Perfect 10-Item Loungewear Capsule


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.

What I really want to be doing on any given evening…

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 –

The basics

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.

Loungewear should spend as much time as possible basking in the late afternoon sun, or if that’s not possible, hanging on the bedroom wall.


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.

This simple wool skirt is one of only two legit designer pieces I own, and I have never worn it for a night out. Isabel Marant.

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.

These shirts go with everything, even the peeling paint on  my deck railing. Top: used Banana Republic. Bottom two, Alternative Apparel.

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.

Skirt, leggings, sweatshirt, easy-peasy.

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.

Negotiate your stairs with ease! Ugg slippers from Dad and Lynn.

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.

Merrell boots, because I can’t consider any segment of my wardrobe complete unless there’s at least one pair of boots…

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.

What teachers really do after school…

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.

Umm… lady, shouldn’t you be reading a book right now?

* 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.

** This might be an overstatement.

Meet the rest of the capsule:

Leggings from left to right, Lululemon, Eddie Bauer.They are good friends.
US Blanks. Super cozy.
Under Armor joggers. Love.
I adore this Lululemon sweatshirt. If I were to ever put the hood up, I would look exactly like a sporty Jawa.
If my thoughts get any deeper I will NOT be able to get up out of this chair…

Outfit Formulas, 101

The stated goal of this blog is for all women to effortlessly pull perfect outfits out of their closets every morning, every day for the rest of their lives, and then be free get on with the important work of this world.

We may be a few months off from total success, but I have high hopes.

One key to effortless style is what Anuschka Rees calls outfit formulas. The premise, found in her lovely book The Curated Closet, is that we all have certain outfit formulas we fall back on. Other writers have called this “finding your uniform.”

Hard to get me out of boots/jeans/jacket.

Women who have their style dialed in like this are easy to spot. Google image search a few women whose style you admire and their outfit formulas become clear.

Jennifer Aniston has three formulas that she tops with a navy blazer or black moto jacket.

  • Neutral tank top/stretchy skirt
  • Neutral tank top/slim cargo pants
  • Neutral tank top/jeans.

The Duchess of Cambridge has two casual formulas. She wears these with wedge heels, boots or cute sneakers.

  • Striped Breton t-shirt/skinny jeans or pants/navy blazer
  • Printed blouse/skinny jeans or pants

Michelle Obama’s bright dress/cardigan sweater/basic pumps took her through 8 years of extreme scrutiny.

Honestly, if I had Michelle Obama’s arms, I would never, ever cover them up with a cardigan sweater.

Benefits of an outfit formula

Outfit formulas are a way of understanding and organizing your closet. They take the guesswork out of getting dressed. Here are a few of the many upsides to thinking in formulas.

They can be mixed and matched without draconian color schemes

One of my springtime outfit formulas is a printed boho top/skinny jeans or pants/short jacket.

With three jackets, four tops and three pairs of jeans/pants I have 12+ ensembles, and I love all of them. Every piece doesn’t need to look good with every other piece, I just keep the jackets and pants fairly neutral and pick any crazy colored top I want.

So long as I don’t wear the olive jacket with the olive pants, or all four shirts at the same time, I’m golden.

You know they work for your life

The best thing about a well-established outfit formula is that you know it will work for pretty much anything life throws your way. In the spring I’ll be riding my bike around town, teaching, watching track meets, meeting friends, occasionally heading out to dinner or a play. My two spring outfit formulas can handle all of this easily.

Outfit formulas help you shop

When you want or need to refresh your wardrobe, having a few formulas to fall back on helps you target your purchases. You can invest in quality pieces because you know you will wear them in specific combinations. They can also keep you from purchasing closet orphans, those sad and lonely pieces that seemed like a good idea at the time but never get worn.

You will always have friends in this wardrobe.

How to use outfit formulas

Ideally, you have two or three outfit formulas per season. Items from one formula can certainly be used for another. My spring formulas are as follows

Classic top/skinny jeans or pants/ cardigan sweater

Printed boho top/skinny jeans or pants/short jacket

Casual dress

Can I call it a formula if it doesn’t have to go with anything else?

