5 Lessons Learned From a 40 Days of No Shopping

We did it! Across the country Mud and Grace readers went 40 days without buying clothes (Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge)We all learned a thing or two along the way. Some lessons came within the first 24 hours of the 40-Day No-Buy, and others took a little reflection to ferret out. Speaking with readers I found a number of common patterns.

Here are the revelations:

  1. Wow! We really shop a lot

Mud and Grace readers are not, by and large, the shoppin’est group of people you’ll find. And yet, almost everyone I spoke to was shocked to realize how much time she spend trolling through stores or cruising online catalogs. We do it to relax, to entertain ourselves, to find that magical outfit that will transform our lives. The immediate reaction of most of the women I spoke with was one of shock at just how much time opened up when we aren’t on the prowl for something new.

My daughter and I, making grand Christmas decorating plans that I will certainly have time to execute this year because I’m not spending so much time thinking about clothes, right?
  1. You always can find something to wear

No Mud and Grace reader, insofar as I know, went naked during the challenge. That’s a win in my book.

Taking a season that included Thanksgiving to be grateful for all the clothes we already have felt satisfying. A number of readers got creative in the process. Sandy cleaned out her college-age daughter’s closet and found great clothes, some with the tags still on!*


Lydia had been wanting a pair of distressed jeans, so she made them herself.

Lydia could pay $400 for distressed jeans. Instead she simply distresses them herself.

And the rest of us took the time to resole shoes, have a blazer fitted, and clean out our closets. We kept enjoying the creative process of clothing ourselves, even when cut off from the cycle of shopping.

  1. I don’t like my pants, and other closet clarifications

I learned a lot about my wardrobe when I saw it as finite, rather than a work in progress. Patterns in my buying habits popped out clearly, along with holes in my system. Take the fact that I have three pairs of jeans I love, one pair of pants I like once in a while, and five pairs of pants I don’t like at all. If you look at the clothes hanging in my closet, you would see a fully functioning system of pants, tops and sweaters that coordinate. But when it comes down to it, I don’t wear half the pants I own.

Not buying anything for 40 days tipped our wardrobes into clearer focus. Since we weren’t awaiting the arrival of a bag of clothing on the front doorstep to save our style, we had to take a good, hard look at what we’ve been buying over the past few years. And apparently, I’ve been buying pants I don’t like. Good to know.

There are just too many seams…
  1. Sometimes, we cheat

“Anna, I wanted to let you know I bought a black cashmere sweater,” a friend texted me, “I’ve been searching for one just like it for some time and it was on sale, and my mom told me I should get it. But other than that I haven’t bought anything. I promise.”

Oh friends! I received so many guilt-ridden messages over the last 40 days, as though I had become a sort of clothing confessional, capable of assigning penance for shopping transgressions.

It’s OK to buy clothes. This is our challenge and we all engaged in it as we saw fit. A number of people bought an article or two of clothing, and the earth didn’t seem to shatter. I think my friend Dana said it best when she wrote, “While I wasn’t completely faithful to the challenge, it did change me for the better… And I’m okay with a B- or C+ for effort.”**

It’s OK. They really are wonderful.
  1. Not shopping frees up time for life

For most of us, shopping is a delightful distraction. We shop when we have time between dropping one kid at practice and picking another up, or on our computer as we wait for a meeting to start, or on our way home after a hard day. The holes in our day that we used to stuff up with the fantasy of shopping were suddenly open and bare. We all had to find something else to do.

I spent a lot less time on my computer, which felt awesome. I started carrying a notebook around with me in the car to work on outlining a writing project and I read three books that had nothing to do with my job.

To quote Dana again, “Rather than feeling the pull for the thrift store or Nordstrom Rack’s sale section, I more often now head out the back door for the trails, hang out with my girls, or make some art.”

Dana and her girls. Who wouldn’t want more time to spend with this crew?

I don’t want to suggest that we all stop shopping forever. This is a style blog, after all. But planning and taking breaks from the cycle of buying feels fantastic. Working with our wardrobe “as is” forces creativity and reflection. Over time, I hope to take regular breaks from buying… just as soon as I find some decent pants.

*Her daughter both knew about and sanctioned the cleaning. It’s not like when my daughter “cleans out” my closet.

