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.
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
What do you want to do this weekend? We could binge watch something, or hit the sales, or… go camping in 28-degree weather!
Cold weather camping is a fact of life for anyone who likes sleeping outside in Oregon. Unless you only camp in August,* you are going to be out on some cold nights. These don’t always go well. My first two February camping trips were miserable, sleepless, ice-fests. A few years and a fierce devotion to a good base layer later, and I now get really excited about waking up in a snow covered tent.
The basics of keeping warm are the same found in the Cold Mom post. (Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm) Start with a thin wicking layer to keep moisture away. Add a mid-layer to trap your body’s heat. Finish with a top layer to keep heat in and weather out.
I just want to do all that, and not look like the Michelin Man**. Totally doable, right?
Here’s what I pack for a cold weather camping trip:
• 1 sweatshirt
• 2 dry-fit long sleeved t-shirts
• 1 jacket with insulated core
• 1 pair stretch climbing pants
• 1 pair of insulated leggings
• 1 pair fleece-lined joggers
• 1 down coat
• Smart wool long underwear top and bottom
• 1 pair tennis shoes, 1 pair warm ankle boots
•Wool socks, wool hat, warm mittens
This list can be added to depending on the length of time you’ll be out, but for our standard weekend trip, it works just fine. Read on for tips on combining these pieces over a weekend.
Daytime: Hiking, climbing, etc
On my most recent trip, day one saw my Prana Kara jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt and a wind-resistant jacket with a quilted core. This is a standard Smith Rock ensemble for me. It keeps my core warm but my arms and legs free to hike, scramble, gesticulate wildly as I remarked on the beauty around me.
Day two, when there was actual snow on the ground, I wore insulated tights, a long sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt and my down jacket. The jacket came on and off with regularity, but I was really glad to have it with me.
Because the days are active, and a little warmer, I don’t include a base layer on my legs.
There are no fires allowed at the Smith Rock bivy campground, so once the sun goes down and I become significantly less active, I need my clothes to do the work of keeping me warm. When I finish up my physical activity for the day, I put on my smart wool base layer immediately. Over that I wear lined joggers and a warm sweatshirt. As it gets colder, I add mittens, a hat and finally my down jacket. To go to sleep I strip back down to the base layer and let my amazing sleeping bag trap my body heat for the night.
As with your workout wardrobe, (Your Workout Wardrobe) it makes sense to keep your cold-weather camping gear down to a few basic colors, and find things that coordinate as needed. Because my coat is black and bright pink, I limit my wardrobe to cool colors. Sticking with black and saturated jewel tones is pretty easy, then I sneak in some grey and olive where it works.
What I don’t pack
For cold weather camping, I don’t tend to take a puffer vest. Readers of this blog know of my deep and undying love for a down filled vest, but I find they are more useful when it’s kind of cold, as opposed to really cold. The same goes for plaid flannel. Most flannel is cotton, and therefore given to holding on to moisture. While it may look great sitting around the bivy, unless it’s wicking or waterproof, it’s not real practical in the wintertime.
My favorite thing about these cold weather camping basics is that they open doors for adventure that were previously closed. With very little thought on my part I can head out with my family and rely on these pieces to keep me warm, dry and up for anything.
Do you have favorite pieces for cold weather camping? Let me know in the comments below.
* And there is nothing wrong with only camping in August.
** Did you know the Michelin man is named Bibendum? It’s true. Plus he’s super old, born in 1894.
Love running out the front door with your arms full of 60 million* different things that you inevitably drop or lose? Me neither.
Whether or not I need my wallet/phone/bike helmet/change of clothes/climbing shoes/ cup of coffee / the book I’m reading/sunglasses/snacks is up for debate, but so long as I’m carrying it all, I may as well be thoughtful about what I’m carrying it in.
For years I made do with a bag for work and my son’s old Lands End backpack that he’d outgrown in the 2nd grade. Finally, after a lot of thought, some trial and spectacular error, I have a schlepping system. Here are the tools I use:
The backpack truly is the secret weapon of busy women. Free your arms from the tyranny of bags and just say no to juggling! From a sporty pack to a hip, versatile knapsack to a sleek leather case, you can bring everything you need and have a place to stash your sweater when it gets too hot. A great backpack is my go-to bag of choice.
Those of you who have followed this blog for sometime know my feelings about the glory that is a cross-body bag. There is no slipping of purse straps off my shoulders, no shifting of handles from hand to hand as I deal with my coffee, phone and life. Plus I just love the way a cross body bag looks. It says, “I’m grown up enough to own a nice bag, but that won’t stop me from breaking out into a dance should the occasion** arise.”
When I was growing up, my mom had what we called the string bag, a generous bucket of storage made of natural fibers that she used for every fun outing. The beach, the mountains, the park, the pool: when the string bag was packed up and waiting in the hall, it meant we were about to do something fun.
Your activity bag should be something you don’t mind getting dirty but still be respectable. It should look like you on the 5th day of vacation, relaxed, a little messy, and ready for anything.
There are, of course, some situations in which you really can’t tote a backpack or string bag. For more elegant situations, a simple envelope clutch that is small enough to rest on a table next to you, or easily in your lap, is good to have. Or, my sister has a slim little case that carries her phone and credit cards that she can wear on her wrist. Perfect.
Two things to consider when choosing a bag or backpack:
Compartments or no?
