A writer with an eye for clothes

Candid Closet

September 26, 1996|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,SUN FASHION EDITOR

Caroline McKeldin is back home in Baltimore for a while. "It's a low-stress town, and having lived in New York and Tokyo, I know what that means." Her travel experiences evolved into two books on the quirkiness of material culture -- "New York Smells" and "Japanese Jive." She's quick to tag Baltimore peculiarities, too, but with affection. Her family has strong ties to the city where grandfather Theodore McKeldin was mayor and governor.

So she'll be reading, signing books and greeting friends at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. A writing style is not necessarily enough to be a hit on the book circuit. For a stint on the Conan O'Brian show, she hired a fashion coach. "She told me what to wear. It was a catsuit -- all Lycra stretch down to the foot straps -- and a short little sarong over it."

What will you wear for the book signing here?

Maybe a beret. I'm doing my thing at Louie's and I feel very comfortable about it. In New York there's a pressure to dress. My first job in New York was for Q2, that Barry Diller experiment for bringing home-shopping to the yuppies. Keeping up with the fashion people on the job got to be grueling. But I learned a lot.

For example?

Clothes stitched in Italy always turn out better than clothes stitched in China. The Italians massage the fabric. Also that you should always buy a red umbrella because it makes your complexion look lovely.

I also learned to buy classics and to buy better, but less.

Do you feel you've established a style?

I try to do it as smart as I can. Lets face it, 12 years of wearing a uniform at Roland Park Country School taught me nothing about clothes. For those years the only excitement was which shoes to wear.

And my mom is really preppie. I love her dearly, but I had to learn about style in New York. In Baltimore all we wear is pink.

How do you feel about the brighter new retro styles?

The Mary Tyler Moore thing is scaring me. Mother dressed us that way, shiny shoes, pointy collars. But I'm definitely a proponent of wrapping my head in a Rhoda scarf.

Old is interesting. I wear lots of the hostess skirts which are inherited from my mom and her friends and an uncle who runs a thrift store in Vermont. They're those long quilted and patchwork or completely hideous paisley things.

Do you have favorite shops and labels?

I like clothes by Eileen Fischer and buy from some new East Village designers. I even like Banana Republic even though it's a big chain. Being a book writer is uncertain and I can't afford to waste money on trends.

I really only have four pairs of shoes, which I love and resole. My Prada friend looks at my feet and screams "No!" I cracked a bone wearing these way expensive and totally trendy French numbers and I will never buy dangerous shoes again.

Having lived and worked in New York and Tokyo, what is your sense of the differences in their fashion climates?

Trends are much more strongly followed in Japan because of a stronger group mentality rather than the maverick mentality we have in the U.S.

The Japanese get on to the trends way before we do. When I worked there, the uniform was dressing preppie, which the Japanese called "trad" for traditional. The next year it was totally grunge, and "trad" people all but disappeared. Single Japanese "office ladies" traditionally live at home and they're the ones putting their earnings into the latest and trendiest thing.

How did an independent young American fare in an "office lady" culture?

I was the office blonde. Anything English is fashionable there. That's how the funny mixes of Japanese products with English sounding buzz words happen. I collected them and got a book out of the experience.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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