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Emily Raboteau

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

When I’ve said something smart or true, especially if it was difficult or risky to say.

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

I so admire the way French women wear scarves. I don’t know how they tie them. I’ve looked for videos on Youtube. I remain mystified.

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

At an artists colony another writer observed that I used a bubble mailer as a case for my laptop computer and asked, “Don’t you have a job? Can’t you afford better than that?” I was still thinking like a graduate student, operating from a place of deprivation. Basically, she pointed out that I was cheap and that it showed. I was embarrassed and later bought myself a computer case that I really liked. I think of that conversation sometimes when I’m trying to talk myself out of buying an article of clothing I really love.

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

I have an ideal of a unified way of approaching these things. I strive for it, but fall short because I don’t get enough sleep. It involves excellent time management and hiring out the crap I don’t want to do like cleaning the floors and the inside of the oven.

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

I splurged once on a dress with at a boutique in Soho made of African fabric. It was 50% off but still ridiculously expensive. Once I tried it on I couldn’t not buy it because it fit me so perfectly. I had it remade in Ghana with cloth that I bought there, for next to nothing. I was wearing the remake in Buenos Aires when my husband proposed to me.

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

I wouldn’t say that my style has changed since having kids, but I would say that the effort I put into dressing and grooming has decreased by 85%.

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

It’s nine o’clock at night and I’m bushed having been up since 4:00 this morning when my baby woke to be fed. I’m wearing an ill-fitting pair of faded jeans from the Gap that are frayed at the hems. They feel a size too large. I’m not sure what my pants-size is these days. I’m wearing a long-sleeved purple deep V-neck t-shirt with three quarter length sleeves that I wore also as a maternity top and that I didn’t change out of, even when my daughter spat up on my shoulder this afternoon. Under the shirt I’m wearing a black lace nursing bra that I own two of because it fits correctly and is nearly sexy. Over the purple shirt I have on a tie-dye wrap shirt in fall colors that my stepmother gave to me as a hand-me-down. I don’t like it, but it’s the right weight for the temperature. I also wore it while pregnant. My socks are threadbare in the heels and I’m wearing slip-on blue suede walking shoes with white stitching made by Naturalizer. I bought them while pregnant when I could no longer tie my own shoes. They are exactly as comfortable as they sound, and exactly as attractive. My hair is in a sloppy kind of bun. I didn’t brush it today. I can’t remember if I showered today. I’m not wearing any makeup, though I believe I’m wearing deodorant. The only jewelry I have on is my wedding ring.

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

Bohemian chic. I never learned to shop from my mother, who used to sew some of our clothes, and otherwise bought things at thrift stores. I inherited from her a feeling that money should be spent on more important things, and that people who cared about their wardrobes overmuch were vain. Then I went through a terrible break-up in my mid-twenties and part of my grieving was to watch marathons of “What Not to Wear” on TLC. If you’re not familiar with that show, there are a pair of hosts named Stacey and Clint who take a woman who dresses terribly, teach her some rules about how to shop for her body after breaking her down by talking trash about her terrible clothes, and then give her $5,000 to buy a new wardrobe in NYC. They also get a hair and makeup makeover. But the rules portion was really enlightening for me. There was a science to shopping well, and shopping smart for clothes that looked expensive, even if they weren’t. And, they always pointed out, to women who often thought they were invisible or that clothes didn’t matter, that going to work was an event, life was an event, and nobody is invisible. In one episode, Stacey shouted, “Color, pattern, texture, shine!” over and over again like a drill sergeant. I still think of that sometimes, as a mantra for writing and for dressing.

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

Yes, the art on my walls reflects my style and my travels at least as well as the clothes in my closet. My book-jacket was designed by a friend who took inspiration from some of the folk artwork on my walls. When I first saw his design I thought it was something I should like to wear, and I knew that meant it was a good fit for the text.

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?

When I started teaching graduate students I was 26 years old, and when my students asked me my age I lied and said I was 40 so they’d respect my authority. I also tried to dress the part to feel less fraudulent. Once I had to tell a male student who was older than I that if he didn’t drop out of my course I was going to fail him. (He’d missed too many classes.) He was very angry and came to speak with me during office hours. He wanted to plead his case. I expected him to yell at me and planned for the meeting by wearing high heels, getting my nails done, putting my hair up and donning a gray Brooks Brothers suit with subtle peach pinstripes. I told him I had five minutes to discuss the matter and asked him to sit in a chair that was lower than my desk chair. I told him I wasn’t flexible about the matter and gave him a copy of the syllabus that clearly stated the attendance policy. He then punched a hole in my office wall. Later I hung a picture over the hole.

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

Some mornings my standards are very low. Is it without stains? Does it smell okay? Is it going to keep me warm? Good enough. Other mornings I actually care. Is there color, pattern, texture, shine? Is it age appropriate? Flattering?

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?


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

It gives me a headache and I don’t usually enjoy it. When I pick my daughter up from daycare her head smells like the perfume of the woman who holds her and the scent makes me jealous, as if I’d discovered it on my husband’s shirt. My best friend gave me a bottle of perfume when my last book was published made by the Demeter Fragrance Library. It’s called “Paperback,” and I like the way it smells. My mother-in-law collects bottles of perfume and arranges them on her bureau. As far as I know, she never wears them. They’re status symbols.

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 have a fudge brown double breasted wool Hugo Boss overcoat with purple silk lining and white buttons. It cost half my rent and I bought it to prove a point to the saleswoman who didn’t want to take it off the mannequin to let me try it on. At the time I thought she was racist and didn’t believe I could afford it (which I really couldn’t) but now I think she was probably just underpaid and spread to thin to be bothered with going the extra mile. The lower half of the coat, which is full, like a skirt, unzips so that the top can be worn like a bolero jacket. I never wear the coat. It’s too heavy and a little too small in the ribcage.

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

A silk Diane von Furstenburg wrap-shirt. It’s red with a pattern of tiny little airplanes and I absolutely love it. My husband bought it for me long before we were married, on Valentine’s Day. It was a very elaborate date that he planned, with three chapters. First he brought me to a Buddhist Temple on Canal Street, then to the Museum of Sex to see an exhibit about sex in the animal kingdom, and then to Bloomingdale’s to buy an article of clothing. His rule for me was that it couldn’t be a sale item. The three-part date had some logic behind it. Like “Eat, Pray, Love,” but with different variables, obviously. Workship, Fuck, Dress? I can’t remember what the logic was now, but I knew I was being seriously wooed, and I appreciated it. It was hard for me to let him spend that much money on me, especially because at the time I would have rather he put it toward paying off his student-loan debt, but now I can see that it was well worth it because I wear that shirt a lot and it hasn’t disintegrated and it looks good on me.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

Lately I have only been shopping for kids’ clothes at tag sales. The closest I’ve come to shopping for myself in two years has been going down to our storage locker in the basement of my building to switch out one season’s wardrobe for another.

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?

Wonderwoman underoos, 1979. I was three years old. I wanted them very badly because I believed if I wore them I would be Wonderwoman. My parents gave them too me on my birthday and I put them on right away, not understanding they were underclothes. I wore them with red rain boots and felt very powerful.

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

July 11, 1976
Oakland, CA; NYC

What kind of work do you do?

Author/professor of Creative Writing

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

Married, 2 kids

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