A Country Mouse stylist's picks

A commenter on another blog commented, "I'm finding it difficult to buy my "everyday" (retirement in rural village) clothes. I need practical things and somehow they all seem just too basic to get excited about, even though they are well-coordinated."

I posted a brief reply, but wanted to expand my thoughts here. 

My rural-village-living friend Gaye works part time as a costume designer in the film industry. At home in rural Ontario, she wears clothes that lift her out of the generic, country-mouse look yet fit the practical requirements of small-town life. Most can also be worn while working.

She is a classic dresser, loves scavenging in thrifts and consignment, and always looks like she spent a great deal more than she did.

Here are several "Gaye pieces":

J. Peterman Long Snowflake Sweater; price, $198. (Gaye would definitely belt it.)

Nordic sweater coat

She wears cords, but in non-standard colours like mallard blue or sequoia (shown) as well as the neutrals. (Shown: Talbot's straight leg cords, $70 and often on sale.) She would wear that with a basic turtle or crewneck...

Nonstandard coloured cords

... and add a scarf, choosing a size that works indoors as well as out; old houses are drafty. She is an Anglophile and, if she didn't take a leftover from a shoot, might choose this Brora Fair Isle scarf in plum:

Brora scarf

Gaye also wears skirts in the country; one of her favourites is a decades-old Anne Klein leather a-line she found in a secondhand shop, paired with thick tights and boots. Here is a "Gaye skirt": Brora's fine check tweed midi, price, £169:

Brora tweed skirt

Gaye knows how to mix high and low. She likes the versatility of vests and adds one under a light coat or field jacket to add a colour zhuzh. (Shown, Land's End down vest, about $60). She would also wear it with the skirt, over a gray or cream turtleneck. Working with hues is way more interesting than exact coordination.

LE down vest

She spends time driving, and doesn't want to haul shoes here and there. She and I wear Blundstones: tough, perfect for all but the tallest drifts, and kick on/off. Gaye's are "Crazy Horse Brown", and she slips sheepskin insoles into them.

 If she must swap, she tucks a pair of ballet flats in her bag.

Gaye said a coat she can wash is her ideal; she can't always get to a dry cleaner. Patagonia's Vosque 3-in-1 parka ($469) fits the bill: a zip-out liner, a waterproof outer shell, a hood, a versatile grey colour with its kick of violet shell, a shaped, feminine fit—and washable.  

(She finds this a good price. On set, wardrobe people spend their working hours in coats and will spend nearly anything to be able to work in them.)
Patagonia Vosque parka
I also notice that she throws unabashadely romantic pieces into the mix; her clothes are not all no-nonsense country classics. So on a summer's night when she served us dinner outdoors under a grove of trees, she  wore a pair of loose pants and a top similar to J. Peterman's "Nadya's Tunic":

Blue sapphire ring
Finally, Gaye wears jewelry, nearly always gold gypsy hoop earrings, and a whopping sapphire that was an engagement ring from a former marriage, now reset. Just because she's in the country, she does not leave the good pieces in her drawer. 

No such gems in your past? Not to worry; a ring like Jamie Joseph's blue sapphire cabuchon (13mm x 14mm) provides the punch.

And she carries a big, vintage doctor's satchel found in Edinburgh, but here is a similar one on Etsy:

Call the doctor!

A retired villager need not scamper about in dull clothes; she just has to cast her net a bit wider. And, Gaye would add, stay interested not so much in trends as in the joy of colour and the pleasure of good fabrics made into well-constructed pieces.


Susan said…
Great post Duchesse. I'm not a retired villager, but spend a good bid of time at our rural farm and its environs. Now, if I could just force myself to purchase pants that are not neutral in color!

Love the Brora skirt.
materfamilias said…
I Love that Brora skirt! So much of what you suggest here would work well for my island lifestyle as well.
Oh now I want to move to a village!
I have two vests and a puffy down coat and short boots similar to the Blunstones so I could play a bit.
I have looked at bright jeans and cords but they don't suit my short frame...there are some things that us height challenged gals just have to avoid. I could go for the big sapphire though!
Rita said…
All very nice, and I WANT that Patagonia coat!
Duchesse said…
Susan: A deep burgundy is not too challenging ;)

materfamilias: Yes, and coincidentally she and her husband recently bought a house on Saltspring Island!

hostess: She is about 5'3". I wonder if colour is more a matter of preference than height? I noticed Talbot's carry coloured cords in Petite and Woman Petite.

