A Classic Outfit Gets Playful in this Anatomy of an Outfit


Classic black and white with a twist on Brenda Kinsel


This was me on Monday. I got dressed that morning by following my style recipe which is:


Modern, sophisticated

Whimsical glamour

Soft drama



My style recipe helps guide my outfit compositions each day. Every word doesn’t need to be represented in every outfit. My 80% foundation word is probably “modern” with “soft drama” playing a key role most days. The rest of the words play a 20% role. “Playful” needs only about 20% of expression to show up in my personal style. If it was 80% playful I might be mistaken for a carnival clown and not an image consultant!


What “playful” in personal style expression means to me


Part of being playful for me is the sense that I’m getting away with something. I can do that with fashion even though I can’t do that in real life. I don’t get away with anything. I’m a lousy liar, I don’t have a poker face, I can’t think of a single thing I cheat at. I’m super gullible. Straying off the path that was imprinted on me by my hardworking, humble Midwestern parents (“Be nice, Brenda!”) would give me tremendous anxiety.

But I can be playful with clothes, like this:


I can wear something upside down or inside out and give myself a chuckle.

I can look at a belt and imagine it as a necklace and layer it with other chains and no one knows but me. I give myself a knowing wink when I see my creation in the mirror.

I can spot a bathing suit cover-up at TJ Maxx and know I’d never wear it poolside but the pattern in it is so darn tantalizing that I’ll buy it and wear it as a tunic over a mesh, sexy t-shirt, add skinny satin pants, high heels and a long pendant and be delighted (and feel supreme!) when the hostess in the restaurant says, “Gee you look great!” (I don’t tell her about the cover-up!)


I am rambunctious when it comes to pulling off the not ordinary fashion mix. But I’m also not flamboyant, although in this non-golden age of fashion where anything more than yoga pants and a hoodie stands out, someone might challenge my personal assessment.


I’m tenacious about style


As a style and wardrobe consultant, this trait makes me fearless and flexible, creative and determined. I love figuring out other people’s style recipes so I can dress them to look exactly like themselves. I’ll go to any lengths to help them interpret their style and see their true, fabulous self reflected in their outfits. It’s my personal mission to help others enjoy looking and feeling great in fashion. Style paves the way. It’s the jewel in the crown when it comes to getting dressed.


Vintage hat on Brenda Kinsel

Erin spotted the hat at a thrift store and texted me.


How this vintage hat worked its way into my style expression


In the early part of January my daughter Erin texted me a picture of an extraordinary vintage hat that was for sale at a thrift store she checks out occasionally in San Anselmo. They displayed the hat backwards on the head form. I’ve worn vintage hats before but this fanciful plume made me hesitate. Was it too much? Would I really wear it? Erin texted the price—20 bucks—and encouraged me to snap it up. Since I was in Sonoma and wasn’t going to buzz down to Marin to try the hat on first, I took a chance. A twenty dollar chance. It paid off.


Pearls and vintage hat on Brenda Kinsel

Bulky pearls get balanced by the plume on my hat.


The cream hat with the black plume was definitely glorious in person but it remained in the hatbox until this week. Somewhere in the middle of the night, about 3 a.m. on Monday, I woke up thinking about that hat. I started to put an idea together for an outfit but fell back to sleep. Monday morning when I was getting ready to go to work that outfit idea started to come back to me.

“Wear the cream colored hat with the black plume with more cream and black,” my barely conceptualized thought said. Okay!


The Anatomy of an Outfit


So I pulled out this silk cream blouse purchased years ago from the Barney’s outlet in Napa. It’s got that cut out design on the front looking a lot like like a doily—sort of old fashioned. I wore a black tank underneath it so black peeked out through the holes. I added one of my most favorite jackets. It’s by Per Se (a branch of the Carlisle Collection) and is softly dramatic. It has pleats across the back of it and has a great sheen to it. It reads kind of dressy. In fact, it’s the jacket I wore over the bathing suit cover-up with the high heels!

I wore simple black Not Your Daughter’s Jeans Ponte knit pants with a bit of a flared leg (super comfortable) and my patent leather oxfords (to tame down the femininity of the outfit).

I wore the big giant pearls at my neck. I purchased these with my mother on our last shopping trip together in Fargo, North Dakota. It makes me happy to wear them and think of her. But they seemed too bulky on their own so I took a double strand necklace of crystals and pearls (a Christmas gift from a friend) and wrapped it twice around my neck to create more layering interest and to break up the bulkiness of the pearls. I loved how it made it a little messy at the neck. Messy necklace combos are going to be big for spring.


Showcasing my vintage hat in this classic outfit on Brenda Kinsel

This combo puts a smirk on my face–I’m getting away with something!



I added the hat—wearing it with the label in the back so the plume actually comes forward, not backward like they had it displayed in the thrift store. It’s a little eye-catching I admit. But what’s more adorable than a plume? And the cream color of the hat makes it innocent. It’s just innocent fun.

I added my gold-rimmed crystal earrings and my gold ring with little diamonds in it and my gold bangles. The heart on one of the bangles felt perfect for the week of Valentine’s Day.

So what does this outfit do for me?

  1. It makes me smile to myself all day.
  2. It makes me feel elegant and ladylike.
  3. It reminds me of Mom. How she’d have loved to have seen this picture of me! She’d have chuckled!
  4. It makes me feel modern and sophisticated in the black and cream color combination.
  5. I feel like I’m honoring the classics by wearing pearls (so Coco Chanel!) although I’m doing it in an irreverent way because of the scale and the layering.
  6. Using the vintage hat as the centerpiece of the outfit makes me feel like I’m getting away with something because I’m taking something old and making it look fresh and current in this February 2016 outfit.
  7. I am entertaining others. For fashion loving people including fashionistas at Nordstrom, my getup made them smile and giggle. I saw my makeup person, Vanessa. She smiled and looked at me and did a waving hand gesture move in front of me from my head to my waist and said, “This whole outfit is so ‘Boom! Hi!’” I knew exactly what she meant! It felt great to be so boom, hi!


I can’t say I do it every day but on Monday, I dared to be seen! And it was fun! How do you dare to be seen?


Be Seen in 2016 fashion mantra on Brenda Kinsel

Creating an urban chic outfit using soft neutral layers


Real Life Erin Feb


While I was in Minnesota celebrating Dad’s 90th birthday (he and Oprah share the same birthdate, by the way), my daughter Erin spent a night in our home in Sonoma. She called me from there on Sunday night and said, “Can I borrow your Paul Green boots?”

“Sure, honey,” I said.

My first day back in the Bay Area was on Wednesday. We met to work with a client in her closet. We were making new winter outfits for our client and doing an edit of her jewelry and shoes.

