7 Excuses For Not Building A Capsule Wardrobe

Capsule wardrobes are very hot right now. You can’t swing a striped shirt without bumping into someone’s perfect spring capsule wardrobe (!).

There are a lot of good reasons to winnow your wardrobe down to a few great pieces. It’s better for the environment, your wallet, your busy mornings. While Mud and Grace has long been a proponent of less is more, a strict capsule just doesn’t feel right in every situation.

Next week we will look at several appropriate places to build capsule wardrobes,* but in advance of that I want to give you some good excuses for not doing a single one if you don’t want to.

This works for one little corner of my life, but by no means every situation for 6 months.
  1. You like more than four colors

For funsies, go to pinterest and google ‘capsule wardrobe.’ You will find a beautiful selection of black, white, grey and pale blue clothing with maybe one or two other colors thrown in. These pictures are beautiful, each piece of clothing artfully curated by some Zen master of style. And yes, ideally most of your tops should go with most of your bottoms. But the idea that everything has to match is just silly. I like light blue and grey as much as the next woman but I don’t want to lock myself down for the sake of a good pinterest picture.

Your standard capsule base.
  1. Your life requires more than one type of clothing

I have no doubt there are women who have a dress code that takes them through all their day’s activities with no more than a change of earrings. For most of us, that’s just not the case. If you work, have kids, a full class load, a few hobbies, and/or a social calendar that includes everything from camping to carpooling, you need options. A pair of black flats will only take you so far. Many fashion bloggers who promote capsule wardrobes work from home and by their own admission have lives that include relatively few outfit needs and positively no goats.

I would argue that this outing could not be better served by the perfect trench coat and a classic pump.
  1. The weather is unpredictable

In the past week I wore a tank top, a wool sweater and three different coats on three different days. I do have what is essentially a capsule in the summer, because Oregon summers are pretty predictable.** Springtime? No way.

The week ahead looks beautiful and rainy, with a 50 degree swing in temperatures.
  1. Your style isn’t developed enough

I don’t mean to be rude here, but you have to have a really good sense of your style before you can narrow your look down to five colors and 37 pieces. Many Mud and Grace readers*** are still experimenting with their style, and having a ton of fun along the way. Why lock yourself down in a capsule for 6 months? Go try those palazzo pants and if they don’t work, you don’t have to wear them until October.

  1. You hate laundry

I don’t think I need to elaborate here.

  1. Capsule” is a relative term

Like any trendy concept, the capsule wardrobe has come to have a number of loose interpretations. Many women espouse the beauty and ease of a gorgeous capsule that in reality serves only a fraction of their wardrobe needs. If you don’t include t-shirts, layering pieces, shoes, workout clothes, outside work clothes and outerwear in a capsule then, yes, it’s pretty easy to winnow it down to 25 pieces. By omitting the truth, this type of style writing makes our closets seem out of control. Truth be told,  you’re probably wearing less than 25 pieces regularly as it is.

  1. You don’t want to

When contemplating capsule wardrobes, I often reflect back on Yana and Sarah’s closets of abundance in One and Done. ( One and Done: The Daily Dress Code) Both women had a plan (wear a dress) but significant variety to choose from as they did. Having easy, effortless choices at your fingertips is absolutely the goal of this blog, but that can come in a lot of different ways.

I own more plaid than is strictly necessary, a fact that makes me gleefully happy.

I don’t want anyone to have an over burdened closet full of underutilized clothing. Any streamlined approach to getting dressed can be brilliantly helpful. But I also don’t want anyone thinking they have to go minimalist to have great style. A middle ground, where we capsule what we want and keep the door to possibility open in other areas will keep us looking good and feeling inspired. Tune in next week when we look at the pros of capsule wardrobes and how you can incorporate a few into your closet.


*Spoiler, I’m a proponent of having several micro-capsules for different areas of your life

** And by predictable, I mean perfect. We suffer through the rain all year and then enjoy glorious July, August and September.

***And one Mud and Grace writer

Signature Style: Your words, your look

“Define your style!” the quiz lures me in with promises of a definitive label for my look, along with a handy shopping list for the perfect capsule wardrobe.

