The One and Done Challenge

I have a long, long history of jumping into things without looking. Give me five minutes and I’ll agree to travel across the world, adopt your goats, or, as happened on that fateful August day in 1994, agree to teach high school history with no experience or training.

Sometimes it works out. Most of the time I learn a lesson. Pretty much every time I wonder, “What was I thinking?!?”

Inspired by my friends Yana and Sarah, I challenged myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. Me, bike commuting, goat wrangling, chicken herding me, was going to wear a dress every day.

To be honest, it did not start off well.

Monday morning it was snowing. Not the sticking-on-the-ground-no-school sort of snow, but wet, slushy cold snowing. I put on a dress, and just kept going. Leggings, boots, jacket: By the time I was finished you could barely see the dress. My day went just fine, but I skipped the bike commute (did I mention it was snowing?) When I arrived at the rock climbing gym, as is my habit on Mondays, I found I’d forgotten by climbing kit. Ordinarily I could have borrowed a pair of shoes, but there is no way I could climb in a dress.

I found there is very little I couldn’t put on over this black, shirt-waist dress.


By Tuesday things were looking up. I wore an olive linen dress with my beloved denim jacket and old Spanish boots. I felt like I had stepped up my work ensemble, but was fantastically comfortable due to the jacket and boots which always give me confidence.

You make everything better, denim jacket.


Wednesday I paired a sleeveless, summer denim shift dress (My grandma would have loved this! Grandma’s lessons for effortless style) with a chartreuse sweater, and my Frye boots. This didn’t even feel like wearing a dress. Some hard-core rain gear got me to school warm and dry, and this time I did not forget my climbing kit and had a great time at the gym falling off all sorts of routes.

Photographs taken at 6:25 a.m. are not my favorite things.

Thursday was the fancy day. This dress does not photograph particularly well, but it is fantastically flattering. One student stopped me in the hall and said, “Ms Grace! I’ve never seen you wear a dress before!!!” Never mind the fact that’s I’d been wearing dresses all week…

I found this on Stylewe, a site I can waste hours and hour on…
This detail gives you a better sense of the dress.

Friday was sunny, the first time our valley had seen the sun in nearly 2 months. I fell back on an old favorite, a denim dress I wore regularly in the fall. By this point in the week I was feeling much more confident. Then I changed into jeans to go out with friends after work.

Again with the old Spanish boots! We had a fun week.

On Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t wear a dress, because I went rock climbing with my husband at Smith Rock, and even I know when to cut off my cock-eyed experiments before they go too far.

Not a dress.

What I learned in five days of dresses:

All my dresses look alike

Seriously. I own 7 casual, work-appropriate dresses. Five of them are blue, one is black and one is olive. Five are button down, shirt-waist dresses. All but two are denim or denim-like.

One is plenty.

This speaks to bad shopping habits. One casual, blue, button down denim dress, great. But I should not be buying every other casual, blue denim dress I come across. Wearing them all in one week drove home the point pretty clearly.

It really does help to have options.

Wearing a dress every day for five days meant I had to wear almost every dress I own. Both Yana and Sarah advocated dress wardrobes of abundance. By Friday I didn’t have much choice and I didn’t feel like some Zen minimalist freed from the weight of consumption. I felt like I needed a trip to Buffalo Exchange, stat.

Shall I wear the blue dress or the blue dress?

I am not a master

Sarah and Yana made adding sweaters and jackets and boots sound easy, and to them it is. But I have a lot to learn about how to style dresses. I’m excited to try again, but I’m going to wait until the heat of late July to try for a full seven days. I hope you will join me for a summer One and Done challenge.

OK, so I have gone rock climbing in a dress. But only once.

Did you try a week of daily dresses? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.



Six Ways to Wear Double Denim

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

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

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

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

The Ultimate Power Suit: Jacket and Jeans

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

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

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

An adorable and debate-winning ensemble.

Old Friends: Denim Shirt and Jacket

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

They just belong together.

Perfect Cool: Light and dark

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

How can you not have fun in denim/denim?

Entry level: A Denim Dress

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

This is not hard.

Base Layer: Add a Vest or Sweater

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

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

Play With Proportion: Short and Long

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

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

A Few Precautions…

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

Stick with two pieces of denim

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

Keep the accessories authentically you

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

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

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

Brown and/or white are go-to

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

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

Wear it with joyful abandon, and chickens

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

Gettin’ her chores done.

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

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

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

Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style: Part 2

7 items, 7 days to prove themselves, and a commitment to looking and feeling fantastic all week long.

