Can clothing choices be influenced by childhood?

Clothes in rows on Brenda Kinsel website

I’m soothed by clothing pieces that have rows in them.

When I put this outfit together it gave me that comfort that I feel when I’m back home in the Midwest where, when you’re flying over it as I did this month, you see the beautiful patchwork of farmland with its neat rows of corn, oats, and wheat.

There’s a calmness to this outfit. The colors are earthy. It’s not wild and crazy; it’s orderly and tamed. What makes it so?

Rows up close on Brenda Kinsel website

Rows details in bracelet, pants, top and scarf

I think it’s all the rows that exist in every piece. My corduroy ivory jeans have rows of parallel cords. My tunic top has rows of checks in two tones of a taupe-mushroom color. My mustard colored linen scarf creates pattern with varying widths of rows. Even my Calleen Cordero leather cuff has rows of silver pieces adorning it.

It makes me think of the beauty of rows in nature and rows in art.

Rows around me

Sonoma grapevines on Brenda Kinsel website

Nearby rows of grapevines in Sonoma

Moving to Sonoma made me feel like I’d found my home. I grew up in North Dakota around rows and rows of farmland, rows of cows lined up in the barn for milking, rows of beautiful flowers in my Mother’s flower gardens on the farm. Sonoma is surrounded by rows of grapevines. I love looking down long rows and walking along the rows of crops. I’m home.

Rows of plum trees on Brenda Kinsel website

Rows of plum trees that I pass every day on my way to work

I pass these rows of plum trees that line a long driveway near Sonoma Raceway every time I head to Marin County or San Francisco. There’s a brief period of time in the spring when these trees are in bloom. Rows of pink trees are filled with hope and promise.

Comforting rows growing up

Rows of pews on Brenda Kinsel website

Rows of empty pews at Spring Creek Lutheran Church in Hastings, North Dakota

I know this small town church so well. It was two miles from the farm where I grew up. My father was baptized and confirmed here. My parents were married there on July 1, 1951. All of us kids were baptized in this church. I can look at this picture and feel the wood of the pews, the strong benches holding friends and family shoulder to shoulder. Attendance dwindled over the last few years. This year the pews are gone and the church is being turned into a hunting lodge.

Rows at home

Bringing rows indoors on Brenda Kinsel website

Rows of roses

I have five of these cable knit soft white ceramic vases and love to line them up on the mantlepiece or dining room table, filled with a flower or two. The roses are from our garden.

Glassware with rows on Brenda Kinsel website

Rows on a dessert dish

I bought a set of these dishes at a nearby winery. I fell in love with the rows of color. They are perfect for after dinner affogatos: a shot of espresso over a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato.

Rows of art on Brenda Kinsel website

Rows of triangles on art pieces greet you as you enter our home

These paintings on the wall are being bathed in afternoon light. This light streams through my home office in the mid-afternoon and spreads down the hall. The paintings are part of a triptych. The three panels are tall and shaped at the top like a stained glass church window. All those triangle pieces remind me of people sitting in pews in church. I enjoy their company.

Rows of loved ones

kindergarten graduates on Brenda Kinsel website

Graduation day

What’s cuter than a row of children in cap and gowns graduating from pre-school? Watching Rosie, the second in from the right, coloring with “Papa” (her name for Russ, her grandfather) on our living room floor.

All “row” photos by Russ Gelardi. (Thanks, Hon!)

Do you have a love of rows? Do rows play into your fashion pieces or how you put things together? Do tell!

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How to bring a new color into your wardrobe

Bobbi Brown lip crayon on Brenda Kinsel website

Being introduced to orange through a lip color

I went into Nordstrom one day itching for a new lipstick. When you want to change things up, choosing a new lipstick color is the least expensive way to experiment with something new. I thought this would be easy.

After Elina, my favorite Beauty Stylist in Nordstrom, Corte Madera (now the manager of the whole department), peered at me for a good ten minutes (okay, it just felt like ten minutes), she uttered one word: orange.

ORANGE? She reached for Hot Orange, a Bobbi Brown color crayon, and applied it.

HOT ORANGE? Are you kidding me? I nearly lost my balance. I certainly lost my sense of self for a minute. I’d never imagined that a woman my age (or me at any age) would wear a color that strong, that bright. I protested. She said definitively, “It suits you.”

