There’s something about looking good when no one else is looking that makes me feel like I’ve pulled one over on the beauty industry. It’s like, “Ha! I’m not out being the perfect mom/giving a major presentation at work/meeting my well-groomed friend-set for drinks. I’m on my sofa, making grading essays look good.”
For the first 40 years of my life nice loungewear was not on my radar. I wore ratty old pajamas around the house. I did not own sweatpants or slippers. I did own five or six cocktail dresses for cocktail parties I rarely managed to stay up late enough to attend, but no comfortable, around-the-house-clothes.
Dressing nicely for yourself feels satisfying on a level that dressing for others simply can’t match. When your loungewear can take you from a good book to the goat pen in comfort and style, you will feel downright smug. Here are my thoughts on the matter –
My loungewear capsule consists of two pairs of leggings, three sweatshirts, one pair of joggers, one stretchy black skirt, a stack of t-shirts in varying sleeve length, slippers and boots. Like the outfit formulas mentioned last week, all of this can be mixed and matched easily, creating 12+ outfits and keeping me easily ahead of a laundry bomb.
My loungewear is the most expensive clothing in my wardrobe, by a long shot. It seems counterintuitive to spend more on clothing that fewer people see, but none of these purchases were frivolous, and everything is earning its keep when considering cost per wear. Every piece with the exception of one t-shirt* was bought new, and in my closet that is rare. Second hand loungewear is rarely in good condition. These high quality pieces are soft, they last forever, and for the most part are largely responsibly made. Because no one else will see them, styles and trends don’t matter. You can wear a good sweatshirt for 20 years if you like it. Just ask my husband.
Keep it flexible
Grey and black, with a couple of colorful sweatshirts, is an easy color pallet to maintain. Pick two neutral colors for your bottoms and t-shirts, then buy sweatshirts or sweaters in colors that make you happy. The stretchy skirt and boots make it easy to step out to run a few errands if need be.
Keep it simple
Nothing is less relaxing than getting mired down in a jumbled mess of leggings, t-shirts and sweatshirts.** You don’t need much loungewear. I have 10 pieces of clothing total, and it all fits neatly into one drawer. Except for the boots, because that would be weird.
Don’t forget your feet
I used to wear socks around the house. Ratty, hole-in-the-sole, old socks. Then I slipped on our slate-covered staircase while carrying the vacuum cleaner down on Christmas Eve and got a nasty bump that is still visible. Quite coincidentally, and owing nothing to the unpleasant “stair incident,” I received three pair of slippers within the next 24 hours. The universe, it seems, wanted to me move past the socks. The universe had a good point.
I’m also including this pair of boots as part of my capsule, which I put on if I have to run down to the barn, across the street to get the mail or out for an errand.
Don’t forget to actually lounge
Every year it seems my co-workers, friends and students are busier and busier. We get so caught up in “busy” that even when we do have downtime we don’t know what to do with it. Investing in loungewear helps me remember to slow down. By blocking out time, and an ensemble, for reading, writing, or just staring off at the river, I find myself taking the time to relax.
Internet wisdom would have us believe that we should always dress nicely because we might run into someone we know, or a neighbor might come to the door. Out where I live, I can easily go all day without seeing anyone with fewer than four feet and/or a pair of wings. Wearing high quality, comfortable, beautiful clothing when you are alone is one sign of self-respect. It’s like making your bed, or flossing. No one will ever know if you skip it, but in the action of these things you are caring for yourself. Creating a simple, flexible loungewear capsule make this self-care reflexive and easy.
* I bought this black, short-sleeve Banana Republic t-shirt from a neighbor at her garage sale over 12 years ago for $10. At the time $10 struck me as an exorbitant price for a used t-shirt, but I really liked the way it fit. I have gone on to wear the shirt once or twice a week for 12 years, making it possibly the best clothing investment of my life.
I am not a puritan. If I’d been in England in 1620, I would not have thought, “This place is too sinful. Let’s all get on a miserable boat and endure incredible hardship to make a point about living our values.”
No, I would have been back in London, wondering if I had enough rotten fruit for the remount of a Shakespeare tragedy.
It’s just who I am.
While I want very much to be a good, contributing member of our society, nothing saps my inspiration faster than a strict code of conduct. Restrictive diets? Useless. Crazy detailed lesson plans? Not gonna get followed.
But unless I, and the entire fashion industry shape up, there’s not going to be much of a planet left for me to not follow rules on.
Everyone, no matter their politics, depends on this earth. And we can all see how environmental degradation and bad labor practices are harming the poorest of our planet’s people. Fashion is among the worst offenders out there.
But how do we keep easy, interesting wardrobes while not participating in sketchy environmental and labor practices?
What follows are some of the best ways to lessen the impact our closets have on the environment. But we will avoid the frumpy, eco-friendly hairshirt. Building a wardrobe in line with our values should be a joyful challenge, rather than an unstylish experiment in martyrdom.
Buying used clothing is the easiest solution to this problem. Some of my favorite pieces came from our local Buffalo Exchange.
But it is extremely hard to create a highly functioning wardrobe in a second hand environment alone. Thrift shopping depends on being open to out-of-season and unexpected finds. Creating a functional wardrobe depends on planning and shopping for boring pieces like layering t-shirts and perfect black leggings. In the last 25 years I have probably bought a hundred t-shirts at second hand stores and worn five of them regularly.
And what about underwear? Socks??
And some of you readers just don’t feel very comfortable in second hand clothing. This does not make you a bad person. The whole point of effortless dressing is to feel good in your wardrobe, and if you don’t like wearing second hand clothing, don’t beat yourself up about it.
I love the hunt of thrift shopping, and resale items will always make up a good portion of my closet. But if this isn’t you, don’t gather up the rotten fruit just yet, read on.
Do your research, then do some more
There are fantastic ad campaigns out there geared at making us all feel better about ourselves as we buy clothing. But beyond the green-washing there is a complex web of suppliers and owners that funnel the money from your well-intended purchase into the wrong hands.
Your research will depress you. Dove, with its gorgeous, body-positive advertisements, is owned by Unilever. Unilever also owns Axe, which beyond making every boys’ locker room in America smell nasty, has a crazy objectifying ad campaign. All the Dove money and the Axe money goes into the same pockets.
Research clothing companies off their own sites, and see who owns them. Then look at their chain of supply. A company might have good practices, but get their fabric from another company that is destroying farmland and using near-to-slave labor to grow cotton. A small company under private ownership with a short chain of supply is your best bet.
Keep it simple with go-to companies
Obviously, I’m not out googling every clothing brand, every time I shop. To simplify things for myself, I have a few companies where I know I can, in good conscious, shop. And truth be told, most of us buy most of our clothing from 2 or 3 primary shops.
Without reservation, I recommend Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard (my imaginary grandpa) has taken every possible move towards sustainability and not just decent, but down-right awesome labor practices. Plus he’s an incredible climber.
Eileen Fisher is a model company, very progressive and always looking to improve their practices. I’m not at a point where I can afford much from here, but you might be.
BedStu Boots are amazing. Handmade in NYC with ever-strengthening environmental practices.
This article has some interesting looking places. I haven’t investigated yet, but I’ll report back if they are promising.
The problem, of course, is that these companies are expensive. If you know you are going to wear a piece for years, invest. We can also support positive change by seeking out companies who are moving towards better practices all at price points.
The power of one good piece
These pants are from Old Navy. They are a perfect color and fit for my wardrobe. They get a lot of wear.
I like to avoid Old Navy, and other fast fashion stores. But in buying one perfect pair of pants, I haven’t bought five pairs of imperfect pants. Every piece of clothing made impacts the environment, no matter how green the company. Buy one piece that works, rather than seven that kinda work, then wear it for years.
Sustainability is a complex and noble goal. None of us will be perfect as we take the steps needed to save our planet. I have to be careful of taking a few baby steps towards environmentalism and allowing that to justify the rest of my behavior. “Look! I planted a garden while wearing a second-hand pair of shorts! So I’m off to go buy some quirky plastic dishware at Target to serve these veggies on…” But having broad guidelines, rather than nitpicky, puritanical rules, helps me do my best.
Sustainability is at the heart of much of the Mud and Grace philosophy. Don’t buy something unless it is perfect. Shop second hand while experimenting. Love your body the way it is and effortless style will follow. Wear what you own for a long time. Then get out there and have some fun on this beautiful planet.