Some of you love having a million little compartments in your bag or pack to tuck specific little items into. Others like to drop things into a deep well of space and sort it out when you get to where you’re going. You bag is basically your desk on the go, and you know how much organization you need, or how little you can tolerate. Your stand on bag compartments is one of those important questions in life that you need to answer.*** Leave your strong opinions about this in the comments.
Eye Candy or Camouflage?
I have owned some wildly bright and fun totes in my life. Right now most of my bags are in subdued browns and navies that coordinate with my shoes. A mix of the two would probably be the most sensible, but you should grab the bag that calls your name.
While most of my bags are pretty mild, the notable exception is my bright orange climbing bag. I never get it mixed up with anyone else’s bag, and it alerts everyone to my presence. Where are we climbing this weekend? Just look for the bag…
Mud and Grace readers have a lot going on. Some of us carry the weight of the world; others of us just show up with the snacks. Whatever your load, take time to organize the gear you need to run your life in a great looking bag. Then head out for your adventures without a second thought to all you carry.
* rough estimate
** Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go comes on
***Will you have children? What are your political beliefs? Where do you want to live? Do you want a compartmentalized bag or the freedom of a big open tote?
In many months of the year I question the fashion industry, but none so much as January. It is cold, dark and raining, and yet everywhere I look spring fabrics flutter seductively. “Spring is coming,” they whisper, “a sleeveless dress is just what you need.”
Yes, technically spring is coming, what with the orbitting of the earth and all. But the 2020 summer Olympics are also also coming, and I’m not exactly preparing my wardrobe. Warm weather is a long way off here in Oregon.
In all honesty, January can feel like a bit of a bummer, fashion-wise. The rich colors and cozy plaids that felt so relevant through November and December seem a little stale now.
The trick to blowing off our winter fashion blues is to use color, rather than style or fabric, to express our longing for warmer months. Comb your closet for clothing that is warm and cozy, but with colors that point us towards spring. We can all wear satisfying ensembles throughout the winter without giving in to an airy tank top before it is time.
Here are a few color combinations to pull you out of your winter doldrums, along with some of my favorite mid-winter pieces.
Cognac and Denim
I always love this southwest-inspired combination, but never so much as in the middle of winter. If I’m not actually in a the American Southwest hiking through sun-baked canyons, at least I look like I could be.
Spring green and deep brown
Spring green is such a fun color. Paired with brown you can brave the mud of February and still look sharp.
Pink and grey
Pink and grey remains a January/February classic. Soft fabrics and knits are toasty warm while the colors are soothing and easy. A little 1950s, a little 1980s, it’s all good in pink and grey.
Other fun winter combinations are black and teal, cream and light blue, and navy and white.
My winter favorites
I have several pieces that keep me style-positive through these dark months. Here are a few favs:
Talbot’s Heart Sweater
I love this sweater. It is so easy to wear, a perfect weight for indoors, but it can easily be layered if I am heading outside.
Soft-color plaid flannel chores shirt
My son bought me this shirt for Christmas. The cheerful colors make this chores top perfect for winter. Most Saturdays I can be found wearing this top while I muck around with my family and goats. It’s warm and uplifting.
A seriously warm Stio coat with bright pink lining
My forever down jacket is from Stio, and while it is practical six ways to Sunday (water proof, down fill, all sorts of ventilating, etc, etc) it also has a bright pink lining that is so unexpected it makes me giggle, leaving me warm and happy.
Pink Patagonia Puffer Vest
This puffer has gotten a lot of play on this blog. I do apologize for reusing the pictures but it is such a great piece. You probably have something similar, a lucky thrift store find that you pull out year after year.
Bright green jacket
I bought this green jacket to wear to my son’s football games (his school colors are green and white) As it turns out I wear it everywhere, all year round: Track meets in the spring, cold nights camping in the summer, football in the fall, instead of a sweater in the winter. In all honesty this is not a great color on me but I really don’t care. The color puts me in a good mood and the nanopuff keeps me cozy.
With a little fortitude, and a lot of color, we can make these winter months as fashionably fun as any other time. Go raid your closet and see what you can find!
Do you have a favorite winter color combination, or an article of clothing that gets you through the first months of the year? Please tell us about it in the comments below.
I want every woman who reads this blog to feel good in her own skin.
Getting out and moving to the best of your ability improves your relationship with your body. The Mud and Grace community includes women from age 15 to 85, some of them do yoga, play tennis, climb, or kick box. Some run 50K races and others walk 15 minute miles. And all of us need to wear something while we’re out there getting our heart rate up.
One barrier to working out regularly is not having the appropriate gear. I managed to dodge the swimming pool for four straight summers because I didn’t like my bathing suit.*
Getting your workout wardrobe in order will make getting ready to exercise easier, help you feel better when working out, help you to forget about what you are wearing (Is it too tight? Falling down? Pulling up? Smelling horrific?) and allow you to focus on your workout.
“Great!” you say, “Sign me up.” Because if a great workout wardrobe were easy, we’d all have one already, right?
Given that I have been working out regularly since my freshman year in college and just last month finally nailed down my own workout wardrobe,** I am not in a strong position to judge anyone who finds the process a little baffling. Wandering through a mega store filled with fantastically expensive leggings is not fun. When said leggings are designed for 7’ tall women, and will in all likelihood slide down and expose half of your behind by the third down dog, one can be forgiven for walking out without buying anything.
