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Another one bites the dust

I fear that one of my favourite labels has gone the way of all corporates

Anyone who has ever read this blog might have worked out that I'm a great fan of Lands' End. 

When you live in the countryside as I do, the order of priorities for clothing changes a great deal from when you live in the city. In town, it might be beauty, comfort, function, but out here, it's function, comfort, beauty - in that order.

Country clothing must, above all, be practical: if it looks nice, that's a bonus. I spend about nine months of the year trying to stay warm. I walk dogs, I get covered in mud, I scramble under barbed wire fences. I'm miles from a (very expensive) dry cleaner, so my clothes have to preferably be washable. The woodburner throws sparks, I cook two or three times a day.

Over the 18 years I've lived here, my clothes have therefore become less and less anything to do with fashion. Instead, I favour country labels such as Barbour and Orvis, and technical labels such as Craghopper's, Finisterre and Woolpower. A new discovery is Rohan (more of that later), but until now, I would have said Lands' End was my real go-to label for everyday, practical clothing that looks nice and suits my life.

I discovered Lands' End in 2011 when the DH bought the Insulated Squall Parka. It was a brilliant bit of kit - very lightweight, really warm, loads of pockets, including handwarmer pockets, a tough nylon shell that sloughs off the rain. It has an inner elasticated cuff to keep the draughts out, a two-way zip so you can undo it from top or bottom, a popper wind-stop closure and a removable hood. 

I immediately went out and bought myself the non-insulated version (which is still extremely warm) and this is my standard on-road dog-walking coat, in bright daffodil yellow. And over the next three years I've dropped many hundreds of pounds in Lands' End's direction in the shape of fleece tunics, gilets and trousers; Starfish cotton jersey pants and tops; and numerous coats.

The firm, which was private, was bought by Sear's in 2001 and there have been complaints ever since about the declining quality of the goods, but I hadn't had a problem and it's always with pleasure that I greet a new catalogue dropping through the post. This morning I read it, as usual, in the bath. But I was dismayed - it immediately became apparent that something was amiss.

There are no pictures of active women in the brochure. Time was, I used to flick through this thing and see women who looked somewhat like me, doing things similar to what I do - women walking their dogs, rambling through the countryside, boating, etc. Suddenly, instead, all the models are pictured against a featureless grey background, posed like models from any fashion catalogue. The text is about fashion, not about features. The clothes are about fashion, not about features. The older models are nowhere to be seen. I got almost to page 50 before I could find anything practical - these flimsy little garments aren't going to keep a girl warm in the autumn chill.

Is my favourite label finally going down the tube and turning into a fashion house? God help us, because there are more than enough of those already - the last thing we need is another one. When it comes to fashion, I am kind of choosy, and willing to pay a premium to a company like Wall for organic, fair-trade, limited-edition clothing with an artisan streak. But these supposedly fashionable Lands' End clothes look pretty frumpy to me and there's an awful lot of polyester appearing where it used to be pure cotton. 

What a disappointment. I know that the company has been struggling recently, but a rush to the bottom isn't the way to sort this out, when every supermarket can produce low-priced sweat-shop labour clothing for those who like that sort of thing. I will be gutted if this is yet another label I can no longer trust.  

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Outdoor gear

My outdoor gear is really my favourite sort of clothing, when fashion gives way to function.

Stadium Squall coat

I'm fresh back from a holiday and photographic trip to Brittany and thought I'd do a quick blog about how our outdoor clothes performed.

We were rambling, out in the rain, wind, blustery weather - sometimes coldish at 2 degrees, sometimes warm at a ridiculous (for November) 17 degrees. On the Atlantic coast, you're pretty exposed to gales, and it's always windy, even on a fine day, so you need to dress snugly, and we were mainly on the beach and the coastal path, though also in town, so didn't want to look too grungy. 

Deciding what clothes to take in such a changeable environment is always a little tricky. We're out all day and can't pop back to the house, and I'm also never sure how easy it will be to get things dry in the gite, but after years of doing this, I've got my uniform pretty well sorted out - I take fewer clothes every year and this year only took a kit bag. 

Undies were an Ahh bra and Sloggi full briefs, so you can just put on your clothes and forget about them. The great thing about the Sloggis is that they don't budge - when you're in multiple layers, you don't want to be endless picking your knickers out of your butt crack. For socks, I wore the Woodlander from Corrymoor - a long, mid-weight merino sock. I took along my Explorers too but it wasn't cold enough to wear them, though I did wear my spare pair of Companions (like the Woodlander but shorter) on one day. Aired overnight and alternated, you can keep two pairs of Corrymoors going almost indefinitely, as they're naturally antibacterial.  

