Clothes, Climate and the Closet Changeover


Living in the San Francisco Bay Area means we have about eight to twelve seasons to dress for in a year’s time.

Here in January we may have a few weeks of winter where most people are wearing jackets, sweaters, and scarves around their necks, but you will spot one or two people wearing shorts, short-sleeved tops and flip flops because their GPS says they’re in California and that’s the outfit that matches their GPS. I’ll be the one snapping pictures of them wearing my puffy coat, cashmere gloves, and tall boots with SmartWool socks inside of them.

There are weeks ahead where we have winter weather in the morning and the evening but spring shows up from noon to four in the afternoon.

Then there will be weeks of full-on spring weather with a smattering of summer heat from noon to four in the afternoon.

That might bring us to March…or not! It’s unpredictable. When we advise visitors on what to wear when they come to visit, we use the word “layers” a lot. It’s always easy to spot the tourists who don’t follow our advice. They’re turning blue at the corner of Stockton and Powell.

This is all entertaining and fun for me because I don’t mind tinkering with my clothes all year long. It’s calming, like meditation. It also keeps me busy with my style and wardrobe clients as well. We’re all in it together, trying to figure out how to get dressed for the next four weeks!

So here at home in my own closet, this is how the process works.


Step 1: The climate gets my attention: “Brr! Where’s my wool?”

I only have clothes in my closet that reflect current life/my current style/the current climate so if I’m suddenly freezing it means it’s time to switch my clothes out. The first weekend that rolls around I open my closet doors and touch every clothing item in my closet. I pull out the items that don’t fit the current climate. These will be cleaned and lovingly packed away to be brought out when the weather is right, maybe six months from now.

Storage cubes store clothes not suitable for the current climate

Storage cubes store clothes not suitable for the current climate

Step 2: Make the swap

The storage cubes (from the Container Store) are stored outside in the garage. So if one comes into the house, it’s holding clothes I’m needing right about now. The clothes I’ve pulled from my closet will go back into the storage cube and enjoy a long winter’s nap.

Step 3: Face the facts and put every clothing item through the CSF Formula

Remember the CSF Formula? It stands for color, style, fit. Everything about the color, style and fit of the garment needs to reviewed for the yes/no test. If one of those things is off about the garment, it needs to go. So I ask these questions:

a. Is this item of clothing reflecting my current style?

b. Does it still fit?

c. Do I still love the color? How’s it working with my current coloring?

d. Can I see myself wearing it this year, maybe in a new way?

If the answer is yes to all of those questions then they’re ready to go into service. Most likely I’ll air everything out and steam them before they go on hangers. I like everything in my closet to be ready to wear right this minute. So any fixes need to happen soon!


Airing out the clothes that past the Color/Style/Fit test

Airing out the clothes that passed the Color/Style/Fit test

Step 4: Handle the rejects

Chances are there are things that did not pass the CSF test. That was true in my most recent edit. Thankfully, most things fit. But strangely, some things felt just too voluminous to me. So a couple of sweaters didn’t make the cut. A dress on the shorter side felt too “young” to me so it got rejected. A Carlisle dress and coat ensemble that I’d worn the year before for a special event felt too severe to me.

I’m going for a softer, prettier look now. Maybe it’s my shorter hair that throws the balance off now. Thick, long, wavy red hair would have been a better balance for that outfit. But that phase of my life is gone. So the ensemble is gone, too…to a consignment store where it will serve someone else.

Out of my closet and into the consignment store for this Carlisle outfit.

Out of my closet and into the consignment store for this Carlisle outfit.


Other places my rejects go may be:

*The trash can (yes, if it’s really ragged and I’m noticing it for the first time!)


*A charity of choice


Donation cards come in the mail

Donation cards come in the mail


These donation requests come in our mailbox and they are great motivators for getting your closet cleaned out! As you can see, they pick up your donations rain or shine!

Step 5: Play with clothes!

The final step is to take those clothes that are now in the closet and play with them. I like to make a few new outfits right on the spot so it gets me into the groove of wearing these items I haven’t seen in a while.

Sometimes we pick up some sale items at the end of a season but then don’t get much of a chance to wear them. So some of the clothes may be practically brand new, never worn. They need to be put into outfits!

I’m also aware of items that didn’t get worn much last year so I’m watching to see whether they’ll get into the rotation this year or not. If not, they won’t make the cut next year.


