A week off fashion

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One great thing about a rambling holiday is being able to dress entirely for comfort.

We’re on holiday in Brittany at the moment.

One of the things I most enjoy about being on holiday is the complete lack of any need to dress up. Time was, I’d bring a ‘nice’ outfit with me to go out to dinner (we usually go away in winter), but the past couple of years, I haven’t even bothered with that – it’s not as if the French dress up for anything.

Our days here consist of rambling on cliff tops, walking on the beach, visiting old chapels, forts and whatnot along the coast, and chilling out at the gite. There is no requirement for our clothes to be anything other than comfortable and practical, and that entails a whole new set of rules from the usual nonsense.

As a woman, it is very pleasant to feel free of the responsibility to be ‘on’ all the time. John Berger said that women were the observed sex, that right from our infancy we are the subject of the male gaze and we learn, even as little girls, to be aware of it. That means we dress accordingly – to be a pleasure for others to look at, not for ourselves to feel.

Dressed as I am at the moment, however, I become, every year, aware of the ease and comfort that attends male dress – the thick-soled, comfortable shoes that are easy to walk and run in; the windproof coats with numerous pockets; practical finishes that enable me to sit cross-legged, slide on my backside down rocks or get covered in sand.

I know, I know – men, in their work suits at least – have to dress in a uniform that is neither comfortable, nor practical. But no man suffers the degree of discomfort that the average woman does, especially with regard to footwear. I speak as someone for whom heels are fast becoming a thing of the past, and even flat shoes if they don’t offer sufficient support for my orthotic insoles.

Today, I’m in Five Seasons Climate Control thermals; waterproof walking trousers with zip pockets and knee vents (from Lidl); Ecco shock absorber trainers that are a joy to walk in with my poor scarred feet; a zip-neck Craghoppers microfleece (my favourite new garment, courtesy of the DH); a lovely hooded aran sweater with handwarmer pockets from two local ladies who make to order; my trusty old microfibre balaclava, microfibre gloves, and a padded bodywarmer (Lidl again) with a ‘fur’-trimmed hood.  

These clothes could not be more perfect for the day we have had: driving through the country lanes, playing on the rock pools at the beach, rambling along the vertiginous pathways of the Pointe du Raz – windproof, waterproof, wicking, comfortable.

As every year, I think to myself, this is the way to dress – I feel more human in these clothes and I am now determined to devote more of my budget to serious microfleeces, waterproof parkas and proper walking shoes. It probably means being in trousers for the rest of my days – shoes like this aren’t really pencil skirt material – but so be it.

Yellow parkaSo, I have started with this parka from a new favourite company, Land’s End, which will replace my old waxed jacket and Guy Cotten yachtsman’s jacket, which is showing its age now. Land’s End is a great company, with pretty good eco-credentials, and these parkas, importantly, have underarm vents, which the Guy Cotten doesn’t (it makes me sweat like a pig in a sandwich bag). This bright yellow makes me feel cheerful in winter, looks great on the beach, and is practical for walking the dog in our Normandy drizzle.

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