Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm

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.

Flexible, practical.

Fun Mom

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.

I could just tell we were going to get along.

Minimalist Mom

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.

I imagine this woman has five changes of clothes, and a fantastically busy life.

Elegant Mom

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.

I could pull this off in the imaginary world where I’m never late and don’t spill coffee on myself.

Hip Grandma

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.

I have every intention of rocking a bomber jacket in my late 70s.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Margaret was down to her last layers by the final problem.

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.

Mittens keep your fingers together, sharing the warmth.

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.

We are living in a great age for cozy hats.

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.

 

Mud and Grace Gift Guide

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.

Page Illustration makes the most beautiful cards. See below for a link…
Little Sloth Friend makes adorable custom banners. See below for a link…

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.

Handmade soaps are the best.

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.

This Everlane hat would make a nice gift.

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.

Ann gave me this oven mitt, I laugh out loud every time I use it.

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.

My husband ran in the Cactus Meeting in Luxembourg in 1984, then kept the poster rolled up in the closet for thirty years. A few years ago I pulled it out and framed it. Now we can all enjoy the bouncing cacti.

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.

This bread is being sold at the Metropol Bakery right now!

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.

This is what I really want for Christmas.

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.

I was thinking of you in August.

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.

What’s in the box?

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!

Another gorgeous example of Page Illustration

Page Illustration – https://www.etsy.com/shop/PageIllustration?ref=l2-shopheader-name

Little Sloth Friend banners – https://www.etsy.com/shop/LittleSlothFriend?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

5 Lessons Learned From a 40 Days of No Shopping

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:

  1. 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.

My daughter and I, making grand Christmas decorating plans that I will certainly have time to execute this year because I’m not spending so much time thinking about clothes, right?
  1. 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!*

Goldmine!

Lydia had been wanting a pair of distressed jeans, so she made them herself.

Lydia could pay $400 for distressed jeans. Instead she simply distresses 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.

  1. 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.

There are just too many seams…
  1. 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.”**

It’s OK. They really are wonderful.
  1. 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.”

Dana and her girls. Who wouldn’t want more time to spend with this crew?

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.

Oh, was that your sweater Mom? I thought it was mine and that it just happened to be in your closet. Weird.

Boots 101

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 –

Ankle Boots

Simple, warm and understated, ankle boots are an easy first step for most people into the glorious world of boots.

A simple Chelsea boot would be a great place to start.

Wear with: Cuffed jeans, ankle pants, casual trousers. If you are feeling adventurous, try them with tights and skirts

Teva boots are durable and easy to wear.

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

My favorite Timberland boots.

 

Mid-calf Boots

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

 

Tall Boots

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.

This looks fun.

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

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

 

Mud Boots

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.

My faithful mud boots.

Wear with: whatever you wear when walking through the mud

Every pair of Bogs is tempting

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

LL Bean with the classic

Snow Boots

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

Over-the-knee Boots

For a night out, a pair of elegant, simple suede knee boots could be really fun.

This will never be my go-to on a Friday night, but they might be yours.

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

 

High-heeled Booties

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.

Maybe for work?
Probably not for work.

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

 

Cowboy Boots

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.

Someday.

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.

* If you are new to Mud and Grace and don’t know about the 40-Day No-Buy, check it out – Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge

 

The Ultimate Cozy Wardrobe

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.

Work:

“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.

Soft, high-quality sweaters, jeans and skirts feel and look fantastic.

Weekend:

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.

Just pick a favorite coat…
…and add a scarf in a flattering color. You honestly don’t need to think any further than this.

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.

I don’t feel right in leggings/ jeggings and big sweaters or tunics, but they look fabulous on a lot of people.

Date night:

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.

My stepmom Lynn and I are heading out for very different New Years Eves, but we still match!

Chores:

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.

I get unreasonably proud about competent use of the leaf blower.

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.

This sweater hugs the ribcage, making it ideal for slouchy pants or joggers.

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.

Nothing will be accomplished today.

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.

Please let it be black puffer day!

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.

**** Anyone else feeling this?

Top Five Reasons to Stop Dressing For Your Body Type

The best ways to hide a tummy! Perfect jeans for pear shaped women! Create a waist with these three easy tips! Look slimmer by dinner!

I have clicked on every one of these articles. I even read an entire book entitled How to Never Look Fat Again.

