Real Life: Summer Couple Style

couple style

Couple style in Sonoma


There’s no better place to people watch than sitting outside at one of the copper top tables at Sunflower Caffe on a Sunday in Sonoma. Order an iced latte and nurse it to the last drop while watching tourists and locals come and go in both directions. It’s a perfect activity for an introvert. For you people watching hobbyists out there, this is a prime location, I promise.

That’s what I was doing when I saw this handsome couple stroll into Sunflower. Russ and I were weeding through the Sunday New York Times but my mind lingered on them.

Fifteen minutes went by and I needed more ice for my latte. I’d been silently, up in my head, roaming around trying to locate some courage. I would LOVE to talk to them and ask them about their style but that’s not what a shy person does!

You’d never believe I was Donnie and Alma’s daughter. My parents have master’s degrees in talking to strangers. They could teach a course at your community college.

I went in for ice and to see if, just in case, I might spot them again. There they were–the stylish couple–having lunch at one of the high tops. Before I could convince myself of all the reasons why I shouldn’t disturb them, I disturbed them. “I just have to tell you, you are the most stylish couple on the square today,” I said.

Did that sound lame?

That’s how I met Julian and Daphne from Berkeley. And now I’m prepared to tell you everything I learned about them. (They gave me permission!)


head to toe style

Style from head to toe


My first question for this couple–because I was dying to know, and you probably are, too–was: “Do you dress yourselves or does one dress the other?”

The strongest personal experience I have with couples looking great at the same time is my parents. As many of you know, my Mom loved clothes. When it came to getting dressed to go somewhere, she always dressed my dad. He was the best-dressed on every occasion but I knew the secret: he didn’t do it himself! In fact, when she passed this spring, that was a big worry for him: How would he dress himself without her? Putting an outfit together was a complete mystery to him.


No worries here

But I suspected this was not the case with this couple. There was a lot of confidence in their aura!

I was right. They are on their own. They appreciate similar style notes from fashion history but they do their own thing.

Daphne said, “I’ve never seen a man who can dress like he does. He’s very good with colors and how he puts his clothes together.”

It turns out, Julian, 55, rallied to get GQ magazine into his high school library at Berkeley High. When you find his picture in the yearbook, the caption reads, “Mr. GQ.”


So what’s up, Julian?

“I’m an old spirit,” he said. “I like clothes from the 30s and 40s like in the old movies. The materials are better, they were made well. Even when men were casually dressed, they looked great.”

At golf tournaments where they have best-dressed contests, he wins.

“I’m not afraid to be a trendsetter,” he said.


men's summer style

Mixing colors, having fun


I loved his whole head-to-toe look: The white Ralph Lauren polo sweatshirt with the orange logo, the minty-green pulled out collar of the knit shirt underneath, and the seersucker pants. So fresh and summery. You’ve just gotta love a man who wears seersucker pants in the summer!

His shoes were just…cool. It was easy to see he’d be that kid in class who always wore the best shoes. I asked him how many pairs of shoes he has in his closet. He said something about Imelda Marcos. I got the picture.


mixed prints

Mixing prints, making magic


So tell me about your style, Daphne

Daphne and I have something in common when it comes to fashion inspiration: Turner Classic Movies. She’s crazy about the old MGM movies with the big dance scenes and the lavish costumes. I adore the attention to detail.

“How do you go about putting an outfit together?” I asked Daphne who is 50.

“I start with comfort and then colors. I try to show off my attributes.” She took her right hand and slid it across her left shoulder and down her arm. You’ve gotta love a woman who loves her arms! Her dress was the perfect cut for highlighting them.

“We like to look nice when we go places,” she added.

I loved her feather earrings. The shade of green was heavenly. Her indigo print dress flowed easily over her cuffed blue jeans. Her patent and bowed thong sandals were so girly and pretty like her face. The cowrie shell ankle accessories tied into the tribal print in her dress. Her supple leather patchwork print shoulder bag made me smile. Here was a print mixologist, someone who made mixing prints look effortless. Her lipstick color picks up one of the shades in the squares of her bag. Nice detail!


What about the closet?

Daphne edits her wardrobe regularly. If she hasn’t worn something in a year, she recycles it. Not so with her vintage pieces, however. She hangs on to those.

Does Julian edit his closet? No, not so much. He’s a collector. He buys quality pieces and holds onto them.


Conscious Styling

There is not always conscious styling within a couple.

Julian and Daphne don’t know about the many complaints I’ve heard from women clients over the years. I help them look and feel great and they’ll often say, “Oh, my husband needs you so badly but he just doesn’t care!” Sometimes it’s the reverse, but not often. Or one of my clients will report back to me after attending a social event and tell me about how great the women looked but the men looked like they were dressed to play kickball in the alley. Things have gotten a little too casual, I think.

As Julian and Daphne ride off into the sunset, back across the Richmond Bridge to Berkeley, I’m left with the radiance of their style expression. And now you are, too!



A teaching story

Heading off into the sunset, thanks Julian and Daphne!




How to look nice but feel nearly naked


Let’s say it’s summer and it’s hot and sticky outside and you’re going to be in and out of your car. In your imagination you’d like to be a kid right now running through the sprinklers to cool off instead of running from the dry cleaners to the market to the coffee shop to finish that writing you promised yourself you’d finish and then off to the hardware store to get a spare key made and…you get the picture. While you want to be ripping things off instead of putting things on, you still have to be legally dressed in public.

