Winter Color

In many months of the year I question the fashion industry, but none so much as January. It is cold, dark and raining, and yet everywhere I look spring fabrics flutter seductively. “Spring is coming,” they whisper, “a sleeveless dress is just what you need.”

Yes, technically spring is coming, what with the orbitting of the earth and all. But the 2020 summer Olympics are also also coming, and I’m not exactly preparing my wardrobe. Warm weather is a long way off here in Oregon.

In all honesty, January can feel like a bit of a bummer, fashion-wise. The rich colors and cozy plaids that felt so relevant through November and December seem a little stale now.

The trick to blowing off our winter fashion blues is to use color, rather than style or fabric, to express our longing for warmer months. Comb your closet for clothing that is warm and cozy, but with colors that point us towards spring. We can all wear satisfying ensembles throughout the winter without giving in to an airy tank top before it is time.

Here are a few color combinations to pull you out of your winter doldrums, along with some of my favorite mid-winter pieces.

Cognac and Denim

I’m pretending to be an extra in Thelma and Louise.

I always love this southwest-inspired combination, but never so much as in the middle of winter. If I’m not actually in a the American Southwest hiking through sun-baked canyons, at least I look like I could be.

Spring green and deep brown

So I like to dress like my garden? I just avoid anything striped and/or a red hat, and there’s no chance of looking like a gnome.

Spring green is such a fun color. Paired with brown you can brave the mud of February and still look sharp.

Pink and grey

Pink and grey remains a January/February classic. Soft fabrics and knits are toasty warm while the colors are soothing and easy. A little 1950s, a little 1980s, it’s all good in pink and grey.

Other fun winter combinations are black and teal, cream and light blue, and navy and white.

My winter favorites

I have several pieces that keep me style-positive through these dark months. Here are a few favs:

Talbot’s Heart Sweater

I’m pretty sure I longed for this exact sweater my entire 5th grade year.
Hearts!!!

I love this sweater. It is so easy to wear, a perfect weight for indoors, but it can easily be layered if I am heading outside.

Soft-color plaid flannel chores shirt

Thanks Owen!

My son bought me this shirt for Christmas. The cheerful colors make this chores top perfect for winter. Most Saturdays I can be found wearing this top while I muck around with my family and goats. It’s warm and uplifting.

A seriously warm Stio coat with bright pink lining

My please-let-it-be-cold coat.
Look, there’s a pink pineapple on the back! Or a pinecone. Or whatever.

My forever down jacket is from Stio, and while it is practical six ways to Sunday (water proof, down fill, all sorts of ventilating, etc, etc) it also has a bright pink lining that is so unexpected it makes me giggle, leaving me warm and happy.

Pink Patagonia Puffer Vest

 

 

This puffer has gotten a lot of play on this blog. I do apologize for reusing the pictures but it is such a great piece. You probably have something similar, a lucky thrift store find that you pull out year after year.

Bright green jacket

Keeping things merry and bright long after the holidays are over.

I bought this green jacket to wear to my son’s football games (his school colors are green and white) As it turns out I wear it everywhere, all year round: Track meets in the spring, cold nights camping in the summer, football in the fall, instead of a sweater in the winter. In all honesty this is not a great color on me but I really don’t care. The color puts me in a good mood and the nanopuff keeps me cozy.

I can belay my husband on his project in this jacket, too!

With a little fortitude, and a lot of color, we can make these winter months as fashionably fun as any other time. Go raid your closet and see what you can find!

Do you have a favorite winter color combination, or an article of clothing that gets you through the first months of the year? Please tell us about it in the comments below.

Hey mom, did you know that the outcome of my sporting events has absolutely nothing to do with the color of your jacket? It’s true. Also the ref doesn’t seem to be taking your advice, so you can stop yelling now.

Your Workout Wardrobe

I want every woman who reads this blog to feel good in her own skin.

