Rita Vandiver moved to Charlotte in 1967 when her husband, Bill, took a job with North Carolina National Bank, now Bank of America. A woman who “always had busy hands,” she used them to sew, cross-stitch and knit, and eventually make necklaces. She began Jewelry by Rita V after receiving compliments on the pieces she made for herself, often from treasures she collected while traveling. A graduate of Columbia College in Columbia, she’s been married to husband Bill for more than 50 years. They have two children and five grandchildren.
Q. When did you begin to express your own sense of style?
A. I started sewing in high school, and my parents bought me a small portable Singer sewing machine in college. One of the most pleasurable things I made was my daughter’s debutante ball dress, and my dress as well. My daughter Katie’s was white, with big puffy sleeves, and was trimmed with lace. Mine was a turquoise silk skirt bottom with a multicolor turquoise shiny top with gold trim.
Q. When did you start buying your clothes as opposed to sewing them?
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A. When retail became much better than it was in Charlotte when we moved here. I used to have to go to the Belk downtown to buy fabric.
Q. How do you put together an outfit?
A. I start with one central piece, whether it is a jacket or slacks or a skirt. I kind of do my jewelry that way. I’ll start with a one-of-a-kind thing, like a pendant. And I will mix and match until I get the look I want.
Q. What’s a fashion mistake many make?
A. I think women are trying to show more of their bodies than anyone wants to see, by wearing leggings and tights and Lycra and Spandex. A lot of people are trying to look younger by following some of the trends.
Q. How has your way of dressing changed over time?
A. I think it changed with the styles. There are a lot of things that would look ridiculous now. I used to wear culottes. It is the same with hair. I remember wearing the really bubbled hairdos.
Q. How do you keep your look current?
A. I think you have to know your body. You know that a certain style is not going to be flattering to you, that you are going to look dowdy or inappropriate, or like you didn’t put any thought to what you put on. I think you have to be critical of your body.
Q. Do you favor any designers?
A. I do like Carlisle and Worth clothing. I’m fortunate to go to New York once a year and there’s an outlet store there. They are traditional, with nice fabrics, and stylish without being overboard.
Q. What’s a noticeable difference between fashion in New York and Charlotte?
A. Expense for one thing. And magnitude. There are so many garments available in New York stores, although Charlotte has gotten very good. We have all the national stores, and I like Paul Simon and Splurge.
Q. Where do you shop for shoes?
A. Marmi at SouthPark because I have a narrow foot, and if they don’t have it in the store they will mail it to you.
Q. Do you favor certain colors?
A. I wear a lot of black, because it goes with everything. I like jewel-tone colors that go particularly well with black in the winter, and white in the summer.
Q. What’s the first piece of jewelry that you made for yourself?
A. It was a pendant that was made of a shard of china from a shop on Highway 51 that is now Beads, Inc. It was blue and white and pink, and I mixed beads with it and pearls, and a few crystals that were maybe blue and gold.
Q. Do you favor particular artists?
A. Most of my art is not by anybody that I can even name. It is kind of like restaurants. I don’t go because it is well known. I go because I like the food there.
Q. What hotel would you return to time and time again?
A. If it wasn’t so far away and didn’t cost a bunch of money, I’d go to the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was just fabulous. It was like being in a wonderful Asian garden. Everybody had their own little bungalow with a patio and deck and gorgeous flowers and shrubs and pools and ponds, and you could see rice paddies.
Q. Tell me about a prized possession.
A. Besides my husband? Though I’d hate to call him a possession. I think I treasure my family more than anything. I do love this bracelet my husband brought me after he’d been traveling on business. It features elephants and it came from Singapore and I have had it over 20 years.
Q. Describe your look in three words.
A. Tasteful, traditional, polished.
Q. What’s the last thing you bought?
A. Fleece-lined leggings for warmth, because we are going to Antarctica. It will be our seventh continent. Fortunately for us the big parka with the hood and the ice boots are on the ship, so we don’t have to buy them or pack them.
Q. Besides jewelry, how do you accessorize?
A. I could open a scarf shop, plus I still knit. The problem is it’s hard to wear a scarf and a necklace, so you have to decide.
Q. What purse are you carrying now?
A. It depends on which day. I have a nylon black print Coach that is big enough to put my iPad in that I seem to use a lot.
Q. Do you have any hobbies?
A. I am in a knitting circle and we make prayer shawls for those who need some TLC.
Q. What’s a favorite piece of jewelry you’ve made for a family member?
A. I made a necklace for my granddaughter for Christmas. She likes the long ones with tassels. The tassel is a gold-wrapped cord with orange and lime green bound onto it, and the beads are orange with a few little lime green ones and the back part of it is chain. She liked it – or she said she liked it.
Q. What’s a favorite necklace centerpiece you bought when traveling?
A. I bought it in London but it’s from China and we think it is bone. Each piece has a little well in it, and we figure it’s how they carried their herbs or their drugs. I’ve gotten beads in Chinatown, in San Francisco. My abalone butterfly I found at a bead show in Franklin, N.C. I love the Tibetan things. They don’t look like modern-day jewelry; they have a traditional look.
Q. What’s your best bargain?
A. Two free tickets to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. My friend and I were standing in line to buy tickets and this young man came up and said, ‘I have two I would love for you to use; I’m in the cast and can’t use them.’
Q. What wouldn’t you be caught dead wearing?
A. Probably blue jeans with holes in them.
Q. What advice can you give to women?
A. Be the best you can be.
Q. Tell me something good about getting older.
A. Grandchildren. And just having a different pace of life.