12 In Getting Dressed/ Women Now

Fashion through the ages: My story

Age and fashion on Brenda Kinsel website

Birthday eve and thinking about fashion


It’s my birthday today (and my twin brother’s birthday too!) and for the last 24 hours, I’ve been in a fashion reverie. I started stringing together a few highlights from my fashion reel through the ages. I came across some themes: dresses, fabric stores, camouflague, experimentation. It didn’t seem to matter what decade I was in, beauty and style always had my attention. Do you want to travel with me through my fashion ages? Come along, fashionitas! Maybe you’ll be tempted to write your highlights too!


Those earliest fashion moments

Mom made lots of dresses for me out of the most beautiful fabrics. They stick in my memory for their patterns and colors and how fancy and unique they were.


Dresses at a young age on Brenda Kinsel website

Loving my dresses and my daddy too


Dresses were off limits when at the age of eight I spent a month in hospital gowns in traction with a broken femur. After 30 days I got a cast to wear for two more months, from my waist to my toes. The day I left the hospital Mother brought me a store bought dress to change into. That white long cast was camouflaged by a gold taffeta dress with petticoats that pushed the skirt far away from the cast. Mom and my favorite nurse helped me into it. It was only a thirty-minute drive from the hospital to the farm but I felt like a queen all the way home.


The teen years

We left the farm and our community of 75 people and moved to a big city of 7500 people. With babysitting money, I started shopping for my own clothes. I took up sewing and made my own dresses to wear to the Friday night high school dances.

The most sophisticated outfit I made was a matching top and long flowy pant in the prettiest robin’s egg blue. Wow, was it glamorous! The only problem is that I trimmed the interfacing too close to the seam on the V-neck top and had to camouflage my mistake. I bought a silky piece of fabric with a cream background and blue and aqua dots. I made an extra long rectangular scarf and added white fringe to the ends. I felt so dreamy and sophisticated. And I learned an important lesson: you can always fix a fashion problem with an accessory or two.


My twenties

I was living in L.A. and was married at the age of 23. My husband was an antique dealer and came home with vintage dresses from time to time. (One of those dresses adorns the back of the door of our Sonoma guest powder room.)


Details in vintage clothes on Brenda Kinsel website

Vintage clothes offer so much detail. Swoon!


My daughter Erin was thirteen days old and I was twenty seven when I brought her with me to a chic fabric store in San Luis Obispo. We were now living in Los Osos, about ten minutes from SLO. I took a half-day class in Seminole patchwork, a novel and colorful dress of the native Seminole Indians of Florida. I was bitten! The wearable art movement was my whole life for several years. I was back in fabric stores scouring for textiles and trims to make special order jackets for customers. I also showed my finished pieces in art shows. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be up at 5 a.m. before the rest of the family was awake so I could fit in a couple of hours of sewing each day. Every day was fashion bliss!


Getting serious in my thirties

Our family left the Central Coast and moved to San Anselmo in Marin County. I was sitting on the steps there on Hawthorne Street reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle one day about Gwen Mazer, an image consultant in San Francisco. I was fascinated. Could I do  something like that? I vowed to try! After a couple of years of training I launched my new business—Inside Out: A Style & Wardrobe Consulting Company and started creating art on women with clothes and accessories. It was so intimate and satisfying.


My fabulous forties

By forty I was divorced and settled into a new community where I was raising my three kids. I was so proud of getting over that divorce hump and making my new life. Suddenly writing started dominating my thoughts. I tried to bat it away. Why would I want to take up writing in my 40s? I gave in to the nagging voice that said “Do it” and started moving a pen across paper. About was I writing about? Fashion and style!

I was using words to create texture, color, rhythm and balance. Being in a writing group made me feel a little Bohemian. I started dressing in a more artful way. Every outfit I put together had a double purpose: enjoy wearing it and enjoy writing about it. For months I would write about the expression and mechanics of getting dressed for a pretend audience. And then it happened: 40 Over 40 became a published book and my pretend audience became a real one! Being on The Oprah Winfrey Show was proof of that!