Getting out and moving to the best of your ability improves your relationship with your body. The Mud and Grace community includes women from age 15 to 85, some of them do yoga, play tennis, climb, or kick box. Some run 50K races and others walk 15 minute miles. And all of us need to wear something while we’re out there getting our heart rate up.

Lydia and Ella might be a little more hardcore than the rest of us.

One barrier to working out regularly is not having the appropriate gear. I managed to dodge the swimming pool for four straight summers because I didn’t like my bathing suit.*

Getting your workout wardrobe in order will make getting ready to exercise easier, help you feel better when working out, help you to forget about what you are wearing (Is it too tight? Falling down? Pulling up? Smelling horrific?) and allow you to focus on your workout.

Me, not thinking about what I’m wearing.

“Great!” you say, “Sign me up.” Because if a great workout wardrobe were easy, we’d all have one already, right?

Given that I have been working out regularly since my freshman year in college and just last month finally nailed down my own workout wardrobe,** I am not in a strong position to judge anyone who finds the process a little baffling. Wandering through a mega store filled with fantastically expensive leggings is not fun. When said leggings are designed for 7’ tall women, and will in all likelihood slide down and expose half of your behind by the third down dog, one can be forgiven for walking out without buying anything.

One Lululemon jacket cost the approximately the same amount as the rest of my wardrobe combined.

To begin, let’s get a few ugly truths about workout gear out in the open.

#1. Athletic gear companies don’t want you to have an easy, mix and match workout wardrobe. They very specifically come out with new and difficult-to-match colors season after season. The best course of action, then, is to skip the colors and go straight for the black and grey they nearly always offer. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to match navy and peach shorts with a running top.

#2. Workout gear is often expensive. Sorry, it just is. Buy from a company with a good rep for sustainable practices and feel good about it. Quality leggings will fit better and last longer than a cheaply made pair.

#3. Athletic gear doesn’t last forever. Think about what you are doing as you work out: Running, jumping, sweating, stretching. This would be hard on any piece of clothing. Evaluate your pieces regularly and replace them as needed.

#4. Workout gear takes special care. Mud and Grace is a style blog founded on the principle that women don’t want to spend their waking hours hand washing silk sweaters and steaming linen pants. That said, extra care will allow your expensive workout gear to exist in the world for a little longer than it might otherwise. Washing your gear on cold, then line drying will help garments keep their shape.*** If your clothes smell funny Bac Out Biokleen or something similar can help.

Seriously, I have to line dry a sweatshirt???

All that said, the benefits of having a good workout wardrobe still outweigh the time and energy it takes to create and maintain one. Take it from the woman who ran in very old, 2nd hand shorts and free t-shirts for 20 years. We spend money and energy on all sorts of things, dinners out, make up, pedicures. Diverting your energy and money from say, your phone and data plan, to clothing that will help you meet your fitness goals seems like a reasonable idea.

Lydia, spending her time and energy getting outside.

How much do you need?

You need one complete workout ensemble for everyday of the week you do a particular activity, plus one. So if you run four times a week, you need five running ensembles.**** Less is more in this situation, you want to keep the decision-making to a minimum when preparing to workout. Keep in mind the seasons. What I wear running in February is very different from what I wear running in June.

This is my gear for indoor climbing: Four tops, for pairs of tights, two sweatshirts. This all can double for the yoga I don’t do nearly as often as I’d like.

How can I make it all work together?

Regarding color, start with a base of black, grey and white. If you look better in warm colors, go black, tan and cream. For a good long while, only buy workout clothing in these neutrals. Then add in one or two other colors if you are inclined. Or, you can have color for tops and buy only grey and black bottoms, or colorful bottoms and black, white and grey tops.

Regarding style, remember the basic rules of proportion. If it’s floppy on top, keep it fitted on the bottom and vice versa. With workout clothes, it is appropriate to wear fitted clothing throughout, but I find I’m more comfortable with some movement in my tops.

All of my running gear is black, white and gray. Any extra thinking and I’ll spend more time getting dressed than actually running.

Where should the biggest investment be?

