Five Minutes with Betsy Brooks Wendell, owner of Octavia Boutique

Betsy Brooks Wendell began modeling as a teenager, walking runways and posing for print campaigns. But she often felt like she wanted to be on the other side of the camera.

"I always wanted to see what the photographer was seeing through his lens, and how can we make the shot better," said Wendell, 52, a third-generation owner, through marriage, of Octavia Boutique in Baltimore's Village of Cross Keys.


Modeling brought her to the shop in the mid-1990s, when she would show off outfits for customers during trunk shows. That first career and a creative flair has continued to influence her as owner of the upscale women's apparel shop, started in 1965 by Octavia Dugan, her former husband's grandmother.

In spring, business typically picks up for Easter, the Jewish holidays and other special occasions, and Wendell finds herself advising customers on fit and style and encouraging them to try something new.

"We always just try to say 'Step out of your comfort zone,'" Wendell said. "You have to give fashion a chance."

While the "athleisure" trend has many women dressing in yoga pants, others still want to dress up for special occasions, and are looking for just the right dress, hat, jacket, shoes and accessories such as shawls and scarves, she said.

"It gives them an opportunity to get out of their everyday look and step it up a notch," Wendell said.

This spring, colorful print dresses, bright jackets and and bold necklaces have been big sellers, she said. The store, which features designers such as Joseph Ribkoff and Frank Lyman Design, tends to attract professional women over age 40.

"We've always been known at Octavia for really being dressed, and Octavia herself was always impeccably dressed, no matter what," Wendell said.

Dugan had been a friend of James Rouse, developer of Columbia and Cross Keys, "who was building this thing called a mall and said, 'Why don't you open a store?'" Wendell said. Dugan died in 2014 at age 98.


Wendell has worked at Octavia since 1995, when she met her former husband, who then ran the shop with his father. She started in sales before becoming a dress buyer. She has been sole owner for 12 years and still does the buying. But she most enjoys working with customers, many of them regulars.

"They're coming to us when they're getting married, then they're getting a suit for their child's christening or bar mitzvah, then their daughter's wedding or son's wedding," she said. "We get to experience all the happy moments in their lives."


Betsy Brooks Wendell

Owner, Octavia Boutique


Age: 52

Previous job: Fashion model

Residence: Rodgers Forge, Towson

Birthplace: Washington

Education: Severn High School and Anne Arundel Community College

Family: Two sons, William, 17; James, 16

Hobbies/Interests: Working with charities Samaritan House, Helping Up Mission, The Baltimore Station, playing basketball and tennis with sons