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.

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

I hope you enjoyed this post! Please consider subscribing to have Mud and Grace delivered directly to your mail box.

8-Step Plan for the Perfect Summer Wardrobe

Summertime! Whether you are out adventuring, lazing around the house or knocking tasks off your list, you still get to have to get dressed. And yes, you do have to wear something.*

But it’s 110 degrees!

We often neglect summer wardrobes because the season is more casual. I’ve seen a woman with a crush of holiday cocktail dresses cramping up her closet and not one great pair of shorts.** With this post, I hope to help you create a wardrobe out of which you can get dressed in a snap every morning, pack in 15 minutes or less for wherever you’re headed, and feel great in your clothes no matter what the day might bring.

Some things I wear in the summer.

This post is not earth-shatteringly different from my advice to you in the past. It is a gentle reminder to put some forethought into your closet, freeing you to spend the day on larger questions than “Does this top look OK?” What follows is a list of questions to consider as you put your wardrobe together. You can download a worksheet here.

Summer Wardrobe Planning Worksheet

What are you doing?

Look at your summer plans and think through specific clothing needs. Gardening, hiking, running kids around, flying somewhere, hanging out at the pool, wrestling goats out of the cob bin? Be specific and honest about the activities you will be engaging in. I hope to spend a lot of time writing this summer, which means sitting in a deck chair with my computer on my lap. My routine includes multiple daily runs down to the garden, so everything needs to work with dirt. I don’t have any weddings this summer, and no formal events, so I can get by with a pretty casual wardrobe.

I don’t need you, fancy dress. But man are you fun to try on!

What do you want to wear?

Last summer my wardrobe had a strong athletic vibe. This year, I feel like including a few more pretty items: soft, loose tops, easy shorts, a few more skirts. I still have my share of caves to explore and boulder problems to get shut down on, I’m just drawn to prettier items in which to do it all this year. Take some time to flip through magazines or read a few style blogs to figure out what you want. A summer full of elegant maxi dresses? Runners’ skorts with tank tops? Don’t deny that inner voice that says “Ohhhh! Pretty!” Wear what you want to wear.

I added fun shorts this summer.
See? They have a bird on them. Birds always make shorts fun.

What type of care are you willing to give to your clothing?

In my case, the answer to this question is zero. I will not iron, hand wash, steam or possibly even fold anything. I shop accordingly. Everything in my summer wardrobe can get by with a quick shake when it comes out of the dryer. If you want to trade off trips to the dry cleaner’s for a gorgeous dress, go for it. Just be clear about the realities of care your clothing will need.

You are the perfect summer shirt.

How many options do you want?

Because I don’t go in to work in the summer,*** I can get away with relatively few options. There have been lean times where I have rotated through about 4 ensembles all summer long. Now that I can afford more, I don’t always want that much more. I have another friend who has racks of fun summer dresses. She enjoys choosing from a wide variety of options.

Even my somewhat minimalist summer wardrobe includes 4 white tank tops, because I’m never not in the mood to wear a white tank top.

Where will you put your money?

Can I answer this one for you? Good shoes. Sandals, a pair of cute sneakers and you’re golden. If you bought your shoes last summer and they’re still in good condition, then you’re free to invest elsewhere. Here is a post about summer basic that can help any active woman’s wardrobe. Mud and Grace Summer Essentials

I’m pretty sure there’s a drinking game at the U of O where you take a shot every time I post a picture of these sandals.

As you budget, think about durability and longevity. That cute top at your favorite second hand store may not wear well for more than one summer, but it might just make this summer fantastic. A good pair of comfy denim shorts could last for years.

This may not last another year, but I’m going to have a great time in it while it’s here.

What do you already have that you truly love?

Have some summer favorites already? Fantastic. But those shorts look just OK? Ditch ‘em. Lay out your summer favorites and keep only those that look and feel fantastic. Use these as the base for your summer wardrobe.

Summer officially started five days ago and I have already worn this Patagonia dress on four separate outings.
If you are the last remaining Mud and Grace reader who has not bought a Columbia Skort, let this inspire you to go grab one.

Give yourself a shopping time frame

Take a week or two to knock your list out. If that means a trip down the freeway to a larger mall, spending a Saturday hitting every 2nd hand shop in town, or ordering a number of different pairs of shorts in different sizes from a catalog to be sure of a good fit, then taking care of the returns immediately, get ‘er done. Your goal should be to have everything you need hanging in your closet in a relatively short time frame.

Too busy standing in a vortex to shop.

