Bathing Suit Season–Where’s the Valium?

Alison Houtte, co-author of Alligators, Old Mink & New Money is comfortable at a pool

Alison Houtte, co-author of Alligators, Old Mink & New Money is comfortable at a pool


I’ve met a few people who are comfortable wearing bathing suits. Alison Houtte (above), co-author of Alligators, Old Mink & New Money would be one of them. But she’s from Florida! And she was a model for ten years in Paris and Manhattan. That makes a difference, right?

I met Alison and her sister Melissa when I had the privilege of interviewing them at a book event at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Alligators, Old Mink & New Money chronicles their growing up years, Alison’s modeling career and her wonderful store in Brooklyn called Hooti Couture, a vintage store favorite. She’s had it for 20 years but is closing the doors next month and moving back to Miami.

I think anyone who grew up on a beach or near swimming pools might find bathing suits something they could comfortably, intentionally wear, like on purpose, by choice. Me? Not so much. I got to California way past my formative years. I’m not sure I can adjust.


Shopping for Bathing Suits

Curiously, I love helping other people feel comfortable in bathing suits. I’ve helped clients buy bathing suits for sport, as a basic summertime necessity or for destination vacation use. It’s delightful!

Although in thirty years I don’t believe I’ve ever had a client sound eager to shop for bathing suits. In fact, they come to me with furrowed brows and trembling voices, like they’re terrified.   I usually say “No problem!” and tell them I’ll bring the Valium; not to worry.

It’s always insanely successful. It’s not because of the Valium; that’s of course, a joke. But they come to the dressing room with such low expectations that heading up from there wouldn’t take much. Every woman ends up buying two or three bathing suits, even more, because we just can’t choose between all the great choices.

How do I feel about bathing suits personally? I’d put myself in the mortified category. Give me a little slack, though, would you? I grew up on a farm in North Dakota and the nearest ‘pool’ of water was the water in the horses’ trough near the barn. I’m more comfortable in a wool sweater than a Spandex bathing suit. But that’s just me!

Jenny flip flops walk away

For your amusement, I’m sharing something I wrote called Bathing Suit Hell which was first published twenty-two years ago. Yup, in 1993. It marked my very first published piece of writing.

My experience around bathing suits hasn’t changed much since 1993 although I have purchased a few since the J.Crew ones I speak about in this piece. I wore one when my daughters and I had a spa day. Both of them were born in California and are not afraid of bathing suits. You can tell, just by being around them. I know where one is in case of an emergency, but otherwise, it stays at the bottom of the basket it’s stored in.

My kids may have had the Pacific Ocean and sandy beaches but I had snow angels. So there.



Bathing Suit Hell, circa 1993, by yours truly


Last Saturday morning while I sat on the straight, hard bleachers at my daughter’s softball game, Brianna’s mom got up, headed for the Coke shack, and flipped these words over her right shoulder: “It’s so hot I feel like I should be in a bathing suit.”

It was hot, that’s true. So hot that maybe I’d like to be in my air conditioned car, or sitting in my backyard thankful for the overgrown trees, or maybe hot enough to put on my linen, full skirt and blousey silk shirt. But to take all my clothes off and strip down to a stretchy wad of fabric in splashy colors that could fit in my fist? No, I can say for sure that I have never, ever, not in my whole life felt hot enough to walk around in a bathing suit. I leaned in close to Erika’s mom and said, “Now that’s one feeling I’ve never had before.” Her laughter let me know she was with me and we bonded there in the fourth inning, with the score 11-7.

I wish bathing suits had never been invented. I’ve been invited to go to Hawaii and I’m not thinking about how I’ve always wanted to go, how the trip’s being paid for, how I’ll get to see a dear friend again. No, I’m focused on the one glitch in the whole thing: I’ll have to get a bathing suit. I’ll be in bathing suit heaven feeling like hell.

I realize in the big scheme of things, my bathing suit phobia is pretty insignificant. But some of us take these things seriously. I called my friend Molly. I expected to commiserate, but she brushed the whole thing off like it was no big deal. She claimed to have found “a bathing suit that looks great on every body.”

Yeah, right.

“It’s true,” she insisted. “I’ll bring one over. You can try it on.”

I’m in the fashion business. I’ve yet to come across anything that looks good on everybody—okay, maybe cream colored socks or a teal blue sweatshirt, but a bathing suit? No way.

Molly dropped the suit by: dandelion yellow, simple tank, low back, cotton/lycra, from the J. Crew Catalogue. She told me it comes in other colors. I filed it on my bedroom floor, next to my dirty clothes hamper.

I picked it up that evening when I got undressed. An easy on and off, I thought. I pulled the dandelion suit up my body and tucked everything in its right place. I stood before my mirror and didn’t hate it right away. I checked myself out from every angle—sideways and stretching my head over my shoulder, I checked my rear end. Not bad. Now I know there isn’t a bathing suit that can make me look like Raquel Welch or Cindy Crawford. I’m happy just to look as good as I can.

I dialed the eight hundred number and ordered two suits; one in leaf and one in espresso. If I go snorkeling on the reef at Hanauma Bay, I’ll be well suited. But if I just want to get wet, I’ll do that in the privacy of my own bathtub, sans suit.


And what dear readers are your thoughts about bathing suits?


Saturday reflection, sports and fashion

Fashion Show on Mother's Day

Fashion Show on Mother’s Day, Easter in Afghanistan


It’s Saturday morning and I’m feeling pretty proud of my family because of a little somethin’ special we did last Sunday night to support a team in need. My daughter Caitlin suggested it when the Mother’s Day dinner conversation turned to the Warriors. She shook her head and said, “We need to have a prayer circle for them!” Amen!