Introducing a color through lipstick on Brenda Kinsel website

Wearing my Hot Orange lip crayon

I always do what Elina tells me to do but it took me a couple of weeks to get used to it. Getting compliments helped me steady myself. It was turning into a pleasant surprise.

I think this happens to many of us: we march along doing our thing, our same old thing, and then inspiration hits, or someone else’s inspiration hits like Elina’s, and we do something different. I went from color shock to signature color. I’ve worn this shade for months and months.

I wanted more

And then orange came onto my radar. Months later I walked into Ann Taylor and saw a Hot Orange sweater. I’d already warmed up to the shade so it didn’t seem so weird to try it on. The salesperson said, “Wow, you wear that color well!” I could see it myself. This woman, me, who was comfortable in gray, black, white, and navy was looking at herself in the mirror wearing solid, bright orange and it wasn’t scary! Well, maybe a tiny bit.

Orange sweater by Ann Taylor on Brenda Kinsel website

Adding an orange sweater

A few weeks later I was back in Ann Taylor and a Hot Orange cotton trench coat was on the racks. Could I dare? My daughter Erin was with me and said, “Wait a couple of weeks. I bet it goes on sale.” I did, and it did. Sold to Brenda Kinsel.

Have you surprised yourself with something out of your comfort range?

What have you done that is so outside your comfort range? Think of that and then realize that I was feeling just like you were. A whole coat is a lot of clothing real estate. Surprise, surprise: I found myself wanting to wear it as much as I could.

Orange coat by Ann Taylor on Brenda Kinsel website

Next came the orange coat

What followed? Cotton Hot Orange pants by Vince Camuto for summer! They make me feel so spicy!

Orange cotton pants by Vince Camuto on Brenda Kinsel website

Orange pants get added

And not far behind came this orange BCBG dress, so ladylike. I wear it as a tunic. Suddenly orange is creeping closer to being a signature color for me. I dipped my toe in and now I’m into it up to my neck.

Granted, I’m only talking about five pieces of orange here, including the lipstick, but it has been impactful.

Orange BCBG dress on Brenda Kinsel website

Finding a dress in orange

Will you discover something new?

There are beautiful hues coming out for fall. Will you experiment with something new? You can start small with a lipstick color, a scarf, handbag or shoe.

Then work up to bigger pieces like sweaters, dresses, coats, blazers, or pants. Just adding items one by one will help you decide if this color is bringing you joy beyond measure.

Please share what you’ve done in your wardrobe that’s surprised you and brought joy!

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Anatomy of an Outfit: Layering techniques and style expression

Suzanne in St. Helena on Brenda Kinsel website

Suzanne demonstrates her style in St. Helena


Suzanne Dekyvere is a friend and colleague from Melbourne, Australia. She flew to Sonoma in June to be part of the retreat I’d planned for members of the Monthly Marketing Bundle program, a program I developed to help support other image consultants. Whether it’s live or on social media, I always enjoy her joy filled outfits. (See her Instagram feed: @airofdistinction.)

I cornered her one morning when we were waiting for our coffee drinks in St. Helena and asked her to tell me about her outfit. It was so harmonious in an active, playful, feminine way. She told me it was simply about wearing neutrals and layering. I told her she had some ‘splaining to do!

Layering with light pieces


Suzanne gives me layering tips on Brenda Kinsel website

Peeling back the layers of Suzanne’s outfit


First of all we talked about layering. She said, “People get scared of layering. The trick is to layer without adding bulk. Keep all the layers light, airy, and flowy.”

Her tunic is a sleeveless one piece long top with a split. Suzanne says, “Without the split it would have the potential to make me look frumpy but the split elongates. The color is light taupe and is a neutral in my wardrobe. As I wear a lot of color, it is an easy piece to throw over anything to change the look.”

Her pants are made from a fine fabric. They have a nice flow and are straight and narrow. She pointed out the neutral colors of her pant. It’s the same light vanilla/taupe as in her tunic and the blue repeats her eye color. Her jean jacket is soft blue and embellished with great ribbons and trim. Her hat is in the same blue as her jacket and pant. Her shoes and her tote are both soft white shades in smooth leather.


