Fairfax Virginia is about twenty-two miles from Middleburg. I’m finishing a lunch meeting in Fairfax the other week when I remembered how close I was to Middleburg, the little horsey hamlet. The Angel-D.G. on my shoulder said…“You have no business going out there today. Wait till you can go on a sunny Saturday or Sunday with some stunner. You know...have lunch...go in all those girly shops with your date and pretend like you're enjoying it 'cause you know what usually follows.” Yep. I know what usually follows--a nap. Alone.
But the A.Devil-G on my other shoulder said “Don’t be such a _ussy. You had a great year business-wise, back in 2006 and you’ll have another one in 2014. Blow off the afternoon and head to Middleburg. It’s sunny today and it may rain for the next seventeen weekends. Besides, you are out of salad dressing” So I listened, as I usually do, to the Devil. I was out of salad dressing after all.
Middleburg by the way, to non-landowners and non-horse people, is an idea mostly. It’s a good idea and one I that I respect. I come from farm people so I understand the idea of country living, stewardship and conservation—land and critter-wise. But for those townies like me who roll into Middleburg and expect anything more than the fifty-five minutes worth of browsing the main street shops, you’ll be disappointed. Vicky Moon in her book Middleburg Mystique sums all this up nicely. And you can buy the Middleburg print above right here.
There are barn tours from time to time and events occasionally that will allow pedestrians a peek into some of the houses and farms. But unless you know people, the true essence of Middleburg won’t manifest for you—ever. And that’s the way the real country living people…the legit horsey folks…like it. You’ll be more likely to see some authentic Middleburg cohorts if you hang out in the Safeway grocery store or one of the saddlery/tack shops off the beaten path as opposed to any of the twee, equestrian tchotchke gift shops on main street.
And how would one know the real thing if they saw it? Four words…patinated, smug, shabby reserve. And circumstantial evidence of authenticity might include a beat up old Jeep Waggoneer or an old, old Rover or Detroit made pickup truck—dirty and dented. Muck shoes or riding boots…muddy or at least scuffed. Beat to shit old keepers tweed hacking jacket-torn pocket unrepaired. Or a Barbour that’s anything but water repellent. Maybe twenty years ago it was.
Declaring myself an outsider helps me enjoy the little glimpses and tastes of Middleburg that I get from time to time. Whether it’s the annual company retreat that my partners and I used to have at the Red Fox Inn when some of the outbuildings were still offered for weekly rentals. Or the social event or post steeplechase party or eleven that I’ve attended through the years. I’m a cheerful visitor…a pleased to be there…outsider. It’s the same orientation I had to my two years in New Orleans. Enjoying the experience without the pressure of trying to belong makes for a reasonably good time. Plus, these folks can spot a poseur a furlong away.
Oh, and for those who are interested in the horsey folks in general, Michael Korda weighs in precisely on the equestrian set in his book, Horse People.
And speaking of the art of revealing poseurs...This is gonna surprise you I know—but I dated an accomplished Equestrienne about three years ago who remains in the horse business and fully immersed and quite respected in the Middleburg and Loudon-Orange Counties horse business-world. She’s the real-deal…an Olympic caliber horsewoman who can separate the wheat from the chaff in about two seconds.
She defined the horsey crowd poseurs in a conversation with me one time as living the “Equestrian Lie.” I kept an email exchange, long after she dumped me. (I’m scared of horses and they know it. I don’t have to be standing beside one for them to sense my fear. I can drive by a fenced-in thoroughbred at sixty miles an hour and said horse can intuit at one hundred yards away that I’m skeered of him. He laughs, running parallel to my car for as long as his fenced-in-ness will allow) You can only make excuses for so long regarding why you can’t/won’t go riding with a horsewoman so I knew that I had it coming--the dumping.
Many categories here...
1) The large landowners who can actually afford to be members, and are under the false delusion that foxhunting is still considered an exclusive, elitist and moneyed club by the surrounding public.
2) The wealthy but not large landowners who buy their way into a hunt membership ($250,000.00 in Orange County) in order to be part of the "cool" elite but yet aren't comfortable on a horse.
3) The professional's or "groom's" memberships. These are the individuals that actually have the skill to be on a horse at 25mph over solid obstacles chasing a fox. Unfortunately, they have sub-prime mortgages and have their memberships bought by either group #1 or group #2 as an extremely expensive "babysitter." Main job is to pick up the old gents off the ground, dust them off, and tell them that they rode brilliantly, it was the stupid horse's fault that they're on the ground. The equestrian lie is rampant in many categories.”
