Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dressing the Maine Way

This is NOT the Maine way to dress.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: When I moved to Maine as a blushing bride, I had a trousseau of sorts. I had been living and working in Washington, DC for the previous four years (and had done a stint in London before that.) I had an entire closet of black-tie dresses and separates, all with coordinating strappy heels. I had professional clothes: big-shouldered, asymmetric jackets with short, tight skirts for winter (this was the eighties) and billowy linen pieces for the summer. It was the perfect big-city, up-to-the-minute wardrobe.

Gone, all gone. And not just because of the shoulder pads. The fact is, in Maine, people dress differently. In fact, most of us bear a distinct resemblance to an LL Bean catalog – if LL Bean models were wearing thirty-year-old items mixed in with the new stuff. In most parts of the fashion industry, designers come up with a look and try to sell it to the consumers. LL Bean, on the other hand, isn’t pushing its style on Mainers – it’s packaging what we already wear and selling it to folks in New York and Chicago. If I had known this simple fact, it would have saved me a lot of sartorial grief. Here’s a brief guide to dressing like a Mainer:

Legal power dressing - Portland, style

We all have Bean boots, and we wear them everywhere. Not all of them are the actual Bean brand,
but they’re all warm, waterproof, and have good treads. Lawyers at Portland’s high-powered firms wear them coming into the office. Patrons of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra wear them to the theatre. Couples going out to high-priced gourmet restaurants wear them on date night. Yes, the first time you put on clunky boots beneath a sexy dress or your best suit you’ll feel like an idiot. The second, time, you’ll think, “Oh, well, at least it’s comfortable.” The third time, and for the rest of your life, you’ll look at folks slipping and sliding down the sidewalk in their dress shoes and wonder what’s wrong with them.

Kind of like this. Only without the lobsters.
Bring a sweater. You’ll need it.  You know that whole sweater-over-the-shoulders thing you thought was just a preppy affectation? Pure practical necessity. My first full summer in Maine I thought I was going to freeze to death. You can go for a week in July here with the temperatures just hitting the seventies, and when the sun goes down, you need that extra layer even if the day itself was hot. If you’re on the coast or out on the water, bring two sweaters. And a windbreaker.

After you swim, just throw on a sweater and you're good to go. Sensible.

Swimsuits should reflect the Maine character: modest and sensible.  Sure, now that the boomers
are all in their fifties and sixties, America has rediscovered the necessity of swim skirts and high-necked suits. Here, they never went away. You don’t want a tiny bikini when the breeze blowing off the beach is a cool 60 degrees. Plus, a significant portion of the beach-going population seems to be eighty-something women swimming laps out in the cove. How do they do it without dying of hypothermia like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic? It is a mystery. But they’re wearing skirts and boy-leg suits out there.

Buy classic and wear it forever.  This is reflected in two distinct gender-related looks. On the distaff side, you can readily see three generations of women wearing basically the same outfit: flattering khakis, simple tees or sweaters, slip-on shoes that look good at eighteen and sixty-eight. On men, the wear it forever ethos is just that: corduroy pants rubbed so flat the seat and knees are shiny and shirts with the elbows worn to a frayed tatter. No need to get a new button-down when you can cover the holes with your old jacket! So what if lapels haven’t been this wide since the Reagan administration?
Maine women have been known to sneak away their men’s clothing and then profess befuddlement when he can’t find it. “I don’t know, dear. Did you check the attic?”

We wear flannel shirts and flap-eared caps unironically. Everyone’s got them, and everyone wears them. Teenagers and toddlers. Lobstermen and ladies. I personally own a billed polarplus hat with ear flaps. It looks like a baseball cap grew fur and dewlaps. Do I wear it? You bet your booty I do. Mainers were into grunge before it was cool. Hmm. Maybe we are hipsters.

                       Not hipsters.


  1. Dressing for the comfort and for the weather sounds like a perfectly good, sensible idea . . . I doubt there's much of anything in my closet that's up-to-the-minute fashionable, but I'm a fan of wearing what I like and of being comfortable.

  2. As I sit at my computer in fingerless gloves and a muffler and bunny slippers, I can relate. This Christmas there was a big deal because the demand of Bean boots went through the roof. Was it last year's snow, or this generation making an idiosyncratic style choice?

    BTW, the problem with bathing suits in Maine, btw, is the water is way Way WAY too cold to swim in. Really you need a wet suit.

