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
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.
Many of us have a love/hate relationship with shorts. Love: the weather, activities, and casual vibe that go along with wearing them. Hate: finding and styling shorts for our real and fantastic bodies, rather than that of a stick figure with really great skin.
Shorts in and of themselves are not the enemy. The problem is the way in which they break up the line of vision. We’ve previously discussed on this blog how the eye likes to run unhindered in the vertical line of an ensemble. This is why the Duchess of Cambridge so often wears a monochrome coat and dress, and looks fantastic in every single picture ever taken, including the days she must be in a crazy-bad mood. Shorts* throw a block of contrasting color in the middle of an outfit, causing the eye to stutter over your mid section. Add to this a top that may or may not bunch up all funny and your shorts angst makes perfect sense.
So here’s a guide to the three basic shapes of shorts, and a number of other options in case you still aren’t sold on shorts at the end of this article:
Shorts come in three general shapes: Rectangle, square, triangle. The trick is to figure out which woks best for your body and activity, and what to wear with each.
A rectangle shape can run from a full on Bermuda short to a mid-thigh pair of hiking shorts. They come through season after season in different fabrics and patterns, but they remain a fashion staple. They are practical for outdoor activities, and can be dressed up easier than short shorts. You just have to keep them from looking frumpy.
You want your rectangle shape to say “I chose these shorts because they are fantastic and fit my busy, active lifestyle,” not, “I don’t want anyone to see my thighs.” A floppy top hanging over a pair of ill-fitting long shorts is among the most awkward ensembles out there. It’s also the signature look of middle school boys.
To keep from looking like an Oompa loompa in your rectangle shorts…
Wear a slightly fitted top, like a heavier weight v-neck t-shirt, a nicely structured polo, a button down.
Or, if you choose a looser fitting top, make sure it finishes at your high hip. Ideally, it should still show a little of your shape
Show some collarbone. Anything from a modest boat-neck top to a spaghetti strap tank will help draw the eye up.
Beyond your choice of top, keep your longer shorts simple. Unless you really need the extra pocket space, skip cargo shorts. Make sure they fit well, the pockets lie flat, and the waist hits you at that perfect point. It is not weird to have your shorts altered to fit you correctly.
Think a great pair of denim cut offs, or soft linen shorts you slip into after work, a square shape is classic. By far the most common short shape, the wrong square shorts run the risk of being too short, too long, bunching up and generally looking like a ratty mess of fabric wadded up in the middle of our outfit. Squares can be comfortable, easy to move in, and have an easy, casual vibe. It’s time you find the right pair. Here are a few tips
Try sizing up. You are on the go in the summer, or in the hammock. Neither scenario calls for anything pinching against your skin.
The top options are endless with the classic square: a fitted tank, a sweet peasant blouse, a chunky fisherman’s sweater in the evening. Just be sure that you have a good 3 inches of shorts showing below the hem of your top.
Go for a fabric that moves. I can’t tell you how many wrinkly, stiff pairs of square shorts I have tried to make a go of. Soft linen, denim and synthetic fabrics feel and ultimately look better.
Make sure the waist stays where you want your waist to be. Squares, like all pants, may have a tendency to slide down. This can produce an uneven waistline that looks particularly ridiculous.
Consider a flat, wide elastic waist. I don’t know what genius thought of attaching this waistband to shorts but it is comfortable, flattering and perfect for a half-tuck.
Marilyn Monroe, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Lopez, these women have all shown us the beauty of a triangle short. Fitted at the waist, flaring out over the behind, these shorts are feminine and attractive. These have never found a place in my active wardrobe, but if you’ve figured out a way to take these into the woods, let me know.
Tuck in your top. To make the most of this shape, you need to show your waist.
Fitted tops work best. You’ve got a lot of fabric going on with these so you need to keep proportions balanced.
To make the shape work, they really do have to be short, with a 4 in inseam or shorter.
Because the look is retro, try to add a few modern, grown up details like a leather cuff bracelet or a strong pendant necklace. Triangle shirts with a gingham top, pigtails and pearls is a bit too precious.
Commonly asked questions:
Q: Can I wear the same shape of shorts all summer, or should I mix it up?
A: No mixing is necessary. Ever. If you’re rocking the rectangle no one is going to question it. I spent all last summer in squares and managed to evade the fashion police successfully.
Q: What are the best colors for shorts?
A: Navy, black, denim, deep red and olive are the easiest colors to work with. They don’t show dirt, and dark bottoms tend to ground an outfit. With these colors you will have a lot of options for tops. That said, there are a lot of fun patterned shorts out there in bright colors. The eye will be drawn to the brightest, lightest, busiest part of an outfit, if you want that to be your shorts, go for it.
