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Chin-Sun Lee

1. When do you feel at your most attractive?

At night, going out. Or relaxing on a beach. And I feel prettier wearing my contacts, though for most of the day I wear my glasses.

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

I notice strikingly attractive or unusual-looking women—women with cool noses or interesting bone structure, and women who are racially mixed. I notice women with amazing skin, or conversely, terrible acne (in the latter case, men too). I notice women who've had obvious plastic surgery, and it scares me. I notice poorly groomed toenails in the summertime, which I find distressing. I admire women who carry themselves with grace and confidence, who seem to suggest an enviously complicated, wonderful inner life. I often notice women out at night trying to walk in heels that are uncomfortable, or women wearing skimpy clothing on a frigid evening, and I think, Oh honey.

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

I really admire women who can manage high heels, walk in them like they're nothing.

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?

There are too many moments to recount. I will say that over the years I've gotten to really know my style and what I feel comfortable in, so rarely make mistake purchases on some trend that is hot at the moment but isn't really me.

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

Good bras, panties, and socks—when I find ones I really like, I buy tons in nude, black, white, grey—cuz I hate when things I like go out of production. Also tee shirts and cashmere sweaters.

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

I've passed on a lot of my clothes to my friend Katie, and I am always happy when I see her wearing them, giving them new life.

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

Well I've raided my mom's closet in the past for some of her vintage clothing, but I've always shown her what I wanted and asked permission to keep them (usually she said yes).

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

I got a big fashion job when I was 27, and bought clothes like crazy. I mean, I had a new outfit every day of the week, really professional-looking, expensive clothes, even suits!—that I hoped would make me look older than I was. I can't even imagine investing that much money and energy on such things now. Or wearing any of those clothes.

16. Please describe your body.

I'm 5'4" and slender. Size 2-4, bra cup 32A. I'm pretty happy with my body, I like that I have broad shoulders, toned arms, and a small waist. I wish my tummy was flatter and that my ass would stop dropping, and lately I'm noticing some cellulite on the back of my thighs. But ya know, I'm over 40 now, and though I do work out, I'm not a gym bunny, and I love food. So fuck it.

17. Please describe your mind.

Ever-evolving, I hope. I feel pretty content at the moment, though of course I wish I were smarter and faster and funnier. I'm usually quite methodical, but I think this is cuz I'm actually pretty scattered at times, so I need the organization.

18. Please describe your emotions.

I can be easily moved and even sentimental—or impatient and witheringly judgmental. I appear calm and pragmatic on the outside (and I can be those things), but I feel like most of what I take in of the world is filtered through my emotions, how I perceive people's characters. At the moment, I feel quite optimistic and happy, if for no other reason than that my deadline is over and the weather is balmy.

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

Black bra, camisole, and panties. Hair down, no make-up, glasses.

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

By 'this stuff' if you mean this survey: it fulfills a completely solipsistic, entertaining, time-frittering, I-don't-want-to-do-my-own-work need for distraction. About style or dressing in general: it's important because clothing is a form of personal expression that everyone participates in—so of course the choices we all make in that area provide clues to who we are.

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—but I think style is more important. To me, taste is having the ability to discern good quality and design, to appreciate what is fine. Style is using that taste towards something very specific and personal. To exude, through what one chooses to wear or display or live in, a sense of one's individuality. Taste is more passive, observational; style requires participation and presentation.

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

I have a vintage cotton bra that pushes my boobs up w/o being overly Wonderbra-ish. And slightly empire dresses give you the illusion of a smaller waist, plus allow more room in the tummy area to eat cuz it doesn't cut you right in the middle.

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

I try to approach most aspects of my life with a balance of pragmatism and hope, reality and fantasy, obligation and self-indulgence. I have limited tolerance for bullshit or self-consciousness, though I sometimes tell untruths and feel socially awkward. Integrity and morality sound so self-righteous, but they are important principles to me. In general, just not being an asshole.

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 anticipate confrontational meetings with certain clients, I make sure I dress sharper than usual. I can't go in looking like a schlump; I feel like, why give them even that little advantage?

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 don't think they taught me anything directly, but with two older sisters, I got a lot of hand-me-downs, so I was aware we were on a budget. Even aside from clothing, my parents were not wasteful. By the time I was in my teens, we were doing better financially, and then my mom would take me along when she went clothes-shopping, and would always buy me something (on sale). She had tremendous style and grooming—I definitely absorbed a sense of glamour watching her getting dressed and putting on her make-up.