“What size to you wear?” my boyfriend asks casually over the phone. He’s at a scratch and dent sale at Backcountry Gear and they have some good prices on rain jackets.
What size do I wear?
What kind of a loaded question is that for 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon? Are we talking physically or emotionally? What size do I wear today, or what size do I suspect I’ll be wearing next month?
All these years later I can still remember the long and awkward pause that followed his question. I am silent, holding my phone and trying to think of an answer. My boyfriend stands across town next to a rack of Patagonia rain jackets, wanting to buy me one. I can’t answer this simple question. In my closet there are dresses that range from size 8 to 2. I have extra small shirts that are bigger than some large shirts I own. Pants run the gamut. Rain jackets are anybody’s guess.
Because, as you are already well aware, women’s sizing means nothing. You can find clothes that fit and clothes that don’t fit with any number imaginable on it. We can, and do, allow our self-esteem to soar and plummet with each unimaginably inconsistent little digit dangling off the tag.
Women of Mud and Grace, it’s time we put an end to the arbitrary tyranny of size.
According to Julia Felsenthal, the US attempt at standardized sizing began in the early 1940s with one of those wonderful depression era WPA projects. Mail order catalogs could be equipped with a sizing system that would increase customer satisfaction (and decrease returns.) Two statisticians, Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton and their team were sent out to measure 15,000 women. They took a whole mess of measurements in hopes that they could create one standardized system of women’s sizing for the United States.
The data, by their own admission, was inconclusive. Women’s bodies were too different to conform to any standard system.
Yes, it took two statisticians and all their operatives taking 59 distinct measurements of 15,000 women to discover that our bodies don’t fit a standard form.
Despite this failure, the government revisited the work in 1958. One can only assume the mail order catalog companies wanted an answer. That system, however bedraggled, still exists today. Based on a late 1950’s study, women’s clothing is sized according to bust, with the assumption that all the rest of a woman’s measurements will fall according to an hourglass figure, where the bust and hips are of equal size, and the waist is exactly 10 inches smaller.
I hope you are laughing hysterically by now.
In the 1960s, clothing manufacturers figured out that by making an article of clothing just a little bit bigger than the size on the tag, women were more likely to buy it. Crazy smart, those fashion execs. By the 1970s the US standardized sizing system was getting harder and harder to enforce. In 1983 any government standards were dropped completely. A manufacturer could size however they saw fit.
Enter vanity sizing. According to a 2011 NYT article, a size 8 waist can vary as much as 6 inches between manufacturers. This holds true even when the clothing is made by the same company, like the Gap/Athleta/Old Navy/ Banana Republic behemoth. I went on line to check the sizing guides and discovered that a size 8 waist at the Gap is 29.5 inches. At Old Navy it’s 28 inches and 29 inches at Banana Republic.
And you just thought your weight was fluctuating from one end of the mall to the other.
I’ve always hated vanity sizing because I don’t like being reminded of how vain I am. But dang, it works doesn’t it? How many of us bought have something simply because we were pleasantly surprised when we had to go down a size? How many of us have given up on a dress because the one that fit is bigger than the size we identify with?
We have to let go of any attachment to size numbers if we’re going to look good in this world. We must consider them mere suggestions of possible fit, and certainly not anything to hang our emotional self worth on.
Here are a few tips to help you move past size.
You choose the fit you want
Designers have an idea of how they want their clothing to fit your body. You may have other ideas. If you want an oversized cardigan, don’t wait until you find one that a manufacturer has made in your size, only oversized. Just go find the perfect cardigan and buy in the size and shape you want.
Right now, people making jeans seem to assume that women have very small calves. I’ve never thought of my calves as particularly enormous, but apparently they are freaky big if I were to judge by the way so many pants fit. If I need to size up, then take a tuck in the waist so that my massive (really?) calves can fit into pants, so be it.
Don’t allow the numbers power over you
One school of thought is to buy the size that fits best, and then cut out the tag so you won’t be reminded of the number each time you look at it. I’ve tried that, and instead of being reminded of the size, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m so vain I can’t handle a tiny little flap of fabric with a number on it.
I think it’s best to leave the tags in tact, eat well, exercise reasonably and let my size be what it will be. Remember, the size has absolutely no meaning in this reality.
Watch your language
“I wear a size 6,” as opposed to “I am a size 6.” Words matter.
Find a more worthy vessel for your self esteem
Feeling down after needing to size up for a better fit? Go do something meaningful. Call your grandma, take a bike ride, do your job, make some burritos and deliver them to the fellows who have set up camp under the bridge, try to get your daughter to clean her bedroom. You have plenty to do in this world without letting a randomly chosen number get you down.
Back on the phone with my attempting-to-buy-me-a-coat boyfriend, color choice enters the conversation and I wind up driving across town to pick out my own rain jacket. “Make sure it has plenty of room for layering under it,” he said with some concern. “This is about keeping warm and dry.” He doesn’t need to add that it’s not about looking slim, or feeling slim because I can zip up a coat with a smaller number on it.
And he’s right. I don’t wear a rain jacket to feel skinny; I wear it to feel dry. Years have passed, the boyfriend became my husband,* and continues to care about my outerwear. I’ve worn the coat for years now and can’t even remember the size as I write this. What size do I wear? The size that fits.
P.S. Need more of a talking to on this issue? Please read my post on why you need to start loving your body Love and Appreciate Your Body
*P.P.S Never pass on a potential partner who tries to buy you a Patagonia jacket.
We walk dogs. We work. We run kids to various places. We show up late to book club. We attend important meetings. We attend unimportant meetings. We zip outside to grab herbs from the garden for the meal we’re making. We need wardrobe basics that work for this, real life.
I have read every fashion guru’s ‘must have’ list and they always include items that would never, ever work for my daily life. Animal print pumps? Black wool pants? A suit?! All these lists and lists of wardrobe essentials won’t do anyone any good at all if you can’t wear half the pieces listed.
I don’t know what dress code limitations you have on your particular beautiful life, but I do know that there are certain pieces that work well for most women’s waking hours. Here are the Mud and Grace recommendations:
An easy dress
On the first day of school, my friend Ann and I showed up to greet our students in nearly identical dresses. Mine was a little more casual, and I wore it with boots and tights. Ann looked classier, in a more structured version of the dress and walkable heels. But the sentiment was the same, we both wanted to look professional, be comfortable, and get through the blast of energy that is the first day of school.
An easy dress can be dressed up or down and layers well. I’ll wear mine to work, church, the grocery store, out to dinner, and anywhere else life takes me.
Plaid flannel or substantial stripes
Both are cozy and comfortable to wear around the home, and neat enough to wear out. Flannel is having a moment, so seize the chance to get something you really like. Nicely weighted striped tops can always be found at classic retailers. Like a denim jacket, plaid and stripes are not going out of style. Always appropriate for running down to deal with an escaped goat, comfy plaids and stripes also look good enough to pop into town, or up to the neighbor’s.
This flannel has plaid and stripes, making it the world’s best shirt.
For fancier days, or days you just feel a little fancy, a soft, floating top in an easy-to-wash fabric can dress up your jeans or a skirt. Buy a couple that are really pretty, and you’ll wear them to work, to dinner, to the school fiesta, anywhere. Just make sure you love the pattern and are prepared to wear them over and over. If you enjoy caring for silk, by all means, choose silk. This is one area where I really appreciate the ease of a human-made fabric.
These days, t-shirt shopping has become akin to jeans shopping in the frustration it produces. Sheer, sloppy, too tight, too long… all for something that’s supposed to be simple and comfortable? Keep shopping. Find the t-shirt that works for you. Talbots makes a nice ribbed t-shirt that is fitted without being too tight. I like LL Bean’s classic waffle Henley.
Stepped up t-shirts
These fun pieces look elegant, but can also come off as casual. If you’re unsure about the dress code in a particular situation, they can be a life saver. Plus they’re comfy and great looking.
Fryes or other mid-height, flat boots
Wear them everywhere, with everything. Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece
A nice alternative to flats, these classic kicks can take you most places. More elegant than your Fryes, but still comfortable enough to get on with your life.
Clean, good quality tennis shoes
Vans and Converse have nice options. Josef Seibel makes lovely leather sneakers, but any simple pair will do. Keep them clean, wear with anything.
If you live in a rainy climate, get mud boots. If you live in a cold climate, get snow boots.