Wearing oldies in a new way

Wearing oldies in a new way

It’s fun to wear the oldies in a new way. I love my Coco Chanel sweater with appliquéd flowers and now it’s cold enough to wear it! I was happy to know my sequined wool bouclé skirt still fit. It’s an Ann Taylor favorite from about ten years ago. This year they came together in an outfit I wore when the Swedes were here.

Clothes…aren’t they fun? I hope you’re enjoying your outfits! If you aren’t, maybe it’s time to put your hand on every item in your closet and apply the CSF Formula. A little editing can result in a lot of joy!


Winterizing your accessories and don’t lose that earring!


earring and hat


Recipe for winter earrings

If you’re in scarf wearing country, you may have noticed how taking your scarf on and off during the day messes with your earrings. I’ve gone to remove a scarf when I started to get steamy and gotten it caught on my earring and it pulls. Ow!

What’s the solution? The short days of winter call for shorter earrings. If they float above the scarf there’s less of a chance that your scarf and earrings will have an altercation.


Think of it like this: short days/short earrings; long days/long earrings

I’m wrapping a scarf around my neck nearly every day. A scarf is perfect for the climate I live in–both for indoors and outdoors. Temperatures indoors tend to be chilly in Bay Area winters. It’s rare to find oneself in a warm room.  Back in Minnesota where the houses are well-insulated, I’d only be putting a scarf on when I’m getting into my coat and heading out the door. Or least that’s what I noticed when I was visiting my folks in Dent, MN last year at this time.

So my earring choices are limited this time of year. They’re the ones that don’t stray far from my ear lobes and keep a safe distance from my scarf.

fashion advice

Wear protection

One VERY IMPORTANT additional note!

The earrings I’m wearing in these pictures have spring action in the way they close. But most of my earrings (and maybe yours) have hooks on the back. Be sure you use those plastic safety backs that go over that hook and snuggle close to the back of your ear. I bought a bundle of them from Amazon a year or so ago and I could be dispatching them for months to come. It’s the best way I can think of to spend $3.41.

Yesterday I was following my rule about wearing shorter earrings as I’d be wearing a scarf most of the day, but I engaged in risky behavior that morning and went without the protection of those plastic safety backs. Why? It was Office Tuesday and I was working from home and just took the chance. (“What are the chances I’ll lose an earring here in the house?” I said to myself.)

Hours later I was paying the price for my recklessness. Caitlin, my trusty assistant, was leaving for the day. It was dark as we said goodbye at the door. I saw her walk past my office window and then I realized she’d left her NFL sized Gatorade water bottle that she claimed earlier is the best water bottle in the world. How could she go a week without it?

I ran out the door to give it to her before she drove away. She was so appreciative! We hugged one last time and my short earring and her giant hoop earring got tangled and when we pulled apart one of us was missing an earring. It was mine. We looked on the ground which was pretty dark at 5:30 p.m. There it was. I scooped it off the street and examined it for damage.

Our entanglement had caused the back of the earring, the hook part, to straighten out like a pencil. I molded the bend back into it and vowed right there never to go backless again.

The number of times I hug people in a day is far less than the number of times I whip my scarf on and off. Either way, you can prevent accidents from happening if you wear protection. Go ahead and splurge on those earring backs or if we’re seeing each other, just ask me for some. They’re in my trunk in my closet kit which is right next to my emergency survival kit. I’m prepared!

“Everything is possible — both good and bad”


Christmas 2014

I was moved to tears on Sunday reading the December 28, 2014 New York Times interview with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin, the team in charge of bringing in our New Year tonight on CNN.

Something Anderson said resonated with me personally.

As a child he lost his father and then a few years later his brother took his life.

In the interview he says this about that: “There’s something about experiencing loss very young. My mom used to talk about it all the time because her dad died when she was an infant. In my case, it was my father and brother. You never feel safe, but at the same time, you know everything is possible — both good and bad.”

I didn’t lose anybody when I was young, but I did lose somebody this year.

When my youngest brother died suddenly, unexpectedly, at the end of August, my world felt very unsafe. I was scared. If something this awful could happen in an instant, what was coming next? How could I prepare myself? I didn’t trust life.

It’s been four months. It still feels fresh. Someone recently asked me what stage of grief I thought I was in. I have no idea. I know that the day before Christmas Eve I was in agony and couldn’t stop crying.


