Sto-Rox event uses fashion tips, etiquette to help build esteem

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 8:53 p.m.

What you wear says a lot about you.

That was the message fashion designer Kiya Tomlin was trying to get across to a group of young women from Sto-Rox High School and Middle School on Monday.

Tomlin entered the Hays Manor Community Center in McKees Rocks wearing workout clothes and UGG boots with her hair tied in a ponytail.

Halfway through her presentation, she took off the outer clothes to reveal an elegant pencil skirt, wide belt and black top and changed into high-heeled boots with straps. She also let her hair down, revealing a more professional look.

“Studies have shown that within the first seven seconds when you meet someone, they form an impression of you before you say a word,” said Tomlin, who often speaks to young women about the importance of proper dress. “Your clothing is your packaging. Just like a company creates a certain package in order to gets its message across to consumers, when you dress a certain way, you are portraying a certain message. What you wear does not affect me, but it affects how I see you.”

Tomlin was one of several individuals who gave presentations to the young women. The day included everything from hair and makeup tips to etiquette and a fashion show. It was all part of a bigger picture — to help build girls' self-esteem.

“My presentation is a mix of self-esteem and fashion,” Tomlin said. “I talk to girls about the importance of proportion in dressing and about what is the most-appropriate dress for the particular occasion. The way a garment fits is also extremely important. I realize these are young girls, and that fashion is a way of self-expression. I hope that down the road, they will remember this talk.”

Tomlin's words of wisdom included that the word “fitted” means contoured to the body, while “tight” means it's too small. Leggings are not pants. Bra straps should not be showing, thongs shouldn't be visible and wearing pajama pants in public is not acceptable. It is OK to wear them to walk to the mailbox, but not to the post office.

“It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed,” she said. “My dream job is to be a member of the fashion police and stop people on the streets who aren't dressed properly.”

The all-day event was the idea of a group of concerned adults, including members of the community, businessmen and women, parents, religious leaders and school administrators, such as Sto-Rox Middle School principal Melanie Kerber. They wanted to try to give young people a chance to see their worth. In the past year, five individuals who had been students in the district at one time were killed by gunfire.

“That is five too many,” said Kerber. “You can sit and point fingers all day about what is wrong with this community, but what good is that going to do? We need to have more positive things for kids to do. And programs like this are a start.”

It was a fun day, said Ruth Johnson, 13, who is in eighth grade. She and J'Quinn Johnson (no relation), 11, a sixth-grader, said they enjoyed the speakers and the hands-on expertise for learning proper makeup and hair and nail care.

“Mrs. Tomlin's talk was really interesting,” Ruth said. “Some girls wear whatever. They don't care. But an event like this helps teach us important things, and it is also a way for our community to come together.”

A goal of the day was to help the young women learn about making better choices, Kerber said. Forty girls from grades 6 through 12 attended.

Three employees from Philip Pelusi Salons gave a presentation on hair and makeup. Assistant style director Melony Noel talked about the importance of taking care of your skin, no matter your age. Noel had fun interacting with the girls, telling them they might not want to dye their hair a bright and bold red if they are going for a job interview at a bank or as a nurse.

“It's all about education,” said Cori Fye, salon manager at the Philip Pelusi Salon in Monroeville Mall. “There was a lot of positive energy in this room, and we love to do community events like this. Building self-esteem is so important for these young girls.”

Sherri Koger is a kindergarten teacher in the district and a manicurist for Casa Dolce Spa in Sewickley. She grew up in the area.

“This is a fantastic event,” said Koger, as she painted sparkly nail polish on one of the attendees. “It's about giving these girls role models and to show we support these girls. I have learned some things from being at this event, too.”

Koger said inspirational speaker Ayeshah Bulls motivated not only the girls, but herself and other adults in the room. Bulls talked about etiquette and treating others the way they want to be treated. She also reminded the students that respect is earned, and every one of them is special and that it is important to love yourself.

“I try to use words to encourage,” said Bulls, a North Side resident. “This is a very pivotal time in a teenage girl's life. I was happy to share part of the day with them.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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