It’s funny how one’s likes and dislikes fashion-wise can change through the years. If you had told me even four years ago that I’d fall in love with a gingham check–I mean fall HARD–I would have told you you’re hallucinating. Having grown up in a tiny farming community in North Dakota, a gingham check would have sent me into a flashback of nine-year-old me feeding cows and pigs in dungarees and checked tops dreaming of California where all the artists lived.
When I moved to California in my late teens, I was leaving my past behind. I was as far west as I could get. I was in the big city, Los Angeles where there were freeways, not dirt roads; congestion, not isolation; neon lights, not barnyard lights. Woo hoo!
The only place in LA where I’d have seen a hint of cowgirl or farm girl looks would have been when I went to the Palomino Club in North Hollywood in the early ’70s. It’s a big music venue where I heard the music sets by Linda Ronstadt, Rick Nelson and the Stone Country Band, Neil Young, and Willie Nelson. It was a pretty rowdy place. It scared me a bit, I’ll be honest. I preferred the Troubador on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood where I saw Ricki Lee Jones, Tom Waits, Peter, Paul and Mary and Jackson Brown.
The rocker style envy
I think I have a rocker inside of me that begs to come out. Having been trained in classical piano I had no aspirations of being in a real rock band. I loved music, musicians, and songwriters (I married one in 1976). I could only go for the look while hanging way back from the reality of it all.
I had fashion fantasies of looking edgy in holey jeans, big buckle belts, in-your-face t-shirts that sent messages about how alternative or anti-establishment you were. But when I think back on my printed tee shirt phase, it was my Howdy Dowdy t-shirt that was my favorite. I never wore a t-shirt with a peace sign on it or a Stop the War message although I was for peace and I did want the Vietnam war stopped. I went to a rally or two or three, signed a bunch of petitions, but I never advertised my “radicalism” in my t-shirts.
So let me reel myself back from the 1970s and just tell you that somewhere in the 2010s I started this love affair with gingham checks, houndstooth checks, and plaid. It seemed to come out of the blue!
Me and my menswear patterns
So here’s how I live out this love affair, Brenda style, in 2016. I have to balance the menswear looks with some girly girl elements to find my fashion sweet spot. Put some Patsy Cline country western hits on Spotify and come with me to my closet as I show you the Anatomy of an Outfit.
Anatomy of this menswear-inspired outfit
1. My first layer is my flannel blue gingham shirt. I have a cotton one that I wear in summer that looks just like this one. It’s so cozy in chilly weather!
2. Layer number two is my even-more-cozy gray cashmere cardigan. I bought it in the women’s department last year at TJ Maxx even though it looks like it could belong to my dad. I had some hesitation when I bought it because I wasn’t sure how a grandpa sweater was going to fit into my outfit compositions, but I figured even if it was just worn at home, it was worth the price I paid for it. Turns out it’s one of my most favorite cardigans. But so far, you have to agree, this is looking pretty manly, right?
3. For pants I wear either my flared denim jeans or a boot cut chocolate brown knit pant.
4. Now comes the essential glam part–the Beauty Bundle. I feel like the more feminine elements I add at this point, the better. So on one wrist is my trio of bangles by artist Patty Crandall, purchased from Bess at Studio Collections in Sonoma. One of the bangles as a great chunky heart charm that moves around as I move. Again, I NEVER was a heart person either! Only recently have I “had to have” a couple of things that have hearts on them.
I wear a simple gold rimmed drop earring with a crystal center. It dangles and sparkles (oh so feminine) and it’s not grabbing lots of attention, just adding texture to the Beauty Bundle. I wear my totally glitzy Stella and Dot necklace (thank you Facebook Friend, Michele Eaves Burgess, for sourcing this for me!) tucked inside the unbuttoned top buttons of my gingham shirt. Glam and gingham, a perfect combo for me! What I love too is that you see the necklace peeking out. It’s not super noticeable when I’m wearing it. Now, on the other wrist I’m wearing my Alexis Bittar ring and bracelet that’s full of more sparkles. My feeling is you can’t over do it on the sparkles department when you’re coated everywhere else in menswear prints!
