The Fashion Magpie What Makes You Laugh

What Makes You Laugh?

My recent post on interviewing do’s and don’ts reminded me of a peculiar question I fielded while interviewing for my last “traditional” job (i.e., pre-entrepreneurship, though I wouldn’t call any of my jobs traditional):

“What makes you laugh?”

The question caught me off guard and I fumbled for a minute trying to simultaneously assess what the interviewer was getting at and devise a suitably authentic, interesting response. Ultimately, I said what came to mind first:

“My sister.”

You see, my sister Christina is possibly the most hilarious person on the planet. She is the only person who can have me doubled over in laughter in the most inappropriate of circumstances. She leaves me actually rolling on the floor with laughter, gasping for air — even now, on the precipice of 35 years old. Just a look from her can send me off the deep end.

But why is she so funny? What about her? What kind of humor makes me tick? This was, I presume, what the interviewer was after: how well do you know yourself?

For one thing, Christina is exceptionally quick-witted and part of her hilarity is the insane speed with which she can come up with the perfect retort. While I’m still digesting the prompt, she’s on round three of riposte. She also has a seemingly encyclopedic grasp of pop culture and personal allusion, so she’ll trot out the most obscure, perfectly-suited of references: “That’s Mr. Potato Head to you,” she’ll toss out to no one and everyone while cooking in the kitchen, a random allusion to Toy Story, or “OK, Midge,” she’ll say, off-the-cuff, referring to a Barbie we had when we were little that we classified as “uppity,” a “richie rich,” when I’ve said something snobby. It’s also her tone — unassuming and easy, though occasionally with a glint of wickedness in her eye. And she’s unintentionally or intentionally full of malapropisms that she delivers with casual conviction. Once, while cruising down Connecticut Avenue in D.C., mid-conversation, as if commenting on the weather, she saw a built muscleman running in a cropped gray hoodie:

“…Then we need to pick up the groceries. Oh look, Rocky Bullwinkle. Do you think we need more milk?”

I knew who she meant — Rocky Balboa — but for some reason her decision to make a deep cut reference to a cartoon from her childhood made me laugh so hard I almost drove the car off the road. There was also a time she told me I needed to “keep beating the horse til it was dead.” The gruesome image has stuck with me and left me giggling to myself at odd and inopportune moments, like during the consecration at Mass.

At heart, what makes me laugh in all of these instances, is her heart. Her idiosyncratic, skeptical, occasionally absurd, highly-observant way of watching and remarking upon the world, of interpreting the here-and-now through the prism of reference and memory.

And also, if I’d answered truthfully, her silliness makes me laugh. Slapstick humor. Inane, meaningless sounds — like when, on the eve of her wedding, Mr. Magpie’s knee bones crackled and popped as he climbed into a cab, and she said, in an Italian grandmother accent: “you have creaky bones” (“you hav-a da crick-eh bown-seh”) and then we spent the next 24 hours randomly blurting out “crickeh bownseh,” even just hours before she was about to tie the knot. I can be overly cerebral about things, but give me a well-timed tumble or a fatuous rejoinder, and I’m off to the races.

It’s easier for me to pinpoint what makes me cry: everything. But I am principally moved by softness in others. When I see someone do something kind, or express hurt or fear or pain, or otherwise demonstrate tenderness, I am a mush-y mess. There is something about the maskless admission of vulnerability that I find gutting, like when I saw the rabbit’s foot on Mr. Magpie’s phone. My father is not a crier, but he cannot get through the telling of a particular story that led him to dedicate the majority of his retirement years to the cause of ending veteran homelessness in Washington, D.C.: he was touring a housing facility and an amputee in a wheelchair needed assistance getting into a building on a cold, gray day, and he said: “Can somebody please help me?” As a devout Catholic, my father insists that this was the voice of God speaking directly to him. And I think this moves him. But more than that, I think it is the vision of someone desperate and in pain, admitting to his own vulnerability and need, that leaves him dabbing his eyes. The apple does not fall far from the tree. I can scarcely think of that moment or of my father’s retelling of it without my eyes welling up.

What about you? What makes you laugh? What makes you cry?

Post-Scripts: Classic Pieces.

One of you lovely Magpies (hi, Maria!) requested some additional “classic, timeless” pieces on the heels of the ones I shared in this post. I loved the provocation and thought I’d share my response in addition to a couple of other finds:

“I can tell you that I have a few shirtdresses in solids and stripes that I wear season after season. Another favorite is this J. Crew dress, which I own in the khaki color. I think it looks equally chic with pointed toe heels for a more business appropriate setting as it does with Superga sneakers for traipsing around Central Park — and even with loud, trendy mules for meeting up with friends!