I noticed Erin was wearing my boots, but that wasn’t the first thing I noticed. I was attracted to her three-stranded necklace peeking from behind her neutral colored floral print scarf. It shimmered in the light. I noticed the leather cord too and thought that that was an awfully clever way to finish off the necklace.

We had work to do so I didn’t have a chance to talk to her about it until five hours later when we walked back to our cars parked out front. I said, “Nice necklace! Nice whole outfit!”

“Really?” she said.

“Yes, I love the whole thing: the layers, the colors and especially that necklace,” I said.

“I made it,” she said.

Now it was my turn: “Really?”


The inspiration


Homemade necklace by Erin on Brenda Kinsel website

Pretty faceted beads finished with a leather cord.


I asked her more about it. The beads are different gemstones. She’d seen the stones and loved the colors. She wanted to make a necklace that was both rustic and feminine at the same time. She succeeded. The leather cord makes it rustic. The faceted beads make it feminine, especially the way they play with the light as she moves.

“I made the necklace last week and I wanted to wear it. So I looked in my closet to see what would look best with it,” she said.



Urban chic outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

Urban chic outfit with lots of layers

It occurs to me that she designed her outfit using exactly the same elements as she worked into the necklace. Her outfit is definitely feminine, but it’s not prissy; it’s a little tough but not scary-in-a-dark-back-alley kind of tough. It’s sweet tough. Kind of like her!

“How do you feel in this outfit?” I asked.

She said, “I feel quiet, under the radar, cozy and comfy. But it has a little badass to it with the moto jacket and the chunky boots. It’s kind of urban chic,” she said. Perfect for a San Francisco young woman!

She told me she thought she could wear this outfit in 90% of her life–meeting a friend for lunch, grabbing a glass of wine, going shopping, going to a music concert, meeting with a client who has a casual lifestyle. Truth be told, she’d worn this outfit three days in a row. One day was in Sonoma, one day was in San Anselmo and the third day was in Mill Valley. Hey, I’ve done the same thing! That’s the beauty of not working in an office. You can create a great outfit, fall in love with it and wear it a few times in the same week and no one would know.


Layering up her neutrals

The beauty of our climate is that you can layer up this time of year and be warm enough to not have to rely on a heavy coat.

Erin is wearing three layers. She starts with a BP (from Nordstrom) gray tank top (with three holes in it, she told me), then an oatmeal colored crewneck cashmere sweater by Line and then her gray leather moto jacket by Muubaa. And I guess you could call her scarf the fourth layer as it sure does keep the chill away from the back of the neck. The scarf mixes shades of gray and tan with some faint shades of yellow that look like the color of unsalted butter. Her jeans are Sevens.



Neutral shades of color in lots of textures

Mixing textures in neutral colors

Her bag is by Le Victoire and is in another neutral shade: kind of a tan/brown. My boots (which I will probably give to her now) are a mushroom gray color.

There you have it! An outfit inspired by a necklace.

How many times do you start with a piece of jewelry you want to wear and then build an outfit around it? Do tell!


Eyes Wide Open: Be Seen in 2016

Showing up on the street

Showing up in soft, cozy fabrics makes me appear friendly and approachable.


One of the coolest things a client reported to me was when her daughter said to her, “I love your style, Mom. You’re expressing more of who you are now than ever before.” My client was seventy at the time of that compliment.

On another occasion, the same client was complimented while in line at the Mill Valley Film Festival. The young woman standing behind her said, “I’ve been checking you out. I want everything you’ve got on. You look great from head to toe!”

Being noticed for great style isn’t restricted to age. It’s possible at any decade.


What does it mean to show up?

What’s happening in the examples above?

A woman is being seen.

She’s visible.

Her radiance surrounds her like an aura.

When dressed in clothes, colors and accessories that suit her and express her personality, she’s dressing from the inside out.

A natural outcome is that she revels in self-acceptance. She feels great about herself. This can be a first-time experience for a woman in her thirties, forties, fifties, sixties or beyond. I’ve seen it happen a lot. It’s a moving moment. When a woman shows up and allows herself to be seen, it’s pleasing to herself and everyone who comes into contact with her.


Clothes remind you of who you are

I was with a client recently creating new outfits from her existing wardrobe. When I asked her if anything had changed, if there was anything new she wanted to be expressing about herself, she said yes.  She wanted to showcase her uniqueness and not look like she was dressed in a recognizable designer label.

While composing her new outfits I focused on looks that showed her artfulness, her gentle creativity and her beauty.

When the look comes together, it totally announces itself. I can’t hold back my enthusiasm. “Wow! Look how unique you look. You look so interesting. People will look at you and say to themselves ‘I want to know more about this woman.'”

Erin, my assistant, reinforces with her own words what she sees about the outfit and what it’s saying. It helps the client to see it through our eyes.

I know when the client gets it. I can tell by the softness in her eyes. Sometimes tears form. We’ll be looking in the mirror together and she smiles at her reflection. She may say, “I never knew I could look like this!”

That’s the magic of clothes.

One time after I’d done the intial style, closet and shopping appointment with a new client, we were back at her San Francisco flat and I was putting outfits together. She was looking at herself in the mirror with soft eyes. I asked her what she saw. She said, “I see the me that was forgotten.”

That’s the power of clothes. They can help you see what’s true about yourself. They can help you see what’s been invisible until now.

Clothes can speak for you without you ever opening your mouth. An outfit can tell your story more efficiently than your own words can!


Bringing a soft, soothing, femininity to my outfit

Feminine fabrics and details help me express a softer, more feminine part of me.

Speak about yourself through your outfit

There’s one question I ask every new client during the style assessment appointment: “What do people know about you after five minutes?”

I’ve heard answers like these:

I’m caring.

I’m friendly.

You can count on me.

I’ll get the job done.

I’m professional.

Then I’ll ask them: “What do you wish they knew about you but don’t?”

Here are some of the answers I’ve gotten:

I wish they knew how irreverant I was.

I wish they could see that I graduated at the top of my class.

I wish they knew how sensitive I was.

I wish they knew I was fun to be around.

I wish they knew I was available.

Irreverant, intelligent, sensitive, fun, available. I take those words and create outfits to match those qualities. It’s not about creating a nice looking outfit. It’s about creating an outfit that tells the truth.

(My Glossary of Style Words from Adorable to Urban and everything in-between is in Brenda’s Wardrobe Companion: A Guide to Getting Dressed from the Inside Out (pages 77 through 86) is a great reference for getting ideas about how to dress a word.)


Yellow was one of Mother's favorite colors so this newer acquisition is for her

Expressing my creative, feminine self using color, asymmetry, leopard print, oversized pearls, pointy-toed kitten heels with bows.


When I’ve created an outfit for a client using the words they’ve given me, I’ll say, “When in the next two weeks can you wear this outfit?” I want them to experience the outfit and the message it’s conveying as soon as possible.

