Raining Fashion; Preakness-goers weather a dreary day at the races with stylish skill


Libby Derencz and Amy Donatelli envisioned themselves savoring their first Preakness, mingling among Baltimore's social set in flirty summer frocks: Libby in white cotton, Amy with linen spaghetti straps.

But when the fashionable friends, who both work for the Leffler Agency, a Baltimore advertising firm, awoke yesterday morning to soggy skies, they switched to Plan B: Amy in a black pantsuit and Libby in her khaki job interview suit.

"The only thing I got to wear was the hat," Derencz, 23, said, sighing and pointing to her white straw bonnet with a beige raffia flower. She also salvaged her white mules. Her toes poked out, glistening with both raindrops and a toe ring.

"I'll leave with tan shoes," she said with a laugh.

With the weather less than fabulous, denizens of the Corporate Village faced a formidable fashion challenge: At an event known for heat, hats and haute couture, how do you adapt to a drizzly day at the races?

"When you can see your breath out here, you know you have to change your wardrobe," said Ed Hale Jr., 33, vice president of Hale Truck Centers.

But if you took a cue from the crowd, many of whom spent weeks shopping for the perfect Preakness outfit, you apparently had one of three choices:

A. Be Optimistic: Rain or shine, go with your first instinct. Maryland's first lady, Frances Hughes Glendening, didn't let the weather discourage her from donning her St. John suit and declaring herself a "happy camper."

B. Be Pessimistic: Completely abandon your predetermined apparel, like Donatelli andDerencz.

C. Compromise: Patty O'Loughlin, 45, topped off her look with her winter wool coat. "If I had gloves in my pocket, I'd have them on as well," said the Cecil County resident.

Save for a blindingly pink pashmina shawl here and strappy mint sandals there, flashiness took cover under raincoats and umbrellas, several of which were fashion statements in themselves: plaid, floral and even more provocative prints, like cheetah.

True fashion optimists like Dana Stebbins and Suzanne Granzow shunned umbrellas and let rain spot their sorbet-toned silk shantung suits.

In some cases, the optimism got a little out of hand. In extreme cases of weather denial, spike heels sank into the mucky AstroTurf and misguided race-goers shivered, hugging themselves for warmth instead of obscuring short sun dresses under a raincoat.

Pam Schleicher, an Ellicott City resident, would never indulge in such fashion foolishness. In anticipation of stormy weather, she bought two outfits from Ann Taylor, a black sleeveless dress and a white pantsuit.

Guess which one won out? "It was too cold this morning for the dress," said Schleicher, an administrator for Marconi Communications in Columbia.

Ever the savvy politician, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend tried to negotiate with Mother Nature. "It's a great day to wear yellow," she said, decked out in a lemon Tadashi suit. "I'm hoping to attract the sun."

Mike Gimbel, director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse for Baltimore County, was the Preakness poster boy for compromise. He still wore his planned blue blazer and khakis, but made a cozier footwear choice, opting for Hush Puppies instead of loafers. "You have to keep your feet warm," said Gimbel, 48. "Warmth affects your brain. And in order to bet properly, you have to be able to think."

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