I am & have always been a huge fan of lists & celebrity profiles, so I was taken when teen magazines introduced me to the beautifully reductive hybrid of the two: multiple choice & fill-in-the-blank interviews. Myspace.com then coopted & further popularized the form, and since I didn’t like the formatting of the Myspace website, I would copy & paste the Myspace quizzes and send my answers to my cousin in a private email instead. These prompts were usually along the lines of “current crush?” or “tattoos?” or “have you ever smoked ____?” For a while, this was main way my cousin & I communicated. I later graduated on to The Proust Questionnaire as introduced to me by Vanity Fair magazine and Inside the Actor’s Studio.
The Proust Questionnaire is so called because in 1890 Marcel Proust came up with a particularly memorable set of answers in his friend Antoinette’s “Confession Album” (Confession Album, e.g. a book of prompts that was popular with adolescents, a 19th c. Myspace equivalent). Later, his answers were found and auctioned off for a lot of money. I like the original prompts in The Proust Questionnaire a lot, but I can’t (yet) hold myself to asking the very same set of questions to every person I’m curious about, so I’m continually remaking it in the form of The Keep Questionnaire. The backbone of our questionnaire will remain constant, but I can almost guarantee I’ll be updating prompts from edition to edition. For The Identity Edition, I am predictably focusing on our participants’ relationships to style and identity.
And now I’d like to introduce the first three to complete The Keep Questionnaire: Hattie Lindsley, Sally Emery and Amanda Reid, three ladies from different parts of my life who I befriended out of interest in & respect for their style. They have remained my among my favorite people for just about every reason, but I truly believe our friendships became inevitable as soon as we saw and liked each others’ outfits. I swear that I saw their worldviews in their clothing, and it’s that sense, above even our accumulated experiences, that assures me that my bond with these girls isn’t going anywhere.
I met Hattie in Florence, Italy on a study abroad program in 2011. She was the first person I knew to tie a feather in her hair, and the only person I’ve seen in real life who doesn’t look stupid with one, so I went up and talked to her during orientation. The only shoes she brought to Europe with her were cowboy boots and glitter-gold Nike high-tops. She spent all the money available to her buying rugs (someday “family heirlooms!”) in Turkey. She introduced me to my fantasy hotels, the paintings of Fritz Scholder and she taught me how to crack a whip at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I still can’t get over the fact that she hasn’t yet written me off as too boring or too neurotic to be her friend, so I was not particularly surprised that she opted out of responding to a good third of the questions in the questionnaire. (I imagine her saying to herself, "I don't have time for this. I have to go buy myself Silkie chickens for my birthday.") This is Hattie: the lady who I never could & will always want to be.
I met Amanda our freshman year at Williams College in line for bagels. That was the first time we spoke, but I’d already noticed how defiantly she wore her bright tights & bomber jackets, a definite departure from the defacto campus uniform of riding boots, dark wash jeans & Patagonia fleeces, and I’d marked her as a dream friend. One day she told me she saw a disembodied hot pink skirt & wondered to herself what this cool looking person was doing at our lame school. She then told me that everything made sense again once she saw that it was me, and I was floored to discover that she saw me just as I did her. We grew into real friends who shared a therapist and had tea parties on my bedroom floor and continued to compliment each other on our outfits. And then we took a dance class together (which was really more like the loveliest cult) where we explored each others’ bodies in the most intimate, uncomfortable & politically charged ways imaginable, and had the rare chance to make explicit just how much we trusted each other & confirm just how right we’d been to admire each other for our respective outfits.
I met Sally in Chatham, Massachusetts the summer before 8th grade for me, 7th for her. We got along plenty well, but I didn’t realize how much I liked her until the next summer when I got to see her wardrobe on an almost daily basis and saw firsthand how well she knew her way around a thrift store. She had the most perfect jean cut-offs, and she knew how to sew. Sally is cute by any definition. She’s small & she’s smiley & sometimes she snorts even when she’s not laughing. Granted, it’s almost always summertime when I see her, but she also usually looks like she’s just gotten off of a fishing boat. That’s to say there’s something definitively coastal about her look and wild about her demeanor. Sal looks like “nostalgia,” and that’s probably because she and her world look like the “Classic Americana” we’ve been trained to see (she’s into antiques, tarnished silver jewelry, hand-me-downs and her family has this incredible old safari-type jeep). But she so convincingly, and perhaps more importantly, unassumingly, wears the stories that she knows. She’s only charming - zero parts caricature, zero parts pretense.
