Guest Post: Mommy Style!

I put together a few mommy style boards together for this post – if you see anything you like, click on the link and it will take you to my Polyvore sets.
I’m very excited about this blog post, because since I started my blog, these have been my top three questions:
  • What should I wear when I’m nursing a baby?
  • I just had a baby and my body has changed – how do I dress this new postpartum body?
  • How do I dress for my job when my full time job is being a mom?

Since I’ve never had a baby, I don’t feel qualified to answer the first two.  The last question I will address later on in the post.  There are clothing principles that apply to every role we have through our lives (student, employee, parent, entrepreneur, leader, follower) and I can handle the principles of clothing fairly well.  I try to keep my blog fairly principle-based, so whoever reads it can apply the ideas to their own clothes.

Honest confession – sometimes it is hard to handle mom-specific questions as a single woman.  If the question comes at an emotional moment, it is easy to hear the question as a subtle rebuke (i.e. Fashion is easy for you, because you don’t have to worry about nursing / a constantly changing body / children) or it can feel like a defense or explanation disguised as a question (i.e. I exclusively wear leggings and t-shirts, because I’m chasing kids all the time and you don’t understand that, because you have an office job and don’t have to chase kids around all day).  I’ll admit that every time I get a question that I can’t really answer, I feel insufficient and stupid.  BUT I KNOW IT IS JUST IN MY HEAD.

Truth is, I sometimes envy moms, because I’d love to have a husband and kids.  But I can still want a family without envying the women who already have them.  So whenever I start imagining that moms are judging me and my “easy” single life, I need to stop it.  Even if moms do think that my life is easy, I can’t control what they think – my attitude is the only thing I can control.  Envy is never the answer.  Envy makes everybody miserable.  If you give envy any opportunities, you open the door to bitterness.  I love you, moms.  And I’m in awe of you.  All the time.  So this one is for you.

If you have ever asked me a question about how to dress when you’re nursing or about post-baby dressing and I didn’t answer you, I was too intimidated.  I never feel like I have the ethos to answer those questions.  So I brought in two women with all the ethos.  They are my sisters and between the two of them, they have seven children under the age of seven.  Laura has four children (her oldest is 7, her youngest is 2 1/2 months) and Steph has a 4-year-old and 2-year-old twins.   We had a great conversation last week and here is an incomplete and stream-of-consciousness record of that conversation, divided up into categories.  I’m pretty slow at taking notes, so some of these things are either from Steph or Laura, but I can’t remember which.


They are pretty beautiful.  

On Nursing and Clothes:

Steph:  Nursing twins is like its own THING, though. Nursing camisoles. That’s all I wore.  But I also didn’t leave the house for a while.  Nursing twins makes you REALLY feel like a fertility goddess. And now they feed themselves! It’s a miracle!

Laura:  [she was actually nursing while we had our conversation, which felt very appropriate]  …still nursing my fourth. He’s little and cute and I can’t say no! My other kids say, “Can he have crackers? No! He can just have milk, milk, and milk!”

Laura & Steph:  NURSING CAMISOLES.  You must have nursing camisoles.

Steph: Nursing bra, with a nursing camisole over it, and with a cardigan over that.  Extra layers are helpful. You can pull up the shirt and pull down the nursing cami and not show all of your back or all of your midriff.  Target has a great selection of maternity and nursing-friendly clothes.

Laura:  Don’t wear side-zip dresses.  Besides completely disrobing, there’s no way to nurse in a size-zip dress.  If you really want to wear a sheath or shift dress, get one with a full length zipper in the back.

General nursing clothes advice:

Wrap dresses plus nursing camisoles work really well for the period where you change sizes quickly, because wrap dresses are made to be adjustable.

Go for swing tops that fit at the shoulders, then give plenty of room at the waist.

If you do button-up tops or shirt dresses, you might have to size up to keep them from gapping egregiously, but you can always wear a button-up shirt open over your nursing camisole if it doesn’t fit quite right yet.

Remember that kids get bored and they will unsnap all your snaps and unzip all the zippers and play with all the buttons, so take that into consideration.

On Dressing a Postpartum Body:

Laura:  I think it gets easier after the first baby, because your body changes irrevocably after the first one….but it’s physically and emotionally hard every time.

Steph: With my first, a couple of months afterwards, I could fit back into my pants. But after the twins, it’s been a year to two years before I can fit back into clothes – I’m still not fitting into some things.

Laura: At some point you have to make the decision – I’m tired of my clothes not fitting.  I’m getting NEW CLOTHES.  For a year or two after you have kids, you can be in the position of having tons of clothes and NOTHING that fits.

Steph:  I had to tell myself, “I may never be the same size as I was in college and that’s OK.”  BUT I USED TO BE SKINNY AND NOW I’M NOT.  Hormones don’t help those emotions either.  While there’s a baby in your tummy, there’s a reason for the roundness and now it’s out and you can grab two handfuls of your own stomach.

Laura: Even if you COULD get back into those clothes, they’re out of date now.  The hard thing is that you’re learning to dress a completely different body and you want to dress your OLD body.

General thoughts on post-childbirth dressing:

If you want to spruce up your wardrobe, choose things that are stretchy and versatile.  Your size is changing a lot, so this isn’t the best time to invest in tailored pieces.

Shop for outfits, because it can get frustrating if you have a top that fits, but no pants.  Shop for the size you are, not the size you want to be.  A couple of good outfits can get you through a period of transition.  A pair of pants, a skirt with a stretchy waistband, and three tops – that’s a solid little wardrobe right there.

When you have multiple kids, keeping your clothes clean is almost impossible.  Go for washable fabrics.  [Laura:  When I drop food, it usually falls on the baby.  Baby napkin.]

Kids are more important than clothes.  [Steph:  If my kid spits up on my dress and I get upset, it’s not a kid issue, it’s a heart issue.]

When you go shopping, hire a babysitter or ask your mom or your husband to watch the kids.  It will make the process go much quicker and you can focus on finding clothes.

Both Laura and Steph:  I like having some kind of pattern on my shirt – a plain t-shirt shows all the bra deficiencies and any rolls you have.

Choose tops that have an interesting pattern or texture.  Draping is nice.  Thicker materials are great.

