47 In Anatomy of an Outfit/ Getting Dressed

Finding Style and Making Outfits Helped Alice Get Through the Worst Year Ever

Summertime outfits
A get together in Minnesota that was meant to be

When life truly sucks and you’ve lost all vision of who you used to be and don’t have a clue about who you are now, creating outfits can be the answer. This is something I know a little somethin’ about. Personally, putting a great outfit together has helped me face scary second opinion appointments. Professionally, I’ve helped clients find their identity and discover happy places again through the right choice of clothes and accessories. I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and whole getting dressed can make us feel.

Yet I’ve never heard a story about coming home to oneself that is as moving as the true life story Alice Retka shared with me while I was in Minnesota. It all started with a letter.

A letter with an unexpected reference to this blog

I read the return address: Alice Retka from Minnesota. I opened it up and soon learned how we were connected. In a beautifully written letter, she wrote about the things that had helped her get through the worst year of her life.

She tells us right off that she’d made it through a rough year of cancer treatments with the help of wise words from a friend. Her friend said:

You will have highs and lows while you recover. Mountains and valleys. Some of those valleys are going to be broad. Very broad. They can be dark and lonely. You have to find things to carry you through tough times. One thing that helped me was an old country song, Gonna Find Me a Bluebird. You will find the things to help you. Start looking.

What came next was the list of things that helped Alice including a quilt her aunt made, peppermint lip balm, Luminosity brain games, three seasons of Poldark. Then Alice wrote, “I could get lost in a fashion blog for women over 50 (BrendaKinsel.com) and a PBS show about small towns in Wisconsin (Around the Corner with John McGivern.) If I had a bucket list it would include coffee in Perham with Brenda Kinsel and ice cream in any town with John McGivern.”

If I had a bucket list it would include coffee in Perham with Brenda Kinsel…

Putting outfits together

Meeting Alice for coffee

Moved by Alice’s courageous journey and humbled by the mention of this blog, I pulled out a notecard, wrote to Alice, and included these details:

I’m coming to Minnesota at the end of June. Dad doesn’t live in Perham anymore; he’s moved to Fergus Falls. I can see on the map that it’s about three hours away from where you live. If there’s any chance of getting together for coffee, I’d love that. Maybe meet halfway?


Meant to meet Alice

With some pretty darn good circumstances at play, Alice was able to meet me in Fergus Falls. We had coffee at Cally’s Coffee and Cafe. I guess you could say this meeting was a line item on my a bucket list, one I hadn’t verbalized yet—meeting a woman who read my blog and benefited from it greatly at a time when she needed those benefits the most. For a writer and a fellow cancer survivor, it doesn’t get any better than this.

putting outfits together
Anticipating meeting Alice

How putting outfits together helped during a dark time

In February of 2018, Alice was diagnosed with rectal cancer. She underwent five rounds of chemo, then surgery, more chemo, and another surgery in December. Adding to all of this was the death of two family members within weeks. She lost forty pounds, nothing fit, and if she’d felt like shopping she wouldn’t have known where to go.

That’s when her sister stepped in. Ellen Weyandt is ten years older than Alice and lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, about an hour from Alice’s home. She told Alice about my blog and announced, “Let’s pull some outfits together like Brenda does.” She came with Wardrobe Charts and coached her through the process of putting outfits together from what she had in her closet.

At this time Alice felt so adrift from all she knew about herself—her health, her appearance, her strength, confidence, and interests in life. (Can you relate to a time when you felt this way?)

putting outfits together
Meeting Alice for coffee in Fergus Falls

Putting outfits together triggered Alice’s love of projects

Here’s something you need to know about Alice: She loves projects. She loves creative problem solving, and learning about her style and getting dressed in a way that was pleasing to her was a project she could ultimately get into.

With Ellen’s support and Alice’s love of reading (she’s done all kinds of library work including fundraising for years), she dove deep into the archives of this blog and learned more and more. She told me over coffee, “You named things for me—a third piece, a Beauty Bundle, a column of color.”

(Beauty Bundle tips here and here.)

Alice shared with me what she learned about herself and how she applied it to her style recipe. Being a lover of words, she chose three “P” words to guide her in her outfit choices. They are: put together, practical, and personal. Let’s see how that plays out in her Fergus Falls outfit.

From reading my blog, Alice knew I was a new grandmother

The Anatomy of Alice’s outfit

The minute I walked into Cally’s Coffee and Cafe, I figured out who Alice was. She was the put together woman sitting at a table with books in front of her. (Those books turned out to be for me!)

It always feels like an intimate moment when I learn about someone’s style. A few words can say so much about a person. This style-reveal opens a door for love to flow through. I believe when we do that style work, we’re giving ourselves unconditional love and allowing others to love us.

Putting outfits together

Alice told me I could share with you details about her look.

