When life truly sucks and you’ve lost all vision of who you used to be and don’t have a clue about who you are now, creating outfits can be the answer. This is something I know a little somethin’ about. Personally, putting a great outfit together has helped me face scary second opinion appointments. Professionally, I’ve helped clients find their identity and discover happy places again through the right choice of clothes and accessories. I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and whole getting dressed can make us feel.
Yet I’ve never heard a story about coming home to oneself that is as moving as the true life story Alice Retka shared with me while I was in Minnesota. It all started with a letter.
A letter with an unexpected reference to this blog
I read the return address: Alice Retka from Minnesota. I opened it up and soon learned how we were connected. In a beautifully written letter, she wrote about the things that had helped her get through the worst year of her life.
She tells us right off that she’d made it through a rough year of cancer treatments with the help of wise words from a friend. Her friend said:
You will have highs and lows while you recover. Mountains and valleys. Some of those valleys are going to be broad. Very broad. They can be dark and lonely. You have to find things to carry you through tough times. One thing that helped me was an old country song, Gonna Find Me a Bluebird. You will find the things to help you. Start looking.
What came next was the list of things that helped Alice including a quilt her aunt made, peppermint lip balm, Luminosity brain games, three seasons of Poldark. Then Alice wrote, “I could get lost in a fashion blog for women over 50 (BrendaKinsel.com) and a PBS show about small towns in Wisconsin (Around the Corner with John McGivern.) If I had a bucket list it would include coffee in Perham with Brenda Kinsel and ice cream in any town with John McGivern.”
If I had a bucket list it would include coffee in Perham with Brenda Kinsel…
Meeting Alice for coffee
Moved by Alice’s courageous journey and humbled by the mention of this blog, I pulled out a notecard, wrote to Alice, and included these details:
I’m coming to Minnesota at the end of June. Dad doesn’t live in Perham anymore; he’s moved to Fergus Falls. I can see on the map that it’s about three hours away from where you live. If there’s any chance of getting together for coffee, I’d love that. Maybe meet halfway?
Meant to meet Alice
With some pretty darn good circumstances at play, Alice was able to meet me in Fergus Falls. We had coffee at Cally’s Coffee and Cafe. I guess you could say this meeting was a line item on my a bucket list, one I hadn’t verbalized yet—meeting a woman who read my blog and benefited from it greatly at a time when she needed those benefits the most. For a writer and a fellow cancer survivor, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Anticipating meeting Alice
How putting outfits together helped during a dark time
In February of 2018, Alice was diagnosed with rectal cancer. She underwent five rounds of chemo, then surgery, more chemo, and another surgery in December. Adding to all of this was the death of two family members within weeks. She lost forty pounds, nothing fit, and if she’d felt like shopping she wouldn’t have known where to go.
That’s when her sister stepped in. Ellen Weyandt is ten years older than Alice and lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, about an hour from Alice’s home. She told Alice about my blog and announced, “Let’s pull some outfits together like Brenda does.” She came with Wardrobe Charts and coached her through the process of putting outfits together from what she had in her closet.
At this time Alice felt so adrift from all she knew about herself—her health, her appearance, her strength, confidence, and interests in life. (Can you relate to a time when you felt this way?)
Meeting Alice for coffee in Fergus Falls
Putting outfits together triggered Alice’s love of projects
Here’s something you need to know about Alice: She loves projects. She loves creative problem solving, and learning about her style and getting dressed in a way that was pleasing to her was a project she could ultimately get into.
With Ellen’s support and Alice’s love of reading (she’s done all kinds of library work including fundraising for years), she dove deep into the archives of this blog and learned more and more. She told me over coffee, “You named things for me—a third piece, a Beauty Bundle, a column of color.”
Alice shared with me what she learned about herself and how she applied it to her style recipe. Being a lover of words, she chose three “P” words to guide her in her outfit choices. They are: put together, practical, and personal. Let’s see how that plays out in her Fergus Falls outfit.
From reading my blog, Alice knew I was a new grandmother
The Anatomy of Alice’s outfit
The minute I walked into Cally’s Coffee and Cafe, I figured out who Alice was. She was the put together woman sitting at a table with books in front of her. (Those books turned out to be for me!)
It always feels like an intimate moment when I learn about someone’s style. A few words can say so much about a person. This style-reveal opens a door for love to flow through. I believe when we do that style work, we’re giving ourselves unconditional love and allowing others to love us.
Alice told me I could share with you details about her look.
Let’s start with her first P word, put together. She said, “It’s how I want to feel when I go out into the world.” I was struck by how her put together look brought instant attention to her face. Her white tank top and layered white shirt were so fresh.
Another P is for practical. There isn’t a single clothing item that was demanding her attention or distracting. Her three pieces—tank, shirt as a jacket, and gingham pants—are all well-behaved. The pull-on pant from TJMaxx is easy to wear. There are no buttons, zippers or ties to deal with. She still has sensitivity around her surgery scars so comfortable pants are practical.
I loved how Alice’s shoes brought a bit of party to her outfit. They shimmer in gold. It’s still tonal and continues the near column of color she has going on. She said she likes to add a little quirky to her outfit.
Alice’s personal accessories
Alice wears accessories that are personal to her and have stories or connections to her. She likes vintage. Her handbag is made from drapery fabric from the ’40s.
Her necklace was made by her friend Kim Wendlandt who has a small shop called the Dancing Goat in New London, MN. Everything is made in the studio by Kim and her daughters. This pendant has an antique key and a crystal from a chandelier. Alice likes it for summer because it’s so light.
(If it catches your fancy, you can call Kim at (320)-905-0702 and inquire about one for yourself.)
Cuffs with stories
If I’m remembering correctly, the wide cuff is made from a vintage silver tray. It was given to her by a friend. I love the added texture from the narrower cuff. They make a great statement.
Can you see how her accessories resonate with Alice’s love of vintage and really, her love of stories? Everything has a story to it.
A gift to us all
Alice describes the benefits she received from this project of focusing on herself and her wardrobe. She said, “You made me want to get up and dressed and face the world every day.” That’s what your outfits love to do. They love to support us as through the ups and downs of life.
To Alice: Thank you for sending me that letter. Thank you for suggesting getting together for coffee. Thank you for sharing your story with me. Thank your sister Ellen for sparking your curiosity and creativity. I hope we’ll meet again!
