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Shopping gets personal at Clad in

Published 02/15/2012 12:00 AM

I don't know whether Clad in manager and stylist Jane Roderick would consider herself an artist, or an inspiration.

I do know that an hour spent in her company would redefine the way anyone sees clothing.

It had been a long time since I had raided a friend's closet to try on outfits and conspire over pretty combinations. But that's exactly what a consultation at Clad in (I hit the one on Water Street in Stonington Borough) feels like.

Roderick has an engaging personality and an expansive background. She holds an advanced degree in psychology. She worked as a writer and editor in Boston before returning to Stonington, where she met her husband. She lived in Italy for 18 years. She thrives on putting things together — textures, colors, shapes. Her mind is usually spinning with new ensembles, long after she has left work.

"My husband thinks I'm nuts because sometimes it's

11 o'clock at night and I am standing in my dressing area and I get these crazy ideas about what I can match," she says, laughing.

In this regard, she is the complete opposite of me. I've always taken a utilitarian view on clothing — convenient when you don't have a lot of disposable income. I appreciate beautiful things, but never thought of a dress as an extension of myself.

That was the first thing she zeroed in on. We talked about my schedule, needs and attitude toward what I wear. She specifically asked if I saw clothing as a total extravagance or as part of a sense of well-being.

"All those things go into what I might even suggest for an outfit," she explains.

I told her that I haven't spent more than 5 minutes on my hair in four years. I told her that my afternoons veer from work to day care to the playground. She steered me toward very soft, professional-looking wash-and-wear items. She explained the care and composition of each fabric and how the pieces could work with other items I was bound to have at home — jeans, boots, leggings. With regard to my budget, she helpfully pointed out "investment pieces" — the versatile, durable building blocks of a wardrobe.

As we matched indigo blues with earth browns — I tried on a skirt that would easily accommodate a game of impromptu kickball — a small, happy movie began to roll in my mind. Instead of worrying how wrong I would look in something, it dawned on me that I had the power to be picky. That whether I was spending $10 or $100, I should insist (nicely, of course) on clothes that compliment the imperfect but healthy body that was gifted me courtesy of my parents and a slew of French-Canadian ancestors.

It is hard sometimes, I think, for a woman to feel like the star of her life. We are bombarded by advertising, by perfect, plastic, Photoshopped curves. Then we shuffle into dressing rooms and regard ourselves critically under unforgiving fluorescent lights.

This battle of negative self-perception is one Roderick fights every day.

"A typical misconception is that somebody has to be tall and skinny to wear good clothes," she says.

There are no giant, polished posters of models at Clad in, and no impossible-looking women on their website. It took a minute to adjust to this when I first walked into the store — to start to see the shapes and colors of clothes, to sort what might be right for my body based on the cut or symmetry of a hem.

"I do re-educate people," Roderick says, "but that's really not my job. My job is to help people explore how exciting clothing can be, how it can make you feel good about yourself, how it can affect your day."

"The last thing I want is people to go home and have this thing in their closet that they never wear," she says.

Owners Elizabeth and State Lawrence operate three other shops — at 24 West Main St. in downtown Mystic; at 497 Angell St. in Providence's Wayland Square and an outlet at 32 Friendship St. in Westerly. They've also recently opened a shoe boutique adjacent to the Water Street shop in Stonington, with a clear objective — to sell high-quality, fabulous shoes that don't "kill your feet."

In addition to the discounts found every day at the outlet, the shops conduct numerous sales and special offers

Visit www.cladin.com for more information.