Let’s start with her first P word, put together. She said, “It’s how I want to feel when I go out into the world.” I was struck by how her put together look brought instant attention to her face. Her white tank top and layered white shirt were so fresh.

putting outfits together

Another P is for practical. There isn’t a single clothing item that was demanding her attention or distracting. Her three pieces—tank, shirt as a jacket, and gingham pants—are all well-behaved. The pull-on pant from TJMaxx is easy to wear. There are no buttons, zippers or ties to deal with. She still has sensitivity around her surgery scars so comfortable pants are practical.

Putting outfits together

I loved how Alice’s shoes brought a bit of party to her outfit. They shimmer in gold. It’s still tonal and continues the near column of color she has going on. She said she likes to add a little quirky to her outfit.

Alice’s personal accessories

Alice wears accessories that are personal to her and have stories or connections to her. She likes vintage. Her handbag is made from drapery fabric from the ’40s.

Vintage accessories
Vintage accessories

Her necklace was made by her friend Kim Wendlandt who has a small shop called the Dancing Goat in New London, MN. Everything is made in the studio by Kim and her daughters. This pendant has an antique key and a crystal from a chandelier. Alice likes it for summer because it’s so light.

(If it catches your fancy, you can call Kim at (320)-905-0702 and inquire about one for yourself.)

Vintage accessories
Cuffs with stories

If I’m remembering correctly, the wide cuff is made from a vintage silver tray. It was given to her by a friend. I love the added texture from the narrower cuff. They make a great statement.

Can you see how her accessories resonate with Alice’s love of vintage and really, her love of stories? Everything has a story to it.

A gift to us all

Alice describes the benefits she received from this project of focusing on herself and her wardrobe. She said, “You made me want to get up and dressed and face the world every day.” That’s what your outfits love to do. They love to support us as through the ups and downs of life.

To Alice: Thank you for sending me that letter. Thank you for suggesting getting together for coffee. Thank you for sharing your story with me. Thank your sister Ellen for sparking your curiosity and creativity. I hope we’ll meet again!

To all of you: I know you join me in supporting Alice in our thoughts as she continues to gain strength and recover for her multiple surgeries. I’m just so grateful for all of you readers and how we come together here. Thank you for reading, sharing, and keeping this community growing.

Do you have your own stories about the power of getting dressed? Please share!

XO

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47 Comments

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    July 9, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Oh, I am crying as I finish this lovely post. How wonderful that your blog gave Alice a purpose and new-found joy. How wonderful that you were able to meet and fulfill bucket wishes. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. I’m sending Alice heartfelt wishes for her recovery.

  • Reply
    Laurice Gilbert
    July 10, 2019 at 4:53 am

    This is such a beautiful story. If I even have half the impact on people that I have seen you have over the years I’ll die a happy woman, but this one takes the prize for kindness and caring.

  • Reply
    TJ
    July 10, 2019 at 5:50 am

    Beautiful story Brenda and Alice. Having just been through a nasty unexpected stay in hospital (only 4 days and nothing as severe as Alice), I can say that coming home to my favourite clothes, accessories and make up, made me feel better even though I’m still a bit wobbly and not fully recovered – I can LOOK recovered – and somehow that has a psychological effect on my wellbeing. Extra blush and coral lipstick do wonders when one has been ill. They say ‘fake it to make it’. Well done Brenda. There are actually lots of us ‘Alice’s’ out here, we just don’t write you. I’m in Australia, but if I ever venture out your way, I’ll be sure to look you up for my cup of coffee with you. In the meantime, keep on shining your light for all of us. And best wishes to Alice. Blessings Xxxxxx

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      Thank you so much, TJ. They have great coffee in Australia. Maybe I need to come to you! Big hugs!

  • Reply
    Polly
    July 10, 2019 at 5:53 am

    Love. Love. Love. Some say fashion is frivolous but I disagree. This story is full of personal contact. The sister organizing outfits. The friend making the necklace. The handwritten note. Two people traveling for a coffee date. In a world where we can hide from others, make the effort!♥️

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:59 pm

      You said that perfectly, Polly. I’m often shy about reaching out and Alice has really taught me not to hold back. Write those letters, share with strangers. It’s all good!

  • Reply
    Laurel
    July 10, 2019 at 6:36 am

    I love this story for so many reasons. What an inspiration Alice is with all she’s been through. She looks lovely. As well, I worked for a company in Fergus Falls several years back, and spent a fair amount of time there. Good memories and very inspirational story. You touch more people than you know, Brenda! 🙂

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:58 pm

      Thanks, Laurel. Wish you still worked in Fergus Falls. We could have coffee!!!! Thank you so much.