But first things first. There was the dessert course to enjoy–Caitlin’s homemade pie, voted the very best ever. It was peach rhubarb. How does she come up with these combinations? It was divine!

Then we had to have Fashion Show. Caitlin had several pieces of newly purchased clothing items that she wanted to try on for us and vote to keep them or take them back. Usually this is done with just her sister Erin or me, but on this evening more voters showed up at the polls. There was the addition of her uncle Brent, Russ, and her brother Trevor.

With the added voters, the commentary got more lively with each clothing change. It wasn’t Keeping Up with the Kardashians but it was turning into a fun show. The boys had some quick quips. The voting even started to get a little competitive. Suddenly it was Project Runway. They voted yes on some things that the girls voted no on.

One of the tops in question seemed too long for her. I suggested maybe it would look better on me. Brent didn’t think so but the girls did. (I wore it to work on Thursday. It’s nice when Fashion Show comes with perks!)

The funniest moment came when Caitlin came out in a pair of pants that had already been rejected by all but now we were to assess the sweater. It was a challenge because the two pieces were pretty incongruent. It was hard to give the sweater a chance. The quippers got quiet until big brother said in a thoughtful way, “You know, it sort of looks like you’re dressed for Easter in Afghanistan.” The sweater got nixed but the words “Easter in Afghanistan” got some more play. Brent thought it sounded like a poem (of course, he’s a poet). Russ heard it as a movie title. Erin and I just thought it was funny as a fashion description!

What do we know? It could be the inspiration for a designer’s collection next spring!


Back to B-Ball

Getting back to Sunday night–before everyone left we had a rousing prayer circle to support our Bay Area sports team. We held hands and made a circle. It was part prayer, part cheerleading, and part silliness but added up to 100% heartfelt good wishes for our team. We raised the roof and then everyone went into the night and held their breath until Monday night’s game.

Our Golden State Warriors needed more than our prayer circle could supply, I feared.  They were in the Western Conference semi-finals with the Memphis Grizzlies. They’d played four games so far. They won the first two, easily, and then they lost the next two, hard. Very hard. Only three games left in the series. Oh, I’m talking about basketball, NBA basketball. Did you know that?

Are you wondering how a fashion blog got hijacked and is suddenly highlighting sports? Do you feel like you tuned into your favorite radio station–only this morning they have a whole new format, your radio host is gone and they’re playing a different genre of music altogether?

Well, don’t worry. This blog is all fashion all the time except when I take the liberty of sharing more personal details about family life and other interests like sports or my love of writers. See, this blog post is also about writers! You’ll see.


A sports writer said it best…

I was nervous about Monday night’s game five. To tell you the truth, both Russ and I were dragging our feet about turning on the game that night. If they lost, it was really going to hurt. The Warriors hadn’t won this series since 1975. They’d shown such promise all year but now they were facing the biggest adversity of their whole season.

On Wednesday Bruce Jenkins, one of my favorite sports writers for the San Francisco Chronicle, captured that scary feeling perfectly in his column. He did it with his opening line: “You can come out from behind the couch.”

That’s EXACTLY how it felt! I was reading Wednesday’s Sporting Green (the print version of the Chronicle’s sports section), and looked over at our couch. I absolutely saw it in my mind: both Russ and I crouched behind the butter cream leather couch pulling our faces up just enough so our eyes could peep at the TV screen, the sound off, seeing if the Warriors had come out with a plan to stop the Grizzlies. If they had, it would be safe to crawl out from behind the couch and slip into our comfortable green flecked upholstered chairs, turn the sound up and listen to the play-by-play, holding hands instead of wringing them.

Bruce Jenkin’s next line was: “The Warriors are once again a delightful spectacle with championship aspirations —and just in time.” Whew! That win meant they were going into Wednesday night’s game up three games to two.


on pins and needles

The family that prays together texts together


Next came Wednesday night’s game. I wasn’t as fearful. It was looking good! I texted Caitlin.


Then came Wednesday

Then came Wednesday



Spoiler Alert!

Then came last night’s game. The Warriors won!

They finished the series off in Memphis. I was happy for my boys, but I felt a little sad for Memphis. They lost the series last night and they lost B.B. King, the blues legend, the night before, at the age of eighty-nine. The Grizzlies started the game with a moment of silence that wasn’t silence. It was his music which famously came alive in Memphis decades before.  It would have been nice to win one for B.B. King and go on to play Game 7. But because the Warriors won last night, they don’t have to play on Sunday. That means our guys get to rest up for Tuesday night’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. You know where I’ll be on Tuesday night!

My son, Trevor, a big fan of B.B. King, left me a message just before the game started. He was going to be with friends who were taping the game and watching it later. I’d know the winner  before he did so I didn’t text him during the game.

Which reminds me of the Walter Matthau movie from 1978, House Calls. Walter Matthau plays a single big shot doctor and Glenda Jackson plays his new girlfriend, more age appropriate and smarter than the other girls he’s been dating. She knows nothing about sports. If I’m remembering this correctly, she’s made dinner for him in his apartment but when he comes home from working late at the hospital, he wants to skip dinner and go to his bedroom, grab the remote and flip on the TV to watch the tape of that night’s much-anticipated basketball game, a game between rivals, maybe the Lakers and the Celtics.

As he’s getting comfortable in the dark with the glare of the TV screen reflecting on his face, she questions what he’s doing. He tells her he’s watching the game. (Duh!) She wonders why he’s doing that. She says something like, “What are you watching that game for? It’s over! It was on the news already. It went into double overtime and the Celtics won!” He’s crushed. He’s been waiting all day to watch this game.