**For the record, a C+ is 78%, and 78% No-Buy is way better than not taking on a challenge to begin with.

Oh, was that your sweater Mom? I thought it was mine and that it just happened to be in your closet. Weird.

Prepare for the No-Buy Style Challenge

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

Join me for the No-Buy Style Challenge

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

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

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

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

Define your rules:

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

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

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

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

Make sure you have what you need:

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

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

Make sure you know what you have:

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

Alpaca hat! I had completely forgotten about you.

Decide why you are taking on this challenge:

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

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

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

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

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


Could you go an entire year without buying any clothes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a huge element of fantasy in clothes shopping

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

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

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

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

You can always find something to wear

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

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

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

Balloon pants rule.

There will always be something new to want

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

Not shopping allows you to love the clothes you have.

There is relief in choosing not to buy

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to the ongoing adventure!

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

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

Spring Trends 2017: Do with them what you will

The last frost is upon us and I finally feel I can, in good faith, write about spring trends. There’s a lot going on: some fun, some fantastic, some silly.

Flowers? Yep. Check shirt? Yep? Massive bell? You betcha. Let spring begin!

What follows is a list of easy, wearable trends. Some of which I’ll choose to incorporate into my wardrobe, some I won’t. You pick and choose what works for you and add them into your rotation as you see fit.

We’ll start with on-trend pieces I will not be wearing this spring.

Some perfectly stylish things I don’t want.

Cold shoulder / off the shoulder blouses and dresses

You might want to wear it because:

You probably have fantastic shoulders. I think everyone does. Shoulders are gorgeous. Cold shoulder is a fun way to show some skin without revealing too much.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

It makes me feel like an extra in a PBS special on Zachary Taylor’s inauguration. Plus I get cold easily.

Distressed denim

You might want to wear it because:

Distressed denim is everywhere, from Forever 21 to Chico’s. It’s an easy way to keep things casual, no matter what you pair with it.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

Something about buying new clothes that already have holes in them chafes against my penny-pinching sensibilities. I think a better option is vintage denim: sturdy, worn pieces from the 70s and 80s that can be found in specialty shops and occasionally the back of your sweetheart’s closet.

Um… have I seen your vintage sheering Levi jacket? Yeah… It’s… in my spring wardrobe.

Embroidered denim

You might want to wear it because:

It’s a fun, pretty take on denim

Why I won’t be wearing it:

I can’t justify the expense right now. But if something shows up at Buffalo Exchange next fall, I’ll snag it.

It’s awfully tempting.

Wide leg crops

You might want to wear it because:

Wide leg crops are a fresh silhouette, a strong, fashion-forward statement.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

I have a few friends I think would look adorable in these, but wide leg crops do nothing for my shape. They manage to obscure my curves while accentuating my width. Plus they’re total bike-chain bate.

Rainbow stripes

You might want to wear it because:

Part of a larger wink from the late 70s, early 80s, rainbow stripes are this year’s reflection of the Gen X childhood. You can find just about anything in rainbow stripes: t-shirts, scarves, shoes. I feel like every woman who didn’t quite get her fill of rainbow stripes during middle school is celebrating right now.

Why I won’t be wearing it:

Sometimes a trend feels too trendy. I like rainbows as much as the next person, but this trend is so “on” I feel like I need to wait a little before I can enjoy it authentically.

If I were spending the summer in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical..

And now, a few trends I will be wearing this spring.


Pink is on trend for spring? What a shock. Honestly, I love pink, and I always have. I’ll probably find a few more pieces to tuck into my spring wardrobe.

You can incorporate it by:

Adding a t-shirt, or a swapping out the expected white jeans for pink. Actually, swapping out your traditional white anything for pink would work. The soft blush that is making the rounds this spring is a nice color for nearly any complexion, so don’t shy away from it if you like it.

Adith, Elaine and Nina, looking good and right on trend at the First United Methodist Church.

Army Green, aka “Kale”

Apparently we’re calling this color Kale now. That’s fine. I love kale. It’s everywhere. Since green is the color of foliage, it pretty much goes with everything. Seriously, if there is a flower in a specific color, it goes with green. I use “kale” as a neutral at this time of year.

You can incorporate it by:

Wearing it with more feminine looks, over a floral dress or paired with delicate jewelry. Kale jeans, cargos or a skirt look great with boho floral tops.

