Crafting questions that matter

September 4, 2014

Financial Times journalist Jo Ellison in an article entitled Fear and Clothing reviews two books which argue the case for why clothes and fashion matter.  Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton began with a survey of over 600 people about their relationship with clothes.  Worn Stories by Emily Spivack describes the emotional connections we have with various pieces of clothing (such as Marina Abramovic’s relationship with the boots she wore to walk the Great Wall of China).  What struck me about the review, and the descriptions of the books was the care that went into crafting the questions asked of respondents.  

Yeti, Julavits and Shapton asked the following types of questions

Do you think you have taste or style?

Do you notice women on the street?

Do you have a dress code?

When do you feel your most attractive? [Can you] tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear?

Are there any dressing rules you’d convey to other women?

What’s your process of getting dressed every morning?

What are you trying to achieve when you dress?

What’s the situation with your hair?


Spivack asked these questions:

Tell me a story, connected to a piece of clothing that you still have in your possession in which something monumental, spectacular, odd or even just unusual happened while you were wearing it.

Why is it special?

Why does it have meaning?

And why are you holding on to it?


These are fantastic questions – they invite a reflective response from respondents.  They ask for stories but don’t constrain answers. In all cases you get the sense that there is genuine interest and curiosity at play.  It strikes me that with a few minor tweaks these questions could be applied to organisational contexts where people might be invited to tell their stories of working life; relationships with what they do and why they do it; narratives of choice, curation and consideration.



Leave a Reply:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.