Shoes. And after shoes, invest in bottoms, then jackets. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on tops unless you want to. I still climb and run in 2nd hand tank tops, as they don’t seem to impede my progress. Contrary to the massive advertising we are bombarded with, most women don’t need a top-of-the-line sports bra. A simple pull-over bra works on all but the most generously busted among us.*****

My beautiful climbing shoes relaxing on the deck after a hard workout.

Where should I start?

Start by removing all the workout gear that you own and don’t love. Several months ago I donated a bright pink running top, an expensive fitted tank, and several weird-colored pairs of running shorts. It may be that by getting rid of what you don’t wear, you will find you have a tidy little workout kit ready to go.

This simple top was withering away in my drawer, until it occurred to me to wear it to the gym.

If you have nothing, you can’t go wrong with a great pair of sweats, a pair of shorts, a sports bra, and good shoes. Then walk out your front door and enjoy!

Being active will add substantial joy to your life. If you need some great looking gear to get you out there, go buy it. Then forget about what you have on and go crush your workout.

Let’s have one more picture of Lydia and Ella, because they are awesome and totally representing the black/ gray/ one color theory of workout gear.

* Seriously? Four summers?? Yes, four. Crazy.

** 27 years

***My friend Renee has a clothes line in her attic for just this purpose. It is super cool.

**** My husband, who was an elite runner in college and for many years after, thought this was way too much. He then related stories of having only one pair of running shorts for several years. So, if you are an incredibly fit man in 1986, you only need one pair of running shorts. For the rest of us, have a ready-to-go workout ensemble for each day of the week you work out.

***** You know who you are, and honestly the rest of us are a little jealous.

Cold Mom Edition: The Art and Science of Keeping Warm

I’m blogging from Bend, Oregon this morning, where it’s a refreshing 14 degrees outside. We’re here for the USA Climbing Regional Youth Bouldering Competition. My daughter wasn’t 5 minutes into the comp when I realized that while my ensemble was stylish, I was gonna freeze in that drafty rock gym.

Not wearing some approximation of the right thing is a huge pet peeve of mine.

But, this being Bend, home to stylish mountain ladies, I had ample time to admire how these moms keep warm and stylish. And this being a climbing competition that lasts all day, I had more than ample time to contemplate the best ways to keep warm.

What follows are my favorite “Cold Mom” ensembles from the day, and somewhat scientific* tips on keeping warm.

Busy Day Mom

At first glance, this woman had paired an expensive, long black puffer with skinny jeans and quality boots, which is a perfectly functional uniform. What I liked about her style was that the deep red jeans and denim shirt she wore under the coat could take her from the rock gym, out to a nice lunch or baby shower, or whatever else she had on her calendar. The coat looked good, but could easily be discarded as she moved on with her day.

Flexible, practical.

Fun Mom

This cheerful, spring green coat stood out among a sea of black, brown and olive. I loved her bold choice, along with athletic-shoe styling on her boots. Add a favorite t-shirt and a worn in pair of jeans, and she looked completely in her element.

I could just tell we were going to get along.

Minimalist Mom

Simple black puffer, cargo pants and great ankle boots. I know I’ve posted similar outfits before on this blog, but this mom just looked so perfect for the occasion. This ensemble works in a dusty, cold, crowded rock gym, it would also work in a school, in a casual work environment, out for a day of errands, just about anywhere.

I imagine this woman has five changes of clothes, and a fantastically busy life.

Elegant Mom

A masterful combination of wine and cognac, set against a backdrop of black, this woman looked amazing. She also looked as though spent more time on her hair and make up this morning than any reader of this blog is likely to spend all week long.

I could pull this off in the imaginary world where I’m never late and don’t spill coffee on myself.

Hip Grandma

There were A LOT of grandmas at this competition, and all of them looked fantastic. My favorite was an older woman with short silver hair peeking out of a beanie. She wore girlfriend jeans, a cozy sweater and a chic bomber jacket.