To all of you: I know you join me in supporting Alice in our thoughts as she continues to gain strength and recover for her multiple surgeries. I’m just so grateful for all of you readers and how we come together here. Thank you for reading, sharing, and keeping this community growing.
Do you have your own stories about the power of getting dressed? Please share!
Just three days before leaving for Minnesota to visit Dad and my family, I had a birthday. Well, we had a birthday. I have a twin brother, Brent, and we gloat over the fact that our birthday is on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.
Because of this upcoming trip back to the Midwest, birthday plans didn’t get much attention. There was laundry to do, packing, checking weather, making plans for getting to and from the airport. You know, those lists that go on forever.
Carving out some ‘me time’ on my birthday
I decided to spend some time with myself that birthday Friday and go down to 12A, a space I’ve been putting together for myself in San Anselmo. Is it a writing space? A place to teach classes? My “Research and Development” conference room? My “she shed”? A place to take care of Baby Viv while her mommy is working? I really don’t know yet. I guess I’ll find out once I’m done decorating it.
Baby Viv joined me for brunch on my birthday
A great way to start my birthday
This studio space is right near my daughters’ consignment store in San Anselmo. After hanging some pictures and trying to figure out seating in my studio space, I took a break. I popped in and said hi to Erin who works at SAX on Fridays, then headed down to the Farmer’s Market in front of City Hall, picked up cherries and apricots, and headed back. I popped my head into Artist Within. This is a gallery space that shows and sells original art by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sales help support them to lead productive and joyous lives.
I spotted the vibrant piece called Birthday Cake right away. I fell for the art and I also feel for the title: It’s the title of a short story I wrote many years ago. If a writer can have favorites, Birthday Cake is mine. It’s a mostly true story with some childhood fantasy thrown in. It recounts the birthday when we were young and Mom made two birthday cakes—one for each twin.
I wanted a second opinion on Birthday Cake, the painting, so I rushed back to the store. “Erin, I just saw a piece of art that I’d like to buy for 12A. Will you go check it out? I want to be sure I’m not being impulsive just because it’s my birthday. It’s called Birthday Cake.” I watched the store for her and recalled parts of the story I’d written.
Recalling a birthday long ago
A smile always comes to me when I think about the characters: my pretend Barbie with wavy, ebony hair, and Charles Aagenes, a handsome older student at Hastings School. That one school served all grades. Grades 1-3 were in one room, 4-6 in another room and 7-12 had their own big room. Both Mom and Dad graduated from that school. Brent and I went there through sixth grade before we moved to Valley City from the farm.
All the students would be together during lunch hour. That’s when I’d notice high schooler, Charles Aagenes. Sparks flew…
Erin came back and said, “Go for it, buy the painting. It’s your birthday!” I did go for it. I walked it back to 12A and knew right where I’d put it. Right when you open the front door, you’ll see it hanging over the sink.
The next morning between loads of laundry and straightening out my office before leaving for Minnesota, I dug out that story and read it. I’d like to share it with you.
“Birthday Cake” short story by BK
The birthday I remember as a child was the year—maybe I was six or seven—when Mother made two cakes—angel food with open centers for Brent and me, the twins.
Brent’s cake was covered in chocolate frosting and out of the center, standing at attention, was a blond-haired GI Joe doll. My cake was swathed in pink frosting and had a fake Barbie doll sticking out of the center. I pulled her out—licking the frosting off her slim legs, being careful not to get any goo on her beautiful, long, black, full head of hair.
I could tell right away that she wasn’t a real Barbie—just one pretending to be Barbie—but she was beautiful none-the-less, an exotic kind of beauty.
Mother had made a big fuss about us not coming into the kitchen while she was fixing it all up for the party. So I hung out in the corner of the living room by the piano and the bookshelf that held my father’s Dale Carnegie books, the ones I learned to read from while waiting to get into first grade.
Hastings School painted by Dad’s classmate
In our school district, there was no kindergarten, only first grade on up to twelfth; twelve grades divided between four rooms. Lunchroom could be so intimidating. We first graders would go line up at the kitchen counter—our chins just skimming the top—to receive our plates of steaming hot food. Then we’d march over to the sweaty stainless steel vat that contained ice-cold milk, and we’d pour ourselves a glass. Standing there could be Charles Aagenes, a senior who was tall and dark-haired like my almost Barbie doll.
In fact, they would have made a great couple, Barbie and Charles. I looked up to him. He was over six feet tall. He was a guy a young girl could dream about, one who didn’t make fun of first graders.
I took piano lessons from his younger sister, Cheryl, in their home. Sometimes I would know that he was in another room. I could see his dark hair darting through a doorway out of the side of my vision, while I had my hands on those black and white piano keys, playing the easy stuff “with feeling.”
The grocery store/post office was the first building on the right when the Aagnes’ had it.
The Aagenes’ lived above their post office/grocery store in the town of Hastings, North Dakota, population seventy-five. I had a girlfriend that lived in town that was also named Brenda. There were six of us in our grade. She was Brenda Jo, and I was Brenda Kay, and her big sister went out with Charles. Can you imagine? Sharon Peterson going out with Charles Aagenes. Sharon had blond, curly hair—a cap of curls that came from getting those smelly permanents.
I think my pretend Barbie would have made a better date. Sharon was too serious. My Barbie was adventurous like Charles. They could have really had some fun. They could’ve gone roller-skating together; he’d have held her real close without their skates hooking together while they rolled around the rink during the moonlight skate. That’s when they bring the lights down low, and it’s couples only.
Main Street of Hastings (Scott Street) last week, not much remains.
And they could’ve gone out in a convertible Mustang and gone for a drive in the country. They’d end up parking in Clauson’s Grove over near our farm where one dirt road leads to another one that’s more grown in with tall grass down the center and on either side of the tracks made from tires. They call it Grove because there’s a corridor of trees lining the drive to the old farmstead, which is deserted and falling down.
That’s where they’d park and look up at the stars and the moon and talk about faraway places—Minneapolis and Winnipeg. They’d find their faces close to each other, so close that a kiss was just a breath between them. His arm would slip around hers, and they’d talk some more; finding it impossible to keep from thinking about how each other’s lips might feel on theirs. He’d nuzzle closer to her, move his face in that quarter-of-an-inch and kiss pretend Barbie right on her warm, red lips. Red hearts would bubble out from their bodies like on Valentine’s cards. They’d melt into each other’s arms.