It’s one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. If you’re a sports fan, you know EXACTLY how he feels and if you’re not a sports fan, you know EXACTLY how she feels! Of course, it’s a romantic comedy. After he gets over the loss of not watching the game, I think they do find something to do together, later … in the bedroom … in the dark.

And now it’s Saturday afternoon and I think I should be checking out the Turner Classic Movie schedule! Hope you’re having a great day!


How was your week? What are your favorite Saturday activities? Do you enjoy old movies or sports as well as fashion?

Ease, please–wearing tops that aren’t too tight

Ease, please.

Ease, please.


I wonder when the phrase “muffin top” was first coined. We all know what I’m talking about, right? It’s not the delicious muffin tops that we see under the glass at bakeries. It’s those folds of flesh that hang over a predominately low-cut jean and are made obvious by wearing tops that are tight or too tight and too short at the same time. We’ve probably all seen that look while standing in a morning line at Starbucks, waiting for coffee drinks and pastries.

Hopefully the muffin top is headed for extinction as many current jean styles are being cut with a longer rise and fuller tops are grabbing hold in the fashion world.

There’s only one viable cure for the muffin top and it’s not about spending your life at the gym tightening up your abs. You need to befriend clothes that have more fabric in them. There are multiple benefits to be had by a move in that direction.


Loose is just right for a few reasons


1. Comfort

Clothes that are suctioned on to us are uncomfortable especially now as the weather gets warmer. Sometimes a client slips into a top that’s loose and she’s wondering whether it’s too big. “Nope, it’s just right” is often my reply. We’ve been on a fashion roll (yes, I saw that pun coming!) of super tight things like jeggings, skinny jeans and Lycra filled tops that fit like a glove. We need to get used to a new silhouette.

Designers turned fashion upside down more recently when volume suddenly came “in” style. Now I’m training my clients to feel comfortable in more relaxed looks. It suddenly looks modern to wear more volume.

2. Sensuality

Every garment doesn’t have to grip us tightly. There’s a sensuality to a garment that has enough volume to it that it can drape or move as we move. It’s luxurious. I love the navy blue silk top in the picture above, an image I captured in a parking lot in Lafayette, California. The blue silk plays with the light and creates highlights and lowlights. It holds our attention and teases the eye. Fabrics that only wisp against our skin can make us feel sexy and attractive. We’re at ease and that makes us more confident.

3. Mental space

There are so many things to pay attention to in a single moment. Wondering whether or not your muffin top is getting too much unwanted attention is really not worth your time. If clothes are pulling at us or pinching us, we are sacrificing mental space to deal with things that shouldn’t matter. Discomfort gets our attention and our minds get cluttered.

I believe that when we wear clothes that fit us poorly, it erodes our confidence. We become self-conscious and pull away from situations and people instead of being open to them.


So there you have it. Dare to wear clothes that are a little loose and be ready for wonderful things to happen.

Why? Because you won’t be thinking about yourself. You’ll be in the moment and that’s when the magic happens.

(Muffin top? What muffin top?)


Share your successes with me, will you? I’d love to know how you’re doing with the relaxed styles out there!



Things My Mom Taught Me


1. Talk to strangers.
Mom was a pro at making fast friends out of perfect strangers. She treated others with such kindness. It’s no wonder everyone fell in love with her. Even in the hospital when she had very few words in her vocabulary she managed to say to one of her nurses, “Do they make everyone be beautiful in nursing school?” The nurse just beamed!

I’m not as friendly with strangers but I’m getting better. Thankfully I can spot great outfits and that gives me an in. I can overcome my shyness when I compliment someone on what they’re wearing. I learn all kinds of things about people when I do! No one hates a compliment. Have you noticed that too?

2. Never let yourself go.
Several of my mother’s friends came up to me at her funeral and told me story after story about how she looked great and how they envied her style. At eighty-two she always wanted to look right for all occasions. Even her lake wardrobe was filled with color.

It would never occur to her to leave the house in sweats or in something that wasn’t pressed and fresh looking. I’m glad I had that role model. Looking pleasant has lots of benefits! You feel better and the people around you feel better too.

Even for a casual at home office day, you won't find me in my pajamas!

Even for a casual at home office day,
you won’t find me in my pajamas!

3. If you’re going out the door, put your lipstick on.
I hardly saw my mother without lipstick and makeup on. Those weeks in January and February when I was in the hospital with her and she didn’t have a stitch of makeup on, I marveled at how beautiful she was and how great her skin looked. She was always known for her great skin. I don’t think it hurt that she made an effort to look just a little better with a few dabs of this blush and that eye shadow. To be honest, to this day I feel naked without lipstick!

Alma’s granddaughter, Erin, gets a new lipstick shade for spring.

Alma’s granddaughter, Erin, gets a
new lipstick shade for spring.

4. Seek beauty.
Last summer my daughter Caitlin was in the backseat with me and Mom was in the front seat with Dad. We were driving past farmlands in Minnesota. Mom was looking out the window and said, ““Isn’t that cornfield beautiful?” She swooned when she said it. She was experiencing pure delight looking at that cornfield.

Meanwhile in the backseat, Caitlin leaned over to me and whispered, “What makes one cornfield beautiful and another one not beautiful?” She was born and raised in Marin County and not on a farm like I was. I gave her my best explanation: The rows are symmetrical. There are no brown spots. The height of the corn is even. The field isn’t full of weeds.

I’m not around fields as much as I’m around people so I usually am finding beauty while people watching. It’s annoying to my daughters, but I can’t go to a restaurant without people watching. “Mom, stop staring!” they’ll say.

