Innkeeper finds clothes wear well on furniture, too


If the style fits, wear it -- or decorate with it. That's Susan Belisle's motto when it comes to clothes.

A collector of vintage apparel, she likes some finds so much that she uses them as accents around the House by the Side of the Road, her bed-and-breakfast in the Federal Hill area.

But while she's inclined to throw a bridal veil over a chair for effect (and to hide a paint stain), her personal attire is often more understated. During the workday, it's denim, denim and more denim, she says.

"I dress like that on purpose," says Ms. Belisle, 44, who lives next door to her business. "I try to make sure people are relaxed. And you create that feeling quicker with casual clothes."

How did you get interested in vintage clothes?

My grandmother had some clothes from the '20s that I remember modeling in grade school. I've been drawn to those things ever since. I've even given parties where people have worn old clothes.

You use them as art as well as attire, right?

Yes, I use them in an informal way to set the mood. They're beautiful just hanging around. In the bedroom, I have a combing gown. In the main suite, there's a bridal veil draped over a chair. It's very romantic, and it gives people a sense of the past when they walk in.

What's been your best vintage buy?

A black Civil War-era dress with ecru lace that I bought for $50 and a black velvet coat with an ermine collar for $100.

How's your personal style different from that?

TTC The thing I get from vintage is a love of flowing, soft clothes. When I went to the inaugural ball, I wore a very full gray skirt with a beaded brocade top. It was the most I'd ever spent on anything, almost $1,000, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Around the bed-and-breakfast, I'm pretty plain. I wear jeans, denim shirts and tennis shoes. But I'm also enamored of things that are different. It would be nothing to see me in big earrings and bold colors. I love to have a good time, and my clothes indicate that.

Who most influenced your style?

My Aunt Mary. I remember she used to take me shopping for my birthday. She encouraged me to try on hats and wear outrageous clothes. She and her husband, my Uncle Bubba, egged me on. Thanks to them, I wanted to be a movie star something fierce.

What's your wildest outfit?

I have a shirt where one shirttail is shorter than the other. It has a black and white abstract design. The first thing people say to me when I wear it is, "You buttoned your shirt wrong."

What drew you to that?

I appreciate the strange. Everybody can dress in blue denim. It takes guts to do the other. I have found that clothing is one way people will come up and talk to you.

What would you like to see more of in your closet?

Color. I'm drawn to red, black and white. But over the next few years, I'm going to inject more color in my wardrobe. I love pale pink and blue, but I don't have much.

What was your most traumatic clothing event?

When I was getting married in 1967, it was popular to wear cutoffs and sandals. My husband-to-be and I were going to check out a Southern mansion where we were thinking of having our reception. We discovered when we got there that we'd walked into this formal party. All these people were staring at us. We left but not without looking in all the rooms. We ended up not having the reception there, but I went back years later in proper attire.

Do you know some dressers? Let us know. Write to Mary Corey, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

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