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.

The Packing List: Active Girls’ Weekend

Several years ago, I struggled to pack a bag for a trip to central Oregon with a group of girlfriends. An oversized case held nearly every article of clothing I owned and nothing to wear. Fast forward a few years, throw in my own personal fashion bootcamp, and last month I was able to joyfully and decisively throw just the right articles in a bag and head out the door  join friends for a weekend of outdoor exploring.

Currently, many Mud and Grace readers are in the middle of a 40-Day No-Buy. I figure, since we’re spending less time shopping, we all have more time for fun. So go plan a girl’s weekend and pack ’em up!

Here’s the formula for a 3-day, outdoor-focused trip: Mix-and-match activewear, one-and-a-half “town” outfits, one awesome pair of lounging pajamas, a cute coat

We arrived at Smith Rock at 6:45 on Friday evening. It was still light as we headed up Misery Ridge, but that light was fading fast as we headed down the back side. And you know what’s really creepy in the dark? Monkey Face. Forget climbing it, I just wanted to get away from that hunk of rock as quick as possible.

Mix and Match Activewear

My activewear is mostly black, white and grey. If I ever feel like throwing in a splash of color it’s easy enough to do, but for the most part I feel good in black, white and grey.

For this trip I brought tops and bottoms in varying weights and lengths, then layered as needed. Since we were doing everything from late evening hikes to mid-day runs*, having a variety of activewear that I could pull on and off as the weather changed was key.

Evening hike (Vest: Eddie Bauer, T-shirt: Old Navy, Leggings: Lululemon)
Mid-day run (Jacket: Lululemon, Tank: Old Navy, Best Running Shoes Ever: Nike Pegasus Zoom, Shorts: Under Armour)
Afternoon hike (Jacket: Lululemon, Tank: Alternative, Leggings: Girlfriend Collective)
I really should have re-thought the full length leggings for this particular hike.

One-and-a-half town outfits

When I get together with Ann and Lynette, there’s always at least one trip to shops and possibly a tapas bar. I like to have something in my suitcase that’s fashion-forward, but still me. That generally consists of Frye boots, jeans and a cute top or sweater. While we only had one trip into Bend planned, I still brought a second top incase I wasn’t feeling the first.

I love the detail on this shirt, smocked top, bell sleeves. But the gunmetal grey color keeps it low-key. It’s perfect for a half-tuck into jeans.
I’ve had this silk-blend sweater for years. It always works.
An easy hack to look put together while traveling: match your bag to your boots. (Then set them on a vintage trunk in gentle lamplight and photograph)

Lynette and Ann had similar town ensembles, only each clearly in her own style. Lynette wore a gorgeous white sweater with a deep V in the back, black boots and dark jeans. Ann also had jeans and boots, and a beautiful taupe sweater with a coordinated blouse. The proprietress of a coffee shop liked Ann’s top so much she gave Ann free coffee. Now that’s a sweater!

I can’t remember the name of this place in Bend, but it sure was fun…

One awesome pair of lounging pajamas

I love these so much. And honestly what’s a women’s weekend for if not a little lounging. Or a lot of lounging.

It’s like a pants suit for lazy people.

A cute coat

Just check the weather, and pack your favorite.

You can’t go wrong with a cute coat. You could pack the worst combination of clothing ever, then throw on a cute coat and no one will ever know.

Looking back five years ago, I realized a big part of the problem with my packing was feeling like the weekend was so special, the clothes I already owned wouldn’t do it justice. I also wanted to “keep up” with my stylish friends. A few years of wisdom under my belt,** along with a concerted effort to honor the fact that I really do love clothes, I realized that when you have what you need for your everyday life, you have what you need to travel. Pulling out my favorite pieces to spend time with some of my favorite people was a snap. I’m hoping to take a girls trip to Seattle this winter, and can count on my wardrobe to be there for me when I start packing.

Until next time!

*We had every intention of going on that run in the morning.

