This past Christmas Day, my mom and I found an hour to sit down for a style interview. While she wore her Christmas apron and things cooked away in the kitchen, I asked so many questions about her style that really revealed more questions I had about who she was before I was born.
With family, we often take for granted that we know them so well! My mom and I share a birthday (it’s today!) and have always been very close, but there were still stories she shared, especially about her time growing up in New Orleans, that I had never heard before. While I had to trim A LOT out to post it here, I hope our conversation will inspire you to do the same with someone you love.
Happy birthday, Mom! I’m so glad I get to spend our day together this year.
Here’s the interview…
Name 2-3 of your favorite items from your wardrobe.
Two of them would be scarves. The one that I brought back from Hong Kong for my mother. I bought it, thinking of myself, but then I thought, “Well, she would probably like this too.” And then after a few years, she gave it to me saying she had never worn it, why didn’t I take it back, and I was glad to get it.
Do you wear it often?
It’s a big scarf, so it really takes the place of a jacket. Same as that Hermes scarf, that would be another one.
What Hermes scarf?
The one that I got for $9 at the consignment store.
I went to that little consignment store in Covington, which has since closed. I saw this scarf on the counter, and I liked the colors in it. And the lady said, “Oh, I just got that in. I’m going to look it up and price it.” So then I found a few things and went back to the counter, and when I looked at the scarf again, I saw the Hermes signature on it. I’m just staring and holding my breath and asked “Did you get a chance to price this scarf out yet?” “Oh, let me see. $9.” [laughing] I said, “Okay, put this with the other things that I’m getting today.” And I went back to work and looked it up on eBay, and they were going for $325! So all those people at work are after me, “Well, you’re going to sell it, right?” I said, “Absolutely not.” I would never go out and pay $300 for an Hermes scarf, but if I could get one for $9, I’m going to wear it and enjoy it. So they all think I’m crazy.
Any other favorite items?
Well, the problem is, the things that I really love like that, I almost tend to protect. It’s a shame to do it, because I do enjoy wearing them so much.
I feel like I want to dress for the way I want people to perceive me. So for work, I want them to perceive me as a professional woman. I would say one piece would be that black-and-white houndstooth wool jacket that I have that I mix with different black skirts or pants. It makes me feel really good when I wear it. It makes me feel accomplished, like I look good, more confident.
When you look back, is there a favorite outfit that you used to have that you wish you still had now or that you have fond memories of?
I was just thinking of this Madras outfit I had. It was a blouse and a matching skirt. Usually, you think of Madras as being brighter colors, but this was a very pale, bland yellow and off-white. I think I remember it because the comment that [our neighbor] Jeannie made when I was wearing it, saying, “Oh, I can’t believe you found [panty] hose to match that outfit.” And I said, “Jeannie, I’m not wearing stockings. My legs are just that pale.” But it was just a comfortable outfit.
I don’t know why, out of all the outfits I’ve ever had, that would pop into my head, except like I said, because there was something associated with it. I wore it to see President Reagan when he came to Lafreniere Park on a field trip with [my sons].
When did you learn to sew?
I was around eight, I think, when I first played, at least, on my mom’s sewing machine, and maybe nine or ten when [my sister] Lynn and I took sewing lessons at the Singer Sewing Center together. I made a shirtwaist dress. Lynn never finished hers, but I actually wore mine.
How has your style changed over different life eras?
All I remember from high school are those gray wool pleated skirts and the white blouses. I do remember early high school, ninth grade or so, we were still sewing, and that’s when bell bottom pants were in. My grandparents were taking me on vacation with them over to the Gulf coast, and I made a pair to wear for the trip.
I remember also ninth grade or so, my parents used to buy us an outfit for Christmas. And that year, we went shopping and bought a dress with a coat, really kind of Jackie O. looking, you know? In those days, number one, you wore stockings, and there were no pantyhose. To get rid of lumps, you wore a girdle. So my mother had me in a girdle.
After graduating from uniforms, what did you wear in college once you had to figure out what to wear every day?
We would go to All American Jeans because there were no women’s jeans at the time, only men’s jeans. They were all hip hugger style, so you didn’t have to worry for a man’s shape versus a woman’s shape having the waist so much smaller. My friend, Mary, made me a macramé belt in blue and pink, so I wore my macramé belt with my hip hugger blue jeans and a polo shirt for class.
But then after you dad and I got married and I was working, I really admired my mother-on-law’s clothes.
At that time in your life, did you feel stylish?