I called it my week of dressing dangerously.

The rules were simple; I had to choose seven items in my closet that I liked, but was not currently wearing. Then I had to work each piece into an ensemble that looked and felt great, and wear it all day.

To be fair, I had to set each item up for success. Too often when I try to work unworn items into my regular rotation I’ll try some sort of crazy conglomeration of unworn items. And I’m surprised when the outfit feels weird?

For this experiment, I called out my heavy hitters – the denim jacket, my Frye boots, a favorite pair of jeans, the perfect cowl neck sweater. I did my research ahead of time and thought out possible ensembles.

If you missed last week’s post, here it is: Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1

Monday – The odd colored pants

I bought them because: The fit was fantastic, and I thought I’d mix it up with the interesting color.

I never wore them because: The color was too interesting.

The final verdict: Success

Off to a great start!

You can tell from the way I am standing, this was my very favorite ensemble of the week. I love these pants! Paired with my favorite winter sweater and boots they look great. In the spring, a simple grey or white t-shirt will work nicely. Welcome to the regular rotation pants!

Tuesday – The swingy white sweater

I bought it because: I wanted a warm, light colored sweater to wear on cold days that didn’t look like I stolen the fur off a Yeti.

I never wore it because: The dropped sleeves made me look strangely broad

The final verdict: Fail

I’m unhappy and attempting to hide the fact that this is a weird sweater by carrying around a big bag all day.

I wore it, but I didn’t like it. The dropped sleeves and jewel-neck collar created a really wide line across my shoulders. I tried pairing it with a vest, with a jacket, with long necklaces, nothing seemed to work. I felt like I was wearing a tablecloth. I want to keep this sweater, because I’m under the impression that it’s practical. But this is Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style, and the swingy white sweater was given a chance along with everything else. It’s out.

Wednesday – The simple rust colored sweater

I bought it because: Loft was having one of those weird sales where the more you buy the less you wind up spending. I need to avoid those.

I never wore it because: I’m not really sure why, I just didn’t.

The final verdict: Success

I may have been making this harder than necessary…

This top is very simple. I paired it with corduroy pants and my denim jacket. It looks great with a necklace, and it was warm. The next time I’m reaching for a layering t-shirt, I will remind myself to grab this instead.

Thursday – Long olive jacket

I bought it because: It looked great in the store

I never wore it because: It seems a little sloppy

The final verdict: Success

This outfit was straight off Pinterest, and in fact was the inspiration for Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style.

As I was scrolling along I passed this outfit with a dismissive “I couldn’t do that.” Then I scrolled back up. I had every piece in my closet: wine colored top, long olive jacket, boots, scarf. I ran upstairs and put it all on. Dang.

The sharpness of the pants and boots make the drape of the top more manageable. The elegant top and scarf make the ensemble seem planned, rather than sloppy. The whole thing was fabulously comfortable. A few days later I found a picture of The Duchess of Cambridge in a similar ensemble, and that clinched it for me. The jacket stays.

Friday – Cheating with double denim

I was supposed to be wearing a piece of fan wear today. Our lovely assistant principal gave each staff member a great t-shirt and I haven’t worn mine yet because it is too stiff. I tried a DYI project of soaking it in salt water to soften it up but it didn’t work. The t-shirt looked terrible, to the point I didn’t pass the Allen, or any other, test. I plan to try other t-shirt softening schemes and will let you know how it worked.

It’s like I’m back the early 1990s, without the inconvenience of being in my early 20s.

So in the spirit of the week, I tried a look I’ve wanted to work on, double denim. It’s back, and I couldn’t be happier. Here I toned it down with a puffer vest. I will definitely be posting about the Double D in the near future.

Saturday – The bat wing sweatshirt

I bought it because: I needed something to go with Lulu Lemon joggers

I never wore it because: I have other sweatshirts I reach for first, and I don’t wear the Lulu Lemon joggers that often

The final verdict: Fail

Saturday morning was the low point on the journey. I don’t hate this sweatshirt. I feel like it has potential but I just don’t wear it. The fabric bunches up around my belly, which is not a great look on me, and the rounded jewel neckline doesn’t do anything for me.

I felt like we should have been able to work together.

I put the sweatshirt on with the joggers and realized that the pants were a fail from the start. A heavier weight than the joggers I wear in warmer weather, they have a cropped ankle, meaning I would have to wear them with sneakers and no socks in the winter!

As if.

On top of that the joggers had too much fabric at the waistline, which might look dramatic if I were shaped like a two by four. When the pants didn’t work I bought the sweatshirt to go with them… brilliant. Both are out.

