What I did when nail polish got all over my cherished handbag

Nail polish problems and solutions on Brenda Kinsel website

Essie polishes including the culprit that got all over my handbag

Last week I posted a question to my Facebook Tips & Teasers readers. I’d just written a blog post the day before about finding style authenticity in outfits and I wanted to know this: What elements do you always need in an outfit to make it feel authentically you?

One of the answers came from a Facebook friend named Reile who lives in Utrecht. She said, “I always need colour on my nails, whether to spunk up a classy outfit or tone down an outrageous outfit. Or just to rock the outrageous outfit of course.”

It was so fun to think of nail polish as an element that helps identify your style. It made me think of two loved ones in my life who also rock nail polish colors consistently.

Not afraid of nail color

coloring nails to show team support on Brenda Kinsel website

Caitlin sports her Warriors blue nail color

My daughter Caitlin changes her nail color a lot. She’s a major Golden State Warriors fan (that’s a professional basketball team to those of you who are unfamiliar) and has worn nail color to show support for her team: “Go Royal Blue and Golden Yellow!”

My friend Marj is very into nail color. Her nails always add a layer of interest to her outfit. I love the spunk and sass she demonstrates by going big with her colors.

Marj dares to wear color on nails on Brenda Kinsel website

Marj’s nails are shiny and bright and sparkle

Going for the nude look

What I suspect about Caitlin and Marj is that they’re a lot more nail savvy than I am. I’m pretty much of a nude girl. My favorite nude shade right now is called Sand Tropez by Essie. It’s up there sitting on my desk in the top photo on the left.

Cut me some slack: I’m nail challenged. Past drug use has weakened my nails (not crack cocaine but garden variety chemotherapy drugs).

Mostly I don’t want to bring attention to them so I let them fade into the background.

I did go out on a limb this summer and used an Essie color called Illacism. (What the heck does that mean? My autocorrect just wanted to change it to Islamism.) It’s that lovely lilac shade in the top picture on the right. The one with the smudges on the cap.

The bag that got decorated with nail polish by accident

The unsuspecting victim of nail polish spill

Nail Spill Disaster in Sonoma: The full story airs tonight on KETC at 6

If only the nail color smudge was ONLY on the cap.

I had a frightening disaster this summer. I threw my Essie Illacism nail color into my Calleen Cordero handbag and headed to my nail salon, praying they had time to get me in for a much needed manicure.

I went into my purse to reach for my wallet. Suddenly I had Islamism (no, autocorrect, it’s Illacism!) on my fingers. Wet polish. How did that happen?

Worse then that, I noticed that polish color inside my purse on the leather lining and then OUTSIDE on my purse in three places. The cap hadn’t been closet tight and was getting everywhere.

I could cry! This is a favorite handbag. And although Illacism looks very lovely against that smokey leather charcoal shade, it dosen’t look good ON IT.

Help comes riding into town in a pink cadillac

Using nail polish remover without acetone on to remove polish from handbag

Nail polish remover without acetone comes to the rescue!

Now I was mad at myself. How could I have been so careless?

I asked my manicurist if nail polish remover would take it off the bag. “No,” she said. “Don’t do it. The acetone will hurt the leather, dry it out, make it crack.” Oh no!

After my manicure I headed back home fearing the worst: life without this handbag.

But when I opened the door, a thought flashed into my mind. I remembered my friend, Debra, buying me some nail polish remover one day. I remember her saying, “It’s much better for you because it doesn’t have acetone in it.”

“Out, damned spot! out I say!” (I’m with you, Lady Macbeth)

I didn’t wait to google it. I immediately went to my Mineral Fusion nail polish remover and tipped it over into a rag. My heart was racing.

I took a swipe at a spot and it came right off.  I tackled all the other spots. Out, out, all out!

I sat down and poured myself an Arnold Palmer and counted my blessings: Thank you, Debra!

So if you do anything like this (and I know you won’t!) try taking the spots out with a nail polish remover that doesn’t have acetone in it.