Dutifully I start ticking off answers. All too soon it becomes apparent that there are not only no right answers, there are no right questions either.  But I keep trying, assuming the problem is me and not the quiz. When I finish the numbers proclaim me somewhere between a French minimalist* and a preppy, and that’s only because I can’t in anyway be considered a glamorista or modernist. Then the quiz tells me to go buy a trench coat and some ballet flats, and I throw the whole thing out in disgust.

Do I prefer an arm load of bangals or a Cartier diamond watch? Why is there no space in this quiz for a leather band held together with a gold buckle?

Are those really my only options? French minimalists, preppy, glamorista and modernist?

Not according to Hollywood costumer Alison Freer. In her book How to Get Dressed**, she suggests that we should all strive to be the costume designer of our own life by developing a signature style. While that sounds like the baffling sort of thing only crazy, high-achieving women do, it turns out to be both simple and brilliantly freeing.

Freer suggests you start by making a list of things you love. There need be no actual connection to clothes, just list things you are drawn to. Soon you will see patterns emerging. Elements of your heritage, tastes and interests will simmer there on the list, eventually bubbling up into a cohesive style. Freer suggests grabbing a thesaurus if you need to find just the right words for your style.

Then name your look. Be playful and have fun with it. This works like magic. Once I discovered the thrill of Freer’s technique I began trying to name the styles of friends: “Quirky preppy,” “European Eugenian,” and “1970s trust-fund on the run.” Freer describes her own style as “Backwoods Nuveaux,” combining her Texas roots with a heavy 1980s new wave influence.

I call this look of Ann’s “Elegant Ease.”

What follows was my own process: First the list –

It took less than 10 minutes to list my words, and I was surprised to see what came up in a stream-of-consciousness “Things I like” list. Then I just stared at it for a while. And like reading an alethiometer or creating a patronus, it was just there.

1940s Pin-up Hiker.

This picture just says it all.

Everything became clear. This is why I wear pearls with cargo pants. The 1940s pin-up hiker has a curvier figure, rather than then the willowy women I see in the Prana catalog. Her active wear is well made and meant to last seasons if not generations. She smiles. My 1940s pin-up hiker look is wool, cotton, linen, denim and silk. It’s neutral colors and classic accessories. The look is unapologetically feminine and sporty.

But this signature style doesn’t quite fit all my moods. Freer suggests we all have more than one signature style waiting to walk out of our lists. I stared at the words a little longer until I put my finger on the look I have been unwittingly moving into for the last 8 years.

Stepford hippie

There has always been something about the well-heeled suburbanite woman that fascinates me: the shiny-clean house, the finely tuned to-do lists, the Olympian commitment to physical appearance. But I would never want that life. I have too much affinity for the mess and chaos of this world to settle down into well-ordered perfection.

I may drive a mom car, but I’ve also slept in it.

My Stepford Hippie looks says, “Yes, I got my kids to all their sports practices on time, and have the most delicious, nutrient rich meal in my shiny clean crockpot. But I got it all done because I’m wearing a special Tiger’s Eye necklace I bought in Sedona to engage the vibrations of the vortex in my everyday life.”

Stepford Hippie is second hand Hunter mud boots. It’s the perfect jeans, diamond stud earrings*** with a hand-me-down boho top. My Stepford Hippie follows most of the rules, most of the time. The look embraces my roll as a mom and wife, and as an individual.

Words are powerful. So take your time in choosing just the right phrase for your look. Once you have established your own, signature style, getting dressed is a breeze. Shopping becomes so much easier. Rather than being handed a list of “French minimalist capsule” pieces**** that may or may not work with your body or your life, you decide.


* Why is it always French minimalist? Why not Polish minimalist? Or Norse maximalist?

** If you jump over to the Book List tab you’ll find a link to Amazon for this book.

*** Always faux or second hand. The Stepford Hippie isn’t giving one penny of her money to the diamond industry.

**** I honestly have no use for a trench coat.

Spring Trends 2017: Do with them what you will

The last frost is upon us and I finally feel I can, in good faith, write about spring trends. There’s a lot going on: some fun, some fantastic, some silly.

Flowers? Yep. Check shirt? Yep? Massive bell? You betcha. Let spring begin!

What follows is a list of easy, wearable trends. Some of which I’ll choose to incorporate into my wardrobe, some I won’t. You pick and choose what works for you and add them into your rotation as you see fit.

We’ll start with on-trend pieces I will not be wearing this spring.

Some perfectly stylish things I don’t want.

