How to be a Sharp Dressed Man (as told by a Woman)

Here are my qualifications for writing about men’s clothing:

  1. I like clothes.
  2. I like people.
  3. I’m observant.
  4. I have opinions.

Those are pretty good reasons, but I don’t have any specific qualifications.  For instance, I don’t fully understand men’s sizing charts.  So I will caveat the heck out of this post and put in many disclaimers along the way, like the conscientious data researcher I am.  I just want to tell the truth and be helpful.  Those are two of my main goals in life.

Gentlemen, get out your notepads and pencils, because I’m going to tell you how to step up your style.

Men tend to change their style at life transition points – when they leave for college, when they start a new job, when they start dating, when they get married, etc.  Women tend to change their style when they when feel like they need a life transition.  That may be one of the reasons why men’s style hasn’t changed drastically in the past hundred years.  The materials and fits have changed, but there is more equilibrium and stasis in men’s clothing.  If one of my brothers wore my grandfather’s navy blazer, it would look sharp, but it wouldn’t necessarily stand out.  If I wore my grandma’s dress, people would say, “It’s so retro!”  Women’s fashion changes more.  Men tend to keep their clothes for longer and wear them out.  That’s why most thrift/vintage/consignment stores will have more limited selection for men – the men are still wearing those clothes or the clothes are completely worn out.

So if you are at a transition point and want to change your style, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Fit

Men, fit is the most important element of style for you.  Let’s break down how individual pieces should fit:

Shirts

A good shirt will fit through the shoulders without pulling.

You’ll be able to tell if the shirt is pulling if there are stretch lines across the back or gapping buttons in the front.  Now, I know it’s easy to avoid the tightness problem by going too far in the opposite direction, because I’ve seen tons of guys wearing shirts that are two sizes to large for them.  You can tell the shirt is too large when the shoulder seams are too wide and do not hit your shoulder.  If the shoulder seam is somewhere on your upper arm, the shirt is way too big.

The shoulder fit is the most important.  The second is how the shirt fits through the body (basically everything that isn’t sleeve).  Most of the time guys do not tell me their fashion woes.  I am left to figure their woes out on my own.  But the rare exception is shirt fit – they tell me all about that problem.  Apparently, it is very difficult to find a shirt that is long enough without drowning in excess material.  In America, there’s a preconceived notion that if you are tall, you are also wide.  If you are tall, but not wide, it’s probably best to search for slim fit shirts.

If the shirt fits through the shoulder and the body, the sleeves and collar are the last and finest details.  The ideal sleeve fit long enough to hit just past the wrist bone and show just a sliver of the shirt when you are wearing a jacket.  The ideal sleeve width is wide enough to be comfortable and allowing for movement, but not poofing out.  We should know roughly what your arms look like and you should have enough room to roll up your sleeves if you want.   (Disclaimer:  I know that some fancy shirts do not have sleeve buttons and require cuff links.  I honestly don’t know much about cuff links.  If the shirt fits well, how the sleeves fasten doesn’t matter much to me.)  As far as the collar goes, you should be able to button it without choking to death.  That way you can wear a tie without looking like your are attending your own hanging.  Believe me, I’ve seen many grown men look desperate at the mere thought of putting on a tie.  Well, tough.  Ties are required sometimes and that’s just how the world works.  I was asked about my opinion on collar buttons and I’ve thought about it.  I don’t mind them, but I think a collar looks cleaner and sharper without buttons.  That being said, they look fine – they just make the shirt look much less formal.  They make me think of checked farmer’s shirts, which I have a great fondness for, because my dad is a farmer and he wears his checked shirts every day and they suit his job.  For a formal shirt, I would look for one without collar buttons.  For a work shirt, wear whatever suits the work you are doing.

Now I can hear what you are thinking.  It sounds very difficult to find a shirt that fits in all those ways.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to wear clothes that are a size too big and not worry about the sizing?  Yes.  It would be easier, but easier is not the goal here.  I want you to look handsome, respectable, and like you care.  I don’t want you to look like those high schoolers working at Olive Garden who were told they needed a white shirt, so they all buy identical oversize white shirts to wear with their restaurant-official black ties and aprons.  Do they look like they want to be there?  Nope.  Looking like you care counts.  It counts for a whole lot.  The bar is set very low for men’s style and you can easily go beyond looking okay.

Trousers

Don’t worry – trousers are much simpler than shirts.  Trousers should fit at the waist with enough room to tuck your shirt in.  Ideally, they should fit well enough that you don’t need a belt, just in case there’s an emergency and you need your belt to make a stretcher or a tourniquet or something.  You don’t want to be overly dependent on the belt.

They should be long enough to touch the top of your feet.  I don’t want to see your socks when you’re standing up.  When you sit down, your trousers will get a bit shorter and then it’s okay to see your socks, but if your shoes are leather, those socks should not be white.  White socks are okay with sneakers or slip-on canvas shoes, but if you are wearing white socks with dress shoes, I’ll disown you.

Jeans should be worn loose enough for comfort – your comfort and the comfort of others.  Also, there will never be such a thing as dressy sweatpants.  They just look like pajamas.  I know that “athleisure” is a fad right now, but it’s already on its way out.  The athleisure trend has been great for the people who primarily wear workout gear, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that it looks dressy or professional.  Athletic clothes and sweats are great for working out in and sleeping in and taking your friend to the airport at 3:30 in the morning, but not for work. Not even the grocery store, really.

Jackets & Suits

I love jackets.  If you live in a climate that is too hot for jackets, I’m sorry for you.  They cover a multitude of fashion sins.  Most shirts look perfectly fine under a blazer, even the ones with stains or big sleeves.

If you are in a climate that allows for jacket-wearing, I highly recommend them.  A good jacket should fit through the shoulders (are you sending a theme here?), have enough room to fit over a shirt and a light sweater without looking lumpy, and sleeves that hit at the wrist bone.  A jacket doesn’t have to be formal, like a blazer or a sportscoat, but those styles do look great.  Bomber styles or basic jean jackets can be versatile casual options.  Here’s the rule – the more casual a jacket is, the larger it can be, because you need to do more in it.  If it is too tight to work in, it’s impractical.  The more formal a jacket is, the better it needs to fit.  That goes for most clothes.  The clothes need to be appropriate to the situation.  Speaking of appropriate situations, let’s talk about suits for a minute.

I think every grown man should own a suit.  There’s probably at least one guy out there who thinks he has absolutely no use for a suit and never will in the future either.  If you know any people at all, a suit will be appropriate at some point in your future.  Weddings, funerals, business meetings, interviews, parties.  There will be important times you are called upon to celebrate, to mourn, to witness, to take joy in.  The older you get, the more you will be called upon, because you will know more people and have more responsibility. Suits show respect to other people and, in turn, gain respect from other people.  So work toward owning a suit.  If you can’t afford one right now, that’s a perfectly good reason to not own one, but start saving up for one.  It is a good investment.

There are specific rules for how the ideal suit should fit and how it should be worn.  Once again, the shoulders must fit well.  The sleeves should be slim, but allowing room for movement.  The trousers should not wrinkle up around the ankles – they should hang straight and just cover the top of the shoe.  It all sounds like something out of P.G. Wodehouse, doesn’t it?  It reminds me of the moment when Bertie Wooster asks his valet the important question, “There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'” “The mood will pass, sir.”