I’m not staring; I’m appreciating! Just recently at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma I saw a woman in a great outfit. There was only one thing I’d have changed about it and that was her necklace. I daydreamed about that until the first course arrived.

The next day I was with a client and that woman I’d seen in the restaurant came back to me: her slim pants that ended at her ankle, a simple sweater with a not quite right necklace going down the front, a beautiful 3/4 coat in a caramel color that brought out her brown eyes.

Taking inspiration from that stranger, I created something similar for my client. I gave her sparkly pointy-toe flats which were festive without being uncomfortable. The woman I’d seen the night before wore high-heeled black pumps. I took my client’s Jil Sander slim black ankle pant and added a stone colored cashmere sweater. I added  a long tasseled necklace which was the perfect necklace to echo the long, lean look I was going for. I went into my client’s closet and hunted down a 3/4 coat to finish the look. She looked fabulous! I can’t create beautiful cornfields but I can create beauty with clothes and jewelry, color and texture.

Maybe I inherited a curious eye, always searching for beauty all around me…just like Mom.

Mom could spot a beautiful field a mile away.

Mom could spot a beautiful field a mile away.

5. Everyone needs a flirty dress.
In high school Mom took me on a shopping trip. She bought me three dresses. One of them was short and was cut on the bias. If I swung around quickly you might see the top of my thigh. I was nervous about it. But that’s when Mom insisted, “Every girl needs a flirty dress.” I wore it a few times before feeling comfortable in it, but she was right!

I swear my daughter Caitlin is the queen of flirty dresses. She wears them well. I think I need to take advice from both the generation above me and below me and see if I can’t do better in the flirty-dress department. I always feel great when I wear them. I just need to wear them more often.

Granddaughter Caitlin was made for flirty dresses.

Granddaughter Caitlin was made for flirty dresses.

6. Dress to please yourself.
If you feel great in it, wear it proudly! That’s what Mom would say!

Mom wore a jumpsuit in the late 60s and it was red. Dad thought it was too out there. She told me it was the only time he fussed over something she wore. Did it stop her? No way! She liked it and she wore it! He was just going to have to get over himself, that’s all. That’s how she told the story.

I picture Mom in that red jumpsuit and have to chuckle. She stood her fashion ground fearlessly! Good for her!

7. Accessories are necessities.
It was so interesting putting picture boards together for the funeral. We started with one but had to do three. In nearly every picture of Mom, she’s wearing earrings at a minimum plus a scarf or a necklace or both.

Some people may pause to consider adding an accessory. There was no pausing with Mother. She just did it naturally, like breathing in and breathing out. Her Goddaughter Kathleen was at my parent’s home the day after the funeral. I was so glad when she asked me if there was a scarf or a piece of jewelry that she could have to remember Mother by. “Oh, of course!” I said and led her into Mother’s bedroom. Kathleen settled on a ruffled scarf Mom wore at the Hostfest, an annual Scandinavian festival we often attended together. Kathleen has similar coloring and the scarf she chose is one she’ll wear herself. I’m so glad!

Here's a current favorite accessory Beauty Bundle of mine: layered necklaces, hoops, bracelet and ring. I don't wear one without the other.

Here’s a current favorite accessory Beauty Bundle of mine:
layered necklaces, hoops, bracelet and ring. I don’t wear one without the other.

8. Appreciate young people.
Mom always loved being around young people. No one intimidated her. She had a way of saying the funniest things out loud, things someone else might have thought to keep to themselves. But that made her even more charming. She wasn’t afraid to say the wrong thing. She jumped into conversations and we all loved it!

Mother had friends and admirers of all ages. I wonder if that’s a key to staying young in spirit. I always hated when someone asked how old my mom was because I figured they’d hear the answer (82-years-old) and think: Oh, that’s old! But she was far from old.

I count on my daughters and their friends to keep me feeling youthful no matter my age.

I especially appreciate these young people, my daughters Erin and Caitlin

I especially appreciate these young people,
my daughters Erin and Caitlin

Thanks Mom for all you’ve taught me, shared with me and the way you continue to inspire me. You have been and will continue to be a great role model! I love you. Happy Mother’s Day!

Reflecting on mothers and motherhood

Two daughters, double the fun

Two daughters, double the fun


My mother had one of them and I ended up with two of them and it still amazes me! Daughters!

I was the only girl in the family. I had three brothers. All I knew were boys. In fact, I was a tomboy. I loved exploring pastures, playing in the hayloft of the barn, enjoying our offbeat pets: a skunk, a snake, and a raccoon. I wasn’t a girlie girl at all. In fact, my mother probably thought she had four boys and no daughter during most of those early years.

I hated getting my hair pulled back into ponytails. Maybe that’s why I had a pixie cut most of my childhood.

I was impatient. I couldn’t stand still long enough for Mother to find the just-right hem length for the dresses she made me (although I very much enjoyed wearing them when they were completed). Most of the time I wanted to be in dungarees running around outside.

I got more girlie in high school although I loved hanging out with my twin brother’s friends. They would come to the house and play cards and tell jokes. It was easy hanging out with boys.

When my son Trevor was born, it was groovy, fabulous, wonderful. A boy! I understood boys! I was comfortable around boys! Bring on the boys!

And then three years later something weird happened: a girl came into our family! And nearly three years after that, another one was born. Now I had a son and two daughters, Erin and Caitlin.




Girls! I was baffled! What do you do with girls?

Well, it’s been a long study. And I’m still learning.

One thing that’s been interesting is to stand on the outside looking in on something that I’ve never experienced: sisterhood.

