'Why do I still dress like I'm going to the opera?'

‘I live in the middle of nowhere in rural Scotland, so why do I still dress like I’m going to the opera?’ One midlife woman reveals the reasons behind her refusal to give up the exuberant style that defined her youth

  • My wardrobe is stuffed with garments suited to a New York gala, which is a problem, since I live in remotest rural Argyll 
  • READ MORE: From handmade lighting to botanical prints, how to turn your urban home into a bucolic retreat

Recently I bought a sparkly jumpsuit to wear with platform heels. I have also purchased in the past month a pair of scarlet clogs, a black lace cocktail dress and a floral maxi skirt for tropical evenings on the piazza.

My wardrobe is stuffed with garments very well suited to a New York gala or a premiere in Cannes… which is a problem, since I live in remotest rural Argyll, in western Scotland, and am much more likely to spend my evenings out at the village hall quiz night.

Despite living for the past seven years about as far from city glamour as you can get, I still find myself buying clothes for the hectic life I used to live in the 1990s and 2000s in Manchester and London. 

Back then, I was a columnist, often popped up on TV, regularly interviewed celebrities and was constantly invited to launches, trips and parties.

All this frantic socialising meant I could constantly indulge my passionate love of clothes — frequently described as ‘theatrical’ by bemused onlookers.

My wardrobe is stuffed with garments very well suited to a New York gala or a premiere in Cannes… which is a problem, since I live in remotest rural Argyll, in western Scotland

In my 30s, I even opened a vintage boutique with my ex-husband and was able to fully indulge my love of the fashion treasure hunt, as well as dressing up for the customers.

I didn’t own a pair of jeans but if you wanted a neon pink lampshade skirt or turquoise patent boots with gold heels from Gina (credit card madness), I was your woman. 

I bought Vivienne Westwood clothes in the sales and had a centipede’s closet of high-heeled shoes, piles of faux furs, witty hats, and costume jewellery trailing from every mirror.

I assumed I’d dress like a 1930s stage actress for ever — but in my early 40s, everything changed. My marriage ended, I met my now-husband Andy, and in 2016 I moved to the (very) rural Scottish west coast to live with him. Fancy clothes are now entirely redundant.

The parties here tend to be small gatherings in large, draughty houses, where people wear jeans and jumpers and the sort of boots suitable for pushing a car out of a snowdrift. 

Sometimes there’s a dinner party that might call for a warm dress and woolly tights. We have two spaniels, and their long daily walk involves streams, bracken and mud.

I work from home, which requires no more sartorial self-expression than jeans, a jumper and furry boots. There’s no point wearing a dress when excited dogs will jump up and scratch your knees, and very little reason to put on gold heels when I’m heading nowhere more glamorous than the local Co-op.

I love my country life here and have embraced it all, from the star-spangled winter nights to the summer loch swims. But when it comes to clothes, I’ve realised, I’m stuck hopelessly in my own past.

I didn’t own a pair of jeans but if you wanted a neon pink lampshade skirt or turquoise patent boots with gold heels from Gina (credit card madness), I was your woman

Yet rather than accept my country-mouse circumstances, I still shop like a flamboyant town mouse. The last straw was a pair of green satin high heels I bought online. I can barely walk in them, let alone stagger down a muddy path — and if I did, my friends would wonder why I’d turned up looking like Dame Edna hosting a bingo night.

I told myself I’d wear them in Manchester, as I regularly visit my home town to see family and friends. But once there, my social calendar is more ‘pop round for tea’ than ‘first night at the opera’.

Despite this, I can’t pass a vintage boutique, charity shop or sale without going in, and remain drawn like a moth to glamour.

Yet with unworn clothes wasting away in my wardrobe, and shoes I can’t walk in piling high, it’s time to confront reality. I don’t live the life of a girl-about-town — I’m not a girl, and I’m 36 miles from the nearest town (the ferry port of Oban, better known for its sea life than its nightlife). Big parties give me a headache. I dislike being stared at. So what’s making me so reluctant to move my sartorial habits on?

‘When we land on a style that we strongly identify with, it can become deep-rooted,’ says cognitive behavioural therapist Clare Flaxen (clareflaxen.com). ‘Your past style reflects who you feel you are, and that’s not an easy thing to give up — even when your life situation changes.’

