For anyone seeking guidance on how to wear a cream-coloured linen trench coat, you’ve come to the right place. Digital creator Brittany Bathgate has perhaps single-handedly changed the way an entire generation looks at this wardrobe staple, shifting perceptions from tired and traditional to timeless and downright essential. I can verify this after watching her wafting around Norwich bra-less in the Malebo satin slip dress with a Studio Nicholson Holin trench popped effortlessly over the top; every inch the professional.
Like many women, I’ve been ‘following’ her on Instagram for years. Watching her style develop and experiencing pangs of jealousy at the knockout holiday accommodation she shares on her regular social media updates. There’s even been the odd saved post when she uploads some instructional video about dealing with wavy hair (I share the same follicular challenge). All this aside, I was curious to see what she was like in real life, so we invited her to join us for the In Conversation With series and asked her to nominate the location.
A few weeks later, Genevieve and I were pulling up to the Sainsbury Centre on the University of East Anglia campus – a brutalist architectural paradise. As we sauntered into the foyer and craned our necks to appreciate the Norman Foster brilliance, a smiling Brittany entered the frame. With initial greetings out the way, it was time for food. ‘What does she eat for lunch?’ I hear you chorus. Well. Turns out she’s a fan of baked hake, which we tucked into while breaking the ice at the Sainsbury Centre’s snazzy cafe.
Another newsflash that may surprise (and delight) readers was the bombshell she dropped when asked about her first female icon. Jane Birkin? Diane Keaton? Joan Didion? Nope! The answer you’re looking for is none other than leather chaps wearing pop temptress, Christina Aguilera. Ms Bathgate divulged, “Yes, I was Camp Christina! I liked Britney, but Christina was the one for me. I have a firm memory of being hyper-focused on her to the point where my first MSN email address was a tribute to her.
As a shy, confused teenager trying to navigate high school, seeing the explosion of people like Britney and Christina was pretty enthralling for me. Christina was so attention-grabbing because of her attitude, the energy she gave off, the way she sang, how she used her body and danced. I found her utterly intoxicating; whether she was a good or bad influence, I don't know, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her or stop listening to her music.” Post Aguilera, there was Avril Lavingne, which marked what Brittany referred to as, “the first sprinklings of my yet-to-come EMO phase.” The baggy jeans, skate trainers and sloppy t-shirts were the beginning of Brittany’s sartorial evolution – the first steps towards creating her own fashion persona.
Born in Salisbury, she went on to study a Visual Arts degree in Norwich. It was enjoyable enough, but with the course finished and a qualification in her pocket, Brittany felt unsure of how to utilise the skills she’s learned and described how, “Graduating art school felt like being chucked into the real world with no preparation for navigating my way around it. Trying to succeed as an artist whilst making a living is tough, so retail was an easy thing to get into; it's also relatively straightforward to climb the ladder and figure out different avenues within retail that work for you – visual merchandising was a small piece of creative solace in the industry.
I knew from my time at university that verbal communication wasn’t my strong point, or at least something I didn't feel confident in. Visual merchandising taught me that I'm a visual communicator. It sounds like such a simple revelation, doesn't it? But it's helped me a lot, especially with what I do now. Ideas in my head often feel scrambled, and the way to get them out is to create a physical visual element, whether it's a mood board, a sculpture, or a display of products – that's my way of saying something.”
In terms of carving out a career in digital creation, she’s certainly excelled at it. A quick click on her YouTube channel reveals a lengthy comment-stream of Brittany fans. The Insta feed is a stream of curated consciousness with a powerfully consistent aesthetic. As Genevieve demands we walk up (and down) some concrete steps time (and time) again in order to get the right shot, we gas about childhood memories, relationships with our siblings and how much she loves an easy weeknight dinner in her local pub. Her online persona is cool, calm and collected – but in person, she’s charismatic, cheeky and very smart.
When asked about her relationship with clothing, she said, “Clothes can be a great conversation starter. For me, they are a way to say ‘Hi, I’m here’ – a way to convey my interests. I was painfully shy at school. I lacked self-confidence, was terrified of speaking in front of the class, never put my hand up, and was always the quietest in a group. It wasn’t from lack of having something to say; I had plenty of things to talk about, but those situations paralysed me because I didn’t know how to say the things I wanted to say.
Age has helped me grow more confident, but I still struggle to put myself out there verbally – often being the quietest person in a room. I’ll still shrink myself (such a bad habit!), but get me chatting and I believe I can be an enjoyable, interesting person to talk to. My love of art and design is reflected in the garments I choose to wear – and I often travel for work to cities that feel significantly different to Norwich, so naturally, inspiration from those places trickles down, giving my style a sense of mismatch or disconnect to the smaller city I live in. It stops me from falling into the small-city way of dressing.”
For the final shots, Brittany strides to some lesser known walls – she knows a good backdrop when she sees one. She spent a lot of time on the UEA campus as a teen, going to gigs, getting drunk, the usual. And then in the lockdowns it was her place to walk and run. Her familiarity with the sprawling site made it feel more like a guided tour than a photoshoot. I ask if she’s ever fancied moving to London and she pauses from powdering her nose for a second and replies, “Norwich is the end of the trainline, so people don't tend to travel through here to get anywhere else. Norfolk isn't very well connected to the rest of the country, and as a result, it feels like the people here want to make it a great bubble to be in. There's so much support for independent businesses, events, projects, etc. I always say I'm a small-city person, and Norwich is just enough for me: the size, the variation and the volume of things to do, the proximity to the coast. That is what makes me stay.”