** Has anyone else noticed how much smarter we get between the ages of 40 and 50? Honestly, it’s so awesome.

Love Clothes, Not Shopping: Seven things to do, rather than buying new

The 40-Day No-Buy is finally here, and honestly I’m a little nervous. While I don’t buy a ton of clothes, I do spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about buying clothes. So I’ve come up with a list of things to try when the urge to shop hits.

  1. Turn your closet into your own personal boutique

Take the two hours you would have spent browsing at the mall and clean up your closet. Arrange your clothing by color. Put together several outfits and hang them where you can see them. Imagine your closet and your drawers, no matter how small, are a favorite boutique, designed just for you. Everything fits, everything is in season now, your closet could be the perfect little shop you wish you could find.

Ohhh! This rack has casual jackets, elevated jackets and blouses, all in my size and favorite neutral pallet. And there’s even a scarf to match!
  1. Polish your boots, mend your blouses

I think it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this piece has at least one pair of shoes that could stand to be polished, or an item of clothing that could be mended, ironed or steamed at this minute. Rather than run out to find something new, invest time and energy in what you already have. One of my favorite sweaters wrinkles terribly, so I don’t wear it that often. A quick fluff in the dryer and there she is again, my lovely silk blend, cowl neck sweater.

I’ve worn out the heels of my Fryes again. And they could possibly use a polish.
  1. Set yourself a jewelry challenge

Wear a different piece jewelry every day for a week. Design outfits around jewelry, rather than the other way round. Already a jewelry pro? Try a scarf challenge. Or any one of the Mud and Grace challenges we’ve done over the last year. The One and Done ChallengeColor Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color ChallengeShop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1

I’d like to learn to wear braclets.
  1. Go mock shopping

Dress up and go to the fanciest store around and try on a $700 dress. This will a.) get you over your fear of fancy-lady stores and b.) be really fun. Because it’s unlikely you’ll buy a $700 dress (those women are reading a different blog) you can just enjoy the lovely lighting, mirrors and possibly wine. Text me when you’re headed out and I’ll join you!

True story: I was mock shopping at a fancy store once and found this Nicole Miller dress for several hundred dollars. And I was honestly tempted to buy it because it fit beautifully and I did have a formal event coming up, but not at the price of a family get away to the coast. A year later I found the same dress at Nordstrom rack for $80. That’s when I bought it.
  1. Pinterest your favorite pieces

Select a piece of clothing you love, like your denim jacket or your Timberland boots.

Go to pinterest and type in “Timberland boots outfit” and find endless inspiration. Most people have the exact same basics that you do: jeans, long sleeve t-shirts, boots, cardigans. Look at how other women style their favorite pieces. You’ll likely find that you have all the elements of some really fun outfits already.

So many ideas for my black riding boots!
  1. Finally figure out what it is you are missing

Most of us tend to buy the same thing over and over. By stopping this cycle, we can finally figure out what it is we really don’t have. Six months into her year of no shopping, Jessie (Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?) realized she has no clothes for the heavy work of building a climbing gym. Too late to do anything about it now, she’s sanding down beams in a pair of Ann Taylor Loft skinny jeans, but when the year is over it’s likely she will invest in a work pants. Not shopping is the best way to realize which key pieces we are missing. We’re not at liberty to run out and buy them now, but when the challenge is over we know what we need, rather than falling into the old habit of just buying the same things over and over.

For some reason I don’t think boots are going to be the missing link in my closet…
  1. Help someone else with her closet

If you love clothes, chances are you have a friend who would be grateful if you were to share that love. Any one of us could use a fresh pair of eyes to help clean out a closet or put together a few new outfits. And nothing will make you question your own shopping habits like seeing 15 green striped shirts stacked up on a shelf with two more earmarked in the L.L. Bean catalog.*

Three is probably enough.

Do you have other ideas about loving the clothes we have, rather than trolling for new things? Please leave your ideas in the comments below. And best of luck with your 40-day No-Buy!

* You know who you are.

Eight “must-have” wardrobe basics you probably don’t need, and nine you might

I don’t own a little black dress. And yet, I manage to get myself clothed and out of the house daily without this magic-bullet of a wardrobe basic. How is this possible?

