34 In Anatomy of an Outfit

Anatomy of an Outfit: Wearing something that has deep meaning

My coat with letters, my favorite things!


When the Bellas got together three months ago or so we were in Sonoma having magnificent French toast at El Dorado Kitchen with promises of shopping on the Square afterward. Maybe it’s because I live here and can go shopping on the Square anytime I want, but I was really dragging my feet on the shopping part. Don’t we often think the best things aren’t going to be right under our noses, that we have to travel to find the good stuff? Maybe that was going on or it could have been that I was feeling sluggish after the yummy French toast, butter, and maple syrup.

Marj and Mariann were eager to check out one of their favorite stores, Artifax. That store is not really my thing. I’ve walked in and walked out because it’s overwhelming for me. It’s packed floor to ceiling with merchandise. You can hardly move between the stuffed rounders of clothes. I prefer less-cluttered spaces. Knowing this about myself I gave the heartier shoppers a headstart. I didn’t want to be like the two-year-old tugging on their sleeves saying, “Can we go now? Can we go?” I hung back at Reader’s Books.

By the time I wandered up First Street and walked into the store, they’d already found treasures. I oohed and ahhed and started thinking about the ice cream store next door that makes homemade ice cream and yummy chocolate malts.

I tried to get my inner two-year-old under control. I walked around without really focusing on anything.


Heydari coat with letters

The Heydari coat had an asymmetrical bottom


Then it happened. I saw an arty, shiny black and gray coat with block letters all over it. Letters! Vowels like A, E, O, and U. “I” was missing, but it had Y which acts as a vowel sometimes. And there were oodles of consonants! J, D, C, X, B, N, K, P, H, T, R, Z.

Mariann spotted me in the corner gazing at the letter jacket. Marj followed. “Try it on,” they said.

I did. They oohed and ahhed.

“Oh, you must have that,” they said.

I had to get over the itchy problem first. It had scratchy metallic threads that bothered my neck and arms. Even though I found it appealing, it was awfully shiny…and did I say bold? Could I pull that off?


Fanciful coat by Heydari

Look at all those consonants!


“But where would I wear this?” I said.

“Oh, I can see you standing in front of an audience in this coat,” Marj said.

“And I can see you wearing it when you’re talking about fashion or your books,” Mariann said.

“You could wear it at the MMB* Retreat,” Marj said. While I was fussing over the solution for the scratchiness (looking for a way out because it pushed against my comfort zone) they were trying to get me all in.


My coat by Heydari

A coat that does all the talking


“I am going to be presenting A Conversation on Aging at the retreat,” I said softly, mostly to myself.



They heard me.

“Wear it to that!” my chorus of nice, lovely, non-bratty friends said.

I didn’t tell them what popped into my head. It was a memory of being at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. Before I moved to Sonoma I’d drive into the City nearly every Sunday and listen to Rev. Cecil Williams’ sermon and the live band and big chorus led by Donell who played the grand piano. I loved sitting close to the choir director, watching his black fingers with pink fingernails fly up and down the keyboard.

When the choir was done singing the morning gospel songs Donell would get ready to leave the stage as Reverand Cecil came up to the podium to give the sermon. I’d watch Donell slide off the piano bench so smoothly and lean over to pick up his bag. It was a black leather bag with a zipper across the top. It was a perfect shape for holding sheet music. Across the bottom of the bag were black and white piano keys. What a perfect bag for him, I thought.

The following week I was back in church in my favorite pew but Donell wasn’t there. Someone else was at the piano and members of the choir were wiping away tears. Rev. Cecil told us what happened. Donell had died at 7:30 a.m. that morning. I don’t know the details. I wasn’t part of his inner circle. My memory of his music lives alongside that bag that I’ll never forget.


Disk gunmetal necklace

Wearing my gunmetal disk necklace


As I looked at every letter in this text coat (by Heydari), I knew it was mine. Just like that leather bag with the piano keys on it was Donell’s, this coat was mine. The way he loved keys is the way I love words. Wearing this coat pays tribute to the words I get to work with every day.