Sunday – The Thneed

I bought it because: It’s awesome! I’ve been wanting to try some sort of drapey, scarf/poncho/wrap thing. This was one is grey cashmere and only $18 at Buffalo Exchange? Yes please.

I never wore it because: It’s a drapey, scarf/poncho/wrap thing and I don’t even know what to call it, much less how to wear it.

The final verdict: Success

As it turns out, all I needed to do was put it on. I kept the underpinnings simple and let the cashmere do the talking.

I love it. It feels stylish and easy, and is fantastically cozy. I originally thought I’d save it for dress up, but wearing it with jeans a boots felt natural. I wore it to church, running errands and at a family lunch.

Wear a drapey, cashmere thing and you, too will be on the verge of making an insightful point in conversation.

And that was my week of dressing dangerously. A few items bit the dust, but in exchange I have four new items in regular rotation without spending a dime.

Lessons learned:

Don’t buy jewel neck tops

Don’t buy dropped sleeved sweaters

Keep pushing myself towards drapey tops, just balance them with a sharp background.

It’s OK to buy pants based on fit and fabric alone.* I have enough black, grey and white in my closet to accommodate a few funny colors.

Photographs are an excellent way to judge an outfit. Having hard evidence of how well an outfit works can keep you rolling back to it in the future, or avoiding the look all together.

Best lesson of the week: This was really fun. I didn’t expect to get giddy over forcing myself to try new things, but by the second half of the week I was in a fantastic mood, just ask my husband. This small, self-imposed puzzle gave me a challenge each morning, and the extra spring in my step that comes with wearing something new.

Coincidentally, I was teaching my psychology class about the study of happiness during my week of dressing dangerously. According to researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, shaking your brain up by making small changes can add significantly to your happiness. She notes that something as seemingly insignificant as altering the route of your jog can boost your mood. As I asked my students to try one of a number of similar positive psychology exercises, I was unwittingly trying one myself.

So while you are out there engaging in meaningful activity, creating strong connections with family and friends, being smart about your diet and exercise, go ahead and add a wardrobe puzzle to your week. You will wind up with new additions to your regular wardrobe rotation, spend no money and walk around grinning all week.

Did you try a week of dressing dangerously? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.

*Within reason

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.

Basics for a fun and functional wardrobe

We walk dogs. We work. We run kids to various places. We show up late to book club. We attend important meetings. We attend unimportant meetings. We zip outside to grab herbs from the garden for the meal we’re making. We need wardrobe basics that work for this, real life.

I have read every fashion guru’s ‘must have’ list and they always include items that would never, ever work for my daily life. Animal print pumps? Black wool pants? A suit?! All these lists and lists of wardrobe essentials won’t do anyone any good at all if you can’t wear half the pieces listed.

I don’t know what dress code limitations you have on your particular beautiful life, but I do know that there are certain pieces that work well for most women’s waking hours. Here are the Mud and Grace recommendations:

An easy dress

On the first day of school, my friend Ann and I showed up to greet our students in nearly identical dresses. Mine was a little more casual, and I wore it with boots and tights. Ann looked classier, in a more structured version of the dress and walkable heels. But the sentiment was the same, we both wanted to look professional, be comfortable, and get through the blast of energy that is the first day of school.

An easy dress can be dressed up or down and layers well. I’ll wear mine to work, church, the grocery store, out to dinner, and anywhere else life takes me.

So. Easy. Velvet Heart, new.

Plaid flannel or substantial stripes

Both are cozy and comfortable to wear around the home, and neat enough to wear out. Flannel is having a moment, so seize the chance to get something you really like. Nicely weighted striped tops can always be found at classic retailers. Like a denim jacket, plaid and stripes are not going out of style. Always appropriate for running down to deal with an escaped goat, comfy plaids and stripes also look good enough to pop into town, or up to the neighbor’s.

Cloth and Stone, new one year ago

This flannel has plaid and stripes, making it the world’s best shirt.

Fun tops

For fancier days, or days you just feel a little fancy, a soft, floating top in an easy-to-wash fabric can dress up your jeans or a skirt. Buy a couple that are really pretty, and you’ll wear them to work, to dinner, to the school fiesta, anywhere. Just make sure you love the pattern and are prepared to wear them over and over. If you enjoy caring for silk, by all means, choose silk. This is one area where I really appreciate the ease of a human-made fabric.

Lucky Brand, new.
Brand unknown, this was a hand-me-down from Ann. So technically that makes it an Ann-me-down.