I’ll wear these with boots until it warms up, then switch to tennis shoes or sandals. I’m not above mixing the formulas, either. I will certainly wear a classic top with jeans and my denim jacket. If it’s cold, I’ll pair a cardigan sweater with a dress.

I just get up, check the weather and run down my calendar for the day, then decide what to wear.*

Find your formula

The first place to look for your formula is in your closet.

What is your favorite outfit? Say you have a knee-length skirt you wear with leggings, boots and a slouchy sweater that you always feel perfect in. Find a couple of similar sweaters, another knee-length skirt and pull in a few other pairs of leggings and you have a mini-wardrobe that will feel fantastic.

Grab a couple of pairs of leggings and you could spend all winter in this mini-wardrobe.

The second place to look is on the women you see everyday. The ladies you work with, the other moms at your children’s school, women picking up groceries. Look for patterns in their style of dress. My guess is your will find a few formulas you could try.

Finally, as noted above, a google image or Pinterest search of stylish women is inspiring. Just be sure to look at the entire ensemble and know you can commit to the details. Sophia Coppola has fantastic style, but that woman always has exposed ankles. I’d love to try a few of her outfit formulas but none of them would work with socks or boots and I simple refuse to have cold ankles.

If you can wear it with flats you can wear it with ankle boots…right?

How to try a new formula

When trying out a new look, I always suggest shopping second hand. Your town probably has a few trendy resale shops (I love you, Buffalo) where you can score pieces at a fraction of the retail price and at significantly less environmental cost.

Be sure to complete the entire look when trying out something new. A few years ago, I wanted to try out an elegant pair of fluid joggers for hostessing. This involved buying a pair of flats and finding the right top to go with them. Since then, I’ve been able to bring a few pairs of casual joggers into my wardrobe using the same principles.

Currently, I’m working on how I can incorporate high waisted jeans into a formula without a crop top (because I’m 45 and I don’t ever have to wear a crop top again if I don’t want to. Sorry, 1985.) I found a pair at Buffalo exchange, and have been pairing them with things on my closet until I find something that feels perfect. If need be, I will wear them out shopping and try different tops on with them. Once I hit on a formula, I can incorporate a few auxiliary pieces into it and have a new look to enjoy. But right now, it’s a struggle…

Oh forget it…I’ll just wear plaid with everything.

Potential Problems

You can get stuck in a rut

I’ll never forget seeing a woman attend a funeral in bootcut jeans with rhinestone detailing, a plunging neckline blouse and stiletto heals. It was obviously a formula she felt very comfortable in, but really not appropriate to the situation.

I have to be careful not to fall into the black hole of puffer vest/t-shirt/jeans in the wintertime. This is an easy problem to manage, though. Just plan a few outfits in another formula and have them ready to go at the front of your closet. You will remember you love them in no time.

But it’s so warm…

Other people’s outfit formulas will not necessarily work for you

When googling Jennifer Aniston, the Duchess of Cambridge and Michelle Obama, I was seized with a desire to go buy a neutral tank top, a navy blazer and a bright colored dress, before remembering that my life might be significantly different than all of theirs. While incorporating the ideas of other, inspiring women, be sure to make the look your own. Always come back to your life, your body, and your style.

An outfit formula challenge

Your task for this afternoon, should you choose to accept it, is to head up to your closet and find a few outfit formulas you love. Let me know how it turns out!

Just hanging out, waiting for spring so I can wear my spring formulas…

* Actually, that’s not true at all, I just get dressed and hope the weather and my day fall in line with what I’m wearing.

Six Ways to Wear Double Denim

There is nothing like denim for durability and style. Since its invention in 16th century Italy, denim has been worn for work.* Whether that work is a on the deck of a Genoese naval ship, roping cattle in the American west, or roping a family into finishing their chores, denim gets it done. Double denim feels easy, stylish and tough. That’s why it was so hard for the fashion police to declare it verboten at the end of the 1990s. It just kept popping back up on the bodies of those who didn’t care, didn’t know, or didn’t listen. Stylistas gave up a few years back, and now we are all free to return to the Canadian Tuxedo, which I am assuming the Canadians, in all their good sense, never gave up on in the first place.