  3. Julia, I'd have been happy with your Bean boots here in London this last week. (I cannot believe I left my Eddie Bauer down coat at home, sitting right next to my suitcase...) I wouldn't have minded the fur hat with ear flaps, either. But where is the photo of YOU wearing it???

  4. I've been clomping around in hiking boots since November. I recently added "cold gear" sweat pants, a vintage Irish fisherman sweater, and baabaazuzu boiled wool mittens to my daily wardrobe. And a fleece-lined hat with ear flaps.

  5. Winter has arrived on the tundra, and finally I have something to wear. Corduroys and fleece anythings, puffy down vests, puffier down coats, and the continual search for mittens that actually keep fingers warm, because the dogs (and my posterior) both need daily walks, even in the snow. Up til now I've been in jeans and tee shirts.

    We also live and dress by the LLBean catalogue, Land's End too, and have Yak Trax in coordinating colors. Still and all I don't own Bean boots, but I should. Deb, I lived a lot of years in the DFW area, and no winter storm in western NY is ever as bad as a North Central Texas ice storm, which is capable of shutting down the entire area for days. Up here we have salt trucks. (grin) Not complaining. I am looking out my windrow on snow frosted trees and hearing only deep silence. And a cardinal

  6. Julia, you've just described my wardrobe.

    Hallie, congratulations on your Edgar nomination

  7. I did get my boots from Bean, but they are grey with the same lace-ups pictured...and warm. And what is wrong with flannel shirts? I have some Bean turtlenecks that are more than 20 years old and still look great if you fold the cuffs under. I think most of New England has always worn L.L. Bean.

  8. OH, yes indeed. I hate cold feet. So I'll do whatever it takes to avoid it--my Pajars are rated for the Arctic or something, and they are wonderful.

    I work at my desk in fuzzy fur slippers, sweatpants, a camisole, t shirt over that, turtleneck over that (and yes, Gram, it might be LL Bean!), scarf around my neck, wrapped in a flannel blanket and wearing fingerless gloves. Like the little match girl, but inside. Our house is more than 100 years ol,d and we love it, but it is impossible to heat. Jonathan says-turn up the thermostat! But it seems more frugal to dress for the cold..I'm only in one room , essentially, all day. SO why heat up the whole place?

    As a reporter on weather live shots, I used to carry those shake-up packs of hand warmers in my mittens.

    Wow, anyone live around Washington DC?

  9. In recent years, I have become a big fan of Warm (in the winter) and Comfortable (all year 'round). Is it high fashion? Maybe not - but when the temperature is 5 degrees, I'm not freezing my tuchus off.

    Growing up in Buffalo, I am very familiar with the Bean boot. I had them - maybe an off-brand, but same idea. And now I live in fear of falling on snow (Pittsburgh is horrible and keeping the sidewalks clear), so boots with a nice flat sole and a heavy tread are a must.

    The only thing I'll say is that while most folks in Buffalo are well-versed with cold weather apparel, there are some loonies who will wear shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops in December. Weirdos.

  10. I stay warm in my upstairs office with my space heater. But this week I'm reading through a manuscript on paper downstairs at the kitchen table. Wearing fleece over fleece and a fleece blanket around my waist and legs. Just came up to get thick wool socks because my ankles are still cold.

    I have terrible circulation in my hands and feet and I also use those charcoal shakeup finger and toe warmer packets, Hank. They really work!

    Of course I own Bean boots and parka for snow shoveling and silk long underwear for cross-country skiing (skis and poles also from Bean, actually).

    My son and his girlfriend are in Silver Spring, and we all have our mystery friends Sherry Harris, Art Taylor, and Barb Goffman in Virginia near DC. Stay home and safe, everybody!

  11. I got nothing. Fashion in the Mid-Atlantic is as blah as it sounds.

  12. One of the many reasons why I love winter--even the pale, moderate imitation of winter we get here in Texas--is that it's the perfect excuse to dress comfortably and ignore those fashionistas who expect me to lose 50 pounds and buy a lot of different uncomfortable shoes to go with the same little black dress. LL Bean is my fashion guru.

  13. Mary Sutton, yes, people from Buffalo dress the same way! Although generally with a Bills hat or Sabres scarf.... I have Bean boots here in NYC and wear them proudly on cold slushy days. And I brought them with me to Scotland — I remember the owner of the B&B where I stayed in Arisaig was so relieved when she saw me wearing them for a hike. (I'd arrived from Edinburgh in city shoes.)