Cold shoulder / off the shoulder blouses and dresses

You might want to wear it because:

You probably have fantastic shoulders. I think everyone does. Shoulders are gorgeous. Cold shoulder is a fun way to show some skin without revealing too much.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

It makes me feel like an extra in a PBS special on Zachary Taylor’s inauguration. Plus I get cold easily.

Distressed denim

You might want to wear it because:

Distressed denim is everywhere, from Forever 21 to Chico’s. It’s an easy way to keep things casual, no matter what you pair with it.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

Something about buying new clothes that already have holes in them chafes against my penny-pinching sensibilities. I think a better option is vintage denim: sturdy, worn pieces from the 70s and 80s that can be found in specialty shops and occasionally the back of your sweetheart’s closet.

Um… have I seen your vintage sheering Levi jacket? Yeah… It’s… in my spring wardrobe.

Embroidered denim

You might want to wear it because:

It’s a fun, pretty take on denim

Why I won’t be wearing it:

I can’t justify the expense right now. But if something shows up at Buffalo Exchange next fall, I’ll snag it.

It’s awfully tempting.

Wide leg crops

You might want to wear it because:

Wide leg crops are a fresh silhouette, a strong, fashion-forward statement.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

I have a few friends I think would look adorable in these, but wide leg crops do nothing for my shape. They manage to obscure my curves while accentuating my width. Plus they’re total bike-chain bate.

Rainbow stripes

You might want to wear it because:

Part of a larger wink from the late 70s, early 80s, rainbow stripes are this year’s reflection of the Gen X childhood. You can find just about anything in rainbow stripes: t-shirts, scarves, shoes. I feel like every woman who didn’t quite get her fill of rainbow stripes during middle school is celebrating right now.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

Sometimes a trend feels too trendy. I like rainbows as much as the next person, but this trend is so “on” I feel like I need to wait a little before I can enjoy it authentically.

If I were spending the summer in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical..

And now, a few trends I will be wearing this spring.


Pink is on trend for spring? What a shock. Honestly, I love pink, and I always have. I’ll probably find a few more pieces to tuck into my spring wardrobe.

You can incorporate it by:

Adding a t-shirt, or a swapping out the expected white jeans for pink. Actually, swapping out your traditional white anything for pink would work. The soft blush that is making the rounds this spring is a nice color for nearly any complexion, so don’t shy away from it if you like it.

Adith, Elaine and Nina, looking good and right on trend at the First United Methodist Church.

Army Green, aka “Kale”

Apparently we’re calling this color Kale now. That’s fine. I love kale. It’s everywhere. Since green is the color of foliage, it pretty much goes with everything. Seriously, if there is a flower in a specific color, it goes with green. I use “kale” as a neutral at this time of year.

You can incorporate it by:

Wearing it with more feminine looks, over a floral dress or paired with delicate jewelry. Kale jeans, cargos or a skirt look great with boho floral tops.

I think I’ll just wear this dress for the next three months straight.


Woohoo! Gingham’s back. I’ll be wearing this new Talbot’s check shirt all spring. Along with an old Talbot’s check shirt I bought at the Goodwill way out on West 6th street in 2002. I love to wear gingham with an unexpected black blazer, with shorts, with denim… OK, I’ll wear gingham with anything.*

You can incorporate it by:

Swapping out a white or chambray shirt for checks. Or buy a stand-alone piece, like a bathing suit or spring clutch. If a check top feels a little too farm girl for you, pair it with a pencil skirt or sharp black jeans. If you still think you’re channeling Dorothy, don’t worry. Skip it. It’s just a trend.

It’s like plaid, only for the summer.

Utilitarian Chic

Ever since The English Patient came out in 1996, I get unreasonably excited when this trend blows through.** Tough, beautiful, classics have always appealed to me. It says, “Yeah, I might go to work today, or I might hop on a plane to Wadi Sura and make an important discovery about Neolithic cave art.”***

Because everyone had perfect hair and make up in North African prior World War II. Everyone.

You can incorporate it by:

Find a few key pieces, a utility jacket, a khaki skirt, cargo skinnies, and wear them when you would have worn denim. Seeking out softer fabrics, like Tencel or a linen blend, keeps it all from standing out too stiffly.

Pink and green isn’t so preppy when you add extra pockets everywhere.