Listen--there are poseurs and climbers in all camps…the sailing set in Annapolis comes to mind as well. But there seems to be an excess amongst the horsey set. But please don’t interpret my observations as coming from one who is anti-any of this. I’m not. I just like for people to be real. And by the way, the Fox Hunting ban is nothing but class warfare. It has zero to do, at least from a statistical, unemotional assessment of its impact on the fox population. So for what other reason would one want to ban it? Oh, I forgot. Cruelty.
I digress--as usual so let's get back to my whatever the hell story this set out to be. I like my Middleburg sorties. And like a lot of my ganderings, they are predictable. Roll into the high street and have lunch at the Red Fox Inn…visit the two remaining legitimate antique and sporting art establishments there remaining, grab a jar or two of my favorite salad dressing at the posh butcher shop—formerly the local bank. And finally, cap it off with a visit to English Country Classics.
But before I get to English Country Classics, let’s take a glimpse at some of the goodies that I saw in the galleries. No surprise that the shops and galleries are geared for their constituents. If you want an early 20th century Swaine-Adeney riding crop, Middleburg would be your go-to locale for such things. Since I’m not in the market for such, I tend to gander the art.
Whippetish-Greyhounds and some kind of terrier...whatever the breed(s) looked like a century and a half ago…here they are.
The prices are predictable but not stunning. I have no wall space left so as much as I’d like to have one of these…
I tend to think that this late 19th century melange-collage-aggregation was painted with someone like me in mind.
Someone like me...yep...one who can’t stay focused or make up their damned mind about much of anything. Yep, I’ll just have one of each.
Two little Coursing pictures…
…a cruel sport? Not really. Both dogs just had to keep up with each other…
And finally, this vignette was stellar.
Around the corner from one of the galleries is a nice little haberdashery that offers an array of tasty goods. I always gander their goods before going over to English Country Classics. I’m all about fuzzy diced mongrelized assemblages. Rules and convention are meant to be trifled with—ADG style. So from a distance, a Nantucket-Brick Red sport coat didn’t seem off-putting.
Till I got closer. Linen and silk hacking jacket with a throat latch. Or as one of my fratty brothers used to say in his Winnsboro South Carolina accent…"thoat”. If the weather says you are in need of latching your lapels in the summer time, chances are your ass is in danger of being struck by lightning. Forget about thoat latching and seek cover.
EnglishCountry Classics reminds me a little bit of England…London precisely…and Cordings even more so. Except that nowadays, English Country Classics is doing it better than those in England. Cordings are hanging on but not without a flurry of off-strategy come ons and vaguely tethered connections to their core uniqueness. I suppose they have to do these things to stay in business since their competitors along Jermyn Street have defaulted to the typical J. Crew—Abercrombie inspired derivative, loud music playing in the store, American bullshit.
The goods there sturdy and classic and rarely on sale. They don’t seem to want or need to play that game. Brooks Brothers, amidst the May-June sweet spot that used to be the time when if your goods were tasty, you were able to facilitate a change in their ownership for full retail price, is offering me 30% off on almost everything in the store. It’s a shell-game I reckon. Mark it up--then mark it down.
I generally don’t buy things out of season unless they are marked down to levels absurd. Surprise…I’m an ADD capricious instant gratification guy so I don’t fancy getting stuff and putting it away till later. And God knows I don’t need a third quilted coat. But I did. And let me explain...let me rationalize why I paid full retail and why this quilted number is now happily put away till probably October.
God and goodness often avail themselves in the details. And this quilted wonder is loaded with nuanced little game changers. It’s cut like a sport coat. Three-two roll with a ticket pocket. I mean come on. That’s rationale for procurement right there.
“But couldn’t you just wait till late September to buy it, ADG? Plus, look at that thing. The cut is so much like a sport coat that it won't offer much warmth and protection.” Maybe. But I wasn’t going to risk it. The other thing that’s good about English Country Classics is that they don’t buy deep. And their tasty bits are commissioned from small volume artisans who don’t have a toll-free number for merchants to restock standard staples. There’s nothing standard here and once it’s gone, it’s usually gone for good.
Especially quilted jackets with gray flannel piping.
Remember…I can rationalize just about anything. Including buying an accompanying tattersal shirt on a scale that transcends ADG fuzziness. This one’s off the chart, scale-wise. It’s tumescent. It’s turgid. It’s tattersal. And it’s mine. Shut up.
Most guys end up owning more than one navy blazer so I’m hereby using navy blazer rationalization for quilted goods. And this one just happens to be…navy as well. With double vents.
Is it too sporty to offer any decent protection against the elements? Absolutely not. Cinch it up and you've got full coverage.
Oh, and before I go…look at this off the rack baby that remains out there in Middleburg...a well cut hacking jacket siren... beckoning me. And God and the Devil know that I need another sport coat. The only reason I tried this one on was to simply do a quality of goods and accuracy of fit/cut review. Really.
Onward. Quilted. Oh, and be nice to your mama an 'em today.