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The Where I Shop Mini Series: TJ Maxx

TJ Maxx pieces are crucial to this outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

Sharing my TJ Maxx wardrobe finds

If you were taking a guided tour of my closet (it would be a fairly short tour) you’d soon learn that my wardrobe consists of items that have come from many sources. Some of them are:

  • Big department stores like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy’s
  • Free standing stores like Ann Taylor, J Crew, Talbots, Lucky Brand, Chico’s
  • Boutiques
  • Discount stores like TJ Maxx or outlet stores that include BCBG, Cole Haan, Ann Taylor
  • Fast fashion stores like H&M and Zara
  • Consignment stores
  • Carlisle trunk shows (clothing that’s not shown in regular stores); other companies like this would be Worth or Doncaster

In this Where I Shop series I’m going to bring you inside my closet to see pieces I wear and love and tell you where they came from. I believe you can find style anywhere at all different price points. I’ll show you how I do it.

First stop in this Where I Shop series: TJ Maxx

This week I wore an outfit to work that reminded me of how much I appreciate a couple of pieces that came from TJ Maxx.

Shopping secrets from TJ Maxx on Brenda Kinsel website

A prized item in my wardrobe came from TJ Maxx

Long time staples

I don’t know if I can honestly tell you how long I’ve had this ruched sleeveless t-shirt from TJ Maxx. It’s got the comfort of a t-shirt knit underneath the sheer layer that sits on top. That flower appliqué design on the side makes that part of my body look more narrow. And the ruching is the best figure flattering tool for those of us with thicker middles than we remember having in our 40s.

This t-shirt is feminine and interesting and one I grab for a lot. Lucky me, I have two of them: one in ivory and one in black.


Zac Posen bag purchased at TJ Maxx on Brenda Kinsel website

Love my structured ladylike Zac Posen bag from TJ Maxx

My handbag for this go-to-work outfit has structure, class, and presence. When I want to feel creative-professional and sophisticated, I grab for this bag. You guessed it; it came from TJ Maxx. It’s a designer bag sold for less.

How to Shop TJ Maxx

I don’t get excited about a big store with tons of random merchandise to comb through so I usually have a plan to look for specific items.

Here are my shopping tips for TJ Maxx as well as some insider info about the store.

  1. Not all TJ Maxx stores are created equally. Some carry higher end, premium designer items while others don’t. Ask the manager if their store carries premium labels. The Petaluma TJ Maxx near me used to carry the premium brands. Now it doesn’t. I’d have to go to the San Rafael store for that.
  2. Also ask the manager which days they get delivery of the premium labels. If you have time to shop discount stores you’ll want to know when the good stuff gets there so you can be there to meet it.
  3. The first departments I go to at TJ Maxx are handbags and jewelry. I wouldn’t have paid full price for this Zac Posen handbag. It was just out of my league so finding it cheaper made it a possibility. I truly love the finish on this bag, the structure of it, the design on the front (isn’t that bow outrageous?) and the secret compartments. I knew it would serve me for years and years. Sold.
  4. Remember that when you’re shopping at discount stores, you’re still spending money. So don’t get mesmerized by the lower prices and buy more than you really need. Keep your wits about you!
  5. TJ Maxx does have a liberal return policy.
  6. Let’s say you’ve discovered you love Vince or Theory clothing and have purchased it before. If you’ve been successful with certain brands, you may want more of that look in your wardrobe. Personally, I love Alexis Bittar jewelry and have a small collection. When I discovered Alexis Bittar was being sold at TJ Maxx, I made a special trip. Adding more pieces to my collection was doable at these prices. I’ve purchased bracelets and earrings there that I wear all the time! You’ll find that to be true of clothing brands too.
  7. I like shopping TJ Maxx for my casual wardrobe, the level of casual that I mostly wear around home; cozy sweaters and flannel shirts.
  8. I look for sleeveless under pieces (like that ruched t-shirt) at TJ Maxx. These are often the items no one sees much of because I wear a jacket or cardigan over it. But it’s an essential wardrobe staple.

TJ Maxx purchases from my closet


Showing a favorite top purchased at TJ Maxx on Brenda Kinsel website

My go-to Asian print top by Laundry came from TJ Maxx

This floral top by Laundry by Shelli Segal is one you’ve probably seen a few times in blog posts already. I was ready to experiment with prints but not ready to really invest in them yet. I fell in love with this Asian floral print and it’s been great!