I have every intention of rocking a bomber jacket in my late 70s.

So they all looked fantastic, but exactly how is it they were keeping war? Keep reading…

The science of keeping warm

You exist with a heater on at all times, set to 98.6. Your job is to keep that heat in, and keep moisture and wind away from your skin. Here are the keys to doing so:

  1. Wear a wicking layer to pull moisture away: A base layer of silk or wool pulls moisture from the inside of the fabric to the outside of the fabric, and it stays there. You only really need this layer is you are going to be sweating. That said, silk long underwear is really cozy and I wear it even if all I’m going to be doing is lesson planning in front of the fire.
  2. Keep the heat in: Ideally, you want to trap the warmth your body produces and keep it near you. It’s the same concept as insulating your house. You do that with what’s called loft, or air space. Goose down is not warm in and of itself, but the feathers in a down coat create space where warm air can be trapped. The thicker your down coat, the thicker the layer of warm air you’ve trapped around you.
  3. Beware convection and evaporation: You know that awesome feeling of a soft breeze in the middle of a of summer day, evaporating the moisture from your skin and cooling you down? If you want to stay warm, avoid that. Keeping wind at bay with a “shell” or coat is essential, as is wicking all moisture away from your skin, be it sweat, rain or melted snow.

What about layers?

Layers don’t actually keep you warm. They can help trap heat, but piling on one layer after the other doesn’t create warmth. Conceivably, if you are just going to stand around, you could wear a long down jacket and boots with nothing on underneath and be just as warm as a lady with 12 layers on. **

The number of layers you choose to wear has to do with the activities you have planned. Planning on sweating? Wear a wicking layer. Planning on standing still in the cold? Wear a thick insulating layer. Planning on changes in your body temperature due to movement like hiking or snowshoeing? Wear several layers that you can peal off and on as you warm up and cool down.

Margaret was down to her last layers by the final problem.

So to sum up: Keeping warm us about trapping heat, repelling moisture, and stopping the wind from coming into contact with your skin.***

What about my ridiculously cold hands and feet?

When you begin to get cold your body limits blood flow to your extremities (hands and feet) so it can keep that warm blood in your vital organs. The saying “Cold hands warm heart” is quite literally true.

The trick to keeping your hands and feet warm is to start with warm hands and warm feet. Before putting on gloves, warm your hands. You can rub them together, hold them over a heater, whatever. Warming the gloves helps too. Sometimes I place mine on an air vent and let warm air blow into them. Whatever you do, don’t put cold hands into cold gloves. It’s like putting a cold cozy around a cold can of soda.

Mittens keep your fingers together, sharing the warmth.

The same goes for your feet. Start warm, add warm socks and shoes that won’t let any cold in, and you are good to go. Again, your goal is to trap warm air next to your skin.

Should I wear a hat?

Is it true that you lose 50% of your heat through your head? I have no idea. I don’t even know how someone could measure that. You do have a lot of blood flowing up to your brain, and most people don’t store fat along their skulls, so whether it’s 50% or 10 % or whatever, a hat or hood makes sense.

The easiest way to get comfortable pulling on and off a beanie and making sure it looks right is (and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve done this) practice. Stand in front of a mirror, figure out the best angle for your hat and how your hair should look underneath, then just practice pulling it off, and putting it back on again. It will take 5- 10 minutes, then you will never hesitate to wear a beanie again.

We are living in a great age for cozy hats.

Putting it all together

Like so many lessons I’ve learned in this style blogging adventure, dressing to keep warm takes planning and intelligent investments. I casually threw an outfit that would work at our climbing gym into a bag without really thinking it through, or even checking the weather in Bend. I have a warm coat, good boots and perfectly flexible outfits to wear with them, I just didn’t take the time to plan in advance. Next time, I will remember the chill in my bones, and the inspiration of other women. Rather than being Cold Mom, I can just focus on being Mom, which is an art and science in and of itself.

Do you have a favorite cold-weather ensemble? Share it with us in the comments below!