Aaaand stop

Once you have gathered your essentials, stop shopping. You will have gotten into the habit of hunting and gathering, and that is not what you want to spend your summer doing. When your wardrobe is complete, wear it and get on with your life. If you couldn’t find something just right, live without it for this summer and try again next year. I never found a casual jersey dress that I loved. Oh well.

I’m not saying you can’t step foot in a store all summer. I delight in finding off-season steals in 2nd hand shops. This is the perfect time to find a good, used ski jacket. But if you are constantly on the prowl for this season’s clothes, you will never stop to enjoy what you have. The beauty of a functioning wardrobe is never doubting that it can see you through any occasion that comes your way.

I gave last summer’s jersey dress to a friend, because while it looked fine on me, it looked fantastic on her. I have yet to find this summer’s dress, and yet I have survived and gotten dressed every day. It’s a miracle.

Putting the time and energy into your summer wardrobe will set you up for summer after summer of easy wardrobe maintenance. Once you have everything you need for one summer, you’ll have an excellent base for the next summer. Then suit up and get out there and have some fun!

Happy Summer!

Need more shopping advice? Check out my post Shopping 101

* “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” –Mark Twain

**You know who you are.

*** Whoop! Whoop!

 

A practical guide to wearing shorts, or not.

Many of us have a love/hate relationship with shorts. Love: the weather, activities, and casual vibe that go along with wearing them. Hate: finding and styling shorts for our real and fantastic bodies, rather than that of a stick figure with really great skin.

Shorts in and of themselves are not the enemy. The problem is the way in which they break up the line of vision. We’ve previously discussed on this blog how the eye likes to run unhindered in the vertical line of an ensemble. This is why the Duchess of Cambridge so often wears a monochrome coat and dress, and looks fantastic in every single picture ever taken, including the days she must be in a crazy-bad mood. Shorts* throw a block of contrasting color in the middle of an outfit, causing the eye to stutter over your mid section. Add to this a top that may or may not bunch up all funny and your shorts angst makes perfect sense.

So here’s a guide to the three basic shapes of shorts, and a number of other options in case you still aren’t sold on shorts at the end of this article:

Shorts come in three general shapes: Rectangle, square, triangle. The trick is to figure out which woks best for your body and activity, and what to wear with each.

1. Put on shorts. 2. Head for deck chair. It’s pretty simple.

Rectangle

A rectangle shape can run from a full on Bermuda short to a mid-thigh pair of hiking shorts. They come through season after season in different fabrics and patterns, but they remain a fashion staple. They are practical for outdoor activities, and can be dressed up easier than short shorts. You just have to keep them from looking frumpy.

You want your rectangle shape to say “I chose these shorts because they are fantastic and fit my busy, active lifestyle,” not, “I don’t want anyone to see my thighs.” A floppy top hanging over a pair of ill-fitting long shorts is among the most awkward ensembles out there. It’s also the signature look of middle school boys.

To keep from looking like an Oompa loompa in your rectangle shorts…

  1. Wear a slightly fitted top, like a heavier weight v-neck t-shirt, a nicely structured polo, a button down.
  2. Or, if you choose a looser fitting top, make sure it finishes at your high hip. Ideally, it should still show a little of your shape
  3. Show some collarbone. Anything from a modest boat-neck top to a spaghetti strap tank will help draw the eye up.
  4. Beyond your choice of top, keep your longer shorts simple. Unless you really need the extra pocket space, skip cargo shorts. Make sure they fit well, the pockets lie flat, and the waist hits you at that perfect point. It is not weird to have your shorts altered to fit you correctly.
This could pretty much keep you clothed for the whole summer.

Square

Think a great pair of denim cut offs, or soft linen shorts you slip into after work, a square shape is classic. By far the most common short shape, the wrong square shorts run the risk of being too short, too long, bunching up and generally looking like a ratty mess of fabric wadded up in the middle of our outfit. Squares can be comfortable, easy to move in, and have an easy, casual vibe. It’s time you find the right pair. Here are a few tips

  1. Try sizing up. You are on the go in the summer, or in the hammock. Neither scenario calls for anything pinching against your skin.
  2. The top options are endless with the classic square: a fitted tank, a sweet peasant blouse, a chunky fisherman’s sweater in the evening. Just be sure that you have a good 3 inches of shorts showing below the hem of your top.
  3. Go for a fabric that moves. I can’t tell you how many wrinkly, stiff pairs of square shorts I have tried to make a go of. Soft linen, denim and synthetic fabrics feel and ultimately look better.
  4. Make sure the waist stays where you want your waist to be. Squares, like all pants, may have a tendency to slide down. This can produce an uneven waistline that looks particularly ridiculous.
  5. Consider a flat, wide elastic waist. I don’t know what genius thought of attaching this waistband to shorts but it is comfortable, flattering and perfect for a half-tuck.
Square shorts are not brain science.

