Q&A: N’East Style’s Christine Mitchell

The Cambridge blogger is out to dispel the ugly myth that New Englanders have no sense of style.

CMitchellFolkFest2 (1)[Christine Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival]

Having grown up in Manchester, Vermont, and Farmington, Maine, Christine Mitchell’s roots are firmly in New England soil. The 28-year-old style maven, who now resides in Cambridge, created the blog N’East Style to celebrate the effortless, classic style of Boston and beyond.

What was your original inspiration for launching the Northeast Style Blog?
Christine Mitchell: I was an art major in college and art was always part of my lifestyle. I was at a job where I didn’t feel like I was getting an outlet for any of that stuff. I decided I should create some sort of a journal as an outlet. Blogs were just sort of becoming a ‘thing’ at the time. The combination of those two things led me to start a blog, period. To start one about New England style and culture—I just thought, ‘What do I know about? What can I talk about extensively without getting bored with myself?’

How is your Tumblr, Ditty Bag, different from neaststyle.com?
CM: The Ditty Bag is an inspiration board. It’s as if you were an artist in a studio and you have your cork board with all the inspirational photos that you come across. The term ‘ditty bag’ is actually a nautical term. Sailors used to have these little leather pouches that they would hold all their keepsakes in. That’s how I came up with the name. Some weeks I’ll completely ignore it and other days, when I’m looking for visual inspiration, I’ll go to town on it and just find a bunch of photos or re-blogs. Tumblr’s great for finding things.

You joke on your blog that there’s an ugly myth that New England has no real sense of style. What’s the strongest evidence to the contrary that you’ve encountered?
CM: Some of the most effortlessly stylish people I’ve ever met have been from New England. They’re not ‘show-offy’ in any way. They like tried-and-true classics.The best proof for it is just how many styles you see coming into trend from around here. I mean, Birkenstocks are in style again right now, and those are shoes that we’ve been wearing forever.

You juggle careers as an artist, blogger, freelance writer, and stylist. How have each of these disciplines fed N’East Style?
CM: Styling opportunities came up because of brands that I had connected with through the blog, or at trade shows in New York, that appreciated my aesthetic or sense of style or the way I appreciated their brand. As for the illustration career, as an artist in college I actually majored in doing really large-scale charcoal portraits. A tiny apartment in the South End—where I was living when I started the blog—isn’t really conducive to that. So I started doing small-scale illustration, using it as kind of my branding for the blog. I did the little shark drawing and the diver. People were really drawn to them, and since then people have contacted me for hand-drawn logos, typography, wedding invitations, posters, t-shirt designs.

You also recently opened up an Etsy shop. What can we expect to find in the shop?
CM: I’ve been getting demands for stationery pieces or mini-prints, especially from the series that I had on the blog, the ‘New England Sayings’ illustrated—things people in New England always say, illustrating those funny plays on words. The goal is to get some printed on cards or little posters or something like that in the shop along with maybe some stationery with little icons.

You have a knack for finding small New England artists, designers, and craftsmen. Where and how do you usually find these hidden style gems?
CM: It’s a combination of things. Usually, I meet one person who does something really cool, unique and different, and they know more people who are doing something cool. I might meet someone who makes leather wallets and then he knows four other people. One of them makes beautiful bags out of salvaged materials she picks up at the flea market, and I meet her and learn about someone who might not even live in the Boston area and makes shirts. Sometimes I’ll be on Tumblr and see a great photograph, or I’ll be on Pinterest or any of those sources that will lead me somewhere else.

Describe New England style. Is there anything different about Boston style, specifically, by comparison?
CM: New England style, to me—and this is probably coming from my background in Maine and Vermont—is very subtle. It’s very much ‘get up, think about what you are doing that day, and then dress for it.’ If it’s raining, you wear rain boots. If you’re working in the garden, you wear denim overalls. It’s very utilitarian. As for Boston style, I think there’s an interesting balance between being in an urban setting, but that Boston feels so much like a town, and you still have the New England weather. You get these interesting combinations. You have the trend of girls running around in Hunter Wellington boots, but wearing a cute little silk dress with them. Boston’s constantly developing a way of balancing … feeling like they’re getting dressed up for the day and going to work in a city, but keeping those roots of being part of New England. Sometimes it fails, and sometimes it’s great.

If you could define Boston style in a single outfit, what would that outfit look like?
CM: I think my favorite Boston style  has been leather boots, jeans, maybe a button-front shirt, and a knit sweater.

What are essential fall pieces?
CM: Everyone should get a proper pair of rain boots. If you live in Boston, there’s no more running around in sneakers when the weather’s bad. I think investing in a really great sweater, too. Nothing from H—M.

Christine’s other fall must-haves:

  • Wolverine “1,000 Mile” boots. “These will last forever and Wolverine is a Massachusetts-based company,” she says. “It’s always good to support local businesses.” wolverine.com

  • USA-made denim. “You can find great pairs from Levi’s Made & Crafted selection,” she says. levismadeandcrafted.com

  • A great sweater. “New-to-Boston Steven Alan on Newbury St. has a great selection for the ladies. For the gents, I would recommend scoring Philip Saul’s vintage finds at Sault on Tremont St,” she says. stevenalan.com; saultne.com
  • The “it” carryall. “A bag handmade by my friend Alice Saunders who crafts beautiful canvas and leather bags from salvaged materials in her Boston-area studio.” forestbound.com

MitchellGoodOlBostonIllustration (1)[One of Mitchell’s “New England Sayings” illustrations.]