Mud boots are essential for kid’s outdoor sporting contests, mucking around in the garden and letting the chickens out. Hunter boots really are comfortable and hold up well. I often find last year’s colors and styles at a local resale shop. My chickens are fine with last year’s boots.
Nice snow boots can be a cozy, stylish addition to your wardrobe. Enormous yeti-like boots are (thankfully) passé. Try a sleek pair with just a hint of shearling or knit. Northface makes some elegant, functional boots.
Your denim Jacket or a cargo jacket
Read more here: Friends for Life; You and Your Denim Jacket
Fine knit wool or cashmere sweaters
Sweaters should be soft, and made of 100% natural fiber. They must be pill-free and in good shape. Nothing says frumpy like a sweater gone bad. Lighter gauge sweaters work well for fall and spring, and can be layered with long-sleeved silk underwear for more warmth in the winter.
A chunky fisherman’s sweater
Just google image search Marilyn Monroe, or Grace Kelly fisherman’s sweater. Enough said.
Perfectly fitted, fine wale corduroy or a soft cotton/ stretch pants.
Corduroy or cotton/stretch pants take the place of wool (too much lint and dog hair) and chinos (too many wrinkles) for situations where pants are acceptable, but jeans are not. Or for days you’re just tired of your jeans. Both have an old school, collegiate feel that works perfectly with sweaters and/or a denim jacket. A good pair can last for years, and the more broken in and fitted to your body, the better.
Casual, fluid leg pants
These are a stylish alternative to jeans for weekends, road trips, or watching a cross-country meet. A wide leg or fitted ankle are both nice. My tall neighbor looks elegant in wide-leg versions. At 5’6” I find a fitted ankle contains the look. Just be careful to buy pants in a fabric that won’t wrinkle, and whatever you do, don’t size up. You want to look free and breezy, not like you’re channeling MC Hammer. (Unless you want to, I’m not judging.)
We are living in a marvelous age for jeans, as there is no reigning shape or wash we need to stuff ourselves into. Skinny, slouchy, boot cut, it’s your call. Inexpensive, used Levis are getting as much play time on fashion blogs as uber-expensive designer jeans.
Skinny jeans work best on my frame. You might rock a pair of slouchies. Take your time and find the right jeans for you, then wear them with confidence. If they look good, the price, style and design truly don’t matter. Need a place to start? It’s hard to beat well-fitting dark wash jeans for versatility and flattery.
The right undergarments
No one wants to spend money and time finding good foundation pieces, but honey, if you want dressing to be effortless and fun, you need to start here. It’s the foundation, like Mesopotamia; brutal, but we’d be nowhere without them.
Go get the well fitting bras and unders you know you need, and no, that’s not gonna be cheap.
I love silk camisoles, rather than the stretchy, fitted ones. I have one from Lands End that I got nearly 10 years ago and I still wear. On cold days, I slip on silk undershirt on for luxurious warmth.
Tiny picture of Land’s End silk undershirt.
Mud and Grace does not go in for shapewear on a daily basis. I’m not into stuffing myself into sausage casing. According to Hollywood costumer Alison Freer, it doesn’t make anyone look thinner, and I have to agree. You are still you, and it’s better to get comfortable with that fact, rather than uncomfortable in spandex. Love and Appreciate Your Body In fact, seeing the outline of someone’s spanx under a dress can really kill a look. Shapewear is good for reducing lumpage in a body conscious dress, but other than that purpose, I’m not a fan.
Family fan wear
An area of special consideration: If you have athletes in your family, read on. If you have artists, skip to the next section.
Buy a well-made, stylish top showing enthusiasm for the team you are expected to support. How many times a week do you wear clothing supporting your child’s school, soccer club, the local football team, your own co-ed softball team? I spend a good portion of my waking hours watching my children’s teams and my husband’s high school runners. This is my social life.
My son got this sweatshirt at the end of his first season playing football. He wore it nearly everyday for the next year. He’s too big for it now, but it still fits me. (And it doesn’t smell) I look supportive, I’m really comfortable, and I remember how little he used to be.
You can buy from the fan shop or school front office, but if you don’t find something that makes you feel fabulous, be open to other ideas. A few years ago, tired of looking frumpy in stiff, blocky t-shirts at cross country meets, I had a sweatshirt made for myself in the team’s color and used their logo. It cost me $50. I wore it to tatters. My friend Ann has a vintage U of O Ducks jacket that looks awesome. My friend Lynette wore a simple purple puffer jacket to support the high school soccer team. Whatever you choose it doesn’t, and really shouldn’t be fancy, it just needs to give a nod of support to the athletes.
I wear red and black to my daughter’s climbing competitions. For some reason there are a ton of fancy moms at climbing comps. It’s counterintuitive. Still, they stress me out. I always wear a sweatshirt.
Artists in the family?
Roped into volunteering behind the scenes at your children’s plays? Buy a good set of blacks. Do not go rummaging in your closet at the last minute and come out with faded black jeans and your husband’s old Access Fund t-shirt turned inside out. (Not that I ever wore that behind the scenes at the Wildish Theater…) Find yourself constantly attending recitals? A couple comfy, knit dresses can look elegant as you sit through 16 other children’s piano pieces while you wait for your child to play. Supporting the artists in your life is a place where your fun tops can hook up with your corduroy pants or jeans for an easy, artsy look.
I have a dress very similar to this Banana Republic piece. Add a nice necklace and you’re fancy. Put a puffer vest over it and you’re casual.
Just last night I had to run from a cross-country picnic to a gallery opening where a student had several pieces on display. I wore the floaty peach top, jeans and ankle boots while running from the north to south sides of town to make it all happen. I felt great.
Questions to consider when choosing these pieces:
Is it perfect?
The trick with essentials is that they have to be perfect. Far more energy should go into finding the right layering t-shirt than into finding a dress to wear to the high school Hall of Fame dinner. You will need to wear “almost right” pieces until you find perfect pieces because you cannot go out without pants on. Take your time with these. When they are right, you’ll know.
What can roll over from summer?
Check your summer wardrobe to see if any of the pieces from summer can layer with your cooler weather wardrobe. (Mud and Grace Summer Essentials) Are there tank tops that can slip under a plaid shirt? The chambray top you wore on cooler evenings can certainly find a spot in your winter wardrobe. In general, it’s best to get anything you won’t wear out of the way, so the process of getting dressed is simplified. But if you have clothes that can work year round, keep them within easy reach.
How much is enough?
Ideally, you should have two weeks of outfits, with mixing and matching. I like to wear neutral pieces once a week, and standout pieces every two weeks. I may have more sweaters than are strictly necessary.
These 16 pieces can be the foundation of your wardrobe, with you adding in fun extras and trendy pieces to suit your style. As mentioned in the last post, a wardrobe functions like a car, all pieces need to work together. Most fashion writing centers on women whose wardrobes are more akin to a sleek BMW in which no one ever snacks in the back seat. My wardrobe is more like a Volkswagen Westphalia, fun, versatile, and largely second hand.
Use these pieces to tune up your closet where it needs help, then enjoy the cozy, busy days ahead without a second thought about what to wear.
Having felt acute shame surrounding my body from my earliest years, I know how difficult it is to love and appreciate your body. Unrealistic images, unhealthy habits, unimaginable time spent worrying about my body have shaped much of my life.
I’m done. There is too much going on in this world to fuss about my figure.
If you don’t love your body, you will never have effortless style. You will always look and feel a little uncomfortable. You will buy outfit after outfit, and nothing will ever feel right. You will never have a moment’s peace. It is my hope that this post will start you on the road to loving the body you have.
Step 1: Decide you want to stop hating your body.
“Well, obviously I want to stop, lady, or I wouldn’t be reading your post,” you may be thinking. But indulge me as we dig a little deeper. We focus negative energy on our bodies out of fear, anxiety and frustration. In this chaotic world we come up with elaborate food constructs and measure our bodies for results to impose some regimen of order over a life that we can’t control. We nurse our body-hatred in times of stress.
We fear that if we allow ourselves to love our bodies we will gain weight, even in the face of good scientific evidence to the contrary. If you’re going to feel good in your own skin, it will take a major shift in thinking and habits. Ready to commit? Then keep reading
Step 2: Exercise out of respect for your body, rather than punishment
We know healthy, daily activity is good for us six ways to Sunday. You’ll sleep, your mood will improve, dopamine will be released and small happy birds will flutter around as you go singing through the woods, etc.
