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A Few Singular Pieces Make Retirement Style Very, Very Simple


In a suburban retirement, one really doesn’t need all that many clothes. Unless one volunteers at a high level and attends glam events. The rest of us can live pretty simply.

This doesn’t preclude style. I find that the best way to enjoy dressing simply is to find best-in-class pieces that I can wear over and again. So, as a jeans, tees, and flat shoes kind of person, I mostly want:

  1. Jeans that suit my body, in both comfort and aesthetics. Exactly what this means will differ for everyone. I like a medium wash with straight legs. You may prefer dark wash low-waisted skinnies. Or stretch leggings.
  2. Tees with something arty to them. For me this means graphics most often, as opposed to unusual silhouettes. I like my clothes traditional in their geometry. Again, your body and aesthetic may prefer an asymmetrical handkerchief hem tunic. The key is to develop your own understanding.
  3. Comfortable sandals and sneakers.
  4. All of the above should be trend-aware if not trend-forward, and in colors that work for me.
  5. And, were I to raise the bar, or try to stay warm, I’d add a jacket, a scarf that’s not shiny silk, and maybe even a hat. But I wanted to show you how I choose the absolute basics.

Above I’m wearing high-waisted 100% cotton Madewell jeans (Now on sale. BTW, I know the way I’m standing it looks as though the jeans sag, but once I move around they behave themselves), a “cropped” tee by SEA of New York, Birkenstock Gizehs, and simple diamond studs, necklace, wedding ring.

Let me first explain why I love that SEA tee. Of course, I do just like the way it looks. But, you know how “marinière” stripes are all the rage? This, my friends, is a “marin.” Van Gogh self-portrait hair reference for extra credit. Mic drop. Intellectual tongue-in-cheek fashion just slays me.


Hey sailor.

Why the jeans? Their high waist on my long torso means I can wear a quasi-cropped tee with midlife impunity. Why Birkenstocks? Because Birkenstocks, in white pearlized patent because I want to load on all the subtle detail I can.

Also, SEA is new to me but I like their stuff.

A Few More Stellar Jeans, Tees, And Flats

As Sturdy Gals know, in their hearts, even a jeans girl likes to dress up now and then. Last weekend most of my close family got together to celebrate my upcoming birthday. Turns out that the simple model of best-of-kind works for a Fun Night Out Use Case too.

I bought this little black Narciso Rodriguez dress in 2009. For you, a similar dress might be navy, gray, or brown. Or fuchsia, for that matter. These sleeves are just long enough for upper arm coverage, but short for Northern  California summer nights. Neckline shows just a enough decolletage and no more, length shows just enough of my knees. So I feel decorous, despite the extremely close fit of the wool doubleknit. Win-win.

The shoes are by Jimmy Choo. I wore them when I got married. They are a pearlized suede with crystal toe-caps and metal heels. Again, loading neutral texture details onto a classic shoe.

Oh, and I curled my hair with that Conair gizmo one last time before giving it to my daughter. The gizmo, I gave her the gizmo, not my hair.

From bathroom selfie,


to hand-on-hip blog pose. I asked my son to take an outdoor photo. “In the middle of dinner?” he asked. “Yup,” I said. Then I handed him the camera with an incorrect setting and had to Photoshop my way to black and white. Eh, you can at least see the dress seaming.



Little Black Dresses In A Range Of Silhouettes, And Alluring Shoes You Can Walk In And Wear To Dinner With Your Family


There’s a lot to be said for style in retirement. We lose our smooth upper arms, keep our little black dresses, and, with luck, gain a boatload of confidence and good humor about our looks. It’s worth investing in pieces that take our simple outfits up a notch, and in the self-understanding to know what those pieces might be.

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40 Responses

  1. Jeans, tshirt and sandals work just about anywhere. I remember wearing a variation of that in college. The only time I don’t like to see it is when out to a nice dinner, etc. it diminishes the special quality of the event. Otherwise, that’s a very nice take on a universal uniform.

    Love your LBD. Have been looking for one myself.

    1. @Mary anne, I agree – one should honor the occasion and location. And good luck with the LBD, there are so many options, I think it should be doable this year.

  2. Several thoughts about showing legs and knees. If you have knobby knees (even the lovely Demi Moore suffered from this), have your hem line hit just below the knee. If you have skinny, unshapely legs, drop the hemline a little bit more to where your muscle just starts to widen.