Thin pant layers on Brenda Kinsel website

Suzanne wears thin fabrics when layering


Layering jewelry

Suzanne has layered two necklaces together. One necklace matches the earrings. The other is a plaited leather with white feathers. I loved the solid geometric shapes in the necklace and earrings. Because there’s a lot of activity in the print of her pants and her jean jacket, it gives a place for the eye to rest.

She bought both necklaces while on vacations. She says, “I tend to buy accessories when I travel. They are my mementos of wonderful places and fun holidays. The tan color is flattering on me as it picks up my hair color. I see the necklaces as being complimentary but not matchy-matchy.”



Suzanne's hat on Brenda Kinsel website

Suzanne’s necklaces compliment each other


Suzanne's earrings on Brenda Kinsel website

Suzanne’s earrings are smooth like her beautiful skin



So she convinced me: It’s a simple outfit of neutrals! Although she’s got embellishment in her jacket and she’s mixing two prints – stripes in the hat and an Indian print in the pant – there’s still a lot of quiet in her outfit. Sublime meets joy.


“What’s your style?”

I asked Suzanne how she would describe her style. She’s gotten a few suggestions from outside sources. One source labeled her style Eclectic Dramatic. Another used the words Glamorous, Creative.

When I asked her to search her soul and tell me what she thought, she said, “Dramatic, Creative, Authentic. When you ask what connects to my soul I’d quote Lynn Dell: ‘Dress everyday for the theatre of your life.’ When I first read that quote I almost squealed out loud, ‘It’s me!’ I’d say I wear what makes my heart sing, what makes me happy. I love the creativity of putting together ensembles. I never worry about what others think of my style. That’s their issue, not mine. Having said that I am mindful and respectful of unspoken dress codes and aim to meet my client’s visual expectation. For example, when I am in the corporate world as I often am, I do my version of corporate dress.

Every evening I plan my outfit for tomorrow with the thought “What do I want to have achieved at the end of tomorrow and how can I dress to best help that?” Sometimes I will plan an outfit around a pair of shoes; other times around a piece of jewelry; others around something that tugs at my heart strings.


Jean jacket details on Brenda Kinsel website

Suzanne’s denim jacket details


When I look at this outfit and take in Suzanne’s radiance, I think of her style as Understated Goddess. She is such a well-rounded person. She has exuberance, wisdom, compassion, and generosity. I can see her holding the world in her arms and guiding us all to a better place. I hope she inspires you like she inspires me!

Suzanne’s website is An Air of Distinction.

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Shaper to the rescue of this jersey cold shoulder top

Navy blue column of color in this Chico's outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

Enjoying the sleekness of this outfit from Chico’s


I bought an outfit this season at Chico’s that I just love! My daughter Erin happened to be at the house that day so when I came home from shopping I decided to take a turn at “fashion show.” Fashion show is when daughters try on their new purchases in front of their mother and ask for her feedback. Even though my girls are grown, they’ll still bring clothes to my house to do fashion show. I decided to take a turn at fashion show and ask them for feedback!

When I tried this outfit on at home in the sunroom and showed it to Erin she said, “Oh! Looks great!”

It’s a jersey fabric, slinky, a relaxed pant and a matching 3/4 sleeved cold shoulder blouson top.

It feels so darn good on. I feel all womanly in it. Additionally I was congratulating myself on finding a cold shoulder top that I could wear that didn’t feel so trendy. It wasn’t exaggerated or too showy. I still felt like me. A slinky, sort of sexy me.


Patting myself on my own cold shoulder

I was pretty inflated with my own genius about finding an outfit that worked so well on my figure and wasn’t like anything else I had in my closet.

And then Erin broke my reverie. She said, “What’s that above your waist?”

“What?” I said looking down.

“It looks like there’s something under the top,” she insisted.

We examined it further and guess what it was! My skin texture for goodness sake, on top of a layer of fat that the jersey was clinging to.


Wearing a cold shoulder top on Brenda Kinsel website

Wearing my cold shoulder top and feeling chic

Clingy fashion culprits

You know how some fabrics just love to cling to cellulite or uneven skin textures?

This was one of those! Everything that had been inflated was now deflated except of course for my upper belly fat which hadn’t gone anywhere.

“But I love this!” I said. I was actually whining.