In my defense, I thought the book would help me feel better in my own skin. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The book slogged along, shaming every body part that had the audacity to store fat and discussing ways to make it disappear. The book is 253 pages long and basically has one solution that I will summarize here:

For whatever part of your body you don’t like: Drape it in fitted, but not tight, dark fabric. Then wear something bright and shiny on some other body part.

Oh, and wear shapewear and high heals with everything. And get a tan.

Did you know you’ll look substantially slimmer if you always stand next to a giant statue of a caveman that looks weirdly like Chris Sharma? It’s true. So you should probably carry one around with you at all times, like Ann and I do.

Now I don’t want to suggest I’m so fabulously body-positive that I never follow the dark fabric prescription. Often it’s just a matter of simple aesthetics and proportion. Because I am high waisted, and have a compact bustline* wearing a lighter top and darker bottoms will help balance me out. But it’s not going to make me look, or more significantly make me feel, any thinner. Here’s why:

The more we focus on something, the more we see it

Have you ever played the license plate game with your family on a long road trip? It starts out kinda of slow but by the time you hit Idaho you, and all your family members, are expert at seeing the colors and patterns of license plates. This is because you have trained your brain to recognize a pattern.

Ooooh, Colorado! Two Points.

If you get up every morning thinking, “I gotta cover this thing up!” you will start to focus on whatever that “thing” is, and worry about it all day long. Yet literally no one else in the world is focusing on your “thing.” They take a quick look at you and think, “Nice top,” or “I love her hair,” or “She really ought to shave the pills off that sweater.”

If you want to go through your life worrying about your belly (or whatever), by all means read a ton of articles about hiding it, wear punishingly tight shapewear that reminds you all day long of your belly’s transgressions, and be sure to bring it up in conversation.

Anyone want to discuss how huge I think my calves look in this picture? Anyone even care?

The “right” clothes for your body might be the wrong clothes for your life

One of the funniest article I’ve ever read was taking issue with the puffer coat and snow boots. It noted that a puffer coat, filled with down, makes you look larger, and snow boots make your feet look big.

I mean, duh.

The article suggested that instead one ought to wear a dark princess cut wool coat, high healed black boots and a fur hat. In the snow. I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard. Just because something narrows your silhouette doesn’t make it the right thing to wear.

The ensemble on the left is perfect for when it starts snowing in an opera house.

Your body probably doesn’t fall into a specific “type” anyway

Pear? Apple? Package of string cheese? Not only are these labels a little mean, they in no way account for the complexity of the human body. By most body calculators, I am considered a rectangle, and the accompanying article goes on to tell me how great I’m going to look in dropped waist dresses and tunics. I honestly look terrible in dropped-waist dresses and tunics. I’d post a picture of that horror if I weren’t so vain.

Not wearing a tunic top.

Body calculations are based solely on hip/waist/bust measurements. Strong shoulders, muscular legs, long or short torsos, height, posture – none of these things that have a huge impact on how clothes hang on you are taken into account.

Getting dressed is so much more fun when you don’t have to follow a set of rules

For years I had a list of “can wear” and “can’t wear” clothing, not at all unlike a six-year-old’s eating habits. Having “look thin” as the hard and fast rule of getting dressed is limiting to one’s style, not to mention one’s warmth and comfort. I remember the day specifically when I first broke my own rule and wore a wild, patterned skirt. The world continued to turn, this human venture marched on, and not one person said “Dang! You must have had some dinner last night. You look a full two pounds heavier!”

Wear what you love. People will see you, happy and enjoying your ensemble.

Things that used to be illegal in my wardrobe

Since when does looking thin mean looking good?**

Walk into any public place. You will see women of all sizes and ages who look beautiful. When we see a good-looking human, we are generally reacting to someone who feels comfortable in her skin, and is wearing clothes that compliment the wearer and the occasion. Start scanning for beauty everywhere you go, and my guess is you will see all sorts of women flouting the rules of skinny-dressing, and looking good in the process.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Light skirt, dark top, very small statue of NOT a caveman*** peeking over my shoulder. And yet I feel fabulous.

Ultimately, articles on hiding, slimming or otherwise attempting to erase any part of my body just wind up making me feel worse. Focus on wearing what you love, dressing for the life that you have, and you will feel fantastic. And that looks good on everyone.