Jeeves, as always, is correct.  The trousers matter.

As to how a suit should be worn, the lowest jacket button should never be buttoned and the same goes for a suit vest.  Don’t button that lowest button.  It just isn’t done.  When standing, the top button should be buttoned, but you should unbutton all jacket buttons when you sit down.  That seems like a lot of math, but it’s fairly simple.  Two button jacket?  Just button the top one.  Three button jacket? Definitely button the top one, but the second button is optional.  Vests can stay buttoned when you are seated, except for that lowest button.  I only learned all of this recently, but it makes sense.  All clothes become more constricting when you sit.  The ideal suit should fit perfectly when you are standing, so the jacket would be a little tight to sit down in.  Nobody wants an overly tight jacket, especially at a dinner.

Wow – that post covered a lot. I don’t feel like I have room to really do justice to styling and accessories this week, so this will be Part 1 and next week we will go beyond fit and deal with shoes, ties, hats, haircuts, etc. Send me all your questions!

I hope at least part of this post was helpful – if not, please let me know! I am far from an expert on this and I love learning new things and hearing from you all.

Advertisements

Dress Codes, Social Anxiety, and Loving Jeans

The strictest dress code I’ve ever had to abide by was during high school, but it was not set by my high school.  The dress code was for a choir competition/festival that our choir took part in.  (Why yes, I AM a nerd.  Why do you ask?)  We were only there for about three days, but the outfits for those three days were so thoroughly vetted and measured and calculated that every year when the festival rolled around, my brain had to work overtime.  Recently, I wondered how much of that stress was about putting together the outfits and how much was about me being a sweaty high school mess with major social anxiety going into a different social setting.  Was it really so difficult to put together an outfit that fit a dress code, or did I just MAKE it difficult?

To try and answer that question, I set myself the task of abiding by the dress code for a work week.  This was a short work week, because Labor Day happened, so it was only four days.  That was a comforting thought to me.  Only four days.  I could do that.  Probably.

The first step was trying to remember exactly what the dress code entailed, so I called my sisters.  During my fact-finding mission, I heard several conflicting stories, so I cobbled together these rules based on my recollection and eye witness accounts.  We think these are the rule, but we’re probably forgetting stuff.  The main thing was to compile a set of rules to consistently follow throughout the week.  As far as we could remember, these were the rules:

  1. No trousers.
  2. Skirts must be long enough to touch the ground if you kneel. That means the hem has to hit below the knee, not right above it.
  3. Shoes must have a backstrap.  Basically, no flip flops or slides.  Shoes have to stay firmly on the foot.  The backstrap was the part my sisters and I all agreed on, but I also thought the heel had to be two inches or lower, so I kept my shoes short and secure this week.
  4. Straps on tops or dresses must be at least three fingers wide.  Like a boy scout salute.
  5. No low cut necklines, no visible midriffs.

It’s really not that complicated.  I own skirts and dresses.  It’ll probably be fine, right?

Outfit 1:

img_2339img_2350

I leaned into the back-to-school feeling for this look.  The elements are pretty basic – a dark denim skirt that works with the length requirements, a collared shirt with little buttons and midsized flowers, a navy blue bomber jacket, and a very worn out and very well loved pair of oxfords.  I even wore my glasses.

What a cute little nerd.  I wanted to steal my own lunch money from myself.  About halfway through the morning, I pulled my hair back into a bun and that really just finished off this look.

I felt like a young student in this outfit.  Not a college student or a grad student, but a grade school student.  Like there was somebody else in charge of my day and my schedule.  Like somebody else bought my three-ring binder, lined paper, and packs of pens.  It was a very correct dress code outfit, but it owned me, rather than me owning it.  But there is something a little bit comforting about not feeling in charge of everything.  Responsibility overwhelms me every once in a while.  A little part of me wishes that my mom still packed me a lunch, because she always packed us great lunches.

The slight weirdness of this outfit was feeling young and small and cute, but still having all the responsibility that goes along with being an adult.  I have a house to keep up, meals to cook, a detailed and complex job that requires brain power and organization, even some management duties.  I don’t think it looked inappropriately young or like a schoolgirl costume.  It looked fine, but it did not kick start my day.  One thing I realized this week is that I rely on clothes to remind myself of all kinds of things.  One of the things I sometimes need a reminder of is that I’m an adult with plenty of responsibilities today and I can’t let them slide into tomorrow, or tomorrow will get pretty darn crowded.

Outfit 2:

img_2369img_2358

I tried on two dresses that I thought were long enough before I settled on this dress.  Knee length is a pretty squidgy measurement.  As it turns out, most of my knee length dresses hit above my knee.  It’s a good length on me and definitely doesn’t look too short, because I’m very short.  But according to the dress code, all those dresses that almost worked were out of the running.

Out of all the outfits this week, this was my favorite.  The dress comes from a Brtish clothing company called Monsoon and the blazer is an old standby.  I felt like the teacher, not the student.  The outfit ticked all the dress code boxes (hem is long enough, shoulder straps are wide enough), but it went beyond the measurements and also had presence and personality.  The print is the star of this dress, but the fit is nice as well.  The blazer elevated the fit and made the outfit look intelligent and professional.  Low, practical heels and a necessary camisole completed the look.

Outfit 3:

img_2398

I ran late this morning, so I needed something that I knew worked, so I basically refreshed the outfit from the first day.  I wore the same skirt, because knew it was long enough, and added a very safe shirt.  The print t-shirt is my friend when I’m in a hurry.  I wore oxford shoes again (in a different color) and threw on a dark cardigan instead of the bomber jacket.

With a strict dress code, some kind of uniform is almost unavoidable.  I only had my self-imposed dress code for four days and I already had a “safe” outfit to rely on.  Basic skirt + printed shirt + jacket + flat oxfords.  There’s nothing wrong with a uniform.  I know people who wear black every day and love it.  I don’t like wearing black every day, but I’m not opposed to a uniform.  When it isn’t dress code week, my uniform would be skinny jeans + print shirt + a dark jacket + flats.  It is simple, flexible, and reliable.  What is your favorite outfit formula?

Outfit 4:

img_2406

img_2405

It was the last day and I was going a little crazy, so I decided to try something completely different.  No more knee-length skirt.  Go for a full-length skirt.  It was hot, so I didn’t want to wear a jacket or even sleeves.  No sleeves.  Do I think this is the best shirt to wear with the skirt?  No.  I don’t.  But it did fit the dress code.  It has a high neckline, the shoulders are more than three fingers wide, it doesn’t show my midriff.  I wore sneakers, I cuffed the bottom of the shirt, which made sense when I left my house and then immediately ceased to make sense.  Do you know why nobody cuffs shirts?  Because it looks stupid.  I had mine cuffed all day Friday, so now I’m an expert on how stupid it looks.

