38 Minute Fancy

I’m not a fancy person.

Long, leisurely make-up application sessions and trial runs for a hairstyle just don’t fit into my schedule. I’ve got kids to raise, lessons to plan, and novels to write-and-not-get-published.

Who has time for a smokey cat eye?

But every year my husband and I have a few formal events to attend, and I very much enjoy getting dressed up on occasion. It just has to be quick.

This year I timed myself – it took 38 minutes from the sofa to the car. Pre-planning was (obviously) involved, but nothing so rigorous that I couldn’t move on with my life. Here’s how it all broke down:

2 weeks in advance: Decide on ensemble.


I happened to be in Nordstrom Rack the day of the event (taking pictures for Survival Strategies for Discount Shopping) and I heard a woman talking to her young children. “Mommy has to have a dress for the event tonight,” she said, pawing frantically through the racks. The little ones were expressing their desire to be anywhere else somewhat energetically. The woman found a number of not-quite-right dresses and was beginning to panic. Not that I was totally staring and judging her for the massive shopping mistake she was about to make. It was like a gruesome, entirely avoidable train wreck.

We’ve all been there. In fact, I was at that very rack in that very store a few days before my wedding, when I got married in something that looked a lot like a grandma nightgown.

Choose your ensemble at least 2 weeks before the event, and spend the next fortnight looking forward to it. This year I bought a new dress that was so fabulous I was a little nervous about it. In general, I’m not a fan of buying a new dress for every formal occasion. Investing in two or three classic dresses that suit the level of formality you’re likely to meet makes sense. When you pull them out, it’s like seeing an old friend.

2 weeks in advance: Check shoe/wrap/bag kit


There’s nothing worse than having a gorgeous dress ruined by the wrong shoes or an incongruous coat.*

I have a neutral wrap and pair of heels that go with everything. The color is called “oyster,” but what is that? Don’t oysters range from cream colored to dark gray, and aren’t they always covered with some sort of sauce that makes them taste good anyway?

At any rate, I like my oyster-colored shoes and wrap because they go with black, they go with brown, they go with everything, really. The cashmere wrap is incredibly cozy, more like a snuggly blanket than a piece of clothing. Shoes and a wrap that can be called upon for any occasion make the world easier.

Over the years I’ve picked up a few evening clutches at vintage and second hand stores. My simple black clutch gets the most action.

Two weeks before the event make sure everything is going to work with the dress, and have an idea of the jewelry you’ll wear.

Here’s another wrap kit I use with a different dress.

1 week in advance: Jergens Natural Glow

Jergens Natural Glow is my wintertime friend, a great moisturizer with just the right amount of tint. I generally use it once a week, but because I was going bare arm and bare leg to this event, I doubled up applications.

Thank you for existing.

3 days in advance: Lotion, lotion, lotion

You may be one of those women who applies lotion from toe to fingertip twice a day. For the rest of us, step it up before a formal event. Three days of double moisturizing is enough to get your skin glowing.

The day of: My count down to 38-minute fancy

Morning until 4:58 – do whatever I want.

Me, finishing up a blog post just before 5:00. I love those slippers.

4:48 – Get off of sofa, draw bath

5:03 – Take bath

While in tub, consider painting toenails – remind self that no one will see my toes.

Consider painting fingernails. Remember that I don’t like the aesthetic of painted nails.

Consider chickening out of fabulous dress. Remind self that self is a style blogger, and style bloggers don’t chicken out of fabulous dresses.

5:12 – Hop out of tub, more lotion

5:16 – Put on fabulous dress, lose all desire to chicken out

5: 18 – BB cream, brow pencil, eye shadow, mascara and lip stain.

5:25 – Loosely French braid hair, tuck end under the main braid, secure with a clip.

5:31 – Wrestle with earrings. Why are the most beautiful earrings always the hardest to get on?

Borrowing my mom’s earrings. Thanks mom!

5:34 – Slip into shoes, grab wrap

5:36 – Walk downstairs

Almost say “Really?” when husband says I look beautiful. Remember to kiss him instead. (Choosing Beautiful)

38 minutes later, I’m ready to go!

5:37 – Walk back upstairs to help husband, who hasn’t even started getting dressed.

5:52 – Get into Subaru Forrester; appreciate the contrast between car and ensemble.

6:18 – Arrive not-too-late at event. Don’t think about hair, dress, or make for the next three hours.

38 minutes? I can be ready to escape in 3.8 seconds.

38 minutes to fancy is my fastest time yet. Jeff and I have more events coming up, and I look forward to knocking a few minutes off my PR. Do you have any tricks for getting ready for a formal event? I’d love to give them a try. Please leave your ideas in the comments below.

*OK, that’s not true at all. There are many things worse than not having the right shoes and wrap. But it is a major bummer.

Comfort and Joy: Your style guide for the holiday season

We have a really mellow holiday season planned. We’re just going to host Thanksgiving… and Christmas Eve…  Oh, and a birthday party and the staff party, then my sister’s coming up from California with her family, and my brother just called from Japan to confirm that we can host a dance party on New Year’s Eve.