Basics are the items that allow our wardrobes to function. They are like the oil in our cars or the framing in our homes, absolutely necessary but not terribly exciting. So when I wanted to put my wardrobe in order I googled “wardrobe basics.” The internet responded with the same list over and over again. Black wool pants? Sigh. Ballet flats? So not me.

If I were an executive working in a high-rise office in NYC, I have no doubt these lists would be very helpful. But there is nowhere in my school-teaching, goat-herding, soaking-wet-track-meet- standing life for a pair of statement heels.

What follows is a list of traditional basics and my take on a piece that would serve a similar purpose, but be more functional in an active woman’s wardrobe. The Mud and Grace basics allow me to ride my bike to work, run around the classroom pretending to be on the Silk Road, meet my family for dinner and maybe hop in the car for a last-minute weekend road trip. These basics will not take you from the boardroom to a hip nightclub, because they won’t let you in those places if you have chicken feed stuck to the sleeve of your coat. But they will take you on the messy, fun adventure of life most Mud and Grace readers seem to have.

Every woman needs these pieces? Even my grandma?

1. Traditional basics list: A little black dress

  1. How often do you go to cocktail parties? Formal business meetings? The funeral of someone who would have wanted you to wear black? How often do you use the word “little” to describe anything in you wardrobe?
    You can live quite happily without any of these.

     

    Mud and Grace option: A knee-length knit dress

    Comfortable, warm, easy, washable, this dress can be casual when worn with boots and tights, or dressed up with jewelry and heels. With the exception of formal events, which rarely happen in my town, this dress is always appropriate.

    I have worn this dress everywhere, even to the rare cocktail party.

    2. Traditional basics list: A black pencil skirt

It’s true, pencil skirts are flattering. But you can’t ride a bike in a pencil skirt, and you really shouldn’t pair one with Frye Boots.

Mud and Grace option: A casual skirt in a neutral color

Find a skirt that can take the place of jeans, something casual that can be dressed up when you need it to be. This skirt should make you feel fantastic, and elevate your wardrobe on days you need it, but it shouldn’t be fussy.

I can wear this anywhere and everywhere.

3. Traditional basics list: Crisp white blouse

If you love ironing, are willing to have it tailored so it lies perfectly flat along your bust, and never spill coffee on yourself, go for it. For the rest of us mortals, these shirts just aren’t worth the trouble. Plus they always feel “crispy.”

Mud and Grace option: A soft chambray shirt

A bamboo or tencel option is so soft, never needs ironing and goes with absolutely everything.

This has been in my regular rotation, all four seasons, for five years now.

4. Traditional basics list: A black blazer

I have a black blazer, and I absolutely love it. But I tend to forget about it for seasons at a time, so my wardrobe obviously functions just fine without it

Mud and Grace option: A denim or cargo jacket

These easy jackets “finish” and outfit without making your feel fussy. They are perfect for unpredictable weather, or the unpredictable heating and cooling systems in our places of work. Find a good one, wear it forever.

I love you.

5. Traditional basics list: A striped shirt

Striped shirts really are adorable, but they are not for everyone. I swear I’m one beret away from street mime the minute I put on a striped shirt.

Mud and Grace option: A plaid or gingham shirt

Still adds a bit of interest in a limited color pallet, but substantially less preppy.

One can wear this shirt and never feel as though they are trapped in an invisible box.

6. Traditional basics list: Trench coat

Let’s take a large piece of shiny, khaki fabric, spatter a bunch of buttons across the front, give it huge lapels and pretend it’s flattering!

Mud and Grace option: A great rain jacket that fits your style

You do need a great jacket to keep the rain off. That might mean a trench for you, although a single row of buttons and a darker color would probably work better for most women. Most of us can find a sharp looking, seriously rain-repellant jacket that will work well with jeans and boots.

Sharp, and actually dry.

7. Traditional basics list: Classic pumps

I do love a classic pair of pumps, and I own some… and I wear them maybe once a year. It would be wrong to call them foundational in any way.