But even with everything checked off the dress code list, there are hidden issues with the outfit that the dress code does not address.  For example, the skirt turns pretty sheer in sunlight, so I needed a slip to make it work appropriate.  The top has a high neck, but the arm holes are stretched out, so I needed to be careful that I kept my bra hidden at the sides.  It would have been better to wear a top with thinner straps and have smaller arm holes.  Those issues aren’t covered in the dress code guide book.  Most of the time, there is no manual when it comes to getting dressed.  It’s easy to make modesty seem all about measurements, because measurement is concrete and understandable and easy to verify.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if all we needed was a tape measure to make sure we’re being modest?  If only it were that easy.  Modesty always requires wisdom, even when there are lots of rules.

It’s easy to hear Modesty Always Requires Wisdom and take the opportunity to sneer at dress codes, but dress codes can be very useful, especially as we grow up.  They are like modesty training wheels.  Dress codes are a lesson in contentment as you refine your judgement.  The goal is to go beyond the letter of the law and learn to be appropriate in any circumstance you find yourself in.  You aren’t supposed to stay in the measuring hemlines stage forever!

I had a fairly loose dress code through high school, a stricter dress code throughout college, and then I started working in a tech department with a group of guys and at that point, I think the department dress code was You Must Wear Pants.  I think shirts and shoes might also be required now, but it is still very casual.  At this point, my dress code is minimal and I have to rely entirely on my judgement, so every getting dressed every morning is a challenge and a privilege, because my managers trust me enough to let me dress however I want.  Now that there is no manual, everything I learned while I was under a dress code helps me determine what I should wear now that I don’t have a strict dress code.  And now I get to wear jeans, which is great.  This week made me REALLY MISS JEANS.  I didn’t realize how much I loved them until I couldn’t choose them.

img_2104

At the beginning of the week, I wondered which would be more difficult: finding clothes that fit the criteria or my emotions about the criteria.  EMOTIONS, HANDS DOWN.  I could have worn an ugly sack all week and fulfilled all the dress code criteria, but I would have felt self conscious and feeling self conscious would make me less productive and less social.  Clothes and confidence are very closely tied for me.  I know other women who feel confident when their hair is done, or their makeup is on, or their stomach looks flat.  It’s like war paint or armor.  Now, I know that I’m still just as competent and intelligent in ripped gym shorts and a hoodie, because Gym Shorts Ashley is the same person as Blazer and Dress Ashley, but I sure don’t feel as competent.

I have social anxiety.  If I let it get the better of me, it would be debilitating.  Over the years, I’ve gotten better at faking being okay in social situations, but there are so many things I am afraid of.  I’m afraid of phone calls, I’m afraid of meeting people, I’m afraid of crowds, I’m afraid of the terrifying improv game of life, I’m afraid of people making fun of me.  When I let the fear in, I lose my words, stumble over trying to communicate what I mean, turn red, and feel like I’m falling down a dark well.  I just want to run away and hide until everybody is gone.  That’s why it is so important for me to keep it at bay.

The other day, somebody said, “Wait, you’re an introvert?”  I was shocked that they even asked.  Of COURSE I’m introverted and shy.  It seems so glaringly obvious to me that I almost laughed.  But it has been a long time since I let the fear take over, because the Lord has strengthened me and brought me out when I get in over my head, which is all the time.   I make myself to do things I’m afraid of every day.  You might laugh, but I make myself to talk to people when I grab coffee at work and introduce myself to people I don’t know.  SO intimidating.  I love people, but talking is scary.  Even writing this blog is scary, because I don’t know how people will react to what I say.  Words break down.  What if can’t make people understand what I’m trying to say?

The main way I combat fear is to remind myself of everything I already know.  Remember that God is greater than my fear.  Remember that God loves me.  Remember all His blessings to me.  Remember that I have the ability to speak, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.  Remember that my love for people always needs to outweigh my fear of people.  Remember that I’m called to be courageous.  I can’t just remember these things once and have them stick forever.  I have to re-remember the truth every single day.  I love Bob Dylan’s song A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – in the end, he just decides to tell what he knows to anybody in hearing distance: “And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it, Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking, But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”  I know the truth.  Now I need to tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, then repeat.

I wear clothes that remind me to be brave, because if I ever decided to disappear, I’d be way too good at it.  I might always need training wheels for wearing my heart on my sleeve.  This may be one battle that I fight until the end and that why I need every reminder I can get, every chance I get.  Confidence doesn’t start with clothes and it definitely doesn’t end with clothes.  The clothes I wear are just one tiny reminder that I  already have every reason to be confident, because my confidence is in Christ and I don’t have to try to create a false little confidence from my looks, a few inspirational quotes, and thin air.  Thank the Lord.

Ashley’s Practical and Terrible Advice for Getting Dressed and Feeling Fabulous

It’s very flattering that people ask me for clothing advice, but it does make me realize that most of my advice is stupidly specific to how I do things and usually terrible advice.  All my other advice is basic and practical.  More like reminders than advice.  My practical advice is along the lines of “It looks like rain.  You should probably take an umbrella.”  My terrible advice is more like “It’s going to rain.  If you DON’T take an umbrella, you don’t have to spend time to dry your hair, because your hair will get wet anyway.”  I also love running in the rain, so you can guess which advice I usually follow.

The interwebs overflow with rivers of advice.  Most of the advice is GO TAKE A HIKE YOU UGLY LOSER, but more extreme and graphic versions with lots of swears thrown in.  I’m a researcher, so my job involves a lot of interwebs and googling things, so I have the opportunity to witness much advice.  When the internet gives me advice, I don’t take it.  This includes tutorials and “beauty hacks” and “clothing hacks” and “ten things every woman should own” and so on.  That’s because tutorials and hacks are forms of entertainment now.  They aren’t going to do anything the simple way.  90 percent of my hacks are just Safety Pin All The ThingS.  Nobody wants to watch that.  I’m learning how to make hats, but I’m not watching tutorials or looking up articles to figure out how to do it.  Making hats mainly requires plenty of practice and hands-on technique, so I’d rather just do stuff and learn on the go.  Will I make a tutorial of how I make a hat?  NOPE.

On the subject of safety pinning all the things, safety pins are the only reliable way I’ve found for solving the gapping problem on buttondown shirts.  Even shirts that fit well gap when I stretch or reach for things.  And as a tired short person, my life consists of yawning and stretching and attempting to reach things.  So safety pins are necessary.

5cfd3b7d-cf3e-4045-8039-51926f08ec9f

I don’t have much advice on HOW to safety pin things, except that traditionally the pins are supposed to be on the inside, so you can’t see them from the outside.  I had two safety pins keeping this vintage polyester number in place and they weren’t very visible and they did their job and it was great.  Not much of a hack, I know, but terrible practical.

More on the glories of safety pins – I made a very rectangular dress into a more fitted dress using only one safety pin.  Behold.

Again, not much of a hack, but it changed the whole look of the dress.  The same thing can be accomplished by wearing a belt, too.

More practical advice:  don’t be afraid to attempt a little tailoring.  Needle and thread shouldn’t strike terror in our hearts.  Here are a few of the simplest tailoring alterations.  Most of them are quicker with a sewing machine, but they can be done by hand as well.