We can express respect for our bodies by giving them the exercise they need. But so many of us take exercise to the level of punishment. We exercise on empty stomachs, leaving us light headed and cranky. We exercise out of anger at our own bodies. We exercise only with the goal of being thin.
Regular, enjoyable exercise is good for you, and it’s even better if you can do it outside. Grueling workouts done in shame and frustration are not.
Make your workouts cheap, easy and fun (walk somewhere, ride your bike, do yoga in your living room with a YouTube video) and do it regularly and selfishly. If you enjoy more activity, do more. If you want to, go ahead and join a gym, take up a sport, get a horse and train it. But do it on your terms, because you love it and love the way it makes you feel.
Step 3: Stop the crazy diets, step away from the internet weight loss advice
By all means, eat healthy food. Good food is essential to respecting and loving our bodies. But bypass the draconian and even goofy diet plans. There are a few straightforward, doable, steps to keeping your weight at a healthy set point. There are no “secrets of a flat belly,” there is no “one weird food” that will be the key to weight loss. Eat reasonably, exercise reasonably and your body will settle at a healthy weight. Then get on with your life.
Step 4: Go on an image diet instead
When I first got serious about kicking my dysmorphia, I found my attempts were thwarted by the constant barrage of catalogs and magazines I received. They were full of pictures of emaciated women. Not just thin women, not women with great bodies, but literally emaciated. (Sundance, I’m calling you out here. You are the worst. You market to women over 40, and you use models who look unnaturally thin. Knock it off.) I wrote a scathing letter to Sundance catalog, then another to Garnet Hill and another to JCrew. I put my name on the national “no catalog lists” (This, as it turns out, is as good for the budget as it is for the environment.) I cancelled several magazine subscriptions.
Don’t allow an industry that makes money off of women’s dissatisfaction to profit by you. Take a week off from media images and see how differently you begin to view your own body.
Instead, seek out other images. Turn to classical art. Look at the wonderfully soft faces of the women pictured during the Song dynasty in China. Track Raphael’s Italian Renaissance attempt to paint the perfect woman, culminating with the rounded beauty in La Velata. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous faces portrayed of the women in Mughal Indian art. Enjoy the svelte ancient Egyptians and their attempts to make their bellies seem larger than they actually are. Mayan glyphs, beautiful Benin bronzes, Paleolithic stone carvings all show an ideal that differs from our modern one.
Step 5: Compliment your body, basic
I can’t stand it when someone tells me to engage in positive self-talk. It always seems so fake, and almost passive aggressive. “You’re just great, body! I don’t care what society says, I’m completely happy that you store fat every single place except my breasts. That’s fantastic!”
And besides, my body always knows that I’m just saying it for some ulterior motive, and that I don’t really mean it.
The trick is, you have to actually mean what you say. You have to give your body an honest compliment. Start small, like, “Cuticles, you’re quite nice.” Work your way up to larger body areas, “Forearms, you have a lovely shape.”
For parts of your body that you’re not quite comfortable with yet, you might try something like this, “Belly, I do get annoyed by your general floppiness, but I’m really grateful that you were willing to stretch way out, twice, to accommodate the babies. I love my children and if you have to be floppy for them to exist, that’s fine.”
Be honest, but find something truly nice to say. Do this until you are ready to move on to advanced body compliments.
Step 6: Compliment your body, advanced
You will respond to the habit of saying honestly nice things to your body. You’ll begin to look for the best, rather than focus in on the worst. As you start to recover from the negativity with which you have viewed your body, move to a more advanced appreciation. Every day, take a moment to admire your particular curves and edges. Look at yourself with an artist’s lens, rather than Hollywood’s lens. Wear clothes that show off the particular beauty of your body.
Step 7: Play what if
I was getting dressed one morning, bemoaning my high waist. If it were just lower, I thought, if my waist was just lower, then there wouldn’t be quite such a long space for my belly, all clothes would fit me, then everything in the world would be right.
And then I thought, what if? What if a high waist offering plenty of space for a softish belly were the cultural ideal? I pictured models padding their bellies and setting a belts on their ribcages. I thought of designers pushing reams of high- waisted clothing, despite the fact that only a lucky few genetic winners had this sought-after form.
Why not? When you think about it, nearly every shape has been idealized throughout human history and across the globe. At someplace, in some time, your shape was the unattainable ideal.
I walked out of my closet with this in mind, pretending as I went about my day that all my body’s little idiosyncrasies were what other women spent enormous sums of money and time and mental space trying desperately to emulate.
And suddenly the whole system seemed ridiculous. When I thought about other women trying to create my body through extreme exercise, (“You’ve got to build up those butt muscles so it really sticks out!”) diet (“I heard recently that if you consume at least two tablespoons of fish oil at every meal it will burn fat everywhere but your belly”) and silicon (“I’m thinking of getting inner-thigh implants…”) the whole enterprise is ridiculous.
Every time you start to measure yourself against our culture’s crazy beauty standards, replay them with your own particular beauty as the ideal.
Step 8: Look at your family photos, listen to your daughter
When we look at family photos, there is never any talk of who had fat ankles or sloping shoulders. We talk about the people; what they accomplished, who they were, the funny stories they told.
Beauty is transitory, but our words and actions will outlast us. Do I want my great grandchildren to be told stories of how I kept slim all my life? Heck no! “Great-Grandma could climb 5.11 trad!” is more like it. (OK, I have a long way to go before I get to 5.11 trad, but I also have a long time to go before there will be any great grandchildren. I can do this.)
Similarly, do we want our children to be proud of how we declined bread in a restaurant, or do we want them to see achievement as a little bit deeper? Watching my daughter, and my friends’ daughters grow up with confidence in themselves and their bodies is beautiful. I love to hear them talk about delicious food, great clothes and the awesome activities they pursue. If we can learn to love our bodies, they will emulate us and love theirs.
Ultimately, my body is fine. I’m not a supermodel, and I’m not interested in putting in the time, energy and silicon it would take to get me there. My body may not fit the standards of beauty for any time period, but it has scaled cliffs, run thousands of miles, made countless rounds of a classroom to check that every student is on track with their current assignment. It has created two upstanding human beings, and been a willing canvas for some great ensembles. It deserves respect and care. All bodies do, no matter what standards people choose to measure them against.
P.S. Want to read more? Here’s an article I wrote for the Eugene Weekly on teens and body image http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20150108/lead-story/let-them-eat
The 40-Day No-Buy is finally here, and honestly I’m a little nervous. While I don’t buy a ton of clothes, I do spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about buying clothes. So I’ve come up with a list of things to try when the urge to shop hits.
Turn your closet into your own personal boutique
Take the two hours you would have spent browsing at the mall and clean up your closet. Arrange your clothing by color. Put together several outfits and hang them where you can see them. Imagine your closet and your drawers, no matter how small, are a favorite boutique, designed just for you. Everything fits, everything is in season now, your closet could be the perfect little shop you wish you could find.
Polish your boots, mend your blouses
I think it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this piece has at least one pair of shoes that could stand to be polished, or an item of clothing that could be mended, ironed or steamed at this minute. Rather than run out to find something new, invest time and energy in what you already have. One of my favorite sweaters wrinkles terribly, so I don’t wear it that often. A quick fluff in the dryer and there she is again, my lovely silk blend, cowl neck sweater.
Dress up and go to the fanciest store around and try on a $700 dress. This will a.) get you over your fear of fancy-lady stores and b.) be really fun. Because it’s unlikely you’ll buy a $700 dress (those women are reading a different blog) you can just enjoy the lovely lighting, mirrors and possibly wine. Text me when you’re headed out and I’ll join you!
Pinterest your favorite pieces
Select a piece of clothing you love, like your denim jacket or your Timberland boots.
Go to pinterest and type in “Timberland boots outfit” and find endless inspiration. Most people have the exact same basics that you do: jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, boots, cardigans. Look at how other women style their favorite pieces. You’ll likely find that you have all the elements of some really fun outfits already.
Finally figure out what it is you are missing
Most of us tend to buy the same thing over and over. By stopping this cycle, we can finally figure out what it is we really don’t have. Six months into her year of no shopping, Jessie (Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?) realized she has no clothes for the heavy work of building a climbing gym. Too late to do anything about it now, she’s sanding down beams in a pair of Ann Taylor Loft skinny jeans, but when the year is over it’s likely she will invest in a work pants. Not shopping is the best way to realize which key pieces we are missing. We’re not at liberty to run out and buy them now, but when the challenge is over we know what we need, rather than falling into the old habit of just buying the same things over and over.
