For Shirley Polikoff, dressing well is a way of life


Shirley Polikoff could write a book: Confessions of a clothes lover.

She has so many trousers, dusters and accessories that she's outgrown the closets in her Owings Mills home and now stores things in her garage.

Although she recently retired as assistant director of catered events at the National Aquarium, she still shops seriously and dresses well.

"You have to work harder after a certain age to look chic," she says. "But the point is to try to look as smashing as you possibly can."

What's your style?

When I find a look, I stay with it. I try to find different colors and fabrics. But if it's becoming, I'll do it again and again. These days, I usually start with wide-legged pants or long skirts and add various tops -- good cashmere or cotton turtlenecks. Then I add a coat, either with or without sleeves. I'll dress it up with lots of jewelry -- big chokers, pearls upon pearls. Or, I'll dress it down by wearing a straw hat.

What makes you dress the way you do?

It has a lot to do with lifestyle. I've always had a career, and I've always had to have one or two power outfits -- clothes that when you meet with the board they're impressed because they can see you have on an expensive suit. This winter I bought a brown Ellen Tracy suit with a beige blouse and brown suede shoes. I also got a houndstooth Mondi jacket with a long silk skirt and riding boots. I had to take lessons on how to button this skirt. It has four buttons at the waistband and an intricate fold. I started to wear it one day, and I knew I didn't have it on right. I had to go back to Saks and have the saleswoman show me.

What sets your style apart?

I wear no frills, no prints, no furs, no minis. I love hats. I feel when you go shopping, if you want to be waited on well, dress well. The other day, I went shopping and had a plain silk blazer, pants, a beige shell and a good-looking beige hat with a scarf. You put on a hat, and it adds a touch to an outfit that people notice.

What outfit has brought you the most notice?

A cocktail dress I wore on New Year's Eve in New York several years ago. It was a black crepe halter dress, very plunging. I broke my arm in it. I fell on the dance floor. I was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital. I sat there for hours in my red evening coat. A nun came along and said, "How can I make you more comfortable, dear?" I said, "If you could take my coat, that would be great." She took one look at what I had on underneath and said, "On second thought, I think you better keep it."

Do you have other funny fashion stories?

I tried on a pair of new spiky heels recently, and it was like discovering I had legs again. I wore a pair -- red ankle straps with rhinestone buckles -- to dinner a few weeks ago and fell. I broke a bone in my foot. The doctor said, "You women are crazy. Those shoes are accidents waiting to happen." I told him it made no sense to give me that lecture. As soon as my foot gets well, I'm going to wear them again.

Where in town do you shop?

Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's. Usually twice a season, I'll go out and shop until I can't stand up any longer.

How has your style changed over the years?

There are limitations to size and height and age. I've noticed my shorts have gotten longer, and I've given up wide belts. But the person who dresses well knows what brings out the best and hides the worst.

What's your best piece of fashion advice?

Be daring.

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

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