Remember that a stylish wardrobe may or may not incorporate any of these trends, as the wearer sees fit for her life and style. Keeping informed about trends helps you cultivate a good working relationship with current fashion, as discussed in last week’s post. Have fun with these, and enjoy them as the nights get shorter and we look forward to warmer weather and brighter days.

Up and coming artist Julia Chou wears distressed jeans with confidence at a gallery displaying her work. Chou’s former history teacher enjoys the art while wearing pink, on trend or otherwise.

* I think that’s a sign that a style is really you. I have no trouble incorporating gingham into my rotation, and it feels always perfectly comfortable.

** Is it really unreasonable?

*** But not waste away with a cranky guy who is obsessed with Herodotus.

One last shot of Kristin Scott Thomas as Katharine Clifton. What could be more practical for the desert than an oversized leather jacket and sheer silk scarf?


Playing the Trends: A guide to using momentary fashion for a lifetime of style

Welcome back to Mud and Grace Style! I want to start by thanking you all for making last week’s post the most read, most shared post in the 7-month history of Mud and Grace. While I knew I needed to write about body image if I was going to write about style, I had no idea people would react to it so strongly. It seems that many of us have a body/stress connection that plays out on our closet floor each morning, proving once again that clothes are so much more than just a way to keep ourselves warm. Thank you for joining ranks in this battle for the right to feel good in our own skin.

Me, being super happy all week long. Also attempting to eat an avocado with with corn chips.

Now on to today’s topic: Playing the Trends.

Today’s trends are largely created by the fashion industry to make you spend more money. I hate to be so glum, but there you have it. On the other hand, trends are often fun, creative ways of expressing yourself. To pretend that they don’t exist or that they don’t affect us would be silly. Like, just because Mother’s Day is over-commercialized doesn’t mean I’m going to boycott presents and my family cooking for me on a nice Sunday in May, right?

You don’t want to be a slave to trends, that’s uncool. Nor do you want to ignore them all together, that’s just stubborn. Ultimately, you want to develop a good working relationship with trends, so that you are the master of what you buy, what you wear, and what you communicate to the world through your clothing.

To get there, I’m going to investigate types of trends, then look at how you can apply them to your wardrobe. Stay tuned for next week when I discuss Spring 2017 trends, what I plan to incorporate, and what I will pass on this time around.

A sneak peak at next week’s post.

Trend types

To understand how to make trends work for us we first need to understand what they are. Most trends can be broken down into the three following categories.

Long-term trends

Long terms trends are patterns of dress that reflect the aesthetic of a time period. Think the tiny waists of the 1950s, or the men’s leisure suits of the 1970s. Long term trends last 8-12 years,* and are generally seen in the shape and purpose of clothing. Currently, fitted pants are the long-term trend for men, as opposed to the massive baggies that were in throughout the 1990s.

This long term trend is no longer in style for men. Thankfully.

Seasonal trends

Seasonal trends are the pieces that flood stores regularly at the beginning and middle of each season. A so-called “it bag” or a specific height of boot can be on-trend for a season, talked up in magazines and on line, then passed over for the next bag, or new boot height. Color is the most noticeable of the seasonal trends. It will seem like robin’s egg blue is everywhere, until suddenly it isn’t. A seasonal trend can get so much air-time that it is exhausted, and we’re all mighty sick of looking at it. Until the next time it comes back, which might be in 6 months or 12 years.

This season’s boho top.

On-trend classics

These are classic pieces that are always in style, but occasionally get so much play on the runway, and then in stores and magazines, that they become trendy. Striped shirts are having a moment right now. That doesn’t mean they will be out of style next fall, they just won’t be on trend.


Sometimes work boots are on trend, sometimes they aren’t. I just keep wearing mine all winter, every winter.

Basic trend tricks

  • When trying out a new trend, I suggest second hand shopping first, to lessen the impact on your wallet and the environment. In most towns there are high-end resale shops that only sell current, on-trend clothing.**
  • Keep it low-key by finding the item in a fabric, color or cut in which you are already comfortable
  • Pair the new item with your favorite pieces and give it a good, honest try. Three wears is enough to know if it’s going to work for you.
  • If something was really trendy last year, tuck it away for a breather. I have a few high-low hem shirts that need a rest.
I found a bomber jacket in a comfortable denim. If I really like it, I’ll invest in a beautiful leather one.