Help someone else with her closet
If you love clothes, chances are you have a friend who would be grateful if you were to share that love. Any one of us could use a fresh pair of eyes to help clean out a closet or put together a few new outfits. And nothing will make you question your own shopping habits like seeing 15 green striped shirts stacked up on a shelf with two more earmarked in the L.L. Bean catalog.*
Do you have other ideas about loving the clothes we have, rather than trolling for new things? Please leave your ideas in the comments below. And best of luck with your 40-day No-Buy!
I don’t own a little black dress. And yet, I manage to get myself clothed and out of the house daily without this magic-bullet of a wardrobe basic. How is this possible?
Basics are the items that allow our wardrobes to function. They are like the oil in our cars or the framing in our homes, absolutely necessary but not terribly exciting. So when I wanted to put my wardrobe in order I googled “wardrobe basics.” The internet responded with the same list over and over again. Black wool pants? Sigh. Ballet flats? So not me.
If I were an executive working in a high-rise office in NYC, I have no doubt these lists would be very helpful. But there is nowhere in my school-teaching, goat-herding, soaking-wet-track-meet- standing life for a pair of statement heels.
What follows is a list of traditional basics and my take on a piece that would serve a similar purpose, but be more functional in an active woman’s wardrobe. The Mud and Grace basics allow me to ride my bike to work, run around the classroom pretending to be on the Silk Road, meet my family for dinner and maybe hop in the car for a last-minute weekend road trip. These basics will not take you from the boardroom to a hip nightclub, because they won’t let you in those places if you have chicken feed stuck to the sleeve of your coat. But they will take you on the messy, fun adventure of life most Mud and Grace readers seem to have.
1. Traditional basics list: A little black dress
How often do you go to cocktail parties? Formal business meetings? The funeral of someone who would have wanted you to wear black? How often do you use the word “little” to describe anything in you wardrobe?
Mud and Grace option: A knee-length knit dress
Comfortable, warm, easy, washable, this dress can be casual when worn with boots and tights, or dressed up with jewelry and heels. With the exception of formal events, which rarely happen in my town, this dress is always appropriate.
2. Traditional basics list: A black pencil skirt
It’s true, pencil skirts are flattering. But you can’t ride a bike in a pencil skirt, and you really shouldn’t pair one with Frye Boots.
Mud and Grace option: A casual skirt in a neutral color
Find a skirt that can take the place of jeans, something casual that can be dressed up when you need it to be. This skirt should make you feel fantastic, and elevate your wardrobe on days you need it, but it shouldn’t be fussy.
3. Traditional basics list: Crisp white blouse
If you love ironing, are willing to have it tailored so it lies perfectly flat along your bust, and never spill coffee on yourself, go for it. For the rest of us mortals, these shirts just aren’t worth the trouble. Plus they always feel “crispy.”
Mud and Grace option: A soft chambray shirt
A bamboo or tencel option is so soft, never needs ironing and goes with absolutely everything.
4. Traditional basics list: A black blazer
I have a black blazer, and I absolutely love it. But I tend to forget about it for seasons at a time, so my wardrobe obviously functions just fine without it
Mud and Grace option: A denim or cargo jacket
These easy jackets “finish” and outfit without making your feel fussy. They are perfect for unpredictable weather, or the unpredictable heating and cooling systems in our places of work. Find a good one, wear it forever.
5. Traditional basics list: A striped shirt
Striped shirts really are adorable, but they are not for everyone. I swear I’m one beret away from street mime the minute I put on a striped shirt.
Mud and Grace option: A plaid or gingham shirt
Still adds a bit of interest in a limited color pallet, but substantially less preppy.
6. Traditional basics list: Trench coat
Let’s take a large piece of shiny, khaki fabric, spatter a bunch of buttons across the front, give it huge lapels and pretend it’s flattering!
Mud and Grace option: A great rain jacket that fits your style
You do need a great jacket to keep the rain off. That might mean a trench for you, although a single row of buttons and a darker color would probably work better for most women. Most of us can find a sharp looking, seriously rain-repellant jacket that will work well with jeans and boots.
7. Traditional basics list: Classic pumps
I do love a classic pair of pumps, and I own some… and I wear them maybe once a year. It would be wrong to call them foundational in any way.
Mud and Grace option: Smart looking, comfortable ankle boots.
Ankle boots are less of a commitment than mid-calf or tall boots, but keep your feet warm and dry, and your outfit updated.
8. Traditional basics list: White sneakers
Does no one else encounter mud in this world???
Mud and Grace option: Off-white sneakers
No one will ever know how many times they’ve been through the wash
Traditional basics list: Good quality black, grey and white t-shirts.
OK, you actually do need these. I have them in long sleeve, short sleeve and tank top. If black, grey and white aren’t your colors, find them in the neutrals you wear, like cream, olive and navy.
A few week’s ago we heard Jessie’s story, about a woman who is in the process of going a full year without buying any clothes. Part of what enabled Jessie to embark on this adventure is that she had a fully functioning wardrobe at the start. Many of us will be attempting a 40-day no-buy starting October 14th. Check your basics this week, and make sure you have what you need to get dressed easily in the months to come. As traditional basics lists don’t work for me, my list may not work for you. But take the opportunity to write your own basics list, and make sure yours are in good repair and ready to roll starting October 14th.
Do you have a “basic” I didn’t include today? Let me know what your “must-have” pieces are in the comments below!
No new clothes, no second hand clothes, no last-minute dashes to get appropriate fan wear, no continuing quests for the perfect pair of black ankle boots, no shopping; just you and your personal style taking a little vacation together.
Join me for the No-Buy Style Challenge
Even in my most broke days, I’m not sure I’ve ever consciously stopped shopping for a set period of time. Sure, around 2009 my shopping sprees consisted of less than $20 dollars spent at Value Village, but my guess is I managed to spend at least $8 every few weeks in a life long quest for wardrobe fulfillment.
Several readers and I are taking 40 days off, because while we admire Jessie, we’re just not that hard core. To avoid running amok with good intentions, we need to plan so that our No-Buy will be a success. Here are a few things to look at before leaping.
Define your rules:
“No clothes shopping” is more vague than it might sound. Do you include jewelry in clothing? Can you receive gifts of clothing? Do running shoes count?
Think about why you want to do this challenge, and what parameters will work for you. During my 40-day trial, I’m not going to buy any clothing, but I will take a few things to the tailor.
You might decide that while you aren’t going to buy any new clothes, you will continue with your quest to find the perfect reading glasses. You may believe that running shoes aren’t clothes, they are fitness tools. In that case, if the ones you have wear out, you will buy new ones. It’s your challenge, make your own rules.
Make sure you have what you need:
Part of the reason Jessie has been successful is because she’d spent several years curating a beautiful wardrobe before taking a year off buying. She has athletic wear, leisure wear, work wear, boots, coats, layering t-shirts. Had I tried this challenge in my thirties I would have failed, because I did not have a functioning wardrobe. Next week I’ll write about key pieces I think every active women needs. Make your own list and don’t be a puritan about it. Socks that don’t bunch up in the toes of your boots are not a luxury. A decent outfit to host family holiday gatherings in makes gathering as a family one step easier. Get what you need.
Make sure you know what you have:
Unpack all the boxes and bins you have stashed in your closet and take a good hard look at all you own. I had “long sleeved grey t-shirt” on my shopping list before I found two such shirts in a box I’d packed up last spring. Duh. Also take note of how many duplicates you have. When I started writing this article I had five black coats. I now have three (rain jacket, snow jacket and casual chino) and my daughter has two (rain jacket and barn jacket.)
Decide why you are taking on this challenge:
I am shrugging off buying for 40 days because I think it will make me more stylish. Seeking to better understand how I can utilize the clothing I already own will force me to be more creative.
Like Jessie, you may want a break from a seemingly endless cycle of buying. Or maybe you want to finish up a short story you’ve been writing, and you can use the time you would have spent trolling the internet for the perfect knee socks working on it.