The cool thing about finding some lightweight necklaces to wear in the summer is that you end up looking legally dressed but feeling nearly naked. They don’t add weight but they do bring attention to something pretty or entertaining or interesting instead of bringing attention to the beads of sweat on your brow or the wetness forming at your hairline on the back of your neck.


Example #1: Dazzle on a chain


She held it in her hand and said, "Pretty, pretty, pretty."

Lightweight but has voltage


If you were to sneeze in front of this chain (above), it would fly away and you may never find it. Yes, it’s that lightweight. And this little pendant circle of wire-wrapped hematite beads feels as light as a lace doily. Because it was super lightweight, I thought the price would be super lightweight. I’m not saying it was expensive but it was more than I thought it would be. But you wouldn’t believe how much I’ve reached for it. It was worth every penny! If I want to look nice and feel naked – like I’m not wearing a thing – I put this on. It couldn’t possibly weigh an ounce!


Example #2: Chains and more


Layering a super lightweight chain with a pendant at a birthday bash, past.


This picture above is a June photo taken more than one birthday ago. I wonder if I got my wish!!! Actually, I’m guessing what I wished for and yes, I did get it. I probably wished for the same thing this year, too.

Anyway, this was a warm day as I remember. I’m sitting at Neiman Marcus in the Rotunda having lunch with friends. That top is lightweight mesh; sleeves are sheer. I found that gunmetal doubled chain somewhere–can’t remember where–for little to no money. It’s the chain on the outside of the necklace duo I’m wearing. It’s a fabulous layering piece or I can just wear it by itself. If I didn’t layer it, it would hang down around my hips so I do double it or pull on it to get staggered lengths.

If I were to guess where I picked it up (shopping tip is just on the other side of this parentheses) I’d say in it was in the Brass Plum department of Nordstrom. It’s the junior department and they have lots of inexpensive jewelry that teens clamor for. I stop by there periodically to see if they have a current trendy item for less money. The real deal item is downstairs behind a glass counter and costs hundreds of dollars. If the lookalike can pass my discerning eye, I’ll buy it.

If I remember correctly, Miss Amy Rosevere is the one who told me about this tip YEARS ago! Amy writes the fabulous jewelry blog called Jewelry Fashion Tips. In fact, Amy was at this celebratory luncheon! I love how the memory fades in and out…is that a 60 thing?

On this day I decided to add my lava pendant because I loved the two gunmetal colors together. But I could have gone without if I wasn’t interested in creating more of a focal point. Hey, I was with jewelry lovers. I couldn’t show up with just ONE necklace on!

I recommend looking for those easy chains. You can wear them now in the summer or add them to a grouping in the winter when you’re layering necklaces over cashmere sweaters.


Example #3: Leather cord with a little something

A pendant on a leather cord (below) feels so no-fuss in the summer time. I bought this heart shaped one last summer. It was so very different for me at the time. I wondered if I looked like I’d wandered into a Modern Art Museum’s gift shop but I got over it. I ended up adding it to everything! It makes me feel dressed to wear a necklace that finishes my outfit–even if it’s just a casual day, running around town. I add a simple earring–in this case, it’s my version of hoops. A summer cuff and a ring finishes off this summer accessory bundle.

Black and white outfits

A summer necklace that feels lightweight


So tell me, what do you wear in the heat when you’d rather being wearing nothing at all?

How jewelry helps you look professional in summer heat



Summertime can be a hard time to get a work wardrobe to work. There’s something about wearing that third layer over a pant or skirt — such as a swing cardigan, jacket, or vest– that makes one feel dressed for the day and a little more professional in the workplace.

So what do you do when you’re wearing fewer clothes, less layers, going more bare but you still want to look finished, polished, and professional?

That was both the lament and a question from a reader.

 Q: “I miss how my wintery jackets, blazers or cardigans always made me feel put together. Now when I’m just wearing a blouse and a pant or a tee shirt and a skirt, I feel underdressed. What should I do?”

A: Wear a strong enough necklace and you’ve virtually created a third piece. Why? Because it’s eye-catching, it is a focal point, it adds interest to “just” a blouse and a pant or a tee and a skirt. Statement necklaces can create a conversation or reveal something about your personality. Stop worrying about buying more clothes. Let your jewelry do the work of “getting dressed” for you.


I love these examples below. These photos were taken in a New York office. Both women were wearing slacks and blouses but they looked so great! I wanted to talk to both of them. Their jewelry gave me a clue that they were thoughtful, interesting people.


And their jewelry was right!


This necklace spray of sparkle on a simple linen blouse spells S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R






Some necklaces come layered for you–no muss, no fuss. Or mix it on your own: pearls, spiky metal, and chains




Put those necklaces to work this summer!

The power of red lipstick and long friendships


Real Life Pattiricia


I’ve been in Minnesota with my Dad this summer. There’s a lot to do since Mother passed on March 25th. Grieving and dealing with loss has been a big, big job. Helping Dad figure out his next steps — how to live without her — is one of them. While he’s weighing possibilities, I’m doing some of the heavy lifting, physically and emotionally, in their home at the lake in Minnesota. There’s a lot to go through. They had sixty-four years together and there’s much they threw away.