I wore these last November. They were fine.

Mud and Grace option: Smart looking, comfortable ankle boots.

Ankle boots are less of a commitment than mid-calf or tall boots, but keep your feet warm and dry, and your outfit updated.

I have no problem wearing the same shoes for seven days in a row.

8. Traditional basics list: White sneakers

Does no one else encounter mud in this world???

Mud and Grace option: Off-white sneakers

No one will ever know how many times they’ve been through the wash

If something is the color of a stain, can you stain it?

 

  1. Traditional basics list: Good quality black, grey and white t-shirts.

OK, you actually do need these. I have them in long sleeve, short sleeve and tank top. If black, grey and white aren’t your colors, find them in the neutrals you wear, like cream, olive and navy.

They have a point here. Good t-shirts make everything easier.

 

A few week’s ago we heard Jessie’s story, about a woman who is in the process of going a full year without buying any clothes. Part of what enabled Jessie to embark on this adventure is that she had a fully functioning wardrobe at the start. Many of us will be attempting a 40-day no-buy starting October 14th. Check your basics this week, and make sure you have what you need to get dressed easily in the months to come. As traditional basics lists don’t work for me, my list may not work for you. But take the opportunity to write your own basics list, and make sure yours are in good repair and ready to roll starting October 14th.

My favorite basic is a simple white tank top.

Do you have a “basic” I didn’t include today? Let me know what your “must-have” pieces are in the comments below!

Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge

No new clothes, no second hand clothes, no last-minute dashes to get appropriate fan wear, no continuing quests for the perfect pair of black ankle boots, no shopping; just you and your personal style taking a little vacation together.

Join me for the No-Buy Style Challenge

Even in my most broke days, I’m not sure I’ve ever consciously stopped shopping for a set period of time. Sure, around 2009 my shopping sprees consisted of less than $20 dollars spent at Value Village, but my guess is I managed to spend at least $8 every few weeks in a life long quest for wardrobe fulfillment.

My friend Jessie is going one full year without shopping for clothing. For the full story, see this article, Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?

Several readers and I are taking 40 days off, because while we admire Jessie, we’re just not that hard core. To avoid running amok with good intentions, we need to plan so that our No-Buy will be a success. Here are a few things to look at before leaping.

Let’s have just one more picture of Jessie, because she’s just so adorable.

Define your rules:

“No clothes shopping” is more vague than it might sound. Do you include jewelry in clothing? Can you receive gifts of clothing? Do running shoes count?

Think about why you want to do this challenge, and what parameters will work for you. During my 40-day trial, I’m not going to buy any clothing, but I will take a few things to the tailor.

You might decide that while you aren’t going to buy any new clothes, you will continue with your quest to find the perfect reading glasses. You may believe that running shoes aren’t clothes, they are fitness tools. In that case, if the ones you have wear out, you will buy new ones. It’s your challenge, make your own rules.

My daughter won the hat I’m wearing here in a climbing competition. In the unlikely event that I win a hat, I’ll keep it.

Make sure you have what you need:

Part of the reason Jessie has been successful is because she’d spent several years curating a beautiful wardrobe before taking a year off buying. She has athletic wear, leisure wear, work wear, boots, coats, layering t-shirts. Had I tried this challenge in my thirties I would have failed, because I did not have a functioning wardrobe. Next week I’ll write about key pieces I think every active women needs. Make your own list and don’t be a puritan about it. Socks that don’t bunch up in the toes of your boots are not a luxury. A decent outfit to host family holiday gatherings in makes gathering as a family one step easier. Get what you need.

I have five plaid flannel shirts, which is probably enough. Even for an Oregonian.

Make sure you know what you have:

Unpack all the boxes and bins you have stashed in your closet and take a good hard look at all you own. I had “long sleeved grey t-shirt” on my shopping list before I found two such shirts in a box I’d packed up last spring. Duh. Also take note of how many duplicates you have. When I started writing this article I had five black coats. I now have three (rain jacket, snow jacket and casual chino) and my daughter has two (rain jacket and barn jacket.)