Mom’s ginger molasses cookie recipe with feet

And then I woke up, the morning of Christmas Eve, and every turn in the day was sweet. Throwing a few more lights on the tree was fun. Being in Whole Foods buying groceries with the masses was delightful. Listening to a song list on Spotify called The Best Christmas Songs of All Times added flavor to the afternoon of cooking and baking my families favorite dishes. Setting the table, going outside to pick some greenery for the table’s floral arrangements — it all felt normal.

Later that evening when our families were all gathered together, my son handed out song sheets and said, “I’m not sure if you guys are going to like this but I thought we could sing a song together.” He grabbed Russ’ guitar, tuned it, and then led us in the hymn, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Here.

It was beautiful and sweet. We were together and we were safe.


“Glad this year’s over”

A couple of days later I overheard someone say, “I can’t wait for this year to be over.” I tried that statement on for size. I guess I could say that too, but I know the grief won’t disappear when Kathy and Anderson count down to 2015. It’ll still be here. I’ll still want this to be over and for my brother to be back in Minnesota giving me updates on the horses on the farm.

But there’s also the good that Anderson referred to in that interview: everything is possible–the good and the bad.


“Everything is possible”

Thirteen years ago tonight I was going to the movie Ali starring Will Smith. First I’d meet my son for an early dinner. He had a New Year’s Eve gig that night in SF. I wished him luck and got to the movies early and sat in the car so I could talk to Mom and Dad in Minnesota for awhile. I was ready to make some changes in my life although I didn’t know how that was going to look. My parents are great listeners. We solved pretty much nothing in that phone call but we had a few laughs. They are so dear to me. We hung up, I went to the movie, and hours before midnight I was home in bed.

The next day my life changed forever. Does that sound impossible? No, it truly did happen that way. I had a housewarming party to go to of a newly engaged couple. They’d just bought a house together in Mill Valley and were celebrating.

Saying “yes” to the invitation had seemed like a good idea at the time. I was very happy my girlfriend, the hostess, had found her guy and that they were starting their new life together.

Historically, saying “yes” to parties always makes sense at the time but as any party hour comes closer I suddenly remember what an introvert I am. I’m a horrible mingler. I can’t small talk. I don’t drink or if I do, it’s a half glass of wine over the course of three hours. I’m not a partier.

I made a plan. I’d go for the last hour and I’d wear a favorite outfit. A good outfit can make anything better. I slipped into a pair of slim red corduroy jeans, a black V-neck top, added two layered red necklaces and my black leather ankle boots.

I walked in the door and spotted him immediately: a tall, dark and handsome man. In fact, he was the most handsome man at the party which meant I would definitely not be talking to him. Too scary.

So I found two people I recognized and sat down and spoke with them. Soon the hosts invited me to join them in the kitchen to try some homemade limoncello. People were leaving and I started to feel more at ease. Soon it whittled down to six people: the couple we were there to celebrate, the couple I knew, the handsome guy and myself.

My hostess asked me to share my Oprah story, how I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show with my first book, 40 Over 40. It’s a story of thrills, chills, and laughs with lots of poignant family vignettes thrown in. I felt the handsome guy looking at me and listening.

When I hit the end of the story it was a natural time to make a move to the door. Everyone seemed to line up making it efficient to say goodbye.

I had a kiss and a hug for my host and hostess, a kiss and a hug to the couple I knew already, and then there was handsome guy. What was I to do? I hadn’t spoken a word to him all night but here we were face-to-face.

Oh heck, I decided. It’s New Year’s Day, just give him a kiss and a hug and be done with it. You’ll never see him again anyway.

So I did. A kiss and a hug. Easy peasy.

But here’s the thing. There was so much electricity between us. I felt it. I thought it was my secret but then I knew he felt it too because he leaned back and said to me, “What just happened?”

I could find no words so I said nothing and headed out the door.

My friends said, “Brenda, do you need a ride to your car?” “No,” I said. “I’m just parked down the hill. I can walk.” Behind me I heard handsome guy say, “I’ll walk you to your car.”

He walked me to my car and we stood in the drizzle for two hours, talking. He was fun, smart, and available. I thought his name was Ross but he corrected me. It was Russ.

It was time to head home. Before I left he said he’d follow the single guy rule book and call me in two days and ask me out.

I suddenly got anxious. I’d only known this guy for two hours! “Oh, I don’t date,” I said.

