When it came to fashion, old-time woods hermits had the right idea. Clothes were for covering up, keeping warm, and for pocketing tools and bait. One outfit was sufficient, typically consisting of overalls and various inner and outer seasonal layers. Weather permitting, she would put a lump of soap in the pocket of her overalls, fasten them to a low branch over the water and let the current do her laundry. What she wore during wash day is a mystery, but I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with why she was a hermit.
I don’t want to be a hermit. I do plan to go into town more than once a year. But I still envy the simplicity of a hermit’s clothing options. If a particular layer wasn’t hanging on the deer antler by her bed, or out in the lake rinse cycle, it was on her back. She didn’t have to dig through a closet full of hangers for just the right shade of slacks or find the Tupperware tote marked “Christmas sweaters” before it was too late. While I’ve never been what you’d call a clothes horse, I still have inventory control problems this time of year. I can’t seem to keep my available wardrobe in pace with the seasons, and end up either freezing or roasting while my timely seasonal stuff stays packed away.
My most fashionable period came and went in the early ’90s. As sole proprietor of my marketing communications business, sometimes I had to match a skirt, blouse and blazer so that I looked like I belonged in a boardroom instead of back home, working in my basement office in my fuzzy pants. Fortunately, I gave those outfits the heave long before moving up to Rangeley. Convinced by my daughters that shoulder pads were not coming back into vogue, and that pleated slacks did not flatter my midsection, I purged at least half of my wardrobe before I began packing. I only held onto a couple of “nice” outfits, just in case I win tickets to Broadway, or Tom surprises me with a big splurge down to Portland, and I want to look presentable. I also tucked away my default “really fancy” dress with the sincere hope I would be dragging it out for more weddings than funerals. Otherwise, I’m now devoid of couture and career wear, reserving closet and dresser space for my Rangeley “business” attire.
Rangeley attire, I’m figuring out, is not nearly as snazzy as L.L. Bean portrays. I don’t own any “casual countryside” pants, or a parka that’s only good for “those occasional summer showers.” And, if I did, they would still be packed under the bed on that one fraction of one day I’d fit the exact scenario described in the catalogue. The business of living here requires plenty of L.L. Bean, but mostly the plain stuff you see in the “Tried and True” and “Classic Comfort” sections – the stuff no one needs to model because everyone already owns a pair. Being here year-round also requires a new definition of dressing for the seasons. Although “getting ready” for spring, summer, fall and winter is a marketable notion in other climates, seasons can’t be categorized neatly enough to sell any special ensembles up here. We don’t actually have summer, fall, winter and spring. We have summer (for about two weeks in August), almost winter, winter, and not-quite summer yet. Being weather-ready means having a huge row of deer antler hooks with all manner of L.L. Bean basics close at hand. It also makes putting anything under the bed or up in the attic because it’s off-season seem pretty silly.
Good thing I’m already an expert on wearing the “layered look.” Back when I was a warm weather resident, I kept some camp clothes in the old dresser – mostly stuff that should have been left at Goodwill decades ago. I had some stain-splattered dungarees, a couple t-shirts, turtlenecks, the obligatory hooded sweatshirt and my really versatile red camp sweater. If I got overly optimistic about the weather on Memorial Day weekend and didn’t pack any warm clothes, I could just layer my camp duds. If the temperature rose, off they’d come. Factor in menopause, and I acquired incredible agility and speed, peeling off and piling on clothing like Superman turning back and forth into Clark Kent. These days, I’m outfitted for any given excursion with short- and long-sleeved layers and at least one layer of fleece. I top that off with a waterproof parka that looks almost as sporty tied around my waist as it does zipped up to my chin. In my pockets, I’m packing gloves, sunglasses, and a variety of head coverings. When I get caught in those occasional not-quite spring or winter squalls, I’ve discovered that I can tie my hood over my hat even when it’s already over my ear muffs.
I’m still figuring out which fashion essentials are my “must haves” – which combinations protect me from the elements, keep my thermostat adjusted, and won’t draw stares in town. I haven’t bought any overalls yet, even though I could really use the extra pockets. The hardest part in updating my fashion statement has been throwing away my retro red sweater. When I first unearthed it from the bottom of the Hefty bag it was packed away in during our cabin reconstruction year, I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. “I found my camp sweater!” I sighed, as I saw its familiar red silhouette, felt its comforting chenille. Then it disintegrated in my fingers, falling in a heap of soft shreds atop the mouse-eaten blanket it had been layered next to all winter. I had no choice but to make that sweater a piece of my fashion history, comforted by the knowledge that my taste in clothing was shared by a really stylin’ camp mouse.