Boots 101

With winter upon us and the end of the 40-Day No-Buy* just days away, it’s a good time to talk about my favorite subject, boots.

Boot are a fantastic foot casing for a number of reasons. Practical, warm, hardworking, durable, fashionable, they’re a statement piece, with a statement worth making.

So I’ve put together a boot primer, what to wear different boots with, a few caveats and rated each type of boot on a “difficulty to style” scale of 1 to 5 If you have specific questions or ideas about how to wear boots, please leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any curiosity about boots and socks, please check out this article Sock Love.

Here are the boots –

Ankle Boots

Simple, warm and understated, ankle boots are an easy first step for most people into the glorious world of boots.

A simple Chelsea boot would be a great place to start.

Wear with: Cuffed jeans, ankle pants, casual trousers. If you are feeling adventurous, try them with tights and skirts

Teva boots are durable and easy to wear.

Be aware of: Channeling an elf. Skinny jeans and pointy toe ankle boots can bring you dangerously close to looking like you popped out of a Christmas special, particularly if you are given to striped shirts. Save pointy-toe versions to wear with more fluid pants.

Difficulty to style: 1


Lace-up Ankle Boots

These have a decidedly casual feel. They look great with a flannel or cozy sweater and jeans. They are a good choice for a weekend spent outdoors, spectating at a sporting event, or a casual event with friends.

Wear with: Jeans and casual pants are the easiest, but they also look good with a shorter fitted skirt, a knit dress, or cords. You can even try them with a flowing skirt for a 1980s look.

Be aware of: a military and/or Laura Ingalls Wilder vibe. These do well with fitted pants tucked in to them and a fuzzy sock peeking out the top, but a looser pair of pants tucked in to lace up boots will recall images of combat that you probably aren’t going for. And unless you long for a homesteader look, when you wear them with a dress or skirt, skip the calico.

Difficulty to style: 3

My favorite Timberland boots.


Mid-calf Boots

A mid-calf boot is more casual than a tall boot, and a little more edgy. Moto boots and harness boots fall into this category. A well-worn pair of favorites is absolutely effortless-cool.

Wear with: Dresses, skinny jeans and pants tucked in, chunky socks

Be aware of: The fact that you won’t ever want to take them off.

Difficulty to style: 2


Tall Boots

A great way to stay warm on a dress-up occasion, boots hitting just below the knee in suede, soft leather or some other buttery material are a great addition to your wardrobe.

This looks fun.

Wear them with: an above-the-knee knit dress or skirt, dark skinny jeans, leggings, or with a longer a-line skirt. When in doubt, feel go with tall black boots and black pants.

Be aware of: The hem of your skirt competing with the tops of your boots. Give yourself at least 5 inches on either side of your hem with tall boots. Knee-high boots with a knee-length skirt is just too much action around the middle of your legs.

Difficulty to style: 2


Riding Boots

Riding boots are so elegant… which is probably why I don’t wear them very often. Whenever I see a woman in tall, simple riding boots I always admire the look, but I’m just not in an elegant stage right now. If you are, invest in a great pair and enjoy endless classic looks with them.

Wear with: Long skirts or dresses, a sleek pair of jeans or pants, or substantial leggings and a sharp blazer. Keep the whole look long and lean with a streamline jacket or tunic.

Be aware of: Tight calves. Make sure your boots have some room in the calves so you can move, and even layer them with socks if you want to. Bjorn and other companies make wide calf widths for those of us with leg muscles.

Difficulty to style: 4


Mud Boots

It is hard for me to express how much I love mud boots. Warm, dry feet encased in a comfortable shoe are a beautiful thing.

My faithful mud boots.

Wear with: whatever you wear when walking through the mud

Every pair of Bogs is tempting

Be aware of: trying to make them into something they are not. Mud boots are pretty trendy right now, with Sperry and AE marketing their take on the duck boot, and everyone running around in her Hunter boots no matter what the weather. So long as there is mud on the ground, and you are going to be outside at some point, these are totally appropriate. If it’s 70 degrees and you are driving to the mall, I would skip the mud boots.

Difficulty to style: 0

LL Bean with the classic

Snow Boots

As with mud boots, when the weather calls for snow boots there is nothing more wonderful. Mine feel like I am wearing two fuzzy hugs on my feet.

Wear with: fun patterned leggings, regular leggings, jeans, knit skirts or dresses with cozy tights.