  • Reply
    Lea
    July 10, 2019 at 6:41 am

    Oh Brenda! If you knew how much impact you have had in my life… especially at a time when I was so lost, unhappy and vulnerable. It seemed you were talking to me, you also knew there was a woman who loved laughter and colour and fashion buried deep inside who was ready to take her place in the world. It has been a slow but sure ride, so far… not yet finished. So, thank you for all you do. It is a ripple effect, like how it happened to Alice… you… her sister. I will keep Alice in my thoughts and want to thank her for her strength and inspiration. We are all so strong when we support one another. Hugs.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:57 pm

      Heartfelt hugs to you, Lea. I’m so glad the blog has been timely. I so appreciate you!

  • Reply
    Anne
    July 10, 2019 at 6:42 am

    Your fashion blog is so different than all others. Most help us to dress our bodies; yours helps us to dress our hearts and souls. Thank you so much!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:56 pm

      And that’s exactly what matters most, isn’t it? If our hearts and souls aren’t involved, we’re missing the whole point. I appreciate you bringing that up!

    • Reply
      Elaine @ Following Augustine
      July 18, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      Wonderful comment, Anne! It’s so true. Of all the fashion blogs that I read regularly, Brenda’s is the one that I love the most. Reading it is like sitting down for coffee with a friend!

  • Reply
    Jeri Ray
    July 10, 2019 at 7:59 am

    This is a beautiful story. Cancer is a game changer in life’s journey. Everyone affected (patient, family, friends) are changed in some way. As in all of life, it’s how we react to our challenges that determines how we move through it. I love how you reached out to each other and formed this special connection. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:55 pm

      I’m so grateful to Alice that she agreed to let me share her story with you. We need these stories. Moving through hard times can be lonely and I love that it doesn’t have to be. I often feel badly for my family who have to be on pins and needles sometimes when the testing has to happen. I had a talk with my daughters once about this. They were very firm with me. One said, “I have the exact Mom I want.” The other one said, “Mom, you don’t let us help you enough. We’re big girls and we can handle this. You need to share more. We’ve got this.” Wow, I was blown away. There’s so much for all parties to learn in these situations. And I’m in about second grade with this one. Yes, it’s a game changer. Thanks for your share.

  • Reply
    Karen H.
    July 10, 2019 at 8:25 am

    Love this story, and bravo to Alice! You were both blessed to have this coffee meeting.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      That’s how I felt too!

  • Reply
    Eva Popovich
    July 10, 2019 at 8:34 am

    I just wanted to say, this is just how your blog affects me, too. I look for it in my email just like a message from a friend!
    Now, I love Alice’s style, and her courage. I especially like the checked pants and the vintage drapery purse. Perfect, and perfectly her!
    I’ll say a prayer for Alice, and also for you as you help all the rest of us when we seem to need just what you have to offer!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      Your comment is so moving to me. Next time I’m feeling down in the dumps I hope I have the sense to revisit this blog and all the kind things people are saying. Kindness is such powerful medicine, don’t you think? Big hugs to you, Eva!

  • Reply
    Eva Popovich
    July 10, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Oh, and I like the necklace too! I can see these being very personalized to those who are lucky enough to have one.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:49 pm

      I totally agree with you!

  • Reply
    Cindylou
    July 10, 2019 at 9:51 am

    What a big heart you have. Best to Alice.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:49 pm

      And I’ll just bet yours is big too!

  • Reply
    Diane B
    July 10, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Wonderful story Brenda. Alice found you when she needed you, and many of us have done the same. So glad you were able to spend time together, I am sure she will treasure the meet up always. As said above, many of us feel we know you and would love to catch up with a coffee but live too far. The blog is my coffee time with you many days. Thanks for including us.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:49 pm

      Diane, I love being your coffee time! And if ever there’s a chance to have coffee together, we will do it. I will treasure this meet up with Alice always. As a writer who writes alone in her office, it is truly fabulous to meet readers in person like this. It’s so good for the heart!

  • Reply
    Anon
    July 10, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Sweet. You both are. I say this as i rest in bed with stitches in my neck. Look good, feel better.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      We are wishing you a quick recovery! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Reply
    Linda S
    July 10, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    This is a wonderful story in so many ways. I am deeply touched by her experience and willingness to reach out to you. And to you, Brenda, for being you. What we wear and how we feel about how we we look is an important part of our creativity and identity. Brenda, I have no doubt that your loving energy is what drew her in. You are a friend to all of your readers. This has made my day.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:45 pm

      Linda, you’ve brought tears to my eyes. I do feel the friendship in this lovely, loving community. It’s really a happy place for me and I’m glad it is for others. Thanks for being a part of it. You’re comment has made my day!

      • Reply
        Linda S
        July 11, 2019 at 6:06 am

        I forgot to say, hello Alice. You look fantastic. I am happy for you – you have inspired me.

