How and when do you shop for clothes?
When I am in the States (which is twice a year) because it’s cheaper. Also, when I am in India. I need to try clothes on in person and see myself a few times before I decide to buy something. Accessories, however, do not require that much thought.
b) Do you have any shopping rules you follow?
Yes. I always ask myself: do I need this or do I want this? Sometimes, if the piece of clothing is especially flattering on me, the latter wins.
a) What is your favourite piece (of clothing or jewellery)?
Don’t have one.
b) What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
A handwoven Kashmiri woolen stole from India. Since it’s black with intricate stitching, it goes with almost anything. I love this item in the winter as it’s warm as hell. Yes, I still own it and still wear it.
Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
Yes, after I finished my Master’s in 2011, I realized that I needed to dress to impress. Back in graduate school (then), I did not care about what I wore. I wore whatever was available and to be honest, most days, I looked sloppy. Now I realize that clothing matters. People judge you by what you wear and how you appear. And this judgment can have a direct impact on your self esteem. I had really low self esteem back then, and was unsure of a lot of life choices. I was also very socially awkward. Things are different now. I dress to look good, to exude confidence. I am also able to mingle easily now.
Do you care about lingerie?
Yes, they need to be sexy and comfortable.
How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?
See answer to question 12.
Can you recall any times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?
a) What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
Nothing on my face, except my glasses and lip balm. I am in my bright blue loose pjs and a Tantra t-shirt I only wear at home. My hair is tied up in a knot.
b) How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I wear makeup only when I leave the house. Sometimes, I only do up my eyes and slap on some lip balm.
I used to hate wearing makeup and it’s only recently that I have learnt to tolerate wearing it regularly. But whenever I am at home, it’s no makeup for me.
c) What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
Perfume is so bourgeoisie. I have never bought perfume for myself. The perfume I own have all been gifts. I put on Dove body spray on a daily basis. It’s understated and makes me smell pleasant without being obnoxious.
Is there any article of clothing, piece of make-up, or accessory you carry with you or wear every day?
Yes, black eyeliner and lip balm. Without fail. I am nothing without them.
a) Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?
Do books count? I care a lot about what I am reading outside of school. Usually, a lot of literary fiction.
b) Do you think you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances and chores? What is it?
Sure, I am always thinking about the lead up. Where is this all leading up to? The way I am, the way I appear to be, the time I am putting in, the friends I have, what is the point of it all? Will this lead to a better me? What is the big picture? I am always worried about the big picture, the end goal of it all. It helps me keep my life in control.
What would be a difficult look for you to try and achieve?
A free spirit? I need some structure to my life. Without (a little bit of) structure, I am lost. Yet, I lose structure when I am on a “break”. So, I am not really sure.