Layering t-shirts

These days, t-shirt shopping has become akin to jeans shopping in the frustration it produces. Sheer, sloppy, too tight, too long… all for something that’s supposed to be simple and comfortable? Keep shopping. Find the t-shirt that works for you. Talbots makes a nice ribbed t-shirt that is fitted without being too tight. I like LL Bean’s classic waffle Henley.

Waffle henleys are really hard to photograph, but man are they classic.

Stepped up t-shirts

These fun pieces look elegant, but can also come off as casual. If you’re unsure about the dress code in a particular situation, they can be a life saver. Plus they’re comfy and great looking.

Calvin Klein, 2nd hand

Fryes or other mid-height, flat boots

Wear them everywhere, with everything. Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece

Anywhere, any time
Anywhere, any time

Driving shoes

A nice alternative to flats, these classic kicks can take you most places. More elegant than your Fryes, but still comfortable enough to get on with your life.

Ralph Lauren, new one year ago

Clean, good quality tennis shoes

Vans and Converse have nice options. Josef Seibel makes lovely leather sneakers, but any simple pair will do. Keep them clean, wear with anything.

My Vans, with odd mushroom growing on the deck outside my bedroom. Is that a bad thing?

Utility boots

If you live in a rainy climate, get mud boots. If you live in a cold climate, get snow boots.

Mud boots are essential for kid’s outdoor sporting contests, mucking around in the garden and letting the chickens out. Hunter boots really are comfortable and hold up well. I often find last year’s colors and styles at a local resale shop. My chickens are fine with last year’s boots.

True, these boots have seen better days. But I can guarantee you they’re going to see worse days than this. 2nd hand, 3 or 4 years ago.

Nice snow boots can be a cozy, stylish addition to your wardrobe. Enormous yeti-like boots are (thankfully) passé. Try a sleek pair with just a hint of shearling or knit. Northface makes some elegant, functional boots.

My snow boots are in even worse shape than my mud boots, thus I found us a lovely internet picture.

Your denim Jacket or a cargo jacket


Read more here: Friends for Life; You and Your Denim Jacket



Fine knit wool or cashmere sweaters

Sweaters should be soft, and made of 100% natural fiber. They must be pill-free and in good shape. Nothing says frumpy like a sweater gone bad. Lighter gauge sweaters work well for fall and spring, and can be layered with long-sleeved silk underwear for more warmth in the winter.

This Talbot’s cashmere sweater can layer or stand on it’s own. New, one year ago.

A chunky fisherman’s sweater

Just google image search Marilyn Monroe, or Grace Kelly fisherman’s sweater. Enough said.

Aran Sweater, 2nd hand. What a find!

Perfectly fitted, fine wale corduroy or a soft cotton/ stretch pants.

Corduroy or cotton/stretch pants take the place of wool (too much lint and dog hair) and chinos (too many wrinkles) for situations where pants are acceptable, but jeans are not. Or for days you’re just tired of your jeans. Both have an old school, collegiate feel that works perfectly with sweaters and/or a denim jacket. A good pair can last for years, and the more broken in and fitted to your body, the better.

Old Navy, new
Ann Taylor Loft, 2nd Hand

Casual, fluid leg pants

These are a stylish alternative to jeans for weekends, road trips, or watching a cross-country meet. A wide leg or fitted ankle are both nice. My tall neighbor looks elegant in wide-leg versions. At 5’6” I find a fitted ankle contains the look. Just be careful to buy pants in a fabric that won’t wrinkle, and whatever you do, don’t size up. You want to look free and breezy, not like you’re channeling MC Hammer. (Unless you want to, I’m not judging.)

Athleta, 2nd hand

Your jeans

We are living in a marvelous age for jeans, as there is no reigning shape or wash we need to stuff ourselves into. Skinny, slouchy, boot cut, it’s your call. Inexpensive, used Levis are getting as much play time on fashion blogs as uber-expensive designer jeans.

Skinny jeans work best on my frame. You might rock a pair of slouchies. Take your time and find the right jeans for you, then wear them with confidence. If they look good, the price, style and design truly don’t matter. Need a place to start? It’s hard to beat well-fitting dark wash jeans for versatility and flattery.

Some days I wear AG, some days I wear Levis. Both of these were bought new several years ago.

The right undergarments

No one wants to spend money and time finding good foundation pieces, but honey, if you want dressing to be effortless and fun, you need to start here. It’s the foundation, like Mesopotamia; brutal, but we’d be nowhere without them.