So, my friends, I did figure out the solution for this coat. I wear my Babette black long-sleeved microfiber t-shirt under it and don’t feel any itchiness. I wore my Lisa Bayne Crepe Barefoot Pant from Artful Home catalog as my pant. I loved how this non-traditional pant suited the jacket perfectly.


Lisa Bayne Crepe Barefoot Pant

Wearing my Lisa Bayne Crepe Barefoot Pant


Aquatalia suede booties

Adding fishnets and suede pointy-toed booties


I wore my disk collared gunmetal necklace and arty ring. I added fishnet stockings and my pointy-toed Aquatalia suede boots.

I did wear it at the MMB Retreat on Thursday morning when I presented A Conversation on Aging. My letter coat felt like a cocoon. It was perfect!

I shared with you the practice we had of Style Study at our MMB retreat with all the style and image consultants (there’s another post about it for you here, too). Well, when I did Style Study about my outfit, explaining what I was wearing and why, I brought up my beautiful Bellas to give them credit for helping me put on my big girl panties and buy this piece from Artifax.


The Bellas shopping at Artifax

Mariann and Marj were my better shopping halves at Artifax (thirds?)


And now you know the whole story about how I was remembering Donell and his bag that day.

Have you worn something that had a deep connection to you, a passion of yours, or an interest? I’m so eager to hear all about it!



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  • Reply
    Ramona Puckett
    February 20, 2018 at 4:09 am

    Love this outfit and the story!

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks, Ramona!

  • Reply
    Sandi Mcdougall
    February 20, 2018 at 4:57 am

    The grays & blacks always look so wonderful on you! Super great outfit & article.

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks, Sandi. I just especially love those colors together. Hugs to you and Paul!

  • Reply
    February 20, 2018 at 7:05 am

    Brenda, you look magnificent. That could have been a tricky thing to style but you have made it sing.

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:46 pm

      Yes, it’s singing alright! Maybe one of those gospel songs that Donell played so well. He also had this one song that he sang with another choir member (both of them have passed now) and it would just rip the ceiling right off the church. Anyway, that popped into my mind just now. Happy memories.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2018 at 7:24 am

    What a lovely story, so well written and inspiring. You look amazing… once again and always!
    Have you ever noticed that when we stray out of our comfort zones, it becomes easier each time? All we need to know are our limits and if we listen to our intuitions, well, we do know where to stop. Thank you, once again, for the inspiration, the vindication and the joy you bring to us.

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:45 pm

      LOVE the word vindication in your comment. Made me chuckle. Yes, it gets so much easier, you’re right. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Reply
    Teri Tingley
    February 20, 2018 at 8:40 am

    It’s always good to have friends to push you toward something that is so right for you.

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      Very true. I was with Marj the first time I bought something in leopard print. That seemed so very wild to me (and out of my comfort zone) and of course, now it’s practically a neutral color to me. Friends helped.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2018 at 10:02 am

    Hi, Brenda
    I see all three of you at the MMB retreat are in a column of color under a contrasting or standout jacket. There’s a blog post if you haven’t done it yet: a fashion formula. 🙂

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:43 pm

      Yup, a great idea! I hadn’t noticed that. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2018 at 11:03 am

    The coat is striking. I find the cut and fabric rather mesmerizing. I think you did a nice job making it “work” for you.

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks, Kathy. I was scared of it and now I love it!

  • Reply
    Cindy Scurry
    February 20, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    I LOVE this coat and your whole outfit! So chic and edgy! Now I want to go shopping in Sonoma!

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Well, be sure you let me know if you come! We’d have some fun!

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    February 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Another wonderful story! As a writer and a retired language teacher, I absolutely adore the fabric of your coat and would love to see it in a more traditional blazer or shorter coat. The unique style suits you very well though.

    • Reply
      February 20, 2018 at 6:41 pm

      Wow, Elaine, you’re right. Now I’m actually seeing it in a two-piece tailored suit that could be worn as a suit (in a fun outlandish way) or split apart and worn separately. Oh, I wish my sewing skills were better and I could comb stores for great fabrics like that.

