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Addie Tsai

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

I feel most attractive when I'm wearing something either very masculine (a tie and a blazer), or something very feminine (lipstick, and a flared skirt or dress), or some combination of the two. I also feel most attractive when I'm wearing something I imagine that no one could wear but me.

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

I absolutely notice women on the street. I notice women who wear things that I wish I could wear, who have figures I wish I had, but I also notice the opposite - women wearing things that feel unconscious of the world around them (not in a different kind of style way, but in a clothes look uncomfortable, or the shoes are too big, etc). And I notice women who have a very distinctive look.

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

Most of the time, I don't think much about jewelry. Someone will buy me a watch or a pair of earrings that I love, and I'll wear them incessantly for months and months, maybe even a year. And I'll wear fingerless gloves and scarves when it gets cold. But jewelry, I don't think much about. And so I really love when I see that on women in unique ways. I really appreciate androgyny, for its fearlessness and its look, and so I admire that. But mostly I admire the little touches.

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?

Yes yes yes. I'm an identical twin who was dressed exactly like my twin my entire childhood, and then even beyond that, and so in my early 20s, I realized that how I dressed would be, in some ways, the only thing that would really set me apart from her. That was a huge revelation. And I began to show parts of my personality through that revelation. Also, I have always loved high fashion that I witnessed on the red carpet, or film, or television, but as a writer, you're not supposed to like expensive clothing - it's consumerism and all artists are supposed to hate consumerism. And so I secretly loved beautiful clothes on celebrities and never told anyone. A year ago, my fiance told me that was ridiculous and that if it makes me happy, who cares? Ever since then, I've made a concentrated effort to dress well, the way that I want, and it's been such a fun, playful, profound thing for me ever since.

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

I will get a certain outfit idea in my head, it has a certain look, and I will go to the ends of the earth to find it. I will not purchase it until it's perfect. That also means that if it's perfect and more expensive than I can bear, I will usually buy it anyway.

Another rule is I buy what feels right. This means I probably say no to a lot that I should say yes to.

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

I'm terrified of clashing, or looking like I didn't think about one item not going with another item, so one of my rules is that as long as you're wearing one color in two places, you can't be accused of not matching.

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

I had a conversation once, a long time ago, with a friend of mine. We both wear lipstick and no other makeup. She said to me, "Lipstick is a kind of armor for me. I feel like, as long as I'm wearing lipstick, nothing bad can happen." We had a very long conversation about feminine dressing as a kind of power, as a re-writing of gender. It's a conversation I remember and think of often.

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

I try to approach everything in my life through a kind of measured seriousness with a dose of playfulness.

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

I have many oxfords with short heels, a few blazers, many ties and scarves. They are items I am always drawn to, that I can never say no to.

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

I met a woman in graduate school who was ten years older than me, beautiful and sophisticated and smart and thoughtful, but she was making all of these choices through her clothing that had to do with her insecurities about herself, her body, and what she imagined others thought of her taste. I made it a point to bring her out of herself, through clothing, even though I was a little 22 year old, and she was a very wise 40 year old woman. I had her wear one of my favorite items ever, a shimmery blue velvet tank top. And then I gave it to her as a kind of symbolic gift. I've seen her since and she's completely come out of her shell, wearing beautiful, sexy outfits that reveal the best parts of her personality. She still wears the tank top, I think.

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

I don't participate in wearing very revealing clothing. I believe in a sense of mystery, and I also protect myself from unwanted attention. I just can't do it. I never have been able to.

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

My mother was always very curvy. I think because she was ashamed of her weight, she never wore underwear (bottoms) and she always wore black leggings and oversized black shirts. I think it bothered me then, that I never got to see her wear a dress, or blue jeans, or anything bright and colorful. I never got to see her change as she went out into the world, or went to a dinner party. So, I suppose I dress the way that I do in reaction against that.

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

I was raised mostly by my father, who wore suits to work every day. It must have been from him that I got my endless desire to dress in ties. I am always drawn to a very beautifully tailored suit. He never wore anything that fancy or refined, but I'm sure it's from watching him go to work every morning that had me notice ties to begin with. I think that my twin sister and I had many, many fights about our outfits, about taking each other's clothes and then forgetting about it, seeing it in the other closet and realizing how much we missed the item. But we did that to each other equally.

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

I've gone through a few phases. When I realized I no longer wanted attention from men (I hit some huge revelation that I'd been dressing for that purpose for years without really knowing it), I went through a phase where I wore nothing feminine, no skirts, no colors, nothing I thought would attract attention. I eventually gave it up because it made me kind of sad to feel controlled in the opposite way. Since then I think I've hit a nice medium.