40 Over 40 on Brenda Kinsel website

Those tender fifties

I remember having a heart to heart talk with God one night. I said, “You know, Lord, I have a wonderful life. I have three great kids. I have a career I absolutely love. I’m an author! A real author! If this is your full design for me, believe me, I am grateful. I have enough. I am blessed. But if you think it might be cool for me to have love in my life, I’d be up for that too. Just sayin’.”

And I met Russ, my tall, dark and handsome Russ. I was thrust into a world of romance. I never felt more womanly and sexy than I did in my fifties. I had a hankering for black lace mixed with leather. I loved showing off my legs in trim pants, often in prints or bright colors. I wore heeled boots, pumps, or heeled sandals every day and felt so sensual!


These exciting sixties

And now I’m 64 and I feel like I’m in the middle of a renaissance.


Engaged with age on Brenda Kinsel website

Engaged with age, change is fun in my sixties


I’m back to feeling experimental like I was in my teens and early twenties. I’m wearing hats (never thought I could). I’m wearing bold lip colors (never thought I could). I’m wearing cat eye shaped glasses (never expected that!). I’m discovering how to wear dresses again. I have a few things to work around like a thicker waist, fuller bust, rounder tummy. But I’m determined to get back to my first love—dresses—and make them work.

I’m coming full circle and doing it all over again in a new way.

So, there’s my fashion story. Share a few details about yours, okay? I’d love to hear how the rest of you discovered and learned to express your love of fashion and style.


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  • Reply
    jodie filogomo
    June 22, 2016 at 8:31 am

    It’s so freeing to be older and realize that some of the “rules” we’d been living are just plain silly, right?
    I, too, am experimenting with new styles and it’s so, so fun!!
    Good for you Brenda–and I love following your life!

    • Reply
      June 22, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Thanks, Jodie! I’d love to hear more about the new styles you’re playing with. Enjoying fashion and style never gets old!

  • Reply
    June 22, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for sharing with us, wonderful reading!

    • Reply
      June 22, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Thanks, Holly!

  • Reply
    Eileen Ternullo
    June 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    I am looking at dresses also! After a visit to Paris, I was inspired to look like a … get ready…a WOMAN!!!! Not a girl, or cute… a real woman! Thanks, for your help shopping! I am wearing , and got pieces after our appointment, everything, big thanks, Eileen:)

    • Reply
      June 22, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      It is fun to dress like a … woman! Things are catching my eye that didn’t before. If not now, when? Right? You’re so welcome about the shopping. Thanks for checking in.

  • Reply
    Amy Roseveare
    June 22, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    How fun to travel back in time with you — I can picture you in each decade. One thread I see running through your life is that you’ve stayed true to you and your heart with how you dress. Fabulous. xo

    • Reply
      June 22, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks, Amy. It was so very interesting to write this for that reason alone–finding those threads, those patterns that were there all along. Of course, now I want to hear everyone’s fashion story through the decades. Maybe yours??? xo

  • Reply
    Cathy Bonnett
    June 23, 2016 at 6:20 am

    I have been following you for awhile, we have much in common, I am 61, my mother just passed away, and we both live in California. I just found another thing in common, I live in Los Osos!

    • Reply
      June 23, 2016 at 8:32 am

      Oh my gosh! Yes, that Los Osos connection makes it even greater. I LOVE Los Osos and Baywood too. My kids were young there (actually, just had two at the time) and we spent so much time at Spooner’s Cove or down at Baywood. There was so much to love. I can still smell that salty air. Enjoy, enjoy!

  • Reply
    Susanna Singer
    June 23, 2016 at 8:04 am

    You helped me get over a lifetime’s worth of fashion phobia in my forties. When I was fifty you responded to my email cry for help with a quick personal phone call to help me choose an interview outfit for my dream job (I got it!). You’ve inspired me to dress to inspire my students throughout my fifties. And tomorrow I fly to Europe for a family wedding, taking with me a bright red cocktail dress with seam detailing, and gold accessories – I will look like a WOMAN! Happy birthday, Brenda!

    • Reply
      June 23, 2016 at 8:34 am

      This makes me so happy! And it brings tears to my eyes. Bravo, my friend! Love the sound of your outfit for the wedding. Enjoy every minute of looking like a woman. Best wishes for an awesome trip. And good for you for inspiring your students. AWESOME!

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