If leggings or yoga pants or athletic shorts are your favorites, wear them! Cute, active “I’m getting things done” clothes can be helpful. If you wear them out of the house, put on a cute top or little dress over the top and then you’ll feel put together.

You can change habits and setting goals can really help with that.  It can be helpful to make a goal to get dressed before your husband leaves the house, so you feel ready for the day.

You can be content where you are, while hoping to go somewhere else.

Remember, you are pouring out your body for other people.  (When you’re nursing, you’re LITERALLY pouring yourself out.)

Be realistic about sizing.  Don’t buy things in the size you want, buy things in the size you are.  If you really want to change sizes, invest in a couple of outfits for now and start working hard towards your future size.

On Motherhood as a Job:

Being a mom is a full time job.  It’s important and difficult and beyond full time.  So it isn’t accurate to say that moms don’t have to dress for a job, but how should moms dress for their job?  Laura and Steph requested that I bring back the four questions for intentional dressing that I wrote for my first blog post.  If you answer these questions, you can start understanding your role and how your clothes will support you in that role.

  • What time is it? [examples:  Daytime / Evening / August / December]
  • Where am I? [examples:  Home / Work / School / Vacation / Jury Duty]
  • Who do I need to respect? [examples:  Kids / Coworkers / Parents / Spouse / Bride]
  • What are my responsibilities? [examples: Playing Duck-Duck-Goose / Computer Programming / Taking Blood Pressure / Teaching Classes]

Once you answer all those questions, answer the last question.  It’s still important, but it rests on all the other questions.  Ready for the last question?

  • DO I LIKE THESE CLOTHES?

Answer those five questions and you’ll be all right.  And if you have trouble working through stuff, I’m here.  Ask away.  I might bring in outside expertise, but I’m here.

 

Ashley Tries Practical and Pretty

This week, I decided to go full on feminine.  Lace?  Check.  Embroidery? Check.  Twirly skirts?  Of course.  (Because deep inside I’m a 4-year-old who judges skirts by their twirliness.)  Florals?  Yes.  Like a rain of flowers fell from the sky.

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Day 1:  There were several practical challenges for this week – it has been hot and smoky (from fires in the next state over) and my workplace has air conditioning, but my house does not.  This week, my clothes needed work for inside my warm house, outside in the hot smoky sunshine, and inside my air conditioned cubicle.  Truth be told, that’s why I chose feminine styles this week.  Dresses keep me cooler and more comfortable than trousers or shorts, so while my primary goal was putting together a pretty look every day, my secondary goal was staying cool and happy.

This post really is an Ode to the Comfy Dress.  The first dress is a Boden print dress in a linen blend.  It has a print reminiscent of a Scandinavian folk art called Rosemåling – simplified and stylized flower patterns in cheerful colors.  That art form is all about beautifying the everyday objects that you see all the time, like dishes, doors, pillows, walls.  And that what’s I want – I want beauty in the everyday.  I want that mix of pretty and practical.  I’m going to list all the practical aspects of this dress:

  • Breathable fabric.  This linen-cotton material allows for airflow, so I stay cool even where I’m covered.
  • Machine washable.  I wouldn’t have bought this dress if I had to send it to the dry cleaners, because I’m not careful with my clothes.  A summer dress can’t be afraid of sitting on grass.  Summer dresses need to have fun and be brave.
  • Pockets.  Real pockets.  These are go-without-a-purse pockets.  Not like the fake pockets that you see in jeans sometimes.  Fake pockets are even more disappointing to me than raisins when I expect chocolate chips in cookies.  And that’s saying something.
  • A good fit through the shoulders, but loose everywhere else.  Really comfy.  I am aware that isn’t the most stunning fit on me, but it is a great day dress.

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Bonus prettiness:  Sara wore this dress on Monday and I love it.  It looks like a watercolor of the ocean.  Pretty dress + simple sandals.  Hard to mess that up.

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Day 2:  The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring

I did all the flowers for Tuesday.  Flower shoes, flower earrings, flower dress.  Meadows of flowers all over me.  Some things I love about this dress:

  • It was really inexpensive.  I spent around ten dollars on this dress.  I really love grabbing a couple of new dresses for summertime.  The price point gives a certain ease to the dress, because I’m not worried about getting it dirty.
  • The print is so busy that if I went on a picnic and spilled a glass of rosé down my front, I doubt it would even show.  If you aren’t a careful person (as I am not a careful person), sometimes it’s a good idea to match your clothes to whatever food you are eating.  I do know that prints are way more forgiving than solids.
  • This dress has good movement.  It’s because of the pleats.  It feels nice to move in.  I know some women who don’t like dresses, because they assume all dresses are constricting and uncomfortable.  This isn’t always the case.  I can’t think of a more comfy article of clothing than a swing dress.

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Day 3:  Polka Dot Dress

I slept through my alarm on Wednesday, so I had ten minutes to get ready and get out the door.  The whole gamut involved in Getting Ready includes getting up, realizing the time, panicking a tad, grabbing a dress, putting on basic makeup (foundation, mascara, and lipstick), and doing Something with my hair.  This day, the something was a messy bun.  A really messy bun.  The thing I realized after I got the dress on is that it’s impossible to tie the sleeve ties into bows from inside the dress.  I ran around my house seeking a roommate to tie my sleeves, but couldn’t find one.  So I tied the ties into knots (using hands and teeth) and ran out the door.

Good things about this dress:

  • Self-sufficiency.  This dress doesn’t need a slip.  It doesn’t need a camisole.  It’s okay on its own, thanks.  That’s why it’s the perfect candidate for a ten minute morning.
  • Focused detail.  The sleeve ties and cutouts are the only details on this dress.  Sometimes clothes needlessly suffer from too many details, when restraint is quite lovely.
  • Print.  The all-over polka dot print is great.  It’s as close to a neutral as a print can get.  Black and white stripes and black and white polka dots are great prints, because they can hold their own, but they are great for mixing with other things.

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Day 4:  Lace and Flowers

The only non-dress in this series.  I would wear more skirts if I had more skirts that felt like this.  It’s crinkly and twirly and flowery and comfy.  Also, it was a thrift store find, so it has still carries the glow of a successful hunt and a great deal.