When a client asked me about that particular time frame I said, “I just don’t want you to forget about yourself. I don’t want you to go back to sleep and forget what you’re wanting to express, right now, in 2016. If you practice wearing this and seeing yourself this way, it will start to feel natural.”


What are you ready to express?

What would you like to be expressing about yourself this year?

Choose a word, or two, or three. Then play with the idea of wearing that quality.

What would you wear to look pretty?

What would you wear to look cheerful?

What would you wear to look creative?

What would you wear to look sophisticated?

What would you wear to look relaxed?

What would you wear to look playful?

Step one is getting clear about what you want to express. Step two is then going to your closet with your word in mind and seeing what jumps out at you as a way to express that word.

We’ll talk more about the “how” of this later in the month. But play with this idea. Try to build an outfit that expresses this new thing you want to be expressing now in 2016.

Let me know how it goes, okay?

How will you show up?

How will you show up?

Anatomy of an Outfit: My love of men(swear) patterns





Love the pleat in this houndstooth check jacket

Love the pleat in this houndstooth check jacket


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?


It starts with a flannel shirt and a grandpa sweater

It starts with a flannel shirt and a grandpa sweater


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!


One thing that holds these accessory pieces together is the warm tones.

My girly glam accessories balance the menswear fabrics


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.


Menswear ensemble

Two patterns in a similar scale and then one large scale pattern is the perfect trio in this outfit.


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!


Girls in menswear prints on Brenda Kinsel website

Ready to go out and kick up my heels!

Press REFRESH on 2016; Here’s How

Enjoying the great outdoors at Jack London State Park on Brenda Kinsel website

Enjoying the great outdoors at Jack London State Park


When I started the New Year I knew that before I committed to any lofty goals or intentions for 2016, I needed to stand back and just press Refresh. Life looks different to me as a result of the experiences of last year—the loss of Mother and my youngest brother—and I don’t quite know where I’m headed.

This is unfamiliar ground. Usually I’m ready and eager to tackle a major project or two starting in January. But I don’t have that fiery energy at the moment. I think if I just look at my life and consider what’s working, what’s enjoyable and create more opportunities for more of those things to happen in 2016, I’d be happy. Happy enough. And if there are ways to make things better, I’ll consider those as well. But I’m not looking at big giant steps here, I’m looking at baby steps, gentle steps.


The “Twenty Things I Love to Do” List

In the earlier years of my career I gave my new clients homework. Some of that homework is what I still use today in the style interview. But back then I had them do one other thing: Make a list of 20 things you love to do.


Jenny's lamp

Shed light on your wardrobe with this exercise


When they showed up for the style interview, I asked them questions that helped me understand their unique style formula. I was also interested in any way I might help them enjoy aspects of their life that they may not be enjoying currently simply because they didn’t have the clothes for it.

So here’s what would happen. I’d ask them to pull out their list of twenty things they love to do. I wouldn’t look at the list myself. I would ask them to look it over and write down when the last time was that they did that thing. The answer might be last night (“have sex”), last year (“attend the ballet”), five years ago (“visit London”), or I can’t remember (“go to a concert”), and so on.

Looking at their list now that they’d written in the last time they did that thing, I asked them to see if there was anything on their list that they have not been doing or haven’t thought about doing because they didn’t have the clothes for it. Answers might be:


Go swing dancing
Hike in National Parks
Join girlfriends for cocktails
Plan and go on weekend adventures with my husband
Wine tasting
Tropical vacations
Escaping to a metropolitan city for a weekend of museums, sightseeing tours and dining
Accompanying my husband to business meetings in European cities


I’d ask, “If you had clothes in your closet that would make doing these activities easier or possible, would you like that?” If they said yes then I’d add that to our shopping plan.

Maybe the fashion fix meant shopping for new hiking shoes and outdoorsy clothes so they could get out there on the trails again. Maybe they needed outfits to dance in so they could return to swing dancing. Maybe they needed some fancy tops to wear with their basic pants so they’d feel more appropriate for drinks on the lobby of a fancy hotel with their friends.

This exercise was a bonus for many people. They realized they were stuck in ruts or had lost touch with those activities that were stimulating and fun for them and they wanted to change that.

I stopped using this exercise in my style appointments not because I didn’t think it was great and potentially helpful, but I took it out in order to streamline the appointment. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend three hours doing this appointment but I realized not everyone had the luxury of that much time.


photo of iPhone in pink on Brenda Kinsel website

This blush tone on my phone is my mantra for being gentle on myself


But I love remembering it now! And who knows? Maybe I’ll bring it back as an “optional” exercise. I do know that I plan to sit down and make my list of 20 things I love to do and see what wardrobe fixes may help me do them more or with more confidence.

I know I want to spend more time outdoors this year on hiking trails in the hills nearby. And I also know I’m ready to do more socializing so I want some outfits that are distinctive from Monday-Friday work clothes. I think I’m also interested in expressing the softer, more feminine side of myself so maybe there’s lace, ruffles or blush tones in my future. I’ve started my 2016 color inspiration with my rose gold iPhone!

Would this be a January exercise for you to do? Do you want to make your list of twenty things and see what surfaces? It could be interesting! I’d love to hear what you learn!



Refresh on Brenda Kinsel website

Go ahead and press refresh!

Rehashing the Golden Globe fashion with Mom

Mom and Caitlin on brendakinsel.com

Two people who love yellow: Mom and my daughter, Caitlin


Mom and I have a Golden Globe ritual. Every Monday morning in January, the day after the Golden Globes Award’s Show, we rehash who wore what, who looked good in what, and which gowns we loved the most of all.

This is what I can tell you about this year’s awards: Mom loved America Ferrera’s golden yellow gown as well as Jennifer Lopez’s gown in a similar shade. You know how much Mom loves yellow so no surprise there. She swooned over Julianne Moore’s teal gown. I added how that color looks so good on someone with red hair. She agreed. We also agreed that Helen Mirren’s simple, shapely black gown was a hit but we disagreed on Jane Fonda’s ruffled frock. I thought it was creative and a nice departure from her usual sparkly, body-hugging gold gowns. Mom and I worry about actresses that are too thin and we put Jane in that category. I told Mom, “I like seeing more weight on her and those ruffles did just that.” Mom chuckled but thought it was just goofy.

She also commented on how well Melissa McCarthy looked especially given she’s on the plump side. I don’t love her use of the word “plump” but I didn’t make a deal out of it. She loved Jennifer Lawrence’s red dress and thought the ladies that wore higher necked dresses looked the best this year.

Me too, Mom, me too.

She couldn’t get over how nasty Ricky Gervais was. “Can’t he just be nice for a change?” she said. “Well, Mom, that’s not his brand of humor,” I said, not admitting to how many times I laughed out loud…more than I thought I would.