Triangle

Marilyn Monroe, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Lopez, these women have all shown us the beauty of a triangle short. Fitted at the waist, flaring out over the behind, these shorts are feminine and attractive. These have never found a place in my active wardrobe, but if you’ve figured out a way to take these into the woods, let me know.

  1. Tuck in your top. To make the most of this shape, you need to show your waist.
  2. Fitted tops work best. You’ve got a lot of fabric going on with these so you need to keep proportions balanced.
  3. To make the shape work, they really do have to be short, with a 4 in inseam or shorter.
  4. Because the look is retro, try to add a few modern, grown up details like a leather cuff bracelet or a strong pendant necklace. Triangle shirts with a gingham top, pigtails and pearls is a bit too precious.
These shorts are not me, but they might be you.

 

Commonly asked questions:

Q: Can I wear the same shape of shorts all summer, or should I mix it up?

A: No mixing is necessary. Ever. If you’re rocking the rectangle no one is going to question it. I spent all last summer in squares and managed to evade the fashion police successfully.

Q: What are the best colors for shorts?

A: Navy, black, denim, deep red and olive are the easiest colors to work with. They don’t show dirt, and dark bottoms tend to ground an outfit. With these colors you will have a lot of options for tops. That said, there are a lot of fun patterned shorts out there in bright colors. The eye will be drawn to the brightest, lightest, busiest part of an outfit, if you want that to be your shorts, go for it.

Q: Should I invest in active or tailored shorts?

A: Tailored shorts can look amazing, but unless your workplace gives a nod to shorts, they aren’t super practical on a Mud-and-Grace scale. If you run a lot of errands all summer, are vacationing in a city, or are just an uncommonly neat person, go for it. Otherwise, more active styles and fabrics can be worn neatly for town chores, and still take a beating on camping trips, gardening and other summer adventures.

This summer squares an navigate canyons AND traffic.

Q: Can I wear a tunic top with shorts?

A: It’s pretty difficult to pull that off without a kindergarten art-smock vibe. Fitted ankle skimmers are a better option for tunic tops, unless you are a tunic master, in which case please send me a picture.

Q: If I’m over 40, do I have to follow the One Skin Rule?

A: I like to think of “One Skin” as an interesting option, rather than a rule. Blogger Erin Busbee, of Busbee Style, suggests only showing one area of skin per ensemble. So if you go with a tank top, you would wear long pants. In shorts, you would choose a long-sleeve top. These ensembles look great. One Skin is a nice guideline for work or more dressed up occasions for women of any age. Even Ms. Busbee, who lives in Texas, admits there are days so hot that she throws out her own rule. Most of my summer days don’t include anything even bordering on dress up, and my shorts and tops are modest enough I don’t feel like the one skin rule is necessary.

Q: Do I have to wear shorts at all?

A: Nope. Read on, my friend.

Not shorts.

How not to wear shorts

One of my favorite things about growing up is figuring out I don’t have to wear anything I don’t want to.** You can find cool, active, summer appropriate clothes that will never, ever call to mind lederhosen.

Skirts / skorts

There are so many fantastic summer options for skirts and skorts.*** From sport weight fabrics to classic chino or denim, you can grab your favorite and go. Just look at the shape (Rectangle? Square? Triangle?) and style accordingly.

Wide leg pants

A pair of light, wide leg pants and a tank top is a classic summer look. If this is you, rock it all summer long and never look back.

Joggers

An easy pair of sport weight joggers are great for running errands, or hiking though poison oak infested hillsides.

Sundresses

My grandma wore an easy summer shift dress with pockets everyday, all summer long.**** In this look she gardened, pickled, canned, dealt with all manner of cats, dogs, cattle and hogs in the sweltering mid-west summer heat. This is your official endorsement to wear a dress all summer long if you want to.

It would not kill you to give this a try. But why take chances?

Have a picture of yourself in your favorite pair of shorts or other summer ensemble? Send it in to mudandgrace@gmail.com and I’ll run it in Inspiration.

* which are much more appropriate for a camping trip than a monochrome coat and dress.

**white pants

*** skorts are now skirts with shorts sewn into them, not the skirt in front, shorts in back abomination that was popular 20+ years ago.