“Well, why don’t you just wear a shaper under it?” Erin said.


Surrendering to shapers

I had one in my closet. I went and put it on. It didn’t work. It had lace detail and the lace made the fabric bumpy.

Shopping for shapers wasn’t something I felt like doing or had time to do. I wanted to wear this outfit the next day! (Imagine hearing stamping of feet in the sunroom.)

Finally the opportunity arrived. I was at Macy’s on a Saturday all by myself and had time to investigate options.

I pulled about five shapers off the racks and brought them to the sales associate.

“Do you have experience with any of these?” I said.

She wanted to know what my primary area was that I wanted shaped.

“It’s here,” I said and patted my upper belly, the belly that’s north of my waistline versus the one that’s south of my waistline.

She steered me to one that was cut deep in front so I could wear it over my own smooth bra (no lace issues). And it was slinky so outer fabrics would slide right over it.

This Maidenform shaper was just what I needed. Sold!


Using a shaper to smooth out the mid-section on Brenda Kinsel website

What was once bumpy is now smooth!

The results

I wore my outfit to work the next week. As Erin and I were walking to our client’s front door I said, “Notice anything?”

“What?” she said.

“Here,” I said and pointed to the region that had been puckery. “See anything?”

“No,” she said.

“Exactly! I got a shaper,” I said.

“Good for you Mom!” Yes, good for me. Now I had the look I wanted and felt exquisite and confident all day. It’s amazing how clothes can make you feel!


A scarf option to add interest

I brought a scarf with me to add a little drama to my column of navy blue if I felt like it. It didn’t interfere with the cold shoulder. I liked how lean it was, just like my outfit. I felt long and lean.


Adding a scarf to my outfit for added interest on Brenda Kinsel website

Adding a scarf for added interest


Scarf closeup on Brenda Kinsel website

Adding a silk scarf to my slinky outfit


I rarely wear shapers but wow, I have a new respect for them. I’m proud to have a couple of them in my wardrobe!

Do you have shapers you favor? Gosh, I’d love to get your tips!


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Friendship, jewelry making, and the importance of style

Friends making jewelry on Brenda Kinsel website

These friends made their necklaces together at the kitchen table


My brain circuitry is mostly devoted to two subjects: fashion and style.

Last month two questions were burning in my mind: Why is style important? and Should I get a backpack?

Style has been a lifelong study for me but I wanted to hear from others. I realized that could mean talking to strangers. (Gulp.) I am trained to not impose on anybody. Imposing is not a North Dakota thing; I imagine it could be a New York thing, but I’m from North Dakota.

One Saturday last month I was at the Marin County Gem Faire on behalf of a client. I noticed two women strolling together looking at beads. I thought of asking them my “Why is style important” question but I was nervous. I circled the aisles and spotted them again. I decided to climb out of my North Dakota skin and interrupt everything they were doing in order to satisfy my curiosity. (Doesn’t that sound selfish!?)

I said, “Excuse me? You two look like you’re interested in style and I’ve been wanting to ask women why style is important … if indeed it is. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”


Friends enjoy making jewelry together on Brenda Kinsel website

Pendants made with love


I found out that Ginny Heald (in the berry tunic) and Kathy Liske (black tunic) are friends from Livermore. They live five minutes apart.

Ginny spoke first. “For me, style is important. It’s a form of self expression. When I get dressed I’m demonstrating my creativity.”

Kathy said, “I don’t do it for anybody else. I do it for myself. When I get dressed I think about how I want to feel. I have a picture in my mind of what that would look like and I’ll put it together. I don’t even have to look in the mirror.”

I asked Kathy what she wanted to feel that morning when she was getting dressed.

“I wanted to feel calm and relaxed and able to make up my mind,” she said.

The gem faire is such an overwhelming place. This was the first time I’d been there and I was practically dizzy at all the stuff to look at so I totally understood what Kathy meant about dressing to feel calm and able to make up her mind. What a wise person!

It turns out that they go to gem faires together, buy jewelry parts and then they get together to make jewelry. Ginny said, “Kathy comes over and we sit at the kitchen counter and we start creating. We collaborate on pieces.”