To begin, let’s get a few ugly truths about workout gear out in the open.
#1. Athletic gear companies don’t want you to have an easy, mix and match workout wardrobe. They very specifically come out with new and difficult-to-match colors season after season. The best course of action, then, is to skip the colors and go straight for the black and grey they nearly always offer. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to match navy and peach shorts with a running top.
#2. Workout gear is often expensive. Sorry, it just is. Buy from a company with a good rep for sustainable practices and feel good about it. Quality leggings will fit better and last longer than a cheaply made pair.
#3. Athletic gear doesn’t last forever. Think about what you are doing as you work out: Running, jumping, sweating, stretching. This would be hard on any piece of clothing. Evaluate your pieces regularly and replace them as needed.
#4. Workout gear takes special care. Mud and Grace is a style blog founded on the principle that women don’t want to spend their waking hours hand washing silk sweaters and steaming linen pants. That said, extra care will allow your expensive workout gear to exist in the world for a little longer than it might otherwise. Washing your gear on cold, then line drying will help garments keep their shape.*** If your clothes smell funny Bac Out Biokleen or something similar can help.
All that said, the benefits of having a good workout wardrobe still outweigh the time and energy it takes to create and maintain one. Take it from the woman who ran in very old, 2nd hand shorts and free t-shirts for 20 years. We spend money and energy on all sorts of things, dinners out, make up, pedicures. Diverting your energy and money from say, your phone and data plan, to clothing that will help you meet your fitness goals seems like a reasonable idea.
How much do you need?
You need one complete workout ensemble for everyday of the week you do a particular activity, plus one. So if you run four times a week, you need five running ensembles.**** Less is more in this situation, you want to keep the decision-making to a minimum when preparing to workout. Keep in mind the seasons. What I wear running in February is very different from what I wear running in June.
How can I make it all work together?
Regarding color, start with a base of black, grey and white. If you look better in warm colors, go black, tan and cream. For a good long while, only buy workout clothing in these neutrals. Then add in one or two other colors if you are inclined. Or, you can have color for tops and buy only grey and black bottoms, or colorful bottoms and black, white and grey tops.
Regarding style, remember the basic rules of proportion. If it’s floppy on top, keep it fitted on the bottom and vice versa. With workout clothes, it is appropriate to wear fitted clothing throughout, but I find I’m more comfortable with some movement in my tops.
Where should the biggest investment be?
Shoes. And after shoes, invest in bottoms, then jackets. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on tops unless you want to. I still climb and run in 2nd hand tank tops, as they don’t seem to impede my progress. Contrary to the massive advertising we are bombarded with, most women don’t need a top-of-the-line sports bra. A simple pull-over bra works on all but the most generously busted among us.*****
Where should I start?
Start by removing all the workout gear that you own and don’t love. Several months ago I donated a bright pink running top, an expensive fitted tank, and several weird-colored pairs of running shorts. It may be that by getting rid of what you don’t wear, you will find you have a tidy little workout kit ready to go.
If you have nothing, you can’t go wrong with a great pair of sweats, a pair of shorts, a sports bra, and good shoes. Then walk out your front door and enjoy!
Being active will add substantial joy to your life. If you need some great looking gear to get you out there, go buy it. Then forget about what you have on and go crush your workout.
* Seriously? Four summers?? Yes, four. Crazy.
** 27 years
***My friend Renee has a clothes line in her attic for just this purpose. It is super cool.
**** My husband, who was an elite runner in college and for many years after, thought this was way too much. He then related stories of having only one pair of running shorts for several years. So, if you are an incredibly fit man in 1986, you only need one pair of running shorts. For the rest of us, have a ready-to-go workout ensemble for each day of the week you work out.
***** You know who you are, and honestly the rest of us are a little jealous.
Self care is an extremely difficult topic for me. Like so many Mud and Grace readers, I have a lot of irons in the fire, and I can’t just drop any old iron and go take a bubble bath. “Sorry kids! Mom needs a break tonight. You can just hitchhike home from practice, right?”
We cannot care for others and achieve our own dreams if we are suffocating under unrealistic workloads and are unable find any time for ourselves. But when people tell me “Take care of yourself!” I don’t even really know what that means. Am I supposed to… what, take a nap? When?
So naturally, I turned to the internet for help.
An extensive* Google search came up with several ideas for self care. For our purposes, self care is not self indulgence. While eating a cookie is nearly always a good idea, as cookies bring color and light into the world, “eating a cookie” is not self care. It’s just enjoying a cookie. For something to qualify as self care for me it has to make me feel more at ease in the world.
It goes without saying that self care is not punitive, and must be sustainable. Would drinking more green tea be healthy for me? Sure. But I don’t like green tea. It hurts my stomach and makes me gag. Therefore, we’re not filing that under Anna Grace’s plan for self care. Same goes for crazy grueling workouts done in the spirit of body hatred. Self care should make you feel good.
Here are a few options for self care I came up with. Please add any more self-care ideas in the comments below.
