Fashion Statements in the Granite State
There's more to our state's style than you think
Most likely, you’ve heard the opinion that fashion in New Hampshire begins with plaid flannel and ends with suspenders, but perhaps you haven’t been talking to the right people.
We set out to answer the question of whether the Granite State has its own sense of style. We started at the top, asking some of the best boutiques and clothing shops in our trendiest downtowns to hook us up with their most fashionable clients. We narrowed the list down to the following five fashionistas, and what we learned was a revelation.
Polar fleece and muck boots might still hold sway over the masses, but fashion is alive and well here. Still, it’s not hard to see how misconceptions might have formed.
After all, so much contemporary style comes from popular celebrities. In that department, the closest thing we can claim to a true style icon is probably Steven Tyler, and not many 60-somethings can pull off the gypsy-pirate-rock-star look with such élan.
How about Adam Sandler’s trademark unapologetic-schlub look? A Manchester Central T-shirt might be a fashion statement when seen on late night TV, but not at the Mall of NH.
Famous inventor dude Dean Kamen popularized the “blue jeans with work shirt and work boots look” as a wear-anywhere-anytime uniform, but is it a style, or is it simply a nerdy dodge on the whole concept of fashion?
Once-Governor and now Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s red jacket and business skirt did cut a strong figure both in front of the executive council and on the campaign trail, but was it fashion-forward?
So perhaps we look back. New Hampshire history certainly offered opportunities for style statements. The fashion press has gone gaga contrasting the couture modeled by departing First Lady Michelle Obama and new First Lady Melania Trump, but the last time New Hampshire had its shot at the Washington social scene, things got off to a bleak start. First Lady Jane Pierce and President Franklin Pierce had witnessed the death of their son Benny in a train accident shortly after Franklin’s election. Mrs. Pierce, never much for high society, skipped the inaugural ceremonies and rarely appeared after.
According to historian Peter Wallner, who literally wrote the book on the only president from New Hampshire (“Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union”), she did make a public appearance at the 1855 New Year’s Levee, an occasion where regular folks were invited in to look around the White House and be greeted by the president and his wife.
Wallner says all that’s known of her couture is she wore all black, except for her headdress, which was white, but he quotes Mrs. Clement Clay, the wife of a Senator from Alabama, who added a little more detail: “She was clad in black velvet and diamonds, her natural pallor being greatly accentuated.” So, yes, NH’s only White House fashion statement was made when the first lady was garbed in mourning clothes.
In much more recent years, we’ve had a few fashion “hits” with Granite State roots. Polar fleece wasn’t always taken for granted, as it is now, and one of the early developers of the garment as a comfy fashion statement was Chuck Henderson, whose Chuck Roast brand still appears on stylish fleecewear in many closets.
Timberland Boots (headquartered in Stratham) are practical for mucking out the stalls, but they are also de rigueur as street fashion. And while an internet meme isn’t the same as a fashion statement, we do take pride that the famous Three Wolf Moon T-shirt (which still imparts mystical powers to wearers, if you believe the comments on their Amazon page) was created by The Mountain, based in Keene.
But, quirkiness aside, is fashion important?
Andrea Lessard, owner of Statement Boutique in Manchester, is one of the organizers of the annual Seeds of Hope fashion fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. This gives her the chance to see the empowering effects of beautiful clothing when modeled by cancer survivors and caretakers. “Style comes from within,” she says. “It’s how you make something you love your own. Fashion is just the means to do that.” She says that sometimes a client will admire a dress but ask, “Where would I wear it?” She tells them to wear it to the grocery store. “I don’t think you should need an excuse to wear what you love,” says Lessard.
Chris Clement, 52, lives in Durham and is a VP of finance and administration for the University of New Hampshire. He says his favorite designers are Pal Zileri and John Varvatos for their “enhanced” approach to modern style. He first became style-conscious in the fifth grade, and one of his first style influences while growing up was Frank Sinatra. His personal style has evolved over the years, becoming even more traditional and formal, incorporating three-piece suits and dress shoes. However, it’s also more expressive, with bright, bold colors and pattern variations. When asked why fashion is important, he counters, “Tradition is important, not fashion. Dressing formal makes me feel professional and is reflective of my personality.”
His style: A modern, traditional gentleman
Essential item: Bow tie
Favorite style setters: Denzel Washington and Sean Connery
Details: The classic three-piece suit is revived (above left) with bold color contrasts and distinctive accessories, such as these Baade cufflinks, watch by Shinola of Detroit and fedora by Bailey of Hollywood. A colorful bow tie and contrasting jacket (above right) turn a tailored pinstriped suit into a style statement.