They make jewelry for themselves, friends, and family but they also sell their work at el Sol Wine, a Livermore winery owned by Kathy’s husband, Hal. Ginny’s husband (the two friends met through their husbands) is a carpenter and made a display case for them at the winery. Another girlfriend who makes jewelry offered a standing metal case for them to use. It all fell together. They were in business! They agree that the winery earnings support their jewelry habit.


Stylish shoes at the gem faire on Brenda Kinsel website

Ginny’s shoes at top are by Paul Green; Kathy’s shoes are handmade from a shop in Santa Cruz


They’ve enjoyed fashion and style forever. They both had inspirational moms who looked like movie stars. Besides making jewelry together they go on field trips where they study new trends in fashion.

Ginny is 58-years-old and Kathy is 69-years-old. We talked about style for the mature woman. “What are you going to do? Inside I’m still 27,” said Kathy.

Well, I think they’ve done a lot! They have a joyous friendship, they spark creativity in each other, and they’ve created an outlet for that creativity. I can easily imagine the two of them getting together over coffee on Monday morning, going through their stash and working together on new designs. Ginny, a fan of antique religious metals, and Kathy who makes her own tassels, are cooking up a jewelry storm in that kitchen.

Boy, I’d love to be there with them when they get together. Wouldn’t you?


Wearing backpacks at the gem faire

The handy backpack


And yes, they love their backpacks! Kathy surprised Ginny with hers. It’s made in Portugal and she bought it at the Walk Shop in Berkeley.

I loved learning about these two fans of style and stepping into their world just a little bit. I still think about Kathy getting up in the morning and putting together an outfit based on how she wants to feel and Ginny building an outfit that expresses her personality. I LOVED having a few minutes inside their circle of friendship. It was glorious! I think I need to talk to strangers more often.

Thanks Kathy and Ginny for sharing with us! Sending hugs your way!

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The upside down cardigan trick


I recently found a watery print silk dress on sale at Robindra Unsworth in Petaluma. Half-price. I couldn’t pass it up. Not because of the sale price but because I loved it and could imagine wearing it immediately!


A sale tip

A caution about purchasing things on sale seems relevant at this moment. I believe every woman needs to slow things down when looking at a rack that says 50% off. Breathe. There’s a natural adrenalin that kicks in when perusing sale racks. Take time to answer a few questions like:

Can I wear it tomorrow?

Is this like something I already own?

Would I purchase it at full price?

When you see something you love and adore and you’d like to wear it first thing tomorrow and it’s on sale, well that’s when it’s safe to purchase sale items. I only bring this up because in my 30 years of working in peoples’ closets I’ve seen a lot of great sale items with the tags still on them: never used. That’s not a bargain.


Worth full price mantra on Brenda Kinsel website

From my book 40 over 40, remember you’re worth full price!


Turning this dress into an outfit was harder than I thought

But that’s not what I planned to talk about. I planned to talk about a solution I came up with in order to wear this dress and be comfortable in it. It was tougher than I expected it to be.

This dress that I love so much–slinky, dreamy, yummy colors–needed a third piece. Sounds easy, right?

The third piece could be:

  1. A jacket. I tried every one I had. Even a jean jacket wasn’t right, which I thought would work for sure.
  2. A silk, sheer shrug with long sleeves. Yup, tried that and it was pretty good. I liked it alright. But I knew there was a better solution.

I almost started asking myself, What was I thinking?


Wearing a cardigan and full pants with my tunic dress on Brenda Kinsel website

Teaming the dress with a long swing cardigan and full linen pants.


Wide pants helped

But then I got the idea to put a wide legged linen pant under the dress. The pants aren’t black, navy blue, or gray. They are sort of slate gray, blueish-grayish-something, a mystery color. They were perfect for my watery colored tunic dress.

Hmm. What could I wear with this dress and linen pant? I remembered a summer weight cardigan that I used to wear with these pants. It was blueish grayish as well. I didn’t wear it once last year and when I unpacked my summer clothes this year, I put it on probation. If I didn’t wear it this summer, it was going.

It was slinky like the dress. It hung longer at the side seams like my dress did. The cardigan was shadowing the lines of the dress. Boom! I had found a solution in my closet!


Left the house one way, came home another way

I left for work. First stop was to help a client with a problem top she had. She bought the top, loved the top (love is always important) but couldn’t find any solution for what to wear with the top. (Gee, this is sounding like my morning dilemma!)