I can’t see Sharon Peterson melting. Her body’s too stiff, and she wouldn’t want those curls to crush at all. Not like almost Barbie whose long, ebony, wavy hair really looks better mussed up.
Thankful for another year
“Make a wish”
The elements of art, creative space, family, and friends are all mixed into my birthday wish for the year. Learning more from you and experiencing this vibrant chapter is wrapped in there too.
Sharing lots of love with you! What’s showing up in your birthday year?
Feel like shopping for something new? The latest thing you can do with your money is to purchase jeans with frayed hem edges where a machine hem used to be. Or, for no money at all, you can get the look with this DIY project using a pair of jeans you already own.
I must admit that when I first starting seeing frayed edges on jeans I thought, “Who’s going to pay good money for jeans with raw edges?”
I’ve resisted other trends and then fallen in love with them
In a short time skinny jeans became my favorite
I’ve had conversations like this in my head about other trends. For instance many years ago I thought, “Who’s going to buy skinny jeans? That’s crazy!” And who got herself into skinny jeans after moaning about them for months? Yours truly. The skinny jean went from being a trend to becoming a classic.
You can probably guess my answer to this question: Do I recommend owning jeans with frayed hem edges? Absolutely! When I got around to trying on a pair of jeans with a frayed hem, I had an instant falling-in-love feeling. I-n-s-t-a-n-t!
Today I think a frayed edge looks modern and fresh. Every client I’ve gotten into frayed hem jeans have been happy. They may not have tried it on without my suggestion, but when they see their reflection in the mirror, they love the new look.
The DIY way to get frayed hems
After buying, wearing and loving jeans that come with the frayed hem, I got the nerve up to create my own frayed edge jeans from ones I already had in my wardrobe.
For instance, last year I cut off the hem of my J.Jill orchid jeans. Oh, boy, that was an experience–not because of cutting them off, but … well, you just may have to read about that adventure. They turned out to be my go-to jeans last summer.
One of the ways I wore frayed hem jeans last year
I’m trying to build the point that frayed jean hems have been around a while now. You can dive in and enjoy them without feeling like this look will pass in three months.
Frayed hems make me feel like a rebel
This last week I performed hem surgery on a pair of jeans for a client of mine and did it for myself too. It’s funny; there’s a certain daredevil attraction to this act. I feel like I’m getting away with something which is one of my favorite feelings.
I know Mother would not have approved. With her Virgo sensibility, she’d have looked at the ragged, raw edge of my jeans and said, “Honey, you could grab the scissors in the knife drawer and cut those edges so the hem would at least be clean and neat.”
“I know Mom, but I like them this way.”
See? Such a rebel move for standing up to Mom!
Freaking Mom out with this DIY project
The thing that would have both scared Mom and wowed her two minutes later would be if she saw me actually cutting off the hem of my jeans right in front of her.
She’d have seen a jean like this, one I wore last Thursday pre-fray with a normal hem, and would have complimented me on them. She likes white jeans.
Pre-fray on Thursday in Berkeley
But then this would happen: Picture us at their lake home in Minnesota. She’d be in the front porch having coffee and reading the paper on the oversized couch. I’d go into the kitchen and pull out those scissors from the knife drawer, come out to the front porch and lay the white jeans on the oval-shaped table where we play Liverpool Rummy in the summertime. Her eyes would look up from the Lifestyle section of the Forum.
Maybe I wouldn’t even tell her what I was about to do. I’d lay the pant legs across the table and with the scissors, I’d start cutting off the hem.
Easy to fray
It takes a minute to fray the hem on your used jeans
She’d gasp and say, “Oh Brenda! For heaven’s sake, what are you doing to those jeans?” I’d say, “I’m turning them into a new, modern look, Mom.”
With the hem cut off, I’d start pulling at the raw edge with my fingertips to get the fraying started. If I wanted to make them fray more, I’d throw them into the washer with a load of laundry and then dry them.
MOTHER jeans on the left, Eileen Fisher frayed hem jeans on the right
She’d be shaking her head thinking I was reckless. That’s when I’d pull up some images on my iPhone of raw-edged jeans being sold in stores right now.
NOTE: The Eileen Fisher Soft Denim Raw Edge Ankle Jean above on the left sells for $188. The MOTHER ‘The Looker’ Frayed Ankle Jeans on the right is priced at $210. I love both these brands.
When Mom would see the prices of those jeans, she’d suddenly think I was clever for getting the look without spending the money. Her opinion of frayed edge jeans would begin to soften.
Just in case Mother was still balking, I’d show her the lengths companies go to out-do each other in the frayed jean hem department. “See these, Mom?” I’d say.
She’d take one look, shake her head, and say, “Yours look so much better.”
“Glad you like them, Mom,” I’d say. “Do you want me to fray your jean hem?” I’d tease. “No, I’m not ready for that,” she’d say. “Let me get used to combining navy blue with black first and then we’ll see.”
Frayed jean outfits in action Saturday through Monday
Coming out of my daydream, I’ll tell you that we had four fun-filled days over a long weekend with four of our Minnesota girl relatives. I wore my new and improved Chico’s So Slimming frayed jeans on Saturday when we took them to the Ferry Building for the Farmer’s Market. It was cold. I wore socks and ankle booties.
Frayed hem hits just barely above the ankle bootie edge
Playing in SF at the Ferry Building
On Sunday we spent the day with them in warmer Petaluma and I wore my frayed hem jeans with a blue embroidered shirt, my jean jacket, and sneakers.
Checking out my DIY frayed jean hem in Petaluma
Russ’ first selfie with Carly, me, Sydney, Wendy, and Maia from Minnesota
And then on Monday while our relatives were hiking in Muir Woods and Erin and I were working with a client, I wore them again. This time I layered two mesh tops (a grayish one under a black one) and added my caper-colored Dressori kimono jacket, Cotelac sandals, and my go-to Rebecca Minkoff bone-colored tote.
Wearing white jeans with frayed hems to work
And on Tuesday, I gave them a rest!
I bet some of you have altered your jeans to look like this. For you readers seeing this up close and personal for the first time, would you be tempted to take scissors to a pair of jeans you already own and create a new look?
I’ve been listening to those of you from Texas and North Carolina and Arizona asking me for hot weather outfit tips for fashionable but functional looks.