In her mind, movie stars are just fine sitting on pedestals. They don’t have to be real people in her book. She’s not interested in any dirt. I’ve never told her about Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck getting a divorce. She adores Jennifer Garner! She thinks she’s cute as a bug’s ear. She’d be upset if she heard Ben was messing around with their nanny. She turn away from the hard details. “They’ll get back together,” she’d say. That’s Mom, always hoping for the best.

But like I said, I didn’t bring that up when I was talking to her this morning in my head.




I'd been eyeing this date with dread

I’d been eyeing this date with dread


I’ve been dreading this day for weeks. It’s the anniversary of the event that changed everything. That I’m cheerfully discussing the evening’s highs and lows with my mother who passed away last March, even if it’s just an imaginary conversation, is a good sign. I didn’t even know if I could watch the Golden Globes this year, not after what happened last year.

Last year I watched the Golden Globes, taking notes about my favorites, eager to compare them the next morning to Mother’s notes, just like we always do. I called Mom that Monday ready to talk fashion. Dad answered and he was awfully worried.

Mom couldn’t talk at that moment, in fact, she was starting to have a hard time talking at all or making sense, he said. He gave me some details: she’d fallen early that morning, he couldn’t get her up off the bathroom floor (his shoulders are shot, he didn’t have the strength), the paramedics were called; they got her up and she walked back and forth in the hallway; she knew the answers to all their questions. They were satisfied that she was okay and they left. “She’s got a big bump on her head,” Dad said. “I don’t know, I’m scared.”

“Dad, let me call Kirk,” I said, “and then I’ll call you back.” I called my brother and he said he’d run out there to check on things. When he got there, Mom was making partial sense. He wanted to take her to the emergency room. She wanted to fix her hair first but Kirk put his foot down. “No time,” he said and loaded them in his car and sped to Perham Hospital’s emergency room.

They gave her a CAT scan. There was a little bleed in her skull. Not a big deal but they took her by ambulance to Fargo and admitted her for observation. When I talked to the ICU nurse at Sanford Hospital that night she said, “Your mother is very healthy and strong. She’s unharmed, no broken bones. Her blood work is good; labs are good. There’s a small bleed in her brain, very small. I’m expecting her to be stable. This is the kind of thing where she may be looking for her keys a month from now and not remember the word for keys. But it’ll come back.”

I was so relieved! I wanted to get after her for whatever she was doing that made her take that fall but those reprimands would wait until she was back to herself again. Our Golden Globe rehash would have to wait too.

When I called to check on her the next morning, it was a way different story. This ICU nurse told me they’d ordered another CAT scan and the results showed a giant bleed. It was bleeding in her brain, not around her brain. She wasn’t following commands. She opened her eyes once, a little, the nurse said. She said, “With the size of the bleed, the prognosis is very low. She’s breathing okay now, but it could inhibit that.” My dad was in the room but couldn’t speak through his tears. Their dear friends, Bill and Verona, were in the room, but they too were speechless.

I hung up the phone and an hour later, I was packed and on my way to the airport along with my twin brother, Brent. At that point, I just wanted to see her alive. This was not right, not right at all. My parents and brother from Minnesota were supposed to be boarding a plane in a week to visit me in California. How could this be happening?


Minnesota in January

January in Minnesota


We arrived in frigid Fargo, checked into a hotel across the street from the hospital where Dad was staying. I wanted to see Mom. I entered the hospital through the emergency room entrance just across the street and took the elevator to the ICU. Her room was near the end of the hall, on the left. I walked in, quietly. The machines were whirring and giving digital readings of numbers that didn’t make much sense to me yet.

Her face was so black and blue, just like her left arm. Her beautiful blue eyes were open (how had I not noticed how very blue they are?) but darting. I leaned in close to her face and said, “Hi Mom.” She didn’t say anything but she seemed to check me out. Maybe she knows it’s me, I thought. But when the doctor came in and asked Mother if she knew who I was, there was no response. There was no response when the doctor asked her to squeeze her fingers; there was no response when she asked her to wiggle her big toe. She couldn’t swallow or say her name.

She’d been on the drug Coumadin, which thins the blood. It’s for her heart. She has a pacemaker. That pacemaker was the best thing that ever happened to Mother, but now, the drug that was part of the regime was threatening to pull the curtains on her life. Although she was off the Coumadin now, they didn’t know if the bleed had stopped or not. It could get worse. What would “worse” even look like? It was unimaginable.

Over the next several days I got into a rhythm. I’d be at the hospital by 7, 7:15 and stay with her until 7 that night. I was there to talk to the doctors when they made rounds. One member of the staff flamed the hope that she could recover while others were more focused on determining if she’d reached a plateau in terms of functioning.

Angela was the neurologist’s assistant. She had straight, blond hair that never wavered from her strong jawline. She had similar blue eyes to Mom’s. She’d come in every morning and go through the same questions. She also asked me questions about Mother.


making lefse on Brenda Kinsel website

Mom’s friend Verona teaches Caitlin how to make lefse one summer at the lake


What was her level of functioning prior to the fall? Did she cook? Visit with people?

Oh yes! She and Dad go to church on Sundays, I told her. She meets with her quilting ladies every Wednesday at the church and they go out to lunch together. She cooks but doesn’t love to. She makes lefse with her friend Verona. She talks to me on the phone all the time. She’s up on politics and current affairs. She loves fashion and beauty. She loves the NDSU Bison football team and never misses a televised game.

“Good,” Angela said. “That’s how we measure expectations for recovery. If she’s been living on her own and active, we’d expect she could recover to that level or close to it. But recovery is slow and it’s not linear. There will be signs she’s doing better and then there may be days when nothing seems to be happening. You have to be patient. I believe she can recover. Don’t measure recovery in days, measure it in months. It could take twelve months before you’re seeing her old self.”

While one ICU nurse was saying Mother would never swallow again (I didn’t like her), Angela was saying she’d be back quilting with the ladies, maybe a year from now. One day Mother sort of squeezed Angela’s fingers when asked and maybe seven days into her hospital stay she nodded when Angela asked her if she knew who I was. She couldn’t say my name but I believed Mom was telling the truth. When I got scared, I forced myself to see things the way Angela did.


the necklace that got Mom talking on Brenda Kinsel website

The necklace that got Mom talking


On day nine, I walked into Mother’s room around 7:15 as usual. Mother was awake and alert, looking at me with both eyes equally open. I put down my coffee and went to her side and said, “Good morning, Gorgeous, this is Brenda.”

“This is Brenda,” she repeated. She said my name! And then she told me she was hungry and thirsty. I knew I couldn’t give her anything. She’d have to pass the swallow test first. I pushed the call button. When the nurse came in I asked her to call the speech therapist and give Mother another swallow test. The nurse put the order in.

I leaned in to kiss Mother on the lips. “Mom, I’m so happy!” I said.
And then she said, “I love you.” I was nearly breathless.