We met at Nordstrom and the perfect solution nearly fell off the rack at us. It was a light blue, lightweight, DVF flared cotton pant. Sold.

As we were standing at the cash register, my trusted style guru, Mariam, commented on my outfit. “You always inspire me!”
she said. Of course, she ALWAYS inspires me! We giggle and enjoy our mutual fan club moment.


Turning a long cardigan into a short shrug by flipping it upside down on Brenda Kinsel website

Turning the cardigan upside down so it’s a shrug


Then somehow we get on the topic of cardigans and turning them upside down. She’s the one who first taught me this lesson. I’ve shared it with my clients. It’s such a fun trick. I demonstrated it to my client while the transaction was going on. I took off my cardigan, turned it upside down, and put it back on.

All three of us liked the upside down version best because of how it brings focus to the waist. The dress that was hard to dress now has two great partners: the right side up cardigan and the upside down shrug version.

You MUST try this in your closet or wow your friends with this tip. It doesn’t work with every cardigan but when it does, it’s fabulous!

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A tummy tuck tip with jeans and a hidden belt

An unseen belt will keep your jeans up on Brenda Kinsel website

Revealing my belt trick to Bella


I have several favorite pairs of jeans that are not the new style of Mom jeans. They don’t come up to the waist; they hover just below my belly button.

The tough denim fabric can do wonders to help flatten a tummy but that’s only if the jeans stay up where they’re supposed to. Right there is where I have the problem: I have trouble keeping them up. They start to slide down my hips and the belly goes from smoother to popping out. Not fun. If left unattended, my jeans would come to rest somewhere near my pelvic bone.

I’ve often seen this with twenty-year-olds who aren’t worried about their tummies like women in their sixties are. Young’uns are often wearing crop tops so they just hook their thumbs into their belt loops and hoist their jeans back up … several times an hour.

But when you’re wearing multiple layers over your jeans, it’s a lot harder to do that hoisting with any kind of grace. Plus, at my age it seems like one of those things that shouldn’t be done in public. It’s not pretty; it’s not neat; it’s not tidy. It is annoying.


The belt solution to the tummy problem

I appreciate any tummy tucking I can get even if it’s temporary. My tummy tuck solution is to buy a narrow belt with a flat buckle, thread it through the belt loops of my below-the-belly-button jeans and belt it as tightly as possible. My jeans don’t stray.

I buy the cheap belts that no one will see but me (and my cat Bella as evidenced in the pictures above). Every year or two or three they’ll need to be replaced because they crack. I wouldn’t want my belt to snap off unexpectedly. I have shivers (not the good kind) just thinking about it!

I’m pretty sure I was about five minutes away from that actually happening to me so the other day when I had a few minutes to spare before meeting Russ for a matinee movie, I dashed into Macy’s and bought a two-pack of thin belts. I’d suggest navy or black in case you’re wearing a top in a slightly sheer fabric. This pink one just put a smile on my face. I had to have it.


Shift the buckle to one side or the other

If you’re wearing a tighter top than my tunic top above, slide the belt buckle over to one hip or the other so the belt is flattest in front. Who needs more bulk near the belly button? Not me!

This is one of my favorite “wear but don’t see” fashion tips. It allows me to to be modest and comfortable at the same time. No one can say, “Oh, there’s that lady who’s always pulling her pants up.” Or other things I haven’t imagined yet. I share this tip with my clients who use it too.

Do you have a need for a solution like this? It’s so simple, so not costly, so effective. I’d love to hear if this has worked for you. Share your experience, okay?

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How to create a suited look for modern times

A modern suit on Brenda Kinsel website

Mixing the new and the old to create a modern suit look


I mourn the fact that suits are no longer the go to wardrobe staple they once were. Oh yes, I love mixing prints, wearing dressed up jean outfits  and all that, but the formula of a suit is so endearing! Why? Because it’s classic and easy and always give you a pulled together look. You don’t have to think or ponder or try a dozen things on in the morning. It’s just three easy pieces.

Remember the formula for a suit? Here it is in case you’ve forgotten:


A matching pant and jacket with a blouse in a contrasting color, or

a matching skirt and jacket and a patterned blouse, plus

a necklace or a scarf for flair

and shoes.


