my mom the style icon: maria mercedes tibau

Whether putting together the perfect outfit or writing about love, this romantic poet made sure everything she crafted was close to perfect.

EVEN AT A SLEEPY, BEACHSIDE vacation spot in Ecuador, my mom, María Mercedes Tibau, stuck to her rule: Dress to look your best—especially if your picture might be taken. Mom was a poet, and in every verse she wrote and every outfit she assembled, she celebrated the beautiful. Sprawled in a hammock, she looks completely elegant thanks to her Hepburn-esque updo, golden heels and crisply ironed pants. I certainly inherited her urge to look put together: Even when I’m on an archaeological dig, I’ll tie my hair up with a floral scarf to feel a bit more polished. Doing so I feel like I’m carrying on her impulse to share beauty in every way she could. —María Nieves Zedeño, 49, research professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, Tucson