I’ve been going through dusty, unidentified boxes in the garage; cleaning out “their” closet and turning it into “his” closet; sorting through drawers and cupboards, trying to simplify for whatever comes next for him.

I didn’t know what I’d come across inside those boxes and drawers. For instance, a box that contained old electric mixers and random kitchen utensils also held red, blue, and purple pocket folders. I opened them up and discovered evidence of my entire thirty year career. Neatly arranged inside the pockets were newspaper clippings by me or about me, articles I’d written, and newsletters I’d sent dating back to 1992 when my newsletters had postage stamps on them. She even had a copy–the only copy–of the speech I gave at my high school reunion.

One of the pieces of paper was an article I’d written about Patti, my best friend from high school, written back around 1994. I had lost track of it and she had too. The original file in my computer refused to open the file long ago so I thought it was gone forever. “Patti” was there at the lake for a few days with me so it was fun to read it aloud to her and Dad one night while sitting in the front porch. It’s one of those “Real Life” stories with a style lesson woven in.

It still holds true today even though some of the references will sound very dated. Like long ago, women wore suits, stockings and pumps. Imagine! Here it is.


Patti McFearless

Finding evidence of Mother’s love: Patti McFearless, circa 1994, was in the stash




I was the out-of-state expert about to look like a fool. I was in Duluth, Minnesota lecturing on “Smart Women, Smart Accessories.” I was on Tip #18 in the handout, Buy Accessories That Look Like You. I said, “If you have big, bold features like jewelry designer, Paloma Picasso…” (and I held up a laminated color photo of her), “…wear big, bold earrings.” Easy.

While the women looked at each other and nodded their heads in unison, I looked over at Patti, my best friend since high school, beaming at me from the back row. She thinks I’m so smart. She’s Miss Pixie herself–small pert lips, cute little nose, puppy dog eyes. She looks great in her big, shiny, silver earrings.

BIG EARRINGS. She’s not supposed to look good in big earrings. I lost my smile and stumbled ahead to Tip #19 hoping to dodge the obvious objection: “If Patti can wear big earrings and have little features, why can’t I?”

How can she break the rules like this and make it work?

Patti and I drove to Minneapolis on Sunday and I got the answer. Our first stop was her favorite coffee shop, Sebastian Joe’s. It was impossible to miss three, well-dressed, VERY IMPORTANT LOOKING people sitting at a corner table in the casual college dive. The women were in black suits, stockings and pumps. Their blond hair, French-manicured fingernails, and makeup were flawless. The middle-aged man had thinning gray hair and the stiffest white shirt with thin blue stripes. Their heads and arms were frozen like mannequins while they talked.

We sat down next to them. I skimmed through a copy of Spy magazine left at our table while Patti wolfed down her non-fat mocha.

I was dying to hear what these people were talking about: corporate takeovers, counter-intelligence, computer virus attacks.

The man said in a low voice, “One thing I’ve noticed about women from North Dakota …” and I held my breath, straining, straining to catch the next part, when Patti lurched way over into his air space, threw her arm out over their table, shook her finger and said with a teasing leer, “Hey, better be careful what you say. We’re from North Dakota!”

The women tilted their heads forward. “Really? We are too. Where are you from?” Then they all talked at once about famous people from North Dakota — Lawrence Welk, Mickey Mantle (or was it Roger Marris?), Peggy Lee and that blond actress, what’s-her-name? I blurted, “Angie Dickenson,” breaking my silence.

When the ladies left, “Bob” joined our table.

“So, what about women from North Dakota?” I wanted to know.

“They’re smart,” he said. Patti made him right while they carried on about food, architecture, gambling on the Indian reservations and Minnesota politics. I kept quiet and looked hard at this woman sitting across from me, my best friend for twenty-five years. She’s fearless.

“Move to California with me,” she insisted when I graduated from high school, which to a farm girl was like going to the moon. It was her idea to knock on doors in La Jolla asking for phony directions so we could see the inside of fancy houses. She dated Steve McQueen and had the nerve to stand him up.

Now she’s settled in Minnesota where she raises a stink in city politics. She’s building a spectacular steel and glass house with her dad. It’s winning state architectural awards, but people in town think she’s nuts for building a home two blocks from the county jail.

She may be tiny, but she lives big. I’m amending Tip #18. Now I’ll say, “If you have small scale features and you’re fearless, go ahead, break the rules.”

Patti does. It’s her style.

Patti and Brenda, Besties in '68

Patti and Brenda, Besties in ’68


From Patti to Pattiricia

When Patti turned 40, she decided to go by her full name–Patricia. Try as I might, I just couldn’t accommodate. When I tried to say Pattricia, my tongue would get tangled up.

I found a workaround: Pattiricia. For over twenty years, I’ve called her Pattiricia and maybe ten years or so ago, she came up with a new name for me. To Pattiricia, I’m Brendaricia. I accept, happily.

She knows a thing or two about loss. Her father died, then her mother, and she was there at their sides for their last breaths. It was the same scenario, in the same house, when five years ago, her husband died.


I’ve turned to her for lots of things throughout the years. Now I turn to her when I ache with grief. I can crumple with her and she stays strong and compassionate. I don’t even have to use words. She just gets it.