“How about this,” he said. “I’ll call you and we’ll meet at a bookstore. The first thing we’ll do is kiss and hug because we know how to do that. And then we’ll sit down and see if we can string a few sentences together. Okay?”

He called me in two days and had a plan. I agreed to it.

We met at the Book Depot in Mill Valley about a week later. We greeted each other with a kiss and a hug, got coffees, sat down and strung dozens of sentences together.

And now we’ve strung thirteen years together. Tonight I’ll go to the movies with Russ and tomorrow morning we’ll go to breakfast at Boonfly, like we’ve done the last ten years, and celebrate the amazingly great thing that happened to us: finding each other.

Moving ever closer to 2015, I know that everything is possible. I pray for the strength to face the bad things and the grace to accept the good things.

May your year be rich with blessings and the strength you need to face the hard times too.


Musical footnote

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine was written in 1873 by Fanny Crosby. The last verse goes like this:

Perfect submission, all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blest

Watching and waiting, looking above

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.


Sharon Stone tackles aging and we can too!

fashion after 50

Let’s not be scared of aging.

Sharon Stone talks about Sharon Stone in a Hollywood Reporter article I read last night online.

I was especially interested in what she says about being 56 years old.

Here are some excerpts:

“I actually find aging a benefit. I don’t choose to make growing older a negative. I choose to get older. Growing older is my goal.

“That’s because in 2001, I had a massive brain hemorrhage. So I know what the alternative to growing older is. I bled in my brain for nine days. I spent two years learning to walk and talk again. I came home from that stroke stuttering, couldn’t read for two years. I was in an ICU for nine days and the survival rate for what I went through is very low. I don’t need someone to make me feel bad about growing older. I’ll tell you what makes you feel bad: when you think you might not. So I feel really good about talking and having my full vocabulary. It’s been a humbling journey: I was on Law & Order (which is not what I’d hoped for; you get sent all the way to the back of the line to guest star on Law & Order) and I had a hard time with my lines. I can talk about it now because I’m OK now.

“And how am I OK now? I work for it. I work at everything. To me, discipline is a kind of freedom. I belong to 24 Hour Fitness and go four or five times a week. It forces me out. Celebrity can be so introverting. I’m inspired by watching what other people are doing there. I eat clean, I always have. I’m off gluten. People don’t want to see a fat Sharon Stone, do they? I know my brand!

“The key to looking good as you get older is, it all comes from the inside. You have to do what you like to do. If you hate to go to the gym, don’t put yourself on a gym regimen. Do what you like to do, but do it every day. I love to dance, and I dance hard. When I started thinking about aging, I thought, “Who do I want to look like as I age?” And the answer was dancers.

“I don’t think I did a movie for two entire administrations! When I felt shut down, I got to start looking at other things. It opened up opportunities for me to work with amfAR and A Better LA, which works to end gang violence. I’ve done lectures with Desmond Tutu and spoken to the prime minister of Israel on the phone. And I created that. No one will do that for you. So why not just be alive and free in the truth of what you are?”

Questions worth asking oneself (thanks Sharon Stone)

I found some stimulating points to ponder from this article. I’m a few years older than Sharon Stone but what she says could pertain to many of us.

1. I may not be as good at some things as I was in my 20s or 30s. But I’m still breathing, talking and walking and perhaps that’s good enough. I don’t need to expect the same things from myself now that I did back then.

2. Looking at growing older as a goal is a great idea! There’s so much pushback about aging but heck, as Sharon Stone points out, the alternative is not desirable. There’s so much I want to do, read, and experience. Having more years ahead is a great goal.

3. Sharon Stone’s brand involves being fit. I get that. It made me wonder what my brand is. I’ve decided my Brenda Kinsel “brand” is to have fun with fashion and style and show others how they can do that too. It was my brand thirty years ago and it remains my brand today. It’s probably more important now than ever with all the media focus on celebrity and youth. Just because we’re older, we’re not deaf and dumb to style.

4. Sharon says we need to do what we love doing and to do that every day. Writing every morning is my meditation. I do that every day. I feel inspired to think about other things that bring me joy and doing them daily. Do some things come to your mind?

What’s your wisdom about getting older?

Want to read the whole article? Here it is.

What to wear when it’s flooding

What's not to love about a puddle?

What’s not to love about a puddle?

‘Tis the season for rain in Northern California (at last!) and that gives us another opportunity to have fun with fashion!

