Mayor's dress parade

At swearing-in, Dixon to wear red suit

gala gown is a secret

December 04, 2007|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun reporter

If you predicted that Mayor Sheila Dixon would wear red on this, her big inauguration day, you were only half-right.

Dixon will wear her signature color to the swearing-in ceremonies, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. But when the time comes to fete the newly sworn-in, first-ever female mayor of Baltimore at tonight's four-hour gala, you won't be seeing the color of roses, fire or overspent budgets.

"A lot of people think I'm wearing red, but I'm not," Dixon said. "But I'm not going to say what color it is."

Dixon is keeping her dress a surprise, wanting to make an entrance at the Inaugural Ball. But we do know a few things:

The dress is likely off-the-shoulder. Of the 10 or so designs presented to Dixon by Baltimore fashion/costume designer Dona Adrian, the one that caught the mayor's eye the most was one that shows off her toned shoulders and upper arms.

The dress will somehow play off Dixon's theme, "Celebrating the Jewels of Baltimore."

Bold or bright colors are not probable.

"It's a classic color," Adrian, who worked for three years as costume supervisor on the set of The Wire, says of the gown -- which took three weeks and eight fittings to make. "It's very sophisticated and it's regal."

"Sophisticated" seems to be the theme of Inaugural Week, which begins today and ends Sunday at City Hall.

Dixon's red swearing-in suit, which she bought during her campaign from Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue (she can't remember which), is "sophisticated," she says. She'll wear something "Christ- mas-y" for Sunday's Open House, Dixon says, but the rest of the week will likely be business attire.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake hadn't decided on her weeklong wardrobe last week. But Rawlings-Blake did know she was "leaning toward professional and sophisticated," and keeping in mind that she would be a "full-figured woman" standing next to workout-queen Dixon.

Rawlings-Blake also indicated that her inaugural attire would likely include pink or green, to recognize her affiliation with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and also because "pink is one of my favorite colors," she says.

All this talk about clothes and colors might seem silly to some. After all, the mayor and City Council president have serious issues to tackle: crime, education, taxes, investigations.

But what leaders wear is important. Consider the perceptions when President Bush dons jeans and a down vest and rolls his sleeves. Or what it says to some when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton appears at a hearing baring even a tiny amount of cleavage.

"Our clothes send a message about how we want the world to perceive us," fashion guru Tim Gunn, most known for his role on Bravo's Project Runway reality show, has said. "And people in public offices are more subject to that than any of us."

Rawlings-Blake says she recognizes the importance of her fashion choices.

"For me, I enjoy being a woman, but you can't enjoy it too much, because then that's the story," she says. "But with as many tough decisions that we have to make, it's good to have a little fun with some things."

At the same time, the City Council president says she tries not to let the pressures of dressing become too much of a priority.

Which is why two of the three evening dress choices that Rawlings-Blake had in consideration were lingering in the back of her closet. The third dress was on hold at a local retailer.

"I'm really hoping that there's a way to look appropriate and glamorous at the gala without having to eat rice for the rest of the month," she said.

Dixon, too, says she understands that the fashion police will stake out her term as mayor far more than they would if she were a man.

"With men, people generally don't talk about, `Oh, he has this color tie on or this kind of suit,'" Dixon says. "But I figured since it's a woman [in office] now, they're focused more on the fashion. And I can deal with that."

Dixon says she is no grand dame diva, but she is giving in to one fashionista indulgence tonight: a pop-singer-style wardrobe change.

"I'm probably going to change out of my gown at some point and put on one of those little sexy dresses," Dixon says, "particularly for my man, Frankie Beverly."

Beverly is one of the night's performers.

A half a beat later, Dixon seems to remember that, as a woman in leadership, what she says is probably even more important than what she wears.

"Let me clarify," she quickly adds. "It's because I want to get my dance on. I need to get out of the gown and get comfortable so I can dance."

Sorry Frankie.

tanika.white@baltsun.com

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