I also love every single DVF wrap dress I’ve ever bought. I bought my first when I was just out of college at a major Shopbop sale for around $150 (a major splurge for me) and still wear it every single season, in addition to some newer ones I’ve bought over the years. You can often find them on sale at The Outnet. I love both this and this. Her wrap styles are super flattering and stand up well to the test of time — though I find that the vee on most of them is too revealing, and so I usually use double-sided tape or a safety pin to secure it. I think these wrap dresses can look youthful on a 20-something and tasteful on an 80-something. They’re the best investment when it comes to dresses.

Finally, if you’re looking specifically for a striped shirtdress similar to the one I shared in my original post, I also love this and this. Both are from brands whose quality I respect, and both are highly versatile. And for something timeless but maybe a bit more youthful, consider a fit-and-flare style in denim (I have a few denim dresses I wear constantly), a ladylike floral with a plunging vee, or a striped shirtdress with a slightly shorter hem.

A couple of additional “timeless” finds:

+These tortoise-shell pumps (currently on sale for under $100). They are eternally chic. Doesn’t matter the year, the season, your age, your occasion: they will work. I’d wear them with anything from a simple shirtdress to jeans and a cashmere sweater. No brainer for a polished, traditional look.

+Tweed blazer. Chic with jeans or a tailored skirt/dress.

+Classic trim pajamas. Will wear these from age 20-100.

+A sleek loafer in a neutral color.

+A pleated midi skirt. I’ve seen young women wear this sort of thing with GG sneaks and a leather jacket up here in NYC and look incredibly on-trend, and I’ve also seen older women wear these kinds of skirts with a cashmere crewneck and Chanel flats and look notably classy and refined.

+Chambray midi. This is another piece that feels a tiny bit retro in the most feminine, fetching of ways. This could be worn with lace-up slides and a white eyelet blouse for a classic early summer look — or with a silk button-down and heels for the office. I love love love a silhouette like this.

+Tortoise-shell headband. Have worn some variation on this headband since grammar school.

P.S. Also in this lane: The Best of Everything: Clothing Basics.

P.P.S. File under: random things that make me happy. I just ordered these little treat cups. I love using them when mini has playdates: I’ll cut up kiwi and berries and dole out goldfish and Bambas and put them all on a tray for the little ones to enjoy in the perfect little portions. In the past, I’ve bought them in stripes and polka dots, but how darling is the floral print?! It’s the little things, people.

P.P.P.S. I love the word skulduggery and was excited to use it here. What other words do you love (or hate)?


  1. Chiming in late here, but I was reminded of that scene in The Holiday in which Jude Law’s character professes: “I am a major weeper” with the most charming British accent! Totally relate. I’ve cried reading greeting cards, watching TV commercials…

    My brother never, EVER fails to make me laugh, and it’s the laugh-so-hard-till-your-belly-hurts kind of laugh. He can impersonate pretty much anyone and is so into goofy and physical comedy. My family members always know if I’m on the phone with him (we live on different continents now) because I’m always out of breath from laughing). Such a gift to have funny people in our lives! A great reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.

    I have the J.Crew shirtdress in navy… totally agree that this style is so classic! I also have chambray and white linen shirtdresses (from different brands) that never feel dated.

    1. Yes! There is just something about siblings…maybe it’s because they’ve been around us for so long that they intuitively understand what will set us off, or that we have such a deep font of shared references? Or that we think similar things are hilarious??? I don’t know, but I agree that there is a uniquely uninhibited sense of humor I share with my siblings.

      Love a good shirtdress, too! xx

  2. Haha. Thanks for mentioning me. I just love your ideas and style choices. Classics are just an easy keep in my closet for those occasions. No Marie Kondo here for this purpose. So….getting the Jcrew shirt dress and trying Theory one. No chest here so Diane dresses just don’t look good 🙁
    So love reading your blog.
    ps. my kiddos boy 20 yo, girl 17 yo.
    your college choice plans write up was great. My boy is at Harvard. We will see my daughters journey.

    1. Hi Maria! So sweet of you to say; thanks for stopping by. And you must be one proud mom!!!


  3. Jen,

    I too am deeply moved by kindness and vulnerability– which pretty much make Queer Eye impossible to watch without a box of tissues (DO NOT watch season three, episode three unless you’re emotionally prepared to cry on a level that rivals The English Patient or Flowers for Algernon). The first post I ever read of yours was the one on being a “crier”; I knew I’d found my people at that very moment.