    If you have nice legs and/or long legs, show them off but skip pointed shoes. You don’t need Mary Jane toes but a slightly rounded toe softens the angularity. Stilettos (which means sharp dagger in Italian) are very dangerous for the wearer. Broken ankles and broken hips are no fun at any age. I like a normal size 2-1/2″ to 3-1/2″ heel. Be careful about clunky heels. No matter what the rest of the shoe looks like, they make you look bottom heavy. A slim wedge is much more attractive and never goes out of date. Nordstom and other shoe retailers sell “bling” clip-ons to dress up otherwise run of the mill shoes. is a great on-line resource for the most amazing bling for shoes.

    If you find the perfect shoe in the non-perfect color, your local cobbler can dye leather shoes in any of at least 50 colors. If you are handy, paint them yourself. As a “Spring” color, I can rarely find fashionable clothes to harmonize with my golden blonde hair and peaches-and-cream skin. So lots of color correction for clothing is required.

    If you have fat and/or stumpy legs, NEVER show them. That’s why pants suits or floor length dresses are and should be a uniform for some people.

    Always show off YOUR best features whatever they happen to be…

    As Bing Crosby sang,

    You’ve got to accentuate the positive
    Eliminate the negative
    Latch on to the affirmative
    Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

    1. @Carol, Nice resource and idea on the shoe bling. However, I will differ from you on the NEVER showing your ankles if you don’t like your weight. I think we need to give tips on how to accentuate certain aspects of our silhouettes, but make clear that it’s wholly optional. I want to support all definitions of style, some of which have nothing to do with the shape of our bodies.

  3. I think I live in jeans or chinos, tee shirt and birkenstocks, well maybe boots when winter arrives, and a sweater. I like high-waisted jeans because I am long through the torso, and they give me more leeway with tops, although classic tees do not tend to be my friends. (and I’m sad they don’t have those cherry birkenstocks in my size, not that I need them anyway)

  4. I also love jeans, artsy tees, yoga pants, etc. But as a newly retired person for whom my outings are about yoga class, outdoor walks, grocery shopping and my at-home activities are bout reading, housework, simple meals and gardening, these utilitarian outfits feel too utilitarian.

  5. (Somehow I posted the above before I meant to do so!)

    Anyway, there has to be some way I can take my new non-working couture up a notch or three. I once said here that my style model is Debbie Harry. Oh, that my current uniforms made me look more Debbie and less Aunt Emily.

    1. @Ann, Would you like me to include links to posts where I talk about how I do that? Let’s pretend you said yes;).

      Chandelier Earrings:


      Baseball Cap, Jacket:


      But I’m always working with jeans/khakis/flats etc. because if I try to do otherwise I’ll just not leave the house:). I should note – I don’t try to add style to my yoga pants. I just try to wear black sneakers instead of the pink and white ones;).

    2. @Ann, No you are;). And I imagine little of what I wrote is news to you, but, anything that gets us closer to Debbie, or to Annie L. for that matter, is worth sharing.

  6. Lovely dress,lovely lady!
    Of course we need a photo in the middle of dinner :-)
    I ‘ve found my LBD a couple of years ago- Hugo Boss (arms on display-the only mistake) and now I really, really need very,very much LND :-) with short sleeves :-)

  7. I have really embraced the casual me, like you have. You look fantastic, and have just enough edge to look as though you pay a bit of attention to fashion, which is the perfect balance.

    I have all jeans, various blues and black, and one black dress. Not a skirt or anything else.

    Your hair looks great with the slight curl, but I understand that it’s maybe too much trouble!

    1. @Kathy, I like the curl too, and may get one of those gizmos for myself. Too much effort for day to day, but super fun for a night out.

      And exactly this is what I want: just enough edge to look as though you pay a bit of attention to fashion, which is the perfect balance.

      Thank you!

  8. You look great…You dress up and make it look effortless …so elegant.

    I have trouble with tees with images. My figure is such that I do not want any focused attention on my upper body!

  9. The sturdy girl dresses up and with such success…Love your hair with the curl…Even though you are turning over the curl wand to DD…
    The casual clothes are great selections…I, too, get smiles at Sea’s sailor…
    The third act does, indeed, have special costuming…

  10. Isn’t living with a simple wardrobe great? I love that your black dress has been around for years. To me the T-shirt looks a little young — do you feel that way? I sometimes feel like I want to dress in whatever the college girls are wearing because they are masters of comfortable and cute. How do we differentiate and elevate those looks?