What’s your favorite time of day? Pink hour.
What’s your favorite place? Mexico City.
What’s your favorite sound? Hazy Feminine Electronic Echoes & 70s.
What’s your favorite word? - -
Favorite book? - -
Favorite artform? Collage.
Favorite form of transportation? Rollerblading.
Favorite painting? Cy Twombly, all the way.
Favorite person? - -
Favorite food? Gravy.
Favorite name? - -
Favorite thing about yourself? - -
Favorite recent memory? Driving on a long gravel road down Pinto Canyon and soaking in Lithium hot springs at sunset.
Favorite childhood memory? Learning to unsaddle my horse.
Favorite leisure activity? Creating and communicating.
Favorite quotation? Just reading obituary about Bill Armstrong: “Don’t just talk - try to entertain.”
What is your most worn article of clothing? Gold nikes.
What are your thoughts on uniforms? Dress codes? Love it for the creativity that seeps through the pores
How do you plan what to wear? In winter it depends on pants & footwear which I hate. In summer it’s whatever I can sweat in. Sometimes I want to feel naked. I dress best when I’m craving something. If I have music playing, I’ll look better. My paintings are more aggressive and romantic if I’m dancing.
What armful of things would you carry out of your home in a fire? I hate this question.
Why do you care about clothing? It’s so hilariously telling. You can express lots of emotions or communicate exactly how bad your day has been.
What do your things say about you? I love visual history. Sense of place. Luxury.
What is your favorite t-shirt? [My dad] Hays’ shirt. White long sleeve oxford my dad ripped and mowed the lawn in.
Do you have a stylistic “trademark?” - -
Can you write a haiku (or sentence, if you prefer) about your style?
Prairie style expanse
Mauve sparkles flat wild
It's Dallas, baby
If we were to throw a party and require you to wear your favorite outfit, what would you show up in? Pink silk wide leg pants.
What is style? - -
What is taste? I can only think of gravy.
What is beauty? Still gravy… Beauty is tranquilizing, energetic and blinding. Takes your breath away.
If you were to be cremated, where would your ashes go? - -
If you were to be reincarnated as an inanimate object, what would it be? An awesome leather lounge chair.
Greatest achievement to date? Watercolor portraits and befriending cowboys.
When or where did you feel most like yourself? Driving across Texas or anytime I got through airport security.
When or where did you most like yourself? Anytime I can pull off an outfit (same) three days in a row.
What do you regret? Not producing everything I always imagined.
What did you learn from your parents? To worship those that make you happy and feed them.
What did you learn in school? That women are almighty! And religion is conquest.
What did you need to unlearn after school? - -
What do you spend your money on? Food. Paintbrushes.
Who do you admire? Showstoppers and shitkickers.
How do you know when you love something or someone? I want it all the time, all times of the day, unhealthily so.
What makes you really, really happy? A rich southern breakfast with friends and surprising people.
What’s your favorite time of day? Late morning (10 am).
What’s your favorite place? Sedona.
What’s your favorite sound? Heaving tropical rain.
What’s your favorite word? Irregardless.
Favorite book? Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith.
Favorite artform? Installation.
Favorite form of transportation? Trains.
Favorite painting? Ad Reinhardt. Abstract Painting. 1963
Favorite person? My big sister.
Favorite food? Almond paste.
Favorite name? Cecily.
Favorite thing about yourself? I’m good at taking care of myself and choosing good friends. I like that I’m affectionate and warm.
Favorite recent memory? Dancing.
Favorite childhood memory? Being in Jamaica with my family.
Favorite leisure activity? Reading romance novels, planning.
Favorite quotation? - -
What is your most worn article of clothing? Coats! Because I live in the frozen north! But I am also accumulating a collection of staple layering jackets that I wear a lot.