Be aware of: your intentions. Snow boots will keep you warm and look fantastically stylish. But like mud boots, if they are not worn for practical purposes they wind up looking a little off. It also goes without saying that you should never wear snow boots with bare legs, because that’s just silly.

Difficulty to style: 2


And finally, here are a few types of boots I don’t wear but you might want to

Over-the-knee Boots

For a night out, a pair of elegant, simple suede knee boots could be really fun.

This will never be my go-to on a Friday night, but they might be yours.

Wear with: something simple like a solid-color fitted dress, leggings and elegant top, or a short swing dress.

Be aware of: any busy detail. Over the knee boots are statement enough in themselves. Any flashy embellishments will look like you are trying too hard.

Difficulty to style: 5


High-heeled Booties

There are all sorts of heeled booties on the market right now, ranging from chic to sexy. They are a nice alternative to classic pumps.

Maybe for work?
Probably not for work.

Wear with: Slacks or an elegant skirt or dress for work, a party dress or trendy jeans for going out.

Be aware of: I hate to sound like a grandma here, but these can look a little cheap. Make sure yours are high quality, and remember the more the shoe has going on, the less your outfit should.

Difficulty to style: 4


Cowboy Boots

I love the look of a confident woman in a well-worn pair of cowboy boots. To pull them off, the boots need to be authentically you. I’ve always thought that when I turn 50, I’ll but myself a really great pair and wear them everywhere for the rest of my life.


Wear with: Anything casual, jeans, pants, flowing dresses. Personally I think they would be tough to wear with a suit, but that didn’t stop George W Bush.

Be aware of: Inauthenticity. Cowboy boots can smell your fear and they just won’t work for you unless you are all in.

Difficulty to style: this all depends on you


Do you have a favorite pair of boots or way to wear them? Leave you ideas in the comments below.

* If you are new to Mud and Grace and don’t know about the 40-Day No-Buy, check it out – Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge


The Packing List: Active Girls’ Weekend

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

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

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

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

Mix and Match Activewear

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

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

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

One-and-a-half town outfits

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

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

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

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

One awesome pair of lounging pajamas

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

It’s like a pants suit for lazy people.

A cute coat

Just check the weather, and pack your favorite.

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

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

Until next time!

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

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

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

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

  1. Turn your closet into your own personal boutique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three is probably enough.

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

* You know who you are.

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.

Winter all-stars and four practical ensembles

“Look good, feel good,” a friend’s husband often says. While I wouldn’t argue with the sentiment, looking like anything other than a walking pile of blankets is a challenge at this time of year. It’s taken me 4 decades of Oregon winters to finally hone in on practical, beautiful clothes that can carry me through the long, dark days.

Can’t I just let the barn look beautiful and go back to bed?

Today I have a list of winter all-star pieces for you, and four practical outfits to take your from work to play.

Winter All-Stars

Snow boots

Waterproof, cozy, stylish, these boots are good for any cold /wet day. Mine feel like my feet are wearing two warm hugs all day long. Wear them with jeans, leggings, or any casual pant. Add a sweater and puffer jacket and you are good to go.

My snow boots, taking a well-deserved break.

Silk long underwear

Every cold day, I wear a black or pink long sleeve silk top under my ensemble. Good silk long underwear is a grownup investment. Once you have decided that you don’t have to be cold, and are willing to spend money on something absolutely no one will ever see to keep yourself warm, you are an adult. I’m pretty sure car rental companies require a parent’s signature up until you can prove you own silk long underwear.

Mine is from Lands End, but it’s definitely not monogrammed.

Cute beanie

It keeps your head dry, your ears warm and looks adorable. The only problem with beanies is that you look silly if you keep wearing it all summer long.

This hat is made out of llama wool or some such.

Good slippers

My parents gave me these Ugg slippers last year, and I think I’ve worn them every day since. They get a mention as winter all-stars because as we sludge our way in and out of the house with muddy boots, these friends are waiting for me at the back door. We are not a no-shoe house, but having this comfy option at the back door makes it easy to peel off my boots and keep the mud in the mudroom.


A puffer vest

I’ve written about the style advantages of puffer vests in the past, but in addition to looking good they are probably the most practical layering piece you own. They keep your core warm while leaving your arms free for work, and are easy to layer over or under any number of things. I wear a cozy Patagonia down vest around the house all winter long

I love you, puffer vest.