Go get the well fitting bras and unders you know you need, and no, that’s not gonna be cheap.

I love silk camisoles, rather than the stretchy, fitted ones. I have one from Lands End that I got nearly 10 years ago and I still wear. On cold days, I slip on silk undershirt on for luxurious warmth.


Tiny picture of Land’s End silk undershirt.

Mud and Grace does not go in for shapewear on a daily basis. I’m not into stuffing myself into sausage casing. According to Hollywood costumer Alison Freer, it doesn’t make anyone look thinner, and I have to agree. You are still you, and it’s better to get comfortable with that fact, rather than uncomfortable in spandex. Love and Appreciate Your Body In fact, seeing the outline of someone’s spanx under a dress can really kill a look. Shapewear is good for reducing lumpage in a body conscious dress, but other than that purpose, I’m not a fan.

Family fan wear

An area of special consideration: If you have athletes in your family, read on. If you have artists, skip to the next section.

Buy a well-made, stylish top showing enthusiasm for the team you are expected to support. How many times a week do you wear clothing supporting your child’s school, soccer club, the local football team, your own co-ed softball team? I spend a good portion of my waking hours watching my children’s teams and my husband’s high school runners. This is my social life.

Old. Hand-me-up

My son got this sweatshirt at the end of his first season playing football. He wore it nearly everyday for the next year. He’s too big for it now, but it still fits me. (And it doesn’t smell) I look supportive, I’m really comfortable, and I remember how little he used to be.

You can buy from the fan shop or school front office, but if you don’t find something that makes you feel fabulous, be open to other ideas. A few years ago, tired of looking frumpy in stiff, blocky t-shirts at cross country meets, I had a sweatshirt made for myself in the team’s color and used their logo. It cost me $50. I wore it to tatters. My friend Ann has a vintage U of O Ducks jacket that looks awesome. My friend Lynette wore a simple purple puffer jacket to support the high school soccer team. Whatever you choose it doesn’t, and really shouldn’t be fancy, it just needs to give a nod of support to the athletes.

Lululemon, new

I wear red and black to my daughter’s climbing competitions. For some reason there are a ton of fancy moms at climbing comps. It’s counterintuitive. Still, they stress me out. I always wear a sweatshirt.

Artists in the family?

Roped into volunteering behind the scenes at your children’s plays? Buy a good set of blacks. Do not go rummaging in your closet at the last minute and come out with faded black jeans and your husband’s old Access Fund t-shirt turned inside out. (Not that I ever wore that behind the scenes at the Wildish Theater…) Find yourself constantly attending recitals? A couple comfy, knit dresses can look elegant as you sit through 16 other children’s piano pieces while you wait for your child to play. Supporting the artists in your life is a place where your fun tops can hook up with your corduroy pants or jeans for an easy, artsy look.


I have a dress very similar to this Banana Republic piece. Add a nice necklace and you’re fancy. Put a puffer vest over it and you’re casual.

Just last night I had to run from a cross-country picnic to a gallery opening where a student had several pieces on display. I wore the floaty peach top, jeans and ankle boots while running from the north to south sides of town to make it all happen. I felt great.

Questions to consider when choosing these pieces:

Is it perfect?

The trick with essentials is that they have to be perfect. Far more energy should go into finding the right layering t-shirt than into finding a dress to wear to the high school Hall of Fame dinner. You will need to wear “almost right” pieces until you find perfect pieces because you cannot go out without pants on. Take your time with these. When they are right, you’ll know.

What can roll over from summer?

Check your summer wardrobe to see if any of the pieces from summer can layer with your cooler weather wardrobe. (Mud and Grace Summer Essentials) Are there tank tops that can slip under a plaid shirt? The chambray top you wore on cooler evenings can certainly find a spot in your winter wardrobe. In general, it’s best to get anything you won’t wear out of the way, so the process of getting dressed is simplified. But if you have clothes that can work year round, keep them within easy reach.

2nd Hand: American Eagle
2nd Hand: American Eagle

How much is enough?

Ideally, you should have two weeks of outfits, with mixing and matching. I like to wear neutral pieces once a week, and standout pieces every two weeks. I may have more sweaters than are strictly necessary.

Are two baskets of sweaters too many, or just enough?

These 16 pieces can be the foundation of your wardrobe, with you adding in fun extras and trendy pieces to suit your style. As mentioned in the last post, a wardrobe functions like a car, all pieces need to work together. Most fashion writing centers on women whose wardrobes are more akin to a sleek BMW in which no one ever snacks in the back seat. My wardrobe is more like a Volkswagen Westphalia, fun, versatile, and largely second hand.