What are your thoughts on uniforms? Dress codes? I used be to very anti-uniform - something was worth buying even if you only wore it once as long as it make you feel special. Now I find a lot of pleasure in having less that clothes that all fit together.
How do you plan what to wear? I always imagine how I want to feeling walking down the street. I imagine what kind of confidence I need that day.
What armful of things would you carry out of your home in a fire? My research files, my (music) records, my silk dresses I got made for me in Vietnam, my grandma’s beret, my rings (if I didn’t already have them on).
Why do you care about clothing? Because I wear it on my body! They’re probably the objects we have the most intimate relationships with. And to be honest, the control freak in me loves to have power of my self-presentation.
What do your things say about you? That I’m full of effort! I don’t understand trying to look effortless!
What is your favorite t-shirt? I have this super stretched out black tank-top that’s U-neck in the back and front and it hangs PERFECTLY. Every time I wash it I”m afraid it’s going to fall apart.
Do you have a stylistic “trademark?” If so, what is it and how did it come about? People notice that my hair changes everyday - I think it comes from my mom braiding my hair every morning when I was little. It separates home Amanda from public Amanda. I also wear Fei Yue canvas sneakers that my dad buys me in Shanghai. I always have an extra unworn pair!
Can you write a haiku (or sentence, if you prefer) about your style? Loose clean lines, hanging slightly off center.
If we were to throw a party and require you to wear your favorite outfit, what
would you show up in? High waisted Reformation neoprene pants, baggy black tank, crew neck cropped Madewell jacket, sneakers.
What is style? It’s when you look like you know what you want.
What is taste? Choosing things other people desire.
What is beauty? Something that jolts you out of the mundane.
If you were to be cremated, where would your ashes go? Suze! This is a hard question! To a random person across the world with a note with instructions to keeping sending.
If you were to be reincarnated as an inanimate object, what would it be? A sweater :) (Natural fibers, of course.)
Greatest achievement to date? Learning how to ride a motorbike. Learning the dance to Bieber’s “Sorry” video.
When or where did you feel most like yourself? Probably when I’m traveling somewhere new? Or in a big crowd dancing.
When or where did you most like yourself? With my sister or my best friends - they make me feel funnier than I am.
What do you regret? I feel like there are some negative myths I’ve told myself about what I’m capable of or what my worth is that take so much work to get rid of.
What did you learn from your parents? My mom taught me how to treat myself and make mundane things into adventures. They both (my parents) taught me how to turn being a hyper-visible tall black body into power.
What did you learn in school? That I need to be around people who inspire me, that being ambitious is not the same thing as being competitive.
What did you need to unlearn after school? That I need affirmation to know my work is important.
What do you spend your money on? Food! I haven’t learned how to deny myself fancy groceries.
Who do you admire? I think I’m only friends with people I admire. If I could be 17 again, I’d like to be Amanda Stenberg.
How do you know when you love something or someone? I stop being self-conscious about how I move or look around them.
What makes you really, really happy? Sun on my skin.
What’s your favorite time of day? Morning. Cup of Joe and a good book.
What’s your favorite place? Anywhere in Chatham, [MA.]
What’s your favorite sound? At almost every family gathering my Uncle Pete, my cousins and my brother, Ben, pull out their guitars and sing some great oldies.
What’s your favorite word? This was a very popular question around age 10. At that time I would have said belly button, and I just hate to ruin a tradition.
Favorite book? My grandma always read Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Love that. Right now it’s Nightingale!
Favorite artform? Dance. Duh.
Favorite form of transportation? Walking - in any weather.
Favorite painting? My sister’s painting of fish lining a dock.
Favorite person? Probably my grandma, Gammy. The girl is always laughing.
Favorite food? Chocolate chip cookies, no question.
Favorite name? Posie.
Favorite thing about yourself? I’m pretty weird. I feel like that makes other people feel like they can be weird too. It’s more fun.
Favorite recent memory? My friend Anna and I pretended we were still in college a few months ago. We went to two day parties with live bands. It was awesome.
Favorite childhood memory? I lost my pinkie - my blankie - in Florida when I was seven. It was gone. Hotel trash. My dad went back a week later and found her hanging out the back of a dump truck. She smelled awful. He was Superman. Also, in 8th grade I peed on a rollercoaster. It was pretty spectacular. There was no shortage of laughter.