Alpaca hat! I had completely forgotten about you.

Decide why you are taking on this challenge:

I am shrugging off buying for 40 days because I think it will make me more stylish. Seeking to better understand how I can utilize the clothing I already own will force me to be more creative.

Like Jessie, you may want a break from a seemingly endless cycle of buying. Or maybe you want to finish up a short story you’ve been writing, and you can use the time you would have spent trolling the internet for the perfect knee socks working on it.

My one request is that you take up this challenge in a spirit of fun, rather than guilt or shame. Mud and Grace readers don’t tend to be compulsive shoppers. In fact they only tend to be compulsive about taking-care-of-everyone-and-everything-except-themselves. While there are many great reasons for not shopping, consider taking up this challenge just for the fun of it.

I’m planning on starting my 40-Day No-Buy on October 14th. Let me know if you want to join in!

Hold back, Betty. We’ve got 40 long days ahead of us.

 

Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?

With little fan fare and no social media postings, Jessie decided, starting February 1st, 2017, not to buy any clothes for one year. To be clear, for Jessie this is not a moral crusade. She’s not a crazy stoic, and she is the last person on earth to pass judgment on another. She just wanted to see if she could do it.

At 32-years-old, Jessie has plenty of clothes; a beautifully curated wardrobe of high quality pieces, some classic, some fun. But she found herself trapped in a cycle of always looking for something new. “Because of my size, buying clothes is a quest,” Jessie says, relating a never-ending cycle of buying on-line, returns, justification of spending, and constant searching.

Then there was the Canada Goose Jacket. If you’re not familiar with Canada Goose, it’s crazy high quality outerwear that costs about as much as triple bypass surgery. “What if I bought nothing for a year, then could I buy that coat?” she wondered. And that was the thought that changed everything. Could she buy nothing for a year, even without the lure of a purchase that could significantly impact the GDP?

“I realized I needed to break the cycle of constant shopping,” she says.

Jessie, warm and adorable despite lack of Canada Goose label.

8th months in, Jessie says, “It’s been quite a journey. I will not pretend this has been easy.” Here are a few of the realizations she’s had over the last few months.

There is a huge element of fantasy in clothes shopping

Early on Jessie learned just how much she used clothes shopping as a form of escapism. “We’re not just buying clothes,” Jessie says, “we’re buying a fantasy.”

How many of us have been there? I want to be the sort of woman who walks home to her chic loft in the city after a Zen-like yoga experience… so I buy a sweater? I’m still me, only now I’m trying to get my goats off the barn roof in a sweater that catches on everything, no yoga, no Zen, no city loft.

“We have to focus on what we want in our lives, rather than what we want to wear,” Jessie says. “Bring yourself back to what you’re actually trying to achieve by buying.” So rather than shop for a cute, warm plaid shirt, Jessie finds herself planning the camping trip that she imagined herself going on in the cute, warm plaid shirt.

You can have a really good time at a party, even if you’ve worn the dress a few times previously.

You can always find something to wear

Life goes on, as it is inclined to do whether you are buying clothes or not. Starting in the spring, Jessie’s partner Michael broke ground on a bouldering gym that had been years in the planning. Everyone has been pitching in. While Jessie’s wardrobe is full of pencil skirts and fun t-shirts, she never really invested in heavy work wear.

“I wanted to pressure wash, and despite the fact that I was born and raised in Oregon, apparently I own no rain pants. So I just took a couple of garbage bags and wrapped one around each leg,” she said of her rain bloomers. Jessie’s been wearing a pair of Ann Taylor Loft skinnies as work pants, and despite the fact that they are not Carharts and have no abundance of pockets, she’s managed to sand, drill, spray and climb in them.

When you don’t have the option of buying, Jessie says, “You really see what you reach for again and again.”

Balloon pants rule.