Shopping for jewelry at TJ Maxx on Brenda Kinsel website

Love my Alexis Bittar earrings purchased at TJ Maxx

Remember how I mentioned I check out the jewelry first? These earrings I’m wearing inside that book are by Alexis Bittar. In fact, if you look at the bangles on my wrist, the one closest to my ring and the third one with the large white stones in it are both by Alexis Bittar and came from TJ Maxx.


Scoring a cashmere sweater and flannel shirt at TJ Maxx on Brenda Kinsel website

TJ Maxx favorite comfy pieces

This grandpa cashmere cardigan on the right came from TJ Maxx. So did the flannel checked shirt. These are comfort clothes for me. Snuggling with my sweetie and watching some TV together while wearing my grandpa cardigan is a peace of heaven for me.

So here ends this portion of the tour of wardrobe items that I wear and love that have come from TJ Maxx.

Do you shop discount stores? Do you ever shop discount stores and end up with things you don’t wear? What are the pros and cons of discount store shopping?


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Finding style authenticity with soft and strong elements

Adding heavy metal to soft, sheer blouse on Brenda Kinsel website

Adding heavy metal to soft floral print blouse

I remember where I was when I bought this BCBG floral print silk blouse. I was shopping in Duluth, MN where Patricia, my high school best friend, lives. There’s something so familiar about shopping with her. It’s like we’re in high school again.

I found lots of things that were cute on her (she looks great in EVERYTHING) but didn’t find much that worked on me. But there was this sheer blouse that I circled a few times before zeroing in on it.

The floral silk blouse started talking to me

It was certainly different from things I usually buy. It was so light and feminine. I had really tender feelings about the print. It made me think about my mom for all the gardening she did. (She was alive and well at this time.)

On a practical level, it would be a great summer top to wear when I wanted to reach for something lightweight while still covering my arms.

It was a love purchase

More than anything, I think I wanted to buy something while shopping with my best friend even if it was just for old times’ sake. And I wanted to privately honor my feminine, flower-loving mother. I knew I’d think of both of them every time I wore it.

An afterthought

Besides, maybe it was time to experiment with the softer Brenda and focus less on the rock ‘n’ roll Brenda. It was just a thought.

I bought it.

Toughing up a sweet floral print on Brenda Kinsel website

Taking a sweet top and mixing in metal elements to toughen it up.

Now we’re here in September…

Faced recently with a warm September day, I decided to work this blouse into an outfit. I put it on and it felt insubstantial by itself, not complete. I needed to toughen it up a bit in order to feel more authentic.

What I ended up with is a girly rock ‘n’ roll look that suits me just fine. I like feeling pretty (which this blouse makes me feel), but I also like feeling warrioress strong.

Satisfying my warrioress

I went to my accessories and started pulling out gunmetal pieces. I chose a necklace that fits like a collar. It’s made of four thick casacading rows of circular discs. The fact that it peeks out of the blouse instead of taking over the blouse is the perfect ratio for me.

Floral print top gets strength in metal accessories on Brenda Kinsel website

Mixing soft and feminine with cool metals

My bracelets are a cluster of gunmetal bangles as well as a hammered silver bangle, a hematite cuff and a narrow rhinestone bangle. (Warrioresses can wear sparkly things, right?)

My biggest ring is shaped like a leaf and is full of itty bitty diamonds. The other ring is a talisman for me: I never take it off. On the other wrist I’m wearing a bangle that has a horn shaped piece on top that’s strapped down with two rows of diamonds.

My gunmetal framed bag is compact, no nonsense.

Pretty and strong

I like it! By wearing it this way, I honor myself while also sending love to both Patricia and my dearly beloved Mother – the two strongest female influencers in my life.

Showing jewelry details on Brenda Kinsel website

My no nonsense gunmetal handbag is so not slouchy or wimpy!

What about you? What elements need to be present in an outfit in order for you to feel authentic?

I’d love to hear the combos that feel right to you!

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Finding Style Inspiration on TV


We’re starting to feel fall in the air here in the Bay Area and while I’ve been working with my clients and their fall outfits already, I’ve been a little slow in thinking about my own fashion for fall.

When I’m in the stores shopping with a client, all I see is what’s right for them. I don’t even register what’s attractive to me personally. Before I head into stores to shop for myself, I like the homework I suggest to my clients and students of fashion. Here it is.

