Eco shopping for non-puritanical women

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.

Time to get up out of my hammock and align my values with my habits.

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.

Second hand

Buying used clothing is the easiest solution to this problem. Some of my favorite pieces came from our local Buffalo Exchange.

I love you, beautiful Aran sweater I found at Buffalo.

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??

Second-hand boots? OK. Second-hand socks? Ew.

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.

Seriously people?! I’m just trying to buy some soap.

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.

Ann and me, in Patagonia dresses.

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.

Maybe someday.

BedStu Boots are amazing. Handmade in NYC with ever-strengthening environmental practices.

I found my BedStu boots in a second hand store, but I would buy them new if I needed to.

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.

In regular rotation since spring, 2002.

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.

Not exactly hard core about anything.

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.

Sock Love

We humans love our socks, and with good reason. There are somewhere around 7000 nerve endings in your feet, and every one of them wants to be cushioned in soft, cozy warmth.

Happy in my simple raglan socks.

But beyond the longing of our feet for climate control and happiness, socks can be the final word on a person’s style. Anyone can pull on a smart looking jacket, but the perfect pair of socks peaking over the edge of a boot? That’s one powerful inch of knitwear.

Today, I have a few tips on how to wear socks, and then a few socks you might want to try.

With tall boots

Socks and boots can be mastered easily if you keep proportion and weight in mind. Tall, heavy boots can handle several inches of chunky sock. Delicate boots require less sock. A moderately oversized top, or a big comfy scarf will help balance everything going on down below. Unless the boots and socks are really sleek, a tight top can look a little out of place.

Outfit ideas for socks and tall boots:

• Boots, chunky sock, leggings, plaid shirt

Your blogger was having fun creating outfits on Polyvore this morning.

• Rain boots, two or three layers of sock, skirt, fitted fleece top

Tights would not be amiss here on a cold day.

• Boots, chunky cable knit sock, jeans, cozy sweater

This picture makes me want to justify another pair of brown boots.

When starting out, stick to neutral palettes in your comfort zone. Socks that are close in color to your leggings or jeans will look more natural.

Caveat: make sure your boots aren’t squishing your calves so the socks are spill out like ripped sausage casing. For some reason the fashion industry thinks women have really small calves right now. I look for boots with a wide shaft so there is plenty of room for my muscles and a fun pair of socks.

With ankle boots

When wearing ankle boots with jeans and socks you have two choices

One: Wear the sock on the outside of the jeans

Simple and easy. Plus the rain doesn’t get into your boots

Two: Cuff the jean (one large cuff or several turns in a 1980s look are both fine right now) and let the sock peak out an inch or two.

You probably have all this in your closet.

Caveat: When wearing chunky ankle boots (like Timberland) with socks be careful of a Europe-in-1937 look. Boots are cool, the rise of fascism is not. If your feet remind you of folks gunning for a rematch of World War One, switch it out.

Socks with Docs

I will never have the sort of urban cool it takes to pull off a pair of Doc Martins, but in my sock research I came across a fun trend of statement socks with Docs. Tall socks were worn with a skirt, shorter socks were paired with sharp cropped pants. It’s a cute look that I can admire without feeling the need to try.

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This look will never be me, but it might be you.

Socks with sandals

That’s fine. I won’t judge. Honestly, once you’ve crossed that sock/sandal line, anything goes.

You do you, honey.

General sock caveat: A sock breaks up the line of your leg, that’s why you rarely see socks on a model in a catalog. Socks look warm, fun, creative and interesting, but they also put a glitch into the line of your leg. If you’re going for a long, lean look, the socks will mess that up. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind.

Socks Sampler:

Here are a few sock ideas to try. Also, this doubles as my list to Santa.


Start your sock quest with a few high quality pairs neutral colors.

Cable knit socks are always lovely.


In a highly scientific Facebook study, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who felt passionately about wool socks. Smartwool socks are beautiful, comfortable and wick moisture away from your feet. Lynette (previously mentioned on this blog as my most-put-together friend) wears Smartwool socks nearly everyday in black, brown and navy.

Smartwool makes people happy, except for those it makes itchy.

Bright and mismatched

Anyone in contact with humans under the age of 25 have seen the love these people have for mismatched socks. There are some gorgeous socks out there in this style. Of course you can just mismatch socks you already have, with also cuts out the family chore of matching socks out of the dryer…

Free People socks are fun.

Bas de Laine

My friend Sandy, a native of Eastern Canada, swears by these socks, which you can find in wool or cotton. According to Sandy, “In French Canada if you are called a ‘bas de laine’ it means you are an earthy person …we would say a ‘granola’. I guess that defines me. My kids wear their warm socks in their Birkenstocks – true west coast ‘bas de laine’ kiddos!!”

Sock monkey socks are apparently called Bas de Laine.
Now I have a name for my favorite scarf, too!

Boot toppers and leg warmers

These are nice alternatives to socks for tall boots because they tend to be roomier and not smush your pants into your legs. They also don’t pull against your toes when you tug them up past your boots. I like leg warmers better because they serve function (warming your legs) as well as fashion. Boot toppers come in every imaginable color and style, and are ridiculously easy to get on and off.

Boot toppers are fun and inexpensive. I never feel quite right in them, but I know any number of readers out there could rock a pair.

DYI leg warmers

In my extensive search for sock style I learned that you can make your own leg warmers by cutting the arms off old sweaters.

The about-to-be-worn-again sweater.
“Look ma! I have cashmere leg warmers!!! All my 1980s dreams are fulfilled!”

Now, before you start eyeing your sweater drawer like Lord Asriel looking at the connection between Roger and his daemon,* remember that this only applies to sweaters you really won’t wear anymore. Say a moth bit a chunk out of the front of your favorite cashmere sweater. You can’t hunt down that moth and make her serve her time, but you can enjoy some new legwarmers.

Legit moth hole in sweater.

Statement socks

Fabulous, graphic socks aren’t just for 8-year-olds anymore. My friend Alli loves her Narwhal vs Unicorn socks. I know another young woman who wears wild Harry Potter-themed socks. The internet is awash with novelty footwear. Go find you favorites.

Alli’s best socks.

Homemade socks

My mom makes the most beautiful socks. If you are a knitter, invest in beautiful wool and make yourself some cozy, beautiful socks.

Thanks mom!

Do you need new socks?

A person can have too many socks. If your sock drawer resembles a mass of swarming, multicolored eels, you may need to go through your collection and get rid of unusable socks.

Recycle your socks if: they have holes in them, they fall down and scrunch up in your boots, they itch, or they in anyway impede your life.

Socks can be recycled into receptacles for loose chalk for your climbing chalk bag. They also make great sock puppets, which are always appropriate at work or in social situations.

How much fun is it to teach about Einstein when he’s actually in the room?!

Socks, being practical, comfortable and stylish are a Mud and Grace must have. In stepping up our socks, we are showing much needed love to our feet. That said, don’t feel like you have to go sock-crazy. I will always love the simple line of jeans and Fryes, or an ankle boot quietly resolving a pair of slim cargos. And your socks can function just as well without your shoes, all you need is a lazy afternoon, nowhere to go and the nice, cozy pair of your choice. 7000 nerve endings will thank you.

Contented feet.

*If you haven’t read the Golden Compass you really ought to.