**** with the exception of Sunday mornings, when she might be inclined to rock a pantsuit.

Summer Travel Capsule 2017

I am passionate about travel wardrobes. It’s a passion born out of So Many Travel Failures. Shivering with cold as I stood at the Oracle of Delphi, swimming in unstylish pants and a stupid hat as I rode an elephant in Thailand, feet screaming in pain as I retraced the steps of Julius Caesar on the streets of Rome, I have had every inappropriately dressed travel experience you can imagine.

But no more. A little research and a few investments later and I have become a packing ninja.* Whether you are spending 5 weeks in Europe,** or visiting family across the country, a small bag packed with adventure-ready ensembles will make your vacation.

The triumvirate of packing light

Layers – You need a color coordinated mix of pieces that can easily layer. Easier said than done, I know, but take your time and make this a priority.

Laundry – Your clothes need to be tough enough to withstand a hotel laundry service or a washout in the hostel sink. Look for pieces that won’t wrinkle, shrink and can dry relatively quickly.

Love – You better love everything you pack, because you are going to be wearing it over and over and over again.

The following all-purpose capsule can be modified to suit the needs of your destination. If you a touring cities in Europe, pieces need to look sharp. If you are hiking in Costa Rica, pieces need to be tough. If you hate shorts, don’t bring any, take an extra skirt or flowy long pants. Never, ever wear dresses? Pack extra pants and a top.

This is a combination of PrAna and Patagonia. The sandals are Merrell.

1. Three or four tops: High quality t-shirts in colors that look great on you work for many occasions. A tunic or floaty boho top are fun.

2. Two or three bottoms: Depending on the location and your preferences, choose from pants, shorts and skirts.

This Columbia skirt has build in shorts and is the most flattering, non-stain showing item of clothing I own.

3. One or two dresses: I love dresses for long airplane trips and sightseeing. Solid colors are the most practical for a travel capsule, but if you can’t resist a fantastic print, go for it. You’re on vacation, after all.

These are all Patagonia, and if you really love dresses I see no problems in packing all three.

4. One fantastically cozy sweater: You will be wearing this with pretty much everything at one point or another, so make sure it is warm, soft and in a good neutral color. Camel or navy are nice, travel-ready neutrals. If you’re headed someplace warm, swap out a sweater for a long sleeved shirt.

5. Two pairs of shoes: Cute sneakers, nicer sandals

Great support, but without all the stripes and swooshes.

6. Good quality cross body bag or backpack: For hands-free sight seeing. I’m not a fan of travel specific bags, but that’s just me.

7. Good-looking raincoat: They pack up small. Just take it.

8. Thin, flexible belt: To add polish to your travel wardrobe. You can belt your sweater around your dress to create a waist and feel less frumpy, or tuck a t-shirt into your shorts and finish with the belt when heading to lunch, the possibilities this little piece brings are endless.

I think I’ve had this since high school.

9. Scarf: A lightweight scarf will protect you from the chill of air conditioning, a blazing sun, and the possibility of getting bored with your wardrobe. ****

Pretty and practical.

10. PJs: Something comfy that you can be seen in

My husband got me these fabulous silk Everlane pjs for Christmas. They are officially the World’s Hardest Item of Clothing to Photograph.

11. Activity specific clothing: Swimming? Hiking? Working out? You’ll need to bring the appropriate gear. My Title Nine swimsuit is a two-piece with paddle board shorts on the bottom. I can easily run in the shorts, and the top works as a sports bra.*** Just slip on a tank top and no one knows I’m running in my swimsuit. There are a lot of great trail running shoes that could stand in for your cute sneakers. Be creative about working gear into your regular wardrobe.

Don’t judge.

Color pallet ideas

In a travel capsule, you really can and should pare down your color choices. Start by choosing one or two neutrals (navy, black, brown, gray, wheat, pink, denim, white) Obviously, lighter colors will show more dirt. You know how much of a dirt magnet you tend to be, choose accordingly. Then pick two more colors that will work with these neutrals. You can also choose another neutral as your color. I like navy and black together, throw in a dash of red and a light neutral like wheat or camel, you are set. Here are some other ideas:

Navy, pink, burgundy and blue

Black, white, teal and fuchsia

Denim, cream, peach and sage

Black, denim, red and white

This is what I wore to Sedona last summer.. and what I’ll be packing for Pleasant Hill, Illinois this summer.

Dos and Don’t of Travel Packing

Don’t plan for every eventuality: Plan for normal weather and activities. If something comes up, there are clothing stores in other places. My beloved denim jacket was bought from a street vender in Rome for 10 Euro on a particularly cold spring day. If you wind up at Bayreuth, Germany and someone hands you tickets to a Wagner opera, you can run out a buy a nicer dress.