My one request is that you take up this challenge in a spirit of fun, rather than guilt or shame. Mud and Grace readers don’t tend to be compulsive shoppers. In fact they only tend to be compulsive about taking-care-of-everyone-and-everything-except-themselves. While there are many great reasons for not shopping, consider taking up this challenge just for the fun of it.
I’m planning on starting my 40-Day No-Buy on October 14th. Let me know if you want to join in!
With little fan fare and no social media postings, Jessie decided, starting February 1st, 2017, not to buy any clothes for one year. To be clear, for Jessie this is not a moral crusade. She’s not a crazy stoic, and she is the last person on earth to pass judgment on another. She just wanted to see if she could do it.
At 32-years-old, Jessie has plenty of clothes; a beautifully curated wardrobe of high quality pieces, some classic, some fun. But she found herself trapped in a cycle of always looking for something new. “Because of my size, buying clothes is a quest,” Jessie says, relating a never-ending cycle of buying on-line, returns, justification of spending, and constant searching.
Then there was the Canada Goose Jacket. If you’re not familiar with Canada Goose, it’s crazy high quality outerwear that costs about as much as triple bypass surgery. “What if I bought nothing for a year, then could I buy that coat?” she wondered. And that was the thought that changed everything. Could she buy nothing for a year, even without the lure of a purchase that could significantly impact the GDP?
“I realized I needed to break the cycle of constant shopping,” she says.
8th months in, Jessie says, “It’s been quite a journey. I will not pretend this has been easy.” Here are a few of the realizations she’s had over the last few months.
There is a huge element of fantasy in clothes shopping
Early on Jessie learned just how much she used clothes shopping as a form of escapism. “We’re not just buying clothes,” Jessie says, “we’re buying a fantasy.”
How many of us have been there? I want to be the sort of woman who walks home to her chic loft in the city after a Zen-like yoga experience… so I buy a sweater? I’m still me, only now I’m trying to get my goats off the barn roof in a sweater that catches on everything, no yoga, no Zen, no city loft.
“We have to focus on what we want in our lives, rather than what we want to wear,” Jessie says. “Bring yourself back to what you’re actually trying to achieve by buying.” So rather than shop for a cute, warm plaid shirt, Jessie finds herself planning the camping trip that she imagined herself going on in the cute, warm plaid shirt.
You can always find something to wear
Life goes on, as it is inclined to do whether you are buying clothes or not. Starting in the spring, Jessie’s partner Michael broke ground on a bouldering gym that had been years in the planning. Everyone has been pitching in. While Jessie’s wardrobe is full of pencil skirts and fun t-shirts, she never really invested in heavy work wear.
“I wanted to pressure wash, and despite the fact that I was born and raised in Oregon, apparently I own no rain pants. So I just took a couple of garbage bags and wrapped one around each leg,” she said of her rain bloomers. Jessie’s been wearing a pair of Ann Taylor Loft skinnies as work pants, and despite the fact that they are not Carharts and have no abundance of pockets, she’s managed to sand, drill, spray and climb in them.
When you don’t have the option of buying, Jessie says, “You really see what you reach for again and again.”
There will always be something new to want
The most profound realization of this year for Jessie is that if you indulge in wanting, it’s an endless cycle. You can find the perfect t-shirt, or suede bootie, but then there will always be something else to want. “It’s difficult to recognize how we are being manipulated by the media,” she says. Jessie, like so many of us, really likes looking at clothes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s a fine line between enjoying a flip through the new Patagonia catalog, and deciding you must have another cozy beanie. Part of Jessie’s journey has been recognizing that buying anything, even a Canada Goose jacket, isn’t going to stop the wanting. “We are never going to have the perfect wardrobe, because we’re never going to stop changing,” she says.
There is relief in choosing not to buy
“I’ve been surprised to find that the overwhelming sensation… isn’t disappointment or deprivation: it’s relief. I don’t have to play the game. And I had no idea how much energy the game was draining from me until I stopped playing,” Jessie says of taking to option to buy off the table.
“It’s like I have an emotional buffer in place, and suddenly I can analyze more objectively,” she says. “And when I feel my heart start to speed up and the cycle of craving rear its ugly head, I can shrug it off and think “Nope, not an option! Now what else do I want to put my energy into?”
In not shopping for clothing, Jessie has learned to focus on other things. “I’d never realized how shopping for and buying clothes was emotional for me,” she says. To go a year without shopping, “you have to be ready to take a good long look at the negative sides of yourself.”
So what’s next for Jessie? She’s not sure. “I don’t know what my relationship with clothes will look like after this,” she admits. But one thing is for sure, Jessie is no longer on a quest for the perfect selection of 37, color-coordinated pieces of clothing. “I’m not trying to make a flat lay, I’m trying to make a life,” she says.
“I hope to find a balance,” Jessie says of the happy place between a love of clothing and a full and rich life.
Inspired by Jessie? I am. I’m planning on starting small with a two-month no-buy, dates TBA. Are you in? Let me know in the comments below, or by email, if you want to accept the No Buy Challenge, firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope you enjoyed Jessie’s story. Please consider subscribing to Mud and Grace for more on what we wear and how it effects our lives. Next week I’ll examine the lessons learned in a year of no buying limits at all.
A strong woman hikes alone on a rocky plateau, a vast lake and mountains looming in the background. This woman’s image is powerful and determined, and so far in 2017 it is the most purchased picture for the search term “woman” in the Getty Image library.
Getty Images is where every company, blogger, brochure-maker and training-PowerPoint-assembler goes to buy the images they use. Popular stock photos represent the consciousness of mainstream culture in a way that nothing else is really able to. They are purchased by anyone and everyone wishing to use an image to persuade an audience. Ten years ago the most popular pictures of women were largely naked and completely docile. But not anymore. The popularity of photos featuring strong, active women outdoors is such that Getty Images has even given the phenomenon a name, Gritty Woman.
Mainstream culture is finally catching up with what so many of us have known all along: grit is beautiful.
Since childhood, we are saturated with images of digitally re-mastered, inactive women. We are told to buy clothing we can’t move in to go with shoes we can’t walk in. The lessons of the media seep in and shape us in ways we can never fully be aware of.
But this year, this crazy, difficult, disaster-ridden year, the picture that meant “woman” to the most people was of a woman hiking alone. And that, my friends is cause for celebration.
Criticism of the concept is rife, because if something’s different we should probably criticize it, right? Here are my responses to Gritty Woman’s naysayers:
It’s just another impossible body image, set outside
OK, Getty images isn’t getting swamped for pictures of 45-year-old hikers who use reading glasses to look at the trail map and have generous behinds. I’m sure they’ll call me when that happens. Women’s clothing company Title IX prides itself on using “real women” in their catalogs, rather than models. Still, the not-models always look exactly like actual models, only with extraordinary triceps. But at least the women are moving. I’ll take powerful, active female images over the alternative any day.
These images encourage women to go outside for the sole purpose of taking a great instagram photo
Fact: I do not care why anyone goes outside. If a woman goes outside just to take a picture of herself in a cute puffer jacket, this is none of my business. She’s outside, and inasmuch as outside is awesome, it’s likely she’ll be back for more. If her pictures roll across my social media feed, I will probably put hearts on them.
Ten years of improvement is more of a trend, rather than true evolution
Yes, human civilization will continue to change. The popularity of gritty women will wax and wane over time but right now it’s here, and I am going to enjoy every dirt-filled, sweat-accepting image. With time I expect to see more cultural and size diversity in the media, and it will happen as we respond to every positive representation of women we come across.
Ultimately, when my daughter opens up her social media feed, she is flooded with pictures of tough women doing awesome things outside. When I was her age, I was flooded with pictures of buxom women with big hair lying on sofas, beds and occasionally the floor. When I envisioned my future as a 7th grader, I imagined being wealthy and beautiful. My daughter imagines herself living in a van in Colorado, being a professional rock climber. For this I’d like to thank everyone who has ever searched “woman” on Getty Images and chosen the hiker.
I hope you enjoyed this post! If you like Mud and Grace, but want to save yourself the trouble of finding it on Facebook every Sunday evening, please consider subscribing.
What to read more about the Gritty Woman phenomenon? Check out this great New York Times article
Books, papers, coffee, exploding pens, slamming lockers, split second decisions, and a constant swirl of humanity: it’s school! We’re back for another year of bright lights and big workloads, and I can’t wait. I am so grateful for this noisy, crazy, beautiful job of teaching.