* How’s that for a nice way to put it?

**OK, I can actually answer that question. In the western world, that notion began with the industrial revolution and consistent food surplus. That’s also when we start seeing eating disorders.

***That little statue is one my dad created, inspired by the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi. I love it, even if it does make me look fat.

The Packing List: Active Girls’ Weekend

Several years ago, I struggled to pack a bag for a trip to central Oregon with a group of girlfriends. An oversized case held nearly every article of clothing I owned and nothing to wear. Fast forward a few years, throw in my own personal fashion bootcamp, and last month I was able to joyfully and decisively throw just the right articles in a bag and head out the door  join friends for a weekend of outdoor exploring.

Currently, many Mud and Grace readers are in the middle of a 40-Day No-Buy. I figure, since we’re spending less time shopping, we all have more time for fun. So go plan a girl’s weekend and pack ’em up!

Here’s the formula for a 3-day, outdoor-focused trip: Mix-and-match activewear, one-and-a-half “town” outfits, one awesome pair of lounging pajamas, a cute coat

We arrived at Smith Rock at 6:45 on Friday evening. It was still light as we headed up Misery Ridge, but that light was fading fast as we headed down the back side. And you know what’s really creepy in the dark? Monkey Face. Forget climbing it, I just wanted to get away from that hunk of rock as quick as possible.

Mix and Match Activewear

My activewear is mostly black, white and grey. If I ever feel like throwing in a splash of color it’s easy enough to do, but for the most part I feel good in black, white and grey.

For this trip I brought tops and bottoms in varying weights and lengths, then layered as needed. Since we were doing everything from late evening hikes to mid-day runs*, having a variety of activewear that I could pull on and off as the weather changed was key.

Evening hike (Vest: Eddie Bauer, T-shirt: Old Navy, Leggings: Lululemon)
Mid-day run (Jacket: Lululemon, Tank: Old Navy, Best Running Shoes Ever: Nike Pegasus Zoom, Shorts: Under Armour)
Afternoon hike (Jacket: Lululemon, Tank: Alternative, Leggings: Girlfriend Collective)
I really should have re-thought the full length leggings for this particular hike.

One-and-a-half town outfits

When I get together with Ann and Lynette, there’s always at least one trip to shops and possibly a tapas bar. I like to have something in my suitcase that’s fashion-forward, but still me. That generally consists of Frye boots, jeans and a cute top or sweater. While we only had one trip into Bend planned, I still brought a second top incase I wasn’t feeling the first.

I love the detail on this shirt, smocked top, bell sleeves. But the gunmetal grey color keeps it low-key. It’s perfect for a half-tuck into jeans.
I’ve had this silk-blend sweater for years. It always works.
An easy hack to look put together while traveling: match your bag to your boots. (Then set them on a vintage trunk in gentle lamplight and photograph)

Lynette and Ann had similar town ensembles, only each clearly in her own style. Lynette wore a gorgeous white sweater with a deep V in the back, black boots and dark jeans. Ann also had jeans and boots, and a beautiful taupe sweater with a coordinated blouse. The proprietress of a coffee shop liked Ann’s top so much she gave Ann free coffee. Now that’s a sweater!

I can’t remember the name of this place in Bend, but it sure was fun…

One awesome pair of lounging pajamas

I love these so much. And honestly what’s a women’s weekend for if not a little lounging. Or a lot of lounging.

It’s like a pants suit for lazy people.

A cute coat

Just check the weather, and pack your favorite.

You can’t go wrong with a cute coat. You could pack the worst combination of clothing ever, then throw on a cute coat and no one will ever know.

Looking back five years ago, I realized a big part of the problem with my packing was feeling like the weekend was so special, the clothes I already owned wouldn’t do it justice. I also wanted to “keep up” with my stylish friends. A few years of wisdom under my belt,** along with a concerted effort to honor the fact that I really do love clothes, I realized that when you have what you need for your everyday life, you have what you need to travel. Pulling out my favorite pieces to spend time with some of my favorite people was a snap. I’m hoping to take a girls trip to Seattle this winter, and can count on my wardrobe to be there for me when I start packing.

Until next time!

*We had every intention of going on that run in the morning.