The lace top was the least practical thing I wore this week.  It’s pretty, but fragile.  I am not great with fragile clothes.  Clothes aren’t supposed to break.  WHY ARE YOU BREAKING, SHIRT??  I got it as a swim cover-up for Mexico, so it’s not an important item of clothing.  Very pretty, very easily snagged.  I plan to wear it to pieces and that will probably come soon.  Beautiful and ephemeral.  Like a white moth fluttering beside a light bulb or a dandelion that’s about to pass away in a sudden fluff cloud.  I am moved by the beauty and fragility of ragged-edged moths and agèd dandelions.  Not everything has to be practical.


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Day 5:  The Blue Dress

I’ve had this blue dress for years.  It’s a blue full of stories.  It’s a blue that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and Wendy Darling and September skies and nests full of robin eggs.  I remember finding this dress and being completely surprised when I tried it on.  On the hanger, the color was the only thing going for this dress.  Some dresses look nice on the hanger and then don’t look good on a woman.

Remember that you are the best part of your outfit.  Your body, your face, your personality, your words, your glances, your walk.  The clothes are there to beautify you.  To use the rosemaling folk art example again, you are the permanent part.  You are the house.  You are constantly there.  Clothes are the decorations that beautify the house.  If you are discontent with the house, painting flowers all over it probably won’t suddenly change your mind.   If you always feel like clothes look better on the hanger, if you are habitually disappointed whenever you try things on, then you are probably disappointed in yourself, not the clothes.

I am taking a week off from Ashley Tries next week, because I have the happy opportunity to address my most asked question since I started this blog.  I have gotten this question many times and I’ve never felt qualified to answer it, because I’m not a mom!  So many moms have asked me the best ways to dress for a postpartum body and nursing, so I’ve decided to bring in some experts.  My sisters are some of the wisest and kindest women I know and they are going to be helping me out on this one.  It’ll be great, so keep your eyes open for that.  If you have any particular questions that you’d like them to answer, please message them to me sometime during this coming week!

Ashley Tries Styling Statement Pieces

I’ve probably said this before, but I’m not much of a basics girl.  Sure – I love my jeans.  I love a comfy black t-shirt.  But they don’t make my heart start singing Nessun Dorma.  Color, detail, texture, something unusual – these are all things I love to find.  My closet is not minimal.  It is not mostly basics with some statement pieces thrown in.  It’s more like statement pieces with some basics thrown in.  The practical upshot of this is that I have to be creative in how I wear my statement pieces.  If I have a statement top, but I only wear it with black pants and black shoes, that outfit will get tired and overused.  Keep your boldness and creativity and style those statement pieces.  Go for the gusto.

Day 1:  Embroidered Tunic

You know I love this top.  WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE?  The hand embroidery, the color scheme, the memory of finding in Mexico – everything about this top moves me.  This is one of my Nessun Dorma pieces.  It’s loud and recognizable – definitely a statement.  Probably the hardest part about wearing this top is the volume – it’s a one-size-fits-all design that would probably last somebody through pregnancy.  Since I have absolutely no need for maternity wear right now, I always have to decide how to deal with the size.

Since this top has a ton of material, I figured I’d use that to my advantage.  I usually avoid these white jeans because they do not make my rear look amazing.  COME ON, JEANS.  YOU HAVE ONE JOB TO DO.  Seriously.  That’s all I ask of jeans.  This top + jean combo is a symbiotic relationship.  The white jeans make the bright colors look even brighter and the top covers my least favorite part of the jeans.  Fantastic.

White jeans are still kind of a statement, because the eye is drawn to bright white.  This outfit still needed something to ground it.  Enter accessories.  Brown shoes and a brown and black belt, to ground and tone down the color scheme.  Black accessories would have been too sharp a contrast, white accessories would have been a little too matchy-matchy for me.


Day 2:  Tropical Print

Another shirt I love.  This tropical print is SO bright and bold that it feels like I don’t have to do anything besides add jeans and (possibly) shoes.  While that’s true, it’s not creative.  Think a little more, Ashley.  If I always take the easiest route with an outfit, I’ll get bored or it will start to feel schlubby.

So I started thinking about alternate layering techniques with this one.  I can’t put it under a blazer right now, because it’s blazing hot and only one thing should be blazing.  (But I do think it would look rad under a blazer, so I’m looking forward to that day.)  Another option is layering a tank under it and keeping it open, but I’ve done that before.  But one layering option I haven’t tried is layering it under a dress.  It turned out cute!  To continue the cute/ladylike vibe, I rolled up the shirt sleeves and pinned them.  That makes the whole shirt look smaller and more fitted.

Neutral shoes, shell earrings in the shape of palm fronds (because the tropical earrings + tropical shirt combo made me chuckle).  Hair was kinda messy Elvis, which I didn’t mind.  Overall, I really enjoyed this outfit.  Happy outfit.


Day 3:  Romper!

My first romper, everybody.  A lot of people have asked my opinion on rompers and I’m here to say that it all depends.  It depends on you and it depends on the romper.  I found this one on major sale at Banana Republic, so the material is good quality and I’m not worried about it falling apart.  I picked it up before I realized it was a romper – actually, that’s how I pick up most rompers and jumpsuits.  The scene at the store usually goes something like this:  Ashley picks up romper:  “Cute dress!  Oh….it has shorts.”  Ashley picks up jumpsuit:  “Cute maxi dress!  HEY – WHY IS THIS PANTS?”

So I didn’t set out to get a romper.  I was mainly drawn in by the stripe – it reminds me of a striped beach umbrella or a cheerful restaurant awning.  Pulled it out and oh…it has shorts happened, but this time I decided to try it on, rather than put it straight back on the sales rack.  Because that STRIPE.  When I had it on, I fell for the slouchy ease of it.  The looseness and length sold me on this romper.  If it had been a smidge tighter or shorter, it wouldn’t have felt right.

I’ve seen some really short rompers.  The DON’T LEAN OVER rompers. The More Than I Wanted To See rompers.  The Kind Of Like A Dress But Way Shorter rompers.  I think that’s where my fear came from.  They are a weird combination of looking like a dress, but nobody feeling like they have to follow the dress rules, because shorts.  Moral: be cautious leaning over, no matter what you’re wearing.

There are a couple of downsides, even to this longer-length romper.  Problem 1)  It tends to ride up.  Problem 2)  It adds an extra level of difficulty to every bathroom visit.  It’s the one-piece swimsuit problem.  I won’t go beyond that, but it’s kind of a pain and not necessarily something that I think about in the dressing room.