*As scientific as I’m ever likely to get.

** You could do this, but I would judge you.

***Please memorize this for a pop quiz that will take place sometime in January.

 

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!*

Goldmine!

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.

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.

Eight “must-have” wardrobe basics you probably don’t need, and nine you might

I don’t own a little black dress. And yet, I manage to get myself clothed and out of the house daily without this magic-bullet of a wardrobe basic. How is this possible?

Basics are the items that allow our wardrobes to function. They are like the oil in our cars or the framing in our homes, absolutely necessary but not terribly exciting. So when I wanted to put my wardrobe in order I googled “wardrobe basics.” The internet responded with the same list over and over again. Black wool pants? Sigh. Ballet flats? So not me.

If I were an executive working in a high-rise office in NYC, I have no doubt these lists would be very helpful. But there is nowhere in my school-teaching, goat-herding, soaking-wet-track-meet- standing life for a pair of statement heels.

What follows is a list of traditional basics and my take on a piece that would serve a similar purpose, but be more functional in an active woman’s wardrobe. The Mud and Grace basics allow me to ride my bike to work, run around the classroom pretending to be on the Silk Road, meet my family for dinner and maybe hop in the car for a last-minute weekend road trip. These basics will not take you from the boardroom to a hip nightclub, because they won’t let you in those places if you have chicken feed stuck to the sleeve of your coat. But they will take you on the messy, fun adventure of life most Mud and Grace readers seem to have.

Every woman needs these pieces? Even my grandma?

1. Traditional basics list: A little black dress

  1. How often do you go to cocktail parties? Formal business meetings? The funeral of someone who would have wanted you to wear black? How often do you use the word “little” to describe anything in you wardrobe?
    You can live quite happily without any of these.

     

    Mud and Grace option: A knee-length knit dress

    Comfortable, warm, easy, washable, this dress can be casual when worn with boots and tights, or dressed up with jewelry and heels. With the exception of formal events, which rarely happen in my town, this dress is always appropriate.

    I have worn this dress everywhere, even to the rare cocktail party.

    2. Traditional basics list: A black pencil skirt

It’s true, pencil skirts are flattering. But you can’t ride a bike in a pencil skirt, and you really shouldn’t pair one with Frye Boots.

Mud and Grace option: A casual skirt in a neutral color

Find a skirt that can take the place of jeans, something casual that can be dressed up when you need it to be. This skirt should make you feel fantastic, and elevate your wardrobe on days you need it, but it shouldn’t be fussy.

I can wear this anywhere and everywhere.

3. Traditional basics list: Crisp white blouse

If you love ironing, are willing to have it tailored so it lies perfectly flat along your bust, and never spill coffee on yourself, go for it. For the rest of us mortals, these shirts just aren’t worth the trouble. Plus they always feel “crispy.”

Mud and Grace option: A soft chambray shirt

A bamboo or tencel option is so soft, never needs ironing and goes with absolutely everything.

This has been in my regular rotation, all four seasons, for five years now.

4. Traditional basics list: A black blazer

I have a black blazer, and I absolutely love it. But I tend to forget about it for seasons at a time, so my wardrobe obviously functions just fine without it

Mud and Grace option: A denim or cargo jacket

These easy jackets “finish” and outfit without making your feel fussy. They are perfect for unpredictable weather, or the unpredictable heating and cooling systems in our places of work. Find a good one, wear it forever.

I love you.

5. Traditional basics list: A striped shirt

Striped shirts really are adorable, but they are not for everyone. I swear I’m one beret away from street mime the minute I put on a striped shirt.

Mud and Grace option: A plaid or gingham shirt

Still adds a bit of interest in a limited color pallet, but substantially less preppy.

One can wear this shirt and never feel as though they are trapped in an invisible box.

6. Traditional basics list: Trench coat

Let’s take a large piece of shiny, khaki fabric, spatter a bunch of buttons across the front, give it huge lapels and pretend it’s flattering!