What are the essentials? Rain boots, rainproof jackets, rain pants.

When it comes to cuteness, Kashaya is rolling in it! The tutu is my favorite part of her fabulous ensemble. Once the jacket and the boots are off, she’s ready to dance!


Storm warnings and fashion choices


When we were in the middle of the storm of the century/decade/last three weeks, I couldn’t wait to get out and check out the creeks. Of course, my cell phone had gone off a couple of times with emergency warnings about creeks flooding in my area. However, as long as I’ve lived in Sonoma, the creeks that are closest to my house have never gone over their banks. I wasn’t fearing for my life so I donned my trusty layers and headed out.


Flashy fashion in flood zones


I think I felt about four-years-old, just like Kashaya.

I took my iPhone with me so I could snap some pics and ended up taking some videos of the creeks.

When water isn’t destroying your property, it truly is amazing to watch it and to listen to it.

I posted a few of the sound effects on my Facebook page. A friend commented that he was sure I was in fashion form as I was out exploring. So I decided to share what I wore. Here it is:


From the waist up

My REI waterproof hooded jacket with plenty of pockets in hot pink

Lipstick color to harmonize with the jacket: Laura Mercier’s Plum Orchid

Scarf accessory is charcoal and white wool dots from Nordstrom ages ago

White tahari short sleeved shirt (not visible, but layer #1)

Black and gray reversible Lululemon long layering T-shirt (hanging below the jacket, layer #2)

Black v-neck cashmere sweater, not visible (label has fallen out, layer #3)


From the waist down

“Walking” jeans (because I only wear this pair for walking) by C Pink from McCaulou’s Department Store in Sonoma (not visible)

Waterproof pants by Lululemon (not attractive but oh-so-functional)

Smartwool socks from REI

La Canadienne knee-high boots, waterproof, from a store in Dublin, CA (too worn to wear with regular outfits but perfect for activities exactly like this)

Layered up and ready to explore storm damage

Layered up and ready to explore storm damage

I love being able to play in the rain and it’s much more fun staying dry the whole time.

Are you out in the rain? What are your go-to pieces?

Holiday Fashion Tips: Add pizazz to your holiday outfit


Some holiday get togethers are casual affairs over lunch or are family gatherings where little children will be running around. You might not want to be wearing your most delicate holiday frocks. But you still want to look like you made an effort to honor the holiday season. So here are some tips for dressing up a little bit.


Holiday Fashion Tip: Make your feet holiday perfect


Now that jeans have crossed lines no one ever thought they would—from casual to couture—you can pull on a pair and wear them as evening wear. Add shine, sparkle or luxury to your holiday steps. Look for flats or heels in shiny finishes, metallics, deep gorgeous colors in patent, or leopard print. These will look great any month of the year but in this month, they’ll make a casual outfit look oh-so-special.

Go for heels if they’re comfortable for you. Of course, the higher the better as the extra height makes your legs look miles long. But be sure your jeans are long enough. If you wear jeans with flats as well as heels, buy two pair of the same jean and hem them for the two heel heights. You can’t fudge the difference and wear one pant length with both heel heights. It doesn’t work.

shoe solutions

Walk your holiday talk


Holiday Fashion Tip: A wrap will do it


You’re looking through your closet and just can’t find something that stands out as a party outfit. An easy solution is to buy a shawl or wrap that looks luxurious and special-occasion. This must-have holiday piece can give any outfit a “bring on the eggnog, I’m ready for Santa” attitude. Throw it over your simple black dress or add it to your jeans and bold pumps ensemble. It’s a quick way to get a casual dressy look.



Attractive wraps

Holiday Fashion Tip: Keep it simple


We enjoy simple things around the holidays and if you’re looking for simplicity, you’ll find elegance. Simple lines, simple cuts can all be a part of your Zen party outfit. Wearing a column of color while mixing textures is a fashion trick that goes way back. Think white, black, deep navy or deep forest green. Wear one color but mix up the textures and materials. How about suede, leather, silk, fur, or lace? But to keep this one-color dressing from looking too staid, all you need to add (while not disturbing the elegance) is a contrasting clutch handbag. Find a handbag in a ruby red, bronze, gold, white, or leopard. Or look for a bag in satin, decorated in beads, or in a deep paisley print.


Clutch your clutch


By adding a special shoe, wrap or clutch to your casual outfit, you’ll feel “dressed” but still relaxed and ready to sip those beautiful holiday cocktails!