I also wonder whether my reluctance is closely linked to the powerful associations I have with glamour. My maternal grandma, Vera, was a model in the 1930s and had the lifelong gift of elegance whatever she wore, from her old wartime utility jacket to her 1960s silk Pucci dresses.

My greatest joy as a little girl was to throw open her enormous Victorian wardrobe and dress up.

My mum, too, was no stranger to fashion. She had me in 1970 aged 21, so I grew up with a young, groovy mum who wore rainbow clogs and maxi dresses; then in the 

Eighties, sequins and leopard- print trousers. I’d look at other children’s mums and think how dull they were, with their sensible slacks and belted trenchcoats. As a teenager, I was short and less waif-like than my best friend. 

I always felt dumpy — and for me, dressing flamboyantly became a magic trick, a sartorial misdirection: ‘Don’t look at my height, look at my incredible velvet coat and my silver high heels!’

Though I loved clothes for their own sake, looking back, I see how much of my identity was shaped by my need to make an interesting impression. I didn’t have tumbling blonde curls or legs like a racehorse, but I did have original 1940s dresses and a Vivienne Westwood velvet jacket.

That longing to look interesting has certainly stayed with me. My husband, who has a small range of hole-ridden jumpers on rotation, barely notices what I wear indoors. I dress for myself alone. But increasingly, I’m aware that my choices are, at best, silly.

The truth is, I’m tired of yearning for a self that has long gone — and I’m gradually starting to lean in to my new self. I’ve got a warm Fairisle jumper, chunky boots and well-cut jeans. I’ve got a padded waterproof coat from chi-chi country outfitters House of Bruar. 

I may, finally, be letting go of my inner fashionista. Though I admit, I’m hanging on to those green satin heels — just in case there’s ever a rural fashion emergency.

Country chic every city girl needs to know 

By Fashion Assistant Alice Hare (Norfolk born and bred) 

Bella Hoskyns

Established by Arabella Hoskyns-Abrahall in 2016, this Northumberland-based brand aims to provide clothes for those who ‘flit between urban and rural lifestyles’. Inspired by vintage clothing and the glamour of old films, think tweed culottes and wool gilets that wouldn’t look out of place on Katherine Hepburn. A beautifully soft cotton shirt with pie-crust collar and frilled cuffs (perfect poking out from under a jumper to add some drama) will set you back £145 – very reasonable for a handmade wardrobe staple that’s so versatile. Clothes that look old school but have a modern appeal.

Gilet, £245, bellahoskyns. com

Beaufort & Blake

British time-off style is at the heart of every product Beaufort & Blake designs. ‘We’re not big on trends, instead we hope you’ll wear and love your Beaufort & Blake pieces for years to come’, the brand’s website reads. And the quality of B&B pieces ensures the latter is possible. Think classics made modern: rugby shirts, jeans and chunky jumpers a-plenty. Oh, and we challenge you to find a brushed cotton shirt softer. This season’s Nehru collar iteration (£79) is our favourite.

Troy London

Founded by two sisters in 2013, Troy’s suede gilets are top of every stylish country girl’s wish-list – but they wouldn’t look out of place in London too. The Princess of Wales and racing presenter Francesca Cumani are both fans of the brand, and with good reason. The finest craftsmanship and timeless designs make every Troy product a treasure-forever piece. Our pick? The new ‘Dawn’ gilet – the softest Italian suede and made in England (£440), it epitomises the brand’s ethos of ‘lasting luxury’.

Shirt, £195, troylondon. com


‘Thoughtful design, responsibly made’. With a focus on local production and natural fibres, Brora is arguably single-handedly responsible for making fairisle cool again. So cool, in fact, that supermodel Georgia May Jagger is the face of their latest campaign. Their iconic cashmere socks (£45) will last years and withstand even the draughtiest of country houses.

Really Wild

Founder Natalie Lake’s designs are a reflection of her own life, which ‘constantly takes her from country to city and back again’. Versatility is king: think houndstooth trousers that would work equally well tucked into wellies on a moor as with trainers on the tube. These are clothes that expertly fuse style and practicality. Their new logo cap (£45) will add some preppy-meets-country cool to the simplest of outfits.

Cap, £35, reallywild clothing.com

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