A tip of the hat to more color and flair

Candid Closet

March 05, 1998|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

"Love me, love my hats," is just one of the rulings that Melanie A. Vaughn lives by. A former administrative law judge, and a mediation expert who now teaches at the University of Baltimore, Vaughn's words carry the weight of the law among her friends and colleagues. However, she has never allowed the seriousness of her profession to interfere with the splendor of her hats, or the rest of her wardrobe, for that matter.

When she first joined a law firm, "I tried to be a little less colorful," Vaughn says. "Basically, I'm a very colorful person." So, "I put on a turquoise silk suit one day and went into the office. Everyone said, including the men, 'That's beautiful!' "

What is the history of your hat obsession?

I've been wearing hats for 15 years. I'm extremely devoted to my hats and to Kit's Millinery Salon and Supplies in Pikesville. Kit decorates hats and makes hats. My grandmother was also a milliner, and she and my mother always liked hats. Hats, shoes and handbags.

For two years I didn't wear hats, during which time my husband was dying. One day, I was training a group of mediators, and a friend noted that I wasn't wearing my hat. I thanked her for reminding me, and I wore them again.

When do you wear your hats?

I wear my hats constantly. Recently, I did a short talk and kept my hat on. I've been told the only time hats are inappropriate is in a private residence after 5 p.m.

Are there limits to public hat wearing?

I didn't wear a hat on the bench. But I was not at all constrained about what I wore in the courtroom. I told other women attorneys that pantsuits are acceptable.

How did you get interested in fashion?

I used to have a personal shopper named Bluma at Macy's for years. Before that, my mother used to dress me. She put me in a dressing room and brought in the clothes. I had no idea and wasn't interested in shopping. But Bluma left Macy's and I tried different shoppers. Then, my friend turned me on to the craft shows. After my husband died, my friend told me, "Melanie, for years you have decorated the house, and now it is time to decorate Melanie."

How do you describe your sense of style?

I do the tailored suits that are kicky and unusual, baggy and snug. I just like to dress the way I want to dress. Some days I feel like longer clothing and some days, shorter clothing. Whimsical, but nothing terribly outrageous.

What is one of your favorite suits?

I have a "screaming yellow zonker" suit bought from Jeannette, who comes over every year from Paris. I wear it with a black hat and I feel like a black-eyed Susan.

Do you stick to high-end retailers?

I don't just shop in Paris and Saks. I regularly stop by Just a Second in Mount Washington. I get my hair cut at Studio 1612, then zip over there for some fabulous buys. I bought a four-piece Donna Karan red silk suit for $72. It was wonderful.

Are women making fashion progress in the field of law?

Definitely. I feel that women need to take more responsibility for encouraging that to happen. So many women felt, and probably legitimately so, that they had to belong. But I like to say it's better to take a chance from life than to live in that gray twilight and know not victory nor defeat. So come on out in your turquoise suit and see what the rest of the world says!

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

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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