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He's at home on the Hill and at home on the range


By day, Jim Ratliff wears Bill Blass suits and conservative ties on Capitol Hill. But when quitting time comes, the 41-year-old Bel Air resident grabs his jeans, Stetson and denim shirt to hit the dance floor.

A senior systems specialist at the U.S. House of Representatives and nationally known country dance teacher, he calls it a relief to have two such distinct lives -- and wardrobes.

"It's almost like you go into a phone booth or closet and change from computer nerd into a cowboy," he says.

How do you pull off two such different styles?

I think the ability to have two distinct styles adds to both. People on Capitol Hill can't believe I teach country dancing. And my friends in dancing sometimes have a difficult time understanding how I could like the other.

How would you describe your look overall?

In the morning, I want to present a professional image, a totally can-do person. I go for dark blue or black power suits, white or blue tab-collar shirts and striped ties. In the dancing end, I want to present to people that I want them to learn and I want them to have fun. There, I'll wear cowboy boots, country western shirts and Stetsons.

What kind of reaction do you get?

If I'm running late and have to change at work for a dance engagement, I'm sometimes not recognized by my colleagues. If I go to set up equipment for a performance and still have a suit on, people wonder who that stranger is.

What did you wear to teach country dancing to Oprah?

I was on the show twice. In 1992 when I taught Oprah and Steadman, I wore a flag-patterned shirt, hat, boots and blue jeans. In 1994, I wore a western black tux jacket with black jeans and a black hat.

Where do you shop?

For professional clothes, Macy's or Hecht's. For country western clothing, Carol's Western Apparel.

What have you bought recently that you're crazy about?

A Wrangler black shirt with a jukebox on the back. It has a switch in the shirt that turns the jukebox lights on and off. When I saw it, I thought: Who is going to wear a shirt that goes on and off? Then I thought: Me.

What's your funniest clothing story?

For an event in Glen Burnie last year, I came directly from work and realized that I had western clothes but I'd forgotten my boots. I had to teach country dancing in wing tips.

Who would you most like to trade closets with?

Marty Bass. I like his professional attire. He's got great style in his selection of suits and ties.

Is there anything you're embarrassed to admit you own?

Some western shirts. I buy them and I think maybe that flowered pattern isn't so bad. But then I can't wear them. Eventually they become Christmas presents for someone else.

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

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