Do give it a trial run: Plan your vacation wardrobe, then trying wearing it in your daily life for a week. You’ll be able to work out glitches this way and make sure everything really works.

Don’t dress like a tourist: Rather, dress like an out of town guest. You won’t, and shouldn’t try to blend in with local populations. Whether you are in Poland or Poulsbo, Washington, no one expects you to know the local vibe. But dressing nicely will signal to folks that you are honored to be in their hometown.

Do buy what you need: Having the right gear for your travels will free you up to focus on your adventure. Great looking sandals in which you can walk for miles don’t come cheap, but neither did your airfare. It makes no sense to invest the time and money into travel, only to be miserable with blistered feet once you get to your destination. And it’s not like you’ll never wear this stuff again. My travel wardrobe is basically the nicer half of my summer wardrobe, and I’m packing the same things to visit family in the midwest this summer that I took to Sedona last summer.

I love these Merrell sandals. If Wonder Woman needed sandals, these are the ones she would choose. They can do anything.

Don’t forget to check the weather: Look at average temperatures for the dates of your trip in the place you are traveling to. Be realistic about what this means. If it’s likely to be 95 degrees and raining every afternoon, you are not going to want a draped jersey dress with ¾ sleeves, no matter how much you love it.

Do consider your fabrics carefully: Linen feels fantastic, but will wrinkle if you look at it funny. Synthetic moisture wicking fabrics are amazing, but they will hold a stench something terrible. Anything shiny will look funny in photographs. Personally I like to travel with cotton blend fabrics, a little bit of stretch to hold off the wrinkles, but I don’t sweat a ton so the wicking isn’t as important to me. I’ve had good luck with fabric made from bamboo, as it feels great and doesn’t wrinkle as badly as straight cotton. You know yourself and your plans. If quick drying fabric is a must, go with synthetics and wash them tenaciously. If the feel of the fabric matters to you, try a cotton blend.

Do save room for a take away: A piece of jewelry or article of clothing that can send you back to your vacation years later is a gem. Just be realistic about what you will wear in your everyday life back home.

I’m back on vacation every time I wear this.

Don’t worry about wearing the same thing over and over: Left to our own devises, most of us would wear the same thing over and over if no one noticed. When you are traveling, no one will notice because the only people you’ll be seeing regularly are your travel companions.

Do have a fantastic time! Have any pictures of your favorite travel ensembles? Please send them in and I’ll run them in inspiration.

 

* Do ninjas check bags? Use a carry on? Actually I’m picturing a backpack.

**Have such a good time, Jenine!

***Yes, I realize this is a lot easier for us A and B cup girls.

**** Check out Maia’s comment below. Here is a link if you want to find that scarf.

 

Color Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color Challenge

Full truth: I’m not completely comfortable with color. I understand it well enough to put together a decent ensemble and coordinate a micro-capsule, but what I haven’t taken the time to learn is how to coordinate my colors with myself.

I just don’t get it.

All that spring, summer, fall business of Carole Jackson’s Color Me Beautiful never really worked on me, and there aren’t a lot of alternate color theories out there. So for the past 40 years my color selection has been somewhat hit or miss. The occasional red or pink top mixed in with lots and lots of gray, blue and olive.

Hard to deny there’s a pretty clear pattern here.

Confirmation bias* at the ready, I made excuses for myself when confronted with an article that chided me to “bring more color into your wardrobe!” Some of my best were: ‘Gray is minimalist and elegant,’ or ‘Color makes me look like I’m trying too hard,’ and my personal favorite self-deception, ‘I look good in gray.’

Color is powerful, and beautiful. It can cheer us up, brighten our eyes and skin, draw attention exactly where we want it, send a clear message, and done right it looks fantastic. So after what feels like the longest, grayest winter in Oregon history,** I’m ready to tackle this color issue head on.

This is going to be fun.

Thus I invite you to Color Boot Camp, a two-week color-wearing challenge. The purpose is to find out what colors look best on you, and finally get comfortable wearing them. Here are the rules:

Rule # 1: Actively select a different color to wear next to your face every day. This is the time to break out all those well-intentioned purchases of colorful blouses and dresses you haven’t gotten around to wearing. Borrow tops from a friend if you need to.*** We have 14 days, so if you really want to explore the effects black, white or gray, it’s OK to wear them each once. The other 11 days need to be colors. And since I’m assuming you don’t have 14 solid colored tops lined up Roy G Biv in your closet, patterns are a go, as are different shades of the same color, within reason.****

Rule #2: Keep a record of responses. While I don’t expect strangers to say “Wow, that sea foam blue really brightens your complexion,” I do expect friends, co-workers and family members will react to you as people generally do. Listen for things like, “I love that top!” “You look pretty / rested / great, etc.” or, “Your eyes look really beautiful today.” Any positive comment counts, as the people in your life are not necessarily color experts and may have no idea why you look great.

