(Note: This post is a rerun, but Julia is swamped, and we think it is one you’ll want to read a second time. Enjoy!)
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:
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.
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.
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.
Mainers, what do think are our iconic looks?