Tell me, can anything be simpler than that?


Creating a suit in modern times

So what if I told you you could build an outfit that was simple, classic, comfortable and MODERN while following the suit formula?

In fact, you may already be doing it without realizing it. It wasn’t until I put this whole outfit together that I realized it resembled one of my favorite things: A SUIT!

Check it out:

I’m wearing navy blue pants and a navy blue high/low cardigan. The pieces weren’t purchased together but if you squint, it quite resembles a softer version of a navy blue suit. I’m wearing a solid-colored top in a contrasting color, ivory. I added a necklace (actually two but I’ll get to that), a bracelet, shoes and a handbag and off to work I went!

I didn’t have to think, there was no fuss. I had a long day ahead of me seeing two different clients. I felt as fresh at the end of the day as I did at the beginning.


What I love about this work outfit

The color combo of navy and ivory makes me feel calm and strong and efficient. Maybe that’s why navy suits were worn so much!

The comfort level is off the charts fabulous.

My modern navy suit doesn’t feel heavy at all even though it’s a dark color because of the lightness and brightness that comes from my handbag, necklace, and shoes. It’s perfect for summer.

I adore how I feel plenty businessy but still very soft and feminine.

I got a compliment bump when I was in Nordstrom shopping with one of my two clients and the store manager recognized me. “Weren’t you here for the Eileen Fisher fashion show? I remember you! You always look so great!” she said. Why thank you, Ms. Store Manager!



A dazzling necklace near my face on Brenda Kinsel website

Sporting my new necklace


Creating a unique necklace using two at once on Brenda Kinsel website

Two necklaces made to look like one


My necklace secret: When I tried on the pink and green necklace it just didn’t seem like enough. So I added another glitzy necklace that lays on top of the green and pink one. They merge to become one!


A neutral modern suit for work on Brenda Kinsel website

A relaxed suit in neutral colors


I love how this outfit mixes old pieces with new ones, bargain items and not so bargain items. If you’d like the rundown of my outfit pieces, here they are.

Newly purchased relaxed Chico pant with pleats and pockets in navy polyester purchased in Sonoma

Revived navy cardigan, low in the front, high in the back from Jigsaw on Filmore Street in SF a few years back

Ancient double layer ivory t-shirt, stretchy cotton with a second layer of mesh with ruched detail from TJMaxx

Double necklaces, bottom one from Brass Plum department at Nordstrom, top one from TJMaxx (one is from this year the other from last year)

The debut of my Caterina Lucchi woven handbag purchased from Robindra Unsworth in Petaluma

Yummy cuff, a birthday gift from a dear friend

Large ring by Alexis Bittar is mushroom in color with glitz that echoes the necklaces, purchased at a Nordstrom Anniversary sale about three years ago

Stone colored suede wide strap platform sandal by Gabor from Sole Desire in Sonoma

Cat eye glasses are Fiction by L.A. Eyeworks from Uber Optics in Petaluma


Is there a suit waiting for you in your closet?

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Using style words to dress with intention and ease

Debra's meeting a friend for lunch outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

A great “meeting a friend for lunch” outfit


My friend Debra Ruff was kind enough to allow me to do a style interview with her in front of 17 colleagues in June when I hosted a professional retreat for image consultants from all over the world. My colleagues wanted me to demonstrate that essential first appointment with a client which, with me, is all about style.

Kudos to Debra for being so open in front of complete strangers. This appointment can get real intimate real fast as we explore old patterns around shopping and getting dressed, places a client may feel stuck, the things that may be holding her back. My goal is to ask questions (and go off script when warranted) in order to get a true vision of what’s in a woman’s heart. Who is she on the inside?

I want to know so I can dress her so she’s reflecting her true self. During the interview I gather up all the clues I received from her and come up with what I like to call a style recipe. Using the language of clothes, I’ll design outfits so these words would naturally come out of someone’s mouth to describe her. We always edit the list together. I’ll ask her, “Would you feel flattered if people used these words to describe you and your style?”

The answer is a clear YES.