Well, the heat just rolled into the Bay Area and it’s suddenly coming back to me what it is that helps me stay as cool as possible while still looking like a person who could have written a few books on style.
Let’s start off with this outfit I wore last week when it was in the high 80s/low 90s. Although the pant styles will vary as well as the tops, there are some features I want to share with you that I consistently favor in hot weather.
The looser the top, the cooler you’ll be
I’ve been wearing this Dressori top layered with sweaters or long-sleeved T-shirts underneath during these last few chilly weeks. I bought it for warm Sonoma days and finally, I got to wear it with nothing on underneath it but my bra. Woohoo!
Deeper than normal armholes will keep you cool
Deep armholes ensure cool dressing
Here’s my summer comfort rule of thumb: the deeper the armhole, the cooler you’ll be. The armhole of this Dressori silk top is close to 10 inches deep which is kind of at my minimum for the hottest of days.
The armhole in my yellow print blouse below measures 8 inches deep. It’s not tight by any means but every additional inch allows more air to circulate and keep me cool.
Less deep means less air flow
Wide sleeves give natural air-conditioning
Another thing I look for is open sleeves—no buttons, no cuffs, no rolling up. Again, the wider the opening, the more air can move around. This sleeve is wide all the way down and then has a vent to boot.
Open sleeves for hot weather dressing
The wide-bodied top allows for more ventilation
The other feature of this top is the width of it through the body. It’s not tight across the bustline, waistline, or hips. I especially love the way it dips longer on the sides and gives it more interest. Function and fashion is the best.
Fashion details add flair to hot weather outfits
Eliminate the need for a traditional waistband, zipper and button closures
There’s nothing like a flat front, pull-on pant for easy summertime wear. Although my summer jeans are pretty thin, nothing beats this no-fuss approach. Have you worn pants with waistbands, zippers, and buttons and as soon as you got home you had to get out of them as quickly as possible? All that fuss at the waistline makes me feel extra sticky and uncomfortable in the heat.
When I slip on a pant like this I’m always wearing a top over it so no one will see the waistband. My waist won’t enter my mind all day and that’s a treat! This So-Slimming stretchy pant is from Chico’s a couple of seasons back.
Wear “cool” jewelry
I want to wear accessories even when it’s hot out (more blog posts about this to come) but I want them to feel cool and uncomplicated. This necklace was a perfect choice. It was originally an earring that I purchased from an artist thirty years ago. I never wore the earrings, even though I tried to many times. One day Erin saw them in my jewelry stash and said, “This would make a great necklace.”
A week later we each had a necklace! I love the look of the stone with a small diamond in it. I cool down just looking at those materials. The double fine chains are light, not heavy. I’m accessorized without adding bulk.
Adding just a little more fashion flavor
Handbags play a big role in summer dressing. My canvas vintage red, white, and blue Gucci bag fits right into my blue and white color scheme.
Although I thought about wearing my white sneakers with this outfit, I decided to dress things up a little more with my ankle wrapped Paul Green flats. Isn’t it fun how the criss-cross of the ankle strap echos the criss-cross in the design of the top and for bonus points, the criss-cross design in the Gucci handbag? I love when things like that happen!
Summing up summer dressing features
When you look at putting together your next hot weather outfit, see if these three things can help you feel cool.
Now let’s hear from you well-experienced dressers out there. What are the features that keep you cool in hot weather? Do share!
My COS print shirt gets adorned by Dad’s print tie
Last week was both a short week and a styling shirts week for me. Coming off the long weekend, my work week started on Tuesday instead of Monday. Office Tuesday looks a little different with my office mate on maternity leave.
Caitlin’s taking care of Viv on Tuesdays instead of my business
I’m still trying to figure out what to do with myself until Caitlin comes back. I decided to gather up some work files and my computer, get dressed and head south to my alternate office/dream space/clubhouse called Twelve A. It’s a space I rented months back and promptly started tormenting myself with, “What the heck did I do that for?” questions. Things are starting to change on that front. I’m discovering the two places I’d like to spend time at include wherever my granddaughter Vivienne is or Twelve A, my intimate little studio space.
Styling my black and white trapeze shirt courtesy of a fantasy flashback
As I started to put my outfit together to head to Twelve A I got this fantasy in my head that I was a guy from the 60s putting on a shirt and tie and heading to the office with my briefcase full of very important files, ready to punch in my time card and get stuff done.
In the modern version of that fantasy, my white shirt was actually a crewneck white T-shirt. The shirt-suit jacket (which I popped the collar on) is a black and white small scale print in a trapeze style shirt by COS. Cropped and rolled AG jeans are my “slacks”. The necktie is actually my father’s tie which I’ve also used as a belt.
My black Rosa Mosa Oxfords with white laces look pretty darn businessy. I’m going to seal some deals today!
Office Tuesday work attire
A yellow shirt wants her way with the buttons
I peered into my closet and the bright yellow of my Banana Republic slinky blouse said, “Brenda, Brenda, wear me today!”
I complied and then started working on the rest of the details. Deciding on a column of white, I utilized that same white T-shirt I wore in my business fantasy outfit and paired it with my latest no-stain white ankle jeans from Chico’s. Thinking I might keep the blouse open and wear a long necklace in the center, I started going through some possible contenders.
But n-o-o-o-o-o! Yellow Print Shirt had other ideas! It wanted to have buttons undone, like several buttons undone. It thought it would be sexy that way. “Honey,” I said, “there’s a white T-shirt underneath you that comes all the way up to the neck. I don’t think you’re going to achieve the look you want this way!”
“I don’t care,” said Yellow Print Shirt. “I want to be open, flyaway, flirty. Don’t button me all the way up!”
Well, okay then!
Yellow Print Shirt says, “I want to be free!”
I fiddled with which buttons to open and close. With two buttons open, the blouse created a long V shape that opened up near my hips. I have to admit, it was pretty spunky!
Adding my brooch-infested jean jacket and a lemon quartz necklace with a bee charm on it brought some delight.
Styling the polka dot shirt
My polka dot shirt was calling my name on Friday morning. I always stay in Sonoma on Friday just to avoid Friday traffic, but once again I felt Twelve A was where I needed to be.
Starting with my classic ladylike polka dot blouse, I added a lovely beaded necklace at the neck. Then I decided to wild things up by adding my ages old Dana Buchman leopard print coat–the first piece of leopard print I ever bought. My distressed caramel-colored Lucky booties (they kind of came that way) were my choice because of the warm tones blending with my blouse. It’s almost sandal weather but not quite. I did have some in the car just in case.