I think I’ll just wear this dress for the next three months straight.


Woohoo! Gingham’s back. I’ll be wearing this new Talbot’s check shirt all spring. Along with an old Talbot’s check shirt I bought at the Goodwill way out on West 6th street in 2002. I love to wear gingham with an unexpected black blazer, with shorts, with denim… OK, I’ll wear gingham with anything.*

You can incorporate it by:

Swapping out a white or chambray shirt for checks. Or buy a stand-alone piece, like a bathing suit or spring clutch. If a check top feels a little too farm girl for you, pair it with a pencil skirt or sharp black jeans. If you still think you’re channeling Dorothy, don’t worry. Skip it. It’s just a trend.

It’s like plaid, only for the summer.

Utilitarian Chic

Ever since The English Patient came out in 1996, I get unreasonably excited when this trend blows through.** Tough, beautiful, classics have always appealed to me. It says, “Yeah, I might go to work today, or I might hop on a plane to Wadi Sura and make an important discovery about Neolithic cave art.”***

Because everyone had perfect hair and make up in North African prior World War II. Everyone.

You can incorporate it by:

Find a few key pieces, a utility jacket, a khaki skirt, cargo skinnies, and wear them when you would have worn denim. Seeking out softer fabrics, like Tencel or a linen blend, keeps it all from standing out too stiffly.

Pink and green isn’t so preppy when you add extra pockets everywhere.

Remember that a stylish wardrobe may or may not incorporate any of these trends, as the wearer sees fit for her life and style. Keeping informed about trends helps you cultivate a good working relationship with current fashion, as discussed in last week’s post. Have fun with these, and enjoy them as the nights get shorter and we look forward to warmer weather and brighter days.

Up and coming artist Julia Chou wears distressed jeans with confidence at a gallery displaying her work. Chou’s former history teacher enjoys the art while wearing pink, on trend or otherwise.

* I think that’s a sign that a style is really you. I have no trouble incorporating gingham into my rotation, and it feels always perfectly comfortable.

** Is it really unreasonable?

*** But not waste away with a cranky guy who is obsessed with Herodotus.

One last shot of Kristin Scott Thomas as Katharine Clifton. What could be more practical for the desert than an oversized leather jacket and sheer silk scarf?


One and Done: The Daily Dress Code

Could you wear a dress everyday? I often look at pictures of women from earlier times and envy them their simple wardrobe of dresses. * Dresses are flattering, and can be fantastically comfortable, but… an all-dress dress code? As it happens, I have two friends who manage to do just that.

And no, these women don’t spend their days in idle relaxation. Sarah Prater is a respected teacher of writing. She’s that English teacher who asked hard things of you and actually got you to do them. Yana Gorskaya is a film editor and writer in LA who has made scores of films including What We Do In the Shadows and Spellbound.** Both women have families, hobbies and sixty billion things to get done in a week. So they’re just like us.

It’s so simple

“I didn’t always just wear dresses, though I have always had a fondness for them.” Yana says, “But a few years ago I put one on and didn’t look back.”

Yana, with adorable dress, boots, daughter.

Discussing dresses with each woman I was struck by just how easy their mornings are. There is no matching, no balancing of proportion, no trying to get yourself to wear something other than the jeans you’ve been wearing all week. Ultimately, there is, “No thinking!” according to Yana. “Just pull one out of the closet and go.”

Sarah notes that dresses have also simplified packing for vacations. “Since a dress is a complete outfit, it takes up less room in a suitcase. As long as I’m traveling to warm places, which I always try to do, I can take dresses almost exclusively.”

Sarah, not worrying on vacation.

Could you do the same? Here is some wisdom that will set you on the right track.

Start with the right set of dresses

“I’m curvy and lots of things look pretty terrible on me, but I’ve worn dresses long enough now that I can recognize a silhouette or brand that will generally work for me,” Yana says. “Wrap dresses are a good bet. As is anything that ties in the middle. Or has an A-line, loose hanging cut. I’m also a sucker for bright patterns.”

How could you not be a sucker for this pattern?

Sarah says, “I am all about comfort…. I like thin straps in the summer and I can throw a cardigan over some of these for school. Most of my dresses are knee-length.”