Chelsey Drapeau, 27, of Dover, a hairstylist and creative director at Jessica Todd salon in Portsmouth, says her mom was her first fashion role model: “She always had an edgy haircut and magnificent jewelry.” Her favorite place anywhere in the world to shop for clothes is in secondhand stores (“the hunt is half the fun”), but when she needs something specific, she can usually find it in Portsmouth. Fashion is important, she says, because it’s how you present yourself to the world. “Even if you have very little in monetary terms, you can still be fashionable in your own narrative.” Her own sense of style has become more comfortable in recent years. She describes Granite State chic as “on the whole, utilitarian.” But that’s what makes our state’s native style uniquely cool. “You have to be some kind of badass to deal with New Hampshire winters,” she says.
Her style: Emotional
Essential item: A vintage clutch
Favorite style setter: Brigitte Bardot
Details: Above right, her great-aunt’s vintage lace-up boots, origin unknown. Above left, vintage clutch purchased at Just L in Littleton, J. Crew red velvet jacket from the ’80s (a Goodwill find), ASOS embroidered boots and a pink shirt that was part of a kimono her great-great-great-grandmother picked up in her travels
Sonja Mucha is a grandmother, retired, who lives and volunteers her time in the community of Hancock. She considers Ralph Lauren to be a favorite designer, and was alert enough to be drawn to his clothing lines back when he was a young, affordable designer. She lists Peruvian Collection, Sundance and Brooks Brothers as other “attention-getters” in her wardrobe. Stylish clothing is a love that she found at an early age, with a seamstress for a mother and three sisters to compare and contrast tastes (and borrow from). “I think I developed my fashion sense further by an awareness of what enhanced my skin, hair and eye color — accentuating one’s positives,” she says. “What evolved is my signature look.”
Her style: Eclectic
Essential item: A favorite watch
Favorite style setter: Michelle Obama (“She deviates from couture designers to J. Crew, showing that being stylish is accessible to everyday people.”)
Details: Above left, a Peruvian Connection crocheted top with a contrasting Peruvian Connection camisole, Banana Republic skirt and laced boots by Kenneth Cole. Above right, Anthropologie sweater over a Peruvian Collection camisole and black velvet palazzos by J. Peterman.
Ryan Plummer, 32, is an associate at a commercial real estate development company and has deep family ties to Portsmouth. He grew up with four siblings, so he was never lacking in critics as he developed his own sense of style. (One sister’s Facebook posts convinced him to “stop wearing those European-cut swim trunks I picked up on vacation,” he says.) It was in his mid-20s that he learned that clothes become an investment as you age. “For me, this meant taking more time to make sure something fits right … going for items that won’t be out of style in short time and then taking care of them so they last,” he says. Although he tends to prefer jeans and flannel to formalwear, he’s learned that a sport coat and a well-chosen tie can make all the difference.
His style: Balanced
Essential item: Running shoes
Favorite style setters: Tom Brady and Daniel Craig
Details: Above left, a business look with a Calvin Klein shirt, Kenneth Cole sport coat, 7 for All Mankind jeans and a Brooks Brothers tie. Above right, a casual look with a Sault New England shirt over a John Varvatos Henley and a tan pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans
“I think I was born excited about fashion!” exclaims Beth Pataski-Fay of Gilford. “My mom was an amazing seamstress and sewed beautiful dresses with the most sumptuous fabrics for me when I was a little girl.” Her tastes have grown more sophisticated since those homespun days, but her parents (“Dad was quite dapper,” she says) remain role models. She loves to shop “everywhere,” but loves boutiques with their own unique styles, such as Wholly Tara in Ashland and Christine’s Crossing in Rye. If money were no object, she would own a jacket and vintage handbag by Chanel, but she insists fashion is not about how rich or thin you are. “I’ve seen women who can totally command a room in a $10 dress,” she says.
Her style: Classic with an edge of drama
Essential item: My black cashmere travel wrap
Favorite style setter: Audrey Hepburn, of course!
Details: Petite black fascinator ("I'd love to see hats come back!"), left, and cream jacket with polka dot trim by An Ren New York, right.
NH Fashion Gets Its Day (Three of Them)
In hopes of outdoing last year’s successful inaugural New Hampshire Fashion Week, organizer Cynthia Hudson and her team are gearing up for round two.
Last April, with 120 models, 22 designers, 30 performers and a gaggle of volunteers, they attracted a turnout of about 950 people in just two days. Along with adding a day, Hudson says for 2017 they plan to “shake it up and give it a little edge.” They’ll kick off events on Thursday, April 6. Saturday will include a VIP meet-and-greet with the designers and models. Sunday, up to 15 students from area high schools will compete in a design challenge with their fashions worn by models on the runway in front of a panel of judges. College scholarships and other awards are up for grabs. Each night will include a fashion show. Performances ranging from student vocalists to step dancers from the nationally ranked Heavey-Quinn Academy of Irish Dance will be scattered throughout the long weekend celebrating International Fashion Week and our state’s growing interest in fashion.
• Kickoff, Thursday, April 6, at the Marriott Courtyard Nashua
• Saturday and Sunday events take place at the Radisson Hotel Nashua.
• Tickets at the door or online: $10 per day