There will always be something new to want

The most profound realization of this year for Jessie is that if you indulge in wanting, it’s an endless cycle. You can find the perfect t-shirt, or suede bootie, but then there will always be something else to want. “It’s difficult to recognize how we are being manipulated by the media,” she says. Jessie, like so many of us, really likes looking at clothes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s a fine line between enjoying a flip through the new Patagonia catalog, and deciding you must have another cozy beanie. Part of Jessie’s journey has been recognizing that buying anything, even a Canada Goose jacket, isn’t going to stop the wanting. “We are never going to have the perfect wardrobe, because we’re never going to stop changing,” she says.

Not shopping allows you to love the clothes you have.

There is relief in choosing not to buy

“I’ve been surprised to find that the overwhelming sensation… isn’t disappointment or deprivation: it’s relief. I don’t have to play the game. And I had no idea how much energy the game was draining from me until I stopped playing,” Jessie says of taking to option to buy off the table.

“It’s like I have an emotional buffer in place, and suddenly I can analyze more objectively,” she says. “And when I feel my heart start to speed up and the cycle of craving rear its ugly head, I can shrug it off and think “Nope, not an option! Now what else do I want to put my energy into?”

In not shopping for clothing, Jessie has learned to focus on other things. “I’d never realized how shopping for and buying clothes was emotional for me,” she says. To go a year without shopping, “you have to be ready to take a good long look at the negative sides of yourself.”

So what’s next for Jessie? She’s not sure. “I don’t know what my relationship with clothes will look like after this,” she admits. But one thing is for sure, Jessie is no longer on a quest for the perfect selection of 37, color-coordinated pieces of clothing. “I’m not trying to make a flat lay, I’m trying to make a life,” she says.

“I hope to find a balance,” Jessie says of the happy place between a love of clothing and a full and rich life.

Here’s to the ongoing adventure!

Inspired by Jessie? I am. I’m planning on starting small with a two-month no-buy, dates TBA. Are you in? Let me know in the comments below, or by email, if you want to accept the No Buy Challenge, mudandgrace@gmail.com

I hope you enjoyed Jessie’s story. Please consider subscribing to Mud and Grace for more on what we wear and how it effects our lives. Next week I’ll examine the lessons learned in a year of no buying limits at all.

In Celebration of Gritty Women

“Gritty Woman” Alexis is my daughter’s piano teacher and she runs 100K races, making her one of the coolest people on earth.

A strong woman hikes alone on a rocky plateau, a vast lake and mountains looming in the background. This woman’s image is powerful and determined, and so far in 2017 it is the most purchased picture for the search term “woman” in the Getty Image library.

Getty Images is where every company, blogger, brochure-maker and training-PowerPoint-assembler goes to buy the images they use. Popular stock photos represent the consciousness of mainstream culture in a way that nothing else is really able to. They are purchased by anyone and everyone wishing to use an image to persuade an audience. Ten years ago the most popular pictures of women were largely naked and completely docile. But not anymore. The popularity of photos featuring strong, active women outdoors is such that Getty Images has even given the phenomenon a name, Gritty Woman.

Mainstream culture is finally catching up with what so many of us have known all along: grit is beautiful.

Lydia, being her awesome self, having serious fun in the knee-deep snow.

 

There I go again, hiking alone like a woman.

Since childhood, we are saturated with images of digitally re-mastered, inactive women. We are told to buy clothing we can’t move in to go with shoes we can’t walk in. The lessons of the media seep in and shape us in ways we can never fully be aware of.

Dana, enjoying the mountain’s beauty, no re-mastering necessary.

But this year, this crazy, difficult, disaster-ridden year, the picture that meant “woman” to the most people was of a woman hiking alone. And that, my friends is cause for celebration.

It’s always a celebration when Lex is involved.

Criticism of the concept is rife, because if something’s different we should probably criticize it, right? Here are my responses to Gritty Woman’s naysayers:

It’s just another impossible body image, set outside

OK, Getty images isn’t getting swamped for pictures of 45-year-old hikers who use reading glasses to look at the trail map and have generous behinds. I’m sure they’ll call me when that happens. Women’s clothing company Title IX prides itself on using “real women” in their catalogs, rather than models. Still, the not-models always look exactly like actual models, only with extraordinary triceps. But at least the women are moving. I’ll take powerful, active female images over the alternative any day.