We’re all familiar with the thumb tuck, right? It’s where you essentially tuck shirt or T-shirt into your pant and give it a more casual, modern look. Well, the latest tuck has been around for a while. I’d never tried it but because it was Shirt Adventure Week, it seemed like the right time.
I’ve shied away from this half in/half out shirt tuck but it really is well suited to my proportions. I like how it gives you a long line (on one half) but is casual and relaxed on the tucked-in side.
Imagination Park in San Anselmo honors homegrown moviemaker George Lucas
Styling shirts in your closet?
Do you think you could go into your closet and look at your blouses or shirts and consider styling them in new ways? Please tell us what you’re doing with shirts these days!
P.S. Stay tuned. More adventures to come from Twelve A once I finish reading this book!
The rains came and they’re coming again. There’s a chill in the fresh air and that means one thing: It’s a great day for jean jacket styling!
You may be wearing a jean jacket today. If it’s hotter than blazes in your area, a jean jacket keeps you from freezing when the A/C is cranked up indoors. A jean jacket may be packed in your suitcase for upcoming travel; one with inside pockets is one of my favorite traveling companions.
Speaking of traveling, every guide book to the Bay Area should be speaking about bringing layers, but if yours doesn’t, take it from me: You’ll need layers all summer long if you travel to San Francisco, and a jean jacket could be one of those layers.
A jean jacket is a go-to layer
The hardest thing to learn—and I’ve been living in the Bay Area for 37 years now—is to think layers, especially May through October. If you open the trunk of my car right now, you’d find a minimum of a cape and a big pashmina scarf. And the reason that’s all you’ll find there is that I still find it hard to believe that it can be hot in Sonoma and by the time I get to San Francisco it’s dropped 15 or 20 degrees, the fog has rolled in, and I need to add multiple layers. There should be a warm coat in my trunk as well!
Mark Twain was credited with this line: The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
Jean jackets for function and style
Jean jackets are the perfect neutral. They can go over or under anything. In this recent outfit, I wore a polka dot silk blouse with my fringed Eileen Fisher ivory jeans from last year. I added my golden AGL sandals and felt so classically chic. I love adding a jean jacket to my Eileen Fisher ivory jeans from last year. I added the jean jacket and achieved a level of casualness or friendliness that suits me well.
The pearlized blond leather Per Se coat was the perfect add-on. The coat came off and on all afternoon as I adjusted for the weather fluctuation.
Jean jacket styling in Mill Valley
I’ve cautioned you that San Francisco can get cold and foggy. Residents often flee the city to find warmth in the summer. But let me explain something about the weather on the other side of the bridge.
When you cross the Golden Gate Bridge heading north into Marin County, the first town you come to is Sausalito. Right next to it is Mill Valley to the west and Tiburon to the east. Hang a left into Mill Valley and go to the center of town, which is where I’m sitting in that red railway car. That spot right there could be VERY chilly.
For one of my clients who lives in Mill Valley, we have a whole separate section in her summer wardrobe binder called Mill Valley Outfits. Every one of those outfits is layered for warmth.
In this next photo, across the street from the red railway car, I’m much more comfortable adding my blond Per Se leather coat over the jean jacket again.
I might also want to add my peachy-colored pashmina around my neck. And this is the beauty of layering. Yes, it could warm up in Mill Valley; it happens. If it does, I can start taking layers off. I’d start with the scarf that would be around my neck, and then I’d remove the leather jacket. I’d be okay with the jean jacket but if need be, I can remove that too and still be dressed well.
Jean jacket styling in San Anselmo
Jean jacket outfit in San Anselmo
Here’s a jean jacket outfit in San Anselmo. San Anselmo is west off of Highway 101 North, a few more miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, and it can get really warm there. You won’t get fog there. This picture was taken at about 6:30 pm on a Friday. Russ and I had been working on a project that you’ll hear more about soon (think She Shed) and we decided to go to dinner on San Anselmo Avenue instead of fighting Friday night traffic to Sonoma.
This shirt I’m wearing is very thin. While working on that project earlier in the afternoon, the jean jacket was off and the shirt sleeves were rolled up. The little scarf was probably off as well. But when we went to dinner I added both things and was glad I had them because the restaurant was chilly.
I’m getting questions about styling for heat in other parts of the country and a jean jacket as thick as this one wouldn’t work for that. When I do need a thinner layer, I still go for the jean jacket style only in lightweight linen. I’m not there yet, but I’ll show you styled dresses and summer outfits using lighter layers soon. But if you’re coming to the Bay Area this summer for a visit, you know what to do!
Are you a fan of jean jackets? Do you travel with them? Tell us all about it!
Thank goodness for Saturday Zen closet meditations—time in the closet to straighten things out, do a little editing, transfer more winter things out and make room for spring/summer items. After a nice walk in the Sonoma Hills, I headed straight for my closet and packed away almost all of my winter scarves. I reviewed my spring scarves and prepared to give them prime real estate in my closet.
This spotted wool/cashmere scarf did heavy lifting all winter.
What I love about neck scarves
I tend to forget the virtues of smaller neck scarves after a season of burying my neck and chest in wool or cashmere. When I pull out these smaller rectangles of artful beauty, a whole new plan emerges. The back of my neck may still need some protection from the chill—depending on the time of day—but most often the purpose for these scarves shifts from keeping me warm to simply adding style to my outfit.
Here are 4 things I love about neck scarves.
A small to medium scarf at the neck does a great job of bringing attention to the face. That’s always a good thing.
The fabric weight of a scarf can enhance the feeling you want for the day. A soft, silk scarf drapes so freely and gives a graceful feminine vibe. A stiffer silk scarf with lots of body can make you feel crisp and sharp, add some kick to your step.
Scarf patterns are mini works of art. Shopping for neck scarves is like going to a museum. Only this art can go home with you! Choose from geometric designs, floral prints or abstract prints. You get to enjoy pattern design as well as color mixes you may have never put together on your own.
Even if you’re still wearing cashmere sweaters to stay warm in this iffy weather, a neck scarf announces that you’re fully aware of what season it is. It can lighten and brighten your look in an instant.