Holiday Fashion Tips: Looking fit for the holidays


Ready for some more slimming tips for the holidays? These next two tips are so darn obvious. You’ll say, “Why didn’t I think about that!” But these are actually two things that many of my clients struggle with. Maybe you do, too!

Have you been wearing the same bra style for so long that you look right past it when you look in the mirror? It could be doing NOTHING for you! It’s happened to the best of us! Have you ever resisted going up a size? You don’t like that idea? But what if I told you it would make you look thinner? Read on! These fit tips are for you!


Holiday Fashion Tip: Get your bustline in the right place

(This adjustment cancels out the effects of sugar cookies.) 


Nothing can make a woman look matronly and heavy quicker than a sagging bustline. When you look in the mirror, your bustline should be right in the middle between your shoulder line and your waistline. If it’s lower, hike up those bra straps or go indulge in one of the many styles of bras that lift, lift, lift.


slimming tips

Look slimmer with a simple adjustment

Holiday Fashion Tip: Buy a bigger size

(This hides eggnog consumption.) 


Really. If you’ve been living in clothes that have been getting snugger, you may not be noticing the way the too small size is distorting the drape of the garment and adding the illusion of more poundage. Going up a size isn’t defeat, it’s a weight loss device. Flattering styles can promote apparent weight loss as well. Remember, wherever there is strain, create ease. If your upper arms are thick, try a dolman sleeve. Relax the belt that sits on your waist if your waist is an inch bigger than it was a few months ago. If you pull it tight and make your flesh bulge over the edges of the belt, you look heavy. Let the belt out a notch and you look thinner. Instantly. To make fuller thighs happy, wear a dress or a skirt that graces over them.

fashion fixes

A dolman sleeve is a great distracter


Bonus Holiday Fashion Tip: Fake it with figure flattering undergarments

(Slims the results of eating too many caramels.)


Modern technology keeps improving body shapers. The new styles come in all formats – from waist to thigh, from just under the bust to your calves, from the bust to the tummy – any area that could use a little slimming has a solution in great stretchy fabrics that take inches away instantly. Okay, maybe not inches but you can look trimmer and smoother. It’s worth a visit to a lingerie department where a specialist will recommend the best product for you. Bring the clothes you plan to wear to your next important event or party. Try a few shapers and see what makes you look and feel good. Don’t buy them in the size you wish you were in; buy them in the size you are. You really don’t want to be uncomfortable. They are great for providing ease. I don’t recommend reliance on these items but once in a while you want what they can offer you.

shapewear tips

Shapely in shapewear

This body shaper has worked well for my clients and I just bought one, too! It’s DKNY Under Bust Bodyshaper. I’ll wear it under dresses that skim over my curves.

See how easy the appearance of weight-loss is? You can use these tips all year-long!


Meeting the filmmaker and subjects of Advanced Style


My friend and colleague, Sue Jacobs, was at the Toronto Film Festival in April to see the screening of Advanced Style the Documentary with the filmmaker, Ari Seth Cohen, and several of the subjects of his film. Sue shares her experience with us now!

Filmmaker Ari Seth Cohen and Sue Jacobs in Toronto in April

Filmmaker Ari Seth Cohen and Sue Jacobs in Toronto in April


It was a dreary, rainy evening Tuesday, April 29 and I was beside myself. I was going to meet Ari Seth Cohen at the World Premiere of his Advanced Style documentary at the Hart House Theatre. To say I fussed about what I would wear is a completely ridiculous understatement. 

However, once inside, walking down the long carpeted aisle to my seat, taking in all of my surroundings, for a moment, I forgot. And then I spotted them. Just behind me over my left shoulder. There they were all five of them, seated front row looking like the rest of us. Expectant. Calm. Excited. 

I calmed myself down before approaching and introducing myself. Making that gesture was incredible as Ari immediately rose, actually so did Joyce and Debra. Ari took my hand in both of his and thanked me for my support. We chatted and then Debra reached over and flicked my necklace telling me how much she loved it whilst Joyce extended her hand to quietly thank me for coming and introducing myself. She and I stood a moment talking about things, honestly I cannot recall what. It was a surreal moment for me. We had pictures taken, our arms around each other’s waists. I was thanked humbly again before I took my seat. I was floating.


sue and debra


The film captivated the enormously jammed packed theatre. Not a sound was heard. All eyes were forward. After the film, the ladies took to the stage for Q & A’s. They talked. Some deliberately, some in turn, sometimes all at once. It was like eavesdropping on a gathering in one of their living rooms.  I looked around observing the audience. Not a single eye faltered. Full-on smiles and grins on every face. Not one mobile device in sight.