Sandy, just hanging out, looking gorgeous.

These images encourage women to go outside for the sole purpose of taking a great instagram photo

Fact: I do not care why anyone goes outside. If a woman goes outside just to take a picture of herself in a cute puffer jacket, this is none of my business. She’s outside, and inasmuch as outside is awesome, it’s likely she’ll be back for more. If her pictures roll across my social media feed, I will probably put hearts on them.

I think Danielle is actually outside more than she is inside.

Ten years of improvement is more of a trend, rather than true evolution

Yes, human civilization will continue to change. The popularity of gritty women will wax and wane over time but right now it’s here, and I am going to enjoy every dirt-filled, sweat-accepting image. With time I expect to see more cultural and size diversity in the media, and it will happen as we respond to every positive representation of women we come across.

Lina and Geoffrey, representing grit… and grime.

Ultimately, when my daughter opens up her social media feed, she is flooded with pictures of tough women doing awesome things outside. When I was her age, I was flooded with pictures of buxom women with big hair lying on sofas, beds and occasionally the floor. When I envisioned my future as a 7th grader, I imagined being wealthy and beautiful. My daughter imagines herself living in a van in Colorado, being a professional rock climber. For this I’d like to thank everyone who has ever searched “woman” on Getty Images and chosen the hiker.

Alexis and her dog: tough, beautiful, and having a really good time.
Angela: capable, confident and completely adorable.
Renee, being a total boss having a great time on the McKenzie River Trail 50K.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you like Mud and Grace, but want to save yourself the trouble of finding it on Facebook every Sunday evening, please consider subscribing.

What to read more about the Gritty Woman phenomenon? Check out this great New York Times article

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/upshot/from-sex-object-to-gritty-woman-the-evolution-of-women-in-stock-photos.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_up_20170908&nl=upshot&nl_art=0&nlid=79147650&ref=headline&te=1&_r=0

 

Back to school style for teachers

Books, papers, coffee, exploding pens, slamming lockers, split second decisions, and a constant swirl of humanity: it’s school! We’re back for another year of bright lights and big workloads, and I can’t wait. I am so grateful for this noisy, crazy, beautiful job of teaching.

Celebrating my 40th year of back-to-school!

In honor of back to school, here is the best style advice culled from my teacher friends. As Bobbie, our fashionable staff president, says “For better or worse, students notice what we wear. I want to be, and to be noticed as, confident, interesting, engaged in the world, and pulled together.”

Here are a few ways to do just that.

Set up a your outfit formulas

Reading Harry Potter, I’m always a little jealous that I don’t get to wear a long wizard’s robe to work. Forget turning myself into a cat, looking professional and being comfortable everyday would be magic enough. Fortunately, muggle and blogger Anuschka Rees has come up with the outfit formula.

Essentially, outfit formulas are combinations of clothing you know will work. My go-to formula is jeans or a moto pant, blouse and jacket. My second outfit formula is a knee length dress with boots. With the exception of an occasional sweater thrown in, my teaching formulas don’t change much. To learn more about outfit formulas, check out this post.Outfit Formulas, 101

Beautiful Helen, in her favorite pixie pant/blouse/sweater combo. 

Here are some teacher outfit formulas my friends go in for:

Helen: Old Navy Pixie pant, blouse, cardigan

Julie: Bright knit maxi dress (sandals in the summer, boots and cardi in the winter)

Ann: Long fluid top, drapey sweater, skinny pants or knee length skirt

Sarah and Dani: Jeans, quirky t-shirt, hoody.

Sarah and Dani: Seriously, would you not LOVE to be taught science by these people??

Have some fun

I don’t mean to insult other professions, but educators have a unique potential for fun. Where else can you run around acting like Louis XIV? Literally nowhere. My friends Dani and Sarah have fabulous collections of fun t-shirts, and even have matching wonder woman sweatshirts. If I’m feeling particularly spunky I might go for double denim, or a homemade message T, or twin with a co-worker or student.

