When Gwenda-lin Grewal was writing her dissertation — she received an interdisciplinary doctorate in philosophy and classics from Tulane University in 2010 — she went to Target and bought plus-size ladies stretchy lace underwear. She dunked the fabric in tea to make it look antique, and—after some snipping and stitching—the result was Grewal’s first set of handmade gloves. The accessory would become a signature of her whimsical style and mark her first foray into fashion. “I wore them around, and people thought they were very expensive,” Grewal says.

The seeds of Hardly Alice, her Alice in Wonderland–inspired fashion and accessories line, were planted. But first she had to get to New York City, which she did by way of New Haven, Connecticut, where she attended Yale as a postdoctoral fellow. As she worked on a book about philosophy and fashion, she made her way onto the scene. She met a “mad hatter,” who still makes all her hats, and began attending New York Fashion Week. (A much higher-end version of her gloves decorated the arms of Erin Fetherston’s models at Fashion Week last February.)

Now in Dallas, Grewal describes her style as a cross between ladylike and boyish, and her closet contains an abundance of stripes, peplums, Peter Pan collars, and suspenders. “I’m never quite sure why I pick the things I pick,” Grewal says. “They call out to me, and then I wear them until I’m tired.”

Grewal also makes cat and bunny ears, much to the delight of a younger, would-be customer at Austin Fashion Week. “She was utterly enchanted by the fact that this grown lady would put on cat ears and just rock ’em,” she says. “It’s kind of wonderful to shake people’s expectations in a way that makes them charmed rather than repulsed.”