The big change for me this year was my thermals. In the past I've relied on the Five Seasons ClimateControl thermals, either the Superwoman set or the Adini set. I now have eight of these, and wear them very often at home in winter, as our house is a bit chilly. One issue when travelling, however, is that they're slow to dry, so washing and wearing is a tad difficult, especially if you're staying somewhere that you can't spin them. My normal method is to handwash, wring out, roll in a towel and stand on it to squeeze the water out, but it does still leave clothes wetter than you'd get in a washing machine and they take a couple of days to dry completely. Therefore you'd need at least three to get through a week. 

Zephyr vest

This year, however, was my first winter holiday wearing merino underwear and base layers from Finisterre, and I have to say they were bloody fabulous. I wore the Zephyr vest under the Eddy tee, and I was as snug as a bug. No sweating, no overheating, no chill. On one day, I wore a Five Seasons top instead and lived to regret it, as I felt sweaty all day. The Five Seasons are great if you're not exerting yourself, but if you're sweating inside them, they don't wick as well as the merino.

Using the merino also meant that I could take fewer clothes. I took two vests and alternated them, but they didn't need washing all week, and I also alternated two tees, favouring the grey one. Washed out in the evening, they were almost dry by the next morning, even just left on a rack over the bath.  

On my lower half, I stuck to Five Seasons longjohns, as my Zephyr merino leggings hadn't arrived by the time we left. These worked just fine and I didn't need the spare pair I took in case the first pair got wet.  

Craghoppers microfleece

On top of the thermals, I wore a Craghoppers half-zip microfleece, mainly a grey Fusion (no longer made) men's fleece with a zip pocket on the front (incredibly handy for tissues, though it's designed for an MP3 player). I also took along a women's Miska microfleece in a lovely bright jade but quickly realised this bright colour is not the thing to wear when you're pee'ing behind bushes on the coastal path. Therefore when we got home I quickly bought, on Ebay, a taupe-coloured Craghopper's microfleece with a zip pocket on the sleeve, which will hopefully render me a bit less conspicuous. I will also always, from now on, wear fleeces with a zip pocket - they are incredibly handy. 

The half-zip fleeces do leave you a bit exposed at the neckline, and I found a Heavenly fleece scarf from Lands' End very useful when I wasn't wearing a balaclava. A fleece scarf is a useful beast on holiday - not the most stylish of garments, but it keeps you warm even when wet, and is never itchy.  

For trousers, I stuck to two pairs (the second pair 'just in case') of Crivit walking trousers from Lidl. These are great things - a tough, stretchy, slightly rubberised-feeling fabric, showerproof, elastic waist, and with extra leg pleats so you can bend your knees easily. One pair have zip-up pockets and also a zip pocket on the leg, so I mostly wore these - it's crucial that when you sit down, you don't lose your house keys... 

I also took along my lovely Craghopper thermal Kiwi trousers with built-in fleece lining, but I cannot get on at all with these pants. They are totally the wrong cut for my shape, which is a huge shame - too tight at the front over my pot belly, way loose at the back, very uncomfortable for travelling in, though just about bearable for walking. I'm gutted. My DH lives in his Kiwis each and every day - with their brushed fabric and eight pockets, he finds them the perfect garment but they don't suit me at all. 

Land's end boots

For shoes, I wore winter walking boots from Land's End (now discontinued but other styles are available). These were fantastically comfortable, waterproof, supportive round the ankle, non-sweaty inside, with a cushioned footbed. Wish I'd bought two pairs... My only other outdoor footwear was my trusty Aigle neoprene-lined wellies, which are about 15 years old now and still going strong. Long may they last, because a new pair would be nearly 200 euros. I also took along Uggs for wearing indoors and some lighter weight trekking shoes, which I didn't wear.

I took three coats but only really wore one - the Lands' End Stadium Squall coat in black (top left). This is a longish coat in tough nylon, with loads of big pockets, which kept me dry even in Brittany's occasional torrential rains. It's perfect, as it says, for squally, blustery weather. It's fleece-lined in the upper half and sleeves, then has quilted padding on the lower half (in a really cold wind, however, you can feel the difference - the lower half is not so snug), and it also has a decent fleece-lined hood. The handy two-way zip meant it didn't get in the way on steep sections, and I liked that it was long enough to sit down in, whereas the DH had to take off his Squall Parka to avoid getting a wet bum. 