Day 4:  Sheer Kimono

Funny story about this interesting layering piece – it was part of a 3-piece set.  The set was a long sleeveless dress, a sleeveless tunic to go over the dress, and this sheer layer to go over both of them.  My friend Marguerite tried it on and the dress + tunic combination were absolutely her gypsy aesthetic, but once she put on this layer, it aged the outfit roughly 30 years.  So we split up the set – she has the long dress and the tunic.  I have this kimono.

It’s a lovely fabric – soft and sheer, with crushed velvet forming silhouettes of branches and flowers.  A bohemian vibe, which isn’t usually my style, but I’ll make an exception for this one.  I really have to fight the hippy look on this one, or everything goes Professor Trelawney very fast.  Jeans and a black t-shirt are really good at being the supporting cast.  Black t-shirts and jeans are the Sam Rockwells and Stanley Tuccis and Greg Kinnears of the wardrobe.  They don’t usually get starring roles, but that’s because they are such great supporting actors and they are easy to take for granted, but I love them dearly.

I could have just done the kimono and the metallic shoes, but since my mental taglines for this week were Today, I Go For The Gusto and Make A Statement, I added the camel necklace.  A necklace featuring camels definitely counts as a statement necklace.  Bold design and humor and whimsy all together in an accessory?  That makes me very happy.

If I wanted to mix it up more, I could wear this kimono piece with a patterned shirt.  It would have to be a pattern that doesn’t take away from the kimono, something clean and simple, like a stripe.  It would also look cute over a short dress and ankle booties.  But sometimes it’s nice to keep the outfit simple and make that statement piece the star of the show.


Day 5:  Statement Necklace

Since I highlighted the statement pieces on Thursday, I wanted to make the statement fade into the background for Friday.  To be honest, I don’t wear that much jewelry.  I try to at least wear earrings, but if I’m rushing out the door, I’ll forget to put them in.  Every couple of weeks, I’ll wear a necklace.  I have a pretty turquoise ring, but I probably only wear it once or twice a year.  Never wear bracelets or watches.  Not the best at accessories.  I’m in awe of women who have more than one purse and switch out depending on the outfit.  That’s so cool and sophisticated to me.  I get one purse for twenty dollars or less and I use it for everything until it falls apart at the seams.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  I don’t wear much jewelry, so when I do wear it, I want it to have an IMPACT.  I want it to be SEEN FROM SPACE.  I found this necklace at a thrift store and bought it because it was so big and chunky and multi-media.  It’s the necklace equivalent of a super excited, bubbly person with no chill.  I liked the idea of giving it a little more chill and subtlety by having it blend in with a floral print shirt.

I wore a soft, faded pair of jeans and flip flops.  I don’t usually wear flip flops to work, but on Thursday, my friend invited me to come get a pedicure with her.  It was my first pedicure ever and my feet have never looked so pretty!  I can no longer walk over hot gravel barefoot, because my calluses have been grated off and my feet are like baby feet.  Also, my weird toenail on my pinkie toe has never looked so normal.  Hurrah!

This week was a very busy work week and it helped that I started each day trying to be bold.  It’s not just about clothes.  There were a lot of opportunities for me to be brave this week and if you are mentally prepared to be brave, it is easier to face whatever comes up.

Ashley Tries to Look Pretty Without Feeling Pretty

To be blunt, I didn’t feel pretty at all this week and the last thing I wanted was photographic evidence of each day.  It was one of those weeks.  I don’t know what brings it on.  My brain recognizes that I look exactly the same as last week, but my emotions seem to be taking snapshots and then applying a filter called Hideous.  Most of the time, my face doesn’t bother me, my hair doesn’t bother me, my body shape doesn’t bother me.  Hardly anything bothers me.  Then a week will come along and everything bothers me.

I recognize that I’m blessed – most of the time, I do feel pretty.  A lot of women wish they felt pretty most of the time, but they don’t.  Their emotions have the Hideous filter as the default setting.  If that is the case for anybody reading this, let me tell you this:  you are more beautiful than you think you are.  I guarantee it.

One thing I noticed this week was that I started getting defensive about other attributes, maybe in subconscious fear that I would start losing them as well.  “Well, at least I’m good at my job.” “Well, at least I can sing.”  “Well, at least I can draw.”  These things are real blessings.  Doing my job and singing songs and drawing made me happy this week.  The problem was the attitude I had toward the.  The attitude actually made them less happy, because I felt like I needed them.  The bad part was the “Well, at least…” part.  The unspoken (but implied) beginning of the thought was “Well, [I’M NOT PRETTY, BUT] at least….”

I have a pep talk I give myself in moments like this: “STOP IT, ASHLEY.”  That’s the whole speech.  And then I pray.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat as many times as it happens.  Don’t let it get normal.  Don’t let it get deep inside of you.  Don’t let your emotions dictate your actions.

Here’s a good test to see if your perspective is warped – how do you handle input from other people?  How do you handle compliments?  If your feelings have taken over, you can’t accept input.  There isn’t room for another opinion.  Don’t dismiss other people’s opinions.  If somebody tells you that you look nice, don’t assume they are lying.  If you have trustworthy people around you, why would they suddenly become liars when they talk about you?  If you assume every compliment that comes your way is a lie, then your perspective is warped.  Don’t turn your family and friends into liars.  What if they try to tell you something important and you have gotten into the habit of dismissing what they say?  The issue is not whether or not you feel pretty.  It’s how you handle your emotions.

There’s also the problem of appearance vs. reality.  I can come across as confident and easy breezy, but I’ve gotten pretty good at projecting it even when I’m not feeling it.  I’ve been posting pictures all week that I see no beauty in, but nobody else notices a change.  To be completely honest, I post pictures throughout the week to keep myself accountable to actually write this weekly blog post.  Writing is really hard for me.  Staying disciplined and consistent is REALLY hard for me.  This blog combines both of those things.  I want to quit every week.  But I know it’s a good thing and I’ve been deeply humbled by everybody’s responses to it.  I’m grateful for all of you – everybody who asks what I’m doing for Ashley Tries this week, everybody who trusts me to tackle a specific fashion problem, everybody who asks advice.  Thanks for trusting me to write this thing – you trust me more than I trust me.  Pretty sure it’s been a year since I started and YAY I HAVEN’T QUIT.  That’s pretty darn exciting to me.