Wool is warm, breathable, wicks away moisture, is a natural fiber, and can be found in nearly any thickness to suit your climate. Sadly, it’s also delicious, according to the moths who live around here.* Wool looks sharp and sophisticated, and it layers well. Just make sure it doesn’t pill, and that you are able to hide any moth holes with strategic scarf or puffer vest placement.

Please don’t get eaten!

Practical Ensembles

I put together the following four ensembles with the hope that you have most of this in your closet already. Your mission, should you chose to accept it, it to try to pull something similar together out of your closet, take a picture and send it to me.

Note: Please assume every ensemble has a silk base layer underneath. We’re all adults here.


Basic black will look elegant, even when the day is anything but. As you run all over town, picking up and dropping off children, groceries and tax information, you will look pulled together and weather-practical. And you can always shed that parka if you happen to squeeze in time for lunch with a girlfriend.

The reason you want to wear black all winter long is because it looks good.


Chore days around here tend to be inside/outside affairs. I am constantly running down to the barn, out to the woodpile, or upstairs to clean something. Jeans and a plaid flannel are my wintertime, at-home uniform. The beanie and puffer vest make the ensemble outside ready, while allowing me the freedom of movement to get a lot of work done.

No sense in not looking cute when you feed the chickens.


Collared shirt/wool sweater/Frye boots will keep you warm and weather proof. Add a skirt or a pair of cords and you are set. This uniform can take you happily into March. Tights to wear with the skirts might be a nice cable knit, brown or grey will look good. Obviously, I work in a casual field. This wouldn’t fly in the corporate world. Of course, if you were smart enough to land yourself a job that requires a suit, I’m assuming you’re smart enough not to come to this particular blog for work style advice.

What more could you possibly need?

Snow day

Our town shuts down when it snows. We are currently in the middle of one of the worst storms in years and I just can’t stop staring at the snow. Waterproof pants, that wool sweater, a puffer jacket, good boots and a beanie are all you need, whether you are out sledding or are at home with no power trying to figure out how to save everything in the fridge.


Winter in Oregon can leave a lot of people feeling down. Starting the day looking good and ready for any foul weather that comes your way changes your approach to the challenge that is winter. Practical, beautiful winter clothes can get you up out of bed and outside to take on the world. They also look good with a cup of cocoa and a good book.


* Mothballs smell so bad they make my teeth hurt, and I don’t think there are enough cedar chips in the world to fend off the moths that live in the Oregon countryside. Any suggestions readers have for moth battling will be warmly received.


Survival Strategies for Discount Shopping

Fall leaves arched above us in a golden canopy as we tromped down the mountain on a perfect October day. Our minds, loosened from the stress of daily life, turned to ponder deeper issues. Politics, love, the human condition, and how to shop at a discount store without completely losing your sauce and melting down like a child.

“I know you can find some great deals in there,” Lynette said. “I just get so overwhelmed.”

It is a little scary looking.

While I don’t have answers for most of the questions posed that day, I do feel qualified to speak on the topic of TJ Maxx. Because I’ve become a bit of a ninja when it comes to discount shopping.

Hunter boots, Max summer blouses, Lucky Brand jeans, an incredible $384 Nicole Miller cocktail dress for $60, a no-name maxi dress for $10 that I have worn regularly for 9 straight summers; these are just a few of the items I have scored at TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and other discount retailers. I go to these stores in hopes of finding a few trendy pieces to enliven a basic wardrobe, and maybe find a high quality piece that would otherwise be out of my budget.

I think I may have cracked the code.

But it’s not like I walked in one afternoon, picked them all up and got home in an hour. And this list of great finds is a lot shorter than the list of items I bought, then returned, at discount retailers because I got over excited and made bad decisions on the spur of the moment.

Similar to second hand shopping, but with more snares and a larger potential impact on your wallet and the environment, these stores can be tricky. Here are a few rules I use to keep myself on the straight and narrow:

Know what you’re buying

Where do they get all this stuff, anyway? TJ Maxx purchases past season deadstock, cancelled orders prepared for other stores, overstock, and merchandise not originally made for the American market. Nordstrom Rack stocks items that didn’t sell in the regular Nordstrom stores, but also orders goods specifically for the Rack.

So they’re like my Grandma’s Last of the Garden Relish; some stuff’s fresh, some stuff’s a little past it’s prime but it’s all good after sitting for a month in a little vinegar and salt.

