- Eileen Meslar
A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
"When I was a kid, my dad was in the military, and we raised horses, so when he wasn't in uniform he was in formal western wear. Not a chambray shirt and blue jeans, but a dress western shirt and exotic-skin cowboy boots. The biggest thing for him was hair length. It couldn't touch your shirt collar. My brother—his hair was no longer than the Beatles', but it was like the bane of my father's existence.
"I was the best child anyone could wish for. Whatever the rules were, I followed. It was, "Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma'am. No, ma'am." I never did anything strange or weird. Now, I did have hair down to my knees these past few years. I wore it in a knot at the back of my head.
"These days my suits are custom-made, so I do brightly patterned linings. They're kind of British in styling; I do Nehru lapels. I like a floral or print shirt of some sort. I try to have fun with my socks, and I love my exotic-skin shoes.
"I was at Marshall Field's and then Macy's for almost 22 years. I have no formal training. It was all just through osmosis. I'm now an assistant manager at a high-end boutique on North Michigan Avenue. I still have some personal-shopping clients. What I'm doing, it's not the cure for cancer, it's not rocket science, but it does change people's lives. It does get them the job they've always wanted. It does lift their spirits.
"I had the opportunity to work with some celebrities that were in town. Julie Andrews was lovely. People are going, "Isn't that Mary Poppins?" I'm going, "No, it's Dame Julie Andrews. Do not come up and embarrass us." She was very easy to work with. I worked directly with her; I wasn't having to talk to an assistant who then in turn would ask her the questions. I mean, believe me, her people were there, but I didn't have to deal with them.
"Some Hollywood looks don't work in everyday life. In real life we don't sew you into your clothes. How many women are walking down the street in a sheer slip with their underwear showing? It doesn't play well in the midwest. I don't think anyone walks into a gala here in Chicago showing their intimate apparel.
"I don't know exactly how I got into handbags. I've got bags represented at Douglas Rosin Decorative Arts & Antiques, and then I do the Randolph Street Market. They're not purses; they're handbags. I don't use the P-word. "Handbag" just seems so much more elegant and sophisticated.
"I do carry a bag myself. I have a huge doctor's bag sort of thing, a caramel-colored alligator. I don't want to be walking down the street carrying a Walgreens bag. It kills the look. I know—that's me being a little whatever."