    • Reply
      February 26, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Elaine, have you looked at “Litographs”? They make scarves and cute t-shirts with text from lots of different books.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    I can think of no single piece of clothing more perfectly meant for you! The way you give power to letters is nearly unmatched. That coat was just itching to be yours. <3

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 11:08 am

      Your comment, Melissa made me both smile and tear up. That coat was “itching” to be mine. Oh gosh, there’s the smile! And saying I give power to letters makes my heart sing (and my eyes get watery!). Thank you!!

  • Reply
    Jackie Charlesworth
    February 20, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    you really have a way with words. I normally never click on the IG links but for some reason I had to. Thank you so much for such a great & thoughtful story.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 11:07 am

      I’m so happy you clicked, Jackie! I appreciate that!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2018 at 7:43 am

    I have to share this with YOU!I cannot stand the way they MERCHANDISE THAT STORE EITHER!!!!!!!!!
    I head right for the COUNTER where they pull out drawers of ANGELA CAPUTI for me to make up my mind!
    I also bought a BIG COLORFUL eye glass case which I LOVE.The ladies are VERY NICE there but the first time I was in that shop I met a WOMAN who I liked INSTANTANEOUSLY!!I cannot remember her name now but she has a BIRTHDAY in AUGUST!She was an INTERIOR DECORATOR……………..tall woman from back east.Her FATHER lived above their BARN?Ring any bells?I actually exchanged numbers with her and went back up and had lunch with her………I think this was about 3 years ago!I WONDER if SHE READS YOUR BLOG?!!!

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 11:06 am

      I really don’t know anyone there because like you, I don’t get in…except for that fateful day with my Bellas! They always go there for the jewelry as well. Now you’ve got me intrigued. I think I’ll go check it out! Maybe I need to take a chill pill and go shopping there more often.

  • Reply
    February 21, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    The pointed and curving lines of the coat tails, boot toes, and disc necklace give a graceful sense of movement, and surprising contrast, to the bold, straight graphic letter patterns, like the flight of swallows or swallowtail butterflies. It would be a great outfit for a book jacket portrait, especially with this story included inside. Your idea to combine layers underneath, for comfort, is inspired.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Amy, I LOVE this description. I think you voiced what was important to me–to bring some softness and levity to this bold coat with lots of body. I love when I get to understand more about what I do and why. You’ve enlightened me!

  • Reply
    Katherine Cramer
    February 21, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    I have coat envy! I love this bold look on you, Brenda. The whole vibe of it does fit you well. Thank you for your moving remembrance story. I wish I had attended services at Glide in it’s peek years. I’ve heard they were so powerful. I can imagine being so filled with spirit as captured by the talented musicians. I’ve had some fashion pieces that were memorable–from childhood to the present. An amber gold velvet dress my grandmother made me one Christmas, a white Spring dress with embroidered daisies sewn on sheer puff sleeves (Grandmother again), a sheer, black, long kimono with yellow and other warm flower colors (soft like your yellow ‘Aging’ Flower) that was worn for a Psych graduation ritual in 2004. I have many others. I do romanticize some of my clothing–especially pieces that feel celebratory.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 11:03 am

      I love the way you romanticize clothing! I wish like anything that I had the dresses Mother made me when I was young. They were handed down to a cousin and never seen again. I get it about clothes! They hold a lot of sentimental value. I love the sound of these garments. Yum, yum, yum. Thanks, Katherine for sharing them with us!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Brenda, thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Awesome.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2018 at 10:56 am

      I so appreciate your readership!

  • Reply
    Beth Greene
    March 13, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    You’ve featured some great coats in your post. I would also like to recommend planet clothing from my favourite online store EvelynAndArthur.com. They have beautiful fabrics and their fit is always perfect even though I am a size 16 🙂

    • Reply
      March 15, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      Oh thanks, Beth! Great recommendation. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply
    Nicole Chisholm
    September 7, 2019 at 6:25 am

    I can’t tell you how much you inspire me. I look forward to reading your posts every day: I feel like I am visiting with a dear friend. I live in a very small town in Arkansas, and don’t have any “occasions” to truly dress for. But I feel, after spending time with you, that every day is an occasion. And I want to show up! I love the challenge! Thank you, many blessings and much love.

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