To understand Melanie Sabelhaus' style, look in her sock drawer. There, you find 40 pairs of knee socks festooned with everything from flags and stripes to flowers and horses.
As the president of Exclusive Interim Properties, a real-estate firm that rents furnished accommodations to executives, movie stars and others passing through town, she's likely to turn up for work in a pair of Bermuda shorts, a blazer and socks.
"My children tell me I look like a geek," says Ms. Sabelhaus, 45, who lives in Green Spring Valley, "but that's OK."
One place you won't see her eye-catching leg wear, though, is at A Tasting at the Station, the Maryland International Center's benefit at Green Spring Station on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Ms. Sabelhaus, a volunteer for the event, is foregoing the preppie style for something more garden partyesque: a wide-brimmed coral hat and colorful spring dress.
What sets your style apart?
Boldness. I'll put on a bright hat or wide palazzo pants. I came to Baltimore dressing like I did in New York and Miami. For the first few months, I was taken aback at how much more conservative things were here. But I quickly got over that.
How would you describe your look?
Friends say it's "sophisticated casual." I've never had the typical navy blue suit and pumps. I can be a chameleon in my business: I'll wear a suit to meet with the CEO of Crown Petroleum one day and a pair of shorts to see Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald the next.
What is it with the knee socks?
It started in college. It was part of my uniform. That's just me. I adore hats. I wear bright lipstick. I'm tall -- 5-foot-11 -- and I never de- accentuate my height.
What's your standby?
An Ellen Tracy suit that has a plaid blazer with green leather trim, a long skirt and a paisley silk blouse. It's a combination of the color, texture and the way it falls on me. I put it on and feel terrific.
When it comes to dressing, what matters most?
The most important thing to me is that my clothes project who I am, how I feel and what I believe in.
Anything in your closet you wouldn't dare wear again?
One dress is questionable. It's a little daring. I wore it when I was co-chair of the Preakness Ball several years ago. It's a strapless black Norma Kamali. It's in the back of my closet now. I think it might be too low-cut.
How did you learn to dress the way you do?
From my mother Millicent, who's 82. She was a clothes horse who taught me that clothes are important. She encouraged me to go into modeling, which I did. I started at 13 -- I was 5-foot-9 then -- and modeled through high school. It was the best thing I ever did, because it made me realize that being tall is wonderful. Now my daughter Alexa, who's 13 and 5-foot-10, is getting into modeling too.
Where do you shop?
Alexa is my fashion consultant. There's no one I would prefer to shop with more. I like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Nordstrom, and I'm a frequent Talbots and Ann Taylor shopper.
What designers do you prefer?
I love Ellen Tracy and Anne Klein. I'll treat myself occasionally to Karl Lagerfeld. I also like St. John knits and Donna Karan.
Do you know some dressers? Let us know. Write to Mary Corey, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.