Some girls have all the luck. Not only did Ariel of “The Little Mermaid” have natural red tresses that were somehow impervious to the devastating effects of salt water, she had a whole cave brimming with trinkets.
We mere mortal women are lucky to pull off a drawer or two. But Ariel has met her match in Ellen Bartholomaus. “Some woman have a jewelry box,” she says. “But I have a jewelry room.”
Though it’s not a fishtail and bikini top, Bartholomaus sticks to basics that allow her to highlight the stuff she’s most famous for: her rocks and her locks.
“People will come up to me, strangers even, and say, ‘Geez, do you think you’re wearing enough bracelets?’” she says of her typical 10-deep pileup. “And I respond, ‘Probably not.’”
The 62-year-old Bartholomaus has had a decades-long love affair with jewelry, and it serves as the cornerstone of her wardrobe.
“When I’m planning my outfits, I work out accessories first: necklaces, bracelets, earrings,” she says. “Then I arrange clothes around that. I thought that’s how everyone got dressed, but after talking to friends, I realized that’s not true.”
Her other signature trait is funky hair, thanks to stylist Ann Tasker of Salon Pasca in Wilmington. “I love my curls, and I love to dye my hair crazy colors,” Bartholomaus says. “I don’t have bad hair days. Being happy with your hair makes you a happy person.”
And happy she is. Bartholomaus discusses fashion with child-like exuberance. “I think of clothing as fun and play,” she says.
To highlight her jewelry collection, which she numbers in the thousands of pieces, Bartholomaus opts for elegant backdrop colors like black and white, gravitating toward sophisticated looks a la Coco Chanel, then peppering in avant-garde, whimsical flair.
One of her favorite places to shop is her Blue Streak Gallery in Wilmington. The gallery plays host to painting, photography and sculpture exhibits, but it also houses clothing, jewelry and accessories, all marked with Bartholomaus’ signature flair for the eclectically wonderful.
“Art is the biggest passion of my life,” she says. “My favorite art is the kind that has a spirit. I fill the shop with things I love.”
That includes funky vintage finds, garage sale scores and exquisite high-end pieces. She digs all things diaphanous and likes to turn the fashion world upside down—literally. “I wear my cardigans upside down,” she says. “It’s a neat trick. You can turn it into a great little shrug.”
Once upon a time a weaver, it makes sense that Bartholomaus tangles, knots and twists her clothes to achieve a one-of-a-kind look. “I like long clothing, layers, so for fun I’ll knot them up,” she says. “I enjoy being quirky.”
Bartholomaus’ take on fashion has changed over the years. “When I was younger, I was more into handmade, crafty items,” she says. “Now I’m more into sophisticated, artsy things.”
One thing hasn’t changed, though—The little girl inside her is alive and well. “I just never stopped playing dress up,” she says.
Though Bartholomaus’ undersea counterpart has an impressive collection of treasures, Bartholomaus wins the contest hands-down: her closet includes high heels.