Appreciating my neck scarves
How I’ve been wearing scarves these last couple of weeks
I was shopping at Nordstrom with my two image consultant friends last month. We were scoping out spring fashion and hit the accessory department first. I found this narrow tie scarf with a black background and bright pink, lavender, magenta, and lime green flowers. It was so cheerful!
I wore it inside the collar of my pink gingham shirt the day I was helping Caitlin put together the nursery for the baby. It being San Francisco, I was also wearing my V-neck cashmere sweater but the brightness at my neck said, Springtime!
Wearing a scarf with my cashmere sweater fixing up the baby’s room in chilly SF.
On another chilly day, I wore a lightweight blended sweater over black pants to work. I love the white trim on this simple sweater style. I wore this delicate white modal scarf with accents of blue, black, gray and marigold yellow and tied it loosely at my neck. It was a little something that made me feel cheery on a dreary day. I bought this scarf with my friends that same day. It’s by All Saints and is at Nordstrom.
My top is a cashmere blend my floral scarf says: It’s spring!
Here I’m wearing that same floral patterned scarf tie. This was me having some fun that relates to my childhood and North Dakota. Erin knew I’d love this shirt that came into her consignment store and gave me first dibs at it. It’s a very lightweight button-up shirt by Equipment and has a bug motif. Even though the shirt is fun as all get out, it didn’t have a lot of zest on its own. It needed a style booster.
I enjoyed pairing the flowers with the bugs. The combo is so full of nature. Bugs and flowers just go together! That little scarf sure upped the style wattage. When I added my jean jacket to my jean outfit I felt like a stylish farm girl. In truth, when I was growing up on the farm in North Dakota I could barely tell the fields of flax from the oats so this is as farmer as I get.
Can you see a nifty place for scarves to go—like around your neck for instant style? Let’s talk scarves!
Spring in San Francisco with my daughter Caitlin and nearly-here baby
Every morning for the last week I wake up and my first thought is, Caitlin didn’t have her baby last night. You see, we’re counting down days, maybe hours, until the big event. The Royal Event in the Kinsel family. My baby’s first baby. The baby that would have been Mother’s 10th great-grandchild. That event.
With all this nervous energy, I could be making cookies—Mom’s cookies, Mom’s Molasses Spice Cookies with footprints on top.
The grand kids would go wild for Mother’s footprint cookies. Heck, I went wild for them. Every time we flew home to Minnesota, the first place I’d look was inside the cookie jar, which was a monk in robes with a big smile on his face. It was always full. I’d look back at Mom and she’d beam. She sure knew how to please us!
Mom’s cookies have met a lot of people
Some of you have asked for this recipe. Mom would be tickled that I’m passing this it out to all of you pre-Mother’s Day. “You’re famous, Mom,” I’d say if she was here. Well, wait, she’s already famous for these cookies! I used to make them—and wrap them real cute—for image consultants in my seminars. I’d offer these footprint cookies at break time. It was memorable, and it made me feel like Mother was there with me. I liked bringing her with me to places she’d love. She’d have enjoyed all my image consultant friends and they’d have enjoyed her.
Maggan wears Mother’s clip-on earrings in Stockholm
I made these spice cookies and brought them with me to Stockholm, Sweden when I went there in 2002 and 2003 to do makeovers on readers of Tara magazine, a magazine for women over 40. I brought plenty. I passed them out to the staff of the magazine, my makeover models, and even staff at the hotel I was staying at.
Mom and Maggan, the then editor of Tara, have a great connection. They spoke on the phone one Thanksgiving when the Swedes were here in Sonoma, and got to know each other through me. Maggan wears Mom’s earrings, the clip-ons I sent her when Mom died. Maggan takes her around Sweden and shows her the sites.
The big reveal: Mother’s Molasses Spice Cookie Recipe
Mother was famous for her footprint cookies
It’s a bit involved, this recipe is. I like to make the dough in the late afternoon or early evening and then I put it in the fridge to get super cold. The next afternoon or early evening I roll the dough out into those walnut sized circles. When I get six of the walnut balls of dough, I drop them inside a Ziploc bag with granulated sugar. I seal the bag shut and then I shake, shake, shake until the balls are all coated in sugar.
I pull them out and put them on a lightly buttered pan and then use the footprint cookie press to flatten them out. Dip the cookie press in flour every time or two that you press the dough or the feet will get sticky and the dough will cling to them. I put the sheet of cookies in the oven and wait for the smell of spices and then I pull them out to cool on a cookie rack and get ready for the next batch. As soon as you smell the yumminess, they’re ready. I purposely burn the bottoms a little on some of them because burnt is my favorite flavor. You can seal them up in Ziploc bags and freeze them once they’ve cooled. That’s what I do.
And if you travel with them as I have, pull the bags of cookies out of the freezer at the last minute and slip them into your luggage just before heading to the airport. I wanted a nice presentation in Stockholm so I packed colorful tissue paper and flat boxes that I could assemble once I got there. Those supplies easily slipped into the front pocket of my suitcase.
The Tara magazine staff in Stockholm enjoy Mother’s cookies
My first grandchild would be Mother’s 10th great-grandchild
Mom and her 9th great-grandchild, Julia Grace in 2014
Mother had 9 great-grandchildren. And now Caitlin’s little one will make it ten. “Mom!” I say. “Caity’s due date is on Mother’s Day! Is that the craziest thing? Oh, how I want a picture of you holding #10 like you’re holding #9, little Julia Grace.” Mother was in my dreams last night. I think she’s hearing me call out to her.
Putting a plan in place
Besides waiting for a baby, the Golden State Warriors are in round two of the NBA playoff games. That’s professional basketball, in case you’re not a fan already. I split my attention last night between the game and organizing a food train for Caitlin once the baby is born.
I took the advice of our baby delivering client who asked me on a shopping trip earlier this week what Erin and I were doing to prepare for the baby.
“Uh, nothing? I guess we’re playing it by ear! Is there something we should be doing?” I asked.
Great idea for brand new parents
She told us what she tells her patients. “It’s good to do some cooking ahead of time so you have food in the freezer ready to pull out. I also suggest you get a food train going. Ask friends or family to prepare food for one day each—at least the first two weeks—so every day the family has fresh, nutritious food to eat. Put me on the list.”
So while watching the game, I started texting Caitlin’s friends. Everyone was excited to be a part of it. Even Russ signed up and offered to make his famous pasta and sausage with tomato sauce.
