8-Step Plan for the Perfect Summer Wardrobe

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

But it’s 110 degrees!

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

Some things I wear in the summer.

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

Summer Wardrobe Planning Worksheet

What are you doing?

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

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

What do you want to wear?

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

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

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

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

You are the perfect summer shirt.

How many options do you want?

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

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

Where will you put your money?

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

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

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

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

What do you already have that you truly love?

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

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

Give yourself a shopping time frame

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

Too busy standing in a vortex to shop.

Aaaand stop

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

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

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

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

Happy Summer!

Need more shopping advice? Check out my post Shopping 101

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

**You know who you are.

*** Whoop! Whoop!


Summer Travel Capsule 2017

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

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

The triumvirate of packing light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great support, but without all the stripes and swooshes.

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

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

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

I think I’ve had this since high school.

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

Pretty and practical.

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

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

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

Don’t judge.

Color pallet ideas

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

Navy, pink, burgundy and blue

Black, white, teal and fuchsia

Denim, cream, peach and sage

Black, denim, red and white

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

Dos and Don’t of Travel Packing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

**Have such a good time, Jenine!

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

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


Mud and Grace Summer Essentials


In the summer, you are on the go. You want cool and easy pieces that will take you from a walk with friends, to harvesting lettuce in your garden, to hopping in the car for the family road trip. I’ve assembled 12 lucky pieces for your summer adventures.

This year, my summer wardrobe is primarily light blue, red and white, with basics in black, navy and tan. Every item can be worn with every other item. Everything can be washed, or stand up to a dip in the river. Enjoy!

Number 1 – A sport weight dress

2nd Hand: Patagonia
2nd Hand: Patagonia

This is one of my favorite all time dresses. I found it second hand in both blue and black. The halter looks dressy, while the fabric keeps it casual. There are a hundred sport weight dresses to choose from. My advice is to choose one in a solid color and isn’t too tight. Any fabric with shine will draw the eye in, so adding a loud pattern can be a bit much. A solid color will create a long, lean line.

Number 2 – An easy jersey dress

New: Boden
New: Boden

Jersey dresses are one of the best parts of summer. Soft, fun and easy to care for, you really can wear your jersey dress anywhere. Because jersey is matte, you can indulge your love of prints (last summer my jersey dress had sailboats all over it!) You can find great styles at all price points, but remember that jersey will eventually pill. Like long summer nights, the jersey dress is a fleeting pleasure. Find yours, wear it all summer long, and say goodbye when it starts to pill.

Number 3 – Perfect tanks and tees

New: Maison Jules
New: Maison Jules
New: Maison Jules
New: Maison Jules

Finding the perfect t-shirt is a pain. It’s the type of shopping we all put off, but having the perfect t-shirt is the biggest win in an effortless summer wardrobe. (I have been road testing t-shirts for 6 months leading up to this post – not my idea of fun) This summer, I found Maison Jules fit me nicely, and I liked the lightweight fabric. But what works for me will not necessarily work for you. You’ll need to hoof it around town to find your t-shirt, and it will be so worth it when you do.

Number 4 – A Chambray shirt

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

The chambray shirt is actually a year-round Mud and Grace essential. Button it up, leave it open, tie a knot in front, you name it, the chambray is a true workhorse. This one is made of Tencel, a buttery soft fabric that doesn’t wrinkle and washes well.

Number 5 – A wear-it-with-anything sweatshirt

2nd Hand: no tags
2nd Hand: no tags

This sweatshirt can take a beating. In fact, looking at this picture you’re probably thinking, “Obviously, it already has…” This cozy piece will keep me toasty around the campfire, and warm on a chilly morning at home. Essential. If you want to look a little more chic, and your climate gets quite cool at night, substitute a fisherman knit sweater. Personally, I want to be able to spill hot cocoa on my warmth layer.

Number 6 – A sport weight skirt with shorts inset 

New: Columbia
New: Columbia

I love this skirt so much that my personal view of the apocalypse would be a world in which I had to get dressed without it. The Mud and Grace response to the ubiquitous pencil skirt, this piece is endlessly flattering, but you can move in it. I have worn this to every imaginable event, and get compliments every time I slip it on.

Number 7 – linen shorts

New: AllenAllen
New: AllenAllen

Something about well-made linen shorts just epitomizes a relaxed, stylish summer. The banded waist on these keeps them causal and simple to style. I love them for running around town, and having friends over.

Number 8 – Hiking shorts

New: The North Face
New: The North Face

Some summer days, you’re just going to get dirty. If you’re lucky, that will be most of them. These shorts fit loosely (I abhor stiff, tight hiking shorts!) They are not so “hiker chick” that I can’t wear them around town without looking like I just escaped from a Pam Huston essay (Not that that would be a bad look. I should be so lucky. But you know what I mean.) Extensive testing has revealed that they dry very quickly after jumping into a river.

Number 9 – Cut-off shorts

Old: J Crew
Old: J Crew

Because it’s summer. Be sure to sew down the cuffs so you’re not spending your whole summer rolling up your shorts.

Number 10 – Go everywhere sandals

2nd Hand: Merell
2nd Hand: Merell

The are tough enough to wear into a lake. They are comfortable enough for a long day of walking. They are nice enough to wear with anything else in the essential summer wardrobe. Yes, there will be times when you want to wear a pair of heals with one of the dresses, or a cute pair of sneakers with shorts or a skirt, but nice, wearable sandals will get you a lot of mileage. This year I was lucky enough to find a great pair second hand. In the past I have spent more money on nice sandals than on the rest of my summer clothes combined. Because if your feet hurt, you’re not going to be any fun at all.

Number 11 – Trail running shoes

New: Nike
New: Nike


These are the perfect outdoor adventure shoe. You can hike, run, kick around town, and they pack up pretty small. Unless you are doing a major backpacking trip, most of us don’t need full-on hiking boots for ordinary hiking needs. These give you plenty of traction on a hike, but don’t weigh you down. Plus, you can start trail running!

Number 12 – The hat-o-your-choice

New: Patagonia
New: Patagonia

You need a hat. Get the hat you want. Pay full price and love the fact that you don’t have sun blazing into your eyes. Always wanted to try a cowboy hat? Do it, you’ll look great. Like the floppy suede hats the girls working at Buffalo Exchange are always wearing? Buy one. I danced around this Patagonia snap-back trucker for months. Then I bought it. When I can keep it off my daughter’s head, I wear it all the time.

These are the big 12 pieces of summer. You’ll have your own favorite pieces to work in as well. Other good bets for summer are a swim suit you love so much you can’t wait to go swimming (It does exist) Simple pieces of inexpensive jewelry (I have a piece of heart-shaped Tigers Eye strung on silk) sports bras to wear with everything (I like Reebok) and classic sunglasses (It’s hard to beat an old pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers)

Do you have a summer essential that would inspire Mud and Grace readers? Send in a picture of yourself wearing your summer favorites and look for it in Inspiration.