She discovered my necklace, a sparkly web of small hematite beads on a long, delicate chain, and was mesmerized by it. She put it in her hand, looked at it and said, “Pretty. “Pretty, pretty, pretty!”

And then she noticed my bracelet, a Lucite cuff with a starburst design in the center of it, like a big watch face. She put her fingers on that next. “I like that,” she said.

“A friend gave that to me at Christmas time, Mom,” I said.

“I want a friend like that,” she said in a charming, childlike voice.

I’m ecstatic. I’m having a “normal” conversation with my mother! We’re talking about normal things we talk about: jewelry and beauty and friends. I wanted to keep talking to her but I wanted my family, desperate for news, to know she was giving us the signs we’d been looking for, praying for.

I dialed my brother Kirk’s number and said, “She’s talking! Call Brent! Tell Dad! Come quick!”


Mother communicating with words

Mother communicating with words



Mother kept following the sparkles in the necklace. I sneaked in a quick text to my girls and my best friend. Caitlin was the first one to respond.

Me: Mom and I are having a great conversation!!!!!!!!
Caitlin: With words?
Me: Lots and lots of words and I love yous!!!!
Caitlin: Wow!!! Amazing. Tell her I love her for me.
Me: She just complimented me on my necklace. Pretty, pretty, pretty she said.

The speech therapist came within the hour. My twin brother Brent had joined us by then. I moved aside so she could line up her supplies.

She started with a spoonful of applesauce. I have this part on video. I’ve watched it many times. It’s probably my most prized possession right now. I’ve shared it with family and a couple of friends. Mother isn’t dining at the Cordon Bleu. She isn’t all dressed up wearing earrings and a sparkly necklace. There is no white linen tablecloth but the moment is no less grand.

Picture it: Mother in her hospital gown, which is all kattywumpus on her shoulders; her head propped up with pillows, her hair in desperate need of her weekly hair appointment with Jay, the bed cranked up to about a 70-degree angle. My Mother slowly, gracefully takes in that first spoonful of applesauce as we watch her, coaching her without words, to swallow. She does. She coos, “I love it.” I’ve never seen such a savored bite of food ever. She smiles and says, “I want more.” She passes the swallow test and goes on to eat three cartons of applesauce, a carton of peaches, and a cracker.

I think that was my favorite day last January, my very favorite. Hanging out with Mom, talking fashion and eating applesauce. It was glorious. It seemed that Angela had been right all along.

But remember, we’re talking traumatic brain injury mixed in with the existing health problems she already had. That bright day would be mixed in with some not so bright days. The worst was yet to come.

But I don’t want to think about that right now. I want to remember last night’s fashion and listen to Mother’s voice in my head, imagining what she’d be saying today if we had that luxurious gift of speaking on the phone together, like old times, mother and daughter.


Flowers for Alma every week on Brenda Kinsel's website

Russ bought flowers for the Alma vase on Golden Globe Monday

My personal year in clothes: tweaks, adjustments, and curiosity



Yellow was one of Mother's favorite colors so this newer acquisition is for her

Yellow was one of Mother’s favorite colors so this newer acquisition is for her


I woke up every day this very recent past year with a reason to get dressed. Those reasons don’t change much from year to year. I get dressed in order to:

*Show respect for myself
*Enjoy the pleasure of adornment
*Wear favorite items like they’re talismans
*Remember who I am
*Express myself
*Be the best 60-plus-year-old I can be
*Enjoy the clothes in my closet

Then there were some specific goals I had with clothes this year:

*Be appropriate to the activity I was involved in that day or night
*Feel at ease in my body whether I gain a few or lose a few
*Look pulled together on the outside even if I’m falling apart on the inside
*Starting in January, show others (hospital staff) that this woman in the ICU or Room 214, my mom, has a strong, steady advocate (me) who is paying attention at all times
*Show respect for my mother at her funeral in April and again in June, at her graveside service


Getting dressed for me is proof that I’m still breathing and up for the game of life.


I give myself an A for my efforts this year. I think I only had one or two days when I stayed in my jammies all day sans lipstick. Not bad.


Ah-dressing grief


I think I would have been a good candidate for mourning clothes. Not because I want to wear black for a year but because it would have been handy to have some kind of symbol that conveyed to strangers and friends alike, “My Mom died. I’m sad. It’s okay; you don’t have to fix anything. Just give me some space to not be my normal self.”

“Normal” is such a long way off after loss and I’d have enjoyed having a way to ask people, without using words, to have patience with me, to understand that it’s just awkward right now and I’m doing something I’m so not graceful at–figuring out how to walk through life with grief at my side.

(I know of several people who lost their mom this year. If you found yourself facing loss, here’s a great post written by someone who builds a case for bringing back mourning clothes after she lost her mom.)


Having just said that, there was plenty of pleasure and some solace in getting back in April to the activities of my life in the Bay Area, things that were familiar to me. After months of feeling so unsafe, like yet another traumatic thing could happen at any moment, it was comforting to look in the mirror and find the Brenda that resembled the one who respects herself, enjoys adornment, wears favorite things like talismans, expresses herself, and is the best version of her 60+ self.

It reminded me that I hadn’t lost everything. I had lost my mother but I still had parts of my life that gave me great pleasure: my work, living in Sonoma, Russ, my family, my love of nature, friends. I wasn’t entirely abandoned and alone even though it felt like that.

I watch how my clients evolve and make changes throughout the year. It’s almost a sociological study using fashion as the through line. There were a few things that I tracked about my own style and fashion this year.




white outfit on brendakinsel.com

White felt just right


There were curious things, like these:
1. I went for two whole months without wearing blue jeans. That’s significant for me. I love my skinnies, my crops, my flares, but denim–from light to dark indigo–went into hibernation. As days turned into weeks I’d wake up and take my denim temperature: Nope, don’t feel like blue jeans today, not in the least. And then I’d choose a dress or white pants.

In fact I wore white a lot this summer. It’s like I craved it. It felt soothing, fresh, clear, uncomplicated.  According to author Suzy Chiazzari in The Complete Book of Color, “White gives you time to stop and think, to reflect without decision-making.” I don’t even remember what my theme for 2015 was. I know I chose one. But I’d have to say “Reflection” became the theme.

2. When I pulled out my winter clothes this November, there on top were two items that I very nearly purged back in the spring when I packed those winter clothes away. One was a Burberry sweater with metal detail along the V-neckline. Another was a wool military type jacket in gray. Those two items that nearly hit the chopping block were the first things I wore this winter! They were like long, lost friends, so comforting.

I am a habitual editor of my wardrobe. If something in my wardrobe isn’t serving me anymore and I can explain the reason why to myself, I let it go. I’m glad now that I didn’t send those two items to the consignment store. Note to self: When in doubt, curb the urge to purge.