Another piece of advice from the our doctor client was to tell the people dropping off food to just leave it with someone or plan to stay only ten minutes. Mama, Papa, and Baby need their time together sorting things out. They’ll most likely be tuckered out.
I texted Caitlin about the food train and she said exactly what Judy said. “For the food train thing…can you warn people we might not be that social…I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling, might be exhausted and be trying to figure baby out.”
You betcha, Baby.
Caitlin could become a mother on Mother’s Day
To plan something on Mother’s Day or not to plan?
We’re going ahead with Mother’s Day plans. Although Caitlin was born on her due date, January 4th, nearly everyone is telling me that first babies come late. Maybe I’ll have time to make cookies. Oh wait! Those footprint cookies could be little thank you gifts for when people drop off food! Pink ribbon, cellophane, polka dot tissue paper…I can see it!
Are there recipes or traditions you continue that started with Mom? Let’s share stories!
As I’ve been reaching regularly for my Per Se pearlized leather jacket, I’ve been thinking about sustainable fashion. On a lark, I decided to Google Sustainable Fashion and found myself down deep in a rabbit hole. Do you ever hear a term and feel you know exactly what it means, but then you find out you don’t?
After reading several articles about sustainable fashion I hadn’t found a simple enough explanation. I decided to go old school and look up the word sustain in my three-inch thick desktop American Heritage Dictionary. I found just what I needed to satisfy me in the first line:
Sustain. 1. To keep in existence; maintain
That’s what I’m talking about! Having clothes in your closet with the plan of them sticking around. To me, sustainable fashion includes taking responsibility for the repair and preservation of your well-thought-out wardrobe.
As a style and wardrobe consultant, I help my clients consume fashion in a responsible way by creating sustainable wardrobes.
Another term associated with sustainable fashion is slow fashion. We know what fast fashion is about: buying clothing in stores that offer current looks at low prices with the intention that you’ll wear it for a few months, toss it, and be back for more. Fast fashion has made it easy to be a weekly shopper.
With prices so low, I fear women are speeding up their consumption of clothes and not slowing down long enough to think about the big picture. We are guardians of our wardrobes. We are the ultimate gatekeepers. We allow things in and out of our wardrobes. Staying conscious about the lifespan of our clothing may be hard to do if we’re binging on fast fashion.
Focusing on bargains can leave you with not much to wear
This reminds me of a client I had super early in my career. We weren’t talking about fast fashion back in those years, but there were places to buy clothes for cheap. I found them in this client’s closet. I helped her go through her closet to discover what she already had that suited her style, fit well, and flattered her coloring. Only after that step would we consider what we needed to go shopping for.
We began the process. Clothing that didn’t pass the CSF Formula (color, style, and fit) was gingerly put on her bed with the plan of donating those items. I watched the pile grow and grow. Mind you, they all had discounted tags on them. By the time I’d gotten through her wardrobe, the bed was sky-high with donation pieces and only two suitable items remained in her closet. She looked at the heap of clothes on her bed and said, “I never liked any of those. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
When we went shopping we found a few things that looked fabulous on her. None of them were bargains. But this is something I’ve noticed throughout my career: It takes far fewer clothes to make a woman ten times happier when the pieces are right, right from the start.
It’s a topsy turvy fashion world
Have I purchased fast fashion? Oh, ya, you betcha. It was such a novelty when fast fashion showed up in stores like H&M and Zara. My first visit to Zara was in New York City years ago. I walked in and decided to try some things on. It turns out most Zara cuts don’t fit my frame well. But I was happy for the experience because I had to stand in line for a dressing room and got to observe other women in their high-end designer labeled clothes with armfuls of low-end things to try on. It truly was the beginning of high-low fashion and the styling fun of cleverly mixing expensive things with inexpensive things.
There are other ways to practice sustainable fashion. One can shop at consignment stores—easy for me because my daughters own one—and find affordable fashion that stopped working for others but may work on you. One can shop at thrift stores or vintage stores and practice recycling. One can shop in their own closet which is a great way to curb one’s consumption especially when there are treasures in there that could have been forgotten. I often pull out a wonderful piece that’s been overlooked in a client’s closet and she’ll say, “I totally forgot about that!”
My Per Se metallic leather jacket through the years
Honoring sustainable fashion as best I can
In hindsight, I can say, ‘Wow, Brenda, you were so smart to have purchased that leather jacket way back when. Look how you’re practicing sustainable fashion!’ But my closet isn’t filled with clothes that are this age or older. I’ve gone through weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, weight loss. My style has changed over the years and my clothes have too.
But one thing I always do when I’m assessing my wardrobe is to keep the things that don’t seem to go out of style, are of good quality, and if not useful this season, well, maybe they’ll be useful next season. I give clothes the benefit of the doubt.
How I’ve worn this jacket in the last four weeks
Last month in Mill Valley
This outfit worn last month in Walnut Creek
I’ve been using my Per Se leather jacket as my third piece with jeans and corduroys these last weeks. I love popping it over a blouse and a jean jacket. Can you spot two recent purchases in this last picture? It’s the polka dot blouse which I suspect will have longevity in my closet. Besides being a polka dot fan, the print is so classic! The sandals are also a recent purchase and I’ve worn them in several different outfits already.
Practice having sustainable fashion with these three shopping tips
You’ve gleaned a few of my sustainable fashion tips already, but let’s review.
Buy what you love (even when it’s expensive like this jacket seemed to me ten or so years back).
Go for a good fit. I know fit can be fickle; we gain, we lose, our body shape changes. Never start out with something being too tight. Do your best.
Choose colors that flatter you. When I bought this jacket I had auburn hair (somewhat artificial) and now I have my older, wiser, natural hair color. This jacket seems to make my skin look happy no matter what I pair it with. I’ve changed but it’s kept up with me.
It only seems fitting to end this post with a picture of how I originally bought this leather Per Se jacket. It was part of an ensemble with this sequined dress that I wore last month. When I bought it I thought it would make a great wedding dress, plus it would fill a hole in my wardrobe. I don’t dress up much. It’s just not part of my lifestyle but when an occasion comes up, I panic. I have nothing to wear! This was investment dressing in that part of life. It was a bit risky, but as you can tell, I have no regrets. I haven’t worn the dress many times, although it does come out on Oscar night every year, but as you can see, the jacket has been a wardrobe star and a staple. It makes any outfit look better.