Health –plan and pack your lunches, plan and pre-prepare your breakfasts, sleep more, cut out or cut back on a substance that is limiting you, meditate, limit social media, take a daily walk, create and execute a work out schedule, pick one healthy food to add to your diet three times a week, read a book for pleasure**
Beauty – exfoliate regularly, maintain nice looking fingernails, learn to apply natural-looking make up and do so every day for a month, take better care of your skin, drink enough water, apply a good salve to your dry and peeling cuticles***
Armed with my self care definition and list of options, I am starting 2018 with a self-care challenge, and I hope you’ll join me. For the month of January I am going to choose two self care practices and stick to them, with the hopes that they will become year-long, then life-long practices. As always, I made up some rules for the challenge. Here they are:
Pick one or two things
Once I’d compiled the big ol’ list of ideas above, I started making grand plans to do all of it. Because I can make 21 changes in my daily routine as I start back to work, get my kids back on the school schedule and it’s 35 degrees and raining out, right?
Basically, I’d just given myself more chores. So I took a good long look and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do, not just for the month of January, but forever. I landed on meditation and regular use of lip gloss.****
Set yourself up for success
Plan the when, where and how of your self care. If you are doing a style challenge, schedule time to plan outfits and go shopping if you need to. If you are doing a beauty challenge, figure out what time of day you will execute your new practice and drop something else from that time to make room for it. If your mornings are already crazy, committing to 10 minutes of hairstyling isn’t practical unless you can move something else to the night before. If you are planning on cutting back on your coffee consumption, be sure to have another treat in place for the times you normally reach for the coffee, and plan for the uncomfortable reality of caffeine withdrawal. To make time for meditation, I am going to have to move some of my workouts to the evening. To wear lip gloss regularly, I need to actually buy lip gloss and have it at the ready.
Track the first ten days
While there is no definitive number of days it takes to make or break a habit, ten is a good number. Mark each successful day on the calendar, or keep a list of achievements in a journal, but put it in ink. A visible tally of your progress will feel fantastic, and inspire you to keep going. By all means, keep tallying past the fist ten days if you like, but be a zealot about it early on. Pick a time each day to record your accomplishments and look forward to it.
These hours and minutes moving past us as we go about our busy days make up our lives. Time is all we have. When taking on self care, we want to incorporate practices that are good for us, enjoyable and sustainable, even it’s just lip gloss. These practices will bring us peace, joy and energy that we can then share with the world around us.
If you choose to take on self care in 2018, let me know how it goes. Do you have trouble with self-care? Do you have a self-care practice you’d like to share with other Mud and Grace readers? Respond in the comments below.
Have a beautiful 2018 readers!
* Over 20 minutes
** I just finished Kieran Kramer’s Regency romance Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. It was awesome. Message me if you want to borrow it.
I’m blogging from Bend, Oregon this morning, where it’s a refreshing 14 degrees outside. We’re here for the USA Climbing Regional Youth Bouldering Competition. My daughter wasn’t 5 minutes into the comp when I realized that while my ensemble was stylish, I was gonna freeze in that drafty rock gym.
Not wearing some approximation of the right thing is a huge pet peeve of mine.
But, this being Bend, home to stylish mountain ladies, I had ample time to admire how these moms keep warm and stylish. And this being a climbing competition that lasts all day, I had more than ample time to contemplate the best ways to keep warm.
What follows are my favorite “Cold Mom” ensembles from the day, and somewhat scientific* tips on keeping warm.
Busy Day Mom
At first glance, this woman had paired an expensive, long black puffer with skinny jeans and quality boots, which is a perfectly functional uniform. What I liked about her style was that the deep red jeans and denim shirt she wore under the coat could take her from the rock gym, out to a nice lunch or baby shower, or whatever else she had on her calendar. The coat looked good, but could easily be discarded as she moved on with her day.
This cheerful, spring green coat stood out among a sea of black, brown and olive. I loved her bold choice, along with athletic-shoe styling on her boots. Add a favorite t-shirt and a worn in pair of jeans, and she looked completely in her element.
Simple black puffer, cargo pants and great ankle boots. I know I’ve posted similar outfits before on this blog, but this mom just looked so perfect for the occasion. This ensemble works in a dusty, cold, crowded rock gym, it would also work in a school, in a casual work environment, out for a day of errands, just about anywhere.
A masterful combination of wine and cognac, set against a backdrop of black, this woman looked amazing. She also looked as though spent more time on her hair and make up this morning than any reader of this blog is likely to spend all week long.
There were A LOT of grandmas at this competition, and all of them looked fantastic. My favorite was an older woman with short silver hair peeking out of a beanie. She wore girlfriend jeans, a cozy sweater and a chic bomber jacket.
So they all looked fantastic, but exactly how is it they were keeping war? Keep reading…
The science of keeping warm
You exist with a heater on at all times, set to 98.6. Your job is to keep that heat in, and keep moisture and wind away from your skin. Here are the keys to doing so:
Wear a wicking layer to pull moisture away: A base layer of silk or wool pulls moisture from the inside of the fabric to the outside of the fabric, and it stays there. You only really need this layer is you are going to be sweating. That said, silk long underwear is really cozy and I wear it even if all I’m going to be doing is lesson planning in front of the fire.
Keep the heat in: Ideally, you want to trap the warmth your body produces and keep it near you. It’s the same concept as insulating your house. You do that with what’s called loft, or air space. Goose down is not warm in and of itself, but the feathers in a down coat create space where warm air can be trapped. The thicker your down coat, the thicker the layer of warm air you’ve trapped around you.
Beware convection and evaporation: You know that awesome feeling of a soft breeze in the middle of a of summer day, evaporating the moisture from your skin and cooling you down? If you want to stay warm, avoid that. Keeping wind at bay with a “shell” or coat is essential, as is wicking all moisture away from your skin, be it sweat, rain or melted snow.