Rule #3: Keep a record of how you feel. What do these colors do for your mood? Do you feel bright, elegant, hopeful, energized… or conspicuous, sallow, like you want to curl up in a pile of gray jersey and just forget the whole thing? The most important factor in a choosing color for your wardrobe is how it makes you feel. There are certain pastels in which I feel exactly like a troll doll, and I won’t be wearing them no matter how much they bring out my eyes.

This top and sweater are obviously feeling pretty good about themselves.

Special considerations: If you wear a uniform to work, you may want to stretch out your challenge to include a few more weekends and nights off. If you have no interest in bringing color into your wardrobe, just skip the whole thing.

And that’s it. Two weeks, 14 colors, we can do it! If you come across a particularly great color on yourself, send me a picture and I’ll include it in the wrap up post in two weeks!

Let me know if you want to borrow this, because I only get to wear it once in the next two weeks.

*Confirmation bias is the human tendency to seek out information that confirms what we already believe. Like when you click on that article about how drinking red wine leads to weight loss and completely ignore all the others about exercise, diet and sleep. Not that I ever clicked on that article or anything…

** 144 days of rain

***Seriously, message me. I’ve got lots.

****I’m talking to you, Miss 15 shades of light blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sneak peak at next week’s post.

Trend types

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

Long-term trends

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

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

Seasonal trends

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

This season’s boho top.

On-trend classics

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

 

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

Basic trend tricks

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

Classic country music saves you from becoming fashion’s victim

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

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNnrTNFWcsg

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

Know when to hold ‘em

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

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

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

Know when to fold ‘em***

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

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

I don’t have to try that again.

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

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

Know when to walk away

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

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

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

All I had to do was wait.

Know when to run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

Perfect 10-Item Loungewear Capsule

 

There’s something about looking good when no one else is looking that makes me feel like I’ve pulled one over on the beauty industry. It’s like, “Ha! I’m not out being the perfect mom/giving a major presentation at work/meeting my well-groomed friend-set for drinks. I’m on my sofa, making grading essays look good.”

For the first 40 years of my life nice loungewear was not on my radar. I wore ratty old pajamas around the house. I did not own sweatpants or slippers. I did own five or six cocktail dresses for cocktail parties I rarely managed to stay up late enough to attend, but no comfortable, around-the-house-clothes.

What I really want to be doing on any given evening…

Dressing nicely for yourself feels satisfying on a level that dressing for others simply can’t match. When your loungewear can take you from a good book to the goat pen in comfort and style, you will feel downright smug. Here are my thoughts on the matter –

The basics

My loungewear capsule consists of two pairs of leggings, three sweatshirts, one pair of joggers, one stretchy black skirt, a stack of t-shirts in varying sleeve length, slippers and boots. Like the outfit formulas mentioned last week, all of this can be mixed and matched easily, creating 12+ outfits and keeping me easily ahead of a laundry bomb.

Loungewear should spend as much time as possible basking in the late afternoon sun, or if that’s not possible, hanging on the bedroom wall.

Invest

My loungewear is the most expensive clothing in my wardrobe, by a long shot. It seems counterintuitive to spend more on clothing that fewer people see, but none of these purchases were frivolous, and everything is earning its keep when considering cost per wear. Every piece with the exception of one t-shirt* was bought new, and in my closet that is rare. Second hand loungewear is rarely in good condition. These high quality pieces are soft, they last forever, and for the most part are largely responsibly made. Because no one else will see them, styles and trends don’t matter. You can wear a good sweatshirt for 20 years if you like it. Just ask my husband.

This simple wool skirt is one of only two legit designer pieces I own, and I have never worn it for a night out. Isabel Marant.

Keep it flexible

Grey and black, with a couple of colorful sweatshirts, is an easy color pallet to maintain. Pick two neutral colors for your bottoms and t-shirts, then buy sweatshirts or sweaters in colors that make you happy. The stretchy skirt and boots make it easy to step out to run a few errands if need be.

These shirts go with everything, even the peeling paint on  my deck railing. Top: used Banana Republic. Bottom two, Alternative Apparel.