  • Reply
    Kathy
    July 10, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    I wish Alice the absolute best and admire her bravery in reaching out to you Brenda and sharing such a very private and personal story. It’s the little things that sometime help us steady our feet so we can keep moving in challenging times. Best…Kathy

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      So very true, Kathy! Hugs to you!

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin - Apart From My Art
    July 10, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    Bravo Alice. Thank you Brenda. Beautiful story and beautiful woman. That outfit looks so comfortable and just right. I would be comfortable in it every day. Alice, times can be very tough. But it’s a joy to see you looking so good. Getting through these tough times. We’re all here for you, wether we know you or not. Brenda, look how you affect people. What a oy to read. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all have coffee together?

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 10, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      Oh yes, Sandra, that would be amazing to all have coffee together. What warriors we are if I do say so myself. You my dear inspire me like crazy! xo

  • Reply
    Jane Dalea-Kahn
    July 10, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    I just love this. Alice looks so at ease in this cute outfit. The gold shoes are FABULOUS! Reading this reminded me of how important clothes can be…it’s so easy to downplay fashion and it’s importance…but as you can see here, fashion and feeling good about oneself is essential in navigating the often whitewater of life. Bravo Alice and Brenda.

  • Reply
    Kathy H
    July 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    This post deserved everyone of these beautiful comments, Brenda. What goes around, comes around. I spent the last two years before my retirement coordinating a medical research project for women our age. I had days like this where it lifted my heart to know I had made a difference in a woman’s life. My ladies could always tell I loved clothes and creating outfits. It was something that so many of them enjoyed talking about. Some of my coolest jackets were thrift store finds, and it was important that they know that it wasn’t always about having a lot of money. What you did for Alice was good for her inside and out. Well done.

  • Reply
    Sandi Skalicky Mcdougall
    July 11, 2019 at 7:30 am

    Amazing Alice and Beautiful Brenda! You are an angel Brenda! You inspire everyone that knows you and those that read your blog. Look how you have helped Alice. I believe getting dressed in the morning & presenting ourselves to the world is important but more important for our metal health. Love you!

  • Reply
    LA CONTESSA
    July 11, 2019 at 11:01 am

    BEAUTIFUL STORY……………SO HAPPY OUR BLOGS HELP PEOPLE AND US!
    XX

  • Reply
    Heidi
    July 11, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Hi Brenda,
    What a lovely connection between two lovely, caring people. I’m sending wishes of strength and healing to Alice. As always, your posts resonate with so many women, we are a tribe even though we haven’t all met!
    I have reached out and met up with several instagram “friends”, and found them to be so easy to talk with and like I’ve known them for a long time. That must have been what you two felt when you had your coffee date. I’m so glad this happened for both of you!
    Xo Heidi

  • Reply
    Mary
    July 13, 2019 at 11:18 am

    I have so much love for this beautiful post….awe at the power of heartfelt human connections, and gratitude for women like you and Alice who allow us to share your journeys. And, your passion inspires me.

  • Reply
    Helen
    July 14, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Lost for words, just beautiful. Strength and healing to Alice who looks amazing and keep up the inspiring work, Brenda!

  • Reply
    Doris
    July 14, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    In our FairTrade Shop we sell a postcard saying “Give all, but never give up!”. The picture shows a little lady-bug hanging headlong at a grass leaf. We sent it to a dear colleage affected by cancer, with our best wishes and a big bunch of summer flowers. Wish she could read your wonderful post, Brenda! I’ll tell her if I visit her.

  • Reply
    Agnes M
    July 15, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. My sister, who is only 34, has just been diagnosed with cancer. She lost weight and has problems with finding clothes to buy, proper clothes which would fit her. I’m lost and I don’t know how to help her, how to be for her. Now my mum is helping her but I feel I should also do something as older sister.
    I’ve been your reader for some time now but this is my first comment.
    Sorry for any mistakes, English in not my mother tongue.

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    July 18, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    As a fellow cancer patient, this post truly resonated with me and left me with tears in my eyes! Thank you, Brenda and Alice, for sharing your time together with the rest of us who love this blog.

  • Reply
    cindy
    July 19, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    What a lovely story. My best to Alice in her recovery. You inspire so many people Brenda with your kindness and style. I am so happy you two were able to connect.

  • Reply
    Pauline starsmore
    October 5, 2019 at 9:26 am

    Hello there I have just, received your newsletter and blog for the first time (not sure how as I don’t remember signing up) but have now subscribed for further letters, I was instantly drawn to your story of Alice as I have so much in common with her, I am currently going through treatment for colon cancer I have had an operation and am now having Chemo, I also lost 2 family members early this year and also have a sister who is 10 years older. it was good to hear she is getting on, and to read the words of her friend.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      October 17, 2019 at 10:44 am

      Pauline, that post was meant for you! I wish you well on your treatment journey. It’s rather uncanny how much you and Alice have in common. Stay in touch. We’re here for you! Hugs, Brenda

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