In the beginning, some folks weren't so sure if hostess Shirley Ruth's flamboyant style fit in with the Colonial climate of the Williamsburg Inn on Pulaski Highway. But in the seven years that Ruth has worked there, the Perry Hall resident has become as much an attraction to the restaurant's older clientele as the crab cakes, the huge Manhattans and the friendly service .
"I'm a person who draws a lot of attention," says Ruth, 59. "I'm very tall and I'm a trend setter. For instance, I do my own hair and it's three different colors. Two different shades of red and in front I have it color blocked with blond. I've been doing that for five years and a customer who is a hairdresser recently went to a beauty salon expo where 'chunking' was introduced as the newest trend."
The same sure sense of style goes for Ruth's dress as well. "I just have a flair for the unusual," she says. "I like to change things. I don't like things to be common and every day. I just like to feel different. Life is too short to do things in a mundane way."
Who is most receptive to your individuality at work?
Older people seem to be even more enthusiastic and understanding about what I wear than some of the younger people. One couple who comes in quite often are probably younger than I am by about 10 years, and they said, "We come here as much for the food as we do to see your costumes." They don't even think of it as real clothing.
Are you a bargain hunter?
If I see a clearance rack, I'm right there. Just a few months ago in Penney's on the clearance rack I found a tuxedo dress, trimmed with sequins. It's great for working weekends, with a black satin bow tie and a little bit of glitter gel. It made a great, sophisticated ensemble, and I think the dress was $29.95. I felt like I had really accomplished something.
What else do you do to look different?
I buy accessories. I may buy something from a catalog or even the Goodwill that maybe has a 1940s look, which I like. It might cost 50 cents and stay in my jewelry box for two years before I ever wear it. Then one day I get an outfit and it's the perfect accessory.
What's one of the most recent things you've sewn for yourself?
I drew up patterns based on an olive drab jump suit one of my daughter's friends wore. It was basically a tank top with Capri pants. At the time I was working at Bertha's, and I wore ankle strap heels, a belt and wooden tiger stripe bracelet and earrings. The barmaid said, "Shirley, I will never be able to call that olive drab again."
You're 5 foot 10 1/2 inches tall. Do you shop in tall women's stores?
No. When I was 17, I went to Lane Bryant and bought a raincoat. I guess they thought tall people are built like gorillas; the pockets were down to my knees! Now, I can buy things off the rack because more clothes are made for tall people.
What are your favorite thrift shops?
I love the Goodwill. But when I went to one in Annapolis where I thought there would be really good stuff, I was disappointed. And there is a Value Village in Edgewood that is a really nice place. I find dolls, which I collect, and other things that need to be repaired. I'll fix up the dolls and make them new outfits.
Do you think being a Sagittarius has something to do with your style?
Sagittarians kind of live on the edge. They're always looking for something different.
What is one of the best compliments you ever received?
One of the restaurant owners admired my snakeskin pants and said, "You are the wildest chick I ever met." I'm almost 60 years old. That's too cool!
Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.