A look for a lifestyle? – clothes for the life you lead

The fashion gap between what I want and what I need feels wider than ever…

When you downshift to France, life certainly changes. 

In London I was freelance but office-based, so I usually wore suits or at least something smartish. Shoes could be flimsy. My clothes didn’t really get dirty. I could afford to dry-clean things. My mate Fred called me The Fashion Queen.

Now everything’s changed. My clothes get simply hammered – dog-walking, wood-stacking, cleaning the house, cooking the meals. Reheeling a shoe entails a 46-kilometre round-trip, so remote are we in the Normandy countryside, and since I quit working full time, money is also very tight. One year, my big fashion investment was a pair of L’Aigle wellies. Oh la. And I’ve picked up a new moniker, too – ‘Lidl Queen’ for my razor-sharp ability to spot a bargain at 20 paces.

Just to add to my fashion funk, the day now starts with thermals: in late October, the temperature dropped just as we got in an unexpected 1,000-euro bill for the French ‘solidarity tax’, which is being levied to help the aged. We had to turn our heating down to make ends meet. The central heating is now set to come on if the internal temperature drops below 16 degrees, and believe me, that’s really not warm when you’re sitting at a desk trying to write. Therefore it is time, once again, to layer up in a way unknown to most Brits who don’t work outside.

blog imageEschewing my former Eskimo Nell look (see left), which I wore before we got the heating installed, I decided this year to invest in new thermals, which at least enable you to wear your normal clothing on top. I am really remarkably pleased with them (courtesy of Winter Silks and some Chinese sellers on Ebay, including Shuke708), but I have to admit they’re not exactly what you’d call sexy. Even as basic a task as going to the loo entails a bit of fiddling, what with knickers, long johns, long vest, skirt, jumper and cardi all layered under and over one another to keep out the draughts. Add boots, two pairs of socks and handwarmers and it looks like a shag’s probably out of the question till spring.

The other thing is that, boringly, I realise that I now judge my clothes mostly with a view to practicality. Will this jacket be warm enough to heat my back in a cold restaurant? Will this jumper be ruined if the woodburner throws sparks? Will these heels sink into the hardcore of our loose gravel courtyard? There is no room in my budget for the pretty, unnecessary thing.

So, when we rejigged the bedroom recently I was chastened to find that about 70 per cent of my wardrobe is still fluff – evening wear, vintage clothes, delicate summer dresses for a life I no longer lead. What the hell am I playing at, at 44? I should know better than this. What I need, really, are more moleskin trousers from Boden.

Therefore, the upshot is that, come Sunday, much of it is going. The beaded cardis that are a bit too girly-sweet. The smart Laura Ashley tartan coatdress that I never-wore-not-once, the leather court shoes that are pulled right off by our mud-slick driveway. The DH and I are doing a ‘vide-grenier’ – a sort of car boot sale – at the EuroMayenne Fair. Last year we made 300 euros, which paid for our holiday gite and this year we hope to do the same, so fingers crossed. What doesn’t sell will go into the charity bin, so whatever occurs, at least I’ll have an empty closet at the end of it.

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