She’s the sister I never had. In fact, all our lives, people have mistaken us for sisters–even as recently as January when she came to be with me in Fargo in the hospital after Mother had her fall and her brain injury. She’s not afraid to be around tough situations.



Farm life

Patti on the farm

That’s Pattiricia in the center in the red hat, red neckerchief, and red lipstick. A fashionable farmer!


Pattiricia still surprises me. Her grief, after her husband died, led her to volunteering at the Food Farm, an organic farm and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Wrenshall, Minnesota, south of Duluth where she lives. It supplies produce to its members both summer and winter. She needed a distraction but it’s grown into much more than that. She’s a farmer and has even purchased neighboring land to be used for future crops.

She and Dad can talk farming for hours…and do. I didn’t always get it but last summer I visited her and saw what has got her committed and passionate. We walked the farm, toured the green houses, fed the chickens, and checked out all the tractors. It suddenly all made sense.


I swoon for these carrots!

I swoon for these carrots!


She was telling me this month about farm life. They’re working long hours getting the planting done. They have some new interns working on the farm and one of the veterans was telling a now legendary story to a newbie.

Pattiricia wears red lipstick to work on the farm everyday. She’s famous for it. One day, when a job required extra effort and tenacity, the whole female crew was instructed to wear red lipstick.

It was last October, late in the season, and the carrots needed harvesting. It was going to be a long day in the fields and Pattiricia took charge. She said, “Come on, we all have to put on our red lipstick and get this done. It’s a red lipstick push!” They rolled up their sleeves, shared her tube of red lipstick, and went out and pulled carrots. They got it done with the help of red lipstick. Of course.

Pattiricia…still leaving her mark wherever she goes.


Brendaricia and Pattiricia, July 2015, at Stumbeano's Coffee in Fargo

Brendaricia and Pattiricia, July 2015, at Stumbeano’s Coffee in Fargo


What time is it? It’s tiara time!




Birthdays and Tiaras

Birthdays and Tiaras



Birthdays! How do you feel about them? A client of mine had a birthday this June and I was giving her some attention for it. She said, “I’m not really focusing on them anymore.”

I get it! I’m at that age where I have to do the math to remember which one of those upper numbers I’m running into on June 21st.

I don’t think that’s the way it is with thirty-two-year-olds like my daughter, Caitlin. That’s her, above, toasting to “32” back on January 4th.



Birthday angst


I remember angst moments about birthdays in those earlier decades. I had a lot of expectations about where I should be, what I should be doing, and who I should be doing it with up until I reached 40.

Life didn’t automatically get easier at 40 but I dropped a lot of those self-inflicted expectations.

Now I spend less energy trying to make things happen and focus more energy on accepting life as it is. I think there’s a peace in that acceptance that I wouldn’t have known about before 40.


Birthday tiara


I was looking for a quote today that I’d written down. I couldn’t find it, but found this one instead. It’s from the movie This Is Where I Leave You (2014) with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, and more. A family has gotten together to sit shiva for their father/husband back in the house where they grew up. Jason Bateman plays Judd, one of the adult kids, and Rose Byrne plays Penny, a high school sweetheart he reconnects with when he returns to the family home.

Judd and Penny have been hanging out when Judd says, “I’ve never taken any chances. I’ve spent my entire life playing it safe, just to avoid being exactly where I am right now.”

Penny says, “Cut yourself some slack, Judd. Anything can happen. Anything happens all the time.”

By the time we’re in our sixties, we’ve probably begun to realize how true that is. Anything can happen. It might not be what we wished for, wanted, planned for, or thought would happen in a million years.

Of course, unexpected death to loved ones comes to mind because that’s what happened to me in this last year. Two family members won’t be there this weekend when I go back to the lake in Minnesota to be with my family. We’re short two beloved people.

Anything can happen, and it did.


Brenda Tiara

Amy said, “May your birthday sparkle, just like you do.”


I just had my birthday and Facebook reminded me of that fact just in case I had forgotten. I got lots of birthday greetings. I don’t know if when they were sending those greetings they  realized how poignant it would be for me to have good wishes coming my way as I leave the hardest year behind and head into the unknown. It made me feel like I was standing in the middle of the yard and I was looking up at beautiful butterflies that were fluttering their wings all around me. (Thank you Facebook friends and snail mail friends, too!)

One friend, Amy Rosevere, wrote: “May your birthday sparkle, just like you do.”

Funny thing is, I had put this little tiny tiara on my head in the morning, one a friend had given me last year on my birthday, and wore it as I puttered around in my closet most of the day.

I wasn’t in a party mood on my birthday. I was missing the woman who decades ago huffed and puffed to birth me and my twin brother on the longest day of the year.


Closet meditation helped


Russ would check on me from time to time. “Doing okay?” he’d ask. “Yup, just fine!” I said.

Russ wanted to take me out but I just wasn’t feeling it. We had dinner plans with the kids later. I’d make my appearance then.

Instead, I putzed around. Sorting, culling, and caring for clothes is meditation for me. Luckily he understands that.

Russ saw a busy bee every time he checked in. I would be in varying degrees of being clothed or not as I was tackling a few projects at once.

I was making final edits of any remaining winter clothes still hanging in my closet–coats, jackets, heavier blazers, heavier pants and some dresses. I love thinning out the closet. I packed those items away (how many cashmere sweaters does one need in July?).