Both women advocate a closet of abundance, “I wear dresses every day,” Yana says, “so it helps to have a lot of them.”

Below are a few styles that flatter most body types. These are worth a try.

Fit and flair, wrap, sheath, swing; looking good.


Styling dresses can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be, according to my friends.

Sarah says, “I can accessorize if I want to dress it up, jewelry or a scarf or nicer shoes, wild leggings, a sweater. Or I can go very simple: Just a dress and sandals.”

“I like a good pair of high heeled boots with my dresses,” Yana says, “brown goes with everything, but I also have a black pair. I also own a wide variety of comfy flats.”

Altering the accessories to face the weather is pretty straightforward. “I can throw on leggings if it is cold,” Sarah says, “Birkenstocks in the spring and summer, or boots in the fall.”

Sarah, on a simple style day.

Shopping secrets of the masters

The common theme of shopping between these two? The internet. Both women shop online, and Zulily is a favorite site. Apparently the site has interesting dresses and amazing sales.

Yana simply bypasses the annoyance of returning dresses that don’t work for her. “Because I can’t try them on beforehand, I limit myself to spending $35, often much less. Zulily, Modcloth, Nordstrom Rack all frequently have excellent sales. 4 out of 5 things I buy look good on me, the fifth I pass on to a friend. Everyone wins.”

Friends, did you hear that? This is an excellent plan.

According to Sarah “Since the dresses are not form fitting, online shopping works. I am also a sale shopper. I buy on discount sites like Hautelook, Zulily, two of my faves.”

Sarah, with her equally stylish family.

But all these sharp deals are fleshed out with an intermittent investment for Yana. “I will occasionally splurge and go to a local dressmakers in Silver Lake, called Matroshka. They make dresses custom fitted that are super adorable. But that’s a rare treat.”

That’s a new life goal. Thanks Yana!

It’s more than just a dress

As I am constantly uncovering on this blogging journey, clothing is never as simple as covering our bodies in a creative manner.

Sarah’s dresses have become legend among the girls at the high school where we teach. I’ve heard heated debates about favorite dresses, and philosophical speculation about just how many dresses Sarah owns. Given that Sarah’s job is to push kids past their comfortable limits in writing, she has to be down with being the hardline teacher most of the time. The dresses show a whimsical, relatable side of Sarah beyond deadlines and draft revisions.

A rare glimpse into the fabled closet of Ms. Prater.

Yana’s love of dresses, too, is about more than simplicity and flattery. “My mother never wore pants a day in her life. She grew up in a cosmopolitan Russian city and she always found pants on women kind of provincial. I think I saw her in a jumpsuit once. She wore it with high-heeled sneakers. She passed away when I was in my early twenties, and I think wearing dresses has made me feel connected to her, in some small, deeply comforting way.”

So for ease and comfort and human connection, I am challenging myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. No need to buy anything new, (unless you find a sweet deal on Zulily…) just pull out the dresses you own, boots or sandals depending on the weather and give it a try. I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. Yana and Sarah have had years to perfect this. You and I are gonna have to give up pants for seven days, cold turkey. But I suspect this will be fun. Next week I’ll post about my journey, and look forward to hearing about yours.

Can I do this for a full week?

* Meanwhile, those women are gazing back at me, envying my ability to earn a steady income, vote, enjoy central heating and access to quality dental care.

** Spellbound is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a documentary about kids in the national spelling bee competition, and it is riveting. It also won nearly every award known to humans, and was nominated for the rest.

Eco shopping for non-puritanical women

I am not a puritan. If I’d been in England in 1620, I would not have thought, “This place is too sinful. Let’s all get on a miserable boat and endure incredible hardship to make a point about living our values.”

No, I would have been back in London, wondering if I had enough rotten fruit for the remount of a Shakespeare tragedy.

It’s just who I am.

While I want very much to be a good, contributing member of our society, nothing saps my inspiration faster than a strict code of conduct. Restrictive diets? Useless. Crazy detailed lesson plans? Not gonna get followed.

But unless I, and the entire fashion industry shape up, there’s not going to be much of a planet left for me to not follow rules on.

Time to get up out of my hammock and align my values with my habits.

Everyone, no matter their politics, depends on this earth. And we can all see how environmental degradation and bad labor practices are harming the poorest of our planet’s people. Fashion is among the worst offenders out there.