What about layers?
Layers don’t actually keep you warm. They can help trap heat, but piling on one layer after the other doesn’t create warmth. Conceivably, if you are just going to stand around, you could wear a long down jacket and boots with nothing on underneath and be just as warm as a lady with 12 layers on. **
The number of layers you choose to wear has to do with the activities you have planned. Planning on sweating? Wear a wicking layer. Planning on standing still in the cold? Wear a thick insulating layer. Planning on changes in your body temperature due to movement like hiking or snowshoeing? Wear several layers that you can peal off and on as you warm up and cool down.
So to sum up: Keeping warm us about trapping heat, repelling moisture, and stopping the wind from coming into contact with your skin.***
What about my ridiculously cold hands and feet?
When you begin to get cold your body limits blood flow to your extremities (hands and feet) so it can keep that warm blood in your vital organs. The saying “Cold hands warm heart” is quite literally true.
The trick to keeping your hands and feet warm is to start with warm hands and warm feet. Before putting on gloves, warm your hands. You can rub them together, hold them over a heater, whatever. Warming the gloves helps too. Sometimes I place mine on an air vent and let warm air blow into them. Whatever you do, don’t put cold hands into cold gloves. It’s like putting a cold cozy around a cold can of soda.
The same goes for your feet. Start warm, add warm socks and shoes that won’t let any cold in, and you are good to go. Again, your goal is to trap warm air next to your skin.
Should I wear a hat?
Is it true that you lose 50% of your heat through your head? I have no idea. I don’t even know how someone could measure that. You do have a lot of blood flowing up to your brain, and most people don’t store fat along their skulls, so whether it’s 50% or 10 % or whatever, a hat or hood makes sense.
The easiest way to get comfortable pulling on and off a beanie and making sure it looks right is (and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done this) practice. Stand in front of a mirror, figure out the best angle for your hat and how your hair should look underneath, then just practice pulling it off, and putting it back on again. It will take 5- 10 minutes, then you will never hesitate to wear a beanie again.
Putting it all together
Like so many lessons I’ve learned in this style blogging adventure, dressing to keep warm takes planning and intelligent investments. I casually threw an outfit that would work at our climbing gym into a bag without really thinking it through, or even checking the weather in Bend. I have a warm coat, good boots and perfectly flexible outfits to wear with them, I just didn’t take the time to plan in advance. Next time, I will remember the chill in my bones, and the inspiration of other women. Rather than being Cold Mom, I can just focus on being Mom, which is an art and science in and of itself.
Do you have a favorite cold-weather ensemble? Share it with us in the comments below!
*As scientific as I’m ever likely to get.
** You could do this, but I would judge you.
***Please memorize this for a pop quiz that will take place sometime in January.
The holidays get me a little overwhelmed. There is so much stuff in the world and so many people I love, and matching the stuff with the people while trying to keep to a budget seems impossible some days.
So over time I have developed have two basic rules for gifts. I try to find people something they would not buy for themselves, and attempt to buy the highest quality of whatever it is that I can afford.
This generally winds up looking like small luxuries for everyone, a high quality notebook, a whimsical tree ornament made by a local artist, really good chocolate. Most people don’t buy themselves top-of-the-line anything, and we have so much stuff already that a small indulgence is savored while an inexpensive larger gift is used and tossed quickly. $20 pair of wool socks will last for years, and $20 acrylic sweater will not.
With those guidelines in mind, here are a few ideas:
Gorgeous paper products: Handmade note cards, a quality notebook, unique paper decorations, embossed stationary, etc.
How many times a day do we rummage through the house for a birthday card, or a thank you card, or something to write a grocery list on? Imagine being the person to stop your friend from frenzied rummaging by gifting her a lovely stack of cards or a trim notebook she can keep in her purse.
Artisan soaps and lotions: Lavender-honey soap, real beeswax lip balm, creamy lotions, specialty salves.
Local farmers markets and specialty sores are full of wonderful, high quality items most people would not indulge in on their own. At the holidays, you can indulge for them. One year a friend brought me a little pot of salve to save my hands from the ravages of gym climbing. I use it regularly and think of her every time.
Cozy knits: excellent socks, a cashmere scarf, an alpaca knit hat, snuggly mittens.
These are all items for which you don’t need to know a person’s size, and one can always use multiples. Observe your friends, figure out which colors they are drawn to, and buy accordingly.
Kitchen linens: Dish towels, hot pads, oven mitts, aprons.
Any one who cooks burns through these essentials pretty quickly. You probably have no idea if a person on your list needs a spatula, but you can be relatively sure there is a ratty kitchen towel ready to retire in a drawer somewhere.
Memories: framed pictures, photo albums, personalized calendars, a framed poster from a favorite concert or event
Framing one shot of a special memory from the year, or putting a few pictures together in a book from Snapfish or in and old-fashioned scrap book is always a thoughtful gift, particularly for far-away friends and family.
Not-in-your-home made foods: Endless options
The idea of lovingly baking for others at the holidays fills me with dread. I want to be the sort of woman who cozies in for the day cooking for others but… when? There is literally one free day between now and Christmas on which I could bake, and chances are I will fill up those hours pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are hand-made tortillas, tamales, beautiful breads, sausages, special cheeses, and who knows what other wonderful things to eat for sale in this town.