Phew.  Keeping secrets is my default.  Telling them to the Interwebs?  Yet another thing I’m uncomfortable with.  But what’s the use of having a bad week if I don’t use it to help encourage other people who are having rough weeks?  I want to help.  If you need advice or encouragement, message me and I’ll try to help best I can.


Day 1

This week was all about choosing things that made me happy, since I was fighting the blues.  I like this shirt – it is soft, has some cool design details, and best of all – it isn’t sheer!  I don’t like shirts that I need to wear another shirt under.  It’s summer!  I can’t go around wearing two shirts all the time!  A pair of comfy jeans.

A couple new things in this outfit!  New shoes that I am breaking in for a trip in September.  I’m really pleased with them – they are comfortable, good quality, and pretty enough to transition between walking all day and going to restaurant at night.  The other new thing is trying out a patterned headscarf.  I like this one – the burgundy base color blends in with my hair a little bit and the abstract print looks good even when it’s all scrunched up.  It’s great for those days when you wake up feeling like a bird must have nested in your hair during the night, and that’s exactly how I felt that day, so it was convenient.

Day 2

This is the other pair of shoes I’m breaking in for my trip and they are 95% great, but they rub at one very specific point on each foot, so they drew first blood around the end of the work day.  Everything else about them is great, so I’ll just buy a couple of those little gel pads, put them over the tiny blood stains, then I’m good to go.  Ha.

It was a hot day, so I just put on a loose dress and headed out the door.  I love a swingy dress during the summer, because everything that has direct contact with my skin gets sweaty.  This dress doesn’t end the day with a spreading sweat patch in the lower back, so it’s kind of a winner.  It’s comfy and it has great texture and color – what’s not to love?

Over lunch, I sat and sketched.  If there are two things that can get me out of myself and my own thoughts, it’s singing and sketching.  I’ve been sketching women and clothes since I was four or so.  The earliest drawings I remember doing are a queen wearing cowboy boots and a glamorous lady with hair over one eye (because when I was little, glamour = a beautiful woman with blond hair over one eye).  I didn’t know who Veronica Lake was at that point, but it was very Veronica Lake.  These sketches aren’t like the rest of my art – they aren’t really based on anything and they are all different.  They are littered all over my room and scattered through my life and I don’t even think about them, but I’m really grateful for them.  Art helped me out of my funk this week.

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Another great thing happened to me on Tuesday – I learned how to do eyeshadow.  Last week, my friend Lizze (who is a rep for Mary Kay) came up and asked me if I wanted to learn how to do makeup, since a substantial subplot of this blog is that I can’t do makeup or hair.

So on Tuesday, we met up and she patiently took me through how to put eyeshadow on my face and how to make it stay on my face.  Shout out to Lizze, because I was comically ignorant to basic makeup techniques (what’s primer? but how do you use an eyebrow comb?  is the eyeshadow symmetrical now?).  I kept freaking out about how dark the eyeshadow was and then it turned out looking completely fine.  It was great to learn something new.  I’ve been putting eyeshadow the same way for years and it’s the way I saw on the back of an eyeshadow package.  As it turns out, the way I’ve been doing it just made my eyeshadow disappear, because I put the darkest color only on the crease and when I opened my eyes, it vanished.

The biggest takeaways for me:  Don’t freak out about how dark the eyeshadow looks right when you’re putting it on.  You are very close to the mirror and it looks more dramatic than it actually is, and once you put on mascara and step back from the mirror, the look will come together.  (Put on mascara and step away from the mirror is probably good advice for all of life, really….)  Application tips for those of us with hooded eyes / monolids – put on your eyeshadow with your eyes open and put the brightest color above the crease.  That way, you can see what the finished product will look like and the crease won’t eat your pretty shadow.  Highlights go right under the eyebrow and right above the eyelashes.  Voila!  This is how it turned out.  (Thanks, Lizze!)

It was so great to learn more about makeup.  I should have somebody teach me how to do my own hair.  *gasp*


Day 3

This was my “I’m going to try to apply what I learned yesterday in the presence of a professional makeup artist and try to make it work in my real life with my actual makeup”.  It went pretty well, considering.  Eye makeup?  CHECK.

Flip flops (because I had blisters from the day before), jeans, a bright pink tee.  To add a little bit of visual interest and elevate the outfit a bit, I layered a white lace shirt over the top.  That way I had glimpses of bright pink, but I wasn’t all pink.  It would have been a lot (especially with bright purple eyeshadow).  I went for bright colors, because the blues just kept coming this week and I needed to keep fighting them.

Day 4

I needed to keep on pushing and keep on trying this week, because I woke up every morning ready to give up.  THE DAY HADN’T EVEN STARTED YET.  That’s unacceptable.  I needed an extra challenge by Thursday and something else to think about, so I chose a skirt that I find challenging to wear.  It’s a pleated navy-and-cream J. Crew number that was a steal at $10, but it’s a little fancy/fussy.  Paired it with a floral top that went with (but didn’t match) the navy in the skirt.

Did the eyeshadows fairly successfully.  Hurrah!

Wore the first pair of shoes again, because blisters ain’t the boss of me.  These shoes are proving to be very versatile.  Hurrah!

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Did some art on Thursday night and it turned out so much better than I had hoped!  Used oil pastels to draw the cover of The Little Prince on black paper and I thought about stopping at the black and white stage, because I was afraid of messing up a perfectly good concept with colors.  But I’m really glad I added in the colors.  Art is good for me.  It’s an area where I know I have to push myself and if I mess up, there’s always another piece of paper.  Messing up is part of it and it isn’t permanent.  Keep pushing until it’s done.  Don’t stop halfway through.

Day 5

By Friday, I was so ready to be done with the week.  So tired of my hair, my face, my body, my little blistered feet.  But I had things to do, places to be.  Got out of bed.  Pulled out a dress that I used to wear all the time, but haven’t worn in a while (mainly because there’s a big old stain on the front).  I positioned the belt over the stain and zoomed to work.  This has been a really big week at work, which has been a hard blessing.  I obviously needed to be pushed to my limit this week.  Beyond my limit.  Beyond the safe black and white sketch, into the risk and beauty of bright colors.  Beyond how I feel, into what I believe.