Q: Should I invest in active or tailored shorts?
A: Tailored shorts can look amazing, but unless your workplace gives a nod to shorts, they aren’t super practical on a Mud-and-Grace scale. If you run a lot of errands all summer, are vacationing in a city, or are just an uncommonly neat person, go for it. Otherwise, more active styles and fabrics can be worn neatly for town chores, and still take a beating on camping trips, gardening and other summer adventures.
Q: Can I wear a tunic top with shorts?
A: It’s pretty difficult to pull that off without a kindergarten art-smock vibe. Fitted ankle skimmers are a better option for tunic tops, unless you are a tunic master, in which case please send me a picture.
Q: If I’m over 40, do I have to follow the One Skin Rule?
A: I like to think of “One Skin” as an interesting option, rather than a rule. Blogger Erin Busbee, of Busbee Style, suggests only showing one area of skin per ensemble. So if you go with a tank top, you would wear long pants. In shorts, you would choose a long-sleeve top. These ensembles look great. One Skin is a nice guideline for work or more dressed up occasions for women of any age. Even Ms. Busbee, who lives in Texas, admits there are days so hot that she throws out her own rule. Most of my summer days don’t include anything even bordering on dress up, and my shorts and tops are modest enough I don’t feel like the one skin rule is necessary.
Q: Do I have to wear shorts at all?
A: Nope. Read on, my friend.
How not to wear shorts
One of my favorite things about growing up is figuring out I don’t have to wear anything I don’t want to.** You can find cool, active, summer appropriate clothes that will never, ever call to mind lederhosen.
Skirts / skorts
There are so many fantastic summer options for skirts and skorts.*** From sport weight fabrics to classic chino or denim, you can grab your favorite and go. Just look at the shape (Rectangle? Square? Triangle?) and style accordingly.
Wide leg pants
A pair of light, wide leg pants and a tank top is a classic summer look. If this is you, rock it all summer long and never look back.
An easy pair of sport weight joggers are great for running errands, or hiking though poison oak infested hillsides.
My grandma wore an easy summer shift dress with pockets everyday, all summer long.**** In this look she gardened, pickled, canned, dealt with all manner of cats, dogs, cattle and hogs in the sweltering mid-west summer heat. This is your official endorsement to wear a dress all summer long if you want to.
Have a picture of yourself in your favorite pair of shorts or other summer ensemble? Send it in to email@example.com and I’ll run it in Inspiration.
* which are much more appropriate for a camping trip than a monochrome coat and dress.
*** skorts are now skirts with shorts sewn into them, not the skirt in front, shorts in back abomination that was popular 20+ years ago.
**** with the exception of Sunday mornings, when she might be inclined to rock a pantsuit.
For the last two weeks I have been in Color Boot Camp; a challenge to myself and readers to really figure out what colors look best on us, and to shake us out of our neutral color zones. The plan was to wear a different color everyday and keep track of how we felt and how others reacted to us.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
For me, the first week went OK. As expected, blue was a hit, as were deep red and white. My favorite bright red plaid shirt scored zero comments. Not even from my husband. Whatever, I’m going to wear it anyway.
Olive was a mixed bag. I love this color, and wear it all the time. One jacket garnered a lot of positive reaction, while a dress seemed to make me look sallow.
By day 6, I was running out of colors. The challenge had resulted in a mini closet purge, as I pulled out a number of colorful items I hadn’t been wearing, and after 10 minutes walking around the house realized I was never going to wear. I began to long for my gray t-shirts. I got sick. I tried to keep up the challenge, but… I was sick and looked sick in anything I put on. I began to wonder why I’d come up with this dumb idea in the first place.
Then I had a hair appointment. The world is always better when I get a text reminding me there’s a trim coming up. I absolutely love how my hair goes from raggedy-frizzy to shiny-smooth in a magical two hours with Margaret Fairchild, the wizard of keratin and perfectly subtle layers.
“How’s your color challenge going?” she asked, draping me in a chocolate brown smock. I babbled everything to her I’ve just babbled to you about this hackneyed experiment. She listened thoughtfully, then said. “I bet blues worked really well,” she said. “And white?” Absolutely. How did she know this? “And maybe lavender, and gray, you look so beautiful in gray.*”
It turns out that Margaret used to be a professional color draper, back in the day. She has all the color swatches and everything.** Apparently, I’m a summer.
As Margaret worked her magic on my hair and explained this color theory to me, I went into hyper focus. I have never understood the Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter Color Me Beautiful concept, and while it has been expanded on greatly, it really is the only time-tested theory out there. I’ve read dozens of internet articles on the topic but never could figure out what season I was. Here was my chance to get it!
