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Susan Gaeddert

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I step out of the shower after a nice, long run.

2. Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?

Yes, I do. I admire women who look comfortable and natural in their own skin and the clothes they are wearing, whether that means casual jeans or a business suit.

3. What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

I admire confidence.

4. Was there a moment in your life when something “clicked” for you about fashion or dressing or make-up or hair? What? Why did it happen then, do you think?

I think my best moment was when I figured out I can look pretty nice in the right jeans and boots. That must have been a few years ago, when I discovered skinny jeans.
I'm 35 and rarely wear make-up except for a little mascara and lip gloss now and then.

5. What are some shopping rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but which you follow?

1. Don't buy something just because it's on sale.
2. If you're not sure whether you look good in something, you probably don't.

6. What are some rules about dressing you follow, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend to others?

I don't really follow rules about dressing. Most of my clothes aren't particularly interesting or flashy, so it doesn't matter.
I guess one rule is about ease and fit. I'm small with a small chest and I can't stand clothes that are over sized (sadly, that's the trend) so I never buy or make them. I'm a knitter, and I always make sweaters with very little ease or no ease.

7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?

I'm not sure if I've ever had one.

8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.

I try to live a balanced life. I have a family with a husband and two young children (elementary school age), and I work part time as a musician teaching and performing. It would be so easy for my life to be overwhelmed with work and schedules, but the most important thing is that our family functions well and that we can spend time together. That's more important than money or I would be working full time.

9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?

Skinny jeans from Old Navy. They look good on me and they're pretty inexpensive. It kind of makes me cringe to buy stuff from Old Navy, though.

10. Have you ever successfully given someone a present of jewelry or clothing that you continue to feel good about?

I'm a knitter, and I've given away a lot of hand knit socks and mittens and hats that I'm very proud of. I've made a few sweaters that never got worn, though. It's really best to ask people exactly what you want before you knit them sweaters.

11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why? 

I refuse to participate in most fashion trends, mostly because I don't care much about keeping up, but also because I honestly think a lot of trends look stupid. The recent fad of giant boxy shirts is just one example. When a trend comes around that looks good on me, I might jump on board.
I also like my clothes to last a while when possible, so I don't like buying stuff that will look out of date immediately.

12. Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?

Not at all. She is broad shouldered and VERY chesty - DDDD bra size or something like that, also somewhat overweight. I'm small and small chested and not overweight at all. We both have narrow hips, so that's one thing in common.
We don't dress much alike. She wears skirts most of the time and can't find pants to fit. She has a hard time finding sleeveless shirts to fit because her large chest makes gaps in the armholes an issue. I like more fitted clothes and I dress more casually in general than she does; I think this is as much of a generational difference as a style one.

13. Have you stolen, borrowed or adapted any dressing ideas or actual items from friends or family?

This is funny. My cousin wears exercise clothes constantly. It used to drive me a little nuts because it was like she was humble bragging about being a runner. Then I discovered how comfortable it is to wear stretchy pants and running shirts, especially in warm weather, so I do it now sometimes, too.

14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?

After I had children, I rarely had a reason to dress up, and I think that actually affected my self-esteem (along with all the other stuff that comes with new motherhood). I had to wear old maternity clothes while I was nursing and losing the baby weight. That wasn't a conscious shift in style, but I had to dress differently for a while because of the changes in my lifestyle.
I've also thought more about style since I turned 30, mainly because I realize that as I get older, it takes a little more effort to look nice.

15. Is there anything political about the way you dress?

I used to have one of those "this is what a feminist looks like" tank tops, but I don't have it anymore. I dress according to comfort and my lifestyle (I bike and walk a lot to get places). I own one pair of heels that I wear so seldom they are collecting dust. So I guess I don't address anything politically directly, but I dress the way I want because I'm a feminist and I don't want to wear uncomfortable shoes or terrible colors because someone else said that's what stylish.

16. Please describe your body.

Slim, strong, not tall. My arms are freckled, my face is not. I have little folds on my stomach from pregnancy.

17. Please describe your mind.

My mind is constantly occupied with plans for dinner, plans for the class I'm teaching, plans for the next thing I want to knit, plans for what to clean up in the house. I was a smart kid in school, and I went to college and grad school. I am intelligent. I am a practical intellectual; deep philosophical discussions do not interest me, but I think a lot about our culture and our society and how that affects the way people think and raise their children. I think a lot about my children and how the way I act and dress and manage my time affects them.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Very, very stable. I am content with my life. I sometimes feel dissatisfied with day-to-day things, particularly when I'm frustrated with doing most of the housework. But I am emotionally healthy.