Yes, I did. And you can see how a lot of people dress, a lot of people just don’t have clothes sense, it seems like, or they look sloppy. I just liked to always feel like I was put together; things match or went together, that it was intentional.
Do you feel someone taught you how to do that or it was just something you knew?
Probably just watching [my mom] and [mother-in-law].
Did your mom have style?
I remember being in high school, and we went to D.C. when my dad had to go for work. We drove up there in the station wagon, me, [my sisters] Cindy and Lynn, and my parents. Mom had made this pink shift dress because she had to go to some evening thing with Dad. Just an A-line shift and pink marabou feathers around the bottom.
But they put it in a garment bag on top of the car to travel, and it didn’t get wet or anything, although it was snowing. It just got dirty, just from air going through it or something, with streaks of black.
Poor thing after all that work! I don’t remember what she did, if she found somebody to clean it for her. But nice and something special for an occasion that she would look dressy in.
Did she care about her appearance?
Oh, definitely. Her mother used to wear housedresses all the time, with the stockings rolled below her knees, [wearing] a lot of the dresses like you would see from the 30s, where the belt matched the dress.
So I don’t know where my mother got her style so much. Not that my grandmother didn’t look nice, but I think my mother went a little farther and cared more about how she looked. My dad never went out without a jacket and a tie. He always dressed up to go to church. So it’s not just her, the whole family would look nice and dress up for an occasion.
Is that the difference between the time periods though?
I think so. My dad told me that about his father who never went out without a coat and tie. That was a sign of the times. So things have gotten more casual. People are not dressing up so much, so I guess I’m really a throwback, but I like doing it. I feel better about myself when I’m nicely dressed, so I’ll keep doing it.
I remember Patty, who lived next-door, and she kept a lipstick in a drawer by the front door. Whenever that doorbell rang, she would whip that lipstick out before she would open the door.
Do you have something you can’t leave the house without wearing like that?
Earrings and mascara; definitely mascara because I have no eyelashes. I need to go put some makeup on right now, even though I can’t see myself. Because I know I’m not wearing makeup, I feel like I’m missing something. Not the real me.
What would you say have been the significant life moments that have influenced your style?
Going to work in a professional office in downtown New Orleans.
In that time period when you were transitioning back to an office (after running your own business), you were also in the divorce process. Do you feel like that significantly impacted your style?
Yes, I think it did, because actually, when I finally said I’ve had enough, I felt empowered. For so long I had just kind of blended into the background. Just don’t make waves. At the point I stood up and said, “No, I’m not living like this anymore. Yeah, I’m ready for a change.” I guess that’s why I like that power business suit kind of a look, you know? Obviously, you can choose what statements you’re trying to make when you select your clothes.
How has cost influenced how you shop? On the one hand, if you know how to sew, you kind of know what things are worth or that you could make it yourself.
You know I’ve always let cost dictate a lot of my wardrobe too, which is probably why I sew a lot. But I always managed to find nice clothes at a price I was willing to pay. So I tend to invest money in something like a well-tailored jacket as opposed to a skirt because I could whip up a skirt. I would invest in pants that fit well because I know that’s difficult to accomplish.
But cost matters, as I said, because I like variety. I don’t like to invest too much in one piece. I won’t buy a $300 coat; I’ll wait till it’s on sale for $125 because I know they do go down too. Everything eventually is marked down, or if I miss it, I miss it.
What’s one thing, regardless of cost, that you wish that you could add to your closet?
I tend to stay away from everyday clothing that has to be dry cleaned, because I just don’t like to pay for dry cleaning. So I would add things that were dry clean only. Maybe some cashmere sweaters, something I really liked. They’re beautiful, but I can buy merino wool for much less. I’ve always shopped price.
Who taught you that?
Well, even growing up, we just didn’t have that much money. Then after I was married, it was still the same situation. There wasn’t that much money to invest in clothes, or maybe just because the bargain mentality, that it’s got to be a bargain for me to buy it.
You maybe mentioned it already, but what was one of the best deals you ever got?
Yeah, definitely, that scarf.
Is that part of the appeal of that scarf, that it was such an insane deal?
Part of the appeal of that scarf was that it’s the Courtyard at Versailles, so it was the memory attached to that trip that we took, so that was a large part of it too. Maybe if it had been something else, it wouldn’t have been quite as attractive, but that’s all built into that too. The memory.
Here’s my challenge to you now: ask someone you love to sit down with you and let you interview them. Consider recording it (I use iPhone voice memos!) so you can share with other family or just listen again later. If you want help holding yourself accountable, share in the comments below who you want to interview and by when! I promise it’s worth it.