According to Margaret, summer and winter are people with cool undertones to their skin. Spring and fall are people with warm undertones. To figure out which one you are, just ask if you would look better in a silver silk blouse or a gold one. You may already gravitate towards the metal that works best on your skin.***
Autumn and winter then are people who have more contrast between their hair, eyes and skin. So my friend Julie and I both have cool undertones. She has dark hair and eyes, and delicate pale skin, making her a winter. I have lighter hair and eyes, and less contrast with my skin color. Julie can pull of bolder colors that play up that contrast, while I do better in lighter colors.****
So the reds and olives that look good on me have cool undertones, while the bright red of my favorite plaid shirt has just enough warmth in it to wash me out. This is why peach never, ever works on me. It explains why that gold-toned bridesmaid dress was such an abomination. It explains why painting my bathroom lavender made me look fantastic in the mirror.
Here are a few more basics I learned from Margaret.
Your season may change
While you will have a squarely cool or warm skin tone, the contrast between our skin and hair may change as you color your hair, tan or even age. I look better in white at the end of the summer, and deep red in February. That old rule about not wearing white after Labor Day may have been made up by a summer.
Most of us are probably doing a lot right already
Intuitively, you probably already discovered your best colors years ago. Julie has always worn a lot of black, red and gray. While she can expand on that, at the end of the day she looks really good in black, red and gray. All of the chambray shirts and dresses in my closet got there because they looked great on me in the dressing room. Your go-to colors will probably tell you a lot about your ideal color pallet.
It’s OK not to like your color pallet
Margaret (a spring) and I talked about a number of the “Easter egg” colors in our pallets that we don’t love. I’m drawn towards earth tones (they don’t show dirt) and can wear them as much as I like. I just need to consider the colors I wear next to the face. This is a great excuse to go buy a couple of cute pocket scarves.
As Margaret finished styling my hair we applied these ideas of cool/warm, high contrast/low contrast to people we knew. I enjoyed the old familiar pleasure of learning something that changes the way I view the world. Like when I finally grasped the effects of Bolivian silver mining on the economy of China during the Ming Dynasty, or the fact that butter was probably better for me than margarine. My color experiment pushed me out of my comfort zone, and put me in a place where I was open to Margaret’s understanding of color theory.
So I guess it was a good idea after all. Did you participate in Color Boot Camp? I’d love to hear how it went for you. Comment below or send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org
* I love my hairdresser
** Anyone else feel like we should have a 1980s-themed party with wine coolers and color draping?
*** I don’t, I’ve always preferred gold, but a pretty gold ring on my finger isn’t going to wash out my entire completion.
**** This in no way is going to deter me from borrowing Julie’s clothes. We’re still the same size.
I am passionate about travel wardrobes. It’s a passion born out of So Many Travel Failures. Shivering with cold as I stood at the Oracle of Delphi, swimming in unstylish pants and a stupid hat as I rode an elephant in Thailand, feet screaming in pain as I retraced the steps of Julius Caesar on the streets of Rome, I have had every inappropriately dressed travel experience you can imagine.
But no more. A little research and a few investments later and I have become a packing ninja.* Whether you are spending 5 weeks in Europe,** or visiting family across the country, a small bag packed with adventure-ready ensembles will make your vacation.
The triumvirate of packing light
Layers – You need a color coordinated mix of pieces that can easily layer. Easier said than done, I know, but take your time and make this a priority.
Laundry – Your clothes need to be tough enough to withstand a hotel laundry service or a washout in the hostel sink. Look for pieces that won’t wrinkle, shrink and can dry relatively quickly.
Love – You better love everything you pack, because you are going to be wearing it over and over and over again.
The following all-purpose capsule can be modified to suit the needs of your destination. If you a touring cities in Europe, pieces need to look sharp. If you are hiking in Costa Rica, pieces need to be tough. If you hate shorts, don’t bring any, take an extra skirt or flowy long pants. Never, ever wear dresses? Pack extra pants and a top.
1. Three or four tops: High quality t-shirts in colors that look great on you work for many occasions. A tunic or floaty boho top are fun.
2. Two or three bottoms: Depending on the location and your preferences, choose from pants, shorts and skirts.
3. One or two dresses: I love dresses for long airplane trips and sightseeing. Solid colors are the most practical for a travel capsule, but if you can’t resist a fantastic print, go for it. You’re on vacation, after all.
4. One fantastically cozy sweater: You will be wearing this with pretty much everything at one point or another, so make sure it is warm, soft and in a good neutral color. Camel or navy are nice, travel-ready neutrals. If you’re headed someplace warm, swap out a sweater for a long sleeved shirt.
