Weary of wellies? Fed up with flat caps? As Camilla Swift explains in this article from the spring issue of My Countryside, we are now entering a whole new era of country style.
Say the words “country clothing”, what image springs to mind? Perhaps a tweed suit and a hat to match, nicely finished off with a pair of sensible shoes or maybe even a pair of wellies? Maybe you picture an old Barbour with a flat cap. While without a doubt these looks are instant classics, what if there were new outfits for your country wardrobe?
Without jumping into cliched territory, it’s worth considering the wardrobe of the now Duchess of Cambridge. One of the first photographs seen of Kate Middleton was taken at the Blenheim Palace Game Fair in 2004. Embracing the country look fully, she posed in a tweed skirt and shirt combo, her tweed coat thrown casually over her shoulder, all finished off with leather riding-style boots. Contrast this with her look today and you’ll see a reflection of how things have changed in the country clothing market.
While the Penelope Chilvers leather boots are still a favourite, nowadays they’re more likely to be teamed with jeans, a smart shirt or knit and finished with a country coat or waistcoat. It’s far less tweedy and fusty; instead stylish, modern clothing which remains practical enough to cope with the great outdoors is far more in favour.
Sarah Kate Byrne is a fashion stylist who dresses, among others, ITV Racing’s Francesca Cumani for her television appearances. While Sarah has long been a supporter of sustainable and vintage clothing, she marries this ideal alongside newer brands who are channelling a more modern vibe.
“Country clothing has to be practical, it has to be comfortable and it has to serve a purpose,” explains Sarah. “It’s not London – traipsing round in taxis to smart restaurants. You’re out walking, having a pub lunch; you want to be comfortable and waterproof.”
The Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest events in the racing calendar and what Francesca wears attracts plenty of attention. While Sarah was initially discouraged from including tweed, she stood her ground. “A tweed is not just green – it can be any colour! You’ve got amazing Linton tweeds, beautiful Scottish tweeds, tartans, herringbones and checks, all with different patterns.”
One of the brands that both Francesca and the Duchess have worn in recent years is Troy London, founded by sisters Rosie and Lucia Ruck Keene in 2013. Their story is a familiar one: they simply couldn’t find clothing to suit their needs, so they created their own brand. “Lucia and I were seeking something for our own wardrobes: effortlessly stylish designs that were versatile to the many walks of our lives, but also performed in the elements,” explains Rosie. “We couldn’t understand why the offering was so limited for women looking for quality clothes with technical features such as 100 per cent waterproofing, so we started with designing coats and have since expanded this out into shirts, knits and other wardrobe staples.” These have proved so popular that they are now rolling out a menswear line.
The Troy story can be found in many of the brands that have popped up in recent years. Take Glaze and Gordon, a country and equestrian shop. Like the Ruck Keene sisters, the founder, Becs Glaze, struggled to find what she was looking for – in this case, tack and smart, stylish riding wear – when she returned to the UK after living in New York. After looking at what was on offer in the US, she found some “amazing pieces” with “a touch of American flare”. This gave her the idea to offer customers “totally different brands, both large and small” which are not widely stocked in the UK.
Since then, Glaze and Gordon has grown, with everything – from accessories to homeware – putting “a spin on quintessential British looks; retaining a traditional old-school feel.” In the last year, they have branched out into creating their own products, teaming up with equestrian artist Ruth Buchanan and Ginger and Jardine to create stock shirts and roll necks with fun hunting designs, as well as collaborating with PC Racewear to make unisex hunting breeches.
Other brands have also developed their own take on the contemporary country look. Founded by two university students, Beaufort and Blake follows the core principles of being “heritage inspired, lifestyle driven and occasionally unconventional with a dash of irreverence”. They started off with “quietly amusing” boxer shorts and ties, before expanding. “I believe people’s view on what’s ‘appropriate’ in the countryside has mellowed and that has allowed us to convert the occasional trend-led style and make it Beaufort,” explains the company’s co-founder, Sam Pullin. “Rather than trying to convince people to trade in their old Barbour or unzip their Schöffel, we give them great shirts, knitwear and accessories at unrivalled quality and value, all with our Beaufort hallmarks.”
This is an interesting aspect of the current countryside clothing trends. While new brands have come into the arena and gained traction, many of the long-established companies are still going strong. Take Schöffel, for example, whose Lyndon fleece gilet is a firm favourite.
“I think Schöffel has remained popular because we have remained authentic,” says Schöffel’s Sales Director Marcus Janssen. “We also don’t shy away from the fact that we are a country sports brand at heart – we are proud of that.” Schöffel clothing is designed to withstand the outdoors and has gained a reputation for “performance and reliability”.
Unlike Schöffel, other companies have focused in on one specific product. Mackenzie and George, for example, are now the go-to country brand for belts. “I think the country audience looks for nods towards heritage and equestrian style,” said Melanie Clarihew, who co-founded the brand with her husband, Chris, in 2012. “They want something that is practical and hard wearing – but equally there is more crossover of lifestyle these days. Straddling that country/city lifestyle, without it looking out of place, is where I think some of the newer brands like ourselves have really gained traction.”
When it comes to footwear, Fairfax and Favor have been trailblazers. Starting from stands at country and game fairs, their Regina boot is now something of a cult item, with interchangeable tassels that let you fully co-ordinate with your outfit. Fairfax boots can often be seen on Francesca, as she presents ITV Racing. “They are feminine and stylish – but they are sensible too,” explains Sarah. “She needs footwear that will stand up to the outdoors and allow her to be on her feet all day.”
Where all these brands align is in their pairing of practicality with a stylish twist. “I think Covid has changed people’s mindsets,” explains Sarah. “They’re putting value on their downtime and what they wear in their downtime.” Luckily, you can now find stylish, practical and warm clothing for every country activity; the mud may be brown, but your clothing needn’t be!