These weeks come.  They are hard and humbling.  But you know the most amazing part?  God loves me no matter what I’m feeling.  He is all my beauty.  Any good that comes from me comes from Him.  He doesn’t change and He doesn’t have bad days and He doesn’t quit and He doesn’t give up halfway through.  He’s not going to stop drawing me while I’m still in the sketch phase – at the end of my life, every corner of the canvas will be complete.  He has written me a story that Shakespeare wishes he could have written.  So are my emotions in charge?  No.  They’re not.

 

Ashley Tries to Trick the Eye

Putting on clothes and looking good relies entirely on proportion and balance.  It doesn’t matter what the number on the tag says.  Those numbers are more like guidelines than actual sizes.  The truth is sometimes that 8 will not fit me the way I believe that 8 should fit me or how other 8-sized clothes have fit me in the past.  But do I get frustrated with that 8?  NO.  I am the boss of my clothes – they ain’t the boss of me.  If I have to go up a size, no big deal.  What matters is where that hem hits, what the neckline looks like, the length, the cut, the seaming, the material…fit and proportion are my primary concerns when it comes to clothes.  Everything else is a bonus.

Like everybody else, I work with the constraints of my body type.  I’m a short, curvy woman.  How short?  I include an important Almost in my height.  I’m Almost 5′ 3″.  That’s how short I am.  How curvy?  I’m not going to tell you.  I know this is the internet, but I have standards.  So I’m short and curvy, but I can control how I other people see me.  It goes beyond throwing on high heels to give me another couple of inches (but that helps).  Proportions control perceptions.  This is clothing magic and wardrobe sleight of hand, full of distraction, illusion, smoke, and mirrors.

Day 1:  Magic Shirt

When I first tried this shirt on, I knew that it was going to be a winner.  I’ve had it for years and I’m going to wear it until it disintegrates.  It combines different proportion magics.

Proportion Magic 1:  Wide Shoulders.  This shirt gives the impression of cap sleeves without actually having cap sleeves.  The style lines in the print aren’t cut off and they flow from shoulder to hem, which the eye translates to length, which translates to tallness.  The width of the shoulders balances out the peplum, making the waist look little in comparison.

Proportion Magic 2:  Faux Wrap.  I love the look of a wrap shirt or a wrap dress, but I don’t want to deal with the hassle of real wrap style.  Fake that wrap.  The wrap creates a deep v neckline and that lengthens everything out, translating to tallness.  The style lines in the print and in the gathers meet up at the natural waist and have a party.  If this shirt was your friend, it would be the really nice friend who compliments you to other people and says things like, “Look at Ashley’s waist – look at how cute it is!”  It draws attention in the kindest way.

My goal for this outfit was to create the illusion of being taller and a couple of people told me I looked taller, so it was a WIN.  The shirt does most of the work in this outfit, since it has all those great vertical lines (drawing the eyes up and down) and drawing attention to a high waist (giving the impression that my legs start high up and are therefore longer).  I pulled out all the trickery for this one – I wore jeans that hit slightly above the ankle and added heels.

Heels add height, but the shape of the heels can add even more to the perception of height.  If you are trying to make your legs look longer, choose an open-front pump over a heeled bootie or a t-strap heel, because those styles will cut up the sight lines.  You want an uninterrupted line from the top of your leg to the top of your toes.

Other sneaky details – statement stud earrings to draw the eye up, darker eye makeup and paler lips (again, to draw attention upwards), hair up (everything UP), a little detail on the toes of the shoes.  Focus is controllable – the focal points for this outfit were my eyes, my waist, and my toes.  This forces the eye to travel vertically – it’s all illusion.  I am still only Almost 5′ 3″, but the impression is taller than that.  Now you know my secrets!

Day 2:  Minimizing the top half

I have been very blessed up top, which is great.  Most of the time.  But sometimes I want to downplay the top half, just to make it appear more proportionate with everything else.  For this outfit, I started with this lovely thrift store skirt.  It has a lot of print and a lot of volume.  Super comfy and great for dancing!  Twirl twirl twirl.

To balance out the skirt, I wanted to keep the top simple and streamlined.  I chose a black tank top.  The scoop neck opened up my face and neck and added some length.  I steered clear of t-shirts with short sleeves, because short sleeves create a horizontal sight line right across the bust and I was trying to avoid that.  Visually, the tank top created a rectangle (rather than inverted triangle) – does that make sense?  The skirt was already a triangle, so I didn’t want another triangle on the top.  Now, you can have the triangle-on-top and triangle-on-the-bottom shape, but it emphasizes the hips and the bust (and makes the waist look small in comparison).  For a less exaggerated look, mix up the shapes.

The jean jacket helped with the summer work challenge of heat outside and air conditioning inside.  I think cold air conditioning is a wonderful challenge to have.  Love air conditioning.  Light-colored wedge shoes helped lengthen my legs, which in turn helped out with the skirt length, which was a little longer than I would normally wear.

Day 3:  Built-In Structure

The print made me pick this dress off the rack, but the complicated structure was what sold me.  The designer formed the bodice by stitching together thin strips of fabric into parallel diagonal lines.  The skirt flares out, but not too full.  The top and bottom balance each other out.  This is more of a triangle-triangle, but the tailored structure keeps it from getting too exaggerated.

This dress does all the work.  I added a belt for some pattern mixing fun, but the shape doesn’t depend on the belt.

I love finding clothes that have interesting seams and some good architecture going on.  A t-shirt dress is comfy, but it doesn’t get me excited.  A structured blazer gets me excited.  I love clothes that are engineered to fit a woman’s shape.  So much math and precision and practical magic goes into a wonderful fit.  Sometimes the things that aren’t immediately obvious are the best parts.  SEAMS, everybody.  The unsung heroes of clothing.

Day 4:  Tee and Jeans

My sister-in-law gave me this gray t-shirt on Wednesday night, so I thought I’d give it a try on Thursday.  There are a few design features in this shirt that really work.  First, the sleeve length and fit – it’s a fitted sleeve and it comes down to the elbow.  Elbow sleeves, cap sleeves, or three-quarter sleeves are usually more flattering and visually interesting than a straight-across short sleeve that hits right at the bust.  If a tee looks too boxy, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them into a modified cap sleeve.  Sleeves can change a look.  The other nice thing is that hem goes up slightly on the sides – it softens the sight line across the hips and makes them look narrower.