In honor of back to school, here is the best style advice culled from my teacher friends. As Bobbie, our fashionable staff president, says “For better or worse, students notice what we wear. I want to be, and to be noticed as, confident, interesting, engaged in the world, and pulled together.”
Here are a few ways to do just that.
Set up a your outfit formulas
Reading Harry Potter, I’m always a little jealous that I don’t get to wear a long wizard’s robe to work. Forget turning myself into a cat, looking professional and being comfortable everyday would be magic enough. Fortunately, muggle and blogger Anuschka Rees has come up with the outfit formula.
Essentially, outfit formulas are combinations of clothing you know will work. My go-to formula is jeans or a moto pant, blouse and jacket. My second outfit formula is a knee length dress with boots. With the exception of an occasional sweater thrown in, my teaching formulas don’t change much. To learn more about outfit formulas, check out this post.Outfit Formulas, 101
Here are some teacher outfit formulas my friends go in for:
Helen: Old Navy Pixie pant, blouse, cardigan
Julie: Bright knit maxi dress (sandals in the summer, boots and cardi in the winter)
Ann: Long fluid top, drapey sweater, skinny pants or knee length skirt
Sarah and Dani: Jeans, quirky t-shirt, hoody.
Have some fun
I don’t mean to insult other professions, but educators have a unique potential for fun. Where else can you run around acting like Louis XIV? Literally nowhere. My friends Dani and Sarah have fabulous collections of fun t-shirts, and even have matching wonder woman sweatshirts. If I’m feeling particularly spunky I might go for double denim, or a homemade message T, or twin with a co-worker or student.
Wear the gear, or the pajamas
Every teacher will at some point be asked to wear tie-dye, or her pajamas, or come to school as her favorite Dr. Seuss character. Just do it. Having a few nice tops in your school’s color will help. If you hate your school’s colors, black or white with accents of the school color works just fine.
You do you
Students are incredible gauges of authenticity. They will respond to your enthusiasm for a topic, tell at a glance which teachers will follow a cell phone policy and which won’t, and can smell your fear. So while I might be able to fool the lady at the DMV with a smart outfit, my students can sniff out my attempts at dress up in a heartbeat.
Elle is drawn to dramatic, fashion forward choices. Not afraid to experiment, she’s often trying new colors or shapes. Julie wears long, bright maxi dresses in teal or purple. While I can pass these women in the hall everyday and exclaim over their fabulous ensembles, the bright, elegant choices would be inauthentic on me.
Wearing clothing authentic to who we are helps us relax. And anything that lessons the tension of this somewhat crazy job is a win in my book.
Letting it all hang… in
Listen up! No one at school wants to see all y’all’s anything hanging out. Ever. You’d think I wouldn’t have to say that, but in the last 23 years of teaching you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen.
For the most part, teachers want to and will dress appropriately. But wardrobe malfunctions happen. A friend once wore an ill fitting pair of jeans and unwittingly had a photograph of her behind circulating on snapchat.** One day last year I wore a dress that had shrunk up in the wash, but I didn’t notice until I sat down on a stool. I ran to Ann’s classroom and she actually took off the leggings she was wearing under her more modest dress and gave them to me for the day. That’s a friend.
For every new outfit, do the bend and sit test. Bend over and see if anything falls out in front or behind. Then sit and see how far your skirt comes up, or your pants ride down, or if the change in posture produces any gaps in your top. If you have any doubts, change now.
A few more things to ponder
How are you going to haul all your stuff? A roomy bag or backpack that coordinates smartly with your outfit formulas will pull everything together. Big arm loads of papers and an old Grocery Outlet bag will not.
Can you get the marker stains off that? Teaching is a messy job, literally as well as figuratively. According to Elle you should “buy quality fabrics that can be worn and washed in real life and stay nice-looking.” White pants are almost always an elegant fashion choice but between my goats and my students I haven’t worn them in years.
How well does your school’s heating and cooling system function? In the winter, I always plan on wearing a coat that I can keep on all day if the heat isn’t functioning. In warmer months, I wear layers and sometimes even bring a pair of sandals to change into if my feet get hot. ***
Can you walk a mile in those shoes? Because you are going to. I know it’s shocking to read on Mud and Grace Style, but invest in good shoes. Every teacher who weighed in on this article stressed the importance of good shoes. If your feet hurt, you will yell at your students. This is a fact.
My final piece of advice is to make sure you have what you need. Teachers spend so much time prepping their classrooms and lessons so everything will run smoothly once the crazy whirlwind called school kicks in. Spend some time prepping your wardrobe as well. Are your tights full of holes and likely to sag? Go get new ones. Are those once-cute ankle boots still in good shape, or do they need to be resoled and cleaned? Are all your foundational garments functioning as they should, because you really don’t want to be tugging at a bra strap during class. A little prep time on your wardrobe will leave you confident as you take on the most important job anyone could wish for.
Go get ‘em!
* I think once you own more than 5 critter sweaters, you automatically go into Primary Education.
** A little known hazard of the profession
*** I hate it when my feet are too hot
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Summertime! Whether you are out adventuring, lazing around the house or knocking tasks off your list, you still get to have to get dressed. And yes, you do have to wear something.*
We often neglect summer wardrobes because the season is more casual. I’ve seen a woman with a crush of holiday cocktail dresses cramping up her closet and not one great pair of shorts.** With this post, I hope to help you create a wardrobe out of which you can get dressed in a snap every morning, pack in 15 minutes or less for wherever you’re headed, and feel great in your clothes no matter what the day might bring.
This post is not earth-shatteringly different from my advice to you in the past. It is a gentle reminder to put some forethought into your closet, freeing you to spend the day on larger questions than “Does this top look OK?” What follows is a list of questions to consider as you put your wardrobe together. You can download a worksheet here.
Look at your summer plans and think through specific clothing needs. Gardening, hiking, running kids around, flying somewhere, hanging out at the pool, wrestling goats out of the cob bin? Be specific and honest about the activities you will be engaging in. I hope to spend a lot of time writing this summer, which means sitting in a deck chair with my computer on my lap. My routine includes multiple daily runs down to the garden, so everything needs to work with dirt. I don’t have any weddings this summer, and no formal events, so I can get by with a pretty casual wardrobe.
What do you want to wear?
Last summer my wardrobe had a strong athletic vibe. This year, I feel like including a few more pretty items: soft, loose tops, easy shorts, a few more skirts. I still have my share of caves to explore and boulder problems to get shut down on, I’m just drawn to prettier items in which to do it all this year. Take some time to flip through magazines or read a few style blogs to figure out what you want. A summer full of elegant maxi dresses? Runners’ skorts with tank tops? Don’t deny that inner voice that says “Ohhhh! Pretty!” Wear what you want to wear.
What type of care are you willing to give to your clothing?
In my case, the answer to this question is zero. I will not iron, hand wash, steam or possibly even fold anything. I shop accordingly. Everything in my summer wardrobe can get by with a quick shake when it comes out of the dryer. If you want to trade off trips to the dry cleaner’s for a gorgeous dress, go for it. Just be clear about the realities of care your clothing will need.
How many options do you want?
Because I don’t go in to work in the summer,*** I can get away with relatively few options. There have been lean times where I have rotated through about 4 ensembles all summer long. Now that I can afford more, I don’t always want that much more. I have another friend who has racks of fun summer dresses. She enjoys choosing from a wide variety of options.
Where will you put your money?
Can I answer this one for you? Good shoes. Sandals, a pair of cute sneakers and you’re golden. If you bought your shoes last summer and they’re still in good condition, then you’re free to invest elsewhere. Here is a post about summer basic that can help any active woman’s wardrobe. Mud and Grace Summer Essentials
As you budget, think about durability and longevity. That cute top at your favorite second hand store may not wear well for more than one summer, but it might just make this summer fantastic. A good pair of comfy denim shorts could last for years.
What do you already have that you truly love?
Have some summer favorites already? Fantastic. But those shorts look just OK? Ditch ‘em. Lay out your summer favorites and keep only those that look and feel fantastic. Use these as the base for your summer wardrobe.
Give yourself a shopping time frame
Take a week or two to knock your list out. If that means a trip down the freeway to a larger mall, spending a Saturday hitting every 2nd hand shop in town, or ordering a number of different pairs of shorts in different sizes from a catalog to be sure of a good fit, then taking care of the returns immediately, get ‘er done. Your goal should be to have everything you need hanging in your closet in a relatively short time frame.