I finished unpacking the last of the summer things that hadn’t come out in April–too chilly back then.

In my review, I decided whether or not some of those summer items had past their expiration dates. I actually repurposed some clothes that had been downgraded to bathing suit coverups. They got pressed and hung in the closet with a new status upgrade.

I’m old school. I had to pull out the ironing board and plug in the steam iron. Hearing the s-s-s-s of the steam, I had memories of being a kid pulling clothes out of the ironing basket and ironing for the family when we lived on the farm, near Hastings.


Planning a Minnesota/North Dakota trip wardrobe


I needed to plan my trip wardrobe so I got that done on Sunday, too.

I picked out an outfit to wear to the graveside services on Saturday for my mother and brother, Todd, at the Spring Creek Lutheran Church Cemetery in Hastings, North Dakota where we grew up. I picked out an outfit to wear to church on Sunday in Hastings, the last day services will every be held there. That beautiful little church where my parents were married and where we kids went to Sunday School is closing down after putting in 116 years of service. It’s pretty much the last place standing in that town of 75 people. There will be lots of relatives coming for the family and church reunion.

I put together an outfit to wear to the tea party I’m planning later in the week for Mom’s church lady friends from Dent, Minnesota who have been so very kind to me and my family. I crave sitting with them around the table talking about Mom.

Mostly I’ll be with Dad who wants help figuring out what his next steps will be. I’ll get some walks in and sit in the glider overlooking Dead Lake, sipping Stumbeano’s coffee and writing my morning pages. Lake life is different than city life and I actually have to work harder at putting that wardrobe together. Send me to a conference, and I’m set. Send me to the lake and I’m floundering!


What to wear for my birthday


There was one more outfit to put together during my closet meditation on June 21st and that was my birthday outfit–what I’d wear to celebrate with my twin brother, Brent, Russ, the kids, and Mike, Erin’s boyfriend. It’s turning into a tradition to have our birthday dinner at Central Market in Petaluma. I knew one thing: the tiara was going to be the focal point of the outfit. I’d worn it all day and didn’t want to take it off. I know it’s tiny, but it’s sparkly and mighty!

I decided to support it with more sparkle. I could hear Amy’s voice in my head: More sparkles, Brenda, more!

(You can read Amy’s blog Jewelry Fashion Tips and she’ll probably start talking in your ear, too!)

I wore white jeans, a Vince oatmeal colored long, lightweight t-shirt and my gold pretend tweed Chanel jacket (actually, Talbots). Then I layered two sparkly necklaces together and added a mix of bangles at both wrists for more sparkle. I wore beige suede Prada platform sandals and carried a lady-like tan purse with a handle.

But really, it was the tiara that was the hit. Caitlin and Trevor met us outside the restaurant and it was the first thing they spotted. It made them smile, and me too.

It’s pretty hard not to grin the whole time you’re wearing a tiara, especially this baby-sized one. I’m thinking there’s a tiara-size-to-birthday-decade ratio or formula. Since those first few decades of birthdays carry so much weight with them, the tiara needs to be bigger to match. Now that I’m in the taking-life-as-life-is phase of things, birthdays are lovely but less weighty. I think the size of the tiara I’m wearing is perfect for right now when I’m just happy to be here.

I miss those who are no longer here, sometimes desperately, but sparkles help.

I’ll take the sparkles into each new day where anything can happen, both good and bad.

Anatomy of an Outfit: Jean Jacket Chic

Shining in a jean jacket

Shining in a jean jacket


Mariam is my perfect muse. I see her when I’m at Nordstrom, shopping with clients or finding a fashion solution for myself. She’s a sales associate there.

She’s massively talented. She has had an atelier and making clothes from scratch is one of her talents. I’m having the pleasure of watching her create a suit for a client of mine. We had the first fitting last week. She starts with a muslin pattern (you know, like Dior did or Chanel or Halston) before cutting pattern pieces out of the actual fabrics we’ve picked out.

My client slipped into the muslin jacket and the muslin top. With Mariam in my client’s dressing room, together we made a few decisions about things like adding pockets or not having pockets at all on the jacket; having a cap sleeve or going sleeveless for the shell underneath; adding slits to the shell or not; making a small opening in the back of the top so it would be easier to slip it over my client’s head; and finally, where the button would go on the jacket (not at the waist but a little higher where my client is smaller).

It’s so fun being in on the making of this suit. I can’t wait for the second fitting! When Erin and I left our client’s house that day, Erin said, “I bet you want Mariam to make all your clothes, right?” Ah, yes, Erin! You’re reading my mind! It’s such a creative and fun process. But so is creating outfits from ready-made clothes off the rack.


Mariam explaining



Often when I see Mariam she’s in one of her own creations. I’ll compliment her on her outfit and she’ll say, “Oh, I made it!” One day I ran into her in the shoe department at Nordstrom and before I had a chance to compliment her, she grabbed my arm and exclaimed, “Brenda! I was thinking of you last night. You inspired me to make this jacket!” She was wearing a jacket that I can only describe as a fusion of Dior and Asian design. She’d just whipped it up the night before. “Then when I was done with the jacket I decided I needed a sheath dress to go with it so I made it too and here it is!”

A woman who can stay up until 2 a.m. for fashion–well, that’s my kind of woman!


