When Carol S. Parham began her teaching career in Baltimore City 30 years ago, she abided by the workplace fashion standards of her parents, also educators.
Invariably, Parham would wear suits that were both practical and professional, that could withstand messy ditto machines, and yet let her middle school students know that she meant business.
More recently, Parham, superintendent of the Anne Arundel County School system, has broadened her definition of what looks professional, from her signature suit to clothing with a little more "grace and elegance." Her wardrobe "has become a little more eclectic, a little more flexible," and often includes a flowing, versatile piece by Annapolis designer Ahni Sallaway.
Now in her eighth year as superintendent, Parham doesn't have to let her clothes always express the seriousness of her intent. "I think I know who I am, and I feel other people know who I am as well. Clothes are simply the trimming, accessories to your personality. Who you are is really what should be at the center."
How did you discover Ahni's clothing?
It was a chance kind of situation. I had someone working in my office area, and I began admiring her outfits and she told me that they were Ahni's creations. The next time there was a sale, she said she would take me. I went and fell in love with the clothes.
What do you love about them?
They were elegant looking; they were different and comfortable. Also, she could make adjustments for me. I'm tall, 5 feet, 9 inches, and she could recut the skirts.
Did the clothes work for the office?
They were offbeat, but still things I could wear to the office and look professional They also transition very well into evening situations.
Do you still wear suits?
Yes, and recently pantsuits. I came through an era when both of my parents would never have condoned seeing a woman in pants. It was kind of instilled in me that I was not to wear slacks. Then, I bought one pantsuit and received so many compliments on my appearance, I bought more. My husband, William, accused me of being Hillary.
In general, your wardrobe sounds a lot more imaginative than it once was.
It has become a little more eclectic and flexible. There's room for the Ahni creations, and the pantsuits and the standard suits as well.
When you're in the schools, do the children notice your appearance?
A second-grader recently told me, "You're looking good today." I told him that I always appreciate a sincere compliment.
Do you do recreational shopping or is it more hit and run?
It's hit and run. I know what will work, and I don't have to ponder over it for days.
Do you have plans to go to Arundel Mills anytime soon?
I don't plan to go right away, I just cannot handle the traffic and crowds at this point. I'm going to wait until the novelty wears off, probably in summer 2001. I'm anxious to go, though. It sounds like it will have wonderful things, and I won't have to travel to Potomac Mills.
When do you go there?
Once every two or three years. That's a day trip. You have to have buddies to go with you and start out early. I'm very pleased to have Arundel Mills.