Sisters fascinate me! My mother had seven sisters. I have friends with sisters. I listen to sister stories and I’m in awe. What a world! Maybe it’s like being an only child hanging around kids who have siblings. I can’t understand it because I’ve never had the experience myself.

I remember one time when the girls were arguing in the back seat of the car as I was driving them to school. I pulled over and stopped the engine and turned to them and said, “You have no idea how lucky you are. You are sisters! You have each other! I never got to have a sister! You’re LUCKY! Now stop it!” They got quiet. I think they were stunned by my outburst.


Mothers and daughters

One time when I was nearly forty, I was in the back seat of the car with my parents. We were driving to Vergas, MN to a little market where they make homemade sausage. It’s a family favorite. I asked them if we kids turned out like they thought we would.

My mom said, “Brenda, I never ever thought you’d leave home at eighteen. I couldn’t have imagined that. But I can appreciate the courage it took to move away.”

Of course, I think about that now. I’ve struggled much of my adult life wondering if I should be living in Minnesota instead of California. Although friends have insisted they’d plan an intervention if I ever thought of moving, the pull of family and “home” is strong. It wasn’t until I moved to Sonoma where I’m surrounded by crops and fields of sheep that I’ve finally felt like I was in the right place. Farmland comforts me.

But today I have remorse about having moved so far away so long ago. What I wouldn’t do to have more time with my mother…


Long distance loving

Goodbyes were hard even when we knew we’d be seeing each other in a few months. I’d be getting ready to leave after spending ten days or so every summer with Mom and Dad at the lake in Minnesota. I could feel my stomach starting to knot up. Those goodbyes were impossible. Mom and I would cry and cry in each other’s arms. I’d finally pull away and stumble to the rental car and stare out the window all the way to Fargo, soaking in the flat farmlands that were familiar to me, feeling so torn.

I’d usually see them again in October when we’d go to the Hostfest together in Minot, North Dakota. It became a ritual in my adulthood that I cherished. It was our thing. My brothers never went. They just heard our stories about it. It’s a five-day Scandinavian festival held in the fall. Lots of food, singing, concerts, shopping, laughing and visiting with relatives and strangers.

I have so many art objects in my home that came from shopping at the Hostfest with my mom. I have a couple of unique coats I bought there, too. She’s pretty good at helping me spend my money! Those coats are almost too warm to wear in California but when I do, I always get compliments and think of her. She would say of the high price tag, “Brenda, you deserve it! You work hard. Buy it!”

We had lots of plans this winter. Mom and Dad were coming out here in January and Mom and I had a few mother/daughter field trips planned. We were so excited! I was giving her advice on the phone about what to pack for the trip. And then two days later, everything changed.

There’s been a lot on my emotional plate these last months. I’m not feeling very courageous right now. In spite of the deep loss, I am feeling grateful. I have a great family.

I’ve held my breath year after year hoping that my children wouldn’t move 2000 miles away. I don’t want to experience what my mother had to experience. Heck, I don’t want them to move 200 miles away! Although Trevor travels a far amount, everyone lives within an hour’s drive from each other.

As this Mother’s Day rolls around, I’m sad to not have my own mother to talk to, but I’m grateful for my son and my two daughters who will be making dinner for me and showering me with their precious love. I will find comfort there.


(Photo of Erin and Caitlin by Russ Gelardi)


Finding calm in a few wardrobe practices


keep calm


Securing calm where you can

My dictionary is right here on the floor. Yup, it’s one of those big heavy ones. I’m old school.

So, I’m flipping through the pages and finding the word CALM.

One of the definitions of calm is as follows: Serenity; tranquility; peace 

Delicious words, aren’t they?


At this age…

I’m sixty-two and I wouldn’t mind a steady diet of serenity, tranquility, and peace in this chapter of my life.

Wild, crazy and hectic are words that marked my 30s and early 40s. Well, maybe that’s a bit overdramatized but tranquility would not have been on my list of must-haves back then.

I was at a dinner party last weekend and I was so happy to hear the hosts (forty-six and fifty-seven years old) confess to a 9 pm bedtime. My people!!


One area of my life where I’ve always welcomed “calm” no matter what decade I was in is in my wardrobe.

I don’t want to be stressed by clothes. There’s enough to stress about; clothes shouldn’t be one of them!

To keep calm and carry on through the seasons of fashion, here are some of my wardrobe practices.


Seasonal Fashion Practices

1. Try everything on at the beginning of a season.

I’m doing that right now. I must admit, a couple of pairs of pants are just a little tight. But I am confident that watching my diet for a week or two will make them feel just fine again. However I am looking at a pair of Sempione cropped pants I bought in New York on a very happy, fun trip one spring. They must have fit for five minutes. I’ve carried them over year to year thinking maybe I’ll fit in them again. Alas, not this year. I’m giving up on that dream. They are heading out to the consignment store tomorrow! It’s finally time for someone else to enjoy the beautiful fabric and slim fit.


2. Trying on everything includes shoes.

I don’t want to think I have shoes that will work with outfits and then find out five minutes before heading out the door and discover a problem. Last year for some reason, I had tender feet and hardly anything felt good on my feet. I thought it would be quite ironic if this style and fashion consultant couldn’t wear anything but running shoes in order to be comfortable.

This year I’ve gotten a happy surprise. Instead of finding problems, I’m discovering that the sandals that I had packed away actually feel fine on my feet. In fact, everything feels better this year!

I’m in the minority. Plenty of my clients are having challenges with their feet. I’m encouraging them to spend the big bucks on shoes because they are so important to the quality of our life. With one client, we did an honest purge of the shoes that were hurting her feet or that she couldn’t be comfortable in for longer than thirty minutes. With those shoes heading out the door (it was quite a parade heading down her hallway!), it was obvious to me that her spring wardrobe budget needed to focus on shoes.