Mariam belt


On another day (and honestly, she inspires me any day of the week), she was wearing this dress in these pictures with a jean jacket. I love mixing fancy with non-fancy so I had to ask her if I could take some pictures and ask a few questions.


Mariam wrist


The dress has been made from a pretty, rather traditional print. It’s glitzier than a normal day dress with all the gold metallic thread spun throughout it. It could be a special occasion dress. I love the bow tied loosely at the neckline. She bought it at Anthropologie. On this particular day she didn’t want to wear it dressed up so to dress it down she added the jean jacket, rolled up the sleeves and ditched the self-belt for a tough wide leather belt with a Western feel. She’d found it at Lucky Brand. It was on sale and then on sale and then on sale again so she ended up picking it up for about six bucks.

She added her signature of clustered bangles on her wrist, mixing colors and designs. Her earrings, even though you can’t see them clearly, are sparkly butterflies. Dainty and pretty like the dress, bright like her smile.


Mariam shoes


Her shoes are beige AGL flats with that little bit of hardware on the front. Don’t you just love how her glasses frames are a similar tone? If this outfit was a sandwich, the shoes and eyeglasses are the slices of bread that hold together the wonderful nourishing ingredients in-between. What a yummy concoction!

Do you have a pretty dress that needs some dressing down? What does your jean jacket want to be paired with before getting outside into this pretty day? Give us details!



Spice colors reign in House Prints No. 2120


Spicy colors reign in No. 2120


I love the colors in this Sonoma house and always look forward to coming across it. I know when I’m close to it. I walk a little faster to see it off to my right side and then I slow down.

You don’t find many gates that look like this one! It’s Nature as art.

(Uh, is that an oxymoron? Nature is art!)

You’re just getting a view of the gate and the double garage, not the house and the woodsy bench that sits right outside the house which is painted a shade that looks like tumeric. So spicy.

The garage doors are metal and purposefully rusted. They take on the color of another spice, cinnamon. I love the mix of wood, stucco, and metal all living together naturally in these warm tones. Even the leaves on the tree that offers shade over the gate are full of depth. No perky green leaves here. Instead, they’re deep, like eggplant.

The brightest color in this palette is the buttery colored driveway made up of loose stones.

I have ginger-haired friends who could wear these colors so well! Marj, Ginger, Coralie, Randi…you know who you are!

That weathered gate makes for a great altar for pausing to offer a prayer of thanks for the wonders of Nature. It’s not the Grand Canyon, but the colors and textures remind me of how spectacular Nature is. It makes me appreciate how I am but a mere spec in this wonderful place called Earth and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here!


House Print No. 2120 and the person who wears it

I didn’t quite get a “print” match for the color combo of this house, but I feel like the texture in this copper/brown dress reflects the same natural mix of elements in the house. There’s not a lot of razzle dazzle in this house combo. It’s earthy and grounded. So is this dress.

The fabric looks like it’s woven to have a surface texture. You weavers out there probably know just what the fibers are! I can imagine sliding my hand across the fabric and feeling slubs of silk.

I’m thinking the woman wearing this dress is strong and capable. She’s a no muss, no fuss kind of gal. She hardly wears makeup. She’s not against it or anything. She’s just naturally beautiful and doesn’t need it.

She’s athletic but not in a wearing-yoga-clothes-all-day way. She’s active. She kayaks in the early morning in Richardson Bay. She rides horses at stables in Sonoma County up near Cotati. She rides her bike out to Tomales Bay. On the way she has coffee at Toby’s Barn in Point Reyes and then rides up the coast to Marshall where she stops at the Hog Island Oyster Company for some fresh oysters, cheese and bread. She’s easily home by six so she can go roller skating with friends at the Church of 8 Wheels in the Panhandle in San Francisco. That’s a normal weekend for her.

She’s very Zen about her own beauty. She could care less about being the center of attention. In fact, she may slip out of the party early and go home to read up on Kenya. She’s heading there next week.

You might wonder how a busy woman like this has time to go shopping. She doesn’t. That’s why she books regular appointments with a fashion consultant so she doesn’t have to give her clothes any thought at all. She’s happy to let someone else take care of that part of life. Can you imagine her slogging through a dress department? Right, she’d hate it. She’d rather be climbing a mountain or swimming to Alcatraz. She considers her relationship with her fashion consultant as one of the best things she does to take care of herself so she can enjoy life to the fullest.


Where she wears this

Our lady in House Print No. 2120 is a loyal friend. She shows up for her friends and their activities wherever they may be–from Giants baseball games to scuba diving trips to weddings at Sea Ranch.

And that’s where she’s wearing this dress. A friend of hers, going all the way back to grade school, is getting married at Sea Ranch out at the cliffs. The intimate dinner following the I-dos will be in the barn just yards away. She’ll fit right into the natural colors at Sea Ranch.

For those of you who have been there, you know how there are only shades of brown and sage green. Everything blends into the landscape and Northern California at this time (especially with the drought we’re in) is very brown.

People don’t go to Sea Ranch to have glitzy weddings. They are there because they are Nature lovers, low-key, and and love the elements. And that describes our woman in No. 2120.

She has other occasions coming up where she might choose to wear this dress. She’s thinking of wearing it to an upcoming cocktail reception after an award ceremony for a colleague of hers; a party in Austin, Texas this summer; and her college reunion at Brown University. John Krasinski, the actor from the TV hit, The Office, was a classmate of hers. She’s looking forward to hanging out with John’s wife, Emily Blunt. They’re texting buddies.