5. Two pairs of shoes: Cute sneakers, nicer sandals
6. Good quality cross body bag or backpack: For hands-free sight seeing. I’m not a fan of travel specific bags, but that’s just me.
7. Good-looking raincoat: They pack up small. Just take it.
8. Thin, flexible belt: To add polish to your travel wardrobe. You can belt your sweater around your dress to create a waist and feel less frumpy, or tuck a t-shirt into your shorts and finish with the belt when heading to lunch, the possibilities this little piece brings are endless.
9. Scarf: A lightweight scarf will protect you from the chill of air conditioning, a blazing sun, and the possibility of getting bored with your wardrobe. ****
10. PJs: Something comfy that you can be seen in
11. Activity specific clothing: Swimming? Hiking? Working out? You’ll need to bring the appropriate gear. My Title Nine swimsuit is a two-piece with paddle board shorts on the bottom. I can easily run in the shorts, and the top works as a sports bra.*** Just slip on a tank top and no one knows I’m running in my swimsuit. There are a lot of great trail running shoes that could stand in for your cute sneakers. Be creative about working gear into your regular wardrobe.
Color pallet ideas
In a travel capsule, you really can and should pare down your color choices. Start by choosing one or two neutrals (navy, black, brown, gray, wheat, pink, denim, white) Obviously, lighter colors will show more dirt. You know how much of a dirt magnet you tend to be, choose accordingly. Then pick two more colors that will work with these neutrals. You can also choose another neutral as your color. I like navy and black together, throw in a dash of red and a light neutral like wheat or camel, you are set. Here are some other ideas:
Navy, pink, burgundy and blue
Black, white, teal and fuchsia
Denim, cream, peach and sage
Black, denim, red and white
Dos and Don’t of Travel Packing
Don’t plan for every eventuality: Plan for normal weather and activities. If something comes up, there are clothing stores in other places. My beloved denim jacket was bought from a street vender in Rome for 10 Euro on a particularly cold spring day. If you wind up at Bayreuth, Germany and someone hands you tickets to a Wagner opera, you can run out a buy a nicer dress.
Do give it a trial run: Plan your vacation wardrobe, then trying wearing it in your daily life for a week. You’ll be able to work out glitches this way and make sure everything really works.
Don’t dress like a tourist: Rather, dress like an out of town guest. You won’t, and shouldn’t try to blend in with local populations. Whether you are in Poland or Poulsbo, Washington, no one expects you to know the local vibe. But dressing nicely will signal to folks that you are honored to be in their hometown.
Do buy what you need: Having the right gear for your travels will free you up to focus on your adventure. Great looking sandals in which you can walk for miles don’t come cheap, but neither did your airfare. It makes no sense to invest the time and money into travel, only to be miserable with blistered feet once you get to your destination. And it’s not like you’ll never wear this stuff again. My travel wardrobe is basically the nicer half of my summer wardrobe, and I’m packing the same things to visit family in the midwest this summer that I took to Sedona last summer.
Don’t forget to check the weather: Look at average temperatures for the dates of your trip in the place you are traveling to. Be realistic about what this means. If it’s likely to be 95 degrees and raining every afternoon, you are not going to want a draped jersey dress with ¾ sleeves, no matter how much you love it.
Do consider your fabrics carefully: Linen feels fantastic, but will wrinkle if you look at it funny. Synthetic moisture wicking fabrics are amazing, but they will hold a stench something terrible. Anything shiny will look funny in photographs. Personally I like to travel with cotton blend fabrics, a little bit of stretch to hold off the wrinkles, but I don’t sweat a ton so the wicking isn’t as important to me. I’ve had good luck with fabric made from bamboo, as it feels great and doesn’t wrinkle as badly as straight cotton. You know yourself and your plans. If quick drying fabric is a must, go with synthetics and wash them tenaciously. If the feel of the fabric matters to you, try a cotton blend.
Do save room for a take away: A piece of jewelry or article of clothing that can send you back to your vacation years later is a gem. Just be realistic about what you will wear in your everyday life back home.
Don’t worry about wearing the same thing over and over: Left to our own devises, most of us would wear the same thing over and over if no one noticed. When you are traveling, no one will notice because the only people you’ll be seeing regularly are your travel companions.
Do have a fantastic time! Have any pictures of your favorite travel ensembles? Please send them in and I’ll run them in inspiration.
* Do ninjas check bags? Use a carry on? Actually I’m picturing a backpack.
**Have such a good time, Jenine!
***Yes, I realize this is a lot easier for us A and B cup girls.
**** Check out Maia’s comment below. Here is a link if you want to find that scarf.