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Alanna Teak

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I'm in tailored clothing that fits perfectly. And a beautiful pair of earrings.

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

I notice women who are dressed or styled unusually. I notice women who are not dressed in many clothes.

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

I admire many African-American women's attention to their hair. Some are constantly switching hairstyles as a mode of personal expression. I admire anyone who dresses within acceptable context for what they are doing, but pushes the boundaries a bit.

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?

The first time my new stepmother took me shopping she took me to Bergdorf Goodman's children's department (which still existed) and bought me a snap-front brown suede jumper. I wore that jumper every chance I got, for any occasion. She also brought me lots of Indian clothes and I loved dressing in those when we had guests.
Later, when I was a teenager, I was very unhappy. I associated that feeling with trying to dress in a way that felt foreign and uncomfortable - like the preppy girls in my school. So for years, whenever I could be out of uniform, I dressed only in black, white, or grey.

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

Buy it when you see it, if you really love it. Don't count on it going on sale.

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

1. Include one thing - an item of clothing, or an accessory - that really expresses some part of your personality in every outfit you wear.
2. Don't brush your hair.

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

I had to sit down and explain to my daughter, who was 8 at the time, that I wasn't going to be buying her mini-adult clothes (such as tight sweater dresses, or low cut tops, or bikinis) because she was still a child. I was surprised at how early in her life I had to have that conversation. We talked about clothes as a costume, and how much was communicated to other people about who one is by the clothes one wears. Also that one doesn't wear the same clothes to church, or a restaurant, or to visit a parent's worksite as one wears to a play date.

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

No. It's pretty much improvisational. But I'm blunt and honest about who I am and what I think in any situation.

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

Black pants. I gave up wearing skirts and dresses some years ago when my job as an attorney had me travelling around to meet with clients, and I got sick of worrying about whether what I wore would lend itself to, say, touring sewer plants and construction sites in all kinds of neighborhoods.

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

Yes. I only give people gifts that I like myself, but I try to give them things that I think they will like.

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

So many! I HATE cropped pants. I hate animal print. I won't wear miniskirts. I don't wear high heeled shoes.

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

My mother loved clothes, as did my stepmother. They were both very attentive to how clothes were made, what the fabric and quality of the garment was, and they both loved jewelry.

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

I adapted scarf wearing from my stepmother.

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

Yes. I started wearing only black, white, and grey in high school, with punk t-shirts and safety pins through my ears. I gave up wearing high heeled shoes, much makeup, and vintage clothing every day when I entered the legal profession. I gave up wearing dresses after my kids were born and I got sick of snagging my stockings on everthing.

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

I never have liked wearing revealing clothing because of unwanted male attention. As I am now in my 50s, this is no longer much of a problem. Ditto for make up.
I suppose my refusal to wear high heeled shoes is also political, since I equate them in my mind with foot binding.

16. Please describe your body.


17. Please describe your mind.

Intensely curious about everyone and everything. Intuitive. Highly analytical. Sensitive to the absurd.

18. Please describe your emotions.

Quick to anger. Strong affinities for those I like, and strong dislike for those I don't. Intolerant of willful stupidity and cruelty.

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

Patterned cotton shirt in bright green, black pants, black polka-dotted smoking loafers, silver earrings, silver bracelet. Wedding and engagement rings. Square silver watch with black leather band. Silver ring on right hand. Hair is side-parted, chin-length bob with side-swept bangs. Moisturizer, no makeup.

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

What one wears is communication. People notice and judge based on appearance, like it or not. I try always to keep that in mind and use it to my advantage.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?

Now, since the older generation is more or less all dead, I talk to my daughter, my costume-historian friend, and co-workers. Just today I had a long conversation with colleagues about young people and how they dressed. I learned that the slang for wearing pants down around the middle of your but (if you're a guy) is "swag."

22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

Since I always wore uniforms at school, I am highly attuned to the necessity of matching institution to expectations for dress. I'm still getting over women wearing open-toed shoes and skirts without hose in court!

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

I think I have both. Taste means to me having the ability and desire to exercise discretion and discrimination in selecting one's surroundings, including personal adornment. Style is the end result of the selection process, taken as a whole.

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


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


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

Yes. My house and my garden.

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?

Yes. As noted above, I gave up wearing high heels when I felt as if they made me too vulnerable as I moved around the cities I've inhabited.

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 have a very high propensity to be discerning. I have very strong tastes in everything.

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?

My older female relatives (mother, stepmother, and paternal grandmother) were all highly selective about clothing and style. I learned from them to trust my own taste and instinct about such things. I learned what quality clothing is, how to maintain that quality, and when to dispense with the need for quality.

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

Nothing. My husband makes me feel as if I'm alluring all on my own, in all circumstances.

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?

Comfortable to me means being generally satisfied that you know yourself, and are mostly pleased with your own character and behavior. Confident means that you feel equal to everything life dishes out.