She didn’t need one or two new pairs of shoes; she needed several new ones. We set a date for a focused shopping trip and she’s not looked back. When mama’s feet are happy, the whole family is happy!


3. Carefully inspect your jean wardrobe.

I’ve been shopping with my clients already and I’m ready to follow the advice I give them: update your jeans! I’m eager to embrace the higher waisted casual rolled jean. I know they will be the base for many outfits in the coming weeks.

After checking over my spring pant inventory I know just what I need to hunt for: the boyfriend rolled jean. Skinnies are taking a back seat and I look forward to the ease of a looser fitting jean. Although I was tempted by the Eileen Fisher ones I saw in the stores, I’ve actually found a better fit in a Chico jean. I had to have them shipped because they didn’t have my size. I’ll let you know how they turn out!


4. Make ten new outfits out of your “old” clothes.

With the influence of the new fashion that’s out there and the artwork I’ve seen as well as nature and home design magazines, my eye is seeing things in a new way this spring. With that influx of inspiration, it’s  the perfect time to look at the “old” wardrobe and style it in some “new” ways. It makes everything feel fresher in May. And if I’ve added some new jewelry pieces over the winter months, I will want to showcase them in summer outfits ASAP.

Giving myself the assignment of creating ten new outfits gets me focused in the direction of the new season. Once I’ve played in my closet and started making outfits I feel excited about getting up and  dressed for the day. And I love the compliments that come my way when without really buying anything new (except for maybe those cropped jeans!).

To help you, use the Wardrobe Workout Chart and write out all the details of your outfit. You’ll be happy you did!


So, tell me how your spring styling is going. Are you enjoying “new” looks out of “old” clothes? What will you need to add to your wardrobe to make your outfits work? Remember, spending time on it now at the beginning of the season will keep you calm and carrying on!


Real Life: Loving what I see

Loving the drama

Loving the drama


Spotting beauty

I am enriched by beauty and I bet you are too. I love spotting beauty in real life.

And of course, beauty in fashion is always going to catch my eye. When I turned around in a bland conference room at a professional gathering and saw Adena, I can only guess at the swooning noises I must have started making.

Trust me, it was involuntary and couldn’t be helped.


Reflecting on the impact it made on me

She was wearing this necklace that would easily qualify as a statement necklace because of the scale of it.

But the thing I loved most about it is that even though it is quite grand, it’s not shouting. Adena is still the star of the show.

Her asymmetrical red tunic and her shimmery black leather jacket would be strong pieces for anybody to wear in normal life. But this necklace brings a femininity to her outfit and brings a unity to the strong color and the shiny leather. They all hang out together in perfect harmony.

Adena is tall and willowy. I like how the pieces in this necklace have length to them. I suspect it would be tougher to wear for a shorter, more compact person.

If she invited me over to her house for a slumber party, I think I’d have to ask her if I could try it on. That’s probably when I’d understand why it’s so perfect for her!


The bust up

You know how I often talk about being sure you’re put together from the bust up?

It’s because often we’re only seeing people from the bust up.

If we’re having dinner with someone, we see them from the bust up. If we’re sitting in a meeting together, we’re seeing them from the bust up.

This is an amazing “bust up” image. All the action that’s happening around her neck is bringing radiance up to her face.

(Adena, I covet thy necklace.)


Getting Adena’s take on it

Next I had to ask her a few questions about how she came to be wearing it.


Brenda: Why do you love this necklace?


Adena: To me it’s a perfect combination of drama and elegance. It’s by Alexis Bittar, one of my favorite jewelry designers.
Brenda: How do you wear it?
Adena: I usually wear it with solid colors only – like the red in this picture, and often with black. I will also wear it with a white tee and jeans for a ‘dressy casual’ look.
Brenda: Why did it speak to you and what did it say when it did speak?
Adena: The silver and crystals and bold size really spoke to me. And it said “I’m yours and you’re mine – a match made in heaven!”


Indeed! I have to agree!

The Accessory Genius: Wowing Clients at Every Turn


I love performing fashion miracles when I’m with my client in her closet.

Of course, they aren’t miracles at all. They are just minor adjustments to items they own but aren’t using. The result can seem huge to someone who hasn’t played around with jewelry or designed clothing. Simple minor skills can come in handy. With a pair of scissors and five minutes I can turn a problem into a non-problem. It’s fun for me and my client thinks I’m a genius!

I’ve had the reverse experience…many times! Like when I can’t seem to download an app to my phone so I hand it over to my daughter Caitlin. She fiddles with it for sixty seconds and makes it work. She’s clearly a genius!

I’ll never wow you with my techie abilities but I can share three genius moves I made to help make accessories work for three different clients.


Accessory Genius Move #1

jewelry repair

Decluttering a necklace made it more useful


This Carlisle necklace (above left) worked really well with a Carlisle brown dress that I picked out for a client one season. But after a season or two, it wasn’t getting much play in her wardrobe.

One day I created a new outfit for her and was looking for the right necklace to go with it. I lamented, “Gosh, I wish I had a black leather cord with a little something on it. That would be perfect!” As I was going through her necklaces I picked up this one and coveted the leather cord. I had to have it, I had to have it now! When I looked closer I realized all those wooden and resin pieces would slide right off the cord and I could rearrange them any way I wanted to. I asked my client’s permission to redesign it and she said go for it!