Keep it simple

Nothing is less relaxing than getting mired down in a jumbled mess of leggings, t-shirts and sweatshirts.** You don’t need much loungewear. I have 10 pieces of clothing total, and it all fits neatly into one drawer. Except for the boots, because that would be weird.

Skirt, leggings, sweatshirt, easy-peasy.

Don’t forget your feet

I used to wear socks around the house. Ratty, hole-in-the-sole, old socks. Then I slipped on our slate-covered staircase while carrying the vacuum cleaner down on Christmas Eve and got a nasty bump that is still visible. Quite coincidentally, and owing nothing to the unpleasant “stair incident,” I received three pair of slippers within the next 24 hours. The universe, it seems, wanted to me move past the socks. The universe had a good point.

Negotiate your stairs with ease! Ugg slippers from Dad and Lynn.

I’m also including this pair of boots as part of my capsule, which I put on if I have to run down to the barn, across the street to get the mail or out for an errand.

Merrell boots, because I can’t consider any segment of my wardrobe complete unless there’s at least one pair of boots…

Don’t forget to actually lounge

Every year it seems my co-workers, friends and students are busier and busier. We get so caught up in “busy” that even when we do have downtime we don’t know what to do with it. Investing in loungewear helps me remember to slow down. By blocking out time, and an ensemble, for reading, writing, or just staring off at the river, I find myself taking the time to relax.

What teachers really do after school…

Internet wisdom would have us believe that we should always dress nicely because we might run into someone we know, or a neighbor might come to the door. Out where I live, I can easily go all day without seeing anyone with fewer than four feet and/or a pair of wings. Wearing high quality, comfortable, beautiful clothing when you are alone is one sign of self-respect. It’s like making your bed, or flossing. No one will ever know if you skip it, but in the action of these things you are caring for yourself. Creating a simple, flexible loungewear capsule make this self-care reflexive and easy.

Umm… lady, shouldn’t you be reading a book right now?

* I bought this black, short-sleeve Banana Republic t-shirt from a neighbor at her garage sale over 12 years ago for $10. At the time $10 struck me as an exorbitant price for a used t-shirt, but I really liked the way it fit. I have gone on to wear the shirt once or twice a week for 12 years, making it possibly the best clothing investment of my life.

** This might be an overstatement.

Meet the rest of the capsule:

Leggings from left to right, Lululemon, Eddie Bauer.They are good friends.
US Blanks. Super cozy.
Under Armor joggers. Love.
I adore this Lululemon sweatshirt. If I were to ever put the hood up, I would look exactly like a sporty Jawa.
If my thoughts get any deeper I will NOT be able to get up out of this chair…

Outfit Formulas, 101

The stated goal of this blog is for all women to effortlessly pull perfect outfits out of their closets every morning, every day for the rest of their lives, and then be free get on with the important work of this world.

We may be a few months off from total success, but I have high hopes.

One key to effortless style is what Anuschka Rees calls outfit formulas. The premise, found in her lovely book The Curated Closet, is that we all have certain outfit formulas we fall back on. Other writers have called this “finding your uniform.”

Hard to get me out of boots/jeans/jacket.

Women who have their style dialed in like this are easy to spot. Google image search a few women whose style you admire and their outfit formulas become clear.

Jennifer Aniston has three formulas that she tops with a navy blazer or black moto jacket.

  • Neutral tank top/stretchy skirt
  • Neutral tank top/slim cargo pants
  • Neutral tank top/jeans.

The Duchess of Cambridge has two casual formulas. She wears these with wedge heels, boots or cute sneakers.

  • Striped Breton t-shirt/skinny jeans or pants/navy blazer
  • Printed blouse/skinny jeans or pants

Michelle Obama’s bright dress/cardigan sweater/basic pumps took her through 8 years of extreme scrutiny.

Honestly, if I had Michelle Obama’s arms, I would never, ever cover them up with a cardigan sweater.

Benefits of an outfit formula

Outfit formulas are a way of understanding and organizing your closet. They take the guesswork out of getting dressed. Here are a few of the many upsides to thinking in formulas.

They can be mixed and matched without draconian color schemes

One of my springtime outfit formulas is a printed boho top/skinny jeans or pants/short jacket.

With three jackets, four tops and three pairs of jeans/pants I have 12+ ensembles, and I love all of them. Every piece doesn’t need to look good with every other piece, I just keep the jackets and pants fairly neutral and pick any crazy colored top I want.