Number One is to go through magazines and catalogues, maybe even Pinterest and Instagram, to get ideas for things that inspire you. Style evolves, fashion changes, we change. There’s always some updating to do every season.

Number Two is to pay attention to what you’ve been doing that you’d like to do more of in this next season. Sometimes we discover a color (white, orange, blue) over the summer and fall in love with it. Perhaps we want to bring that color along with us into a new season. That means finding it in heavier fabrics than the ones you were wearing in July like Pima cotton and linen.

Number Three is to pay attention to accessories. Even if you don’t buy any new clothing this season, an accessory can make everything seem new.

So like I said, I’ve not gotten very far in terms of doing my own homework for the new season.

What have I done instead? Well, I’ve been watching TV. I’ve gotten caught up with the PBS Masterpiece Mystery series Inspector Lewis. I’m getting caught up with Showtime’s Ray Donovan. I’ve invested time into that over the top drama (not always sure why) and can’t not finish it. And Russ keeps begging me to watch America’s Got Talent. I don’t watch it (now that’s an investment of time!) but he saves a few clips for me to view that he insists are must-see TV.

Here’s what I’ve inadvertently discovered from my TV watching: style inspiration!

While catching up on these shows, I’d see something on the screen I liked, put the program on pause and then snap pictures to remind me of things I want to do or try this season. Take a look at what I’ve discovered.

Style Inspiration from Showtime’s Ray Donovan

White pant inspiration from character on Ray Donovan on Brenda Kinsel website

Loving the white pants on Ray Donovan

I know, you can’t see much. But what I saw on the Sonia character, an art dealer played by Embeth Davidtz on Ray Donovan, is full of inspiration. I loved her column of white. She wore a draped silk white top and what looked like white ankle pants. Her long jacket was amazing. It had a peplum detail at the waist and but then extended to her knee. I was crazy about her black patent leather oxfords with the block heel.

Note to self: Get white wool pants immediately! Pull out the black peplum jacket you didn’t wear once last year but didn’t donate either because it had great style and you were going to give it another chance. Look for that sharp styled oxford which could actually be comfortable for your touchy feet.

Brenda wears white in the summer on Brenda Kinsel website

Wearing white this summer

I wore bright white and soft white this summer in linen and cotton and loved it! I want to carry this look into the winter. Sonia’s version in Ray Donovan is very sophisticated looking and I’d like some of that this fall!

Style inspiration from America’s Got Talent

Style inspiration from Grace on America's Got Talent on Brenda Kinsel website

Getting style inspiration from a 12-year-old singer/songwriter

Russ is right: Grace Vanderwaal, a twelve-year-old singer/songwriter ukulele playing girl is my vote for America’s Got Talent. She’s A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Her style won me over in this episode. Her sweater looks handmade. It’s peach and says LOVE across the front. What’s not to love about that? But my favorite part was the Peter Pan collar peeking out with the black ribbon tie coming down from the center. It’s so whimsical and darling and cute and fun.

Note to self: Find an inexpensive white shirt with a Peter Pan collar and cut the sleeves off so it won’t get too warm under a sweater. Go to the fabric store and buy some ribbon–maybe in a few different colors–and use as ties this season. Ask the fashion fairies to find you a sweater like this that would fit a grownup. Fashion fairies, it doesn’t have to be exactly like this one but it needs to be charming.

Style Inspiration from the BBC Masterpiece Mystery series Inspector Lewis

Inspector Lewis is a fun mystery show and is inspiring me on Brenda Kinsel website

A character on this British mystery series inspires me

I will watch any BBC mystery series. I’m crazy for them. On this episode of Inspector Lewis, this woman’s husband was killed. As Inspector Lewis says, “I’ve never seen a widow act quite like this before.” She didn’t seem sad at all, even though she’s taken to drinking in the dark.

Note to self: Find a blouse with a floral print. Find a dress or coat even with a floral print. MUST HAVE FLORAL PRINT. And there’s that tie again coming out from under the collar. Like it! Want it!


