Color Your World

Step away from the black suit, ladies. Periwinkle aims to coax fashion conservatives just slightly out of their comfort zones.

At 5-foot-9, shoulders back, with a tumble of blond hair, Elizabeth Mason can pull off a double-breasted faux-fur-collared equestrian jacket, jeans and knee-high boots like she was born in them. A flash of chunky aquamarine studs and an enormous cocktail ring are her only accessories. “I like to go big,” she confesses with a smile.

It’s clear that the owner of Periwinkle, the nouvelle-preppy women’s clothing and accessories boutique, practices what she preaches. The shop’s stock-in-trade is smart, modern, feminine cuts that serve up flare without flash and impart style without grasping at trends. The store is a direct extension of Mason’s personal taste, offering a wardrobe that’s sartorially appropriate—whether you’re dressing for the boardroom, a bridal tea or brunch at the club—but that will stand out in a sea of plain power suits.

The daughter of a General Motors executive, Mason and her three siblings grew up all over the country and abroad, rarely staying in one place for longer than a year. After attending Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Mason landed in Washington, D.C., in 1997, where she worked in both the political world and in fashion at Harold’s, the erstwhile buttoned-up-chic clothier.

In 2005, she left politics and took the leap into retail ownership with both feet, opening Periwinkle’s first outpost in Potomac Greens, just north of Old Town Alexandria. Five years later, she launched her Shirlington location; she opened a third shop in National Harbor last December.

On a recent visit to the boutique in Shirlington, Mason is riffling through a vendor’s wares with laser focus, delivering rapid-fire verdicts and pausing only occasionally when she needs to bounce something off her equally stylish staff. “I’m very decisive,” she acknowledges. “If it’s something I would wear or would want to wear, I buy it. I’m 99 percent certain right up front.”

The store’s stock is constantly refreshed, comprising a stable of tried-and-true designers: Nanette Lepore suits, Trina Turk dresses, Shoshanna swimwear, beachy separates from Calypso. Shelves sparkle with statement jewels and tables spill over with kitten heels from Butter and super-girly Beverly Feldman wedges. Belts and sashes are piled onto mannequins. To this reliable stash, Mason seeks to add items by emerging designers each season—like figure-hugging pieces from Eva Franco and shirtwaist dresses from Alicia Bell—to offer variety in both style and price point.

Periwinkle’s clients have come to rely on Mason’s instincts; she sifts through fashions coming out of New York and L.A., eschewing what she sees as “too progressive” for D.C.

“I know my customers,” says Mason, “they want something that’s more classic.” She sidesteps trends she finds extreme—such as dresses that are too mini or too maxi, or a suit in head-to-toe neon.

“But I always embrace color, especially in the spring and summer,” she pronounces, dreamily. “Right now fluorescent is big, but you need to know how to incorporate it in measured amounts without looking like you’re going to a Wham! concert.”

Merchandise varies from store to store, but this just means more variety for customers. Frequent blog posts announce new shipments at each shop, and staffers are happy to transfer items between locations.

Prices here aren’t bargains—unless you shop during an event, trunk show, fundraiser, end-of-season or anniversary sale, which are frequent. But Shirlington resident Stephanie Mikos, who admits to stopping by her neighborhood store on a weekly basis, points out that the prices are commensurate with the well-made, standout pieces that garner tons of compliments. “I might walk out of there with a dress, but I’ll have three different ways to wear it,” she says. “I’ll know how to try something that I normally wouldn’t think of, to take a little risk.”


Categories: Style