So long as I don’t wear the olive jacket with the olive pants, or all four shirts at the same time, I’m golden.

You know they work for your life

The best thing about a well-established outfit formula is that you know it will work for pretty much anything life throws your way. In the spring I’ll be riding my bike around town, teaching, watching track meets, meeting friends, occasionally heading out to dinner or a play. My two spring outfit formulas can handle all of this easily.

Outfit formulas help you shop

When you want or need to refresh your wardrobe, having a few formulas to fall back on helps you target your purchases. You can invest in quality pieces because you know you will wear them in specific combinations. They can also keep you from purchasing closet orphans, those sad and lonely pieces that seemed like a good idea at the time but never get worn.

You will always have friends in this wardrobe.

How to use outfit formulas

Ideally, you have two or three outfit formulas per season. Items from one formula can certainly be used for another. My spring formulas are as follows

Classic top/skinny jeans or pants/ cardigan sweater

Printed boho top/skinny jeans or pants/short jacket

Casual dress

Can I call it a formula if it doesn’t have to go with anything else?

I’ll wear these with boots until it warms up, then switch to tennis shoes or sandals. I’m not above mixing the formulas, either. I will certainly wear a classic top with jeans and my denim jacket. If it’s cold, I’ll pair a cardigan sweater with a dress.

I just get up, check the weather and run down my calendar for the day, then decide what to wear.*

Find your formula

The first place to look for your formula is in your closet.

What is your favorite outfit? Say you have a knee-length skirt you wear with leggings, boots and a slouchy sweater that you always feel perfect in. Find a couple of similar sweaters, another knee-length skirt and pull in a few other pairs of leggings and you have a mini-wardrobe that will feel fantastic.

Grab a couple of pairs of leggings and you could spend all winter in this mini-wardrobe.

The second place to look is on the women you see everyday. The ladies you work with, the other moms at your children’s school, women picking up groceries. Look for patterns in their style of dress. My guess is your will find a few formulas you could try.

Finally, as noted above, a google image or Pinterest search of stylish women is inspiring. Just be sure to look at the entire ensemble and know you can commit to the details. Sophia Coppola has fantastic style, but that woman always has exposed ankles. I’d love to try a few of her outfit formulas but none of them would work with socks or boots and I simple refuse to have cold ankles.

If you can wear it with flats you can wear it with ankle boots…right?

How to try a new formula

When trying out a new look, I always suggest shopping second hand. Your town probably has a few trendy resale shops (I love you, Buffalo) where you can score pieces at a fraction of the retail price and at significantly less environmental cost.

Be sure to complete the entire look when trying out something new. A few years ago, I wanted to try out an elegant pair of fluid joggers for hostessing. This involved buying a pair of flats and finding the right top to go with them. Since then, I’ve been able to bring a few pairs of casual joggers into my wardrobe using the same principles.

Currently, I’m working on how I can incorporate high waisted jeans into a formula without a crop top (because I’m 45 and I don’t ever have to wear a crop top again if I don’t want to. Sorry, 1985.) I found a pair at Buffalo exchange, and have been pairing them with things on my closet until I find something that feels perfect. If need be, I will wear them out shopping and try different tops on with them. Once I hit on a formula, I can incorporate a few auxiliary pieces into it and have a new look to enjoy. But right now, it’s a struggle…

Oh forget it…I’ll just wear plaid with everything.

Potential Problems

You can get stuck in a rut

I’ll never forget seeing a woman attend a funeral in bootcut jeans with rhinestone detailing, a plunging neckline blouse and stiletto heals. It was obviously a formula she felt very comfortable in, but really not appropriate to the situation.

I have to be careful not to fall into the black hole of puffer vest/t-shirt/jeans in the wintertime. This is an easy problem to manage, though. Just plan a few outfits in another formula and have them ready to go at the front of your closet. You will remember you love them in no time.

But it’s so warm…

Other people’s outfit formulas will not necessarily work for you

When googling Jennifer Aniston, the Duchess of Cambridge and Michelle Obama, I was seized with a desire to go buy a neutral tank top, a navy blazer and a bright colored dress, before remembering that my life might be significantly different than all of theirs. While incorporating the ideas of other, inspiring women, be sure to make the look your own. Always come back to your life, your body, and your style.

An outfit formula challenge

Your task for this afternoon, should you choose to accept it, is to head up to your closet and find a few outfit formulas you love. Let me know how it turns out!

Just hanging out, waiting for spring so I can wear my spring formulas…

* Actually, that’s not true at all, I just get dressed and hope the weather and my day fall in line with what I’m wearing.