Where would you wear this? Is this a color you admire on others or wear yourself? Do tell!



What I Wear When I’m Feeling Blue



When life feels blue, I wear light colors

When I feel blue, I wear light colors


Sometimes it’s hard to face the world, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to be gigantic tragedies that pull you under. It can be little things, or lots of little things that add up, or maybe it’s one big thing. When I wake up feeling blue, I know I need to take special care of myself right from the start and that starts with what I’m going to wear for the day.


What brought on this blue day

In the past, when I was feeling blue I could call my mom. But that option isn’t available anymore and I’m struggling to adjust. Sometimes I wake up and I am just missing her like crazy, eyes filled with tears, not sure how to put one foot in front of the other. Recently when that happened, I opened up my closet and started looking for the most gentle pieces I could pair together to help me find calm and peace even in the storm that is grief.

What works for me is simplicity. I need an outfit to be quiet, reflective. I won’t reach for a loud print or a busy pattern. I don’t want to wear anything that has lots of detail on it. When it comes to accessories, I want one necklace, not layers of them. I want one bracelet, maybe; not my usual stack of everyday bangles that I like to wear. I don’t want anything to make extra noise. I need to hear my own thoughts, reflect, be with the moment as it is, drop any “shoulds” and just be.


BK reflective dressing


The ingredients

So here’s what I chose. I picked out my Theory bone-colored silk top: super plain, super quiet. Then I added my “B” necklace, made for me by an artist I like. It’s on a shimmery platinum colored leather cord. It’s not noisy, doesn’t move around, it just sits there. It has a built in message. Yes, it’s my first initial but it’s also a reminder: just BE. It’s like a mantra. I can grab hold of the letter, take a breath and remind myself that it’s going to be okay.

I added my Carlisle blond-colored leather 3/4 sleeved coat. Again, it’s simple, not much detail, just the minimum. It has shimmer and for me, anything with shimmer captures light and brings in a soft energy. It’s not like a shiny metallic that practically looks mirrored.

This one is soft and easy, not demanding.

I put on my AGL taupe oxfords with white soles. Again, I like the shimmery quality to them. I added a favorite Calleen Cordero bone-colored leather cuff to my wrist. My silver leather “lunch bag” has a crackle shimmer finish to it.

Brenda Shoes

AGL oxfords shimmer


On my agenda that morning was meeting a client at Uber Optics in Petaluma to choose new frames for him. It was a Friday and my medium-wash jeans felt just right.

So while I was dressed for my client, I was also dressed for myself. I felt protected, safe, cocooned. I felt reassured. I know that “this too shall pass” and in a peaceful state of mind I can find the patience to ride the storm of deep loss.


My outfit choice makes me feel hopeful

This was the right choice for the day. I left the house feeling quiet, almost hopeful.

If I want to focus more on that quality of hope, I can use the Navajo prayer to help me.

I love the Navajo prayer. You pick a word and then say a set of lines in succession. Any word will do. I like to say it out loud but you can say it in your head as well.

I’ll demonstrate using my chosen word, hope.


Hope before me.

Hope behind me.

Hope to the right of me.

Hope to the left of me.

Hope above me.

Hope below me.

Hope within me.

Hope all around me.




Brenda Real Life

Feeling hopeful


I had a great appointment with my client. We had fun. We got him into a new frames that helped him move into his next level of “showing up” in the world. It was very exciting!

Whether it’s glasses, accessories, or clothes, I love how all the pieces of fashion can support us.

Life is precious. Clothes help us face it and enjoy it.

House Prints in Green: Heading into Summer Fun





Summer green and falling in love


Last week I posted my first House Print: Finding Outfit Inspiration from Sonoma Homes. Remember that beautiful violet c0lored door on the black and white house? Today I’m bringing you House Print No. 657 which celebrates summer green.

These House Print collages combine my favorite things: my walks, Nature, Sonoma, color, fashion and numbers.

Remember, the numbers are arbitrary and not the actual house number on this lovely home in Sonoma.


Numbers from 657 to 40,000


I will tell you though that 657 was an easy reach to name this House Print. It’s the number of my former P.O. Box in Ross when I was living in Marin County. Good things came through P.O. Box 657. My first book contract from Wildcat Canyon Press came to that box number.

I remember pulling it out, stepping outside of the Post Office, and standing there like a statue reading all the official language while people went in and out. It had been a long process with the publisher to wind our way through to the contract stage (seemed like forever, probably wasn’t). I was beginning to wonder if it would ever become official. But that day, 40 Over 40 by Brenda Kinsel, was officially official and destined to be on book shelves in only about eighteen more months which really was forever!

I was amazed to be a human being holding a book contract in her hand–it’s not an easy club to get into–but then of course, reality hit: the contract said I had to come up with 40,000 words! When I shared that number with a friend later that day, she said, “Do they have to be 40,000 different words or can you use the same ones over and over again?”


That New Green


Okay, so now you know my fondness for No. 657 so next I have to share my fondness for this lovely home in Sonoma. The green shutters and the wraparound porch with the crisp white rocking chairs invites a sensation of pure relaxation.

This color feels so summery. The green is that early summer shade of green when all the leaves are brand spanking new and glistening in the sunlight.