  • Straight hemming.  This is just requires you to fold the current hem up and stitch it into place at the length you want it to be.  (I specified straight hemming, because a lot of hems are not straight.  If it isn’t straight, it’s going to take a ton more work.)
  • Adjusting waistbands.  If you have a pair of trousers that fit through the hips, but leave a lot of room at the waist, there is an easy fix.  Put the trousers on inside out and pinch the sides until the waistband sits well.  The pinching will produce two little triangles that will stand out straight.  Pin the base of each of those triangles, take off the trousers, and sew a straight line where the pins are.  Turn the trousers right way out and try them on to make sure everything looks right.
  • Adjusting side hems.  If you have a shirt that fits through the chest and shoulders, but is baggy at the waist, turn the shirt inside out and try it on.  Pinch the excess material and pin it.  Use multiple pins and follow the curve of your side.  This alteration will be a curved line on each side, so this is a slightly more complex alteration than straight hemming, because you have to make sure it is symmetrical on both sides and curved lines are always a little more tricky than straight lines.  But it is an inexpensive way to transform a shirt from oversized to tailored.
  • Professional tailoring. If you really feel out of your depth when it comes to sewing, pay a professional to alter your clothes.  Honestly evaluate whether the combined cost of the item of clothing + the cost of alterations is worth it.  The best time to evaluate is when you are trying it on in the store.

That is my practical advice and I stand by it.  It’s good advice.  But I handle all these problems in a worse way and here’s my terrible advice.

Are the sleeves too long?  Roll them up.  Keep them long so they can be used as mittens in the winter.

Is the shirt hem too long?  Tie it in a knot. Tuck it in half-way.  Learn to like it being too long.

Are your jeans too long?  Fold the extra material inside and let it insulate your ankles.  Roll them up on the outside like a hipster or J. Alfred Prufrock.

Are your jeans too short?  Wear cool shoes and make it look intentional.

Is the waistband too baggy?  Wear a belt.

Is the waistband too tight?  Wear something else.

Is this shirt too baggy around the waist?  Tuck it into a skirt.  Wear a blazer over it.  (The blazer technique almost rivals my safety pin technique.  I use blazers for everything.  Blazers automatically make things better.  They are similar to bandaids in that respect.)

I do all these things, but I don’t think it’s the best way to proceed.  There are things I know, but don’t do.  There are things I do, but I know aren’t the best.  How very human of me.  I tend to leave the house looking decent, but I have to fight against my laziness every single morning.  Morning does not make me shine.  Morning makes me squint and struggle to function.  As with most things in life, there is no magic bullet for clothes.  No magical hacks that make it easier to look great.  There’s just waking up and getting dressed every morning and each little decision that entails.  There are (of course) better and worse ways to do things, but everything takes effort.  Even the hacks take effort.  That’s why I’m very particular about buying things that fit correctly from the beginning.  I used to go shopping thinking that I could change everything, but now I have way less tolerance for things that don’t fit me correctly in the store.

We love a good makeover show, don’t we?  We watch house makeover shows, people makeover shows, youtube videos about rooms being professionally organized – bringing something out of chaos into a state of order and beauty is a story that humans deeply love.  It’s so deep that we don’t even realize how much we want it, but the reveal is so satisfying.  The problem with makeover shows is that it allows to think we can leave these things to the experts.  But we can’t!  We have have to do a little makeover every day.  During the crucial time between waking up and getting out the door, we have a makeover to accomplish with limited time, limited resources, limited brain power, limited everything.  It comes down to how we handle that.

Here’s how to leave the house looking and feeling fabulous:

  • Pray first.  If you aren’t relying on God’s grace to get you through the morning, the morning’s going to be a disaster.  Start the morning off right.
  • Know how much time you have and acknowledge how much (or little) you can do in that amount of time.  Be honest with yourself.  If you don’t very long, simplicity is your friend.
  • If your first outfit just doesn’t work at all, grab an outfit that you know will work.  An outfit that won’t let you down is worth its weight in gold.  My go-to second outfit is a print dress.  In the fall, it’s a dress with a blazer.  Surprise!
  • If you don’t have time to do everything, choose one thing to focus on and go simple on everything else.  I’d rather do my makeup than my hair.  I’ll brush my hair and put it in a ponytail, then I can do all my makeup in two minutes.  If I tried to focus on my hair, it would take far longer than two minutes, so makeup is the easier option.  I focus more on my clothes than my shoes, because I don’t care about shoes that much.  Ranking of importance:  Clothes, makeup, hair, shoes, earrings.  That’s why earrings sometimes don’t happen.
  • Be disciplined. Consistency doesn’t sound exciting, but it is the best.  Know what you can do, do it, and be happy with it.
  • Be grateful and smile as you walk out the door.  Gratitude and cheerfulness are beautiful.

I can also give you terrible advice and it is always way more fun than Be Consistent, so here’s some terrible advice.  You are welcome.  I’ve done all of these things, but I don’t expect any of you to follow my example.  I know I’m weird.  Some of my favorite advice to give people:

  • Wear all your favorite things at once.  Stripes?  Florals?  Metallics?  Sparkly bug necklace?  WEAR THEM ALL.
  • Wear all your favorite colors at once.  The brighter the better.
  • Put together an outfit that reminds you of your favorite fictional character.  Nobody else has to know what you’re doing.  That’s half the fun.
  • If you don’t want to interact with people, wear glasses and don’t smile.  (Remember, this is terrible advice.  But it’s the truth.)  If you want to look smart, wear glasses and look thoughtful.
  • Wear a blazer.  You’ll look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t.
  • If you wear a stripey top, Americans will think you look French.  French people probably won’t share that sentiment, but it’s still fun to have people say, “Oh, you look so French today!”
  • Wear a twirly skirt.  Twirling makes the world a happier place.  (Most of this advice sounds like it comes from a six-year-old.  But one doesn’t simply outgrow the twirl factor.)
  • Listening to cute music while you get ready makes you feel even cuter.

See?  Isn’t that more FUN?  The point is this – we’re given advice all the time, so we constantly have to decide what advice to take and what advice to ignore.  Remember that advice isn’t like rules.  Rules are easier in a lot of ways.  Rules apply to everybody and you either follow them or you don’t.  Advice isn’t like that, because it always requires wisdom.  It can be the best advice in the world for one person and terrible advice for another person.  I give advice in this blog, but I don’t know each individual situation, so I probably sometimes give advice that doesn’t work for you at all.

That’s okay.  Take advice with a grain of salt.  If something is very good advice, you have probably already heard it.  If it is crazy advice that just might work, think about it for a while before going for it.  Be careful who you take advice from.  And feel free to ignore this advice as well.  It’s up to you.

img_2260

 

Why don’t I wear this?

As the seasons change, I try to evaluate what I’ve worn and what I haven’t.  If it is the end of the summer and you reach right past that yellow sundress every time, the time has probably come to give that dress away.  At the beginning of a new season, everything in my closet has endless potential.  Right now would be a terrible time for me to evaluate my sweaters, because OH MY GOODNESS SWEATERS ARE THE BEST AND THE LEAVES WILL BE ALL CRUNCHY SOON.  I would be way too excited to get rid of any of them.  So during this transition time, I decided to target a few warm weather pieces I don’t wear very much and see if I wanted to wear them more or if I should get rid of them.

These pieces each have aspects I like.  That’s why I bought them in the first place!  But for one reason or another, I usually reach past them when I’m getting dressed in the morning.  Do you have pieces like that?