Debra's blouse front and back on Brenda Kinsel website

A pretty blouse has a surprise in the back


Everybody’s style recipe is different. I listen for the words the client resonates with. I’m not picking them, she is. They have distinct meaning to her and her alone. It’s so exciting. It’s like going on a treasure hunt and finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Here’s a sampling of words in Debra’s style recipe:

Being real






We met for lunch at Della Fattoria in Petaluma and I asked her to explain how her style words were being represented in her outfit.


Even though my blouse and my handbag are vintage, I feel the outfit is modern with the cut of the jeans and the tennis shoes.

The lace insert in the back of the blouse adds surprise.

I feel like I’m being real. The casualness of the jeans and the tennis shoes are like when I was a little kid only now I’ve added more of a flair.

I feel stylish especially because I saw a picture of Alexa Chung in something similar. I like her style even though she’s younger. I like her naturalness but there’s thought and surprise in her outfits.

I feel together. I chose every detail and I like it all.



A good blouse tuck into a great belt on Brenda Kinsel website

I love her belt and the way she’s tucked in her blouse


Would you like to know the details of her outfit? Here they are:

The vintage blouse she’s had for over fifteen years (label is cut out) and hasn’t worn it since then.

Her jeans are Pilcro and the Letterpress from Anthropologie.

Her vintage bag is MM leather by Morris Moskowitz.

Her shoes are by Puma (Whisper White) from Madewell

Silver sterling bracelet by Christiana Jewelry given to her by a friend.

Sunglasses are from Uber Optics and are by Ilja.


Debra thinks about her style words every time she gets dressed. She has a lot more confidence now and she’s having more fun.

Expressing oneself and holding one’s head up high is expansive and a great way to step out into the world.

Do you know what your style words are?

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Do you have bracelets too tight to get over your hand? Here’s the solution!

trying to get a bangle on on Brenda Kinsel website

Ouch! The bracelet won’t fit!


Bracelet won't fit on Brenda Kinsel website

It doesn’t work this way either


A guy at a jewelry show was showing me a pretty bracelet. I tried to get it on but it only got as far as my fingers.

He watched me struggle and offered some first aid. He said, “There’s an easy fix for that. Put a plastic bag over your hand first. Then slide the bracelet over the bag. When it’s on your wrist, pull the bag away.” He was very confident. I was not.

I nodded my head up and down like I really believed him but I didn’t.

I have bracelets that I just can’t wear anymore. I’ve kept them, but I can’t explain why. I don’t know if I thought my hand would shrink and they’d fit again someday, or what.

I have a client who experiences this a lot too. She’s got fabulous artistic bracelets that I’d love to work into outfits for her but when she tries them on, they don’t fit. I sigh and move on. I feel bad for the lost opportunities to use these beauties.


I had to try his trick

I’m usually a glass half full kind of gal but I was eager to prove him wrong. I could only recall the pain and disappointment of past failures. I had no hope for this remedy.

Well, would it hurt to try it? I suppose I could give it a try.


Trying the fix for tight bracelets

Applying the supposed remedy to my hand


I went home and cut the end off my blue NY Times newspaper plastic wrapper. I went to my bracelet stash and picked one of the bracelets that I knew hadn’t made it over my hand in years.

I did what he suggested, put the plastic sleeve over my hand first. To keep the experiment scientific I tried the wood bangle on one last time to be sure my hand hadn’t shrunk. It hadn’t. There was nothing but pain.


Bracelet makes it over the bag on Brenda Kinsel website

Bracelet slides over the bag


Then I tried guiding the bracelet over the bag. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? I was stunned!

(And not stung either. The birds and bees photos are by Russ. They’re part of the photo gallery on our front porch.)


The bag trick worked on the bracelet on Brenda Kinsel website

Remove the bag and there’s the bracelet!


I removed the bag and there was my bracelet, happy as can be on my wrist.


Taking the tight bangle off on Brenda Kinsel website

And then it comes off!


To remove the bracelet I grabbed the plastic bag, slid it under the bracelet and then pulled the bracelet back over the plastic wrapper. It slid right over my hand.

From now on, the blue plastic newspaper sleeve will go in my closet kit so when I’m working with my clients in their closets I’ll be able to whip out my magic trick. I can’t wait!

Oh, and the next time I see the jewelry guy I will tell him how brilliant he is, I promise!


I hope you’ll try this trick and let me know if it works for you.

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