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

 

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.

Dos and Don’t of the Statement T-Shirt

T-shirts are far and away the most fun pieces of clothing. Comfy, soft and colorful, our t-shirts can actively express our feelings, personalities and daily moods.

This week I teamed up with Jenna, Maddy, Talia, Melissa, Julia and Lucy on their last day of high school to figure out right way to wear a statement tee.

Jenna, Lucy, Maddy, me, Julia, Melissa and Talia in our statement tees.

What follows are a list of Dos and Don’ts for the statement tee.

Do wear that statement tee if…

It reminds you of good times: If you have a t-shirt from a fun summer softball league, a favorite play, your 7th grade chess championship game where you came in last but still had a great time, these are always, aways appropriate.

Melissa is wearing a shirt from her grade school that she “borrowed” from her former teacher, the beloved Sally Krueger.

It perks you up, and shares some fun with the world: There are a ton of fun message Ts out there that just bring a smile to your face. If you find one you love, go for it.

Jenna, in an adorable happy planet T
My daughter Margaret, in the “Ask me about my goat” t-shirt that Maddy gave me and Margaret quickly stole.

If references your loyalties: School, team, band, Hogwarts house of choice, an outward statement of your loyalties can be a conversation starter, as well as just throwing some support into the universe for something you believe in.

Every college Julia applied to was hurling scholarship money at her in an attempt to lure her their way. In the end, she accepted Syracuse, and says so proudly with this t-shirt.
When Julie and I saw Duran Duran in concert last summer, Simon Le Bon came out for the last set in a t-shirt like this one. I made matching 1978 tees for me and Julie to remember the fabulous fun we had that night.*

It’s funny: Some t-shirts are just plain funny. If you find one, enjoy the joke and let others in on it too.

Jessie at Bishop, expressing her opinion on sleeves.

It makes a statement about you: There are plenty of statements worth making. We can use our fashion choices to stand up for something we believe in, or simply state how we want the world to be.

This small and slightly blurry picture of Lucy (Nasty Woman) and Maddie (Stay Weird) tells you what to expect from this pair of brilliant girls. 

You love it: Sometimes, you come across a statement tee you just plain love. Wear that shirt and others like it as much as you want.

Talia wears Patagonia pocket tees all the time. They look fantastic.
The girls made me a t-shirt with silly pictures of all of them collaged onto it. I love it more than words can say.
A close up shot of the Greatest Shirt of All Times and Peoples.

Statement Tees to avoid: Some statement Ts are a don’t. Everyone is going to have her own opinion here, but these are my personal guidelines.

The Boastful T: It’s one thing to see a 9-year-old in a Nike “Been there, won that” t-shirt. Her brain is not fully developed yet, and her sports-oriented aunt-with-no-children probably thought it was adorable when she bought it. The rest of us can refrain from shirts that talk about how we destroy on the soccer pitch, can’t lose playing Connect Four, or whatever.

The fact that this fits a 7-year-old makes it extra funny.

The Whining T: I am sorry if you didn’t get your coffee / don’t like my face / are bored with the world at large, but advertising that fact on your t-shirt doesn’t do much for anyone. Even, and especially, the sad person who feels the need to express their general unhappiness on their chest while rolling about in this world.

If you wear this in class I’m gonna make you turn it inside out.

The contradiction: An environmental message on a mass-produced, $5 t-shirt from Target? You are never going to feel right wearing this. Ditto goes for anything that says Namaste unless you are actually doing Yoga / Meditating / attempting to communicate in Hindi while bowing to the divine in someone else. Statement Tees are only cool when they are authentic.

This is so wrong I don’t even know where to begin.

The concert you didn’t attend: You may love a band or musician, but a fake faded t-shirt of a concert you didn’t attend looks a little silly. The only exception to this rule is if you find an actual faded concert t-shirt in one of your parent’s or older sibling’s drawers. That’s cool.

Dad, please tell me you kept this shirt.

So there you have it, the dos and don’t of statement tees. Do you have a favorite t-shirt? Send in a picture, the Mud and Grace community would love to see it!

