A wardrobe that goes all over the world

Candid Closet

October 30, 1997|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Toby Devens Bernstein came to Baltimore from New York City in 1970. Her fashion savvy is informed by her formative years, spent with her mother in the original Loehmann's, looking for good quality, inspecting the way sleeves were set and how buttons were put in. "Even now, if I'm shopping at Loehmann's or C-Mart, I check that stuff," she says.

Bernstein, senior vice president for marketing and public information for TBI/Tissue Banks International, a nonprofit group that provides tissue for transplants, travels frequently and must be black-tie ready at all times for events like Bravo!, a gala that will celebrate the transplant network's 35th anniversary. To match the wattage of the evening's Broadway theme, Bernstein will be wearing a champagne sheath, with a "Flash Gordon collar" by Jackie Kelly and "drop-dead Stuart Weitzman evening shoes -- with rhinestones."

Describe your fashion evolution.

I'm a native New Yorker; I do what I call "corridor chic." I think I'm really influenced by my background. I try to wear very simple, rather practical things for business, but with one dramatic feature, whether it's a pin or a scarf, to dress it up. This is a way of getting a lot of mileage out of my clothes.

You learned how to dress at a young age.

I grew up in the shadow of Loehmann's, where Mrs. Loehmann sat in her chair on the second floor and watched over everybody and you had to get dressed in the aisles. My mother had a saleswoman who would call her when the next shipment of Malcolm Starr or Albert Nipon came in. She would drag me along. I bought both of my wedding dresses at Loehmann's.

Describe your work uniform.

Suits and tailored dresses. I travel a lot. We have 26 eye and tissue banks in the United States and 39 abroad. I've learned to buy packable fabrics that can be shifted for weather changes, such as a suit that works with a silk shell and then with a turtle neck. I may be in Greece one week and in Hungary the next. One suit must do for two climates. I've also learned to lower my heels, that's very hard. I like the way my legs look in high heels, but for work, chunky is good.

What designers help you travel?

Liz Claiborne is wonderful. She dresses up and dresses down. And Carole Little, just for spice.

Do you find time to shop when you travel?

Yes. Pins and jewelry and everything. Pins are my thing, so are rings. I was in Mikonos on the Greek islands and I bought a wonderful ring of gold and lapis lazuli.

How do you cope with your formal event circuit?

I own two wonderful basic, crepe dresses, and then I go out and buy evening jackets. You get a lot of use out of the dresses that way. At a Pikesville consignment shop, I found a wonderful, reversible Chinese brocade jacket from the 1930s.

What do you wear on weekends?

I'm a jeans person. I like jeans with a T-shirt and a tweed jacket. And good soft boots, Bally boots. I sometimes go down to Dan Brothers and buy my Bally shoes at discount.

Can you remember any serious fashion errors?

Yes, doesn't everybody? I bought a Geiger jacket in Easton. A classic Geiger in olive drab, boiled wool, short cropped. It should have worked, [but] I look horrible in it. It just doesn't work for me, but I will keep it forever because it's a Geiger jacket.

Have you held on to any clothing from your youth?

One dress I hung on to until it literally fell apart I bought at Henri Bendel. I bought it for $135. It was a black crepe, empire dress. When I was in New York, I was editor of Where magazine, and at that time, I did restaurant and theater reviews and first nights of all these little supper clubs. This dress just went every place for me. I had it repaired twice.

What is your fashion philosophy?

Good clothes don't have to be expensive. They just have to be right on you and right for you. I bought a Christian Dior blouse at a little boutique in Owings Mills that I literally wore once. It cost me $3 and I sold it at a yard sale for $3.

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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