Problem areas


I had a problem area this year and it impacted outfit making. It was my feet. I’m on my feet for hours at a time, much like anyone who works in retail, whether I’m in the dressing room with my client or in his or her closet. No one could be happier about the chunky soles on shoes appearing on shoe racks everywhere. I had to initially push myself to try the sneakers and oxfords because I thought they wouldn’t feel elegant or feminine. But I’ve adjusted my look so my feet can be happy and my style formula is surviving just fine.

My sneakers are dressy looking ones with patent leather trim on them. The shine makes the casual look feel more elegant. And I love my patent oxfords in black and in taupe. Again, the shine is what delights me. I wore platform sandals in the summer or sandals with Vibram soles. Right now, it’s all about keeping the feet happy.


Going for comfort in shoes on www.brendakinsel.com

Going for comfort


handbags on www.brendakinsel.com

Three bags but only one at a time


I am a serial monogamist


I’ve come to realize that I am a serial monogamist when it comes to handbags. At least this year I was.
There was this one, a gift from Russ at Christmastime in 2014: a metallic lunch bag by Marie Turnor (www.marieturnor.com) that I wore with everything.

Then I wore a gray framed bag tons. I’ve appreciated it in my closet forever but wore it infrequently, mostly for nighttime. I didn’t know I could be happy with a small bag but this was fun to cart around. It made me happy; it delighted me; it made every day feel like a special day.

It isn’t big enough to carry a book or a spiral binder or a file folder. It’s not multi-purpose. It doesn’t hold things that I could pull out in case I found myself somewhere with time on my hands. Nope. I just show up in this bag and be.

Then as fall rolled around, I went into my blue phase and got back to denim. I was wearing my blue eyeframes a lot this year and rediscovered my satchel with blue handle grips. It was a favorite before and it’s a favorite again. The silver bag and the gray framed bag took a vacation and it was all about this larger one. I was back to carrying a book with me or my iPad.

This Christmas my daughters gifted me a bag that is destined to be my next favorite. It’s so soft, feels so good in my hands. It’s a great shade of green, sort of a grayed olive green with a lighter green strap around the middle. Over the holidays it went to tea with another military colored bag. It was dim in the restaurant, but you get a hint at what it looks like in the pic below (on the right). It will most likely be showing up on your screen in a Facebook or blog post in the near future.


Military inspired handbags on Brenda Kinsel website

Our military inspired bags go out for tea


What developments showed up in your wardrobe this past year? Were there color changes? Size changes? Style changes? Tell me about the sociology of your wardrobe. What did you discover?

Real Bodies, Real Women: Navigating A Year in Fashion and Style

Some clothes just naturally have an expiration date.

Some clothes just naturally have an expiration date.


Welcome back for part two of my wrap up of select appointments this year inside the dressing room or closet of clients I work with. I’m sharing this so maybe you’ll be inspired to tackle something in the coming year that perhaps you hadn’t considered. I let you know about three clients and things they did this year in my last post. Let’s pick up with number four!


4. Another client has realized that there is not enough time left to wear all the clothes in her closet so she is happy to wear the best of the best and let the rest go. She said, “I need permission to get rid of stuff. I’m looking at several very expensive weak moments. I need to let go but I need your help to do it.”


It’s not often that I come across someone who is the same size at seventy as she was at eighteen. Many of us outgrow our clothes along the way and are forced into new wardrobes. Not her. It makes it a lot harder to let go of things when everything still fits. As I helped her with that process we rediscovered some treasures that had been hidden away. While we purged, I also built some new outfits out of her “old” clothes. She said, “It’s fun for me to see my clothes energized.”

She told me later, “The outfit you made me last week to wear to our dinner party was perfect. Everyone admired it! I had that embellished sweater for fifteen years and had never worn it.”

I bet every one of us has something in our closet that we’ve had but never worn. If it still appeals to you (like that embellished cardigan still appealed to my client), grab it and turn it into an outfit. Styling an item in a more current way may mean you separate a skirt from a matching jacket. Or maybe you pair something with jeans that you’d have only paired with a skirt before. Or perhaps you add current jewelry or current shoes and it makes everything look fresh.

Sometimes new jewelry will make older clothing pieces look fresh again.

Sometimes new jewelry will make older clothing pieces look fresh again.


“Playing” with your clothes can lead to so many “new” delightful outfits.



5. A client told us she was obsessed with tiny houses. I have a sister-in-law obsessed with them too so I was familiar with the idea. My client said, “I feel happier, more content with less stuff.” Purging was the order of the day. When we were done, my client was able to open her closet door and everything that was in view was current and had passed the test of being appropriate, not worn out, wearable and lovable right now.


Everything else that was a mistake, was too worn, or was part of a life she no longer leads is gone. Spending those hours together was transformative. She said that what she learned gives her a “chance to do something different going forward.”

Sometimes doing something different requires really examining why we choose the things we do and then watch them hang in the closet, unused.

Every one has patterns that are hard to get out of. One person’s thing may be cardigan sweaters. She may assume there’s not a cardigan sweater out there that wouldn’t be perfect at home in her closet. But when she views them in her closet and realizes she hasn’t worn them and doesn’t feel good about them, it’s disconcerting.

What she may need to understand is that the primness of a certain cardigan style that she used to wear may be outdated in relation to her current style formula. Instead, she’d be more satisfied with fewer cardigan sweaters in relaxed shapes, not classic ones or ones with something fanciful on them instead of just plain..

Its fascinating to see how fashion tweaks the basics and makes them different. You can find a cardigan that is classic, funky, vintage (but new), sexy, pretty, or edgy. Take your pick. But choose carefully.


Let your style formula take the lead. It can tell you a lot about why something works and something else doesn’t.


No one item is created equally. Choose what's closest to your style formula.

No one item is created equally. Choose what’s closest to your style formula.


6. Another client—not interested in tiny houses—is interested in keeping her closet to just the things that are right, right now. She has a fine closet space. She doesn’t share it with anybody. But she does have a definite system that she adheres to. She has X number of hangers and she won’t have more than that number of hangers in her closet, ever. So if we buy something new, we purge something that’s not useful any more. It means we’re very clear about whether something merits the space it will take up. If it’s not adding something specific and wonderful to her life, it’s not living in her closet.


I’ve met a couple of other people who use the hanger tip: no more clothes than there are hangers for and no cheating by buying more hangers! I don’t do this by numbers of hangers but if things start to get crowded in my modest closet, I’m apt to do some serious assessing and editing. I don’t want hangers touching each other.

It’s kind of like controlling your weight by paying attention to how your clothes feel. If my pants are feeling snug, it’s time to back off of desserts or extra snacks. I don’t need a scale to give me the exact number of pounds I am to understand what action needs taking. Same with my closet: if things get too snug in there, something’s gotta go!