Style inspiration from horticulture images on Brenda Kinsel website

Can’t get enough of horticulture pictures

See the horticulture images on the right hand side of this picture? They’re on the inside of the door in my home office. The outside of the door has eight more images stacked just the same only in shades of lavender and purple. The Royal Horticultural Society (more British!) creates these diaries every year with the most beautiful illustrations. I adore them. In order to enjoy them every single day I’ve ripped out some of the pages from past diaries to line my home office door. I never tire of looking at them. They are one of my very favorite things. Would I enjoy wearing a blouse with images like these? Uh, YES!!! I hope I can find one I like in this season where prints are everywhere and on every thing!

When you’re doing your style homework, you could discover inspiration from the TV or the telly, as I have. Maybe you already are!

Are there characters on TV that are inspiring your style? Do share!


P.S. To order your 2017 Royal Horticultural Society Desk Diary, here’s a link. It’s pretty!


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Bring Back Sunday’s Best

Mary Janes by Paul Green on Brenda Kinsel website

My grownup patent leather Mary Janes

Where I grew up in North Dakota, Sunday was the day you wore your best clothes. I mean the very best! I’d go to church in my shiny patent Mary Janes, my fanciest dress, my prettiest coat, a hat and maybe gloves.

Recently I started wondering if anybody thinks about wearing their best on Sunday or any day of the week?

Now I know many of you do that already. You think about looking your best every day. You put together an outfit that is pleasing to you and you go into your day feeling confident. Kudos to you, my friend!

Dress codes sink low

Dress codes have gotten so relaxed that I’m sure some people feel funny if they dress up just a little bit because no one around them is doing it.

This was very clear recently when we were working with a new client who wanted help with her style and looking sharper than she normally does. We’d had a shopping trip and she got several fun things. We were going to meet her in her closet to put outfits together with her new things so she could clearly understand the blueprint of her stepped up style.

When we got to her closet she was anxious. She’d gone to a community meeting at a neighbor’s house to support a local candidate in an upcoming election. She wore her normal rolled up jeans but added the new cute heeled sandals that she’d purchased on the shopping trip.

She said, “All of my neighbors were dressed so casually. I felt out of place.”

I pointed out a couple of things.

One: She’d called us to help her step up her style. Automatically this would mean moving away from our overly saturated casual fashion climate. I sympathized with her. She couldn’t expect to fit in with a dress code that’s sunk so low. She would feel like she’s sticking out from the rest. But was that a bad thing? I cited a case where we worked with another client who decided she wanted to look decent even if she was just hanging out at Starbuck’s. Her friends noticed the change right away and within a few weeks, they started looking better in their outfits. Her friends credited her for motivating them to put some effort into how they looked. Looking different turned into a leadership thing!

Two: I suggested to our client that she consider a different criteria altogether for getting dressed. “You can dress for the pure pleasure it brings you,” I told her. I knew how much pleasure those shoes brought her. The day she bought them she walked around the shoe department radiant and beaming. “Why deny yourself the enjoyment of enjoying how you look?” I asked. “Dressing to please yourself can come first.”

Three: We’ve all heard this one before: Just because someone else is doing it, it doesn’t mean you have to follow. So if everyone else is dressing like they’re about to organize the garage, it doesn’t mean we have to! Isn’t that a relief?

Our client looked darling in her new “stepped up” wardrobe. It only made sense to enjoy it because if not now, when?

Don’t miss out!

Getting dressed can be such a personal, loving act. It’s nurturing and kind. It’s respectful. If you don’t officially need to dress your Sunday best for something specific, maybe you can do it anyway.

Today whether you’re praising your version of the Divine, praising the day you’ve been given, or praising the ground you stand on, you can do it with your head held high, and a smile on your face while wearing an outfit that pleases you like crazy.

Can I get an Amen on this?


P.S. All this Sunday best talk has me thinking about my favorite hymns. Here are two CD collections that I especially love in case you’re an aficionado of gospel songs. Wait, does anybody listen to CDs anymore? Well, you might find them on Spotify as well. Enjoy!

How Great Thou Art by Elvis Presley (a 2 CD set)

Hymn by The American Boychoir available on Amazon


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Two looks in two days with a minimum of clothing changes

Showing two similar outfits for two different days on Brenda Kinsel website

Varying an outfit from one day to the next

Do you do this? You create an outfit one day, like it, and the next day you swap out a couple of pieces and essentially wear it again? That’s what I did with a Sunday afternoon going to the oyster farm outfit where I was socializing with wonderful friends all day. I got up Monday morning, thought about what I was doing that day, and decided to improvise on what I’d worn the day before.