Classic country music saves you from becoming fashion’s victim

The ultimate truth about working trends can be found simply in the words of Kenny Rodgers: You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.

If you are sadly unfamiliar with this song, here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj4nJ1YEAp4

And if you didn’t have a childhood, here is the Muppet’s version


Kenny Rodgers, in a classic white oxford with a decidedly 1970s collar and gold chain, Muppet in snazzy bomber.

Know when to hold ‘em

Occasionally a trend comes blowing through that is so you, you want to buy out the front window of every store you pass. Maybe you love the bright florals we’ve been seeing recently, or feel fantastic in a bomber jacket. In these cases, buy the best quality pieces you can afford. It won’t read “trendy” when it’s beautifully made and fits you perfectly. Right now, you can find beautifully embroidered denim. If you invest is a well-made piece with classic lines, you can easily wear it for years. Right now it will seem trendy, and in a year it will be an essential in your own, unique style.

Over time, a silhouette may go out of style (Think paper-bag cinched waists of the 1980s) In these cases, you can either have the item altered to fit the current aesthetic, or tuck it away until it comes back (Think the paper-bag cinched waist of the spring, 2017 runways.)

I hope my friend Elle never lets go of this  gorgeous top. Here she has paired it with classic dark denim and nude heels. Perfect classic-with-an-edge-Elle.

Know when to fold ‘em***

Trying a trend just for the sake of trying something new is fantastic. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Fold it up, and place it in the resale pile.

I tried my best with boyfriend jeans. There are women who can wear these sagging, distressed creations and look really cool. I cannot. I don’t look like an LA fashion model who rolled out of her artist / DJ boyfriend’s bed and pulled on his pants on her way to a photo shoot. I look like a mom, wearing mom jeans that she rolled up at the cuffs.

I don’t have to try that again.

When a trend doesn’t feel like you, move on. It doesn’t matter how much you spent, or that you only wore it three times, or that your best friend looks fantastic in it, if it’s not you, it’s not you. Throw in the cards and wait for the next shuffle.

Not you? That’s fine. It’s not 1978 anymore.

Know when to walk away

Growing up in Eugene, I had a friend with a stay-at-home mom who wore polyester pants suits and her hair in a fantastic Beehive hairdo. The year was 1980. I have no doubt that when she married, the suit and the hair were at the height of fashion, but a 30-something women in 1980 probably should have moved on.

There will be times when you gleefully master a long running trend. Maybe it’s athleisure, or skinny jeans. You rock it season after season, and look fantastic. Then one day, you will wake up and the trend is over. Really over.

At these times, you’ll want to carefully rethink the outfit formula you’d been wearing, and reimagine it in a more modern feel. Having trouble accepting the waning years of fuzzy Ugg boots? Try Hudson rain boots with cozy liners. It’s OK to be sad. I had to give up double denim for 18 years. But now it’s back!

All I had to do was wait.

Know when to run

Sometimes, a trend just doesn’t work. I never felt comfortable exposing my middle, not in the early 1980s, not in the mid-1990s and not now. It makes me cold and feels too cheeky for me. If you don’t feel absolutely fantastic, just run. I don’t like wearing leggings in public, even on my way to the climbing gym. Many, many other people wear leggings all day, everyday. It would be completely stylish to run my Saturday errands in leggings but I won’t. Trends will roll through and while I can love them on other people, I can skip them and remain stylish. Any attempt to solider on in a trend that doesn’t work for me will only render me fashion’s victim, and even Kenny Rodgers’ down-and-out gambler would call me on that.

In my world, leggings are for reading, not for actually getting anything done.

I hope this broad overview is helpful as you negotiate the flood of spring trends coming our way. Tune in next week for my take on this year’s looks.

*I just completely made that up, but I think it’s largely true.

** If you don’t, let me know when you are in Eugene and I will take you to Buffalo

***Actually, you fold ‘em when they come out of the laundry, and in truth my husband does the folding at our house (yes, I am that lucky) so I don’t fold anything, on trend or not.

**** Wait, there weren’t four asterisks anywhere in this post! But I wanted to ask if you’d thought about subscribing. You can just put your email into the box up at the top right and Mud and Grace will come straight to your home (OK, in-box, whatever) each week with no unnecessary clicking involved! Plus my heart always jumps a little when there is a new subscriber.