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

Yes. I am an English professor at a community college, and so I like to challenge my students, who may be unexposed to more radical ways of dressing themselves, by dressing in ways that will stir them up a little. I wear a lot of ties to school, with frilly skirts. I wear men's shoes on occasion, or something I'll wear half business, half boyish wear with a baseball cap. I want them to know that you can't be so quick to judge someone by the way they dress, but also that they can reveal some more complex things about themselves too. Their body can be a stage if they want, and it can also be a curtain.

16. Please describe your body.

I am 5'8", a little curvy, with an average waist. I have a high torso, and short dark hair, and I'm half-Chinese so I'm a bit culturally hard to pin down in the face. I have a young face, and a pronounced collarbone.

17. Please describe your mind.

I can be very silly if I feel safe enough, but mostly, I think deeply and seriously about things. I am highly romantic, and highly serious, and want people to respect the world and each other. I'm a writer - of poetry, nonfiction, etc. But I've also taken photographs and danced. So there are many things swirling in my head all of the time. I'm deeply analytical, and slow in my thoughts.

18. Please describe your emotions.

I'm incredibly sensitive and impassioned and work very hard to be an emotionally healthy person. I handle sadness better than anxiety.

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

I'm wearing a Blaque Label pink fluffy skirt, with layers of netting and tulle underneath the main skirt. I'm wearing knee high socks from Target that are two thirds bright orange, and the tops are pink. I'm wearing glittery converse-like shoes, a blue blazer with a red and blue polka-dotted pocket square, a Swatch watch that looks like a candy bracelet, an oversized men's shirt that is different shades of blue stripes and a lavender tie. Oh, and a red and blue striped baseball cap, and red lipstick. No other makeup. And Eleanor and Park circle earrings made out of paper.

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

Fashion is very important to me, it's kind of like performance art, and a way for me to tell a story about myself, and maybe convince someone else it's okay to dress differently. Also, I teach it, which is something I didn't do before (and actually am planning on teaching your book)! I like to bend the rules of gender, and of sameness (the twin thing again) with how I dress.

21. With whom do you talk about clothes?


22. How do institutions affect the way you dress?

For me, I like to find ways to challenge institutions in how I dress, in subtle ways. I think there are huge opportunities there.

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

Hmm...maybe I have both? I certainly have a distinctive style, at least I've been told! I prefer to have style than taste, because taste, to me, implies something right or wrong.

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

I can't remember what it was, but I've bought things just because I've really wanted to go out and buy something expensive on that day, and then I never wore the thing.

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

A fit-and-flare dress always looks flattering on curvy girls, because you can hide your stomach and show off your high waist.

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?

For years I wore a cross between teal and aqua. I went to Florida and I stared at the ocean, and that very bottom color of the sea, it immediately calmed me. And I became hooked on that color until I realized I was using it as a crutch to get through the world. I haven't replaced it with another one yet, I don't think. Also, blazers at work, they make me feel I can handle anything that happens in the classroom. Like a shield.

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

I wear red lipstick and eye liner and mascara, but usually just lipstick because I am lazy with my face. Frilly skirts.

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

My father is Chinese, and my mother is white. I grew up mostly thinking that Asians had no sense of style, only practicality. That they wore every color of the rainbow but none of them went together. This deeply bothered me! And so I think I spend more time thinking about how I dress because of it. Also, I never got to choose what I wore as a child. And so I make sure not to take it for granted.

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?

YES! Always. I love men's suits, the slickness of them.

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

I really admire Audrey Hepburn, and Blair from Gossip Girl.

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?

Shorts. Sailor shorts maybe, with brass buttons.

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

September 2nd. Houston, and I still live in Houston.

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

I grew up in a suburb south of Houston with my father who was Chinese. Sometimes I got to stay with my mom, who is white and from Nashville.

What kind of work do you do?

I am an English professor and a writer.

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


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

I am very interested in clothing, and lately have been teaching fashion as a kind of text.

How do you feel after filling out this survey?



My poems and nonfiction have been previous published in journals such as NOON: A Journal of the Short Poem, American Letters and Commentary, Forklift, Ohio, The Denver Quarterly, and Post Road, among others. My manuscript of poems, and in its place—, has been a finalist in Four Way Books’ Larry Levis Prize and a semi-finalist in Tupelo Press’s Dorset Prize. I was co-conceiver for Dominic Walsh Dance Theater’s dance theater adaption of Victor Frankenstein, and narrative collaborator of DWDT’s production, Camille Claudel. I currently teach Composition and Literature at Houston Community College, and have also taught creative writing classes on Personal Essay and Creative Nonfiction at Inprint and The Jung Center (in Houston). I am currently a doctoral candidate at the Texas Woman’s University’s Ph.D. in Dance program.

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