Teal tunic

 

img_2066

This teal tunic top actually sparked the idea for this week’s post.  This baby’s been in my closet for a few years now and every time I see it, I think “Oh yeah – I remember that top!  That top is a great color!  I should wear it…. tomorrow.”  And then I wear something else.

I decided it was teal top’s time to shine.  It couldn’t just sit there forever.  I wanted to remember all the cool things about it and I needed to decide whether I liked it enough to keep it.  Like any good evaluation, I made a mental list of pros and cons throughout the day.

Pros:

  • Easily the best part of this top is the color.  I don’t have anything else in this tealy blue green.  Refreshing, oceany, saturated, beautiful.  As soon as the little mermaid got legs, she walked into a store and bought this color.
  • The shoulders are wide enough to adequately cover all straps.  (Always a plus in a sleeveless top and an aspect that I do not take for granted.)
  • It has asymmetrical gathers that drape across the front, giving off some Greek goddess vibes.  The structural details elevate this top

Cons:

  • The neckline is high and the hemline is low.  Visually, it forms a big block of solid color from my collar bone to my upper thigh.  Pretty overwhelming.  It needed the scarf to break up the color.  If I hadn’t worn the scarf, I would have worn a big old necklace.  (When I grabbed the scarf, I was trying to distract from the top.  Not a good sign.)
  • The material, while being a beautiful color, is a bit clingy and thin.  It isn’t transparent, but it shows off every line of anything underneath.  I didn’t want to show off the shape of my bra, so I wore a camisole to smooth everything out.  But then the camisole lines showed through.  Sigh.  What’s a girl to do?

All in all, I still love the idea of this top.  Grecian mermaid goddess vibes.  But this top isn’t going to sit in my closet any more.  When it comes down to it, the top covers a lot of surface area, but it still feels insufficient on its own.

Sequined Top

img_2089

I found this lovely sequined Ann Taylor top at a consignment store a while back, but haven’t worn it very much.  This may come as a surprise to you, but I never want to look overdressed for my situation.  I love going to work feeling put-together and confident and pretty, but I don’t want to be inappropriately dressy.  If I was a CEO, I would wear a suit or a tailored dress every day, but that isn’t my role right now.  Anyway – I think this sequined top is great, but it can veer cocktail party quickly and that’s not what I want for work.

The goal with this outfit was to create a casual (but still put-together) day look featuring the sequin top that I tend not to wear.  If I was going out for a cocktail with friends, I would style this top with dark-wash skinny jeans, statement heels, and huge earrings.  So I decided to do the opposite for a day look:  wide-leg jeans in a lighter wash, black oxford shoes, a striped cardigan, and tiny stud earrings.  The cardigan is a thrift store find with lots of wear and tear, but judging by the tag, I’d guess it is from the late 1950s or early 1960s.  Contrasted against the bold orange stripes, the sequins actually fade into the background and become an interesting textural detail, rather than the focal point of the outfit.  Here are the pros and cons of the sequin top:

Pros:

  • The black bouclé material is high quality, holds its shape, and is not see-through.  I never take that for granted.  So many tops are semi transparent and it drive me nuts.
  • It fits exactly the way I want a dressy sleeveless blouse to fit – enough looseness for comfort, but with no exaggeration.  It is conservative, but without fussiness.  The hem length hits slightly below my waist and visually lengthens my legs.  The arm holes are the correct size, which is another aspect I don’t take for granted.
  • It is SPARKLY.  I’ll admit to be distracted by shiny things and this shirt has just the right amount of sparkle.

Cons:

  • This top is glamorous.  That may not seem like an observation for the Con list, but I’ll unpack it a bit.  When I look at this top, I think, “That is a glamorous top.  A glamorous person should wear it to a glamorous event.”  I don’t think of myself as a glamorous person and my glamorous events are few and far between, so I psych myself out of wearing a nice shirt.

The pros definitely outweigh the cons on this one.  The one real con is me thinking that this top is too fancy for my life, but I can be more creative with how I wear it and bring it back into my normal rotation.  My clothes are there to serve me.  I don’t have to be intimidated by my own wardrobe.

This was my favorite outfit this week – it forced me to be creative and think of each piece in a different context!

Sleeveless Sweater, Loafers

img_2115

This sleeveless sweater is such a funny piece.  I’ll go straight into the pros and cons on this one and then talk about the styling afterwards.

Pros:

  • The color combination.  Cream and yellow and taupe stripes?  So unusual and super cool.  I love yellow, but it is a hard color for me to wear, so I look for items with pops of yellow, whether it is in a print or stripe or embroidery.
  • The textile.  Each stripe is a different knitting stitch, so it isn’t just the colors contrasting, but the texture as well.  Also super cool.

Cons:

  • On their own, sleeveless sweaters make you too hot in the summer and too cold in the fall.  This one has a cowl neck and no sleeves.  When I was outside, my arms got cold and my neck got overly warm.  My body has a hard enough time thermoregulating as it is and this just messed with my brain.
  • The shape leaves much to be desired.  This is a top where some exaggeration could actually look really fun – if it was longer or flared out more or had cool sleeves, it would make more sense.  As it is, the shape is roughly rectangular.  Especially with stripes drawing the eye from side to side, on its own, this shirt makes me look boxy.
  • The stripes (while wonderfully colorful and textural) are every so slightly diagonal.  Again, this is where more exaggeration would help this top.  As it is, it looks like horizontal stripes that made a tiny mistake.  I always want to pull one side down and make it straight.
  • It is see-through.  I don’t feel like a sweater should need a camisole, but this one really does.  It needs a camisole to preserve my decency.

Lots of cons on that list.  But sometimes the overall outfit can redeem a piece by showing off its great points and hiding its weaker points.  Teamwork works.

img_2104

The sleeveless sweater PLUS A BLAZER works really well.  The blazer adds the shape and tailoring that the sweater lacks and visually narrows the body by drawing all the attention to the bright slice of sweater in the center.  The blazer provides sleeves and evens out that weird temperature problem, with the added benefit that there are no sweater sleeves to add bulk on the arms.  This particular blazer also shows off the best parts of the sweater, because contrast against the blue makes the yellow and cream even more dramatic.

So I’ve decided to keep the sweater around, but as a layering piece under jackets and cardigans.  If I was casting this sweater, I wouldn’t cast it as the lead in the movie, but I would cast it in a supporting role.  Not everything has to be perfect on its own.

The aspect of this outfit that I might get rid of are these shoes:

img_2122.jpg

I bought these shoes for 50 cents at a store called Thifty Grandmothers Shop and it was exactly what you would expect from that amazing name.  The main word I would use to describe these loafers is “sturdy”.  They have very thick soles and very little give.  They are slightly large on me. I might try wearing them with a pair of wool socks when the weather gets cooler, but even if I end up donating them, I have gotten my money’s worth from these loafers.  They are good shoes, but they are clunky and chunky.

On this day, I also wore a ring, which I never do.  I fidgeted with it a lot and then forgot it at my house at lunchtime.

Hat, Purple Dress

img_2132

I love hats.  I’m even learning to make hats.  (I’ll probably do a post on that creative endeavor at some point.)  But I don’t actually wear hats all that often – at least not as a permanent part of my outfit.  In the winter, I’ll throw on a knit hat as I run out the door and take it off when I get to work, but that’s purely to help my ears survive the harsh coldness.  I would love to bring hats back into style again.  Hats add so much joy and personality to an outfit, along with being practical and beautiful.  So I’m making a concerted effort to wear the hats I have and the hats I make.

