Mansel Fletcher - our man in the country - celebrates the nuances of dressing for the pastoral life.
A gulf exists between metropolitan life and country life. The city offers opportunity, diversity, excitement, culture and decent Chinese food. The countryside offers the possibility of silence, space, an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, and a sense of calm that no number of meditation apps can replicate. The pros and cons of each can be endlessly debated, but what is easier to agree on is that country clothing has virtues that city attire cannot match.
The most obvious reason for this is that it’s usually colder in the country, and the greatest pleasures that clothes offer are reserved for the winter wardrobe. Dressing well in the summer involves finding garments which, as far as possible, allow us to feel like we aren’t wearing anything. We go without socks in order to feel the breeze on our ankles, we wear linen so that the air can circulate around our bodies, and we seek out light, open-weave fabrics for jackets and suits so that we can forget that we’re wearing them.
Autumn in the country is the opposite because the clothes boast colour, texture, weight, substance, depth and tactility. It’s time for chunky ribbed socks, solid leather shoes, thick corduroy trousers, oxford shirts, fuzzy sweaters and tweed jackets. Each garment is a joy in its own right, and together they represent a rich palette that can produce the highest expressions of male style; compared to this, dressing formally is easy because it involves simply chucking on a grey suit, a white shirt, a navy tie and black shoes.
Despite the fact that the elements that make up country dress are little changed since the end of World War II, they have a relevance that the tailored two-piece suit is arguably starting to lose. And that is thanks to their ability to be smart and casual at the same time. The country look is entirely comfortable, yet it lets the people around you know that you’ve made an effort. It’s also extremely versatile, because while the addition of a madder tie and a tweed jacket will see a man dressed for all but the most formal occasions, he only needs to exchange these elements for a Shetland sweater to be ready for work in the garden, or in an artist’s studio.
Corduroy is underrated, and not only because it bridges the gap between formal and informal better than denim. It’s no insult to say that jeans are always, unavoidably casual - that’s the whole point. Tailored cords, by contrast, have the ability to seem relaxed with a sweater, as well as smart with a jacket. They work with wellington boots, and with navy blazers (particularly when the navy blazer is made of Harris tweed). Add to this the depth of colour they achieve thanks to their texture, and the drape they offer, and you have trousers of unrivalled versatility. Of course, if you do need to be more formal then grey flannel trousers, which boast their own unique appearance, can take the place of the corduroys.
Country coats are casual enough to work with jeans, boots and a sweater at the weekend, but also sit comfortably over tailored clothing, including business suits, during the week. In fact they sometimes look their best worn with a city suit. A waxed cotton jacket works well in autumn rain showers, while a raglan-sleeve tweed overcoat will see you through the winter. In really bad weather a shooting coat is invaluable, and looks best when combined with a scarf that brings in colours and patterns, while a hat is as important for the visual impression it makes as it is for the protection it affords.
For me a key measure of good clothes is that they improve with age, and country attire easily passes this test. Just think of the comfort of a soft tweed jacket that’s moulded to your body, or chunky leather shoes once they’ve been worn in. Thanks to their timeless style, buying country-inspired clothes isn’t about snapping up this season’s must-haves, it’s about building a wardrobe that will last for years, wherever you live.