  14. Hank, my brother and sister and their families are in the DC area. No one got caught in the nightmare traffic jam, but they're all prepping for the big snow. Their boys are SUPER excited about the impending storm. Snow is always more thrilling when you don't have to shovel/plow/deice the car.

    Mary, did you read the news story about the 21-year-old girl who froze to death in Wisconsin? She went to a house party in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt (!) got very drunk, fought with some of her friends and stormed out of the house. No boots, no coat, no nothing. Very sad (especially since her friends were evidently too inebriated to think, "We should go after her and bring her back."

    It's been in the single digits in the mornings lately. When it's that cold, I won't drive anywhere with hat, gloves, scarf, and a blanket in the car. Just in case.

  15. Julia, no I didn't see that one. But there was a similar story a year or so ago at my alma mater in Olean, NY. Student coming home drunk from an off-campus party - no coat, gloves, etc. - was found frozen to death just outside the west entrance to the campus.

    Alcohol and extreme temperatures rarely mix well.

  16. Ah, I'm from the County -- Mainers know exactly where I mean, for the rest, look at the Crown of Maine - you won't find Wallagrass (my town) but I'm ten miles from Fort Kent, which is a stone throw (literally) across the St. John River from Canada. Yep, I know exactly what you mean. Dress up in my neck of the woods is dark blue jeans with creases, worn with either an oxford shirt (turtleneck under or crew sweater over--or both in -40 weather) or a sharply pressed flannel in a nice print. Everyday are worn jeans with layered sweaters. Bean boots, always, or waterproof thermal lined leather boots that close with hooks and eyes. I miss home.

    I read about that poor child, Julia. That is so sad.

  17. Bean boots with dress-up clothes! So fancy. I still have my first pair, probably 35 years old. They never wear out, do they? And if they do, LL Bean will take them back and fix them so they will last another 30 years. One of the remaining made-in-USA products they have.

    Wool sweaters are my go-to winter wear; I collect them, along with scarves. And they get tons of use this time of year.

    There were warnings of possible power outages the other night, and I was mildly panicked, realizing we didn't have much dry wood if we needed to burn it in the fireplace. Luckily, it didn't come to that, but we do need to bring some in.

    I'm cold all the time, even in the summer (AC is not my friend). My husband used to laugh at me, but now that he's older he is also cold this time of year. I've made us several rice bags, which we use all the time: a half-pound of plain white rice, stitched into a fabric pouch about 15" X 8", and heated in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. They hold the heat for quite awhile, and are so comforting on cold days. I often set it under my keyboard so it warms my hands while I'm typing.

  18. Sounds just like what we wear in Oregon. Except for the flap eared caps, since it doesn't really get that cold here.

  19. Karen--rice bags??? Cooked rice or not cooked? That's so interesting...

  20. Julia, the boys roll their eyes at me, but I make them stock extra-heavy gloves, hat, etc., in the cars. When I used to drop them off at school, I was amazed to see what kids considered 'winter' wear.

    For myself, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven the first time someone gave me those handwarmer packets in the field! I seriously considered making a vest covered with pockets front and back, to insert those packets.

  21. Raw rice, Hank. Want one? I'll make it for you. I can add some homegrown lavender, too, if you'd like.

  22. Julia Spencer-Fleming. I love everything you write. Every sentence. Boone, NC is ski country. We're in the mountains. We're a hodge podge of styles with a lot of aging hippies who went to art school here and never left who dress exactly how you're imagining aging hippies to dress. We're mountain natives who dress exactly how you think the might. We're App State Univ. professors who do not dress the way Georgia Tech professors dressed when I worked there. We're kicked back and laid back and I'm looking down at my Bean boots that I'm getting ready to slip into to take Harley out for a walk in the snow. Funny, isn't it how where you live tells you how to dress? But, yep. It's true. My first day of work at App State when we moved here, I showed up in my of my suits I had worn working at Georgia Tech and quickly realized, oh no - this will not do. Not do at all. The suits were all donated to our women's shelter in quick-snap time. One of the things that's big here? Cowboy boots and boy howdy, that suits me to a T ! :-D

  23. Thank you, Kaye!

    Karen and Hank - a friend made us a couple of those rice microwave heaters inside polarpluss covers. They really do work a treat. The only thing I have to add is that I've found you have to let them air out after use - if they go back in the drawer right away they start to smell, I don't know, ricey?

    Kait, my youngest daughter attends school in Limestone, so we've made plenty of trips north of Presque Isle this past year. The County is a whole 'nother place, like nowhere else in Maine.