But how do we keep easy, interesting wardrobes while not participating in sketchy environmental and labor practices?

What follows are some of the best ways to lessen the impact our closets have on the environment. But we will avoid the frumpy, eco-friendly hairshirt. Building a wardrobe in line with our values should be a joyful challenge, rather than an unstylish experiment in martyrdom.

Second hand

Buying used clothing is the easiest solution to this problem. Some of my favorite pieces came from our local Buffalo Exchange.

I love you, beautiful Aran sweater I found at Buffalo.

But it is extremely hard to create a highly functioning wardrobe in a second hand environment alone. Thrift shopping depends on being open to out-of-season and unexpected finds. Creating a functional wardrobe depends on planning and shopping for boring pieces like layering t-shirts and perfect black leggings. In the last 25 years I have probably bought a hundred t-shirts at second hand stores and worn five of them regularly.

And what about underwear? Socks??

Second-hand boots? OK. Second-hand socks? Ew.

And some of you readers just don’t feel very comfortable in second hand clothing. This does not make you a bad person. The whole point of effortless dressing is to feel good in your wardrobe, and if you don’t like wearing second hand clothing, don’t beat yourself up about it.

I love the hunt of thrift shopping, and resale items will always make up a good portion of my closet. But if this isn’t you, don’t gather up the rotten fruit just yet, read on.

Do your research, then do some more

There are fantastic ad campaigns out there geared at making us all feel better about ourselves as we buy clothing. But beyond the green-washing there is a complex web of suppliers and owners that funnel the money from your well-intended purchase into the wrong hands.

Your research will depress you. Dove, with its gorgeous, body-positive advertisements, is owned by Unilever. Unilever also owns Axe, which beyond making every boys’ locker room in America smell nasty, has a crazy objectifying ad campaign. All the Dove money and the Axe money goes into the same pockets.

Seriously people?! I’m just trying to buy some soap.

Research clothing companies off their own sites, and see who owns them. Then look at their chain of supply. A company might have good practices, but get their fabric from another company that is destroying farmland and using near-to-slave labor to grow cotton. A small company under private ownership with a short chain of supply is your best bet.

Keep it simple with go-to companies

Obviously, I’m not out googling every clothing brand, every time I shop. To simplify things for myself, I have a few companies where I know I can, in good conscious, shop. And truth be told, most of us buy most of our clothing from 2 or 3 primary shops.

Without reservation, I recommend Patagonia. Founder Yvon Chouinard (my imaginary grandpa) has taken every possible move towards sustainability and not just decent, but down-right awesome labor practices. Plus he’s an incredible climber.

Ann and me, in Patagonia dresses.

Eileen Fisher is a model company, very progressive and always looking to improve their practices. I’m not at a point where I can afford much from here, but you might be.

Maybe someday.

BedStu Boots are amazing. Handmade in NYC with ever-strengthening environmental practices.

I found my BedStu boots in a second hand store, but I would buy them new if I needed to.

This article has some interesting looking places. I haven’t investigated yet, but I’ll report back if they are promising.


The problem, of course, is that these companies are expensive. If you know you are going to wear a piece for years, invest. We can also support positive change by seeking out companies who are moving towards better practices all at price points.

The power of one good piece

These pants are from Old Navy. They are a perfect color and fit for my wardrobe. They get a lot of wear.

I like to avoid Old Navy, and other fast fashion stores. But in buying one perfect pair of pants, I haven’t bought five pairs of imperfect pants. Every piece of clothing made impacts the environment, no matter how green the company. Buy one piece that works, rather than seven that kinda work, then wear it for years.

In regular rotation since spring, 2002.

Sustainability is a complex and noble goal. None of us will be perfect as we take the steps needed to save our planet. I have to be careful of taking a few baby steps towards environmentalism and allowing that to justify the rest of my behavior. “Look! I planted a garden while wearing a second-hand pair of shorts! So I’m off to go buy some quirky plastic dishware at Target to serve these veggies on…” But having broad guidelines, rather than nitpicky, puritanical rules, helps me do my best.

Not exactly hard core about anything.

Sustainability is at the heart of much of the Mud and Grace philosophy. Don’t buy something unless it is perfect. Shop second hand while experimenting. Love your body the way it is and effortless style will follow. Wear what you own for a long time. Then  get out there and have some fun on this beautiful planet.