* When you make your friend a t-shirt, do not, under any circumstances, deliver the t-shirt in a timely manner. Be sure to forget to bring it to their birthday party, leave it at home if you are meeting for lunch, whatever you have to do. Keep that shirt for months, even a full year! That way you can celebrate the anniversary of the t-shirt inspiring event by wearing matching shirts and apologizing profusely.

No one can stop looking at my amazing t-shirt. Except for Melissa and Talia.

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.

Experimenting!
  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.

Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1

You will notice I am wearing my “chores” shirt. That’s because you and I have some work to do, my friend.

There may be mud involved.

You know all those items in your closet that hang there, taking up space, but you never actually wear? They fit your style, they are practical, they… just don’t make it into the mix. Like that package of quinoa you’ve been meaning to cook up, you know you should, but you don’t.

Well, it’s January, time to use it or lose it.

Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style is a seven-day, no BS strategy to get you wearing all those perfectly nice pieces in your closet you never wear. Here’s the plan:

  1. Choose 7 items

Be honest here. We all have a few, beautiful, beautifully made pieces that just don’t make the cut in the mornings as we get dressed. Take a good hard look at the items hanging in your closet or shoved in the back of your drawers. Choose seven pieces you would like to start wearing. Don’t ask yourself if you want to get rid of it. Don’t ask yourself if you should wear it. Just ask yourself if you want to wear it.

I don’t even know what to call this, but I definitely want to wear it.
  1. Remember why you bought each piece

There are myriad of social and cultural pressures that stand behind every purchase. My guess is Mud and Grace readers tend to make pretty good decisions when they shop. But not every well-thought out purchases gets worn.

I bought this scarf because I love sock monkeys.

After you have chosen seven pieces that you aren’t wearing, think back to the day you bought them. A pair of pants currently on my chopping block looked fantastic in the dressing room, but I came home to find the color didn’t work well with the rest of my wardrobe. Maybe you found a deal too good to pass up, and now you own a valuable sweater you never wear. You could have been pushing yourself to try a new style, and were brave enough in the store, but not on a daily basis as you get dressed. Remembering what it was you loved about an item can help you in your quest to use it or lose it.

  1. Pre-plan

Spend some time on Pinterest or Polyvore looking for inspiration. Narrow your search so you’re not falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole of ridiculous outfits and impossible breakfast casseroles. Type in the name of the item you want to work into your wardrobe (i.e. ‘red tunic sweater’, or ‘brown leather jacket’) and something about your demographic (‘women’s fashion over 40’, or ‘college student’)

If you are using Polyvore, find something that is similar to the item you want to match up (let’s pretend I found that leather jacket at Buffalo exchange.) Then surround it with ideal pieces.

I could spend all day on Polyvore.
  1. Set items up for success

Take your seven unwearables and pair them with your wardrobe workhorses. Too often when advised to ‘shop you closet,’ people are told to pair one lost and lonely item with several others. Just put a belt around the whole thing and it will be fine, right?

Instead, I want you to put your very favorite pieces with these closet orphans; your denim jacket, ( Friends for Life – You and Your Denim Jacket) the favorite pair of boots, (Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece) your best jeans. Let the fairy dust from these items rub off on the others. Once you’ve come up with a few ideas on how to wear the each piece, pair items together in your closet so they are ready to go in the mornings that will follow.

This shirt is like that smart, easy-going student who is willing to work with anyone on the group project.
  1. Spend a week dressing dangerously

Every day, for seven days, wear something that is not in your regular rotation. Once you are dressed, snap a quick picture of yourself.

The rules are you have to wear the item all day, and feel terrific. The ensemble must pass the Allan test. (For more on the Allan test, see Lessons From a Chronic Closet Cleaner)If it works, you get to keep the item. If not, it’s out.

Everything should make you feel like a super hero.

Caveat: Try not to buy anything new to make an item work, but don’t be weirdly unreasonable.

If you have a skirt that needs a certain type of tights, that’s fine. Go get the tights. But don’t be out buying five items to make that weird scarf work. This is an exercise about using what you have.

That’s it. Five easy steps to shopping your closet, with consequences. I can’t wait to see what the week will bring!

Here are my seven pieces on the chopping block this week: The swingy white sweater, the cargo jacket, the thneed, the rust colored sweater, a piece of fan wear, the odd colored pants, and the bat wing sweatshirt.