Pam Stowe was born in the tobacco town of Lumberton. Her father was the county school superintendent, and her mother taught French. The oldest of three girls, she earned a B.A. in education from the University of North Carolina, and taught science and art in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She and her husband, Harding, raised three children: Harding owns Brooklyn Kava in New York, Palmer owns Oyster Point Historic Walking Tours in Charleston, and Young makes short films in New York. Pam Stowe serves on the board of the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. She’s an art lover who says her goal is to introduce artists to people who can further their careers.
Q. Where did you get your unconventional sense of mix and match?
A. I’ve had it my whole life. My mother and grandmother were beautiful dressers, but very conservative. But both my parents loved creativity, and mother loved helping me expand my style.
Q. So your parents had their own sense of style?
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A. When my mother was growing up in Carthage, her dad took her and her two sisters to Montaldo’s in Raleigh. They love to talk about him sitting in a chair, smoking his cigar, and nodding his head yes or no as they came out modeling the clothes. Clothes were important to them, and that was passed on to me.
Q. Your grandfather made the clothing decisions?
A. My grandmother would come downstairs on Sunday with two pairs of shoes and two pocketbooks, and say, ‘Moseley, what do you think?’ and she’d put on one pair of shoes and model the pocketbook, and he would decide. He had beautiful taste. He dressed really nicely for a man in a tiny little North Carolina town. He told everybody in the house what to wear.
Q. How about your dad?
A. He wore a bow tie every day and a rose in his lapel every day, because his father had, and they also had the same name.
Q. What’s the first piece of clothing you remember choosing yourself?
A. I have an apron that my mother made for me when I was 3 or 4 years old, and it has dogs on it and I’m a huge dog lover. I remember all my clothes. Events are marked by clothing.
Q. What did you wear to get married?
A. My mother’s wedding dress. It was ivory lace, silk, with a very long train that was falling apart, but I had the train relined.
Q. Who has influenced your style?
A. My best clothes are from Capital and Poole Shop. Jennie Wrenn from Capitol (where she is creative director) taught me to put a skirt under a dress. She taught me to have no fear. I love a lacy edged skirt, and I’ll cut the lining out and wear it like a petticoat, hanging out from under a dress or another skirt. I’ll put a blouse under a sleeveless dress, and it adds such a dimension. And I mix pattern with pattern.
Q. How do you know when it’s too much?
A. It’s just a feeling. You look in the mirror and know you have to take something off. It’s innate. But I’m not afraid to go over the top.
Q. What inspires your style?
A. I’ve always loved theater and costume. Dressing to me is costuming. When I get up in the morning and I’m not going to the gym, I dress up in a costume. I was Mary in the Christmas play and I’ll never forget putting on that robe. Putting on a costume makes me happier than anything else.
Q. Do you dress up even when you dress down?
A. I go to the gym in the worst gym clothes in the world, but other than that I think about what I wear all the time. Dressing colorfully and unexpectedly is joyful. My good friend Carolyn Wade is in her 80s, and all she wears is Japanese couture. She is so brave, and she always says the most interestingly dressed person in the room meets the most interesting people in the room. And I think it is true, because people come to talk to you.
Q. What does your style say about you?
A. A lot. It says I love color, and surprise, and fun.
Q. How do you put together an outfit?
A. I knew today I knew I was going to wear this skirt. I pick one piece I love, and work around it, and try not to wear it the same way more than once. And you should always wear good shoes.
Q. Where do you buy your vintage clothing?
A. I love Seeline in Charleston, and House of Landor in Raleigh.
Q. Describe a dress you loved the second you saw it.
A. I have one Oscar de la Renta dress. I walked into Capitol and thought, ‘I’ll do anything to have that.’ It is coral with lavenders and pale greens. It is a gorgeous dress, and I’ll have it my whole life. You just feel like the prettiest girl in the room when you wear this dress.
Q. What piece of clothing was a game changer for you?
A. When I was in college I had a pair of platform wooden clogs with red patent leather on top, and I’ll never forget them. I thought I was so cute.
Q. I would trade closets with …
A. Lisa Dargan. She has the most fabulous clothes of anyone I know.
Q. Do you have favorite designers?
A. Delpozo for eveningwear, and Stella Jean, who is big on bold color and bold shape. If I could design clothes I would design Stella Jean clothes.
Q. What purse are you currently carrying?
A. I have my new favorite pocketbook by Taxidermy. It is an everyday turquoise bag.
Q. What jewelry do you wear every day?
A. I wear this Irene Neuwirth necklace from her very first show at Capitol. And my ring that Harding gave me for our 20th anniversary, and the ring he gave me for our 30th anniversary.
Q. What scent do you wear?
A. Right now I’m wearing a grapefruit scent by Jo Malone.
Q. What’s the last thing you bought?
A. These fabulous earrings by Of Rare Origin.
Q. What’s your best bargain?
A. Three-dollar T-shirts at Walmart in Tarboro, N.C. They are really good ones. It’s where my mother lives, and there’s no place else to shop.
Q. What’s your favorite thing to make for a party?
A. Lizards. It’s a blended drink with lime, mint and vodka that I’ve been making for 35 years.
Q. What’s a great museum exhibit you visited?
A. The National Portrait Gallery in London is incredible.
Q. What’s your favorite comfort food meal?
A. Pimento cheese. I make the best you’ve ever had.
Q. Do you collect anything?
A. I collect hands and heads of all kinds. I especially like the ones I’m given, rather than the ones I’ve found.
Q. What’s your first choice in flowers?
A. Pale pale pink roses and peonies.
Q. What piece of clothing can’t you live without?
A. My 30-year-old bathrobe. Her name is Peach.