19. What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

Bottom up: bare feet, blue leggings, gray camisole, colorful tunic from a thrift store, plain wedding ring on my left hand, simple earrings, no make up, hair is air-drying after a shower I had this morning

20. In what way is this stuff important, if at all?

It is and it isn't. I don't want to obsess about what I wear and what I look like, but obviously I think about it or I wouldn't be spending 30 minutes taking this survey! I often feel self-conscious about my hair because it's getting gray around the temples and I refuse to dye it; I don't want to spend the money and it would feel fake.
Sometimes I think how you dress helps to express who you are, but I don't think it defines you. I know a lot of people who put so much energy into parenting and working outside (farmers, gardeners, etc) that they're usually wearing stained shirts and old jeans - that's me some days, too - and while I guess that says a lot about how they are spending their productive hours it's still not particularly artistic or stylish.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

My mom! She says she feels like she never dresses well enough and never had the money to spend on proper clothes, so she feels self-conscious about it and tends to talk about clothes a lot. Also, my cousin (mentioned in question #13, just because we have similar tastes and professional aspirations. Other moms I know from my kids' school -- we tend to talk about clothes in terms of practicality quite a lot. How to look nice on the cheap, where to find decent kids' clothes, what our daughters think about clothes - that last one is a BIG TOPIC

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

I don't know. The institutions I spend time at are schools - my kids' school, the university here, and the small college where I work part time. It's pretty casual everywhere. Also, this is the upper midwest, where people tend to take pride in not caring (or looking like they don't care) about dressing well.

23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?

I have taste but not style. In my life, style isn't so important. I think my taste reflects a lot of my life - stable, quiet, natural, a little eccentric.

24. Do you remember the biggest waste of money you ever made on an item of clothing?

An $80 pair of jeans I wore twice. They just didn't fit my style!

25. Are there any dressing tricks you’ve invented or learned that make you feel like you’re getting away with something?

Shop at thrift stores! You find interesting stuff there.

26. Do you have style in any areas of your life aside from fashion?

I'm not sure what this means.
I wish I could say I had style in my house but decorating is not what I'm good at and we're trying to save money for a renovation.

27. Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?

If I am nervous about collaborating with a musician or teacher I haven't met before, I tend to dress up more to convey more confidence and to feel more confident. Really, nothing more dramatic than that.

28. Would you say you “know what you like” in the area of fashion and clothing? If so, do you also know what you like in other areas of life, that is, are you generally good at discernment? Can you say where your discernment comes from, if you have it? Or if you don’t have it, why or why not?

I've learned to know what I like. Growing up and learning that you don't have to dress like everyone else and reaching an age where other adults don't even care kind of helped with that.
Yes, I'm generally good with discernment, probably better in other areas of my life than clothes, actually. I was raised to have good judgment.

29. Did your parents teach you things about clothing, care for your clothing, dressing or style? What lessons do you remember? Or did you just pick things up?

I learned next to nothing about style from my parents. I did learn how to take good care of clothing. I've mentioned several times here that I'm a knitter, so I know how to take care of wool. You can't wash it in a machine or put it in the dryer. My parents both make a lot of things by hand - food, quilts, woodworking - and I learned to take care of quality items, to be careful with things so they will last. I learned it's not good to buy cheap stuff that will get thrown away in a week.
But as for dressing and style? No, didn't learn much from them!

30. What sorts of things do you do, clothing or make-up or hair- wise, to feel sexy or alluring?

I wear eye make-up to feel sexy. I can't make my hair sexy, though! It's just always the way it is.
I like cowl neck or v-neck tops, fitted skirts, skinny jeans with boots. I think I look sexy when I look confident.

31. Many people say they want to feel “comfortable,” or that they admire people who seem “confident.” What do these words really mean to you?

I said that, too!
I think those words reflect the way people feel about themselves. If you like yourself then you are more likely to exude confidence and dress in a way that is comfortable to you.

32. If dressing were the only thing you did, and you were considered an expert and asked to explain your style philosophy, what would you say?

I would say dress in a way that feels natural to you. Choose colors you like. Wear clothes you can move in. Never buy a pair of pantyhose.

33. What is really beautiful, for you, in general?

What is natural.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Unnatural things, synthetics. Plastic. Over use of cosmetics and hair dye.

35. Are you generally a good judge of whether what you buy will end up being worn? Have you figured out how to know in advance?

If it looks like something I already have, I'll probably wear it!

36. When you look at yourself before going out, and you are trying to see yourself from the outside, can you describe a bit about what this “other person” is like? What do they like, dislike, what sorts of judgments do they have? Is this “outer eye” based on someone you know or once knew?

I hate to admit this, but I think about how men might look at me. I want to look attractive.

37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?

It totally depends on what I'm going to do that day. Sometimes I put on running clothes so I can go for a run after I drop my kids off. Sometimes I'm going to work so I have to find something a little dressier.

38. What are you trying to achieve when you dress?

See above.