Give an experience: A month’s membership to a climbing gym, a reservation at a summer camp, a trail ride, lunch at a favorite spot, a punch pass to Barre 3, concert tickets, theater tickets, a camping trip.
Large or small, these are our family’s favorite gifts to give and to get. For the last two years my children have given their grandparents a trip to the movies. We block out time, get popcorn and sodas, and all go together. My mother often gives each of her grandchildren a special lunch out, something their stingy parents never do.
Have a go-to gift: Readers choice
Honestly it’s better to give someone something they love every year, rather than trying to come up with something new they will feel they have to keep or use out of obligation. In December, my husband and I pack up baskets of whatever we’ve canned, pickled or preserved, throw in a few homemade soaps from the farmers market and we have gifts for family. One friend of mine always receives a bottle of vodka. My mom and a good friend of hers have taken each other out for lunch and then to a book store for their birthdays for years.
A note on presentation: Responsible wrapping
Let’s not pretend that we don’t love a gorgeously wrapped gift. Beautiful wrapping is like clothing for your presents. But I also don’t want to pretend that using paper and ribbons once for the purpose of clothing a gift isn’t a little wasteful and silly.
I’ve always saved quality ribbons. The day after Christmas I roll up left over ribbon, and put it back in the ribbon box to wait another year. A few years ago I bought a huge roll of recycled craft paper. Now we wrap our gifts in the brown paper, and reuse it for all our craft paper needs through out the year. I also pick up baskets at St. Vinnie’s and Goodwill throughout the year, so by the holidays I have a pile of them to pop pickled things into and send out the door to friends. If I’m feeling particularly crafty I’ll run outside and cut off a sprig of literally anything and attach it to the basket. It is easy and beautiful.
I hope this list is helpful and takes a little angst out of your shopping and sneaks in a little joy. Do you have great gift ideas? Please post them in the comments below!
We did it! Across the country Mud and Grace readers went 40 days without buying clothes (Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge)We all learned a thing or two along the way. Some lessons came within the first 24 hours of the 40-Day No-Buy, and others took a little reflection to ferret out. Speaking with readers I found a number of common patterns.
Here are the revelations:
Wow! We really shop a lot
Mud and Grace readers are not, by and large, the shoppin’est group of people you’ll find. And yet, almost everyone I spoke to was shocked to realize how much time she spend trolling through stores or cruising online catalogs. We do it to relax, to entertain ourselves, to find that magical outfit that will transform our lives. The immediate reaction of most of the women I spoke with was one of shock at just how much time opened up when we aren’t on the prowl for something new.
You always can find something to wear
No Mud and Grace reader, insofar as I know, went naked during the challenge. That’s a win in my book.
Taking a season that included Thanksgiving to be grateful for all the clothes we already have felt satisfying. A number of readers got creative in the process. Sandy cleaned out her college-age daughter’s closet and found great clothes, some with the tags still on!*
Lydia had been wanting a pair of distressed jeans, so she made them herself.
And the rest of us took the time to resole shoes, have a blazer fitted, and clean out our closets. We kept enjoying the creative process of clothing ourselves, even when cut off from the cycle of shopping.
I don’t like my pants, and other closet clarifications
I learned a lot about my wardrobe when I saw it as finite, rather than a work in progress. Patterns in my buying habits popped out clearly, along with holes in my system. Take the fact that I have three pairs of jeans I love, one pair of pants I like once in a while, and five pairs of pants I don’t like at all. If you look at the clothes hanging in my closet, you would see a fully functioning system of pants, tops and sweaters that coordinate. But when it comes down to it, I don’t wear half the pants I own.
Not buying anything for 40 days tipped our wardrobes into clearer focus. Since we weren’t awaiting the arrival of a bag of clothing on the front doorstep to save our style, we had to take a good, hard look at what we’ve been buying over the past few years. And apparently, I’ve been buying pants I don’t like. Good to know.
Sometimes, we cheat
“Anna, I wanted to let you know I bought a black cashmere sweater,” a friend texted me, “I’ve been searching for one just like it for some time and it was on sale, and my mom told me I should get it. But other than that I haven’t bought anything. I promise.”
Oh friends! I received so many guilt-ridden messages over the last 40 days, as though I had become a sort of clothing confessional, capable of assigning penance for shopping transgressions.
It’s OK to buy clothes. This is our challenge and we all engaged in it as we saw fit. A number of people bought an article or two of clothing, and the earth didn’t seem to shatter. I think my friend Dana said it best when she wrote, “While I wasn’t completely faithful to the challenge, it did change me for the better… And I’m okay with a B- or C+ for effort.”**
Not shopping frees up time for life
For most of us, shopping is a delightful distraction. We shop when we have time between dropping one kid at practice and picking another up, or on our computer as we wait for a meeting to start, or on our way home after a hard day. The holes in our day that we used to stuff up with the fantasy of shopping were suddenly open and bare. We all had to find something else to do.
I spent a lot less time on my computer, which felt awesome. I started carrying a notebook around with me in the car to work on outlining a writing project and I read three books that had nothing to do with my job.
To quote Dana again, “Rather than feeling the pull for the thrift store or Nordstrom Rack’s sale section, I more often now head out the back door for the trails, hang out with my girls, or make some art.”
I don’t want to suggest that we all stop shopping forever. This is a style blog, after all. But planning and taking breaks from the cycle of buying feels fantastic. Working with our wardrobe “as is” forces creativity and reflection. Over time, I hope to take regular breaks from buying… just as soon as I find some decent pants.