I fiddled with it for a bit until I narrowed it down to just those three rings on the cord (above right) which turned out to be just right. Now she had a simple necklace that could add interest to lots of outfits. We kept the other pieces in case we ever wanted to put it back the way it was. But we never have. It’s such a great piece for summer outfits. I can’t wait to use it more this coming season.


Accessory Genius Move #2

Then there was the fringed bag that was just way too rock and roll for a client of mine. She needed a smaller shoulder bag to wear on date night and it needed to be in gray tones. I looked high and low until I found this one for her at TJ Maxx. The only issue was that the fringe was about 18 inches too long for this mother of four. I wasn’t worried about the fringe. I knew I could transform it. I asked her if it would be okay with her if I trimmed it. “Really?” she said. “You could do that?”

She’s a doctor and has cut many things before but cutting parts off of this handbag made her nervous. I was eager to show her that the funny little fringy bag could be perfect for her in just a few minutes.

I spent a lot of years sewing so having scissors in my hand feels like meditation to me. It puts me in the zone.

I pulled out scissors from my closet kit and performed the necessary surgery. With a fresh cut it was perfect for her! So every time we use it in an outfit and I write out the details on her Wardrobe Chart, we always call it the Haircut Bag and have a chuckle.

A short surgical procedure on the fringe made the bag wearable.

A short surgical procedure on the fringe made the bag wearable.


Accessory Genius Move #3

A client had purchased a scarf on a trip because she was so attracted to the gorgeous lipstick red print. But she wasn’t wearing it. I understood why when she put it on. She’s quite petite with fine bone structure and the long fringe on the scarf was just overwhelming. When she put it around her neck, she was swimming in fringe. She was bummed. It was like falling in love with a perfect guy but finding out he had issues. The scarf had what she wanted–the color–but it came with baggage–too much fringe.

“I can fix this,” I said. “Really?” she said. She assumed this was a project that I’d have to take home with me and return to her at a later date. No, no, no I said. She’d actually have been happy if there was no fringe at all. I wasn’t going to do that but I knew I could make it seem like it was nearly gone. A few minutes later I draped it around her shoulders and she swooned. “That’s amazing!” she said.

Accessory adjustments

Getting rid of the fringe baggage made this scarf a perfect fit for my client.


Do you have some stories to share about accessories that you’ve redesigned? I’d love to hear about your genius moves. Please share!

Saying goodbye is hard to do; me in black and blue

Mom and Dad always close

Mom and Dad always close


I’m sharing with you today memories of Alma J. Reiten, my mother. I’ve written about her before and I’ll be writing about her again.

I was at her side when she passed away on March 25, 2015…way too soon. I spoke at her funeral in Dent, Minnesota at the United Methodist Church two weeks ago today, on April 2, 2015. It wasn’t a eulogy; others did that. What I did was pretty easy, although my family thought it was a risky move putting me in front of the congregation. I hadn’t done very well seven months earlier at my brother’s funeral. My brother Kirk had to come and rescue me.

But when I thought about Mom, I thought about the two of them and it was easy to share about their love and my mother’s tenderness. Of course, there’s a reference to a fashion tip that I tried to share with Mom last year. She wasn’t ready to take my advice (and I wasn’t pushing it on her either) but a few people came up to me after the service and told me they were happy to find out that navy blue and black go together. Read on!


Seeing double

For many, many years, decades really, we kids have been seeing double. Where one parent was, the other one was only about one foot away.

It’s common to be in their home and hear Father say, “Mother, come sit down, let’s visit.”

And they’d visit…all times of the day and night.

Morning visits were in the blue recliners in the living room. Afternoon visits were in the front porch; evening visits were in the sunroom; and late night visits were back in the blue chairs in the living room.

What they had is rare. They enjoyed each other’s company and talked to each other, a lot! They took care of each other. They loved each other. When Mother had her miraculous recovery at the end of January in Fargo, I remember her face when Dad entered the room. She lit up. He was her everything! He stood up next to her, holding her hand — always holding her hand — and she said to him, “Will we get out of the woods?” “Yes, Mother,” he said, “We’ll get out of the woods.” And I could see it, the two of them, together and out of the woods.


Always holding hands, Fargo in January

Always holding hands, January 2015 in Fargo


Dad would share with me the dreams he had during those tough weeks. In every single one of them he was helping her get home to the lake house where they’d be together again, visiting.

Dad and I were sitting in those blue chairs the other day. He told me the story of the first kitchen table they bought. It was $70 and they bought it on payments.

He remembered Mother wondering out loud if they’d run out of things to talk about while sitting at that table. It never happened. For 64 years, they talked about their kids, their grandkids, their great grandkids. They talked about memories from the farm and their friends and relatives from Hastings and beyond. They talked about current events, birds, weather and the moon over the lake.


Celebrating Christmas on the farm in Hastings, ND, 1961

Celebrating Christmas on the farm in Hastings, ND, 1961


I believe Mother made it out of the woods, much sooner than we expected or wanted. She’s in heaven helping pick out spring flowers for God’s garden and my brother Todd is at her side helping her plant them.


She knew how to pick things out

Mother was an expert at picking things out. After all, she picked out Dad and we know how well that turned out.

I was on the phone Sunday night with her friend Lois Peterson. Lois exclaimed how talented Mother was. She said, “There wasn’t a picture hung in her house that wasn’t in the perfect place. And it was the perfect picture for that place!”


Lois and I in happier times are missing Mother in these sad times.

Lois and I in happier times are missing Mother in these sad times.


When Caitlin and I went to Fargo with her last summer, one of our errands was grocery shopping. Mother warned us that she was going to pick out a plant to put in the kitchen window box and she needed time to get just the right one. She didn’t underestimate the time it would take! We did all the shopping for the family and she still needed a little more time. But it was the perfect choice. She got the right one and she enjoyed every minute of choosing it.