5. Next I’m adding this great coat that gives me a bit of a Sherlock Holmes, London vibe. It’s a houndstooth check and I feel like it would be perfectly natural to add an old fashioned pipe to this outfit. It would fit right in. I love the deep back vent, the double breasted front, the wide collar and the rolled up cuffs. My daughter Erin found this jacket somewhere, loved it, but it was too big for her so she alerted me to see if I’d be interested. Once again, I was surprised when I slipped it on and … liked it! In fact, loved it! The coat I bought before this one was taupe with black lace down the front and a leather collar (kind of that leather and lace Stevie Nicks thing, right?). It came from a consignment store. It has an awesome lining but no label inside.
6. Lastly, I add my distressed looking but-they-came-that-way cowboy boots which I purchased at Robindra Unsworth in Petaluma. What drew me to these was their comfort. I was looking for a comfortable shoe to stand in for six hours straight which I frequently do when I’m with my clients. I’ve only owned one other pair of cowboy boots in my life. They were by Beverly Feldman, super colorful, wildly designed cowboy boots that I bought in the early ’80s at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Again, more of that rock ‘n roll, creative vibe. But this boot is all cowgirl, all day!
7. My last addition is this gorgeous scarf/shawl in (you sewers out there, help me out…what is this one called? An elephant check?) a large scale, loosely woven check. Because it’s an exaggerated scale from the gingham check and the houndstooth check, it creates a wonderful focal point. If it was the same scale, I wouldn’t have added it. The colors blend so well with the jewelry pieces. It’s the frosting on the cake of this Beauty Bundle! In that last picture, you can see the vintage camel colored bag I paired with it.
There you have it: the anatomy of my outfit, perfect for our Bay Area winter weather and especially perfect for where I live in Sonoma which is a mix of farms, farmers, vintners, wine and food aficionados as well as creative types.
And if I wasn’t such an early to bed person, I might get out there in the evenings to the Mystic Theater in Petaluma and listen to some live music. What can I say? Time marches on, life change, bedtimes change, and all the while our style preferences change too. We just need to keep our fashion feet moving so we can keep up with our style stirrings.
Are you experiencing some style stirrings? Do share!
Virginia FosterJanuary 27, 2016 at 2:14 pm
Loved the step by step photos and the contrasting scale of the checks. Also the contrast to the jewelry ,particularly the ‘hint” of neck bling.
BrendaJanuary 27, 2016 at 7:22 pm
Glad it made sense, Virginia!
Patty McNultyJanuary 28, 2016 at 7:14 am
This step by step outline is really interesting and makes sense when balancing all the elements of the outfit. It looks great – and now I even understand why!
BrendaJanuary 28, 2016 at 7:59 am
I know! Understanding the “why it works” part makes it easier to repeat! Thanks for your comment!
Karen AntonowiczJanuary 28, 2016 at 7:27 am
I always knew you were a rocker at heart!! I love everything about this outfit, and you would fit right in here in New England, too!
BrendaJanuary 28, 2016 at 7:58 am
Wouldn’t that be fun!!!
MemphisCynJanuary 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm
That is so stylish and inspirational! I’m loving checks and gingham and PLAID. I’m an Anglophile, Scotland in particular (Sir Conan Doyle would love your Sherlock coat). You’ve expanded my fashion borders by showing and explaining this outfit. I’m a rocker at heart too, but more the music that came from Liverpool, London, Belfast. And I live in the cradle of rock n roll – Memphis. Summer style is my most difficult so I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you do with your gingham this summer. thanks again for a master class in stylish layering!
BrendaJanuary 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm
Now for you this is totally authentic! I’m with you on your rocker cities. I saw Elvis Costello this fall at a book event. Now his style is just amazing!! I’ll do my best to dissect some summer outfits for you. Stay tuned!!
Nancy MadlinFebruary 5, 2016 at 4:45 pm
Love, LOVE your mix of plaids — and the gingham!! I have not owned gingham since I left Illinois in 1979, and u have got me re-considering.
Kathie AdamsOctober 15, 2019 at 6:03 am
The giant check is called buffalo check, I believe. But elephant checks works too! I have recently discovered I like gingham again. Makes me trip back to my farm girl roots. But what I really love is your menswear patterns. Classic, minimal. I am doing some patterns again after a few years of thinking I had to do solids because “of my age”. You’ve helped me get rid of the “at my age” notion!! Thx for that!!
BrendaOctober 17, 2019 at 10:06 am
So glad you’re giving up on that age thing! We’re at the age where we get to do what we want. YES! And you’re right, it is buffalo plaid. Thx for that!!!