Closet Case

Women have many methods of trying to reconcile their love of clothes with their more intellectual passions. Emily Neill started

Women have many methods of trying to reconcile their love of clothes with their more intellectual passions. Emily Neill started her own company. Neill says her entrepreneurial “Closet Smarts” service is her way of “trying to square my feminism with my more material self.”

Neill is also a Divinity School student working on a doctoral dissertation about feminist theories and the body, in light of new reproductive technologies. She arrives at FM’s designated meeting place looking decidedly un-Divinity School in cranberry lipstick, a coordinating plum top and skirt and flats. She may look cute, but inside she is all business. Her mission—organize the closets of Harvard students.

Angie J. Thebaud ’04-’05

Thebaud arrives to meet us in a casual chic outfit of jeans and a black peasant top layered over a collared shirt. As we walk to her room in Winthrop, Neill begins the analysis. “Are you a clotheshorse?” she asks. Without a trace of hesitation, Thebaud replies in the positive, then backpedals, “Most of what I have, I wear.”

The heel of her Prada pointed-toe red stiletto catches on the pavement for a moment and she gripes, “Cobblestones gobble up your heels.”

Thebaud leads us into a stately common room decorated with modern art. The bedroom is spare, with a quote from Coco Chanel on the wall—“La mode, c’est ce qui se démodé.”

The tour begins. “This is my main closet, and this closet is for our extra shoes.” There is also a third closet, which holds Thebaud and roommate Brittany J. Garza ’04’s coats, “nice dresses” and array of Vuitton luggage. Thebaud, it turns out, is also a strong supporter of a coat wardrobe. Neill says approvingly,  “I’m happy to see that you’re coat people.” Thebaud agrees, “Coats are important. Especially in the winter, because that’s all you see of people.”

After a cursory examination of the closets, Dr. Neill has her diagnosis. “You don’t need much help. You have everything in the right place. You have put bulky sweaters on the top shelf.” She looks through Closet #1, a neat collection of sweaters, shoes and skirts, with a telltale Jasmine bag hanging on one side. Some black Puma sneakers and a pair of boots are scattered on the closet floor. “One suggestion I would make is to carry over shoe organization from one closet to another.” Neill says gently. She also suggests an over-the-door rack for purses. Thebaud responds, “Cool. Good idea.” Otherwise, Neill notes that it is neat, and Thebaud says, “I start off the week with my closet looking like this.”

Neill holds up a gold shawl top: “I have this too!” “That was like a random Filene’s Basement find,” Thebaud says. “Me too!” Neill laughs. “Yeah, you don’t need my help.”

Neill moves to Thebaud’s dresser and begins going through the drawers. “Is this stuff for the gym?” she asks. “Yeah, but I never go to the gym. They’re gathering dust.”

“I would recommend…”

“Going to the gym?”

“…getting rid of stuff if you’re just holding onto.”

Neill also advocates getting rid of wire hangers. They leave marks and “they have that sticky stuff, you know, that gets on your jeans.” As she begins throwing them onto the closet floor, Thebaud asks nervously, “Are you throwing the hangers away?” Neill replies, “Let’s just say I’m encouraging you to explore the world of plastic hangers.”

A Florida native, Thebaud has more than her share of summery wardrobe items. “Are you still going to wear these into fall?” Neill asks disapprovingly as she holds up a pair of khakis. Deep into closet rehab, Thebaud admits, “I know that’s a total faux pas but I still like them.”

Thebaud’s 21st birthday is coming up, and she and Garza are heading to N.Y. for the weekend to celebrate. Neill grabs a fuzzy, black sweater from Express. “I’m actually wearing that tonight,” Thebaud says, snapping it up. Neill jokes, “When you’re 21, you can turn over a new leaf—called plastic hangers.”