These women were extraordinary: in their individuality, their energy, in their unmistakable beauty that rose from somewhere deep down within, in their zest for doing exactly what they want and in sharing their struggles and triumphs. Their message was solitary: Be your authentic self. Do it for you. No apologies. 

They weren’t acting in the film. They were living their lives—their way.  


Sue and Joyce

Sue and Joyce


It was an amazing experience. Meeting them before they took to the stage was very shifting. That was as much of my experience as the film, and their candid conversation on stage. They were real women who have collectively lived, loved, survived, and been successful, struggled, never married and suddenly infamous. The two I met were as down to earth as you and I. What a lesson in being and owning who and what you are no matter what. We’re all good enough. We just have to believe it.

(P.S. And I love that we’re friends on Facebook and that last week Debra wrote how much she liked my picture!)


Brenda here, Thanks Sue for sharing! If you can’t find this film in a theater near you, check it out on Netflix or on Amazon. You may find it transformational!


Advanced Style Blog

Advanced Style the Documentary

Holiday Fashion Tips: Look Thin This Season


In our house we always know the holidays are upon us when a package arrives in the mail marked “Perishables” and the return address is Fergus Falls, Minnesota, the home of my brother and sister-in-law Wendy. Inside that box are sealed Tupperware containers with red lids nestled in crumbled up newspapers. The containers hold caramels, peanut butter cups, and peanut brittle—all homemade and insanely delicious.

The days between now and New Year’s are marked by caloric insanity. Oh you could counter the effects by upping your exercise program between your trips to the mall, wrapping gifts, putting out holiday decorations – all consuming activities but not aerobic. Those extra reps and steps may get lost in all the bustle. What’s a waistline to do? You can look thin over the holidays with a few strategic tricks.


Holiday Fashion Tip: Put the focus on your assets

(Sure to fake out fruitcake nibbles.)  


The easiest fake out of all is to direct attention to your assets. Do something special with your most beautiful features. Great hair? Have it styled with a fresh cut that flatters your face. Schedule that blow out!

Have great hands and fingers? Show them off with the latest in cocktail rings and a fresh manicure.

Great legs? Wear some fancy pants or wear a skirt and decorate those legs with a great textured pantyhose.


Wear something to show off your gams.

Wear something to show off your gams.


No one’s going to see the addition of a pound or two when you keep the spotlight shining on your best assets. Go ahead, choose a couple. Is it your waistline? Your arms? Now what clothing item, color or texture will put the focus there? If you want people focused on your bustline, not your thighs, choose a colorful, shapely top to wear with a basic black pant.


highlighting the waistline

Go ahead, show it off!


If you’re still stuck on this one and you’ve chosen your favorite assets but don’t know how to highlight them, look through magazines or just people watch and be on the lookout for examples of things that work. The next person that crosses the street may be wearing the solution you’re looking for.

Stay tuned for more slimming tricks tomorrow!

(P.S. This tip is a great one to use twelve months out of the year!)


Fashion Over Fifty: There’s No Expiration Date on Style

style after fifty

I want to be in the same club as my colleagues, stylistas Adena and Karen, who look just plain great!


Ari Seth Cohen is changing the country’s image of aging women one confidently dressed woman at a time. Ari, blogger and author of the book Advanced Style, defines his subjects as women over fifty who embrace their age and leave the house feeling great about how they look. His blog posts on Advanced Style feature women who are having fun with fashion and breaking our notion that fashion is only for the young people.

His movie, Advanced Style the Documentary, was released in the US this fall. I’ve been watching for it and when I saw it was coming to the wine country I called a few friends to make a movie date. We gathered the Thursday before Thanksgiving for the 3 o’clock showing at the Cameo Theater in St. Helena (great theater, by the way!). Nearly the whole audience was in Ari’s demographic. In our foursome, three of us are just barely in our 60s and one person is in her 50s.

