As the client initiatives manager at Changed Choices, Melissa Mummert caters her style to comply with the guidelines at Mecklenburg County Jail Central, where she teaches motivational classes to female inmates. Changed Choices provides support for women from the beginning of their incarceration through their re-entry into the community. Mummert received her Master of Divinity degree from the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., and is the affiliated community minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte. She and her husband, Jay Leach, and daughter Annie moved to Charlotte in 2003. A songwriter and guitar player, she released her first CD, “Ready,” in 2013.
Q. What’s your earliest fashion memory?
A. My mom was an incredibly practical person, so raising two kids as a single mom, she didn’t have a lot of time, money or energy to worry about fashion. My fashion sensibility needed to be learned. It wasn’t modeled to me.
Q. Can you define the word style?
A. It’s that outward manifestation of the inward person.
Q. Have you been given any advice about style?
A. Being at the church, even though I’m a minister it’s interesting to be in a position where you are looked at. Early on I had a really nice, much older woman at my church who told me, “Honey, you really need to wear more color, you’re in the South now.”
Q. How does Charlotte’s fashion scene differ from California’s?
A. It’s much more creative. There’s a sense of freedom and fun here, especially with color. There’s more of a vibrancy. When I was in L.A. there seemed to be so many people trying so hard. Everyone wanted to present in a certain way to get something. Here people are more comfortable in their own skin.
Q. Where’s your go-to store for clothes?
A. The Junior League of Charlotte Wearhouse. I’m a very conscious consumer. I love who they give their money to. It’s very manageable, it’s very organized. I feel generally happy with my look until I walk into a mall.
Q. What’s a fashion mistake many make?
A. If style is an outward expression of the internal person, I would be hard-pressed to judge people, because that is who they are. I used to wear baggy clothes, but I was hiding my body, and that was who I was then. Beautiful young girls wearing too much makeup, that’s just who they are right now.
Q. How does your sense of style help you do your job?
A. I’m in the jail a lot of days so the rules make my choices interesting. I have to wear closed-toe shoes, skirts below the knee. Because the color palette that the women see, red for the uniforms, and beige for the walls, is so limited, I actually think about bringing colors to them. They can’t wear makeup so I don’t wear makeup much there.
Q. How do you put together an outfit?
A. Usually with help. I love going into the Junior League Wearhouse and usually there’s a volunteer there, and if I’m shopping it might be under duress, because I have a gig coming up. I’m not shy about saying, “Can you dress me?” I have very fashionable friends who have helped me. I was wearing mom jeans until a few years ago when there was an intervention.
Q. What piece of clothing was a game changer for you?
A. My hot pink shirt that I still have even though it’s falling apart. It doesn’t wrinkle. I think the joy of being 40 is you know what you feel good in. It fits just right. It makes me happy.
Q. Tell me something you bought recently.
A. I found a great soft, colorful shirt that I got at a thrift store in Allendale County, South Carolina. For $5 you can get a grocery bag of stuff; for $8 you can get a garbage bag full of stuff.
Q. If you don’t shop by brand, how do you choose what to buy?
A. I mostly wear pants. I ask, “Do they fit? Do they feel good? Are they soft?” I think life is challenging enough, so I want to be in soft clothes all the time. I have a friend in L.A. who works at the James Perse store, and she was getting ready to get rid of a bunch of her clothes that were a year old, so I wear a bunch of James Perse clothes that I got for free.
Q. Tell me two staples in your wardrobe.
A. I always have a tank top on, and it’s usually where color happens. I love soft sweaters. If I can feel like I am wearing a blanket out in the world I’m really happy.
Q. Describe your look in three words.
A. Comfortable, flowy, authentic.
Q. Are you loyal to any products?
A. My Neutrogena moisturizer. When I tell the women at the jail I’m 42, they say, “Really, Miss Melissa?” I wear sunscreen every day.
Q. Do you like any other stores in Charlotte?
A. Fashion and Compassion in Dilworth is a ministry that helps women by teaching them to make jewelry. They make beautiful things.
Q. Name an item you thought would never work for you but does.
A. Skinny jeans. When I shopped for them I said, “These are too small,” and they said, “No, that’s how they are meant to be: They are skinny jeans.”
Q. I don’t have fun when…
A. I’m overscheduled and overplanned and haven’t had enough sleep.
Q. Tell me about your purse.
A. I like functionality. It cannot be too big. I am not known for my organizational skills, so I need to be limited in the amount of things I can keep in it. I don’t like to change my bag. Now I am carrying a navy blue Cynthia Rowley that I got from my fashionable friend in L.A.
Q. What are three out-of-the-ordinary things in it?
A. I always carry something to catch songs, so if I have an idea I can write it down, the week’s order of service from church, and crayons or other child detritus.
Q. Do you have a piece of jewelry that is special to you?
A. I got this ring at The Bag Lady at a difficult time in my life, and I like the women holding up the stone, they reminds me of my tribe of women. We always hold each other up.
Q. What was your biggest splurge?
A. I found this sweater that was really lovely and drapey and soft and new and not on sale at Marshalls, and I hemmed and hawed and bought it at full price. And then when I wore it someone asked me if I was pregnant, so I haven’t worn it too much.
Q. What’s your favorite weekend destination?
A. We have a farmhouse that belonged to my husband’s great-grandparents in Allendale, S.C. Go to the middle of nowhere and it’s 4 miles from there. But it’s great because our lives are rich and complex, and very, very full, so the three of us can get away and everything drops away except the sounds of frogs and crickets and birds.
Q. Can you share an observation about stylish people in your life?
A. Two of the most beautiful women I know go to my church and are in helping professions. They wear beautiful, colorful clothes that I think expresses their joy of living.