Helen, who is going into elementary education, owns seven critter sweaters*

 

Maddy and me, making the day a little more fun by twinning.

Wear the gear, or the pajamas

Every teacher will at some point be asked to wear tie-dye, or her pajamas, or come to school as her favorite Dr. Seuss character. Just do it. Having a few nice tops in your school’s color will help. If you hate your school’s colors, black or white with accents of the school color works just fine.

Our staff president, rocking the axe.

You do you

Students are incredible gauges of authenticity. They will respond to your enthusiasm for a topic, tell at a glance which teachers will follow a cell phone policy and which won’t, and can smell your fear. So while I might be able to fool the lady at the DMV with a smart outfit, my students can sniff out my attempts at dress up in a heartbeat.

Elle is drawn to dramatic, fashion forward choices. Not afraid to experiment, she’s often trying new colors or shapes. Julie wears long, bright maxi dresses in teal or purple. While I can pass these women in the hall everyday and exclaim over their fabulous ensembles, the bright, elegant choices would be inauthentic on me.

Elle, looking fabulous while teaching Spanish.

Wearing clothing authentic to who we are helps us relax. And anything that lessons the tension of this somewhat crazy job is a win in my book.

Letting it all hang… in

Listen up! No one at school wants to see all y’all’s anything hanging out. Ever. You’d think I wouldn’t have to say that, but in the last 23 years of teaching you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen.

For the most part, teachers want to and will dress appropriately. But wardrobe malfunctions happen. A friend once wore an ill fitting pair of jeans and unwittingly had a photograph of her behind circulating on snapchat.** One day last year I wore a dress that had shrunk up in the wash, but I didn’t notice until I sat down on a stool. I ran to Ann’s classroom and she actually took off the leggings she was wearing under her more modest dress and gave them to me for the day. That’s a friend.

For every new outfit, do the bend and sit test. Bend over and see if anything falls out in front or behind. Then sit and see how far your skirt comes up, or your pants ride down, or if the change in posture produces any gaps in your top. If you have any doubts, change now.

When in doubt, just wrap yourself in a large blanket. Better safe than snapchatted.

A few more things to ponder

How are you going to haul all your stuff? A roomy bag or backpack that coordinates smartly with your outfit formulas will pull everything together. Big arm loads of papers and an old Grocery Outlet bag will not.

Can you get the marker stains off that? Teaching is a messy job, literally as well as figuratively. According to Elle you should “buy quality fabrics that can be worn and washed in real life and stay nice-looking.” White pants are almost always an elegant fashion choice but between my goats and my students I haven’t worn them in years.

How well does your school’s heating and cooling system function? In the winter, I always plan on wearing a coat that I can keep on all day if the heat isn’t functioning. In warmer months, I wear layers and sometimes even bring a pair of sandals to change into if my feet get hot. ***

Can you walk a mile in those shoes? Because you are going to. I know it’s shocking to read on Mud and Grace Style, but invest in good shoes. Every teacher who weighed in on this article stressed the importance of good shoes. If your feet hurt, you will yell at your students. This is a fact.

Bobbie is ready for anything, which is probably what the day will bring.

My final piece of advice is to make sure you have what you need. Teachers spend so much time prepping their classrooms and lessons so everything will run smoothly once the crazy whirlwind called school kicks in. Spend some time prepping your wardrobe as well. Are your tights full of holes and likely to sag? Go get new ones. Are those once-cute ankle boots still in good shape, or do they need to be resoled and cleaned? Are all your foundational garments functioning as they should, because you really don’t want to be tugging at a bra strap during class. A little prep time on your wardrobe will leave you confident as you take on the most important job anyone could wish for.

Go get ‘em!

Me and Ann, on the last day of school in our uniforms, minus the jacket or sweater.

* I think once you own more than 5 critter sweaters, you automatically go into Primary Education.

** A little known hazard of the profession

*** I hate it when my feet are too hot

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