Looking back on iconic double denim looks, it’s amazing any of us bother to wear anything else: James Dean, Lisa Bonet, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Bruce Springsteen, the entire 1960s on a spring time Saturday afternoon.

Done right, denim on denim has a casual, “Oh, I just threw on two expertly worn-in pieces of my sparse and perfect wardrobe,” sort of feel. Done wrong, double denim feels conspicuous, too matchy-matchy, too studied.

Below you will find sample ensembles and a few guidelines. Enjoy.

The Ultimate Power Suit: Jacket and Jeans

My fabulous student Hunter showed up on the day of her big, in-class debate rocking her favorite jeans, denim jacket and Frye boots.

“It’s kind-of a power suit,” she told me, and then went on to win her debate.

What makes this work is that Hunter is singularly comfortable in each of these pieces. Put them all together and she looks completely natural, and powerful.

An adorable and debate-winning ensemble.

Old Friends: Denim Shirt and Jacket

This is my favorite to wear double denim. The shades blend beautifully, the layering adds interest, and it all feels so easy. It’s less of a statement, but I love the simplicity and ease.

They just belong together.

Perfect Cool: Light and dark

This is the old school way to wear denim on denim. It always works. Celina Hess-Johnson shows us how.

How can you not have fun in denim/denim?

Entry level: A Denim Dress

This is the equivalent of putting your feet in the river before jumping in. See? You look great. Keep going…

This is not hard.

Base Layer: Add a Vest or Sweater

Double denim as the base to an ensemble is practical, but has a fashion-forward feel. Rather than popping a vest over all black, chose denim as your neutral.

Denim is a great neutral, and it doesn’t show goat hair.

Play With Proportion: Short and Long

A pair of high waisted jeans and a slim, sleeveless top looks fantastic. A chambray shirt and denim shorts is fun. Both are good looks for spring and early summer when it’s not hot, but warm enough to let a few extremities out.

OK, so your style blogger could use a little sun…

A Few Precautions…

Playing around with double denim is endless fun, but to reign in the look, here are some guidelines.

Stick with two pieces of denim

I don’t know why this works, but I’ve tested this maxim again and again. I always go back to it. It’s double denim, not triple and certainly not quadruple denim.

Keep the accessories authentically you

Stylists warn about going all out country with boots and a cowboy hat. That said, my friend Danielle Glenzel can rock boots and a hat like nobody’s business, and she lives on an actual farm, and she’d look hot in double denim with her regular accessories.

If Danielle wants to wear a hat, she’s going to wear a hat.

The trick, I think, is to keep the accessories authentic. If you wear a lot of turquoise, go for it. If you are a sneakers and graphic t-shirt type, do that. I have seen women carry off double denim with high heels. That will never be me, but it might be you.

Brown and/or white are go-to

All that said, brown leather footwear and accessories will always, always work here. Same goes for a white t-shirt, sneakers and other add-ons.

Denim jacket, white t-shirt, jeans, boots, done.

Wear it with joyful abandon, and chickens

A few years ago, my daughter threw on this outfit and headed off for her day of adventures. No worries, no fear of being “too stylish,” no preplanning the hairstyle or worrying over which chickens she might manage to catch and how well their colors would blend. She just rocked it, because she’s Margaret Grace and that’s what she does.

Gettin’ her chores done.

Want to give it a try? I double dare you! Send me a picture of how you do denim/denim.

* Denim was first used for the uniforms of sailors in the Genoan navy, thus the very first people to wear denim wore double denim. It’s meant to be!

** About that heart I’m wearing throughout. I bought this piece of Tiger’s Eye when I was in Sedona with friends last summer. ( Travel lesson I learned from my stylish friends in Sedona) I wear it on days I have an enormous amount of work to do, and it reminds me to channel my energy, and have fun.