I was going to be working in a client’s closet most of Monday creating fall outfits from her existing wardrobe along with purchases from a recent shopping trip.

Sticking with my column of color on Brenda Kinsel website

Swapping a navy tunic for a navy lace blouse

I stuck with my theme from Sunday – a column of color – but changed the tone of the outfit when I made a few adjustments. I swapped out Sunday’s navy tunic for a navy lace blouse (Ann Taylor). I kept the navy pleated scarf that I’d worn the day before. It was so cold out at Tomales Bay that Sunday that I had tied the ends of the scarf together and wrapped it three times around my neck to keep me warm.

On Monday, I only wanted two wraps around the neck. I love the contrast in textures with the pleats in the scarf and the lace in the blouse.

Instead of my multi-tiered long necklace (by the Sol Sisters) that showcased Sunday’s outfit, I wore a simple quieter gray strand of pearls on Monday. I knotted them in the middle before I put them on so they hit a little higher, peeking out at the neckline.

The vintage alligator handbag worked just fine two days in a row. So did my gold bangles.

Wearing ladylike shoes on Brenda Kinsel website

Wearing my ladylike heeled Mary Janes

Since I was going with a ladylike theme for work on Monday, I chose to wear my patent leather Mary Jane pumps by Paul Green. Adding a fancier shoe made me feel more “dressed up” in my dark indigo Eileen Fisher skinny rolled jeans that I’d worn the day before.

Sticking with my navy theme from Sunday to Monday on Brenda Kinsel website

Feeling pretty in my column of blue

While I felt more rough and tough in my Sunday outfit (but who’s kidding who – I wasn’t exactly roughing it!) , on Monday I was not on the dusty trails anymore. I was in Belvedere, in a lovely neighborhood, with a lovely client, working with pretty things all day, feeling pretty and professional, my way.

Isn’t it fun how one idea leads to another? The Anatomy of One Outfit turns into the Anatomy of Two Outfits without much effort. Although the functions were quite different from Sunday to Monday, it just took a couple of changes to riff on the original outfit and get a completely different result. Fashion is fun like that, wouldn’t you say?

How do you come up with new combos?



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Is that pre-fall in the air? Time to add more clothes!

Pre-fall layering on Brenda Kinsel website

Heading into the weekend with wallet and lipstick

It’s happening. You can tell it in the night sky; you can feel it in the early morning air: Fall is heading our way! Last night I went outside to stare at the new Koi fish Russ brought home. They’re fast little critters. I was happy to sit there watching them swim around the pond because I had a down jacket on. Yes, a down jacket! It was chilly and windy.

The mornings have been nippy around here too. When Russ and I decided to head to Sunflower Cafe on Saturday morning for pecan-hazelnut waffles with fresh fruit and maple syrup, I knew I needed extra layers if we were sitting outside like we do.

I’d planned to wear my Lilith blue/yellow textured thin, cotton sweater but knew the cold would run right through it. I wondered what it would be like if I put a sweater underneath the blue one, like my orange superfine wool crewneck sweater from Ann Taylor.

I did it and liked it! The orange faded through to the outside a bit and that was entertaining to me. It’s like I created a new color. My linen Burberry coat won’t be an option for much longer so I eagerly grabbed it. Although I was wearing three layers I was neither too warm, nor too cold, but just right.


layering light weight sweaters on Brenda Kinsel website

Pre-fall layering starts now!

I wore this necklace a week ago in a column of navy blue and wrote about the anatomy of that outfit here. It seemed so perfect with navy but now I loved it against this very light blue shade with orange peeking out.

This double strand necklace, created by the Sol Sisters, has such richness to it and I love the different textures. It’s got shine in the faceted carnelian beads and sparkle in the druzy agate at the center. The leather tassel is matte and has movement. (The Sol Sisters show their work at El Sol Winery in Livermore.)

Sol Sisters necklace is great for fall on Brenda Kinsel website

My treasured necklace leads me into fall

I had no inclination to layer any other necklaces with it like I did in the navy blue outfit last week. I love how it stands on its own taking all the glory … as it should!