I also took along (all from Lands' End) a down gilet, fleece-lined waterproof gilet (discontinued), Squall Parka and Sunshower Parka, and wore all of them, but really didn't need them - I could have managed with the Squall Stadium alone. Also, all these items are bright, screaming yellow, which I find useful for dog-walking, especially in low light, but I wish in retrospect that I'd bought them in darker colours, as I could always wear a high-vis vest.  

A cheap fleece balaclava from Intersports, a corduroy bucket hat from Lands' End and fleece-lined gloves from Lidl completed my usual daily ensemble, while to relax in, and for travelling home, I wore stretch fleece pants and a fleece polo from Lands' End - stretchy, warm, lightweight, comfortable, and still smart enough to get away with as long as you keep the colours dark.

Aran Crafts sweater

The DH, as usual, took too many clothes (far more than me) and those he did take were too warm, especially his Insulated Squall Parka, which has never yet encountered cold enough weather to be feasible. He ended up in fleece longjohns from Regatta, Kiwi trousers from Craghoppers, short-sleeve teeshirts from Lands' End and fleeces from French brands Cap Marine and Lafuma, bought at our favourite shop, Comptoir de la Mer.

The Lafuma top is particularly gorgeous (a present from me) and is in thick marled grey fleece that looks like knit. He hasn't had it off his back since he got it. Meanwhile, he bought me the dream cardigan that I have been searching for for two years - a charcoal merino Aran knit, knee length, with pockets and a hood. A fabulous garment, it's by Irish firm Aran Crafts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A crisp new season

This springtime I'm feeling the need to be crisp and smart.

Armor-Lux T

One of the ideas I really liked in Sue Donnelly's lovely book Feel Fab at 50 was that of coming up with a new word for each year, to sum up the feeling you want to gain that year from your clothes and personal style. 

Last year I was feeling cuddly, and I chose a soft colour scheme, with lots of pink in my clothes and in my bedroom, etc. It played into a need for femininity I felt last year, and I very much enjoyed wearing it.  

This year It's taken me a while to think of my word for 2012, but I've decided, finally, that it's CRISP.  That's what I want to be this season: crisper, cleaner, smarter, more pulled-together. I have in my mind navy blazers, Breton tees, polka-dot dresses and clean white shirts: summer in the sunshine by the sea in Brittany. 

Navy canvas field jacketLight blue canvas field jacket

Because I'm going to be crisp, I've decided that my base colour will be navy. This is a less harsh colour than black, but just as smart, and I've already dyed quite a lot of my clothes navy over the past few years. This will be followed by white, grey, black, stone, beige and other shades of blue. And after that, pale pink, primrose, soft shades of aqua, and scarlet. The overall look I'm aiming for is quite coastal and fresh, but also comfortable and easy to wear. Brown, green and khaki will be banished from my wardrobe altogether, along with anything grungy or hippyish. As I get older and more haggard, I am definitely feeling the need to look smarter, though not in any way formal. 

Green sailor teeSailor tee

I am not a great lover of patterns, so I'll restrict myself to stripes and polka dots (I don't generally find I wear many other patterns in any case). I'm too short for checks other than quarter-inch gingham, and florals other than one colour on white leave me a bit cold. Maybe the odd dress can be floral, as these aren't so dependent on other items. 

Crewneck tunic

 

Once again, when thinking of new items for this season, I've looked towards Lands' End, which has pretty much become my go-to brand these days and which has been having THE most stonking sale. I don't need pants this year: I already have jeans, navy jeggings, navy chinos, grey chinos and white capris, so to top them, I've ordered some striped 'sailor' tees and longer striped crewnecks in soft cotton. Back in November, when this idea was percolating, I also bought a navy and white striped tee from Armor-Lux - the most money I've ever paid for a teeshirt, by a very long chalk. And these long tunic tees from Lands' End, with pockets, are ideal for my life of slouching around the place, lugging my laptop from pillar to post.Grey Starfish Tunic

The two jackets pictured are Lands' End canvas field jackets. I bought one for the DH earlier this year, and just fell in love with its soft, thick brushed fabric.  So this pale one and navy one, both with chocolate corduroy details, will do me as casual popovers (£15 each, reduced from £50). As a town coat I already have a navy Burberry polocoat and my navy blazer, and for the seaside - which we visit whenever we can - I've plumped for mineral yellow as a colour accent, in a lightweight parka, down jacket and wellies. 

 

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