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

I like to be really well groomed: legs and pits shaven, fresh manicure/pedicure, clean sleek hair, and precise make-up. I like pale skin, a smoky eye, and red lips. A very faint dash of Chanel 19. At night, I wear dark-hued clothes that are sexy in a subdued, low-key way—a body-skimming dress or sleeveless top w/ skinny jeans, usually with some kind of statement necklace. No animal prints or bandage dresses, nothing hootchie—and if it's low-cut or short, then the rest should be more covered up. Also, if I'm dressing up, I like the look of heels, though I pretty much never wear them otherwise.

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

An amazing pair of shoes! On a deeper level, I think: contentment. Warmth.

34. What do you consider very ugly?

Vapidity, entitlement, selfishness, slovenliness, ignorance. Too much plastic surgery. Clothes that are inappropriate for one's age or body type; i.e., midriff-baring clothes over flabby stomachs, muffin-top-inducing jeans, super short skirts over the age of 40, overly-twee outfits over the age of 30, going braless in a sheer t-shirt, underwear lines, ass-crack low-risers, animal prints (though I concede they work on some people), tacky beads/studs/embellishments, designer names printed on anything, genie pants, caftans—unless you are a fabulous Upper East Side doyenne, or Aretha Franklin.

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'd guess I appear neat and clean and comfortable, either focused and in a rush or possibly befuddled. Efficient. Not unfriendly but preoccupied. Probably I appear more conservative than I am. It's hard to answer this; I'm basing this composite on a combination of other people's past observations, astrological forecasts, my own guess-timation.

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

It really depends on what I have to do. Frankly, since I work from home, there are many days where I don't even shower or change out of my jammies. But I do wash my face and brush my teeth.

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

That really depends on my purpose in going out the door. Sometimes I want to be incognito, like when I haven't showered and just have to pop out for an errand; on those occasions I wear my glasses, hair up in a knot, with muted, low-key clothes, and sneakers. When I have a special event, I want to look pretty and be noticed, but not necessarily ogled—I very rarely wear super sexy or tight clothing. This doesn't stem from shame about my body (for instance, I love wearing bikinis at the beach), but from what I guess is an aversion to flashiness, to showing off, or too obviously crying out for attention. Generally, I want to be comfortable and stylish, without looking like I tried too hard.

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

I like those classic shirtdresses you see on schoolgirls, they're pretty universal—preferably in navy or grey. I never wore school uniforms as a kid and wish I could have.

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

I'm a first generation Korean-American. My parents are pretty traditional, and grew up during the Korean War, so they're financially pragmatic. I'm not as frugal, but I'm not wasteful either. I made a lot of money from my late 20s to late 30s, and then I decided to leave full-time employment to write and go to grad school. Now I have student loan debts and work freelance, so my budget priorities have changed. Clothes are less important. Also, since I work from home, and in general like to be comfortable, I dress more low-key, t-shirts and jeans, etc.

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?

I have sometimes wished I could be a man so that I could act as aggressively as I wanted and not be judged for it. But no, I really have never wanted to dress like a man or wanted a man's body. Women's clothing is so much more fun and varied!

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

Probably the 60s to early 70s: Mary Quant, Pierre Cardin, YSL, shift dresses, bold prints, denim, mod minis and hippie maxi-dresses. But I don't I'm getting older, I'm thinking the 30s were so elegant.

52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?

No. I don't consider myself not photogenic either. Sometimes I take good pictures, sometimes not. People make funny faces and expressions that, when captured and static, can look ghastly, but in reality, those expressions flit by and multiply and are part of a personality. Therefore, I hope I look better than my worst pictures.

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

Audrey Hepburn had great iconic style: Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast At Tiffany's—she looked amazing in all of them. John Singer Sargent's Madame X. Bianca Jagger, Lauren Hutton. Kate Moss always looks super-cool and amazing. Tilda Swinton. I can't emulate any of them, but I admire their individual styles.

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

I'd look ridiculous in wide-legged trousers. And I'd be damn uncomfortable in anything too overtly tight or sexy, like a leopard print mini. I think I'm kind of prudish when it comes to what I wear out in public.

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?