Once you have gathered your essentials, stop shopping. You will have gotten into the habit of hunting and gathering, and that is not what you want to spend your summer doing. When your wardrobe is complete, wear it and get on with your life. If you couldn’t find something just right, live without it for this summer and try again next year. I never found a casual jersey dress that I loved. Oh well.
I’m not saying you can’t step foot in a store all summer. I delight in finding off-season steals in 2nd hand shops. This is the perfect time to find a good, used ski jacket. But if you are constantly on the prowl for this season’s clothes, you will never stop to enjoy what you have. The beauty of a functioning wardrobe is never doubting that it can see you through any occasion that comes your way.
Putting the time and energy into your summer wardrobe will set you up for summer after summer of easy wardrobe maintenance. Once you have everything you need for one summer, you’ll have an excellent base for the next summer. Then suit up and get out there and have some fun!
T-shirts are far and away the most fun pieces of clothing. Comfy, soft and colorful, our t-shirts can actively express our feelings, personalities and daily moods.
This week I teamed up with Jenna, Maddy, Talia, Melissa, Julia and Lucy on their last day of high school to figure out right way to wear a statement tee.
What follows are a list of Dos and Don’ts for the statement tee.
Do wear that statement tee if…
It reminds you of good times: If you have a t-shirt from a fun summer softball league, a favorite play, your 7th grade chess championship game where you came in last but still had a great time, these are always, aways appropriate.
It perks you up, and shares some fun with the world: There are a ton of fun message Ts out there that just bring a smile to your face. If you find one you love, go for it.
If references your loyalties: School, team, band, Hogwarts house of choice, an outward statement of your loyalties can be a conversation starter, as well as just throwing some support into the universe for something you believe in.
It’s funny: Some t-shirts are just plain funny. If you find one, enjoy the joke and let others in on it too.
It makes a statement about you: There are plenty of statements worth making. We can use our fashion choices to stand up for something we believe in, or simply state how we want the world to be.
You love it: Sometimes, you come across a statement tee you just plain love. Wear that shirt and others like it as much as you want.
Statement Tees to avoid: Some statement Ts are a don’t. Everyone is going to have her own opinion here, but these are my personal guidelines.
The Boastful T: It’s one thing to see a 9-year-old in a Nike “Been there, won that” t-shirt. Her brain is not fully developed yet, and her sports-oriented aunt-with-no-children probably thought it was adorable when she bought it. The rest of us can refrain from shirts that talk about how we destroy on the soccer pitch, can’t lose playing Connect Four, or whatever.
The Whining T: I am sorry if you didn’t get your coffee / don’t like my face / are bored with the world at large, but advertising that fact on your t-shirt doesn’t do much for anyone. Even, and especially, the sad person who feels the need to express their general unhappiness on their chest while rolling about in this world.
The contradiction: An environmental message on a mass-produced, $5 t-shirt from Target? You are never going to feel right wearing this. Ditto goes for anything that says Namaste unless you are actually doing Yoga / Meditating / attempting to communicate in Hindi while bowing to the divine in someone else. Statement Tees are only cool when they are authentic.
The concert you didn’t attend: You may love a band or musician, but a fake faded t-shirt of a concert you didn’t attend looks a little silly. The only exception to this rule is if you find an actual faded concert t-shirt in one of your parent’s or older sibling’s drawers. That’s cool.
So there you have it, the dos and don’t of statement tees. Do you have a favorite t-shirt? Send in a picture, the Mud and Grace community would love to see it!
* When you make your friend a t-shirt, do not, under any circumstances, deliver the t-shirt in a timely manner. Be sure to forget to bring it to their birthday party, leave it at home if you are meeting for lunch, whatever you have to do. Keep that shirt for months, even a full year! That way you can celebrate the anniversary of the t-shirt inspiring event by wearing matching shirts and apologizing profusely.
Don’t worry, I am not going to tell you to mash up oats and avocados and out them on your face. Who does that? Eat oats, yes. Paste them on my body? No thank you.
But after the exciting, or rather “exiting” news of the week, combined with a solo trip to the dump* I had to take a good hard look at my own footprint on this earth. What follows are ways to lesson the impact of our beauty routines on the environment, and put our money into local businesses rather than multinational corporations.
I’ve targeted three problems and come up with possible solutions. If you’re already a sustainability pro, sit back and read smugly, then please leave your best advice in the comments below. If you are still on the path to environmental enlightenment, like your blogger, choose one or two changes to make. Like any lifestyle change, small regular steps in the right direction reap more benefits than a huge leap you are unable to sustain.
Problem #1: The waste produced in making and packaging beauty products is being dumped all over the earth in huge, nasty piles.
Solution: Local handmade products
So much waste comes from the packaging of shampoo, lotion, soaps and shaving creams. Who needs that garbage?
We can skip the trash by seeking out locally made products with minimal or reusable packaging. Find a shop (like Uncommon Scents in Eugene, http://www.uncommonscentsmeridian.com/index.php) that sells locally crafted soaps, shampoos and lotions. Not only can you reuse your containers, but these products haven’t traveled across the country, or even the world to make it to your neighborhood Target.
My favorite soaps are made by retired teacher Barbra Hascall. There is nothing more adorable than a retired teacher running around smiling and making soap. My guess is that wherever you live, you can find a similar lady, with fabulous products. Barbra’s soaps are made sustainably, with love and a minimum of packaging.
Problem #2: Beauty products are full of various chemicals that you don’t fully understand, but rub all over your body and send down the drain into our lakes and rivers.
Solution: Find natural alternatives that actually work.
We are all trying to limit the human-manipulated chemicals that we put into contact with our bodies. While it’s often easier to grab the same old BB cream and run, a little investigation can set you up with products that work. And the good news is that once a company starts down the rabbit hole of good practices, they often double and triple up. So a company that is certified cruelty free** will often go vegan, and maybe even plant based organic. The following link gives you a good place to start. The PETA website also has great information.
Deodorant is a special concern for a lot of women. Mainline antiperspirants contain aluminum, which some people think is linked to breast cancer and/or dementia,*** which nobody wants. Then again, nobody wants to smell bad either.
Recently, Reviews.com tested a bazillion natural deodorants. Working with a chemist, a dermatologist and professionals in the industry, they looked for “aluminum-free formulas with pleasant scents, goop-free application, and minimal residue.” Here is a link to their results. http://www.reviews.com/natural-deodorant/
Barbra (see smiling retired teacher, above) makes a nice deodorant, too.
Problem #3: You want to look good, but have limited time to spend on beauty routines, and some lady is writing blog articles about how your favorite products are destroying the soul of the earth
Solution: Invest in beauty processes, rather than products
I have always been fantastically lazy about my beauty routine, no time more so than in the summer. In The Lazy Girl’s Summer Beauty Strategies I write about a few beauty processes that allow me to skip the daily use of any product, all summer long.**** You don’t need make up/hair gel/ eye cream if your skin and hair already look great. When I go to see my wonderful hairdresser and lovely esthetician, my money goes into the pockets of local business women rather than multinational corporations. When I eat vegetables straight out of my garden, my hair and skin reap the benefits. When I ride my bike rather than drive, I glow in a way that no foundation can mimic. Better for the earth, the local economy and my psyche.
My beauty routine is by no means perfectly, ethically, environmentally pure. There are things that come in packages (toothpaste) that I am not willing to give up right now. But if we all take one step towards a more humane and eco-friendly lifestyle, then another, and just keep walking, we can do this. We have to. And if that means supporting local business, having a house full of the most amazing soaps and not ever having to go to the dump again, I’m in.
What are your tips for sustainable beauty practices? Please share in the comments below.
* Holy Cow! The dump!!! You should totally go. You will be so inspired to cut your consumption.
** I have trouble believing it’s 2017 and we still have to seek out cruelty free beauty products. Did Legally Blond II inspire no one?
*** I can feel that my scientist mom wants me to tell you that the aluminum/breast cancer/ Alzheimer’s link has not been conclusively proven, and you should not take a style blog written by a woman who once thought that frogs perform photosynthesis as gospel for the evils of antiperspirant.
**** By all summer long I mean the extent of our family’s camping / outdoor rock climbing season, which goes from March through October. In the winter my vanity battles with my laziness, and some sort of a brow pencil / lip stain peace accord is met but not without a lot of 6 a.m. skirmishes.