  24. Julia, I love this post! So entertaining. I'm with Debs in wanting a picture of you in your winter garb. And, I need some LL Bean boots. My daughter is an LL Bean gal all the way, and I have been much admiring her boots lately. Time to order my own. We don't get a lot of snow in Owensboro, KY, but when we do, those boots would be wonderful. I find the older I get, the more comfortable I want to be in my dress. At 61, I'm not interested in being a fashionista. And, Debs, I have an Eddie Bauer coat, too. I seem to go back and forth between Eddie Bauer and LL Bean on coats.

    Oh, and there is a condition that causes cold hands and feet all the time. My daughter has it and it's called Raynaud's disease or Raynaud's phenomenon. Oddly enough, she was diagnosed when she was breastfeeding her daughter, as it was affecting that extremity, too. Not surprisingly, she likes warmer climates, but, alas, lives in Indiana.

    Speaking of people freezing to death. I think it was on the news yesterday that a young man, again walking home from a party, slipped and fell and spent the night in below freezing temperatures in the snow. When they found him the next day, he was dead, frozen to death. However, that's not the end of the story. Medical personnel started slowly warming his body, performed CPR for two hours, and in a miraculous set of circumstances, his heart started beating and his brain started showing activity. He is now alive and seemingly normal. The news reporter commented that this case might make a difference in future cases. This event happened in Pennsylvania.

  25. I won a couple of those rice filled heaters. I haven't had the weather to use them yet. Except for the Bean boots you've nailed my wardrobe down to a T while we lived in Minnesota. Sweat pants, layers of shirts and sweatshirts, thick socks all comprised my at home attire. I had to put on something a little more decent when I left the house. My good ol' Eddie Bauer down coat (before EB went yuppie) was perfect. I still have it, just in case. We're in Houston where it rarely gets cold enough for any of that, but that doesn't mean we'll always be here. I keep trying to talk my husband into a winter trip to Montreal or Quebec. So far he isn't buying it.

  26. For me in the other Portland, it's about rain gear. I don't get cold too often at this point in my life (THAT age), which in itself it very strange. I'm my own micro-climate :-) so I only worry about getting drenched. So I've got my cool raincoat (that is only water resistant, but no matter) and my cute hats ... And if it is actually below freezing? I have a 1940s vintage swing coat that I adore ...

    I guess I'm not all that practical!

    Around here, people buy Columbia Sportswear over LL Bean.

  27. Flora, love your pocket idea! Perfect for reporters!

    And Karen, well, thank you!! xoxoo

    And Kathy, I have terrible Raynauds. It's can be awful.

  28. In case anyone's wondering, when Noel does the Sesame Street float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, he's got those handwarmer packets in both his gloves and boots. I think all the puppeteers do....

  29. I also have Reynaud's, a fairly mild case, but my middle daughter has a severe form of it. Doesn't slow her down, though. She runs marathons, skis, and sport climbs.

  30. When I was young (and even quite a bit past that mile-marker), I lived in New Jersey, land of big hair, big heels, big makeup and nails. I'll admit to having tried to "keep up" with local standards for many of those years but, truth be told, I always felt a bit like a kid playing dress-up. In time, I was able to use age as a reason to slack off the high-maintenance regimen. Perms went out of style in favor of the blow-dry-and-go look (thank God), the knees no longer tolerated shoes that took you to the second floor before you even got on the elevator, and the salons eventually received less and less of my hard-earned dough. Hell, this year I even granted my Inner Platinum Goddess permission to take center stage. No more tinselectomies for me, just regular trims until the transformation from brunette to silver fox is complete. I think it's going to look great with my new Bean boots.

  31. Julia, your Maine formal wear is surely kin to the "Alaska tuxedo". The first time, as a 23 year old bride on Kodiak Island that I wore Bean boots, heavy sox, and long under wear beneath a long gown (as well as a sweater and coat on top), I was so embarassed as I stripped down with the other ladies. The second time, a month or so later, no embarrassment -- just glad to be warm!

  32. Sounds very similar to when I lived in Rochester, Minnesota. I remember the first time I went to a cocktail party in winter and saw all the women either in stocking feet or wearing bedroom slippers with their little black dresses. Got used to it very quickly. learned to carry "dressy" bedroom slippers w/ you, to put on after you'd left your snow-encrusted boots just inside the door. Exiting any event took an extra 20 minutes as there was a queue to find and re-don the boots.