The dress needed more evaluation than the hat.  I don’t wear this purple dress very often, so I need to pass it on or wear it more.

Pros:

  • The textile.  (I do love a good textile.)  The chevron stripe is woven into the fabric, using shimmery blues and purples and grays and browns.  Beautiful.
  • The chevron stripes are sewn together on a bias (diagonal lines) and the resulting shape on the top is very pretty and flattering.

Cons:

  • I’m not a fan of the drop waist style.  It doesn’t do anything for my figure, because it ignores my narrow points and emphasizes my wider points.  It isn’t very kind in that way.
  • The neckline comes just a squinch low.  Low enough that I have to worry about it.  That’s why I ended throwing a t-shirt on under the dress.  I could have worn a camisole, but I get tired of needing to wear camisoles.
  • It is surprisingly see-through.  (This seems to be a theme this week.)  It has a tiny navy blue slip attached, but the slip is so very short that you can still see a lot of my legs in the sunshine.  So I usually have to wear a camisole AND the attached slip AND another slip.  So much work.

I’m going to donate this dress or use the material in a project.  (The material really is beautiful.)  It just takes so much time to make this dress decent and it becomes more work that it is worth.  I already have dresses that make me look good and all I have to do is put them on and run out the door.  Dresses should be simple to wear.  If the dress is an ordeal, why own it?

 

This was an interesting week.  It made me appreciate every element of my outfit more.  It required more thinking and more evaluation than usual and I’ve arrived at the end of the week with a pile of clothes to give away and a pile of clothes to wear and enjoy more!  If you want to try this with your own clothes, I suggest starting with the list of pros, because it is best to start the process in a spirit of gratitude.  Start with gratitude and end with gratitude.

Fit, Part 2: Trousers, Skirts, Belts

Last week’s post dealt with fitting clothes on the top.  This week, I’ll cross the equator and deal with how to fit the bottom half.  During the process, I realized that I owned a few pairs of jeans that I never wear.  It’s not that they aren’t good jeans – they just don’t fit me properly.  My favorite pairs are dangerously threadbare, because I only have a couple of pairs that I wear all the time.  If I sat on a splinter, my worn out jeans might side with the splinter and decide to leave me.  Heartbreaking.  But I took this opportunity to think about what I require in a new pair of jeans and craft a plan before going to the store to look for replacements!  It’s important to have a game plan, because jean shopping can be a pretty demoralizing experience for me.

This post is in an Ashley Tries format, because I wanted to try on different shapes and think through pros and cons.  I only did one skirt, but I’ll talk through different skirt shapes and how to find a good fit.  Belts also made multiple appearances, to varying levels of success.

Monday

On Monday, I decided to tuck my shirt into my jeans.  And wear a belt.  The reason I did this on Monday:  I dreaded it very muchly and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.  Why do I decide to do things that I dread?  I have a bad case of the Curiosity and I want to know all the things, that’s why.  Truth is, I don’t know if I had ever tried it before.  I think I just assumed it wouldn’t be a great look on me.

Guess what?  It’s NOT a good look on me.  But it is for more subtle and interesting reasons than the simplistic and unbased fears that I made up.  My basic fear before I tried it was that the look would look terrible, because it would show my stomach, which is a squishy area for me.  I’ve heard such squishy areas referred to as “problem areas”, but that term seems overly dramatic.  If one of my organs failed, I’d consider THAT a problem area.  Squishiness is just squishiness.  But I can still be self-conscious about it, because I am a human woman and I can blow things out of proportion and manufacture crises where no crises exist.

When the outfit came together, I realized it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t a great look for me for a couple of different reasons.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  This is why you need to try things on.  Fears are too general, because they are hypothetical.  When it comes to clothes, facts before fears.  Try stuff on and see if those fears are actually grounded.  When you put on clothes and look in the mirror, you will have concrete examples of what works on your body and what doesn’t.  Don’t try to forget the aspects that didn’t work, because that is important information that can save you time next time.  If you know for a fact that sheath dresses don’t work on you (because you have tried on sheath dresses and they don’t make you look fantastic), you probably won’t take an armful of sheath dresses into the dressing room next time.  If you are just afraid that sheath dresses won’t look good on you, I’m going to make you try on a sheath dress, so we can get the facts.  And don’t get discouraged if a certain style doesn’t work on you.  You are more important than that style.  The process is all about growing in wisdom and knowing your frame.

Here were the reasons that tucking my shirt into jeans doesn’t work that well for me.  Sure, the midsection looked a little lumpy, because I don’t have flat abs, but it was the overall proportion of the outfit that presented most of the problems.  I’m only 5 feet 3 inches, and even for a short person, my legs proportionally short.  Long torso, little legs.  Kind of like a corgi.  The jeans are technically high-waisted, but since my torso is so long, the waist hit at a slightly awkward not-high-not-low rise.  It was just meh.  It also highlighted just how short my legs are and made me look disproportionate from chest to hip.

So I eventually untucked my shirt and immediately felt more comfortable for the rest of the day, but happy in the knowledge that I knew what I didn’t like about it.  My curiosity was satisfied.

Tuesday

img_1930.jpg

Skirts!  Pretty and sometimes tricky.  This skirt is the simplest fit for me – the waist hits at my narrowest point, then flares out.  This is known as a “fit and flare” style.  Circle skirts also fit into this category, but have an even wider flare.  The most important aspects of fit for skirts:

  • Does the waist fit?
  • Does it fit through the hips?
  • Is it the right length?

Remember last week and the ranked importance for fit on tops?  (Shoulders, chest, waist.)  Skirts are so much less complex than tops that if a skirt doesn’t fit ALL my criteria, I won’t buy it.  If the waist and hips fit, but it is a little too long, I might make an exception, because hemming a skirt is one of the easiest tailoring jobs.  Even I can do it.  If I can do it, you can do it.  But if a skirt is too short, there’s nothing I can do to make it longer.

One of the upsides to having short legs is that short skirts don’t look as short on me.  Tall women have a much harder time finding skirts that are long enough.  But even with my short leg advantage, I have to test run how the skirt fits when I’m sitting in it.  Remember, every skirt is two skirts – Standing Skirt and Sitting Skirt.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  If Sitting Skirt is bad news, don’t buy Standing Skirt.

The fit and flare suits my frame best, but I have a few shortish straight skirts.  I usually save them for winter, because they work well with dark tights.  In the summer, I stick to longer, breezier styles that don’t need help from tights.

With a skirt, I’ll happily wear a wide belt.  It serves no structural purpose – it is not necessary to keep the skirt on my body.  The belt is simply there to fashion up the outfit and draw attention to an already nice waistline.  Belts are either for practical purposes (to hold one’s trousers up) or for emphasis.  If you don’t need a belt to hold anything up and you don’t want to emphasize your waist, you don’t need to wear a belt.  That is entirely up to you.  I wore three belts this week and that’s three more than I usually wear.  My belts live in a shoe box like a nest of snake babies and most of them are accidental belts.  Accidental belts come attached to other items of clothing as an unnecessary add on. (“Buy this shirt dress and get a belt ABSOLUTELY FREE!”)  I usually detach the belt immediately and throw it in the shoe box.