Rules to Live by in a State of Fashion Anarchy

“There are no rules! Wear what you love! Fashion is what you make it!” –The establishment gleefully proclaims. Visit any street style blog and you will find women wearing all kinds of crazy conglomerations. Open a magazine and you get the sense that so long as you are wearing incredibly high heels, anything can be high fashion.

No rules, huh? In that case I’ll be wearing my pajamas… everywhere.

Me and my sister, not following fashion rules. Or any rules, actually.

But of course, there are still rules. Subtle enough that most of us can’t quite figure them out, but pervasive enough that everyone has felt the slap at wearing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

The fashion industry is like a teacher with bad classroom management. You know the one. They say there are no rules, but in truth there are rules all over the place. In that situation, nobody preforms well.

Here are a few guidelines to use as a jumping off point as we weather the current mayhem of style.

Wear three colors or tones

Three is a magic number. Joseph Campbell could probably explain why but for the purpose of this blog we’re just going to go with the fact that it’s magical. Three colors, or three tones of a similar color, calm the eye and create visual harmony. Think a rust colored top, blue jeans, brown leather boots and a brown leather cross body bag. Or light grey t-shirt, a darker grey cardigan and a black skirt.

If you are incorporating a print, like plaid or a floral that has more than 3 colors, just keep accessories neutral.

Red pants, black t, grey sweater. Done.

Solids photograph better, prints are more fun

You may have heard that you can’t go wrong with a solid color. You may have also heard the cacophony of people shouting at you to add more colorful prints to your wardrobe. Both are correct, it just depends on the situation.

If you are going to be photographed, and if you particularly care what those photos look like, wear a solid color. If a print makes you happy, wear it and go have a good day. Since most of our family photos are taken outside on some sort of adventure, all of my coats are solid colors. Since I don’t care what I look like in other people’s wedding albums, I wear fun dresses to celebrate marriages.

I look awful in any picture of me taken in this dress, but I feel like a fairy princess.

Be thoughtful about the logos you wear

Just try to imagine Grace Kelly or Jackie Kennedy with splattered logos on their handbags, or wearing sweatshirts advertising mountaineering gear. In this world of fashion confusion, many people have taken to using labels and logos in place of style. My middle school age son talks about boys who wear Nike from head to toe on some days, then Under Armor head to toe the next, but would never mix the two brands. We really do not want to look like middle school boys. Seriously.

That said, there are times a label can be incredibly helpful. Levis say, “I’m not a fashion slave, and I like high quality jeans.” Lululemon pants stay on when I am exercising, and that’s a win-win for everybody.

The trick is to limit the labels showing on your clothing, and to be very comfortable with the labels you rock. Both my daughter and I wear Patagonia caps. Patagonia is a great company. The materials they use are responsibly sourced, the employees are treated and paid well, the quality is unmatched. I am happy to advertise for their company. Plus I like their caps. Ultimately, don’t be afraid of a label you can stand behind, but never use labels as a substitute for style.

Walking advertisement? I’m OK with that.
And it’s even better on Margaret with a few mosquito bites. Also note the power of three here.

Remember that you are dressing in relationship with other people

Other people are affected by what we wear. That’s why we care so much. Wearing “What you love!” and “Whatever makes you comfortable!” may not make other people comfortable.

I worked with a woman years ago who wore clothing that made everyone around her uncomfortable; cleavage, short skirts, thin clothing, all the time. While there are certainly times and places where she would have looked great in such outfits, being an adult working in a school was not one of them. When she was called out on this, she defended her choices, saying she was just wearing clothing that she found comfortable.

Clothing is never about just our comfort. It’s about everybody’s comfort. Kind of like bathing. Everything we wear sends a message to others about who we are and how we expect to be treated.

Which is not to say you should always wear what other people want or expect you to wear. I know an awesome young woman who wore men’s ties throughout high school, for no other reason than she liked men’s ties. Those ties were a wink and a grin to her more conservative classmates, a subtle but kind note that she wouldn’t be following their rules. I routinely pull on my Frye boots and a plaid shirt if I’m going to be confronted by fancy moms. It’s my way of saying I don’t play your glam game.

Ties really are so wonderful.