I added my new favorite black pants.  You can’t see it in the picture, but they have a tuxedo ribbon on the sides.  Or (as I like to think of it) a Han Solo stripe.  That kind of detail makes me disproportionately happy.  A little thing can produce a great deal of happy.

The goal for this outfit was to create a look that was sleek and cool.  The shirt is slightly oversized and soft, so I had to fight against its casualness.  That’s why I added a big statement necklace – it’s probably my most Cleopatra accessory.  It’s pretty major – rows and rows of faux pearls with sparkles thrown in just for fun.  The shoes pulled their weight as well – they added a sleekness to the whole look.  It was a fun challenge to start with a casual piece, then balance out the outfit by adding some structure and some prettiness.

Day 5:  A Simple Distraction

I wanted to include some horizontal stripes in this post, because so many people say tell curvy women to avoid stripes.  It all depends on the stripe width and the structure of the top.  I’ve tried on t-shirts that look like I just escaped from prison, so I avoid those, but I really like striped shirts.  It usually come down to the fit.

This top is a good length for me – it hits right around the hip bone and the ruffle sleeves add an interesting detail to an otherwise basic top.  It also happens to be a little boxy, which can be a little problematic visually (especially when combined with horizontal stripes).  Here’s where distraction and trickery comes in.  The human eye is pretty lazy – it just wants to something to settle on and it is drawn to blank white spaces.  So this boxy white shirt can turn into a canvas for whatever you want – a necklace, a scarf, or a tie (as demonstrated).  I used this black satin belt as a makeshift tie, because I wanted to draw the eye up and down, rather than side to side.  Without the tie, the eye would take in the square whiteness of the shirt.  With the tie, the eye is drawn to the center and up to the face.  All is Illusion.

You control your appearance and what you show to other people.  You can control more than you think.  These ideas are just a few of the many ways to play with proportion and perception and focal points.  When you pick your outfit, think about what you want to highlight or what you want to downplay, then choose clothes around that.  Just like magic.

Ashley Tries Pin Curls and a Play

This week has been dress rehearsal, soft open, and full performances for the play!  I have one more performance to go and I’m already missing everybody.  That’s what makes plays so amazing – it’s the camaraderie, playing off each other’s reactions, feeding off everybody’s energy.  It’s the joy that comes with creating art with other people.  I’m tired and happy.

This week, I had to keep all the normal life stuff going (especially work) and prep for the play as well.  Curly hair felt right for my character – curly hair has tons of personality and energy.  It feels spunky and bouncy and individual.  That kind of sums up my character, so I felt like I needed to do pin curls.  This is a disclaimer up front to say that I brought this on myself – nobody made me do my hair in pin curls this week.  I volunteered.  I’m so glad I did, because the curly hair helped me get into character and it takes my costumes and makeup to the next level.  It added a little bit of complexity to getting ready in the morning, but it was worth it!

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Monday was full dress rehearsal – hair and makeup.  So I woke up, washed my hair, started pinning down hair spirals.  It’s not done until my head looks like a satellite photograph of hurricane season.  The finished product looks a little strange, so the challenge this week has been making the bristling-with-pins porcupine stage look okay.

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Method 1:  Hat.

The truth?  I really like hats, but I feel a little self-conscious about them.  I probably shouldn’t be.  Most people really like seeing other people wear hats.  Unless everybody is lying.  That’s a possibility.  I wore my little bowler hat, my new favorite black pants, black flats, and a tie-front cropped top over a camisole.  One theme that ran through this week – earrings.  I tend to forget to wear earrings most of the time, but with all my hair up, my ears felt exposed and bare without a bold pair of earrings.

I included the second picture, because I want to show you what Sara (my long-suffering photographer) has to put up with.  Lest you think I’ve got things together.  Lest you think I am naturally photogenic and all the pictures look decent.  NOBODY’S PICTURES ARE DECENT ALL THE TIME.  Most of the time, Posing plus Ashley equals Disaster.

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Came home, took out the pins.  This happened.  I looked like Moss from The IT Crowd.  Slightly shocking, but it softened up as the evening went on.  Like stage makeup, this hair is exaggerated.  Perfect for stage, a little crazy in normal circumstances.

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This is the same hair after a long, hot, sweaty rehearsal.  It looks very 1920s and that’s exactly what I was going for, so I’m pretty happy with those results!

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Tuesday was a dress rehearsal, but no hair or makeup, so I just got to enjoy the leftover curl in my hair.  Waking up with my hair big made me want curly hair.  I loved it.  Threw on one of my happy little summer dresses and black flats (because they were already out from the day before).  No makeup, because I ran out of foundation the day before.  Happy day.

Note to my friends with naturally curly hair:  I love your hair.  I wish I had it.  Some of my friends in high school straightened their hair all the time and I didn’t even know they had curls.  That’s crazy!  Reshaping your hair every day is an enormous amount of work!  Just know that I love your big hair.  It’s like hats – people love hats on other people, but they are self-conscious when it comes to wearing hats themselves.  It takes a little bit of boldness, especially if you aren’t used to it.  But you should give it a try, especially during the summer.

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Method 2:  Headwrap

Do I think this is the best look ever?  Nope.  But it worked.  I pinned those curls up until my head looked like typhoon season over the Indian Ocean, then wrapped a black satin belt around my head.  It didn’t cover the pin spirals, but it did make them look more intentional.  Ever wonder what the difference between Fashion and Throwing On Random Stuff is?  Intention.  Or the impression of Intention.  Intention and confidence are very closely connected.  The confident person makes everything that they wear look planned, under control, intentional, even when nothing is planned, nothing is in control, and the intention got painted on after the fact.

Striped shirt (a happy thrift store find), old jeans, heels (to give the impression that my life is under control…), and earrings that I don’t usually wear.  I don’t usually wear them, because when I turn my head too fast, they slap me in the face.  They are very long earrings.  Handy for distraction and misdirection.  “Yes.  All my hair is pinned to my head in little circles, but LOOK AT THESE EARRINGS.  I CAN SLAP MYSELF IN THE FACE WITH THEM.”  If I get self-conscious, I can just run away while they’re thinking about that statement.