With my friend Julie Maeder last month in Chicago
Do you have clothes in your closet that you’d consider part of a sustainable wardrobe? I know some of you will tell me about a bargain item you found that has sustained many years of use. Terrific! I want to hear all about it. Sustainable doesn’t have to mean expensive. Let’s discuss this!
Discovering new outfits to treasure in Sheila-Merle’s closet
Have you looked in the back of your closet at all the fancy jackets you own that hardly get worn? I bet some of them are truly stars of your wardrobe…or have been. Sometimes when I ask a client about those pieces, they get wistful. I can tell how much they love them! “How about if I use your fancy jackets in a new configuration so you can start wearing them this week?” I’ll ask.
She’ll sigh deeply and say, “I’d love that.”
I’m going to ask you the same thing. If I could help you wear your favorite jackets that you’ve only worn for dress up, would you like that?
Let’s explore what that would look like.
Step one: Decide that it’s okay to repurpose your fancy jackets
The first step in repurposing your fancy or arty jackets is getting permission to take pieces that lived in a firm wardrobe category in the past and slide them over into a new category that’s about today, now, the present. There could be some mental resistance because it’s always been a certain way. There could be words like:
Client: But I only wear that for weddings!
BK: How many weddings have you been to lately?
BK: Can I turn it into something you can wear now?
Client: Okay, show me how!
Sheila-Merle, a radiant #70plusfashionista
I’d like to introduce you to Sheila-Merle
The perfect person to use as an example for turning your fancy jackets into chic jean outfits is my friend and client, Sheila-Merle. (Here’s her Instagram account.) Her hashtags include:
I wanted you to read her hashtags because it says a lot about Sheila-Merle. She loves fashion and style. She’s artistic—the stained glass art pieces in her home are ones she’s made. She’s a very active 70+ woman. She studies improv, takes a conversational French class, loves interior design, attends lectures, loves to travel—the list goes on!
This would make her a great candidate for taking her fancy jackets and turning them into upscale casual outfits that she could wear for many of her activities.
Sheila-Merle wears the perfect underpiece for this jacket
Step 2: Pull your fancy or arty jackets out of your closet and move them to another room
Erin and I have been helping her purge her wardrobe and all the while making new, modern outfits. When we arrived a couple of closet visits ago, she wanted to go through her fancy jackets. Erin set up our portable rolling rack and we moved all of her fancy (rarely used) jackets to her living room where we assessed each one.
Clothes look a lot different when they’ve been pulled out of the closet and into another room. I saw that look in Sheila-Merle’s eye when she viewed them on the rack. Wistful, appreciative, adoring. I think I’d even add longing to that list.
As her stylist, I wanted nothing more than to please her by creating outfits that would focus on these cherished beauties. After all, Sheila-Merle is a consummate appreciator of beauty, clothes, and style. Her keen eye notices pattern, texture, buttons, collars, pocket details and these jackets had all of those things going on.
Sheila-Merle gets to wear her creative jacket again
So I asked permission. “Sheila-Merle, would you let me style these jackets in a new way so you can be wearing them now?”
Here’s the next thing I want you to know. Even though Sheila-Merle (and maybe even you) said yes, it can be trippy to see the piece you only wore to the opera be teamed with jeans and boots! Your brain needs time to recalculate. The good news is that it only takes looking at yourself in the mirror for a decent amount of time until your eye accepts this as the new normal. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a cheerleading team there to encourage the change. Erin and I helped her brain by explaining the “why” and “how” of this repurposing project.
So much beauty in this mixed media jacket
Step three: Pull out your best-fitting jeans and nice boots or shoes
From the waist down, the outfit will consist of jeans (darker jeans for fancier jackets, lighter jeans if you want to make it more casual) and cool shoes or boots. Sheila-Merle had some great fitting jeans and Lucky Brand booties that were comfortable. I created a cuff in the jean. This gave clearance for the bootie and made the jean look modern and cool which is Sheila-Merle all the way. Our weather has still been cool so booties are a great choice. When it gets warmer, a platform or wedge sandal will be another option.
Lucky Brand booties are a great choice for Sheila-Merle’s jeans
These Lucky Brand booties may work into an outfit
Step four: Bring on the fancy jacket!
You’ll need an underpiece—that knit sweater or T-shirt that will support your star piece, your fancy jacket. I think it’s easiest to figure out what the support piece will be once you’ve chosen the jacket you want to wear. Sheila-Merle tends to run cold so she has a great selection of layering pieces. She’ll regularly wear ribbed turtlenecks, knits or long-sleeved T-shirts. For warm months, you could easily swap the long-sleeved pieces for short or sleeveless ones.
Erin and I would look at the jacket in the living room and then go back to her closet and pull out underpieces or layering pieces. (I always call them underpieces because it’s what goes under the jacket when you’re most likely never going to take the jacket off, but nice enough that you could if you needed to.)
We had a full-length mirror propped against a chair in the living room and did all of our styling there in front of it. All the better to get your eye used to the new wardrobe plan!
Beautiful knits, beautiful pattern, glorious!
Step five: Add the very important accessories
We loved working with Sheila-Merle’s accessories. Most of us have a collection of accessories but some of those aren’t getting used either. Many times as we chose a necklace or an earring it was like discovering an old friend. “Oh, I love these! Michael bought them for me on a trip to Italy,” she said.
That’s such a sweet bonus that happens when styling new outfits. Old things feel new. Treasures that have been hibernating get brought into this year, this month, this moment and shine once again.
Shiny, crinkle jacket gets to be center stage again
Step six: Enjoy your newly configured chic jean outfit
There really is so much pleasure in wearing things we love. Those fancy jackets? Pull them out and see if you can make an outfit with one or two of them and take that outfit to the streets wherever your life leads you. You’ll feel great, you’ll be appreciating the things you love, and people seeing you will appreciate the beauty of your look and want to hang around you.
And remember, you can dress any way you want. So if your outfit is more put together than most people walking down Novato Ave., that’s fine! You’re being you and isn’t that just the most divine thing of all?
And one last tip: If you’re trying to pull a creative outfit together using one of your jackets and realize you don’t have the right fitting jeans, go shopping! This is a super important investment that will make all your outfits work.
Questions? Comments? Need ideas for putting together outfits like these? You’re an expert at this kind of dressing and have more tips to share? Please fill in that comment box and we’ll support each other!