22 In Getting Dressed/ Series

The Anatomy of an Outfit Inspired by Madeleine Albright

Accessories for a black and white outfit on BrendaKinsel.com

An outfit inspired by Madeleine Albright’s pin collection


You can’t wake up the morning after seeing the Madeleine Albright pin collection (“Read My Pins”) that’s currently being exhibited at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco without being inspired to create a thoughtful outfit.

As the first woman ever to be appointed Secretary of State when President Bill Clinton was in office, Madeleine Albright traveled all over the world meeting with leaders of countries that were both friendly to and unfriendly to the United States. She used her brooch collection to start the talking and negotiating. Even Valdimir Putin would be anxious to see what kind of pin she’d be wearing when they met. Would it be a snake? A dragon? A butterfly?

Just think of that: Putin was reading her pins to see if she was coming in peace or had a bone to pick with him.

Now I’m not dressing to meet with world leaders. I’m dressing to please myself, entertain myself, and look decent in public. The fact that I’m a style and wardrobe consultant gives me a lot of room to be creative. I can wear black patent pointy toe shoes with large velvet bows during the day, no questions asked. (But then can’t we all?)

Monday morning outfit

The day after seeing the exhibit I woke up with Madeleine and the stories of her pins stirring my heart. I could wear an outfit to work that I’d worn before or I could build a brand new one. I heard build a new one in my ear and so I did.

My starting point: The night before I’d laid out a pair of black lace pants to remind myself to wear them this week. They are a cotton/rayon blend, lined, and quite sturdy. They’re sort of dressy but not really. They could be worn with a jean jacket or a fancy one. I figured I’d wear them with a simple black sweater. But then…

My top: Instead, my lace pants wanted to be paired with a cream cotton blouse with cut outs. I thought of adding a black swing cardigan. But then…

My jacket: I looked for the Armani black textured jacket hanging in my closet. It too is rather sturdy and would be perfect to wear on a cold day. I slipped it on; I liked it! Next came the shoes. Booties, black booties made sense. But then…

My shoes: Something inside me said no to the booties. Lace loves velvet so I pulled out my AGL black patent leather pointy toed flats (oh so comfortable!) with the wide velvet bows. I was going to be on my feet for hours in a client’s closet. These would be perfect. Now for the accessories. I thought of adding a long pendant necklace. But then…


Wearing three brooches on a lapel on BrendaKinsel.com

A cluster of brooches on my lapel


My accessories: A necklace going over the beautiful cut out design of the blouse seemed wrong. Don’t cover up the blouse, I thought. But the outfit didn’t seem quite finished. I thought to myself, If only I had a pin collection like Madeleine Albright has. I had little hope, but I went to my pin box and poked around in there. I pulled out the butterfly pin. And then I remembered how Madeleine likes to cluster pins. Well, cluster I would! I reached for another pin, one in the shape of a wreath. I was happy. Except for one thing: I like odd numbers. Could I add a third pin? I looked again and there was Mother’s white flower pin. What joy it would be to wear her pin! I can still see it on her jackets. All I needed to do now was add earrings. But then…

More accessories: There was one more pin that was looking up at me. I love it because it’s a bow and it’s made out of grosgrain ribbon and it has white stitching. I never quite figured out how to wear it. Once when I went through my jewelry, I sent Mom a care package of things I thought she’d enjoy, including this bow pin.

When I was home in August, going through more of her things, I found it again.

I was with my daughter Caitlin in London in 2008 shopping with her at Top Shop when I first saw it. It was so inexpensive but very dear to me. I especially love the memories of Caitlin, Mom and me being all tied up in this little black bow.

Where could I put it? I’d run out of space on my lapel so I put it on the cuff of my jacket. “Oh for cute,” I can hear my mother say.

I thought I’d wear my silver lunch bag clutch with the outfit since things were turning out pretty sparkly. But then…


Bows are the perfect detail for this outfit on BrendaKinsel.com

Bows times three in my black pant suit outfit


My handbag: It struck me! I was wearing my heart and a bow on my sleeve, bows on my shoes and I have a leather handbag that has a big bow on it! It’s my Zac Posen bag. Now I had bows in three places. Don’t bother sending me to the moon, I’m already there. And I’m swooning. Swooning on the moon over my cream and black outfit with pins and bows galore.


The Anatomy of an Outfit on BrendaKinsel.com

Enjoying the anatomy of my outfit


A couple of extras: I always wear my ring by Jennifer Moore (on my right hand) but I added my leaf diamond ring to my right middle finger. I also added my vintage Lanvin cream bracelet. If I happened to be in a coffee shop and Madeleine Albright walked in I bet she’d stop and talk to me about my pins. And I’d get to tell her how she inspired me to wear them. Thank you Madeleine!