But there are other times when we dress to show respect. As a teacher, there are days (OK, the entire month of February) when I have to work to get myself out of jeans. I teach at a school with a very casual dress code, and could wear sweats if I wanted. But it’s important to let the students know I take this work seriously. I dress up for it and for them.

Fit is everything

More important that the color, brand, or design of your clothing is the way it hangs on your body. We’ve all seen women whose clothing fits beautifully. We tend to assume her clothing fits because she has a great figure, but in truth her figure looks great because her clothing fits.

If you strive for just one stylish improvement in your life, make it the fit of your clothing. Jeans that you have to tug at, blouses that bunch up, dresses that don’t quite have enough room for your hips, these are the real spoilers. As you weed through your wardrobe and continue to make additions to it, look to fit first. A trip to the tailor generally costs less than lunch out. You can hem those pants, take a tuck in a blouse, or shorten a skirt for very little investment of time or money.

Sheathes are great, provided they fit perfectly.

Add to these guidelines your own rules (I never wear olive when I’m in a bad mood) and you will find a comforting set of guidelines that can make getting dressed easier every morning. Fashion anarchy can rage around us, and we may even find pleasure in the brash and conflicting messages we hear from the fashion industry when nestled in the cocoon of our own orderly wardrobes.

And truth be told, it may have been easier in our mothers’ youths, but also restrictive.

“Should I wear this white dress?”

Is it after Labor Day?


Are you going to a wedding?


Will they be serving spaghetti?


Then wear that white dress!

These days there’s nothing holding you back from wearing a white dress to outdoor Italian nuptials in February. So long as it fits.


This stylish fox on my deck, in relationship with her surroundings, perfectly fitted, logo-free fur, modeling the power of 3.





Shopping 101

As a culture, we’ve been sold the idea that shopping is fun. We see glossy advertisements featuring a beautiful, tall, engaging group of friends having so much fun as they hit the shops.

While I can see how being with friends in the mall could hold the potential for a good time, putting together a wardrobe isn’t a recipe for hilarity. It’s more like learning to play pinochle with my grandma as a child. Fun was tearing around in a pack of cousins catching fireflies. Holding an enormous mess of cards in my little hands and trying to remember all the rules wasn’t fun; it was a satisfying intellectual and emotional challenge.


Duran Duran at the PBR music festival with Julie was hilarious fun.* Finding the right long-sleeve layering t-shirt was not.

There is an adrenaline rush that goes with making a purchase. We all know people who get addicted to this rush and become compulsive shoppers. That, again, is not fun. It’s sad. As a community, the Mud and Grace women tend to have enough going on that we don’t need shopping to keep us entertained. Quite the opposite, we need to make time in our lives to buy what we need.

As you are piecing together the puzzle of your wardrobe, approach it as such. Take the time, focus and mental space to do your best work in creating an easy wardrobe. These tips will help get you started.

Save more than you need, spend less than you have

When you are serious about creating a flexible, effortless wardrobe, start saving money. You know your economic situation, and where you are likely to shop. Save accordingly. To save more than you need if you are heading to Goodwill, save a couple of hundred dollars. If you are heading to Bridgeport Village, save a lot more. I keep my shopping money in a separate account and fund it with freelance writing projects. I like to have money in the bank beyond what is needed to cover my wardrobe basics. That way if I see something that I really want that would fill a space in my wardrobe, I can buy it without a second thought.

This was not on sale.

On the other hand, don’t plan on spending everything. The problem with setting a budget is that people often spend everything they have given themselves permission to spend, whether or not they find the right pieces. “Do I need these pants? Not really, but I still have $80 left…”

Attempt (and I know this is hard) to take money out of the equation when shopping. Instead of thinking about how much something costs, or what a good deal it is, or whether or not you deserve it, think about where it fits in your wardrobe. Ultimately, you will begin to buy what you need, and leave behind what you don’t. The money you will save in not buying useless items will more than make up for the money you spend buying a full price pair of wool socks you wear for years.

Not the time to be fussing about small change. Buy it because it works, not because it is cheap.

Obviously, you should never spend money you don’t have. Credit card debt wipes out any peace of mind an effortless wardrobe might give you.

Set aside time in multiples

If you have some major wardrobe goals, you won’t achieve them all while dropping by the mall one afternoon between work and picking up your kids. Look at your calendar and find at least three separate times when you can go out, on your own, and find the items you need for your effortless wardrobe.