Mud and Grace option: A great rain jacket that fits your style

You do need a great jacket to keep the rain off. That might mean a trench for you, although a single row of buttons and a darker color would probably work better for most women. Most of us can find a sharp looking, seriously rain-repellant jacket that will work well with jeans and boots.

Sharp, and actually dry.

7. Traditional basics list: Classic pumps

I do love a classic pair of pumps, and I own some… and I wear them maybe once a year. It would be wrong to call them foundational in any way.

I wore these last November. They were fine.

Mud and Grace option: Smart looking, comfortable ankle boots.

Ankle boots are less of a commitment than mid-calf or tall boots, but keep your feet warm and dry, and your outfit updated.

I have no problem wearing the same shoes for seven days in a row.

8. Traditional basics list: White sneakers

Does no one else encounter mud in this world???

Mud and Grace option: Off-white sneakers

No one will ever know how many times they’ve been through the wash

If something is the color of a stain, can you stain it?

 

  1. Traditional basics list: Good quality black, grey and white t-shirts.

OK, you actually do need these. I have them in long sleeve, short sleeve and tank top. If black, grey and white aren’t your colors, find them in the neutrals you wear, like cream, olive and navy.

They have a point here. Good t-shirts make everything easier.

 

A few week’s ago we heard Jessie’s story, about a woman who is in the process of going a full year without buying any clothes. Part of what enabled Jessie to embark on this adventure is that she had a fully functioning wardrobe at the start. Many of us will be attempting a 40-day no-buy starting October 14th. Check your basics this week, and make sure you have what you need to get dressed easily in the months to come. As traditional basics lists don’t work for me, my list may not work for you. But take the opportunity to write your own basics list, and make sure yours are in good repair and ready to roll starting October 14th.

My favorite basic is a simple white tank top.

Do you have a “basic” I didn’t include today? Let me know what your “must-have” pieces are in the comments below!

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.

 

A practical guide to wearing shorts, or not.

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

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

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

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

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

Rectangle

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

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

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

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

Square

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

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

Triangle

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

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

 

Commonly asked questions:

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

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

Q: What are the best colors for shorts?

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

Q: Should I invest in active or tailored shorts?

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

This summer squares an navigate canyons AND traffic.

Q: Can I wear a tunic top with shorts?

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

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

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

Q: Do I have to wear shorts at all?

A: Nope. Read on, my friend.

Not shorts.

How not to wear shorts

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

Skirts / skorts

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

Wide leg pants

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

Joggers

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

Sundresses

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

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

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

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

**white pants

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

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

Color Theory Simplified: Two weeks in Color Boot Camp reaps initial confusion, ultimate clarity.

For the last two weeks I have been in Color Boot Camp; a challenge to myself and readers to really figure out what colors look best on us, and to shake us out of our neutral color zones. The plan was to wear a different color everyday and keep track of how we felt and how others reacted to us.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

For me, the first week went OK. As expected, blue was a hit, as were deep red and white. My favorite bright red plaid shirt scored zero comments. Not even from my husband. Whatever, I’m going to wear it anyway.

I still love you.

Olive was a mixed bag. I love this color, and wear it all the time. One jacket garnered a lot of positive reaction, while a dress seemed to make me look sallow.

By day 6, I was running out of colors. The challenge had resulted in a mini closet purge, as I pulled out a number of colorful items I hadn’t been wearing, and after 10 minutes walking around the house realized I was never going to wear. I began to long for my gray t-shirts. I got sick. I tried to keep up the challenge, but… I was sick and looked sick in anything I put on. I began to wonder why I’d come up with this dumb idea in the first place.

I’m just going to wear gray and stare at the horizon.

Then I had a hair appointment. The world is always better when I get a text reminding me there’s a trim coming up. I absolutely love how my hair goes from raggedy-frizzy to shiny-smooth in a magical two hours with Margaret Fairchild, the wizard of keratin and perfectly subtle layers.

