If you're Mary Ann Gray, mother of four, career woman and volunteer, your daily goal in life is simple: to get out of the house intact.
Some days that means wearing a blazer to hide oatmeal stains from your toddler's breakfast or artfully arranging a scarf to hide the strawberry-jam remains of a sloppy kiss. In the worst-case scenario, it means proceeding through a presentation after realizing you're wearing two different shoes, an occupational hazard of letting your little ones root around in the closet.
"Looking decent is my challenge for the day," says Ms. Gray, 39, director of the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association, an investment firm in Baltimore.
But there are days when she clearly aims higher than that. Like on Feb. 28, when she'll wear a plum-colored Bill Blass dress to the Great Chef's Dinner, a benefit she's helped organize at the Brass Elephant for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland.
"I enjoy my clothes," she says, "but I don't take them too seriously."
What's your style?
It's very personal. It's very colorful, and for me, it's distinctive. It's not outrageous, but it's not conservative. It rides that fine line.
What are your favorite outfits?
red, black and white wool blazer with a wide collar and cuffs. It's relatively long and dramatic. And a purple single-button blazer trimmed in black and gold. I love blazers. I love to wear simple things with a striking blazer and then accessorize with jewelry and scarves.
What's your funniest mishap?
My kids love to go in my closet and play with my shoes and scarves and clothes. One morning I was rushing to a presentation. I felt put together until I looked down at my shoes. I had two different black shoes on. One of the kids must have been playing around with them, and I wound up wearing a black suede pump with a gold and black patent leather. The heels weren't even the same height. It was pathetic. I got unnerved, but I couldn't blow this presentation, so I didn't say anything. If anyone noticed, they were too polite to mention it.
Where do you shop?
Femme, Nordstrom, Loehmann's, Jones & Jones and the Gap for Kids.
What do you wear when you're in a funk?
When in doubt, I'll go with black. It's a savior. It feels good. It's basic, and it allows me to accessorize in any way I want.
What accessories matter most to you?
I love scarves. They hide a multitude of sins. Sometimes I'll have 5 or 6 safety pins hiding underneath to keep a scarf in place.
What most influenced the way you dress?
When I was cleaning out my closet recently, I came across my grammar school uniform. . . . It occurred to me that I wore a uniform from the time I was in kindergarten through 12th grade. ** Part of my wanting to dress with flair came from having lived in a uniform for that long.
How did you go from uniforms to your current look?
In college, I wore a lot of jeans and hiking boots and long sweaters. Then, after college, I got my first job as the director of marketing for the Hyatt in Chicago. I felt the need to wear conservative suits with Peter Pan collars and bows. It wasn't comfortable, and I decided one day that I wasn't going to wear a typical outfit.
Do your clothes ever meet with a less-than-positive reception?
I'll walk out in something, and my husband will say, 'That's interesting.' But as long as I like it and feel good, I don't care. I recently bought cowboy boots. I don't know why. I like the western look, but it's not right for me. I tried to wear them with a long skirt and long turtleneck. I didn't have the right accessories, but I thought, "I bought these. I have to wear them." My husband saw me and chuckled. Then my oldest daughter said, "Why are you wearing those boots?" I went back upstairs and changed.
Do you know some dressers? Let us know. Write to Mary Corey, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.