I prefer to shop alone when I have specific needs. I enjoy hanging out with friends pretty much anywhere, and that can include shopping. But if I want to spend 20 minutes in the dressing room trying on 15 different plaid shirts, I don’t want to feel like I’m keeping anyone waiting. If you are shopping with others, make sure they are either incredibly patient, or that you don’t have any major goals you need to achieve.

Take your style notebook

Don’t have one yet? Read more here The one must-have item for creating a wardrobe you love

Even better if your daughter drew hearts on the cover.

Create a comprehensive list

In that style notebook you should have a list of needs and wants before you go. If you don’t even know what you need or want, do a little research before you go on a major shopping trip.

As you are compiling your list, think about the following questions:

What do you reach for?

When standing at your closet in the morning, what do you wish would appear before you? Are you staring at your stiff button downs, wishing a floaty blouse would materialize? Are you rummaging through a drawer of 5K run t-shirts looking for a simple black layering T? Put these pieces on your list.

What do you wear all the time?

Do you have a favorite outfit? What are the elements that make it so easy and fun for you? Look at the proportions, colors and fabrics, then search for clothes that can replicate the feel of this great ensemble.

Who do you want to be?

Often we go shopping with an image in our head of what we “should” wear, rather than what we want to wear. We think about what makes us look slim, what is “sensible.” We shy away from stylish things, not wanting to appear too flashy. Is that what we want?

Think long and hard about who you want to be in this world. Then go get clothes that are worthy of that woman.

Do you need shoes with that?

Every time you try on anything, mentally run through your wardrobe and make sure you have something to go with it. Orphan clothing items produce frustration and guilt. If you are going out on a limb and trying something new, make sure you either have the supporting garments to wear it, or plan to round out the ensemble in the immediate future.

This vest doesn’t have many friends in my closet. Yet.

Experiment wisely

Pushing yourself to try new things is great, and necessary. But don’t expect to go from a wardrobe full of yoga pants to a sequined mini skirt and go-go boots in one afternoon.

When trying a new style try to find it in a color and fabric that make you comfortable. Similarly, if experimenting with color, stick with a style you know.

Recently my neighbor texted me a picture of a woman wearing a salmon-colored leather bomber jacket. Wow! She looked amazing. But salmon colored, leather, and bomber jacket are all things I’d need to wrap my head around. By finding a denim bomber jacket, I don’t feel at all conspicuous when I wear it, but am still able to stretch my boundaries.

Just enough of a challenge for now.

What you don’t buy is just as important as what you do buy

Think of your wardrobe like a packing list for a backpacking trip. You don’t want any extra weight. At any given time your closet and drawers should only hold clothing that you would be excited to wear today. Not buying an item that isn’t great is as much of a score as buying something wonderful.

We’re smiling because our packs are so light. Also, we’re really in love.

You are going to make mistakes

When piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, you don’t automatically reach for the perfect piece every time (unless you are my mother.) You are going to bring home some items of clothing that don’t work in the long term. It’s OK, now you know. Make note of the things that don’t work in your style notebook and move on.

Honestly, I haven’t left the house in this yet. I like the idea of it, I just don’t actually put it on and wear it.

It’s not a race

Creating the perfect wardrobe takes time. It’s like gardening, a slow, rewarding process of cultivation. If you don’t find the perfect jeans this afternoon, there will be other opportunities. In allowing yourself the time and space to put together a great wardrobe, you are affirming your own self worth.

I am so absurdly proud of this ribbon.

In the end, our shopping experiences should be far from the gregarious, adrenaline-and-espresso-fueled mall parties of the media. In future posts we will look more in depth at other types of shopping: on line, second hand, eco, dealing with sizing, and fun house mirrors in dressing rooms. But for now, take this synopsis with you on a quiet afternoon of finding a few pieces to for your perfect wardrobe.

Save more than you need

Spend less than you have

Buy what you need, leave what you don’t

Take your time.

*PS Am I seriously wearing pearls while drinking PBR on the dirt with a few thousand of the most tattooed Americans ever gathered in one place? I need to start working on appropriate accessories…

The white pants you see center are Simon LeBon’s legs. John Taylor is on the far left.