** Has anyone else noticed how much smarter we get between the ages of 40 and 50? Honestly, it’s so awesome.

Love Clothes, Not Shopping: Seven things to do, rather than buying new

The 40-Day No-Buy is finally here, and honestly I’m a little nervous. While I don’t buy a ton of clothes, I do spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about buying clothes. So I’ve come up with a list of things to try when the urge to shop hits.

  1. Turn your closet into your own personal boutique

Take the two hours you would have spent browsing at the mall and clean up your closet. Arrange your clothing by color. Put together several outfits and hang them where you can see them. Imagine your closet and your drawers, no matter how small, are a favorite boutique, designed just for you. Everything fits, everything is in season now, your closet could be the perfect little shop you wish you could find.

Ohhh! This rack has casual jackets, elevated jackets and blouses, all in my size and favorite neutral pallet. And there’s even a scarf to match!
  1. Polish your boots, mend your blouses

I think it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this piece has at least one pair of shoes that could stand to be polished, or an item of clothing that could be mended, ironed or steamed at this minute. Rather than run out to find something new, invest time and energy in what you already have. One of my favorite sweaters wrinkles terribly, so I don’t wear it that often. A quick fluff in the dryer and there she is again, my lovely silk blend, cowl neck sweater.

I’ve worn out the heels of my Fryes again. And they could possibly use a polish.
  1. Set yourself a jewelry challenge

Wear a different piece jewelry every day for a week. Design outfits around jewelry, rather than the other way round. Already a jewelry pro? Try a scarf challenge. Or any one of the Mud and Grace challenges we’ve done over the last year. The One and Done ChallengeColor Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color ChallengeShop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1

I’d like to learn to wear braclets.
  1. Go mock shopping

Dress up and go to the fanciest store around and try on a $700 dress. This will a.) get you over your fear of fancy-lady stores and b.) be really fun. Because it’s unlikely you’ll buy a $700 dress (those women are reading a different blog) you can just enjoy the lovely lighting, mirrors and possibly wine. Text me when you’re headed out and I’ll join you!

True story: I was mock shopping at a fancy store once and found this Nicole Miller dress for several hundred dollars. And I was honestly tempted to buy it because it fit beautifully and I did have a formal event coming up, but not at the price of a family get away to the coast. A year later I found the same dress at Nordstrom rack for $80. That’s when I bought it.
  1. Pinterest your favorite pieces

Select a piece of clothing you love, like your denim jacket or your Timberland boots.

Go to pinterest and type in “Timberland boots outfit” and find endless inspiration. Most people have the exact same basics that you do: jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, boots, cardigans. Look at how other women style their favorite pieces. You’ll likely find that you have all the elements of some really fun outfits already.

So many ideas for my black riding boots!
  1. Finally figure out what it is you are missing

Most of us tend to buy the same thing over and over. By stopping this cycle, we can finally figure out what it is we really don’t have. Six months into her year of no shopping, Jessie (Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?) realized she has no clothes for the heavy work of building a climbing gym. Too late to do anything about it now, she’s sanding down beams in a pair of Ann Taylor Loft skinny jeans, but when the year is over it’s likely she will invest in a work pants. Not shopping is the best way to realize which key pieces we are missing. We’re not at liberty to run out and buy them now, but when the challenge is over we know what we need, rather than falling into the old habit of just buying the same things over and over.

For some reason I don’t think boots are going to be the missing link in my closet…
  1. Help someone else with her closet

If you love clothes, chances are you have a friend who would be grateful if you were to share that love. Any one of us could use a fresh pair of eyes to help clean out a closet or put together a few new outfits. And nothing will make you question your own shopping habits like seeing 15 green striped shirts stacked up on a shelf with two more earmarked in the L.L. Bean catalog.*

Three is probably enough.

Do you have other ideas about loving the clothes we have, rather than trolling for new things? Please leave your ideas in the comments below. And best of luck with your 40-day No-Buy!

* You know who you are.

Eight “must-have” wardrobe basics you probably don’t need, and nine you might

I don’t own a little black dress. And yet, I manage to get myself clothed and out of the house daily without this magic-bullet of a wardrobe basic. How is this possible?

Basics are the items that allow our wardrobes to function. They are like the oil in our cars or the framing in our homes, absolutely necessary but not terribly exciting. So when I wanted to put my wardrobe in order I googled “wardrobe basics.” The internet responded with the same list over and over again. Black wool pants? Sigh. Ballet flats? So not me.