She did a great job of picking out clothes and accessories for herself. She always looked nice and of course, she picked out Dad’s clothes all the time. He was always the best dressed man at the Hostfest when we’d be there at the festival together in Minot, ND in the fall.

I must have been paying attention or inherited some sort of gene of hers because for thirty years I’ve been helping people pick out their wardrobes and getting paid to do it. She came to see me as the expert and when I was around, she’d ask for my opinions and my help.

I did help her pack her suitcase in recent Januarys when I was visiting them and she was going out of town. One trip was for the funeral of her brother-in-law Chester and the following year it was for the funeral of her sister-in-law Vivian. We were in the sunroom and I was helping her choose some colors that would mix and match and helping her figure out which accessories she should bring. We packed Dad’s suitcase too.


Mom and Dad all packed and ready to go to Seattle, January 2014

Mom and Dad all packed and ready to go to Seattle for Vivian’s funeral, January 2014


This week I came across the cheat sheet I’d left for her where I wrote out which outfit she’d wear on which day. I remembered when we talked on the phone she told me that she followed the plan and it all worked out beautifully.

I remember something about that packing day. I told her that she could wear black and navy blue together for an additional outfit. “Brenda, I’m not ready to mix those two colors together yet.” I didn’t push it. I loved her honesty and I loved that she knew her limits.

Today, Mom, if you’re checking us out, I helped Dad with his outfit. I think you’d approve and as you can see, I’m wearing navy blue and black together. I can hear you saying, “I couldn’t do it, Honey, but you look great.”


Always encouraging me, even when she didn't agree with me--like black and navy blue working together

Always encouraging me, even when she didn’t agree with me–like about black and navy blue working together

Dad on April 2nd

Dad on April 2nd


Thanks for your inspiration, your encouragement, your soft kisses and warm hugs. Thanks for being my mother, my mentor, my champion and my friend. I love you!

Keep warm this spring: tips for transitional dressing


If somebody visiting the Bay Area asks me how to dress for the weather, I say what everyone says: Bring layers.

This is the same skill set my clients need to have in order to dress for spring weather in April. I LOVE helping them work out those details! And of course, I LOVE sharing them with you!

my Chico Prada jacket

My Prada Chico’s jacket


Details on  my Prada Chico jacket

Details on my Prada Chico jacket

Recently on an Office Tuesday, I opened up my closet and saw my Prada Chico’s jacket. I know the label says Chico’s but in my mind, it’s my Prada jacket. It has details that delight me just like a Prada jacket I helped a client buy once.

My home office is just at the other end of the hallway. It was chilly in Sonoma but I wanted to figure out a way to wear this jacket.


The history of my Prada Chico’s jacket

I don’t recall how many years it’s been since I purchased it. I do remember I was going to spend several days with my peers at my AICI industry conference in some very hot climate (Florida, I think) in the summertime and I was looking for something decent to wear that wouldn’t show perspiration. I’m not a tie-dye person but this jacket with 3/4 sleeves has a rich sheen to it (like silk, only it’s polyester) and I love the detailed ribbon collar, pocket detail and the tucks and pleats in the back of it. It doesn’t wrinkle. It sits away from the body so it’s perfect for hot weather and it’s very dessert friendly (important). I figured I could wear a camisole underneath it and pair it with a white linen trouser and heeled sandals, add jewelry and a luxe handbag and look good while pretending to be comfortable in hot weather (I’m not). It was a small investment for limited use and it turned out to be a big hit.


What happened next

I’ve worn it a lot. I always feel great in it and always get compliments on it. Who knew?

I wore it recently while shopping with a client in the designer section of Nordstrom where it’s hard to find a T-shirt for less than $350. The sales associate couldn’t stop gushing about my jacket and wanted to know who the designer was. I could not tell a lie. I said “Chico’s” but regretted it. She looked disappointed. I guess she’s not into the thrill of finding something inexpensive that when paired right looks expensive.

Okay, so what I’m really here to tell you about today is how to layer for this transitional and unpredictable weather. It’s not really winter but it’s not feeling too springlike yet either.

So on that Office Tuesday I solved that problem this way:


spring layering

Layered up for spring


I’d never put a white shirt under it but it seemed perfect now for both function and fashion. I love how the white brightens up the look. I love shirt tails and long sleeves hanging beyond jacket edges. It looks modern. I also love how a camisole plus the white shirt helps me stay warm. The jacket itself doesn’t offer warmth of any kind.

And then the fashion fairies gave me a present. I went to grab my taupe cashmere scarf because I was still feeling chilled. But what I found was a multi-colored one that was a gift years ago from a great friend. I love when she gives me scarves (and she does this often!) because it always makes me think of her. I had actually had the scarf folded, ready to put away for the winter because it was looking heavy to me, not springy. But when I picked it up and held it against my jacket, I couldn’t believe how well the pieces blended! It was as if the people at Prada Chico’s had planned it that way!

I took the scarf and put it in a hangman’s knot and my neck was nice and toasty. It didn’t look heavy at all.

A crisp collar was a new touch to my "old" jacket

A crisp collar was a new touch to my “old” jacket

These two pieces were made for each other!

These two pieces were made for each other!


The takeaway

So this spring, see if you can walk down the aisle of your everyday life wearing a white shirt under something that will enjoy something sleeveless in its place in a few weeks. It will make waiting for warm weather easier. And don’t forget the fabulousness of scarves: they are there to protect your pretty neck from the cold and also bring attention to your smile.

Enjoy this unpredictable weather!