Wednesday and Thursday

 

This is my typical warm-weather work style – fitted skinny jeans, paired with a looser top.  It’s simple and comfortable.  I added the belt to the cream top, because I was trying to wear more belts this week and I thought it would add some shape and look cute.  This is a prime example of an accidental belt – it’s a nondescript strip of green fabric that came attached to some matching shorts.  Didn’t want the belt on the shorts, because I didn’t need it on the shorts, so I took it off and threw it in the belt box.  My main use case for belts is to cinch voluminous tops or loose dresses and for this use case, it doesn’t matter whether the belt is skinny or wide.  Skinny belts are more subtle, so they are probably the more practical of the two, because you can wear one belt all the time and nobody will notice.  But if you want people to notice, a wider belt is probably going to be your thing.

Here are some reasons I like skinny jeans.  (Bear in mind, I was anti-skinny-jean for a long time and then I caved big time.)

  • They usually have a lot of stretch, because you need some give to get the skinniness over your legs.  The elasticity makes it easier to get a good fit through the waist and hip, because it will conform to your shape.
  • I don’t have to hem every pair.  Capris are full-length on me, folks.  With a skinny fit, I can just tuck any extra material inside the ankle and it will stay.  I can also cuff it on the outside and it will stay.  No pinning involved.
  • My calves are naturally toned, no thanks to me.  It’s just genetics.  I’m going to highlight those calves while I have ’em.
  • They look good with loose tops and tailored tops.  I tend to wear looser tops, so skinny jeans balance out the look.  It is possible to wear loose trousers with a loose top, but it would be more difficult to balance the look out.

Friday

Friday was the most fun, because I borrowed a pair of fabulous wide-leg jeans from my sister.  It had been so long since I had worn that fit and I wanted to try it without making a rash committment.  After a few years of skinny jeans, it felt so different and I loved them.  I actually went and bought a pair of wide-leg jeans for myself this morning.

I felt like a superhero with a swishy cape around each ankle.  I felt like a business-woman with a great work life balance.  I felt more dressy and more people commented on my dressiness, even though the outfit was a shirt and jeans.  There was also something about the extra length – with heels on, it still almost touched the ground.  I felt taller.  It’s just a testament to the how much fit matters.

The fit elements for trousers are the same as skirts, but in a slightly different order:

  • Do they fit you at your widest point?  (That is different for everybody – it can be the  waist, hips, or thighs.)
  • Do they fit at the waist?
  • Are they the right length?

These are ranked again, because the waist and hem length can be altered, but if a pair of jeans do not fit your hips or thighs, that’s a deal breaker.  You belt the waist or cuff the hem, but you can’t add more fabric.

This was a funny week, because I dreaded it more than last week’s post, but I learned so much more this week.  Just goes to show (once again) that unfounded fears aren’t the most reliable source to consult on such matters.  Be curious.  Figure stuff out, even if it means that you fail a few times in the process!  Learning is challenging, but worth it.

As always, thanks for reading!  I appreciate you.  Go be brave this week.

Fit, Part 1: Tops and Dresses

img_1667.jpg

Since fit is so important and so tricky, I’m going to take a couple of weeks to talk through what to look for and how to make clothes fit better.  What kind of clothes do you find most difficult to fit?  I can tell where most of my fit difficulties lie, because I steer away from clothes that are difficult to fit and require an inordinate amount of effort.  Taking an honest look at my clothes, I tend to gravitate towards tops and dresses, because I can find a fit that I like fairly easily.  Trousers, skirts, and shoes are more difficult to find, so I have fewer of them.  I wear my favorite jeans until friction reduces them to shreds.  My shoes fall into two camps: worn thin or like new, because I wear my comfortable shoes all the time and uncomfortable (but oh so pretty) pairs very rarely.

Now, this isn’t to say that all tops and dresses fit me.  Oh heck NO.  I just have a better grasp of which tops and dresses look best on me and I can see possibilities while they are still on the hanger.  But probably the main reason for fit issues is how my weight fluctuates.  If I gain weight, I tend to gain around my stomach area, so jeans and skirts will fit me differently at different seasons, while my top half remains fairly consistent.

That’s why I’ve decided to split this fit discussion into a couple of different posts – Tops/Dresses this week and Trousers/Skirts next week.  (If you have any specific requests about trousers and skirts, please let me know during the week, so I can address them next Saturday!)  I may make accessories into a separate post as well, so this may be a three week miniseries.  I should end this post on a cliffhanger, so you can’t wait to see what happens next!

img_0211.jpg

These are the fit areas for tops, ranked by importance:

  1. Shoulders
  2. Chest
  3. Natural waist

Let’s break this down a little bit, because a list on its own doesn’t take us very far.

SHOULDERS

If your top or dress only fits you in place, it should be through the shoulders.  Examples of styles that fit only at the shoulders:  trapeze dresses, tunic tops, swing tops and dresses, smocks… the list goes on.  Here are a few visual examples:

 

In a miniature heat wave, the fewer points of contact between me and my clothes, the better.  A lightweight swing dress is one of my summer staples, not because it is cute, but because of how practical it is.  (It can also be cute.  Cute and practical – best of both worlds.)

How to tell if the shoulders fit:

  • The back is not pulling and creating lines across the shoulderblades.  If there are stretch lines across the shoulder blades, that is an easy way to see that a top is too tight.
  • The neckline lays properly.  Like the back of the shirt, the neckline shouldn’t be pulling into a different shape.  I don’t my v-necks turning into u-necks.  The opposite can also be a problem – I don’t want my neckline flopping around, falling off my shoulders, or gaping.
  • The sleeve seams hit near your shoulder joints.  If the seams hit well outside the shoulders, the top or dress will look oversized.  Oversized tops are a very fashiony thing right now, so you will often find extra-wide shoulder seams for effect.  Just know that a very oversized top will need to be balanced out with a slim cut on the bottom (skinny jeans, etc.)

The nice thing is that the most important area to fit is not the trickiest.  If the shoulder seams hit your shoulders and the neckline is laying nicely (not pulling or flapping), you’re probably good for shoulders.

CHEST

Closely following the importance of shoulder fit is chest fit.  I have been very blessed in the chest department and my goal is always balance – not too tight, not too loose.  That balance is a very tricky thing and still one that I have a hard time working with.

I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t mention bras at this point.  I won’t go into detail, but if your bra doesn’t fit correctly, tops will not look right, even if they technically fit.  If you are having a very difficult time finding tops and dresses, go get a fitting and find a couple of good bras.  It will help.  Trust me on this one.  The clothes you already have will fit better and the clothes you try on will automatically look better.