If I were an executive working in a high-rise office in NYC, I have no doubt these lists would be very helpful. But there is nowhere in my school-teaching, goat-herding, soaking-wet-track-meet- standing life for a pair of statement heels.

What follows is a list of traditional basics and my take on a piece that would serve a similar purpose, but be more functional in an active woman’s wardrobe. The Mud and Grace basics allow me to ride my bike to work, run around the classroom pretending to be on the Silk Road, meet my family for dinner and maybe hop in the car for a last-minute weekend road trip. These basics will not take you from the boardroom to a hip nightclub, because they won’t let you in those places if you have chicken feed stuck to the sleeve of your coat. But they will take you on the messy, fun adventure of life most Mud and Grace readers seem to have.

Every woman needs these pieces? Even my grandma?

1. Traditional basics list: A little black dress

  1. How often do you go to cocktail parties? Formal business meetings? The funeral of someone who would have wanted you to wear black? How often do you use the word “little” to describe anything in you wardrobe?
    You can live quite happily without any of these.

     

    Mud and Grace option: A knee-length knit dress

    Comfortable, warm, easy, washable, this dress can be casual when worn with boots and tights, or dressed up with jewelry and heels. With the exception of formal events, which rarely happen in my town, this dress is always appropriate.

    I have worn this dress everywhere, even to the rare cocktail party.

    2. Traditional basics list: A black pencil skirt

It’s true, pencil skirts are flattering. But you can’t ride a bike in a pencil skirt, and you really shouldn’t pair one with Frye Boots.

Mud and Grace option: A casual skirt in a neutral color

Find a skirt that can take the place of jeans, something casual that can be dressed up when you need it to be. This skirt should make you feel fantastic, and elevate your wardrobe on days you need it, but it shouldn’t be fussy.

I can wear this anywhere and everywhere.

3. Traditional basics list: Crisp white blouse

If you love ironing, are willing to have it tailored so it lies perfectly flat along your bust, and never spill coffee on yourself, go for it. For the rest of us mortals, these shirts just aren’t worth the trouble. Plus they always feel “crispy.”

Mud and Grace option: A soft chambray shirt

A bamboo or tencel option is so soft, never needs ironing and goes with absolutely everything.

This has been in my regular rotation, all four seasons, for five years now.

4. Traditional basics list: A black blazer

I have a black blazer, and I absolutely love it. But I tend to forget about it for seasons at a time, so my wardrobe obviously functions just fine without it

Mud and Grace option: A denim or cargo jacket

These easy jackets “finish” and outfit without making your feel fussy. They are perfect for unpredictable weather, or the unpredictable heating and cooling systems in our places of work. Find a good one, wear it forever.

I love you.

5. Traditional basics list: A striped shirt

Striped shirts really are adorable, but they are not for everyone. I swear I’m one beret away from street mime the minute I put on a striped shirt.

Mud and Grace option: A plaid or gingham shirt

Still adds a bit of interest in a limited color pallet, but substantially less preppy.

One can wear this shirt and never feel as though they are trapped in an invisible box.

6. Traditional basics list: Trench coat

Let’s take a large piece of shiny, khaki fabric, spatter a bunch of buttons across the front, give it huge lapels and pretend it’s flattering!

Mud and Grace option: A great rain jacket that fits your style

You do need a great jacket to keep the rain off. That might mean a trench for you, although a single row of buttons and a darker color would probably work better for most women. Most of us can find a sharp looking, seriously rain-repellant jacket that will work well with jeans and boots.

Sharp, and actually dry.

7. Traditional basics list: Classic pumps

I do love a classic pair of pumps, and I own some… and I wear them maybe once a year. It would be wrong to call them foundational in any way.

I wore these last November. They were fine.

Mud and Grace option: Smart looking, comfortable ankle boots.

Ankle boots are less of a commitment than mid-calf or tall boots, but keep your feet warm and dry, and your outfit updated.

I have no problem wearing the same shoes for seven days in a row.

8. Traditional basics list: White sneakers

Does no one else encounter mud in this world???

Mud and Grace option: Off-white sneakers

No one will ever know how many times they’ve been through the wash

If something is the color of a stain, can you stain it?

 

  1. Traditional basics list: Good quality black, grey and white t-shirts.

OK, you actually do need these. I have them in long sleeve, short sleeve and tank top. If black, grey and white aren’t your colors, find them in the neutrals you wear, like cream, olive and navy.