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 that my style philosophy is:
1. dress for your (real) body. Not the one you hope you have, or will someday get, but the one that you actually have;
2. buy the best quality garments you can;
3. keep your clothing clean and get rid of it when it is irreparably stained or ripped;
4. do not be afraid of color - wear colors that make you happy

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


34. What do you consider very ugly?

Cruelty in any form.

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?

Yes, mostly. There are some things I buy on impulse that I don't wear (right now, sleeveless tops without sweaters or jackets)

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?

The person I see is very no-nonsense, but with a lurking sense of fun. What you see is what you get.

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

I always start with black pants and work from there, depending on the season.

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

Appropriate dress to the activities of the day.

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

Dressing up means wearing good jewelry. Really dressing up means an evening gown and the best jewelry.

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

Black pants, crisp white shirt, black tailored blazer or sweater, smoking loafers with something "extra" on the upper (studs, fake jewels, appliqued bugs, embroidery, holes), silver bracelets, rings on both hands, watch, silver earrings.

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

Not me: tight, short, see-through, orange, yellow, brown, ruffles
Me: black, tailored, clean lines

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

WASP, with asian Indian influences. I like jewelry and I'm a total sucker for beautiful fabric.

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?

Yes, see answers to previous questions. In college I dressed only in vintage, in law school I started wearing knee-length skirt suits and heels, but gave those up after having babies.

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

Wear a blazer. I don't really feel professional without one, although I now do feel a judicial robe is the equivalent.

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

I conform, although I don't wear make up or heels.

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

See answers above about judicial robe.

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

I conform.

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

Liberating and comforting.

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?

Tailored black pant suit with slightly padded shoulders to balance out my lower body. Wearing my favorite jewelry. It's comfortable, it's professional, it's adaptible (I can take the jacket off to be more casual).

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?

Would love to wear 40's mens' flashy zoot suits, including the spectator shoes, hat, and watch chain.

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

Japan in the 8th c. (time of Sei Shonagun). I'd love to wear kimono of many different colors, all carefully layered to show off the beautiful fabrics and the wearer's special sensibility about the season of the year and her emotional state.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?


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

Who is that fat woman?

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

Too many to list.

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

Yes, of course.

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


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?

What I wear now, only in smaller sizes.

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


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


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

Love it and wear it every day. But I am highly selective, and hate smelling bad perfume.

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

Waxing the facial hair that grows where I don't want it to grow.

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

I don't wear makeup, except if I'm being photographed, or have to do something really conventional (like meet with the mayor).

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 hate confining clothing - anything "body con" usually seems very ugly to me, even on "perfect" bodies. I also can't stand the use of glitter or rhinestones on ordinary pieces of clothing (except shoes).

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

Lots of T shirts, flat shoes, oxford-type shirts in all colors. Lots of cardigans. And what seems like a hundred pairs of black pants in all materials.

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

Silver bracelet given to me by my husband. Necklace made from the jewelled button on a rajah's tunic I inherited from my stepmother.

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?

I keep a black and white polka dotted summer dress. I don't wear it because it's sleeveless, and I don't wear dresses. I'm not sure why I keep it.
Of course, I also keep lots of stuff (not necessarily in my closet) that is too small for me. Sometimes I fit into it. Sometimes I have to switch it out for larger versions of the same stuff.

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?

Shoes have been the most consistently satisfactory purchases, along with really well-made jackets.

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?

I wish I still had the vintage fur coat (circa 1945) I inherited from my grandmother. It was the warmest thing I ever wore. It had padded shoulders, and made my body look amazing. It started to split along the seams from dryness the moment I started wearing it in high school, and when I wore it lots of women made nasty remarks since they thought I'd purposely destroyed it. I had to throw it away after two years, but I'd love to have it back.

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

a black suit

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

I would buy fewer things, but of higher quality, especially shoes.

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

Haven't ever bought one of those. I think most items people buy of that nature are just marketed that way.

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

Flat shoes!

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


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

Like is with like, but it's not super-organized.

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

Yes. I used to wear multiple silver bracelets, but they jangled too much to wear when I became a judge and all my hearings are recorded. So my husband got me a silent but beautiful silver bracelet.

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?


77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

Every day.

78. Do you like to smell a certain way?

Yes. I like to smell of sandalwood.

80. How does money fit into all this?

I spend too much on clothing.

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

See Q. 75

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

Yes. The constant street hassling I used to get as a younger woman made me incredibly self-conscious about how I looked, even after I realized that what I wore made little difference to what those men chose to say to me.

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?

Yes. I remember wearing my first party dress, which was hand-sewn and smocked of Liberty fabric.

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

1/31/1961. Born in NYC. Now live in Washington DC

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

WASP, but asian Indian stepmother

What kind of work do you do?

I'm a judge

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

Married with 2 kids, girl 23 and boy 21

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

I attended schools that required a uniform until college. For the last 3 years, I've worn a judicial robe at work (or at least, in any hearings in the courtroom).

How do you feel after filling out this survey?

Sort of exhausted.


I'd like the survey to be anonymous.

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