A while ago, I received the most amazing email from a reader, Bridget Tyler (who, I would later learn, is an author of teen sci-fi — more on that, later). In her email, Bridget requested that we do a style feature on her longtime BFF, Janice Kao.
“I’ve been taking Janice’s advice for 2/3rds of my life,” she wrote. “She’s a quiet well-spring of wisdom about music, children’s toys, thrifted clothes, wine, gluten-free cooking, vegetarian diets that don’t suck, brands you can only pick up while casually shopping in Taipei, restaurants, podcasts, books ranging from political analysis to YA to bodice rippers. Sharing a few meals with her family will teach you a dozen new ways to make eating vegetables exciting for children and amusing for grownups (I’m not gonna lie, I totally got into eating my vegetables in rainbow order too).”
An Interview With Janice Kao On Her Personal Style, Packing For A Tropical Island, Socks & What To Read
She goes on to say that Janice has a talent for living life well, and finding ways to create joy. She would love to see Janice be part of this big ol’ conversation about life, fashion or whatever that we’ve been having over here on TME for the last decade or so.
By the time I was done reading Bridget’s email, I was all choked up. And immediately emailed Janice.
It took Janice and I a few months to get our stuff together (holidays, etc.,). And Bridget was right: Janice is a wealth of information. Her take on, well, virtually anything, is thoughtful yet achievable.
1. Describe yourself in one sentence.
I can already tell – this is going to be the hardest question! I’m a mom, daughter, sister, wife, friend, person who loves learning about other people and figuring out what makes them tick. I’m a great listener and have an oddly specific memory for personal details, which my husband cautions me to scale back so that I don’t come across as stalker-ish. Oh shoot, this is not one sentence. I used to be a good direction-follower, but am enjoying coloring outside the lines more as I get older.
2. Can you give our readers a little rundown on what you do, how you spend your time? (Bonus points for a pie chart of life)
I work in public health nutrition research and am an evaluation specialist at the University of California. My organization conducts research and evaluation to inform nutrition and food-related policies and programs. For realz, you want a pie chart? You got it!
As you can see, outside of my pie chart-making and other (paid) work related hours, I do a lot of mom-ming and stuff to keep our lives in order! If I could get the email/meeting slice to shrink and the exercise and leisure slices to grow, I’d be golden. But, once my office goes back in-person and we add in a commute…<le sigh>* well, we’ll just have to see.
*an extra dramatic “French” sigh
3. Describe your personal style in three words.
Comfort-driven, fun, easy. (I generally aim for at least 2 of these 3 on any given day.)
My fashion inspirations are my mom (always classic and put-together, even when she’s casual), my sister (bold and glam – totally editorial, especially for a Berkeley kid!), and my husband (he’s always been way more on-trend than I ever have, and is good about maintaining a current-but-minimalist capsule wardrobe).
Side note: my husband’s and my wardrobes are starting to look weirdly similar – does this happen to all long-standing couples? Or have we absorbed our kids’ love of matching “twinsie” outfits without realizing? We used to feel alarmed, but now we just lean in.
4. What outfit(s) do you wear on repeat?
If I’m being completely honest, right now it’s leggings (but fun ones! With pockets!) and a hoodie. If I feel like getting dressed, then lately I’ve been building outfits around these items:
Uniqlo Leggings – Mine are slightly different. They are more ankle-length, but I am really digging the green color, and have worn them in all seasons…like actual ones that we experience when traveling, not just California non-seasons!
Chunky Knit Sweater – My exact sweater (Good American, old) is not super-warm, and doesn’t fit under a jacket, but has a comforting weight to it and I’m enjoying finding ways to make it work as a fun top layer.
Bobeau Joggers – If I’m feeling fashion-lounge-y (this is a thing, right?), I will wear my chunky Good American sweater with these super-cozy, soft joggers.
5. Favorite pair of jeans (if you wear jeans)
I’m in a total jeans rut. I love them and don’t like any of the ones I have right now. Send help.
6. You’re packing for a tropical island – what do you bring? Like…specifically. Name names.
I love packing for tropical islands and anywhere warm! I bring all the stuff I never get to use at home in Berkeley, CA. My family’s from Taiwan, so we do actually go to a tropical island pretty frequently!
I typically pack some sort of chambray sleeveless dress, shorts, culottes in a color/pattern one would only wear on tropical vacays (ASOS has some fun ones), and a sarong! So useful. I wear mine like a halter dress or side-tie skirt if we’re visiting a Hindu temple (see how to tie it here).