My favorite hanger style

My favorite hanger style


Once you’ve purchased an item, you’re responsible for it. Choose carefully!


7. I love getting a new client especially one that is sure she has problems that are unsolvable, because they’ve not been solvable to her…so far. It’s true that her body shape (which was fabulous, by the way) wasn’t suitable to a fair amount of choices. She’s athletic and fit, curvy, about 150 pounds, and under 5’3”.


What fun it was to find an abundance of choices for her. It was delightful to show her that she could wear clothes that fit her well and would still show off her beautiful curvy body. I don’t think she realized how great she could look in clothes. Suddenly what seemed to have been a problem turned back into the asset it was all along—she has a fabulous shape!

It’s hard to appreciate the body you’re in. It happens to nearly everyone. It’s easy to put something on that doesn’t fit properly and assume it’s your body’s fault somehow. Women do this all the time. But it’s not their body’s fault, it’s the fault of the garment. It just wasn’t designed to allow for their particular shape.


Finding the items that are suited to your shape opens a whole new world to you. It makes self acceptance a lot easier to embrace.


8. One client admitted when we got to her house that she wasn’t feeling her best, sort of down in the dumps. She even thought of canceling. But she didn’t. Two hours of going through clothes she was unsure of and showing her how to turn them into instant go-to outfits to wear in the next few weeks made for a dramatic turnaround in spirit and mood! She said, “I love what we did today. I even got two dresses that I wanted and didn’t know I had! You really made me feel good. I’m happy with everything you made for me today. I feel so secure.”


When I am down in the dumps or feeling insecure, going to my closet and doing something—anything—changes my mood. Maybe you go for a walk or do a crossword puzzle to change your mood. I tidy up my closet, purge an item or two, move things around, make new outfits or discover a new Beauty Bundle and suddenly my problems seem manageable and I feel lighter. It was fun to see how this happened for our client! I also think that when we’re down in the dumps it’s great to know that our clothes will at least protect us and say nice things about us even if we’re not feeling it. That’s the wonderful thing about having a few outfits already figured out, photographed or the details of them written out, so you don’t have to think about it. Plan ahead and you’ll give yourself peace of mind.


Elsie de wolf quote


When I take a broad look back and review goals clients had this year, there were some specific things of course but mostly general things, things maybe you thought of too, like these:


Creating grab-and-go outfits for living life
Looking current
Showing up
Eliminating the unnecessary
Using what I have more fully


Is there anything in that list that would satisfy you? When you take care of your needs in a meaningful, kind way as it relates to your personal style and image, all things seem easier. Take care of one thing and many things get taken care of. That one thing could be your wardrobe.

You live most of your life in clothes. How do you want them to be?

All best wishes for a New Year in outfits that reflect your best self. And if it seems daunting or confusing, don’t worry, I’m here to help!


Real People Navigating a Year in Fashion and Style

Real Life post on BrendaKinsel.com

Using the Wardrobe Binder to plan for a great day in the world, in clothes!


Because I work with women and their clothes all year, I get to watch the evolution of their style and their changing wardrobe needs up close. Some people are shifting jobs (the old work clothes don’t work for the new job). There have been moves, relationship changes, expansions in families, and some subtractions too. It’s all very tender and poignant to help dress people for what comes up in life.

Every client is unique so as you’d imagine, there are lots of variables to consider when matching a person to a perfectly functioning wardrobe. Here are some examples.

1. One person will need lots of variety. She loves it all—prints, solids, skirts, dresses, pants—and wears it all well. She’s not going to be living out of a tiny closet in a San Francisco Victorian flat. She’ll convert a room into a closet if she needs to.
2. Another client is happiest wearing the same outfit three times in a week. She wants to keep it simple.
3. One has big social commitments here at home but also throughout the country and even internationally. She’s constantly on the go.
4. Others lead pretty local lives centered around casual dinners out, movie dates and classes at the local college.
5. Another is a super busy mom with four little kids.
6. Yet another will be a super busy grandma with two little grandkids.


Can you imagine how much fun I have coming up with the perfect solutions for each client and her activities in life? I’ve yet to bring up the variations women have regarding personal style, coloring, and fit. It’s a whole other layer or two or three. It becomes a lovely puzzle to put all the factors together into outfits that serve them on a daily basis.

Here’s a sampling of some of the things real women like you navigated though fashion and style this year as witnessed from inside a client’s closet or in the privacy of a dressing room:

1. A navy lace skirt I helped a client buy seven years ago was perfect this year in every way: style, fit, and function. With the clothes in her current closet, I made several new outfits with that skirt as the key piece. It was like it was brand new! She said, “This skirt is a find—and it was here all along! It even fits better this year.”


When we first purchased it, it seemed so special and she wore it for special occasions only. But now, that newness has worn off and suddenly it seems suitable for all kinds of occasions. It’s as cute with a jean jacket and sneakers as it was with a silk jacket and heels.

One of the variables I’m always working with is the constant change in fashion. Designers are offering up oodles of new things several times a year. While fashion marches along, I’ve got my eye out for my clients. Will something new be perfect for them this year? Can I tempt them with a silhouette they wore already but looks different in the latest rendition? After all, at one time we’d have never separated a matching skirt and a jacket (okay, maybe this was before your time) but now mixing something precious with something less precious is totally modern and fresh.


Did you mix things up this year?

2. I watched another client make a big shift in her jewelry collection. Her new pieces are perfect for her current style formula. When we started working together some years ago she was wearing a lot of jewelry from Yurman, Tiffany or Chanel. Nothing wrong with it, it was just more expected than I liked. She’s a charming, exciting woman, one of a kind, and I felt she could benefit from other looks.


I introduced her to the work of artists who don’t show their pieces in many places at all. Now she’s wearing one-of-a-kind rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. She has a deep appreciation for craftsmanship so it gives her intense pleasure to wear the pieces and study them.


Shouldn’t jewelry be that satisfying and entertaining to those of us who wear it?

I call her new collection her signature jewelry. The pieces make her feel good and they make her outfits look great, finished and polished with just the right amount of ease and effortlessness. She can wear them daily with jeans and a sweater to the movies or in a dressy outfit later that night for a special party.

She enjoys the fact that they come from a specific designer who is working in his or her studio in California versus a factory in some country far away. Some people like to buy veggies that are grown within a 100-mile radius from them. This is sort of like that. It’s fun to witness the smile on her face when she handles these special pieces. She’s definitely “owning” them!


3. Another client is committed to looking as great at Starbuck’s while working on her computer as she does on a work day when she’s visiting customers or going into meetings at company headquarters. She no longer sees a reason to play down her looks or her style. She said, “Since working with you, I want to be stylish even on days when I’m doing nothing.”


Makes sense to me!