    I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a patron saint of criers (or people-who-sob-at-commericals). If so, I’m buying us matching medallions!

    1. Matching medallions! I love that! 🙂

      Oh Lord. Don’t tell me that about Queer Eye. I absolutely loved the last two rebooted seasons and cried through basically all of those episodes so I can’t imagine how much more I’ll be sobbing this go around…


  4. I wish I could keep the funny women theme going but the funniest person I know is my husband. He knows movie quotes like I know my ABCs and will frequently throw one into conversation, incorporating the voice of the person saying the line. It helps that he is great at some impersonations. He often has me crying from laughter.

    Also funny, I was recently laughing so hard that I had become silent and had just visual affects of laughter from something he said. Our dog ran over to me and proceeded to sniff and nose at me in order to check on me because he thought something was wrong, such a sweet thing that added a bit to the histrionics of it all.

    1. HAHA!! OMG! I love the image of your dog freaking out over your noiseless laughter 🙂 Your husband sounds like a riot 🙂 Humor is such an attractive trait in a partner!


  5. Like Anna, my mom makes me laugh so incredibly hard. She has a hilarious sense of humor and a penchant for coining terms and incorporating them throughout our conversations. One time when my aunt was going through a tough divorce, we passed a nursery named “Uncle ______’s” [i.e. the name of my aunt’s soon to be ex-husband, to me] and my mom and I nearly drove off the road in hysterical peals of laughter while making up evil-sounding names for some of the plants at the nursery. It sounds ridiculous when I type it out, but it was one of the funniest moments of my life!

    My stepdaughter also has a keen sense of comic timing (at age 8!) and says/does things all the time that make me laugh so hard. I feel so blessed to have such a close relationship with her, filled with laughter.

    I’d have to agree with Anna: it’s funny, in my life there are so many notably funny women and they’re the ones I think of first when asked, “what makes you laugh?”

    I’m on the same page as you when it comes to what makes me cry: EVERYTHING. I’m a soft-hearted, emotional person! xo

    1. Oh man, I am loving this funny woman theme! It sounds like you and your mom have such a special relationship, and that she is a lovely person. I can imagine the nursery jokes being hilarious, too 🙂


  6. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from William Hazlitt- “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”

    Nothing could be more true!

  7. I never laugh so hard as when I am reunited with my college best friends. Of the 5 of us, we each have a different sense of humor, but even a few hours with any of them has my abs hurting. In particular, one (a whip smart intellectual property lawyer) cannot keep metaphors straight and has used the phrase, “throw you under the table” on many occasion. Another has a penchant for being just ever so slightly on her own level of the world and at times not quite in tune with the rest of us – like the time she thought matzah balls were sporting equipment or when she inquired while writing deb ball thank you notes if it was wrong to call a demitasse spoon “exquisite”… this had me shooting a text off to our group this morning, counting down the days until our next reunion!

    1. OMG, I love “throw you under the table!” Something my sister would say, too. So hilariously violent! HAHA! I’m laughing, too, right now 🙂

      I love the idea of you surrounded by your best gal pals, all guards down, just having a good time. Beautiful.


    1. Ugh, I know. Killer. I wish you knew my dad, too, because he is a tough, strong guy, so seeing how much this moment impacted him makes it even more tender. xxx

  8. I think it’s ridiculous that there are so many men in the world who still try to claim that women aren’t funny when virtually every single woman I know is a straight-up comedian and I’ve met maybe 2 or 3 intentionally funny men. But to answer your question, I think my mom makes me laugh the hardest. She is so self-aware and SO good at laughing at herself- never afraid to make herself the butt of a joke. All she has to do is some silly little dance and I am rolling on the floor. I can only hope to be as light of heart as she is at at 65.

    PS. I love the term “playing it fast and loose” and try to use it whenever possible, even in work emails. And I hate the word praxis. Just say practice. It doesn’t make someone sound smarter, it makes them sound pretentious.

    1. What a lovely tribute to your mom. I love people who don’t take themselves too seriously — it’s infectious. It puts everyone at ease. Cheers to your mom today 🙂

      And GREAT notes on words you hate/love. Going to use your choice phrase the next opportunity I have. I’ve never heard someone use the word “praxis” IRL — which is for the better, as you note.


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