Around the world as a woman in black

Candid Closet

December 18, 1997|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

For three years, Sharon Tiebert traveled around the world wearing nothing but black. Wearing nothing but three black shirts and three pairs of black jeans, to be exact.

As a French horn player in the "Les Miserables" traveling company, she lived out of two suitcases. The orchestra pit dress code was black, pure and simple. Tiebert saved a lot of money on clothes, but that wasn't reason enough to keep circling the globe playing the same music eight shows a week.

The 38-year-old Peabody Institute grad returned to Baltimore and got a job as an administrative assistant at Johns Hopkins' physics and astronomy department. That meant buying a day job wardrobe. It also meant being reunited with her luxurious collection of 25 formal concert dresses, principally worn when she was a member of the Annapolis Brass Quintet before the "Les Miz" stint.

But these days, Tiebert's concertizing doesn't always require a gown. During the holiday season, Tiebert (recently named one of Baltimore magazine's most eligible singles) has been donning a "cute little tunic and tights" for her role in "Washington Revels," a Winter Solstice celebration at George Washington University.

Before you went on the road, what was your wardrobe like?

I either had performing clothes or at-home clothes, never anything in between.

What was it like wearing black every day for three years?

It looked fine on the street, but it was very dreary.

L When you returned and got a job at Hopkins, what did you do?

I didn't have anything. I had to run out and buy five outfits. I wore one every day of the week. Luckily, they're not that fastidious at physics and astronomy. I could wear my black jeans, too.

How did you arrive at your performance dress philosophy?

Each of the guys in the quintet had their tuxes custom-made in Hong Kong. Then I came in. I clearly won the audition fair and square, but they were worrying what I was to wear. They even called some friends to approve or not approve my gowns. They gave me a little dress allowance. After the first four or five gowns, I was on my own.

How did you choose concert gowns?

The trick was to always base the gown in black so it blended with the tuxedos, but to also add a little bit of color interest to match their ties. One gown made it into a review in the German equivalent of the New York Times. The critic said the quintet presented itself to the audience acoustically and visually. It's a nice point to have someone make. It's important when you perform to look nice. When you go to a symphony, some of those people haven't had their tuxes cleaned in five years. This is not professional.

Where did you go for gowns?

I found the most amazing bridal shop, Alda Baptiste, in Ellicott City. A friend told me she saw this amazing gown that would work for me. It was just incredible. They have a really good sense of style.

What did you look for when buying these gowns?

They were always strapless. People used to ask, "How could you perform in a strapless gown?" Frankly, they're much better. That way you can have your arms free and you could reach forward and turn the pages. When you are playing the horn, it can be a real problem.

When are these gowns worn now?

There are a few opportunities at recitals. I'm hoping a lot of these gowns fall into the timeless category. And I have two nieces dying to wear them to the school prom.

Where do you shop for work clothes?

I go to Gantos a lot. I buy silk turtlenecks, nice slim skirts, which are very hard to find. It's stylish and fun.

Do you have any recreational clothes?

My closet is in three sections. One side is all gowns. There's a tiny little section that's work clothes, and then there's my tennis clothes. I play tennis three days a week.

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

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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