So her wardrobe binder is filled with outfit ideas for every day so she feels great from the moment she walks out of her flat.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this wrap up of this year’s fashion evolution with real people. You’ll meet five other women and I’ll share with you what they were up to this year. You may get some ideas to take with you into the New Year!

Ciao Bellas!

Anatomy of a business: Matching passion to a product

Muguette's candles on Brenda Kinsel's website

These candles caught our eye


I was with a couple of girlfriends in Napa, celebrating a birthday at the Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Oxbow Public Market. We were strolling down the aisles filled with unique merchants (think the Ferry Building in San Francisco, only smaller) when we came across a candle cart. Yes, a cute-as-can-be cart filled with candles, displayed with charm. We all leaned in and picked up candles, smelled them, read the names of each of them, and yes, bought them! How can you resist names or scents like The Paris Apartment Collection, Exotic African Teakwood, Lake Tahoe Balsam Cedar, Campfire Marshmallow, Sweet Orange Chile Pepper, Amber Noir?


Muguette's candles are packaged with such care as shown on Brenda Kinsel's website

Muguette’s candles are packaged with such care


The woman behind the candle operation is Muguette Renee, fifty-one, and a former jewelry designer. (Her name rhymes with baguette with Mui in front, as in shoes by Mui Mui.)

I was struck by her enthusiasm for her business and the total image of her and her first-class products. Her attention to detail is nearly mind-boggling, everything from her business card to the label designs on the candles; how she displays her products on the cart; the cart itself (built for her by Omar Morgan); the way she packages your purchases and adds the black-with-white polka dot tissue paper to your bag at the end. Oh, and the gift cards she includes. Did I mention the matching matchboxes? She’s thought of everything. Plus, she represents her product so well. She’s every bit as adorable as the products themselves.

She’s doing LOTS of things right!

I thought of women our age (hers and mine and the decade up or down from there) who are looking for their next chapters in life. I knew I wanted to share her with you. I asked Muguette if she’d pull back the curtains and show us how she created this chapter in her life and she said yes! Here are a few questions I asked her.


Hanging with Muguette at her candle cart as shown on Brenda Kinsel's website

Hanging with Muguette at her candle cart

How did you make the transition from jewelry to candles?

I’ve done the Napa Farmers’ Market for eleven years now. It runs from May to October. I sold my jewelry there. Five years ago the jewelry market was over saturated. I’d made candles for friends for the holidays. My Chanel candle was the first. My girlfriends loved them. They’d ask, “Do you sell them anywhere?”

I started playing with the candle idea that summer and brought them to the farmers’ market. It was an item that people would use and come back and get again. When the market ended in October, four years ago, I decided to go full-fledged with the candles. That next May when the farmers’ market started again, my whole booth was candles. It was easier getting into art & wine festivals with candles. I found a market.


Muguette's candle cart at Oxbow Public Market in Napa on Brenda Kinsel's website

Muguette’s candle cart at Oxbow Public Market in Napa


The cart was built this summer. That was the missing link I needed to get into the Oxbow Public Market. Steve, the head of Oxbow said, “Now I know what I can do with you.” The cart put it over the top. I was doing really well at markets and shows but the Oxbow Public Market put it in full gear for me. I’m talking with them about taking a permanent space there. I’m thinking of multiple locations. I really believe in the product. The Oxbow really showed me that. I can’t imagine doing anything else.


The way you look so matches your product. Is that part of the plan?

I think it’s important for whatever product you’re representing to look the part. If you sell power tools at Home Depot, you’ll dress the part. UPS drivers match their trucks. It’s a good look. You have to represent what you’re selling. I’m not going to be in jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes at my booth. That’s not my product. I want the person who’s selling my product to match my product. Besides, I’m overdressed for everything. I was born overdressed.


Muguette has a thing for vintage dresses as seen on Brenda Kinsel's website

Muguette has a thing for vintage dresses!

Are you a risk taker?

My husband and I talk about this often. We’ve been married for 27 years. My husband is a solid guy. He’s old school, never late for work. I’ve always admired his integrity with work. He admires my ability to not be scared. In the past he’s asked me, “Do you ever worry that this could fail?” I’ve never been afraid of failure. I’m going to give it 110%. If it doesn’t work, I had a fun run. Either I’ll make money at it or it’ll be a hobby. I’m not going to stop doing it.

My husband told me, “Yours is not an overnight success. You’ve earned this. You’ve worked so hard. All your hard work is paying off.”


How do you be both creative and savvy as a businesswoman?

Being creative doesn’t take a lot of money. The beauty of being creative is being resourceful. Friday and Saturday nights I’ll be at the computer looking for ribbons, boxes, labels, studying fonts. I spend hours on the details. With the Internet, everything’s at our fingertips.

I can be really creative on a budget. I’ve started this at a minimal cost. I’m doing my homework and shopping around for materials at a reasonable price.

I set financial goals but I’m not upset if I fall short of that. When you work for yourself you set your own bar. I’m the person who pushes myself. I’m tougher on myself than any boss could be. I’ll tell myself, “You do twenty more of these before you get to take a shower and go to bed.”


The James Bond candle burns in our house as seen on Brenda Kinsel's website

This is one of our family’s favorite fragrance.


What is it about fragrance?

Smells conjure up images for me. The water coming out of a garden hose smells like my childhood. Candles is where I was always supposed to be. It took a few different forms of art to get there and now I’m finally there.


You said you learned a lot from your parents. What did you learn?

My parents immigrated to this country from Holland right after WWII. They lived in Holland during the occupation. When I hear the stories of living in an occupied country and coming to the U.S., being sponsored to come here, not knowing the language well, I feel so lucky to have been born in this country. Here in the U.S. you can be anything you to want to be. My parents instilled that in us. When you live in an occupied country, you don’t have that luxury. I don’t think it’s hard to make your dreams come true. This doesn’t ever feel like work. If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. It’s true!


Itty bitty holiday candles--I've already passed out a few of them!

Itty bitty holiday candles–I’ve already passed out a few of them!

My thoughts

I think if I could bottle up her clear, positive attitude and put it in a jar with a label on it that I hired her to design, it would be a win/win. It would sell like crazy and would be guaranteed to help others who might have some self-doubt about realizing their next chapter dreams.

On realizing dreams Muguette says, “You have to put in the time and do the hard work. Success means more to you when you’ve worked really hard at it.”

Then she added, “You’re not going to fail at something you love.”
“That’s pretty bold,” I said.
“Well, yes, a little,” she answered, but I think she was just being polite! She really means it!


Here are her details

Her Etsy website address has all her candles and fragrances and of course, she’s very busy thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day! Visit her if you can at the Oxbow Public Market. She’s there at her cart Thursday through Sunday, at 610 & 644 First Street, Napa, California.

Muguette Renee Luxury Candles
(707) 816-9408
Email: muguetterenee@yahoo.com
Website: https://www.etsy.com/shop/muguetterenee