The wrong chest fit is the main cause of the common shirt tragedy that is GAPPING.  I gave up on buttondown shirts for a while, because if the shirt fit my shoulders, it did not fit my chest (and vice versa).  Recently, I’ve come across a few buttondown topsthat were designed with curves in mind and actually fit.  Color me shocked!  The unicorn tops are out there – the ones that fit through the shoulders and the chest.  Gapping is the main reason I’ve never been very into shirt dresses.  I think they are adorable, but unless the dress fits perfectly at every point, the gaps will take over and run wild.  I’m not giving up hope on a perfect shirt dress, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.  (Mainly because if I hold my breath, the gapping gets worse.)

img_1721

One note while we’re on finding a good fit through the chest – sleeve length is super important.  Wherever sleeves end, they create a visual line across the torso.  This holds true for the necklines and hemlines as well, which is why I tend to stay away from boatnecks and crewnecks, which create a solid line from shoulder to shoulder.  A v-neck or a scoop neck breaks up that visual line and doesn’t draw as much attention to the width.  If a sleeve hits at an unflattering point, but everything else on the top fits well, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them in place.  It can change the whole look.

img_1876

NATURAL WAIST

We are getting into the bonus categories now – the Nice To Haves, rather than the Need To Haves.  If a top fits through your shoulders, chest, AND natural waist without any alterations necessary, you’ve found yourself a unicorn.  If it is within your budget, snag it.

Where is the natural waist?  It is the narrowest point between the chest and the hips.  For most women, it is near the base of the rib cage.  I have a long torso, but a pretty high natural waist.  I try to highlight my natural waist, because it gives the illusion that my legs are longer than they actually are.  Every little bit helps when you have legs as short as mine.  True story.

img_1744

This black and white top has beautiful construction – every line and fold and twist leads the eye to the natural waist.  This is one of those rare finds that fits everywhere – shoulders, chest, waist, and hips.  As far as fit goes, this is my favorite shirt.  I wish this shape came in every color and every print.  I’d happily have five of this shirt.

Dresses are more likely to accentuate the waist.  If you have a dress that doesn’t, there are simple ways to change that.  Belting is a good option.  (Here I reference every episode of What Not To Wear.)

img_1647

This dress fits through the shoulders and then floats out from there.  To add some more fit, all I had to do was add a thin belt.  It made a big difference in how people perceived the dress – I got a lot more comments on the overall style (“What a cute dress!”),and with the dress unbelted, I got a more comments on the shiny fabric and how comfy the dress looked.  All it needed was a little shape!

Ways to emphasize the waist:

  • Choose a skirt or trousers that hits at the waist, then tuck in or knot the top.  That can give a loose top some needed structure.
  • Layer up – a jacket that buttons at the waist will give a structured hourglass effect.
  • Belts – they do the trick.  I’ll admit I’m not that into belts, but I’ll deal with that more next week.
  • As far as alterations go, taking in the sides of a shirt is as about as easy as alterations get.  Turn the shirt inside out, try it on, safety pin the sides, then use a sewing machine or hand sew the sides.  Minimal tailoring skills required and the results are so rewarding.

If you have other questions about fit, write me and let me know and I’ll try to address them during this series!

I came across some of my old fashion sketches the other day, including this one, a copy of an antique fashion illustration:

img_1879

The dress is beautiful, but it also makes me grateful that I don’t have to wear a corset every day!  My clothing issues don’t include struggling for breath or having my spine rearranged.  We’ve gained comfort and a whole new set of fashion issues, but it’s always good to approach the new fashion issues with gratitude.  Clothing is a gift to mankind, but we as humans are very good at perceiving gifts as rights, and then turning rights into complaints.  So if I ever start to complain about how clothes don’t fit right, please remind me that I could have much more challenging fashion problems.

Back to the Blog: Intentional Dressing

I’m going to restart this blog by reposting one of my first blog posts, from July 2016. Two years seems like a very long time, but I think of these questions for intentional dressing almost every day, so here they are!  Please keep sending in your fashion questions this year – I love hearing from you all.  Here’s to another year of trying and researching and enjoying clothes!  Thank you to everybody who has supported my blog – I truly appreciate you.  

Okay, let’s start with the four questions for intentional dressing:

  • What time is it?  [Day?  Evening?  Summer?  Fall?]
  • Where am I going?  [Work?  Grocery store?  School?  Date?]
  • Who do I need to respect?  [Coworkers?  Spouse?  Kids?  The bride?]
  • What are my responsibilities? [Guiding tours?  Computer programming?  Playing Duck-Duck-Goose?]

After all those questions are answered, ask the last question:

  • DO I LIKE THESE CLOTHES?

It’s an important question, but it should be based on the first four questions.  Otherwise, we have clothes that spark an emotional response, but have no place in our everyday lives.  This leads to the common (but strange) problem of looking into a closet full of clothes and thinking, “I have NOTHING TO WEAR.”  If you are a foreign diplomat’s wife and routinely attend cocktail-and-canapé parties that determine the balance of world power, you probably need lots of cocktail dresses.  I love cocktail dresses, but do I attend many actual cocktail parties?  No.  I live in Idaho.  (Don’t get me wrong – I love Idaho.  Idaho’s great.  It’s just not the place you go for sparkling nightlife.  Unless you count meteor showers as sparkling nightlife.)  So I shouldn’t have as many cocktail dresses as the diplomat’s wife.  The answer to my “where” question is usually the office where I work, so I need clothes for my job.  Your clothes should be in direct proportion with your life.

Let’s answer those questions with concrete examples this time.  Let’s say I need a summer work outfit.

  • What time is it?  Daytime in the early summer when the days start out cool, but get hot by mid-morning.  [Special requirements:  Clothes that are breathable.  Nothing worse than getting halfway through the morning and being all sweaty.  Yuck.]
  • Where am I going?  My office.  More specifically, my desk, where I type on my computer and try to find data from foreign governments.  [Special requirements: my outfit needs to be okay when I sit down.  That seems like obvious, but when you’re trying on that adorable pencil skirt in the dressing room, you’re standing up.  Pencil skirts always seems like a good idea when you’re standing up.  Find a skirt that works sitting down – then you’re golden.]
  • Who do I need to respect?  My coworkers.  I work in a tech department with a bunch of guys, so nobody thinks twice if I come in wearing jeans.  The dress code is pretty chill.  I just avoid any shirts that are cut too low and any skirts that are cut too high.  We are all there to work and if my clothes are distracting, I’m letting my team down.
  • What are my responsibilities?  This riffs off the “where” answer.  I work on my computer, so I need to look fine sitting down.  Another aspect to this question:  when I’m at work, my brain needs to be switched on and functioning at full capacity.  So feeling ready to face the day is the most important part of being ready.  When I feel put together, I feel competent to handle whatever the world throws at me.

So what do I need?  A cool, breathable outfit that makes me feel competent and put-together (and doesn’t ride up when I sit down).  Simple enough.

On the topic of wardrobe basics – YOU DON’T NEED A WHITE SHIRT.  There.  I’ve said it.  I know people say that everybody should own a white button-down shirt.  I have felt guilt over my lack of white shirt, but not any more.  Truth is, I’m a clutz.  Any article of clothing in my closet will have to handle stains.  I also don’t look great in white.  So I’ve stopped trying to find the perfect white shirt, because a white shirt is never going to be a staple in my wardrobe, even if it is a staple for lots of other people.  Dress for your life and it will become obvious which clothes are your basics – the shirt that you reach for when you’re in a hurry, the dress that fits in all the right places, the jeans you wear out the quickest….  Don’t worry about what you should have in your closet.  Figure out what you already have, then build from there!