SALEM -- When she was growing up in rural Belmont, fashion was just about the furthest thing from Alana Finnie's mind.
"I lived in the sticks," Finnie said with a laugh. "For me, 'fashion' was figuring out which dungarees to put on."
That changed in 2004, when Finnie relocated to Boston's trendy Back Bay to study journalism at Fisher College. An avid writer, she soon found inspiration in her decidedly stylish new surroundings - inspiration that only increased during a semester abroad in Italy.
An internship with WHDH 7 News, where she worked closely with staff on "Style File" segments, advanced her fashion writing, and by 2007, she had a blog of her own, Sassy Fashionista, where she tackled such topics as clothing and makeup.
Finnie's blog didn't go unnoticed. Unbeknownst to her, it became a favorite of staff at the Simon Property Group, which manages malls nationwide, including the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem. Earlier this spring, that led to an opportunity for Finnie to realize her dream of combining her two passions, when the Simon Group offered her the position of "style setter" for the Salem mall.
"We pretty much cast out our nets," mall marketing director Emily Hoang said of the search that led to Finnie.
The blog (stylesetter.simon.com/blog/alana-finnies-blog) is packed with posts about current fashion trends, shopping tips, beauty information, style guidance and up-to-the minute news on products available at the Mall at Rockingham Park.
"Which means I spend a whole lot of my time browsing around the mall," Finnie said. "This isn't a very hard thing for me to do because I'm absolutely in love with fashion, and I'm obsessed with makeup."
In particular, Finnie said, she often finds herself poring over cosmetic samples at the Sephora store or adding to her collection of some 50 handbags.
Finnie's blog posts appear on the mall website about five times a month.
Inspiration comes at the most random moments.
"Since I'm writing from home most of the time, it will often come to me at 3 a.m.," she said. "So I do work in my pajamas at times, but they're pretty ones from Victoria's Secret."
Her job has had its share of amusing moments.
"There was one guy who loved to wear cut-off jeans. He couldn't understand why they didn't look good," Finnie said. "Another guy was transitioning to gender reassignment and was having trouble finding high heels in his size."
For women, she said, the most common fashion mistake tends to be "wearing clothes that are either too big or too small" or wearing the dreaded "mom jeans," the kind tapered at the ankles.
"Unfortunately, I come across this a lot," Finnie said.
What's hot for this summer? Finnie said she's seeing a lot of floral patterns, bright colors and 1960s-inspired vintage styles.
"Color blocking is flattering on all figures," she said. "And for the guys, we're seeing a lot of fitted jeans and colorful button-up shirts."
As a style setter, Finnie also participates in fashion-related events at the mall, including store openings and fashion shows.
"Our approach with the style setter program is to hyper-localize fashion content to make it most relevant to shoppers at the Mall at Rockingham Park," said Jacque Ellis, Simon's vice president of corporate special events, as well as one of the company's style bloggers.
Finnie - who still operates the Sassy Fashionista blog and also is a regular contributor to Applaud Women magazine, a publication directed at readers in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts - said her favorite part of her new job is helping others look their best, and she welcomes questions from local shoppers."Everyone has the opportunity to look fabulous," she said.