This zipper pocket camel coat didn’t sell well the first time around, but there’s a lady out there who could rock this.

Part of the success of these retailers is the speedy inventory turnover. TJ Maxx boasts new shipments daily, and they have a “door to floor” policy that results in new merchandise on display throughout the day.

Get to know their strengths

Before choosing a discount retailer as a serious destination to meet your wardrobe needs, get to know their strengths and weaknesses. In Eugene, OR, the TJ Maxx has excellent luggage. Nordstrom Rack has great shoes. Our DSW has a fun sneaker collection, but I rarely find classic boots there. Explore the stores, then go when you need something they do well.

I can’t justify one more piece of luggage.

Never shop in the middle of a Saturday afternoon

Discount stores are often crowded and picked over by 3:00 on a Saturday. And because sale associates are busy helping customers, new merch isn’t being shuffled to the floor. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are the best time to shop, as new goods are still flowing in and items that did not sell over the weekend are further marked down. Saturday and Sunday mornings can be good for a quick trip. Mid-week evenings aren’t too bad. Basically, the fewer people shopping, the more time sale associates will have to put out new items and discount older ones. Plus it doesn’t feel like some hideous, inhumane 19th century zoo.

Smith Rock is a much better destination for Saturday afternoon.

Narrow your search

In a store that holds everything from novelty napkin rings to infinity scarves, you can get sapped of energy and time pretty quickly.

Completely overwhelming.

Choosing one or two areas of focus can be really helpful. Make a plan to shop for pants and tops, or shoes and pillow cases, or whatever. Don’t try to cover the entire store.

Not overwhelming at all.

Don’t panic

When I stopped by Nordstrom Rack to take pictures for this article, this is the sight that greeted me.

At least 50 pairs of Frye boots, all discounter over 50%. I think my hands were shaking.

You may imagine my reaction. I approached the boots with as much restraint as possible. It wasn’t pretty. When I finally surfaced for air after tearing through the boxes I was miserably disappointed. No size 6.5.

I reminded myself why I was there in the first place (What is this thing hanging around my neck? The camera? Oh. I’m supposed to be taking pictures for the blog…) It took some doing, but I got back into the task at hand.

Even if you have a narrow search, it’s likely something off-list will catch your eye. Go try it on if you’re so inclined. But if it’s not something you came in for, and it doesn’t fit so you don’t buy it, no big deal, right? Which leads me to my next point.

Enormous rope/twill acorn and matching squash, anyone?

Don’t buy the next best thing

Never, ever buy the consolation prize. It’s like eating carob when you want chocolate.

Ultimately, you want a flexible wardrobe filled only with pieces you love. This concept has been covered in various posts but I’m going to keep harping on it. Run it past the Allan test, Lessons From a Chronic Closet Cleaner.  What you don’t buy is just as important as what you do buy, Shopping 101

Don’t buy it just because you can afford it

You will find some incredible items that might not be in your regular budget at these places. Twice I have nearly made it to the register with Rag and Bone sweaters in hand. Neither sweater looked particularly good on me. But they were Rag and Bone! And I could afford them! The “comparison price” on the tag should have no value to you whatsoever. Yes, this is cheaper than it was originally, but it’s only a good deal if you love it and wear it with joy.

This rock-and-roll look is never going to be me, no matter how much of a steal that jacket is.

Years ago, I was in regular contact with another mom from my children’s preschool. She was extremely wealthy. I envied what I assumed was the freedom that came with having so much money. Standing in the long, candy-and-wrapping-paper laden checkout line at TJ Maxx one day, I noticed this mom at one of the registers. Her cart was heaped high and over flowing with stuff: sweaters and ponchos and table clothes and shoes and clever black and white signs commenting on the value of family. She was buying with a sort of frenzied haste, laying one item then the next on the counter, a nervous steam of chatter directed at the check out attendant. I turned away, not wanting her to see me witness this panic-filled excess.

How fun would it be to have a pillow fight in this aisle?

The image of that frenzied mom sticks with me every time I shop at a discount store. Like any other shopping experience, I have to make the choice to buy responsibly with the goal of creating a wardrobe that makes my life easier and more fun. We can use discount stores to score some quality items we might not otherwise be able to afford, to try out new styles or brands, and to experiment with fun trends.

