Cultures connect within her wardrobe


Deirdre M. McElroy, 32, was born with a chronic case of wanderlust that has taken her around the world. As a marketing specialist for Western Union, she often travels to Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, where she's always searching for traditional wearable keepsakes. In the past 10 years, McElroy, a Baltimorean, has accumulated a stunning collection of ethnic fashions, from toe rings and bindis (Indian body art), to saris and djellabas (long, loose outer garments worn in Arabic countries).

McElroy's ease in any culture can be attributed to the way she was raised, she says, to "sit down with other people's ideas." To wear clothing from another land is not just sitting down with another's ideas, it's "wearing their skin, trying it on for size and identifying with them," she says.

This Saturday, the youth group of the Church of the Holy Nativity, Park Heights, will be trying on McElroy's outfits from West Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan and other lands, at a benefit fashion show, "Words and Wearables." (The show takes place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Leakin Hall at the Peabody Conservatory. Admission is $10 and includes refreshments. Call 410-542-9554.)

Explain your universal approach to dress.

I'm half-Scottish, half-Afghani. I've been running with that since I was a kid. And dressing should be fun. God forbid we all wind up dressing like bankers. I hope they go home and rip off their Brooks Brothers suits and throw on a djellaba and stick on a bindi.

What do you wear to work?

Whatever I want.

What are some of your favorite finds?

One is an antique silver piece from the Punjab. It is a typical tribal piece, and oxidization has turned it to black. I love it. The second piece is lapis, crudely cut on a tiered web. It's an incredible piece, very reminiscent of jewelry I've seen in Mexico. I love putting an old, handcrafted piece of art around my neck and feeling its weight and its touch on your skin.

What about your favorite clothing?

One of my favorite dresses is a Mogul design from Pakistan. It is a three-piece outfit in amber colors called a shalwar. It has long, billowy pants and a sleeveless tunic and a breastplate. It's perfect in warm weather. It's one of those things you put on, and you just feel special. That one will be in the show.

The other piece I found at an antique clothier in the old market of Cairo. It's an antique silk tunic with a gown in blue taffeta with piping all around the collar and around the hem of the gown. It makes a nice sound when you move.

What is an early example of your flamboyance?

I was 6 and my sister was 9. She was this goddess to me. I put on a pale yellow blouse with a purple skirt. My sister said to me, "You have an eye, and you have your own style." She and my mother would wait to see what I was going to wear each day. It exploded from there.

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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