A final note: I can’t wait to wear this again. It’s comfortable, warm, and deliciously full of texture and interest. The only “new” piece to this outfit are the shoes which I bought in October. Everything else has been living in my closet for years, just waiting for this moment to come together and delight me all day long. Gosh, I love how clothes can do that!

What have you worn lately that has you delighted?

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    December 20, 2016 at 6:00 am

    I think it makes a really lovely holiday outfit as well.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Thanks, Rebecca. That’s what I was thinking too! Thanks for encouraging me!

  • Reply
    Lisa White
    December 20, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Gorgeous head-to-toe! Love the brooch combination. It is so clever and really makes a statement. The bag is fabulous and the shoes…..the shoes….the shoes….are beyond adorable. Great style as always!

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 10:37 am

      Thanks, Lisa. I always say dress for yourself, please yourself, but when others find delight in someone else’s outfit, that’s just icing on the cake. Thanks you and Happy Holidays!

  • Reply
    Cheryl Johnaon
    December 20, 2016 at 7:55 am

    That outfit is inspired genius! I bet you had a great day!

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 10:39 am

      I did have an EXCELLENT day! I wore it with my clients then got home in time to teach an online class. Then I wrote the blog and then I watched Saturday Night Live from this last Saturday with Russ…and NEVER took the outfit off until bedtime! I enjoyed every moment. Thanks, Cheryl!

  • Reply
    Cathy D.
    December 20, 2016 at 8:22 am

    I love the way you explain how an outfit comes together. It almost gives me hope that I could do the same. The lace with the lace, the bows with the bows, and the pins! Another fabulous outfit!!! Thank you!

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 10:41 am

      You’re so welcome, Cathy. That dialog that was going on in my head was exactly how it got built. At each stage I thought of doing something else, maybe something safer, but with Madeleine’s words in my head, I just had to keep going and make new choices every step of the way. I think that’s how getting dressed works or can work. An outfit is a live thing. If we listen, it will speak! Check it out with your next outfit and see if that happens!

  • Reply
    Penelope Chandra- Shekar
    December 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    One of my favorite outfits of yours ever! In my mind you can never be less than fabulous in velvet and lace, but the bows and pins take it to another level. It sounds as if it might be too much, but the photos prove it is just right and full of charm.

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Penelope, I agree with you. If I told my mother I was wearing lace pants and patent and velvet shoes and three bows and three pins plus two rings and a bracelet to work she’d be rolling her eyes. But I know if she saw it she’d be swooning just like I was. Thanks for pointing that out! In the photos (and real life) I thought it looked ladylike and pleasant, not over the top in the least.

  • Reply
    Brenda N
    December 20, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Love this look, Brenda. Especially the contrast of the beautiful ivory lace top & also the lovely “pin lapel”. Madeline Albright certainly inspires me to wear my pins, too.

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      That’s so great to hear that she inspires you too! It’s been a real treat to learn about so much more about her. I remember at the time seeing her with her pins on her shoulder. But these details make it so rich.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Brenda you never cease to amaze and inspire me. I’m just getting the hang of wearing brooches (after experimenting with layered necklaces, thanks to you) and now clustered pins! So awesome.

    On another but related note, I recently re-ordered my clothes using the Kon Mari method, and I was proudly showing off my work to my oldest daughter. She commented that I have more clothes than anyone else she knows (she only keeps things for about 3 months – obviously not my genes), and I was able to explain that I need lots of resources for putting interesting outfits together, a la Brenda! You are my hero, and this outfit is a clear example of why.

    Merry Christmas.

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Laurice, you are my angel! Thanks so much for sharing me the image of your closet and your resources. I love it. Just think of all the wonderful outfits to be made in 2017. Happy Holidays to you too!

  • Reply
    Patricia Watts
    December 20, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Very creative! I love the cluster of pins and the story behind this outfit.

    • Reply
      December 20, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks, Patricia. I couldn’t wait to share it. Happy Holidays!

  • Reply
    Barbara Kraus
    December 21, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I love the outfit and the adding of many “just one more” things. I especially love adding the bow pin on the sleeve as I’d never seen someone do that before. And the multiple textures. I thought I’d gone enough bolder, but this inspires me to try even more.

    • Reply
      December 22, 2016 at 9:03 am

      Sometimes the spirit just moves in new directions! Enjoy adding on!

  • Reply
    Barbara Kraus
    December 21, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Oh, and all the details. Those shoes! That bag! That top! Those pins! And the memories tied to the pins.

    • Reply
      December 22, 2016 at 9:03 am

      It really ended up being an outfit that I felt so good in because of what you say: memories. And of course, a love of details. Thanks for sharing, Barbara!

  • Reply
    January 1, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Beautiful outfit! Something so unique, so elegant and yet so very wearable.

    • Reply
      January 3, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Thanks, Irene! I might have to pull it out again this week.

    Leave a Reply