They have a point here. Good t-shirts make everything easier.

 

A few week’s ago we heard Jessie’s story, about a woman who is in the process of going a full year without buying any clothes. Part of what enabled Jessie to embark on this adventure is that she had a fully functioning wardrobe at the start. Many of us will be attempting a 40-day no-buy starting October 14th. Check your basics this week, and make sure you have what you need to get dressed easily in the months to come. As traditional basics lists don’t work for me, my list may not work for you. But take the opportunity to write your own basics list, and make sure yours are in good repair and ready to roll starting October 14th.

My favorite basic is a simple white tank top.

Do you have a “basic” I didn’t include today? Let me know what your “must-have” pieces are in the comments below!

Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge

No new clothes, no second hand clothes, no last-minute dashes to get appropriate fan wear, no continuing quests for the perfect pair of black ankle boots, no shopping; just you and your personal style taking a little vacation together.

Join me for the No-Buy Style Challenge

Even in my most broke days, I’m not sure I’ve ever consciously stopped shopping for a set period of time. Sure, around 2009 my shopping sprees consisted of less than $20 dollars spent at Value Village, but my guess is I managed to spend at least $8 every few weeks in a life long quest for wardrobe fulfillment.

My friend Jessie is going one full year without shopping for clothing. For the full story, see this article, Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?

Several readers and I are taking 40 days off, because while we admire Jessie, we’re just not that hard core. To avoid running amok with good intentions, we need to plan so that our No-Buy will be a success. Here are a few things to look at before leaping.

Let’s have just one more picture of Jessie, because she’s just so adorable.

Define your rules:

“No clothes shopping” is more vague than it might sound. Do you include jewelry in clothing? Can you receive gifts of clothing? Do running shoes count?

Think about why you want to do this challenge, and what parameters will work for you. During my 40-day trial, I’m not going to buy any clothing, but I will take a few things to the tailor.

You might decide that while you aren’t going to buy any new clothes, you will continue with your quest to find the perfect reading glasses. You may believe that running shoes aren’t clothes, they are fitness tools. In that case, if the ones you have wear out, you will buy new ones. It’s your challenge, make your own rules.

My daughter won the hat I’m wearing here in a climbing competition. In the unlikely event that I win a hat, I’ll keep it.

Make sure you have what you need:

Part of the reason Jessie has been successful is because she’d spent several years curating a beautiful wardrobe before taking a year off buying. She has athletic wear, leisure wear, work wear, boots, coats, layering t-shirts. Had I tried this challenge in my thirties I would have failed, because I did not have a functioning wardrobe. Next week I’ll write about key pieces I think every active women needs. Make your own list and don’t be a puritan about it. Socks that don’t bunch up in the toes of your boots are not a luxury. A decent outfit to host family holiday gatherings in makes gathering as a family one step easier. Get what you need.

I have five plaid flannel shirts, which is probably enough. Even for an Oregonian.

Make sure you know what you have:

Unpack all the boxes and bins you have stashed in your closet and take a good hard look at all you own. I had “long sleeved grey t-shirt” on my shopping list before I found two such shirts in a box I’d packed up last spring. Duh. Also take note of how many duplicates you have. When I started writing this article I had five black coats. I now have three (rain jacket, snow jacket and casual chino) and my daughter has two (rain jacket and barn jacket.)

Alpaca hat! I had completely forgotten about you.

Decide why you are taking on this challenge:

I am shrugging off buying for 40 days because I think it will make me more stylish. Seeking to better understand how I can utilize the clothing I already own will force me to be more creative.

Like Jessie, you may want a break from a seemingly endless cycle of buying. Or maybe you want to finish up a short story you’ve been writing, and you can use the time you would have spent trolling the internet for the perfect knee socks working on it.

My one request is that you take up this challenge in a spirit of fun, rather than guilt or shame. Mud and Grace readers don’t tend to be compulsive shoppers. In fact they only tend to be compulsive about taking-care-of-everyone-and-everything-except-themselves. While there are many great reasons for not shopping, consider taking up this challenge just for the fun of it.

I’m planning on starting my 40-Day No-Buy on October 14th. Let me know if you want to join in!

Hold back, Betty. We’ve got 40 long days ahead of us.