39. What, for you, is the difference between dressing and dressing up?

Dressing is putting on clothes. Dressing up is putting myself together to go somewhere with other adults, like to a restaurant with my husband, or to a place where I am working or have a gig.

40. If you had to wear a “uniform” what would it look like?

I joke that I wear a "mom" uniform most days - jeans and a comfortable shirt or sweater.

41. What would you say is “you” and what would you say is “not you”?

Anything patterned or ruffly is definitely not me. Same goes with spike heeled shoes. What is me: colored jeans, hand knit sweaters, comfortable shoes, funky earrings (maybe not all at once...)

42. What is your cultural background and how has that influenced how you dress?

White, educated, middle class midwesterner. I totally dress that way.

43. Do you remember a time in your life when you dressed quite differently from how you do now? Can you describe it and what it was all about for you?

No, not really. I was in HS during the grunge era, which was fortunate because I was comfortable in clothes that hid my body. I'm more confident now so I dress in more fitted clothes, but I didn't go through any drastic phases.

44. What sorts of things do you do, clothing, make-up or hair-wise, to feel professional?

Nice jeans instead of grungy jeans! With boots! I have a few button-down shirts. I wear a little eye make up sometimes. My hair is always the same.

45. How do you conform to or rebel against the dress expectations at your workplace?

I work in a collegiate setting - no one cares particularly how I dress.

46. Do you have a dress code, a school uniform, or a uniform that you wear for an extracurricular activity?

Not officially. as a professional accompanist, I wear a lot of black clothes when I have to perform or accompany someone's audition. That's considered the "uniform" but it's not official at all.

47. Are there ways in which you conform to or rebel against these uniforms?

That's a funny question. I don't dress up as much as some pianists in part because I try to bike to a lot of my gigs. This means I can't wear skirts or dresses or shoes that will get in the way of biking. However, I live in a city where a lot of people bike, so it's actually considered fairly normal to do this. If I lived somewhere else and dressed this way, it might raise eyebrows. I often wear a nice pair of black pants with some kind of black shirt or sweater and my black running shoes, believe it or not.

48. Do you find it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?

The times in my life I had to wear a uniform, I hated it. But that was for marching band in HS (which was awful and the uniforms were dreadful polyester, so uncomfortable) and a 1-month stint working in fast food.

49. What is an archetypal outfit for you; one that you could have happily worn at any point in your life? What do you like about it?

Jeans, comfy shirt - I always dress like that and with some variation always have. It's just me. No frills, no posturing.

50. Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man’s body? Was there ever a time in the past?

when I've gone hiking and had to pee in the woods I have wished for a certain aspect of a man's body...
I envy men for avoiding scrutiny in how they dress and how their bodies look. But I've never particularly wished to dress like a man.

51. If there was one country or culture or era that you had to live in, fashion-wise, what would it be?

This one, honestly. I think having choices about what we wear is good. Women were always so restricted in the past. Women are scrutinized now, but not restricted.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?


53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?

I think I look older than I feel! I feel good. But I see pictures of myself and I notice the crow's feet and graying hair.

54. Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?

I love how Michelle Obama dresses. I watch how actresses on TV dress and think how I'd emulate them if I had the time, money and motivation, not to mention a reason (like a high-powered job requiring that sort of style). Kerry Washington on Scandal, Lucy Liu on Elementary, they both come to mind.

55. Have you ever had a dream that involved clothes?

Probably. Mostly dreams about where I forget to wear clothes.

56. What would be a difficult or uncomfortable look for you to try and achieve?

Anything slutty or trendy.

57. If you were totally comfortable with your body, or your body was a bit closer to what you wish it was like, what would you wear?

If I had bigger boobs I'd wear more plunging necklines!

58. Is there anyone that you are trying to attract or repel when you dress?

I want to attract everyone (not in a sexual way!) I want people to feel comfortable approaching me and talking to me. I want to attract my husband, of course. And repel creeps, but who doesn't want to repel creeps?

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

Don't try too hard to look sexy. It's more about attitude than showing lots of skin.

60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?

My dad can't stand perfume so I was never allowed to have any. I have a little tube of sandalwood oil I bought at a health food store once for 8 bucks but I never remember to use it.

61. What are some things you need to do to your body or clothes in order to feel presentable?

Honestly, I just make sure everything is clean before I put it on.

62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?


63. Is there a certain look you feel you’re expected to like that you have absolutely no interest in? What is it? Why aren’t you interested?

I don't pay attention to hairstyles, like not at all. I have a haircut I'm satisfied with, so I don't really think about it beyond that.

64. Can you describe in a basic way what you own, clothing and jewelry-wise?

I own a lot of simple, casual comfortable clothes and some simple jewelry to go with them. I don't have too many shoes - running shoes, hiking shoes, flip flops, snow boots, and a few things for dressing up.