I also pack a lightweight sleeveless blouse and graphic tees (I like t-shirts that rep where I’m from). And I typically pack some kind of t-shirt dress that works as beach cover-up or “real” clothes.
7. You’re heading to Paris. What footwear do you pack?
These white Suavs sneakers.
I wear them with everything! Shorts, dresses, jeans, leggings. Super-comfortable and I’ve thrown them in the washing machine a bunch of times. And I don’t drive, so I walk a ton.
8. Top three beauty products. Go…
9. I hear you have strong opinions about socks. Care to share with the class?
Lol. Can I copy and paste my text convo with my bestie?
[Note from S: the below conversation has been edited for clarity. And also nobody texts with proper punctuation in real life, but for this I…couldn’t…let it go.]
Bridget Tyler: Okay, super random question, but I’m hung up on socks with sneakers right now and your socks situation on the trip was always spot-on.
Janice Kao: Ha ha, thank you! i have lots of opinions about socks, but am not always on-trend…
Bridget Tyler: I don’t care as long as it looks good. Which I feel like your sock situation always does…
Janice Kao: I don’t like no-show (also, they never stay on my feet? how do people do it?), unless it’s a very low-profile sneaker, and even then, I prefer low-cut socks. I have something similar to these Puma socks that work better for me. Cut-wise, I just want it to be below ankle — I feel like i’m okay with that small amount of sock showing.
Bridget Tyler: How high do they go? I got these Hue Crew Mini Socks and they just dig into my calves in a weird way.
Janice Kao: Yeah, I keep my ankle exposed/bare — I need max leg-lengthening!
It’s counter-intuitive from hiking boots, where I’m trying to add a little bulk right above the top of the boot — both for comfort and to try to minimize the width discrepancy between ankle and widest part of calf.
For my hiking boots, I like scrunchy hiking socks, kinda like these Wigwam socks. I pull them up, over leggings, if that’s what I’m wearing, and scrunch down if I’m doing shorts or bf jeans or something like that.
Bridget Tyler: Yeah I liked those! I am going to try it with my high-tops. Loose jeans was what I was thinking/contemplating.
Janice Kao: If my pant leg is loose, it usually fits around (and hides) the top of my sock/boot anyway, it’s the cropped/cuffed jeans that are tricky to manage sometimes.
10. Three books you’d recommend.
First, plugs for my two best friends, who are amazing writers and I’m so proud and honored to have had the chance to be their beta readers:
- Bridget Tyler — The Pioneer, and sequel The Survivor: amazing world-building and such good dialogue! Fingers and toes crossed these will make it on-screen someday – I love fantasy-casting Bridget’s stories! (Also available on Amazon: The Pioneer and The Survivor)
- Alanna Peterson’s The Call of the Crow Quartet: YA (young adult) thriller that covers topics near and dear to my heart, and set in Seattle, where Alanna and I met! I lovingly refer to her quartet as The Wire for YA fiction (this comparison may not make sense to anyone but me – read the series and see what you think!) Alanna is currently offering a free download for the first book in the series! (Also available at Amazon.)
- Okay, so I know that between Bridget and Alanna, that’s actually six books, but I’m still claiming this opportunity to recommend one more. Crying in H-Mart was my most favorite recent read. So good! I love memoirs, the Pacific Northwest (Hi, Laura!), indie music, Asian-American identity stories, food and cooking journeys, wedding scenes, travel…Michelle Zauner includes all of it and more.
11. What motivates you?
This is completely cheesy, but I really just want to make the world a better place. I mean, after these last two years…how can we not want that? Not always in a lofty, high-impact way – for me, it can just mean doing what I can when I can. It can be personal, like texting a friend, calling my family, bringing in the neighbor’s trash can… Saying “yes” when my kid asks if I can read her a book, instead of “maybe later”. Giving someone the gift of undivided attention.
Other times, I get fired up and volunteer for Get Out the Vote efforts or policy-oriented things, like trying to enact nutrition policy at the university. But, mostly, it’s the little things I do in the day-to-day — things that are both easy for me to do and I know will help someone or make them happy. These actions make me feel happy, too — and that’s motivating.
Janice, thank you so much for playing along, and for giving us the gift of your attention. (And Bridget, thank YOU for emailing, you were completely right: Janice is a gem.)
ps. I love doing these features on you guys. They’re always so inspiring. So. If anyone out there has something to say (or if you want to nominate a bestie), shoot me an email: email@example.com. Warning: I’m kiiind of the worst at replying in a timely fashion, and while I’m trying to get better…keep that bar low. xo!