24 In Style/ Women Now

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


Ah-dressing grief


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

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

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


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

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

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




white outfit on brendakinsel.com

White felt just right


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

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

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

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


Problem areas


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

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


Going for comfort in shoes on www.brendakinsel.com

Going for comfort


handbags on www.brendakinsel.com

Three bags but only one at a time


I am a serial monogamist


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

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

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

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

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


Military inspired handbags on Brenda Kinsel website

Our military inspired bags go out for tea


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


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  • Reply
    Amy Roseveare
    January 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Great article, Brenda! I think that’s such a cool thing that you wore white for a couple months–I think the psychology of color is fascinating, and it’s clearly just what you needed at the time! I find the same with jewelry–my body craves certain stones at different times. It’s interesting to listen to what our bodies and minds need, be it color, stones, or even food!

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 6:02 am

      I so agree with you, Amy. It kept being curious to me that I would be wearing white day after day. It wasn’t until the end of the year that I went back to that great book and looked it up to see what they said. Couldn’t have been more accurate. Are there stones you’re wearing currently for reasons you understand or don’t at the moment?

      • Reply
        Amy Roseveare
        January 6, 2016 at 8:33 pm

        There are, and it’ll be a future blog post. 🙂

        • Reply
          January 12, 2016 at 7:57 am

          Can’t wait!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2016 at 8:13 am

    I have been frustrated. First of all, I am a nurse, and I abhor scrubs. So 5-6 days a week I bathe, make up my face and fix my hair. I then dress in clothing that makes me feel at best, invisible, and always, plain ugly. It is truly awful to have a passion for clothes and then intentionally be ugly. I am truly frustrated.

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      Bobbi, that does sound so frustrating! Sometimes I’ve thought a uniform would bring freedom but actually, it sounds like it’s dousing your freedom. I hope you enjoy your time off in full splendor!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Lovely post, Brenda. What a year! This inspires me to document my year of change – and how it reflects my clothing choices. If I write a blog post I’ll link to your fab post. Happy New Year! Dawn

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      Dawn, I would LOVE to read about your year of change. Please, please, please! For some reason, maybe because of the nature of the year I had, it seemed important to do some reflection. I am so happy it’s inspired you to do that too and I can’t wait to read your post!

  • Reply
    Bess Nathan Rice
    January 6, 2016 at 11:08 am

    I love this article! It is inspiring me to dress up. I love clothing and accessories, and jewelry, and sometimes feel guilty about choosing to spend a lot of my money on those things. I have more than I need, but now I understand why…because dressing is an expression of me. It is how I choose to communicate to the world, be creative everyday, and magnify my mood. Thank you! xo

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 4:05 pm

      Bring it on! You are so expressive already and dressing for that expression is exciting. Can’t wait to see you in town! You are in the hub of helping others express themselves. I love it! xoxo

  • Reply
    kimberly dale
    January 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    May sound hard, but how about , I get dressed to give a damn. I get dressed int the things I love to remember self. How about I get dressed in that pair of red cowgirl boots because they were her favorites( my grand mother) I get dressed to live, to celebrate us being alive, and they need us to do that… I have not lost my mom…but I have lost really good friends. My sister is a cancer survivor. I feel I have no right to be sad and or depressed. But it happened to me too…Took me a minute, to even get that I was, depressed, it was a gradual down slide for me…they call it compound losses. I wanted this grief, gone. I made myself care. I have two sons and a husband, had no time for the grief at the time…when they moved out of the house, went to college…swoosh…It Took me time to get there than a minute to bounce back, to get the snap back in me panties. I too gravitated to white, blue…cozy. I still do. I am addicted to white t’s. I deal in vintage clothing, have a closet or two full of things I love’d to wear but they became just beautiful things to look at…Your news letter always made me think…but this year your letters about your experiences while loosing your mom, really struck a chord with me…Thank You for being transparent, for sharing your heart. I am thankful that even my casual T’s and denims and boots are things I love…even my jammies, I love. Why it is important to even love your underwear, right? 😉 I give my self permission, after being told to do so by a therapist, to be still. I take a lot of time for me, which includes being a wife, being a sister, a daughter a friend… saying purposeful yes’s, and purposeful no’s. Being Intentional, and present when I do give a yes.. I have a blessed life, filled with family friends…critters, that remind me too, life, it is the gift. The loss of a parent, your mom…it’s a huge thing…it is important to cowgirl up, and to be kinder to yourself then in the past, too. I’ll be praying for you through out this year for you, for your ride on the wave.to be so full of…GOD winks. That Joy will wrap itself around you. I just really started reading your books…I love the way you sound on paper. I appreciate you sharing your heart. Thank You… Happy New Year Brenda. GOD BLESS.

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      Well, I am in tears. Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience. Yes, those compound losses. Spins you out like a car out of control on a raceway, driving fast. My brother died a few months before mother–totally unexpected, so we had that compound loss as well. Thank you for your compassion and especially for this: “get the snap back in me panties” (priceless phrase), the reminder to be kind to oneself, also to purposefully say yes and purposefully say no, and to be still (very hard to do), and to ride the wave, and to realize what a gift life is. I cherish this, Kimberly, and plan to reread it often! Thank you and God Bless YOU!!!