Favorite leisure activity? Checking out local coffee shops. I love them. I hope I own one one day.
Favorite quotation? Never fully dressed without a smile.
What is your most worn article of clothing? Rainboots. They have holes in the bottom of them. Defeats the purpose I suppose but - 11 years strong.
What are your thoughts on uniforms? Dress codes? I'm a teacher. My kids get stressed out about their hair and their solid black sneaks. I can't imagine what it would be like if they could worry about their clothes. Though I'm definitely glad I didn't have one growing up. I definitely rocked a crazy Carrie Bradshaw tutu a few times in 8th grade. ("So Sex & The City" - 8th grade me)
How do you plan what to wear? Depends. Day-to-day I mostly throw things on, throw things off, clean up the floor, but I’m heading to Barcelona in a month and can’t stop running through potential items that will make the cut.
What armful of things would you carry out of your home in a fire? This awesome picture I have of my mom sitting in a VW in her 20s, the seashell my boyfriend and I found on our first date five years ago and my mom’s t-shirt she wore in college.
Why do you care about clothing? It’s fun. It’s a way to bring all different experiences and parts of you together. Maybe clothing is my favorite form of art.
What do your things say about you? Your interests, your experiences, your hobbies. I think they also say something about the people that shaped you.
What is your favorite t-shirt? I have a striped shirt I wear at least 3 times a week, but got to go with mom’s Coors t-shirt from her 20s. It’s this awesome faded blue, riddled with holes. The back says “Mountain Woman.” It’s perfect.
Do you have a stylistic “trademark?” If so, what is it and how did it come about? No, but I’ve always wanted one.
Can you write a haiku (or sentence, if you prefer) about your style?
Weekends are my jam
I ate chicken soup from a can
With my favorite spork.
If we were to throw a party and require you to wear your favorite outfit, what
would you show up in? Right now it would have to be this perfect pair of ripped and patched jeans with a striped turtleneck. Over that is this perfect wool sweater with missing elbows - given to me by a good friend (you! Haha). Paired with Bass wejans. Boom. I’m wearing it right now in fact.
What is style? There are so many different types. Confidence?
What is taste? An organized mess.
What is beauty? There are so many different people I think of when I think of beauty. The creases on my grandmother’s face that prove how much she smiles, my sister’s perfectly symmetrical face, Hugh’s face, Dad’s eyes, Mom’s love for tennis, Ben’s mini family, Kit’s house.
If you were to be cremated, where would your ashes go? Into the ocean of the Cape!
If you were to be reincarnated as an inanimate object, what would it be? A Pig? Mud, grub, shorts, pink.
Greatest achievement to date? I ran a mile in 5 minutes 19 seconds. Certainly not my most honorable achievement, but I’m proud.
When or where did you feel most like yourself? Around old friends. I have two groups of childhood friends, one from Pittsburgh, one from Cape Cod. With either group I feel myself being exactly who I am.
When or where did you most like yourself? High school. Duh. My whole family went to my high school - mom, dad, siblings, cousins - and I’m the youngest. Everyone knew me and we had a tight knit group of weird, wacky and beautiful friends.
What do you regret? I regret not being as nice to my mom as a teen. I hate that I was rude.
What did you learn from your parents? Mom: creativity, thrift, how not to be organized, kindness, volunteering, tennis. Dad: hard work, determination, love, bravery, honesty, creativity.
What did you learn in school? That crushes on boys are really fun.
What did you need to unlearn after school? That having crushes on boys is fun, but there are so many things that are more important.
What do you spend your money on? Travel, clothes, lattes.
Who do you admire? Dad: determination and possibility, Gammy: laughter and confidence, Ben and Hugh: caring for others, Sarah and Cristina: strength and genuineness.
How do you know when you love something or someone? Someone: when you feel like you around them and homesick when you’re not. You can feel it in your eyes. Something: when it helps make you who you are.
What makes you really, really happy? Being with old friends and Hugh and sharing some giggles, and when my whole family is together (obviously dogs and Gammy included).