I borrowed finishing touches from last week’s outfit too by choosing to wear my vintage alligator bag and my distressed, beat up looking Lucky boots. This necklace, that bag, those boots (and ones I’m sure I’ll find this fall that are like the color of the leather tassel in the necklace) are such great companions. A Beauty Bundle! They’re going to find their way into lots of new outfit combinations, I can just tell!

I do this a lot: create an outfit that I love and then try to keep wearing parts of it in other ways throughout the week. Do you do that?

This is just the beginning of creating transitional outfits. Where I live, “transition” can go on for months! More transitional ideas will be coming your way soon!

How are you dealing with weather changes or does it still feel like the middle of July where you live? Do share your ideas. I always love hearing them and so does everyone else!

Have a great Labor Day weekend, Friends.



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Anatomy of an Outfit to Wear to an Oyster Farm

Hog Island blue outfit on Brenda Kinsel website

Wearing brown and blue at the Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall

This could sound weird but I met the best people ever when I was going through the hardest time ever. It was 2004 and I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. I had that one thing in common with the perfect strangers who met for a few months in a support group on Tuesday nights, downstairs from the chemo room where most of us were treated.

As we moved through our treatments and surgeries we headed toward the friendships that have flourished ever since. We started making dinner and play dates. After a while we invited our spouses and partners to join us in some of our gatherings and they fell in love with each other too!

It’s not all been cheery. Our dearest Kimberly had an especially hard battle. My last hours with her were in her home in Larkspur. Several people were there. Kimberly and I were next to each other on her bed, propped against pillows, holding hands, and singing the old hymn In the Garden, our favorite. The refrain goes like this:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own;

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

We all feel her presence when we get together as we did a couple of weekends ago out at Hog Island Oyster Company’s farm near Marshall on Tomales Bay. It was a cold, chilly day but our hearts were full and overflowing. Seventeen of us gathered around a long table for a late afternoon feast as close to the water’s edge as you can get before falling in. We had oysters galore plus platters of fabulous food that everyone brought to share. Did I mention that this group is full of foodies? It’s crazy fun! Our hosts John Finger and Debra Ruff (owners of Hog Island) treat us to this great setting at least once a year.


Jewelry bundle for Hog Island fun day on Brenda Kinsel website

My beauty bundle for Hog Island fun day

Getting dressed for oysters

So what does one wear to an oyster farm on Tomales Bay? LAYERS!

I woke up that morning knowing one thing: I wanted to wear a necklace that came from new friends Ginny and Kathy, the Sol Sisters (“Two of a kind making one of a kind jewelry”) that’s shown at the El Sol Vineyard in Livermore, CA. It’s a double stranded luxurious, earthly necklace that makes me swoon. The colors are deep and rich: browns and orange and gold. It feels so good to touch. This was its debut.

I needed something to wear with the necklace, obvi. I decided to showcase the jewels with a column of navy blue.

I chose my long, lean Eileen Fisher indigo jeans and my navy blue vintage Zoran heavy silk tunic. I wrapped a navy pleated scarf around my neck three times. (I’d just brought it back from Minnesota with me. It came from Mother’s scarf drawer.) I added a long navy crinkle coat by Alquema, an Australian company, which I purchased from Specialtees Boutique in Lafayette. I was navy-ed up!


A rich brown Beauty Bundle on Brenda Kinsel website

Creating a Beauty Bundle with warm shades of brown

More accessories needed

I needed to add more accessories. I craved shades of brown: bourbon, whiskey, rye.

I slipped on my camel Lucky boots, added a woven brown hat, my vintage alligator bag and a wide cuff that looks like wood but isn’t. Suddenly I had this delicious warm-toned Beauty Bundle. I played off the gold in the necklace with bronze bangles by Patti Crandall (from Studio Collections Jewelry in Sonoma) and my Victor Sanz gold ring with diamonds. I looked in the mirror and was satisfied, except for one thing. I decided to add one more necklace to the double stranded one. It’s just a little something that layers in so easily. I liked the tiered effect.

Friendships live on

After hours of wine, food, conversation and laughter, I can say about that day that there was a lot of joy we shared as we tarryed there, basking in the special love that comes in the pleasure of knowing each other.

I guess it doesn’t matter how you find your friends, just that you find them. I love you guys!



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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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