  • Reply
    Jacquie Denny
    January 6, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Perhaps you already know this, but you were following the custom of some cultures when you chose to wear white when you were in deep mourning for your mother.
    This is from Wikipedia:
    In Asia many people dress in different colors such as indigo, ruby-red and many more. In India the members of the mourning family and the people who come to participate in mourning all wear white clothes.
    The color of deepest mourning among medieval European queens was white. In 1393, Parisians were treated to the unusual spectacle of a royal funeral carried out in white, for Leo V, King of Armenia, who died in exile.[3] This royal tradition survived in Spain until the end of the fifteenth century. In 1993, it was revived by the Spanish-born Queen Fabiola for the funeral of her husband, King Baudouin I of Belgium. Additionally, in 2004, the four daughters of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands all wore white to their mother’s funeral. The custom for the Queens of France to wear deuil blanc [white mourning] was the origin of the White Wardrobe created in 1938 by Norman Hartnell for Queen Elizabeth (later called Queen Mother). She was required to make a State visit to France while in mourning for her mother.

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Wow, Jacquie, this is so interesting! No, I really wasn’t aware of “white mourning” and its deep history. Thank you for pointing this out!!! Hugs!

  • Reply
    Kim Williams
    January 6, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    Very insightful. I am currently reflecting on my style lessons from 2015 and have noticed how it was very important to me to really take the effort to dress for me especially during those times when life seemed to be more difficult. This year I have been attracted to white clothing but never seem to wear it, for some reason I always take it off. Found your comments about white very interesting and will need to spend more time thinking about it. Thanks.

    • Reply
      January 6, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Kim, I love how you used the words “style lessons”. Yes, perfect!!! I didn’t wear head-to-toe white–was mostly wearing it in pants. Interesting that you found yourself attracted to it as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Nancy Madlin
    January 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your further insights about your year. I enjoyed reading it very much

    About mourning, how about bringing back the black armband?? That, to me, seems practical in the context of today. I have also seen people using black ribbons in this way, for personal mourning as well as for national or group mourning (like 9/11). And I personally would love to see more people wearing these armbands or ribbons for an actually human amount of time — research suggests it takes about two years to feel “normal” again after the loss of someone close. Even a year would be a wonderfully healing acknowledgement for most people, I believe, based on my own experience and informal research. Maybe I will try that next time (which I hope is not too soon)…

    This is what I learned from my year in clothes — My habits of expressing self-respect and self-caring in this way are not very deep. When I was in an emotional slump this year in challenging circumstances, I started wearing the same clothes two or three days in a row, which I used to do all the time and stopped about ten years ago. I stopped wearing jewelry some days. And (ugh!) I did not get my hair trimmed for months (double ugh).

    On the plus side, I wore the clothes repeatedly on purpose acknowledging my lack of energy, not because I was being compulsively depressed. They were nicer clothes and outfits than ever previously, because I had spent several years learning and playing with this. I still wore earrings most days — and varied them almost every day. And I never, ever went out without sunscreen, foundation and a little eye highlighter…. So, progress, not perfection!

    I loved hearing the reasons you care about your clothes. Huzzah! Huzzah! I salute you, and appreciate you very ;much.

    • Reply
      January 12, 2016 at 7:58 am

      Thanks, Nancy!

    • Reply
      January 12, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      Nancy, I’m re-reading your words here and just have to comment. It’s refreshing to hear you say that about grieving the loss of someone being a very active process for two years. The more I’m in it, the more I see how that would be true. I have a client who lost her father recently and we were texting yesterday. She said she still cries every day. I wrote back and told her those daily tears were absolutely necessary. Although when I was crying every day I did sometimes wonder “what’s wrong with me” but now I realize how very very normal it is and it just has to be that way whether our culture is supportive or not.
      And I also love the details you give about your year in clothes. I have to admit that sometimes this last year I too was wearing the same thing at least two days in a row. Sometimes it was just too much to think about what I wore so repeating an outfit was easier. When I saw myself caring more I realized I was further along in the grieving process and maybe was coping better. But I am clapping and jumping up and down at your words: Progress, not perfection. YES!!!!! And I love hearing what your must-haves were: sunscreen, foundation and eye highlighter. I LOVE it. Thanks for sharing this with me/us! I salute you too and wish you a glorious New Year!

  • Reply
    January 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I love this post. I love the idea of finding *reasons* for the decisions we make, and especially wearing the most-loved items as talismans.


    • Reply
      January 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      I love the mellow way you start your comment, very Zen, very calm…and then comes the upper case desperation! I love it!
      They are by Paul Green. As I’ve mentioned, my feet are finicky so I will splurge for comfort. And these are definitely comfortable!
      They have newer models now. I just saw them in the stores last week. Good luck! And enjoy those talismans in your lovely closet!

      • Reply
        January 25, 2016 at 3:20 pm

        Thank you, Brenda! 🙂

        I have been searching the internet since posting that — I have found Paul Greens to be super comfortable in the past, although beyond my price-point comfort level. These may be worth it! I love the look on you. Thanks again.

        • Reply
          January 27, 2016 at 7:22 pm

          You’re so welcome!

  • Reply
    Laurie Valle
    December 24, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Great article. Enjoyed the your ‘psychology’ of dressing. It all makes perfect sense to me, the colors, the textures, and the shoes. My accessories are important to me. They are sentimental and comforting. Today, Christmas Eve Day, I’ll be going to church wearing a wreath pin, that I lost in church, then found later in church. (symbolic for me). Later in the day when my family arrives for dinner I’ll be sporting my Christmas ‘mules’. It’s truly the little things in life that make our spirits soar! Thank you for your positive, insightful and all around delightful ‘blogs’. It’s a little gift to read them. Happy New Year !

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