Some fun accessories.
And – this is Maine, after all – a decent coat and practical footwear.
Have these items in your wardrobe and you’ll be well on your way to presenting a fashionable front, despite the state’s challenges of geography and climate.
That’s the advice of a sampling of stylish Greater Portland women, who say that while Maine is no New York or Paris, living here doesn’t need to automatically land you on a worst-dressed list.
Take jeans. Whether they are from a high-end boutique – and cost more than your car payment – or from a more moderately priced retail store, good jeans can make an outfit. Just ask Maria Canning, 49, of Portland. Canning, who spends a lot of time in a painting studio, says jeans are “part of my uniform.” That may mean worn out ones for painting, dark dressy ones for going out, or something in between.
“I kind of live in jeans and sweaters,” says Canning. Add a “funky” shirt to the mix, she says, and she’s good to go.
Andi Clark, 41, an economist who lives in Cape Elizabeth, agrees that jeans are “really important.” Clark says she favors the same look – “a simple, long line” – for both work and leisure. Levi’s fit the bill for years, she says, although she confesses that she once paid full price for a pair of the Lucky brand in New York.
“They are amazing,” she says.
And she’s worn them so much that “they’re starting to fall apart.” She picked up another pair of designer jeans on an online clearance sale and often checks such sites for bargains.
Lower-end jeans work fine for Rosa Noreen, 32, of Portland. Noreen, a professional belly dancer and studio owner (her Bright Star World Dance studio opens in Portland later this winter), agrees with Canning.
“I go for practical comfort,” she says.
That comfort doesn’t need “to break the bank,” she says. “Jeans from The Gap fit best.”
Madeline Seraj, who works at, and helps buy, jeans for Zane, an Old Port boutique, says the best jeans are the ones that “make you feel the most comfortable, the sexiest, the most confident.”
Seraj calls it “investment dressing,” where quality trumps quantity.
A good look is enhanced by accessories, women agree.
Noreen says she has a “fun collection” of jewelry made by local designer Hannah Tarkinson, adding that she often wears “shiny things,” and dangly earrings shown off by her pixie-short haircut. Plus, she says, she is fortunate to have connections out of state. Her boyfriend, a musician, has brought her necklaces from all over the world. A favorite? “A simple pearl necklace with a gorgeous setting from Germany.” she says.
Pearls are also a favorite of Chanterelle Atkins, 29, of Wiscasset. Atkins, who works as director of administration at a Portland consulting firm, says scarves also work well for the “timeless style” she prefers.
Cathy Cooney, 52, a product designer from Falmouth, agrees that “it’s all about the neck.”
Cooney, who says accessories are “where the money is now,” says one of the advantages of accessories is price.
“There’s so much cool, affordable stuff out there,” she says. “You can get a good scarf at Target.” Necklaces don’t need to be expensive either, she says.
Canning says her go-to is a silk scarf. She has many, she says. Considering the weather, she says, they are always a good option.
Maine’s long winters and short summers help explain why fashionable women put so much effort into the right outerwear and footwear.
Clark says that when it comes to coats, she found the perfect solution with a “very versatile” black Calvin Klein trench coat. A removable lining makes it suitable for a range of temperatures.
“It works fine for really dressing up and for work,” she says.
“I don’t think winter needs to make you look like you have no sense of fashion,” says Canning.
“There are a lot of fabulous coats,” Seraj adds.
And those coats, together with good jeans, can give women a “utilitarian, polished” look while maintaining femininity,” she says.
Atkins agrees. A stylish tailored jacket can “transform” an outfit, she says.
But finding that just-right coat can be challenging. Cooney says her “quest for a coat” took more than a year.
“You don’t want to look like you’re wearing a sleeping bag,” she says.
Warmth is key. A good coat is long enough to sit on, she says, compatible with Maine’s temperature and yet comfortable enough for the car. Another must? A two-way zipper. Cooney says she finally found a lightweight down coat at Eddie Bauer that fit the bill.
And then there’s the matter of footwear. Although Clark says she favors boots with a fairly high heel and likes strappy sandals for those date nights, Maine is, well, Maine. Temperatures, snow and salt all factor in when it comes to feet.
Seraj says there’s nothing like a pair of Frye boots to pull together an outfit. Uggs work, too, says Canning.
A good boot, suggests Cooney, is one that goes with shirts as well as pants, with “a heel that’s not too high.” Zappos.com, an online retailer, is a great option for trying footwear, she says. And the company’s free shipping, both ways, allows better shopping for style and size, she says.
“I love them,” she says. “I try so many things.”
Both Canning and Cooney say that the resurgence of consignment shops in Maine make dressing for success much more affordable.
“There are consignment stores everywhere,” Canning says. “Women buy really nice stuff, get tired of it and consign it.”
So whether you shop in Europe while visiting family in Portugal, as Canning does, look for pieces in the Old Port or the mall, or scour online or secondhand shops for bargains, a stylish look is achievable.
The key, says Seraj is simple: “The most important thing is that clothes don’t wear you, but that you wear them,” she says. “Fashion is supposed to be a happy thing.”