No problem.

Our plans for visiting are just about as laid back as our home life. Fortunately, most of our events, like yours, are relatively casual. That said, I want to give a nod to the holiday season and dress up festively, if not elfishly.

Here’s my holiday wardrobe:*


This is my favorite dress. With a sparkly necklace it becomes fancy. Add simple accessories and it’s casual. There is no wintertime party to which I can’t wear this dress. Plus it’s soft and stretchy, so I can eat all the cheese and Carrs water crackers I want and not feel uncomfortable.

Tip: Don’t wear boots if you’re going to a confirmed no-shoe household.

This top is just plain fun. I can pair it with black leggings for a grown-up, dress-up occasion, and jeans for everything else.

This top could probably show up to the party without me and have a great time all on its own. Unfortunately, it can’t drive.


I love these fluid joggers for hosting events in my home. This olive, silk top is open at the neck, balancing the weight of the pants, while still keeping up with the casual/elegant vibe. Plus the whole ensemble goes with my best apron.

Flats? Check. Ponytail? Check. Drink?** Check. Let the guests arrive!

I like this for hostess as well. You can layer it over a little black dress, or leggings and a tank.

What do we want to call this? Shawl? Kimono? All-purpose fringed party garment?

The non-ironic holiday sweater

If you want to go full-on reindeer, don’t let me stop you. I prefer something that gives a nod to the season without any flashing lights. These sweaters have a winter motif, but are in unexpected holiday colors.

Do you remember this Gap holiday sweater from the mid-1990s? I found it 2nd hand fifteen years ago and I’m still wearing it.

It’s such a happy sweater. You can tell because it’s waving at you.
I really stretch the season on this one. You can totally wear stars through February, right?

Off duty

Most of my holiday season will be spent with family and close friends. I love a cozy plaid shirt for hanging out and doing nothing, or doing everything, as is often the case at this time of year.

Just one more cup of coffee before we head back out…

A little sparkle picks my mood up. I wear this t-shirt under a simple gray cardigan for a look that says, “Yes, I understand there are rules, and I totally plan on following them… for now.”

Can you see the sparkles?
Here’s an up-close of its sparkly loveliness.

Secret Weapon – The Holiday Coat

There is no better way to stay warm, cozy and appropriately festive than the holiday coat. You can wear absolutely anything under the coat and no one will ever know.

Headed out to a tree-lighting ceremony? Grab the coat. Volunteering to run your kids around as they gather cans for the school food drive? Put yer coat on. Running between three different Thanksgivings? Coat time!

The September through November coat…

I have faced more holiday seasons without appropriate clothes than I care to remember. But now that I have the coat, no worries. I could wear my pajamas under it if I were so inclined.

…and the November through February coat.


All over the world, there are celebrations of light at the darkest time of year. While I prefer very simple jewelry for everyday, this is the time to sparkle. Pull out your auntie’s broaches, your big pendant necklaces and that one piece of real jewelry you never wear because it’s not a special enough occasion. You, your friends, and your family? I can’t think of a better reason to break out the tiara.

If there is ever a time to wear the cipher of Peter the Great, it’s at a dinner party.

Ultimately, this season is about coming together in love and friendship. You shouldn’t be worrying about a pilling sweater or a skirt that really doesn’t go with your top. Pick a few go-to hostess and party looks, and wear them every for every occasion from November through the middle of January. Then set yourself free to focus on peace of earth, and goodwill towards everybody.

Pippin, ready to greet the guests in his winter coat.

*This post covers casual to moderately dressy events. For more formal events, see the next post, 38 Minute Fancy.

**The drink I’m holding is called The Slow Burn. I made it up. It’s a habanero / lime cocktail. Message me if you want the recipe.

**Drinking alcohol is for people of age, whose frontal lobes are fully formed and are not driving and/or are avoiding alcohol for any one of a number of good reasons. For you folks I have a sparkly version of the same beverage. It burns just a little bit hotter.




Special Pantsuit Edition: How to find a pantsuit in your closet

“I need a pantsuit!” several readers have written in distress. “Should I go out and buy one?”

If you’re planning on being the next president of the United States, yes. For the rest of us, we can shop our closets if we’re feeling a strong urge to don supportive garments this week.

I offer you three options: classic, collegiate and casual


You probably have something like: Black leggings, a black blazer, a silk tank. Pair them with neutral shoes and simple jewelry. Spend the entire day in a power stance.



For my teacher and professor friends, there’s no need to give up the corduroy just because you want to make a political statement. Pair your favorite cords with a vintage blazer and chambray shirt. Add shoes in which you would be able to run at least a mile, or possibly the country.



Nothing says “can do” like a denim power suit.

It’s your choice, rock the Canadian Tuxedo, or start considering relocating to Canada.


Mud and Grace readers, I wish you the best of weeks ahead. No matter what your politics, women matter in this, and every election. Go vote!