Keeps your goals in mind. You are in the store to build a wardrobe, not to buy twice as much as you would elsewhere. Ultimately an easy and functional wardrobe should equal less time shopping, less time attempting to get dressed, and more time hiking and pondering life with friends.

One of my favorite discount store finds. Lucky Brand.

For more tips on making the most of your discount shopping experience, check out Seattle-based blogger Morgann’s post on the topic from Glitter in the Grey. This woman knows shopping!

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.


Top 7 Fall Transitional Pieces


All I want from my wardrobe is to pull the perfect pieces out of my closet, get dressed in less than three minutes, and love my outfit all day long, every day, for the rest of my life.

Is that too much to ask?

I hope not, because that’s where we’re heading. But fall can be a tricky season to dress through. We’re all craving our cozy sweaters and wool plaid jackets, but most days are still quite warm. It would be all well and good if it were just hot out, but mornings can be  chilly. Thus we all have to layer, which is one of the toughest chores in fashion.

The following pieces will help build a bridge between your summer and winter wardrobes. Find them in the rich colors you reach for in the fall, along with classic denim. Keep these items in heavy rotation as you eek out a few last days in your sundresses and tank tops. Then stir them into the mix when you start to pull sweaters out of storage.

A classic cargo jacket

Sanctuary, new last spring

This work horse will slip over you sundresses as easily as it will a cashmere sweater. Wear it with jeans, a skirt or even a comfy pair of joggers on the weekend. It has the hip feel of a leather biker jacket without the weight.

A nano-puff vest

Isis, new two years ago

Ever wonder why you feel so comfortable in a vest? The longer the eye can run in a straight, uninterrupted line the better it feels. (This is why you are tempted by solid color, sleeveless sheath dresses.) A vest not only adds warmth, it adds visual harmony to the universe.

I suggest a nano puff because they are warm but less bulky than traditional puffer vests. Add one, or five, nano puff vests to your wardrobe for easy warmth and interest. If you need more inspiration just google “Kate Middleton, vest” to see about a million pictures of this wardrobe staple working for one of the world’s most photographed women.

A trendy layer

Life in Progress, 2nd Hand

Think of trendy items like that soccer player you dated off and on for a few months in college; Cute and super fun, but your not making any plans around them or investing too much. You might try fuzzy faux fur, a jumper or a nautical-inspired scarf. I found this bomber jacket at Value Village (Fall Style Research Part 1 – Value Village)  I’ll pop it on over skinnies or wear it with a skirt when I feel a little trendy energy would help me get through the day.

Skinnies (or your fit of choice casual pant) in a fall color

From left to right; BDG, Lucky Brand, Old Navy, Generally new

I find skinny jeans are the easiest for my life of bike commuting and Frye-boot wearing, but find a shape that works for your body. ( Kick-start your wardrobe with one investment piece)  I’ll rotate through these, pairing them first with tank tops, then lighter blouses and finally my sweaters.

A light weight plaid shirt

Target, new last winter

I found this at Target, and I wear it all the time. I sized up to a large, then had it hemmed several inches shorter so it had more of a boxy feel. It satisfies my need for rich fall colors, but the shirt itself is so light I can wear it on a warm day.

Closed-toe sandals and a cute pair of sneaks

Roxy, new. Clarks, new last summer

When you aren’t wearing boots, an easy pair of slip on shoes can take you all over town and into any number of adventures. Right now you can find so many styles of cute sneakers. Vans and Converse are classics. Toms are always fun. Just because this shoe is casual, don’t assume it isn’t versatile. With a nice blazer you can dress them up easily, with a fun t-shirt they look hip and funky. Find your favorites and wear them all fall.

Closed-toe sandals help transition summer wardrobes into fall by providing a little more warmth and structure. You don’t want your toes freezing off on your bike ride in to work!

The perfect cross-body bag

Patricia Nash, new

If there was ever a time you needed your hands free, it’s back-to-school, holidays-approaching, pick-up-another-box-of-mason-jars-because-the-apple-tree-is-going-nuts-this-year fall. The size and color of this Patricia Nash bag work for my needs and taste. Find one that fits your life.

These items will tide you over until you are ready to go fearlessly into the cooler weather. You can pull them out again in early spring, when you can’t stand a single item in your winter wardrobe and are itching for your summer clothes.

Happy Fall!

P.S. Do you have a great fall transitional piece? Email me a picture and I’ll include it in inspiration.