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.