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I used the headwrap again on Thursday.  This was a half-up, half-down hair day, because I ran out of time that morning.  The curls in the front are the most important part, because I pin the back of my hair up into a faux bob for the play.  Again, not the most successful overall hair look, but the dress is so fun that it distracts from the hair shortcomings.

I think print dresses are wardrobe stars.  One and done.  If I’m in a rush, I reach for a print dress.  This day was great, because we had our soft open on Wednesday, so I still had a little glow from a successful performance and a sparkle from anticipating Opening Night.  Happy day.  Have I mentioned I love performing for an audience?  If you want to see a happy Ashley, come find me after a whole audience laughs at my jokes.  *happy sigh*

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My other hat.  A straw one that I really don’t wear very much, but it’s a lovely hat.  I’ve realized I like classic men’s hat shapes best – bowler, fedora, panama, boater.  I want a silk top hat at some point in my life.  I’m not attracted to floppy brim hats, even though they are all over the place right now.  If you are intimidated by hats, try a few different styles.  You might find one and think, “This is my hat.  Hello, hat.  This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

This outfit went bold, because of the hat.  Hats get noticed.  The shirt dress is subtly bold, because the proportions are interesting.  I like it.  Added a pair of heels for height, because the dress is a bit oversized and having longer legs kept it from overwhelming my short frame.

This week made me appreciate my grandmas – they both used to do their hair in pin curls and they looked beautiful.  Of course, they didn’t have them in during the day – they slept in them, which must have been very uncomfortable.  Some days when I woke up with curl in my hair, it made me think I looked like my Grandma Margaret.  That makes me happy, because she’s gorgeous.  If I grow up to have half of her spunk and gumption, I’ll be happy with that.

This week also made me appreciate my hair.  I don’t do much with it and I usually think of it as very normal and / or boring.  But it’s nice hair.  I like it.  And now I know how to make it curly!  Will I do pin curls all the time?  No.  It’s too much work to do all the time, and I’m not very skilled at it, so the curls are all different sizes and it gets frizzy.  But it’s been a great week.  The last performance is tonight and the curls will bounce again!

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Ashley Tries Costuming A Play!

Dance Party

 

I have very specific bucket list items, but I also accept generalizations of those items.  For example, my bucket list includes “Design and create costumes for an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest” and “Drink limoncello on a balcony overlooking the Adriatic” – that kind of thing.  But I check off aspects of each one as well, because anything included in those items counts for something.  Seeing an outdoor Shakespeare play, drinking limoncello, wearing a linen dress, looking at the ocean from a balcony – those still count.  I think they actually count more for day-to-day life than the detailed and perhaps-perhaps-perhaps items.  But I am checking off a major part of that first one, because I got the opportunity to costume a play!  (Not that I am ruling out costuming The Tempest.  I will never rule it out.)
It was a summer play with a small cast and an accelerated rehearsal timeline – a month and a half from start of rehearsals to performance, and they needed a costume manager.  The thought of being in charge of all the costumes for a production was daunting, but I knew I wanted to costume a play at some point, and this seemed like a good opportunity to give it try!
I didn’t have to design and create any of the costumes from scratch, which was a relief, because my sewing skills are pretty rusty.  I’ve hemmed more trousers and cuffs in this last four weeks than I have for the past four years. There was a good costume collection to draw from, so it was all about compiling and accessorizing and tailoring.  It felt like a mix between a mom planning all the clothes for a multiple day trip with a family of ten and curating a vintage clothing display.
Once I agreed to be in charge of costumes, I had to get to know the story and the characters in it, because the purpose of costumes is to advance the plot by telling you more about each character.  Costumes are character development.  And if the costumes look great, it’s a bonus!
The Play:  Over The Moon (based on a P. G. Wodehouse novel)
Where:  New York City
When:  Springtime of 1927
Cast:  6 men, 4 women (all adults)
With that in mind (especially the time period), I started marking up my script.  As each character entered the story, I tried to imagine what they would be wearing.  What time of day is it?  Are they staying at home or going out?  Are they young or old?  Is this character concerned about money and position?  What is his job?  What does she want out of life?
Started with ideas, then went on to the specifics.  Does the character move around a lot?  (If so, focus on looser costumes.)  Do they have quick costume changes?  (If so, keep the outfit simple to take on and off.  Ditch the buckled shoes and button-back dresses.)  Once the cast is in place, you have to keep each cast member’s size and coloring in mind as well.
Once I had a vision (and a 1927-centric Pinterest board), I went to explore the costume collection.  I had a couple of afternoons where I just got to putter around and look at everything and pull whatever I wanted.  SO MUCH FUN.  I know that doesn’t sound super fun to most people, but I love details and colors and fabric.  Spending hours on my own looking at costumes is never a hardship.  What I had available shaped my general vision into a more specific vision.
Some things I learned:  Some details are for the audience and some are for the actors.  Audience details are obvious – sleeve lengths, bold prints, sparkles, contrasting colors, glasses, suspenders, hats, SPARKLES.  Some details are for the actors – the subtle details that you don’t see unless you are up close.  Back in the days of black and white movies, costume designers were asked why they used colors in the design, when the colors didn’t show up in the movie.  They said it was for the actors – an actress will act differently in a red dress than in a black dress.  Costumes inform performances.
Here are some of my favorite details from this show:

 

 

 

 

Another thing I learned is that there’s a difference between what you like and what’s right for the show.  News flash, I know.  But it’s really tempting to fall in love with a vision and stick with it, even if it doesn’t match up with a character or with the story.
When it comes down to it, choose the piece that has the most personality.  Like these hats – I loved this little cream number with the bow, because it’s cute and tiny and simple.  The straw hat is big and loud and covered in holes, but it has so much more personality.  It took me more time to like it, but now I love it.

 

I learned a ton through this experience.  I learned that it’s a ton of work to work through the entire process from vision to execution.  It requires a lot of organization and communication and more bossiness than I have.  I also learned that I’m bad at men’s sizing – I can generally tell a woman’s size, but men’s sizes are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  If I costume another play, I am just going to take detailed measurements at the beginning of the process.
Come see the play!  Sweat, tears, planning, painting, lighting, accessorizing, and MUCH hemming has gone into this play.  The actors have memorized an entire play just for you! Welcome to New York City, circa 1927.