    I think that a shoe special edition would be wonderful for us middle age ladies who want comfort and might have some foot issues. I’d also love to see prices under $250 max. Your sandals are super cute.

    1. @Karen, The tee doesn’t feel “young,” per se, to me. For better or worse, I associate “young” with puffed sleeves, ruffles, too many pastels, or, alternatively, with heavy metal tees;). But that’s just personal style language. Which probably also warrants a post.

      And I’ll gladly write a post on Footwear. There’s a retailer that specializes in comfortable shoes – and I’ve found several pair there I like.

  11. Dear Lisa, Since neither you nor I have degrees in Fashion Design, your’s I believe is in Finance while mine is in Biology/Chemistry, Endocrinology and Genetics, BOTH of our opinions should be viewed as just that – opinions.

    Therefore, in my opinion, T-shirts look best on males and females with flat or semi-flat chests. For all the rest of us, a more structured look is in order. Unless you plan to enter a Wet T-shirt contest, heavier weight double knit tops can be casual but more flattering than a T-shirt. If you are built more like Dolly Parton than Twiggy, then cotton, linen or a woven blend with slightly padded shoulders is a good look. I always like set-in sleeves with a crisp, flipped up collar ala Kathryn Hepburn or 60 year old fashion icon Inès de La Fressange. Insouciant yet adult. A bit of ironing involved, but, if one is retired, one has the time.

    I save my Sturdy Girl T-shirts and jeans for gardening and housework. Hey, just my opinion.

    And, by the way, Nordstrom carries cotton, linen and woven blend shirts for women with collars that can be flipped up.

    Smiles from Carol

    1. @Carol, Hahahahahha! No wet t-shirt contest for me! But I live in the SF Bay Area where tees are practically a regional uniform. Also, maybe you can’t see it, but the high-waisted jeans + short unfitted tee made me look quite narrow-waisted and I did like that;).

      I agree, our degrees don’t play any role here. It is just opinion. I try to set the context for my fashion opinions – i.e. High WASP + Northern California liberal = well, whatever it equals;). So much of personal style is context-driven.

      My assumption, actually my recommendation, is that readers follow a whole set of bloggers and then merge the ideas and sort through the ideas to find their own style.

      Hey, maybe that’s a blog post of its own! Thanks!

  12. Just offering some alternate suggestions for your readers with normal, female figures. I even plugged Nordstrom for you!

  13. Lisa,

    “In a suburban retirement, one really doesn’t need all that many clothes.” Lucky you!

    For those of us still working, here’s a question for you. What advice might you have for building a capsule or uniform-type wardrobe? (Think Matilda Kahl)

    I would love to hear your imaginings about how you might go about creating a simple, classic, stylish, and – most of all – easy way to get dressed in the mornings for work. Thanks for considering this question – I would appreciate your thoughts!


    1. @Sue, I’d be happy to do a work post. I would ask, however, how formal is your office? And what’s the discipline? (marketing, finance, customer service, sales, art direction, etc.) I’ve written some posts before on work wardrobe, and I will also round those up in the post.

    2. @Sue,

      Hi Lisa – thanks so much! I work in academia as a professor in the southeast. Usually variations of business casual to business formal work best depending on the demands of the day. Most days are combinations of faculty and/or student meetings, teaching in a classroom, and working in my office or research lab. Less often I’m attending a conference and/or giving a formal presentation. Sue

  14. Nice outfits. Love the versatility of jeans and the LBD. Both can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. You also wear your curls well. Susan

  15. The jeans I clicked through two had an interesting hem. it’s unfinished and the back is a little bit longer than the front. I don’t think those were the ones that you had on but I’d seen those other them on a pin on Pinterest and thought they were kind of neat looking. If you’re going to wear heels with your jeans then maybe that lets the front of your shoe be seen better.

    1. @Roseag, Those weren’t the ones I was wearing, so I should correct the link, but I did see those and in New York people were doing all kinds of things with the hems of their jeans…

  16. SMOOTH UPPER ARMS………..YEP they are GONE!I was never one for lotion but fine it does make a difference NOW!YOU have been ONE BUSY GAL……….
    Question for you is your BIRTHDAY Tomorrow?OCT FIRST?THAT is my SONS birthday if TRUE!
    You look GREAT in all that YOU FEATURE……………..keep up the GOOD WORK!

    1. Thank you! And my birthday is today, September 30th. The big Six Oh! Happy birthday to your son, tomorrow:).

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