Rita: It's available online ;)

LPC said…
Great post. I do think that extreme casual style is a genre in and of itself. The country variant requires special pieces. You reminded me, way back when I wrote a post about ski sweater, prompted by my dear sturdy aunt's wardrobe. They might be useful here? http://amidprivilege.com/2009/12/three-archetypal-ski-sweaters-even-if-you-dont-ski-2/. These days I guess the brand is found here. http://www.peterglenn.com/brand/neve%20designs/sweaters
Dee said…
So glad you did this post which isn't exclusive to the country dweller, but to the telecommute worker, too, whom, like myself, enjoys getting dressed to greet the day (as opposed to plugging into work clad in PJs!), but not *overly* dressed.

Your "thumbnail sketch" of Gaye's wardrobe choices appeals to me. Like yourself and Gaye, I wish I could wear Blundstones. Alas, they are not available in narrow widths.
Duchesse said…
LPC: Those are chic yet relaxed sweaters!

Dee: Don't give up, you might be served in the Chisel Toe Blunnies. This is from Blundstone's site: "Blundstone cuts the Chisel Toe style just so, for a clean, trim look that fits a narrow to medium foot width..."

Chisel Toes come in a variety of finishes including Gaye's "Crazy Horse Brown"; see
Swissy said…
Duchesse, a million thanks to you. That was my post! And I just love your thoughts via your friend. Today I brought out of retirement some vintage tweeds, a skirt I had tailored in London, a beautiful hacking jacket, and a 1940's boxy shirt-jacket with flange shoulders and big buttons. None of these has much color beyond rich neutrals, but I wore a big topaz ring (old) and short russet boots from England c.1968 with my "outfit". It's a start. And it's a great post.
frugalscholar said…
I love this array of country chic. Beautiful choices. And @Swissy--I used to have a few of those 1940s shirt jackets (mine were Pendleton). I can't figure out what became of them. I wish I had them now.
Swissy said…
Frugal, I am so glad I still have this... garment. It's good to wear indoors over a lighter tee shirt or outside over a sweater. It has gigantic patch pockets, so handy. It's a checked tweed in brown, rust, navy and ochre, not my colors now, but I loved wearing it again today here in NH.
Duchesse said…
Swissy: Oh, your clothes are a wardrobe designer's dream! Gaye would go crazy for them. So happy they are out of the trunk.

frugal: Were yours the Pendleton '49er jacket? I have flirted with buying one (new or vintage) for years.
Susan said…
I have a newish (10 years) 49er's Pendleton jacket out at our farm. I'm always concerned that moths will get to it.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Any fine wool is vulnerable, but it is possible to keep them away. In my experience it's the 'forgotten', undisturbed pieces that they hit, and-as others here have said-anything with a little organic dirt, even that which you do not see.

LauraH said…
Great post. I think these could all work just fine for retirement in the city as well - casual and comfortable with polish and flair.
Eleanorjane said…
What a great post! All pretty much irrelevant to my lifestyle, but lovely suggestions nonetheless and nice to dream of later years in a cute village!
Rodharete from Oregon said…
I had the same issue when I retired from my city job three years ago. I really felt frumpy after decades of city dressing. After much experimentation, I find that what works best for me is good quality, very casual everyday tops and bottoms that can hold up to regular laundering and stain removal. The fit, color and silhouette have to be flattering. I try for some architectural detail in t-shirts if I can find it. Wearing a third piece with style -
vest, jacket, poncho, sweater and good country-suitable footwear with a little attitude - anything from boots to clogs to wellies - makes it much more interesting. A little unfussy accessorizing -
mufflers, clean line artsy earrings or fine , small signature jewelry help. I think the biggest problem of country style is finding and regularly using a good hairdresser/colorist.

I would also suggest not buying too much right away. My early purchases were not casual enough and didn't get worn. It takes a few years to adjust.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this post and including the J. Peterman source. I went to the site and did some browsing - just love their clothing. I wanted to thank you because you regularly include sources for clothing and jewelry with which I am unfamiliar - and which have not ever populated on my Google searches. Before I retired I lived in big cities and traveled for business - so shopping variety was never an issue for me. Now that I've retired and live in a small beach town far away from major shopping and with limited local choices, I like to shop online. I've found that extremely frustrating/annoying because I just keep seeing the same brands and styles over and over - boring - and not a lot of great choices for older women who still want to show their shape/waistline. (So tired of Nordstrom, Saks and Neimans - same old stuff everywhere I look. )

So - my purpose in writing this is to thank you. You may have a lot of readers who are already familiar with the more unique and elegant clothing retailers/boutiques and who have access to their brick and mortar stores. I do not, and I love finding new ones online.
Duchesse said…
Anon@ 3:34: Thank you so much! I feel like you- so many retailers offer the same merchandise. You have encouraged me to keep searching and writing. Sometimes reader think bloggers like me do this because we are driven, but without occasional encouragement, I would stop.
Swissy said…
Don't stop! I've been so encouraged by your thoughts, from entertaining to dressing. Thanks for the effort and the presentation as well.

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