*Her daughter both knew about and sanctioned the cleaning. It’s not like when my daughter “cleans out” my closet.
**For the record, a C+ is 78%, and 78% No-Buy is way better than not taking on a challenge to begin with.
With winter upon us and the end of the 40-Day No-Buy* just days away, it’s a good time to talk about my favorite subject, boots.
Boot are a fantastic foot casing for a number of reasons. Practical, warm, hardworking, durable, fashionable, they’re a statement piece, with a statement worth making.
So I’ve put together a boot primer, what to wear different boots with, a few caveats and rated each type of boot on a “difficulty to style” scale of 1 to 5 If you have specific questions or ideas about how to wear boots, please leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any curiosity about boots and socks, please check out this article Sock Love.
Here are the boots –
Simple, warm and understated, ankle boots are an easy first step for most people into the glorious world of boots.
Wear with: Cuffed jeans, ankle pants, casual trousers. If you are feeling adventurous, try them with tights and skirts
Be aware of: Channeling an elf. Skinny jeans and pointy toe ankle boots can bring you dangerously close to looking like you popped out of a Christmas special, particularly if you are given to striped shirts. Save pointy-toe versions to wear with more fluid pants.
Difficulty to style: 1
Lace-up Ankle Boots
These have a decidedly casual feel. They look great with a flannel or cozy sweater and jeans. They are a good choice for a weekend spent outdoors, spectating at a sporting event, or a casual event with friends.
Wear with: Jeans and casual pants are the easiest, but they also look good with a shorter fitted skirt, a knit dress, or cords. You can even try them with a flowing skirt for a 1980s look.
Be aware of: a military and/or Laura Ingalls Wilder vibe. These do well with fitted pants tucked in to them and a fuzzy sock peeking out the top, but a looser pair of pants tucked in to lace up boots will recall images of combat that you probably aren’t going for. And unless you long for a homesteader look, when you wear them with a dress or skirt, skip the calico.
Difficulty to style: 3
A mid-calf boot is more casual than a tall boot, and a little more edgy. Moto boots and harness boots fall into this category. A well-worn pair of favorites is absolutely effortless-cool.
Wear with: Dresses, skinny jeans and pants tucked in, chunky socks
Be aware of: The fact that you won’t ever want to take them off.
Difficulty to style: 2
A great way to stay warm on a dress-up occasion, boots hitting just below the knee in suede, soft leather or some other buttery material are a great addition to your wardrobe.
Wear them with: an above-the-knee knit dress or skirt, dark skinny jeans, leggings, or with a longer a-line skirt. When in doubt, feel go with tall black boots and black pants.
Be aware of: The hem of your skirt competing with the tops of your boots. Give yourself at least 5 inches on either side of your hem with tall boots. Knee-high boots with a knee-length skirt is just too much action around the middle of your legs.
Difficulty to style: 2
Riding boots are so elegant… which is probably why I don’t wear them very often. Whenever I see a woman in tall, simple riding boots I always admire the look, but I’m just not in an elegant stage right now. If you are, invest in a great pair and enjoy endless classic looks with them.
Wear with: Long skirts or dresses, a sleek pair of jeans or pants, or substantial leggings and a sharp blazer. Keep the whole look long and lean with a streamline jacket or tunic.
Be aware of: Tight calves. Make sure your boots have some room in the calves so you can move, and even layer them with socks if you want to. Bjorn and other companies make wide calf widths for those of us with leg muscles.
Difficulty to style: 4
It is hard for me to express how much I love mud boots. Warm, dry feet encased in a comfortable shoe are a beautiful thing.
Wear with: whatever you wear when walking through the mud
Be aware of: trying to make them into something they are not. Mud boots are pretty trendy right now, with Sperry and AE marketing their take on the duck boot, and everyone running around in her Hunter boots no matter what the weather. So long as there is mud on the ground, and you are going to be outside at some point, these are totally appropriate. If it’s 70 degrees and you are driving to the mall, I would skip the mud boots.
Difficulty to style: 0
As with mud boots, when the weather calls for snow boots there is nothing more wonderful. Mine feel like I am wearing two fuzzy hugs on my feet.
Wear with: fun patterned leggings, regular leggings, jeans, knit skirts or dresses with cozy tights.
Be aware of: your intentions. Snow boots will keep you warm and look fantastically stylish. But like mud boots, if they are not worn for practical purposes they wind up looking a little off. It also goes without saying that you should never wear snow boots with bare legs, because that’s just silly.
Difficulty to style: 2
And finally, here are a few types of boots I don’t wear but you might want to
For a night out, a pair of elegant, simple suede knee boots could be really fun.
Wear with: something simple like a solid-color fitted dress, leggings and elegant top, or a short swing dress.
Be aware of: any busy detail. Over the knee boots are statement enough in themselves. Any flashy embellishments will look like you are trying too hard.
Difficulty to style: 5
There are all sorts of heeled booties on the market right now, ranging from chic to sexy. They are a nice alternative to classic pumps.
Wear with: Slacks or an elegant skirt or dress for work, a party dress or trendy jeans for going out.
Be aware of: I hate to sound like a grandma here, but these can look a little cheap. Make sure yours are high quality, and remember the more the shoe has going on, the less your outfit should.