We couldn’t wait to talk about the movie as soon as it was over but we all needed a bathroom stop first. I was standing in line while audience member was washing her hands. She took a look at her face in the mirror. “Wasn’t that a great movie? I cried so much all my makeup is off!” she said. We chatted about how inspiring the women were. “Well, you look great, too!” she said, looking me up and down. I took the compliment with grace, even though this movie might make you want to rethink your outfit, go home and come back out into the world dressed up just a little bit more.


The Discussion


We went off to enjoy Happy Hour at Archetype. I started out by asking my movie buddies if they had tears too. I sure had them! My friend Debra said, “I got from somewhere that you get to a certain age and it’s over. I just turned 60 and I’m feeling old and not pretty. Watching these women on screen made me flip a switch and see how it’s really in your attitude. Women in their 90s were still doing their thing.”

Joyce, one of the women profiled in the movie said, “I never wanted to look young. I wanted to look great.”

At fifty, sixty, and beyond we don’t have the option of looking young–it’s not in the cards–but we can be inspired by Joyce and choose to look and feel great. I think we can feel youthful while still being age appropriate.

It starts by waking up in the morning and conciously making choices that will please ourselves throughout the day.


Do I want to wear this? Or that? Do I want to feel boyish or feminine? Do I want to add sparkle or texture? Do I want to wear a dress or my favorite jeans? Which accessories do I want to wear today to finish my outfit?


Where do the tears come from?


I would love to hear more from people who shed tears during that movie because I’m not exactly sure what mine were about. Maybe hearing other people talk about it would help me figure it out. Here’s a possible list for starters.

1. Could it be that it’s a joy to hear women talk about their love of fashion? Especially women of a certain age?

2. Could it be that despite their hardships–and life has hardships–they still cared about how they looked?

3. Could it be that I realize what has passed and I can’t change that?

4. Could it be that I am acutely aware that I don’t know what the future holds?

5. Could it be my heart was full seeing women with courage to stand out and be visible in a country that tends to disregard its elders?

6. Could it be the heartache I have witnessed from years and years of working with clients and seeing the pain women when they judge themselves harshly, compare themselves to unreal airbrushed images from the media, or make fit issues in clothes mean that something’s wrong with their bodies instead of the clothing?

Are we still struggling with self-acceptance?

More magazine’s Dec 2014/Jan 2015 headline cover.             Is self-acceptance going to become a nonexistent problem?


My rough experience selling the world on fashion for the woman over 40


I remember vividly back in 2000 when my first book, 40 Over 40: 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed was a few months from hitting the bookshelves. My publisher called me to break the news. “We’ve hired a PR expert to handle your book launch. She says your book is going to be a PR problem, not a PR opportunity.”

“What do you mean a PR problem?” I asked.

Advanced stylistas

Advanced Style movie group discussing the film at Archetype in St. Helena

She said, “In the PR world, no one’s interested in women over 40. They don’t see women over 40 as a group that has  style, glamour or anything to offer. The media is interested in young people. We don’t have a lot of expectations for getting this book getting much traction.”

OUCH! I was outraged. Women over forty and well beyond are my clients and they have a lot to offer the world. I’d written a whole book on the subject of fashion and women over 40 and no one was interested? How could this huge demographic be written off like that? That PR person was so wrong in my view. We do matter! We do count! We are fabulous!!

Well, you can imagine my delight when 40 Over 40 got plenty of attention without help from the PR person I might add. The Chicago Tribune did a full page article on the subject of my book. And guess who lived in Chicago? Oprah! And guess who called me wanting to have me share some tips with Oprah’s audience of … oh, maybe a bazillion? Yes, The Oprah Winfrey Show. That book made it into several languages so I guess perhaps there was some interest out there after all. I felt vindicated!

That was about fifteen years ago and I’m still here and my clients are still here and we’re enjoying getting up and dressing to express themselves and have fun with fashion. It doesn’t end. Fashion doesn’t expire with advancing age.


Advanced Style is a winner


What do the women in Advanced Style show us? They show us what it looks like to be willing to stand out and be noticed. They show us confidence and beauty, radiance and aliveness. Thank you Ari Seth Cohen for catapulting “advanced style” into the modern age.

Read the Advanced Style blog.

Buy the Advanced Style book.

Buy the Advanced Style documentary.

Tomorrow I’m sharing the impressions of a friend and colleague, Sue, who was there in Toronto in April when Ari Seth Cohen premiered his film at the Toronto Film Festival. Not only did my pal get to meet Ari, she got to meet some of the ladies in the film as well!