Use these pieces to tune up your closet where it needs help, then enjoy the cozy, busy days ahead without a second thought about what to wear.

My gargoyle isn’t speaking to me.


Friends for Life – You and Your Denim Jacket

My buddy, the denim jacket.

I saw the most gorgeous woman rocking a vintage denim jacket. She was in her 80s, had wavy, white hair and was enjoying lunch and a glass of wine at an outdoor cafe, alone.

Please God, let that be me someday.

And while she has 40 years of wisdom on me, there was one thing we shared that I can build on. A great denim jacket.

This piece knows no age boundaries. A toddler is adorable in one, a preteen is cool, a middle schooler looks positively maverick, a high schooler or college student can go vintage cool, and the rest of us can find that great denim jacket and wear it up to the last day of our lives.

And while there are times the denim jacket is hot, it never truly goes cold. It’s either in style, or really in style.

Your perfect denim jacket has the following elements:

Classic styling

Levis and Lee made the old school classics, and they are still cool. A vintage denim jacket from the 70s will fit cleanly to the waist, where there will be adjustable tabs on either side. Metal buttons, slender fitting sleeves, slash pockets and large breast pockets complete the original.

If this traditional look doesn’t work for you, don’t despair. (Not that you were on the verge of despair. This is just clothes…) So long as you keep it simple, any modern take will work. My mom had a dark green corduroy piece with jean jacket styling that she wore until it was literally in tatters. My friend Ann has an ultra-dark wash jacket with a few posh details that add a seriousness to the look that’s completely work appropriate. I’ve seen women in denim jackets tailored to flare at the waist, and jackets that hang from the shoulder, rather than being fitted. The trick is to keep the hardware solid metal, keep the stitching precise and simple, and avoid too many bells and whistles (and zippers.)

This Burberry jacket is still classic, with a few modern updates. *

It fits you

A denim jacket should be roomy enough that you can wear a light sweater under it, but not so big that you can’t layer another jacket over it. It should button up easily and not pull anywhere. The classic denim jacket comes just to your waist.

A tailor can be a big help here. I took my favorite jacket in for a little 21st century streamlining (the arms where too roomy with a touch of bat wing leaking out to the sides) 24 hours and $20 later my jacket was ready to hop back in the mix.

The shearling lining in my husband’s denim jacket ups the cowboy cool. But please don’t tell him that…

A Story

I bought this jacket in Rome for 10 Euro from a street vendor during an unseasonably cold spring in the late 1990s. I wore it all over the Eternal City with a pair of bright red pants and black turtle neck. I wore it on my first day of teaching at South Eugene High School. I wore it in the chilly weeks after my daughter was born to take walks around the block. I wore it the night Sara and I showed up woefully under dressed at the Junior League Ball (what were we thinking?) The ball was ultimately crashed by a group of men from the Mounted Posse convention one ballroom over and Sara and I suddenly had more dance partners than we knew what to do with. Over the years I have bought trendier denim jackets, but always pushed them aside for this old friend.

How to wear it

Just as there is no age on this piece, there are no restrictions on how it can be worn. Here are a few fun ideas –

Buttoned up, with a pencil skirt

Buttoned up and belted, with blazer layered over the top

Over a white t-shirt, with turquoise jewelry

Over a white cotton oxford, with pearls

Buttoned up, with a pleated midi-skirt

Over a tailored sheath dress

Over any dress

Buttoned up, with a brightly colored puffer vest over the top

Recently I was browsing through shops in downtown Portland, wearing my old Italian jean jacket, wondering exactly how hip it was possible for the people around me to get. Seriously, the men’s facial hair alone in that city accounts for about 18% of total world hipness at any given moment. “Cool jacket!” I heard a young woman say to her friend. I turned around and the girls were looking at me and my old denim friend. “We really love your jacket,” the girl said earnestly. I smiled, realizing that to her, I was like the beautiful 80-year-old I’d seen in the cafe.

P.S. Do you have a favorite denim jacket? Email me a picture for the Inspiration page.

*But of course I never wear this jacket because every time I put it on I take it back off and put on my old jacket. I should probably follow my own advice and give it to someone who would actually wear it. Lessons From a Chronic Closet Cleaner

OK, fine. Who wants this for their denim jacket? The first subscriber to email me and gets the Burberry jacket.

A gorgeous new home for jacket! This is Tatyana, rocking the Burberry. Enjoy!