Difficulty to style: 4
I love the look of a confident woman in a well-worn pair of cowboy boots. To pull them off, the boots need to be authentically you. I’ve always thought that when I turn 50, I’ll but myself a really great pair and wear them everywhere for the rest of my life.
Wear with: Anything casual, jeans, pants, flowing dresses. Personally I think they would be tough to wear with a suit, but that didn’t stop George W Bush.
Be aware of: Inauthenticity. Cowboy boots can smell your fear and they just won’t work for you unless you are all in.
Difficulty to style: this all depends on you
Do you have a favorite pair of boots or way to wear them? Leave you ideas in the comments below.
Long nights and rainy days are finally here. The leaves have fallen in a great shudder of gold and red, and the northern hemisphere feels a deep longing to snuggle in with a good book by the fire.
And I’m cold.
I would suggest that while looking good and being cozy are not mutually exclusive, it’s still pretty tricky. Here are my thoughts on balancing the two. I’ve identified four categories of clothing and offered thoughts on how to cozy ’em up, then examined a few potential cozy pitfalls.
“Casual Fun” is the term I keep returning to when I think of my ideal work wardrobe. Like many people in creative careers, my work and weekend looks are fairly similar. I want to look stylish, but not like I’m trying too hard.
A mix of high quality sweaters, trendy flannels, great jeans, soft pants, easy dresses and as many boots as I feel I need, keeps me feeling warm and stylish. On particularly cold days, a silk undershirt feels amazing and fights the chill.
The trick to making these cozy favorites work-appropriate is fit and fabric. Overly long sleeves or too-wide shoulders are more sloppy than cozy. Sweatshirt fabric feels too casual for work.
The two elements I add to my work wardrobe for weekends, where a lot of the fun to be had is outdoors, are a great coat and a flattering scarf. Most of you have read about my coat theory before – if you have a great coat and boots, nothing else really matters. A few scarves in flattering colors will not only make your skin look fantastic, you also look instantly put together.
Under the coat and scarf I am most likely wearing my general uniform of jeans, boots, sweaters and flannels. Or maybe I’m wearing my pajamas.
Another option for casual fun would be leggings and a great tunic or long sweater. I don’t generally wear this look, but you might love it. Make sure the sweater fits in the shoulders so it hangs appropriately, and you’re good to go.
Just because I have a date with my husband, doesn’t mean I want to be cold. This is why tights were invented.* I have three go-to outfits for winter dates. 1. A knit dress, tights and boots. 2. A knit skirt, tights, a shrug and boots. 3. That same shrug, jeans and boots. And yes, I have one pair of date boots. My husband is in no way aware of the fact that I always wear the same shoes when we go out.
There are a lot of indoor/outdoor work days around our place. I like to wear something cozy that can hold up to the cold or drizzle outdoors, but requires minimal shedding of garments for when I run inside. And I don’t want to be so layered down I can’t move, or have excess fabric getting in my way as I’m chasing down a goat or chicken.
A cozy flannel and up-for-anything jeans are my work day favorites. I can pop outside by throwing on a pair of boots, a beanie and possibly a puffer vest if it’s really cold. Again, consider the fit and style. There is just as much pleasure in looking good around the house as there is in looking good anywhere else.
Avoiding cozy pitfalls
There’s a reason people wear un-cozy clothes. It’s hard to looks sharp when you put comfort first. I’ve identified three potential cozy pitfalls and offer solutions.
Pitfall # 1: Looking as though you have just stepped out of the 1990s
On Wednesday of this last week I was asked by Eugene School District 4J to show a video on bus evacuation safety. You may imagine how much my students enjoyed the film. It must have been shot right around 1994, because every single human wore severely oversized clothing. Pants and shirts and jumpers were all flopping around their human framework. It was amazing the children could evacuate the bus at all, with all that fabric getting in the way.**
To avoid – Be aware of proportion. If you have a big, cozy sweater, pair it with leggings or slim pants. If you are wearing a baggier “boyfriend” jean, or boot cut slacks, make sure your sweater has a trim fit.
Pitfall # 2: Too casual to get anything done
A person can be too comfortable. As a high school teacher, I need to be ready for anything. I mean, literally anything.*** There are some outfits that aren’t ready for much more than a cup of cocoa.
To avoid – Blend your favorite cozy element (a big scarf or snow boots) with something a little more professional (a sharp skirt, sleek pants) Swap out any sweatshirt material for something more professional.
Pitfall # 3: Stuck in an extremely narrow rut
Every winter I get to the point where I want to wear my favorite cozy outfit every single day. This is not a good look. It’s not a good smell, either. Often the outfit has become something of a security blanket in my world as I try to negotiate a frenetic winter pace that nature could not have possibly intended.****
To avoid – create a small, cozy capsule that can get you through these dark days. A few great sweaters, jeans or pants to mix and match, a couple of knit dresses, scarves that feel like a hug.
As I have said before, how we dress directly effects how we feel. A well-planned, warm and cozy winter wardrobe will help us make it through the darkest days of the year. Do you have a favorite cozy piece or outfit? Tell us about it in the comments below.
* That’s probably not true.
** For the record, I am pro-bus evacuation, a firm believer in the sit and scoot over the hop and squat.
*** This is not a misuse of the word literally. You wouldn’t believe the things a high school teacher needs to be ready to deal with on a daily basis. Unless you have teenagers at home, and then you totally get it.