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Patricia Shelton, former Sun-Times fashion editor, dead at 84

PShelton

Pat Shelton

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Updated: April 16, 2013 3:48PM



Petite and impeccably dressed, Patricia Shelton could charm with her soft Southern drawl. But clothing designers and store buyers who underestimated her did so at their peril. Ms. Shelton was tough, blunt and knowledgeably incisive about fashion.

Ms. Shelton, a former fashion editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News, died March 11 at Lifecare Hospital in Shreveport, La., from complications from a fall, according to her family. She was 84.

“She went to make a Bloody Mary, and she dropped a piece of ice and slipped on it, fell,” said her brother, David T. Shelton.

When Ms. Shelton retired from the Sun-Times in 1987, a giant of the fashion industry paid her tribute. Oscar de la Renta, whose designs have adorned swans such as Jackie Kennedy, Gisele Bundchen and Anne Hathaway, flew to Chicago to be master of ceremonies at a salute to Ms. Shelton, who was resplendent, as ever, in a midnight blue Carolyne Roehm gown.

She befriended legendary designer Coco Chanel, helped singer Peggy Lee with publicity and got a kiss from Elvis Presley after interviewing him for the Shreveport Journal early in her newspaper career, her brother said.

When she was hired in Shreveport, the paper put her to work filing. But when an alarm went off at a firehouse nearby, “She heard the bell go off, and she jumped on the back of the fire truck” to get the story, her brother said.

As a girl, her nickname was “Toughie.” And she lived up to that when, around college age, she confronted her stepfather about his running around, David Shelton said.

“She found him and told him to get home,” he said. “He was sitting on the couch with the girlfriend. And she pointed at me, and said, ‘Look what you’re doing to this kid.’ She said, ‘You’re going to leave right now,’ and she looked at the lady and said, ‘If you say a word . . .’ ’’

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, she wrote for the Houston Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor.

In Chicago, she was respected for her fashion knowledge and also for being fair.

“She was a reporter, first and foremost,” said Susan Glick, vice president of women’s apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties. “She had a point of view, but there was no malice in anything she wrote.”

Mark Heister, a clothing designer and manufacturer who founded Mark Heister Design, Inc., said: “There were a lot of people who thought that her reporting of the New York shows was equal to the New York Times. She had an eye for trends.”

“She was very respected, most assuredly, and had that Southern charm,” said Nena Ivon, retired special events manager for Chicago’s Saks Fifth Avenue. “She always got great respect from the designers . . . very demanding, very thorough. She always got her stories.”

Ms. Shelton’s predecessor, Peg Zwecker, recommended her to Daily News publisher Marshall Field V for the fashion editor’s job, saying, “ ‘She is extremely bright, she gets fashion, she understands trends and is an excellent writer,’ ” recalled her son, Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker.

Still, Ms. Shelton wasn’t a slave to fashion. She wore neutral colors such as taupe, navy, black and gray that set off her blonde hair. Glick remembered a fetching champagne ensemble she wore in Paris once, with matching champagne shoes.

“Pat always felt that you have to dress for yourself, first,” Heister said.

Ms. Shelton covered shows put on by designers including Armani, Geoffrey Beene, Fendi, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan and Lacroix.

“When she retired, Ralph Lauren said he didn’t know what he would do,because he could always tell by the look on her face” if his designs worked, David Shelton said.

Blunt and unflappable, she once told a Sun-Times staffer she didn’t like his new mustache. “You look like Adolf Hitler,” she said. He shaved it off that same day.

Once, while she was visiting the California home of Peggy Lee and using Lee’s telephone, a man entered, her brother recalled.

“He walked in and said, ‘Hi, I’m Paul McCartney,’ and she said, ‘Hi, I’m Patricia Shelton. I’ll be with you in a minute.’ ”

A memorial is being planned in Shreveport for April 9, Ms. Shelton’s birthday. Petite and impeccably dressed, Patricia Shelton could charm with her soft Southern drawl. But clothing designers and store buyers who underestimated her did so at their peril. Ms. Shelton was tough, blunt and knowledgeably incisive about fashion.

Ms. Shelton, a former fashion editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News, died March 11 at Lifecare Hospital in Shreveport, La., from complications from a fall, according to her family. She was 84.

“She went to make a Bloody Mary, and she dropped a piece of ice and slipped on it, fell,” said her brother, David T. Shelton.

When Ms. Shelton retired from the Sun-Times in 1987, a giant of the fashion industry paid her tribute. Oscar de la Renta, whose designs have adorned swans such as Jackie Kennedy, Gisele Bundchen and Anne Hathaway, flew to Chicago to be master of ceremonies at a salute to Ms. Shelton, who was resplendent, as ever, in a midnight blue Carolyne Roehm gown.

She befriended legendary designer Coco Chanel, helped singer Peggy Lee with publicity and got a kiss from Elvis Presley after interviewing him for the Shreveport Journal early in her newspaper career, her brother said.

When she was hired in Shreveport, the paper put her to work filing. But when an alarm went off at a firehouse nearby, “She heard the bell go off, and she jumped on the back of the fire truck” to get the story, her brother said.

As a girl, her nickname was “Toughie.” And she lived up to that when, around college age, she confronted her stepfather about his running around, David Shelton said.

“She found him and told him to get home,” he said. “He was sitting on the couch with the girlfriend. And she pointed at me, and said, ‘Look what you’re doing to this kid.’ She said, ‘You’re going to leave right now,’ and she looked at the lady and said, ‘If you say a word . . .’ ’’

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, she wrote for the Houston Chronicle and the Christian Science Monitor.

In Chicago, she was respected for her fashion knowledge and also for being fair.

“She was a reporter, first and foremost,” said Susan Glick, vice president of women’s apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties. “She had a point of view, but there was no malice in anything she wrote.”

Mark Heister, a clothing designer and manufacturer who founded Mark Heister Design, Inc., said: “There were a lot of people who thought that her reporting of the New York shows was equal to the New York Times. She had an eye for trends.”

“She was very respected, most assuredly, and had that Southern charm,” said Nena Ivon, retired special events manager for Chicago’s Saks Fifth Avenue. “She always got great respect from the designers . . . very demanding, very thorough. She always got her stories.”

Ms. Shelton’s predecessor, Peg Zwecker, recommended her to Daily News publisher Marshall Field V for the fashion editor’s job, saying, “ ‘She is extremely bright, she gets fashion, she understands trends and is an excellent writer,’ ” recalled her son, Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker.

Still, Ms. Shelton wasn’t a slave to fashion. She wore neutral colors such as taupe, navy, black and gray that set off her blonde hair. Glick remembered a fetching champagne ensemble she wore in Paris once, with matching champagne shoes.

“Pat always felt that you have to dress for yourself, first,” Heister said.

Ms. Shelton covered shows put on by designers including Armani, Geoffrey Beene, Fendi, Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan and Lacroix.

“When she retired, Ralph Lauren said he didn’t know what he would do,because he could always tell by the look on her face” if his designs worked, David Shelton said.

Blunt and unflappable, she once told a Sun-Times staffer she didn’t like his new mustache. “You look like Adolf Hitler,” she said. He shaved it off that same day.

Once, while she was visiting the California home of Peggy Lee and using Lee’s telephone, a man entered, her brother recalled.

“He walked in and said, ‘Hi, I’m Paul McCartney,’ and she said, ‘Hi, I’m Patricia Shelton. I’ll be with you in a minute.’ ”

A memorial is being planned in Shreveport for April 9, Ms. Shelton’s birthday.



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