I'm about 5'4" with the Asian proportion of longer waist and shorter legs. I wish I were about an inch or two taller, with the extra length in my legs, so that I could wear flats with impunity.

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

Oh god, yes. Some are pretty clear from my other answers. In general I'd say: dress for what is appropriate for your body/age/occasion. That saying, 'Wear the clothes, don't let the clothes wear you' is a cliche, but very apt.

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

Wash them? Ha, I don't know.

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

I do pretty minimal, unless I'm going out. I'm not very experimental, I know what works and I stick to it. Don't like to spend lots of time fussing.

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?

The current midriff-baring trend is one that only works for about .001% of the female population. Also, high-waisted bottoms are just not comfortable. The 50s full skirts are very pretty, but not for me—too girly—unless it was for evening, like a great Dior cocktail dress.

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

In winter: dark and bright cashmere sweaters, skinny jeans, a variety of coats. In summer: bright happy dresses, tee shirts and tanks, ankle-length jeans. I don't really wear skirts.

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

Right now it's a navy n white scattered polka dot shirtdress I got from Uniqlo for 30 bucks! It's easy, flattering, comfortable, looks sort of vintage. I would wear it every day if I could.

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?

Hmm. Probably good staples, things that are well made that last, not too trendy, usually black. I have a great Katayone Adeli black kid leather jacket I bought at least 15 years ago. It cost $1,000—my first ever splash-out—but I still wear it all the time. It's dead simple and fits like a glove. It has basically molded to my body.

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?

Recently I realized I've lost a black-and-grey striped t-shirt. It's nothing special, it wasn't my favorite, but it was a good staple. And it really bugs me that I can't find hide nor hair of it, or have any idea where it went.

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

Oh no!—I can't.

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

I once spent $1,200 on a pair of boots. I could afford it at the time (about 10 years ago), but still, after I bought them I was in a state of shock, almost as if I'd stolen them. That's when I realized, Okay. These are one-offs. I can never do this again. And I never have.

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

I have a winter closet and a summer closet, so it's pretty easy to find things. And I have a dresser for my bras, undies, socks. I'm pretty neat. Sometimes the tee shirt and sweater stacks get a bit jammed up, or I'll lose things and have to excavate and re-fold. I always clean out my closets before a new season.

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

A few summers ago, I was at a party hosted by a casual friend, who wore a gorgeous vintage Sonia Rykiel dress I admired. I teased her, "If you ever get sick of it, I'll take it." That winter, I got an anonymous package in the mail; when I opened it, there was the dress, along with a note from her saying she'd moved to Maine, had worn the dress enough, and wanted me to have it. At first I felt I couldn't accept, but then I tried it on—and it fit perfectly. In return, I sent her a cashmere scarf. Her gift still blows me away, because she wasn't a close friend, and it was so incredibly generous and thoughtful.

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?

Cotton stretch bras from American Apparel—but they bag out quickly, and now their sizing runs too big, so I can't buy replacements. Those were a great staple.

77. How and when do you shop for clothes?

In person mostly, online sometimes. I usually go on a little spree before each new Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter.

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

These days, not so much. Since I'm still in fashion, I should probably dress better/more trendy but I'm also a writer and I work from home and I just don't care. I love clothes and looking nice, but my money goes more towards travel, books, entertainment, food and drink.

80. How does money fit into all this?

It factors in a lot. I don't indulge at all the way I used to—I work from home, so can't justify splashing out on clothes. But each season I need a few somethings to cheer me up, get me in the mood for the change of weather. I love Uniqlo, vintage stores, Barney's Co-op on sale.

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

Tinted lip balm.

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

When I was 16 years old—and I will never forget this, because from ages 13-15 I was a tragic, clueless dork—several people wrote in my yearbook that I was 'the best dresser ever!'

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 about five, I had to wear a hanbok for the first time, which is a traditional Korean dress of either satin or organza, usually very colorful, and quite stiff. For a child it's awkward: first you wrap a white underskirt around your torso, then the bright overskirt over that, and finally this little bed jacket that ties in the front with a sash. I remember it crinkled and scratched, and I couldn't move very freely. It felt very formal and foreign, like wearing a costume. But when my mother wore hers, I thought she was very beautiful.

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

Born in Cambodia, raised in L.A., now a longtime NYC resident.

What kind of work do you do?

I write fiction and design clothing.

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

Single, no kids.

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