65. What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you own?

My hand knit sweaters. I love them.

66. Tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear. What is it, why don’t you wear it, and why do you keep it?

There's this one jacket I bought for 6 dollars at a thrift store. It's unusual and looks cute but I hardly wear it. I keep it because I think I should wear it!

67. Looking back at all your purchases over the past five to fifteen years, can you generalize about what sorts of things were the most valuable to buy?

Good shoes. I wear shoes to the ground. I hate cheap shoes that fall apart.

68. Is there an item of clothing that you once owned, but no longer own, and still think about or wish you had back? What was it, what happened to it, and why do you want it back?


69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?

My fleece jacket. I bought it more than a decade ago to climb a mountain and it STILL looks good and keeps me warm.

70. Building up your wardrobe from nothing, what would you do differently this time?

I would pick stuff that goes together better. I tend to buy things piecemeal without thinking about how they coordinate.

71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?

Hands down my winter coat. I live in Wisconsin so this is a necessity.
One of these days I will invest in a really good pair of boots - boots for style, not for tramping around int eh snow!

72. Was there ever an important or paradigm-shifting purchase in your life?

Our house

73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?

Great boots.

74. What are your closet and drawers like? Do you keep things neat, etc?

Fairly neat. We live in a small house without a lot of space, so I am constantly going through drawers and our tiny (tiny!) closet to cull the things I know I won't wear so I can donate them to a thrift store or cut them up for the rag pile. It helps keep things organized.

75. Were you ever given a present of clothing or jewelry that especially touched you?

When I was 12, my grandmother gave me a necklace with a real diamond in it. I haven't worn it in years because it needs a new chain, but that meant a lot to me.
The first long-term boyfriend I had gave me a beautiful set of earrings and a necklace after he did something really horrible. We broke up not long after, but I still have the jewelry.

76. Did you ever buy an article of clothing without giving it much thought, only to have it prove much more valuable as time went on? What was the item and what happened?

That fleece jacket in #69. We were going to hike up a mountain and at the last minute I realized it would be cold at 14,000 feet so I bought that jacket from a sale rack at an outdoors store, and it's served me well ever since.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

Not often. I do a lot of window shopping online.
When I do shop, I go alone on a weekend when my husband is with the kids. I tend to get exasperated after just an hour or two.
I pop into thrift stores on occasion and have surprisingly good luck at those places. I think it's because you can't look for specific things at those places, so when you do find something, it feels lucky.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

I like to smell clean.
I like to smell like the fresh herbs and dirt from my garden.

79. How does how you dress play into your ambitions for yourself?

One personal ambition I have is to make more of my own clothes, or restyle used clothes, and be a little more original in that aspect of my style. That requires time that I'm evidently not will to spend yet.

80. How does money fit into all this?

We are comfortable, middle class, so I'm not going to make false claims that we are poor or that it's hard to afford clothes.
I don't like spending lots of money on clothes when there are so many other needs our family has, though.Like good food, and some house renovations in the next year or so.

81. Is there an article of clothing, a piece of make-up, or an accessory that you carry with you or wear every day?

I made a shoulder bag out of an old coffee burlap sack and gaudy fabric from the 70s (my mom gave me the fabric). I throw my phone and keys in it every morning to take my kids to school.
I have a large messenger bag with music and books for when I'm working.
And I have a black leather purse that I carry everywhere else. I don't really like it but I don't have anything better.

82. Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?

I'm always caught off guard if someone says I'm beautiful. My inner vanity is happy when I hear it, but I truly don't think of people looking at me and making that assessment. I think of people seeing what I do and hearing what I say and not assessing my looks. I don't think I answered this question very well.

83. Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?

When I was in kindergarten I had a striped t-shirt that I loved to death. I think it was a hand-me-down. I wore it constantly and was so sad when I grew out of it. That same year, my mom knit me a sweater. It was a red cardigan with white hearts patterned all around it. I loved that sweater, too, and like with the t-shirt, I was so sad to grow out of it. That might have been when I realized I was going to grow up and couldn't be a kid forever.

What’s your birth date? 
Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Albuquerque, NM on Dec 29, 1978. I now live in Madison Wi.

Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.

I'm a white midwesterner descended from farmers who immigrated to Kansas in the late 1800s. They were all hard-working educated, honest people.

What kind of work do you do?

I'm a musician, a mom, and I spend a lot of time volunteering at my kids' school in the outdoor program.

Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?

married with 2 kids

Please say anything you like about yourself that might put this survey into some sort of context.

I heard about this book on NPR the other day. I really want to read it and it's fun to reflect on these questions and what clothes actually mean to me.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

I feel like it's ok to think about clothes! I also feel like I spent too much time doing this when I should have been cleaning my house.


I am a professional accompanist and piano teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, where I live with my husband and children. In my spare time I love to knit, run and garden.

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