I could imagine this color combination at a resort or spa, in the Caribbean, or maybe on grand estates in historic places like New Orleans.

I just want to go here and stay for two weeks, don’t you? Can you imagine sitting in that white rocking chair, sipping a gin fizz in the hot afternoon before changing into your party dress for the evening festivities? I think you could fall in love with someone new or fall anew for someone you’ve known for twenty years if you were around these colors for very long.

So let’s imagine what’s happening for the person wearing the dress that mimics this summer green shade.


House Print No. 657 and the person who wears it


Although green is a very nurturing color, this green bold print is dramatic. You can’t look away from it: It’s an attention getter. The sheen of the fabric implies sophistication and luxury.

The high-low hem allows us to see the woman’s ankles and feet. It’s much more alluring this way. Think of it in a straight hem and it loses that sense of adventure in the world of men and women and romance.

What I’d imagine about the person wearing this outfit is that she’s comfortable commanding attention. Getting her own way is natural to her like breathing. She doesn’t wish for it or hope for it; she just gets things to go the way she wants them to! If she’s not doing it already, she’d relish the thought of managing a large herd of people. She’s a natural leader and a high achiever but she also knows how to take time for herself and isn’t afraid to splurge on herself either.


Where she wears this print


I’m thinking she’d wear this print to a charity gala, a wedding on St. Bart’s, the film festival in Cannes, or her own summer solstice cocktail party.

I imagine she bought the dress last week, opened her closet and was reminded of how beautiful it was. So over coffee this morning she gets the idea for the summer solstice party. By 10 a.m. one hundred people have RSVPed to her e-vite. She has her caterer committed (even though the caterer had another event to handle, she’s made special arrangements to handle this one because the connections are going to be huge!).

She’s so excited, she can hardly stand it! But she will stand it. She’ll accomplish great things between now and June 21st. I hope you were one of the people that already responded to the e-vite! Those gin and tonics are going to be so yummy!


Does this color tickle your fancy? Do you have a place where you’d wear a dress like this one?

Real Life: Stepping out of comfort zones



Blue glasses copy


Let me introduce you to Elizabeth Aguilar, an optician at Uber Optics in Petaluma, a great eyewear boutique owned by Nancy Billings Revis. The BK/EK Team (Erin and I) have invited  several clients to come and shop with us at Uber. The selection is fabulous for both men and women. It’s fun for me to be developing resources up here in Sonoma County.

Back to Elizabeth: Besides being helpful and friendly (take a look at that smile!) Elizabeth and I happen to be the same size. Not in clothes, shoes, hats, or gloves but in eyewear! What fits Elizabeth’s face fits mine, which is just grand. Unlike my clients, I have a hard time getting frames to fit me properly so knowing Elizabeth has given me a short cut.

In fact, I own the same frames as Elizabeth is wearing. Nancy insisted I needed to try colorful eyewear and once I tried these glasses on, I took the leap. I wore them a couple of times and came back to have Nancy adjust them for me. That’s  when I saw Elizabeth in this great blue and white outfit.




What I saw in her outfit

If you’ve ever loved Delft pottery, you might notice how much this outfit reminds you of the great blue and white designs. Delftware comes from the Netherlands. You’ll find it at antique fairs. The designs are so charming.


Are Delft Blue colors for you?

Delftware puts a smile on my face


So of course, that art appreciation is part of what I love about Elizabeth’s outfit. I love how she’s playing with the blue and white color palette and mixing in texture with her top and her layered jewelry. The texture in her white top echoes the scale and pattern in her pants. The solid blue T-shirt creates a great horizontal band between the white top and the blue and white pant. Her eyewear has that strong horizontal line as well and brings attention up to her face while tying the blues together.

I’ve seen Elizabeth a lot and this outfit really stands out for it’s lightness and levity. She’s so approachable! Who could possibly be “blue” around her? Her outfit puts a smile on my face. Of course what I appreciate about an outfit is one thing; how someone puts together an outfit is her own creation and has its own explanation. I had to ask Elizabeth some questions. Let’s start with the specifics.


The pieces

Joe’s Jeans, purchased for $50 from eBay, normally $140

H&M blue tank top as her layering piece

Nearly-a-poncho white airy top with 3/4 sleeves came from Target

Spring Step sandals came from Sole Desire

Tiffany pendant was a gift from her mom and it says, “I love you”

Silver bracelet was a gift from her son and the charm says, “Mom”

Eyewear is L.A. Eyeworks from Uber Optics


Elizabeth in blue

How did you put the outfit together, Elizabeth?


I really wanted to wear these glasses. I’m loving them so much and getting so many compliments on them. I needed a happy day. So I started with the glasses and then chose the pants. This is the first time I’ve put it all together this way.

I’ve been more and more getting into style since working with Nancy. Nancy helps me a lot. When I got my new hair-do, I felt I had to change it up. I was more blond before, had a lot more highlights.

I typically wear dark jeans. So this is a change for me. I’m getting more edgy and I appreciate quality more now. I didn’t used to treat myself to a good pair of shoes. Now I will. I’ll buy quality when it’s on sale. I have to be careful. I have two small children.


Elizabeth fingertips



Elizabeth turns forty this year. She wants to step out of her comfort zones. I think she’s doing a great job!