“How’s your color challenge going?” she asked, draping me in a chocolate brown smock. I babbled everything to her I’ve just babbled to you about this hackneyed experiment. She listened thoughtfully, then said. “I bet blues worked really well,” she said. “And white?” Absolutely. How did she know this? “And maybe lavender, and gray, you look so beautiful in gray.*”

It turns out that Margaret used to be a professional color draper, back in the day. She has all the color swatches and everything.** Apparently, I’m a summer.

Possible Summer palette

As Margaret worked her magic on my hair and explained this color theory to me, I went into hyper focus. I have never understood the Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter Color Me Beautiful concept, and while it has been expanded on greatly, it really is the only time-tested theory out there. I’ve read dozens of internet articles on the topic but never could figure out what season I was. Here was my chance to get it!

According to Margaret, summer and winter are people with cool undertones to their skin. Spring and fall are people with warm undertones. To figure out which one you are, just ask if you would look better in a silver silk blouse or a gold one. You may already gravitate towards the metal that works best on your skin.***

Let’s be honest, no Mud and Grace reader would ever wear any of these. OK, maybe Bobbie could pull off the gold dress on the far right, but I just don’t see any of us in a silver jumpsuit.

Autumn and winter then are people who have more contrast between their hair, eyes and skin. So my friend Julie and I both have cool undertones. She has dark hair and eyes, and delicate pale skin, making her a winter. I have lighter hair and eyes, and less contrast with my skin color. Julie can pull of bolder colors that play up that contrast, while I do better in lighter colors.****

Winter Palette

So the reds and olives that look good on me have cool undertones, while the bright red of my favorite plaid shirt has just enough warmth in it to wash me out. This is why peach never, ever works on me. It explains why that gold-toned bridesmaid dress was such an abomination. It explains why painting my bathroom lavender made me look fantastic in the mirror.

Fall palette, which I may just decide to wear anyway.

Here are a few more basics I learned from Margaret.

Your season may change

While you will have a squarely cool or warm skin tone, the contrast between our skin and hair may change as you color your hair, tan or even age. I look better in white at the end of the summer, and deep red in February. That old rule about not wearing white after Labor Day may have been made up by a summer.

Me, happy in white in the middle of summer.

Most of us are probably doing a lot right already

Intuitively, you probably already discovered your best colors years ago. Julie has always worn a lot of black, red and gray. While she can expand on that, at the end of the day she looks really good in black, red and gray. All of the chambray shirts and dresses in my closet got there because they looked great on me in the dressing room. Your go-to colors will probably tell you a lot about your ideal color pallet.

It’s OK not to like your color pallet

Margaret (a spring) and I talked about a number of the “Easter egg” colors in our pallets that we don’t love. I’m drawn towards earth tones (they don’t show dirt) and can wear them as much as I like. I just need to consider the colors I wear next to the face. This is a great excuse to go buy a couple of cute pocket scarves.

Spring palette

As Margaret finished styling my hair we applied these ideas of cool/warm, high contrast/low contrast to people we knew. I enjoyed the old familiar pleasure of learning something that changes the way I view the world. Like when I finally grasped the effects of Bolivian silver mining on the economy of China during the Ming Dynasty, or the fact that butter was probably better for me than margarine. My color experiment pushed me out of my comfort zone, and put me in a place where I was open to Margaret’s understanding of color theory.

So I guess it was a good idea after all. Did you participate in Color Boot Camp? I’d love to hear how it went for you. Comment below or send a picture to mudandgrace@gmail.com

Maia, rocking some saturated color in Morocco.

* I love my hairdresser

** Anyone else feel like we should have a 1980s-themed party with wine coolers and color draping?

*** I don’t, I’ve always preferred gold, but a pretty gold ring on my finger isn’t going to wash out my entire completion.

**** This in no way is going to deter me from borrowing Julie’s clothes. We’re still the same size.

Color Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color Challenge

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

I just don’t get it.

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

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

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

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

This is going to be fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** 144 days of rain

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

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