Ashley Tries Romantic Comedy

This rom-com week contained plenty of com, if not much rom.  That’s fine.  I’m over the moon that I made it through the week without sustaining a snow-related injury brought on by my own clumsiness.

My challenge for the week: put together daily outfits to represent the classic character types found throughout the Romantic Comedy genre.  The outfits weren’t based on particular characters, but particular types of characters.  Since there are so many badly done rom-com movies out there, I know some people who entirely dismiss the genre, but those people are missing out.  In the history of stories, the two main divisions have been tragedy and comedy.  At the end of a tragedy, everybody dies.  At the end of a comedy, there’s a wedding.  For the most part, comedies speak more to my human experience.  My life is more like an Austen novel than a Hemingway novel and I’m happy about that.  (And if your main argument against romantic comedies is that people falling in love and getting married annoys the heck out of you, repent of your bitterness and go read the book of Ruth or something.)

The comedy started before the outfits this week.  This last week has been the snowiest week of the whole winter and last Sunday, I ran by the grocery store after church, because I figured that I wouldn’t want to venture out again once I got home.  The grocery store run went smoothly until the checkout line.  I had already paid for everything and I was loading up my groceries into one bag, so I wouldn’t have to push a cart through the snow.  (For my Californian friends, pushing a grocery cart through ankle-deep snow is very labor intensive.  It’s one of the many logistical challenges that comes with living in the frozen north.)  Then…came then.

A plastic box of grape tomatoes somehow managed to leap off the conveyor belt, exploding on impact and scattering the bouncing baby tomatoes absolutely everywhere.  GAH.  NO.  Tomatoes on the floor, tomatoes on the conveyor belt, tomatoes in the grocery bags, tomatoes rolling into corners.  A mad dash/scramble for the tiny squishable produce ensued.  In a masterpiece of bad reflexes, I managed to knock my already-mostly-loaded grocery bag off the loading area and onto the ground.  Including the the very pink bottle of rosé wine, which promptly exploded all over everywhere.  Thankfully, the glass was contained by the bag, but the wine itself crowned out in a splendid pink wave.  Very splashy.  So there I was, hands full of tiny tomatoes, staring down at my one bag of groceries, which was now soaked in pink wine and covered in glass shards.  My first impulse was to throw the grape tomatoes as a diversion and run out of the store.  Fortunately, I had lovely grocery store employees who helped me and ran and got me new ones of everything in the bag.  The clerk even asked me if the banana bunch he brought back was to my liking.  It was.

The good news is that it isn’t actually possible to die of embarrassment, or I would have passed away some time ago.  It was the funniest start to the week and I realized that not dying from the famous romantic comedy clumsiness was going to be the REAL challenge.  Ashley Tries Not To Drop Things.  Ashley Tries Not To Trip and Die.  Ashley Tries Not To Fall On Her Face.  (I failed on that last one.  It was very snowy this week.)

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Monday:  The Best Friend

I have a great fondness for the Best Friend character.  She supports the leading lady in whatever way the plot demands.  The best friend gives the most important advice, listens to so much plot exposition (how else will we know how the protagonist is feeling?), offers comedic relief, and sometimes offers important skill sets that the protagonist needs (hey, Nancy Drew, I know how to hotwire a car!).  She might be the leading lady’s roommate, wise relative, closest friend from high school, hilarious coworker, or mentor.

Most of the time, the best friend is a girl, but sometimes it’s a guy.  (Classic example: Duckie from Pretty In Pink, a movie that bothers me greatly.)  Guy best friend tends to lead to awkward love triangles, so my favorite best friend characters are women.  Usually the best friend offers no competition to in the romance department, either because the best friend is already married, or older, or eccentric.  Or all three at once.  To use Pride and Prejudice as an example, Elizabeth Bennet’s “best friend” character would be her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner.  Mrs. Gardiner offers wise advice, listens to all of Elizabeth’s concerns, and advances the plot by taking Elizabeth to Pemberley.

Of all the stereotypes I went through this week, this type of character resonates most with me.  Not that I can ever hope to attain Mrs. Gardiner status – she’s the best.  But if you need a third wheel during the dating process, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  And I do offer advice.  Most of the advice is along the lines of “Snap out of it”, but sometimes that sentiment is applicable.  And I’m always happy to listen to daily plot exposition, because I love hearing about other people’s drama.

For the outfit, I leaned into the eccentric aspect of the best friend, with a happy sushi t-shirt, a comfy duffle jacket, space buns, bright blue tights, and big old earrings.  It’s a cute outfit, but not a trying-to-be-attractive outfit.

Tuesday: The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling character is a pre-makeover leading lady.  She’s on the brink of transforming into a beautiful swan.  She’s Cinderella before the bibbity-bobbity-boo happens.  She probably wears glasses and looks a little frumpy, but once she takes off the glasses and lets her hair down….

(Here’s my feeble attempt at a makeover montage:)

I’ve seen the ugly-duckling-to-swan makeover done well a few times, but it is usually handled very shallowly.  It’s like Lois Lane not knowing that Clark Kent is Superman.  HOW?  Taking off glasses doesn’t make a person look completely different.  My favorite transformations in movies are gradual outward changes in response to a changed heart.  Happiness working its way out.  My favorite ugly duckling of all time is Fran in Strictly Ballroom.  She always looks like herself, she never transforms into a generic hot girl, but she becomes more and more beautiful as she falls in love and is loved in return.

I freely admit to wanting a dramatic Cinderella moment every once in a while.  On days when I know I’ll be dressing up in the evening, I won’t wear makeup during the day, just to make the transformation more dramatic.  But I also know that changing the outside without changing the inside won’t get me anywhere.  If I have a bad attitude, switching out my glasses for eyeliner isn’t going to make me more beautiful.  The heart works its way out.

For the outfit, I went with a midi-length pleated skirt, a high necked sweater, a collared shirt, and (of course) my glasses.  The whole look tended toward scholastic/librarian/nerdy vibes.  I actually like this look.  It’s very work appropriate and appropriateness isn’t anything to sneeze at.  Also, I think glasses are great.

Wednesday: The Nemesis

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The nemesis in a romantic comedy changes according to the setting.  In a high school movie, the nemesis wears all pink, practically owns the school, and pretends to be sweet as long as it serves her purposes.  In an office setting, the nemesis wears head to toe black, never smiles, and scares the daylights out of everybody around her.  What they both have in common are their intimidation and manipulation tactics.

When I think of a rom-com nemesis, I think of a carefully controlled outfit, because intimidation is all about control.  In that regard, this is the least successful outfit of the week, because my car got stuck in the snow and in the process of trying to get the car unstuck, I fell into the snow a couple of times.  Right onto my face.  So my hair was straightened when I left house, but after getting the car stuck, unstuck, stuck again, falling in the snow, falling in the snow again, and finally giving up and asking for a ride, my hair back to its natural wavy state again.

I didn’t feel at all in control that day, but the overall look was fairly sharp.  Maybe I looked like I had things under control.  It was a shame that my straightened hair didn’t last very long, because I feel like that would have sold the look even more, but getting stuck in the snow is so naturally comedic that it was bound to happen at some point during romantic comedy week!

Thursday: The Force Of Nature

I’m a big fan of screwball comedies from the 1930s and 1940s, with or without singing and dancing.  If there’s a rogue leopard running around / four identical suitcases that everybody keeps stealing from each other / many cases of mistaken identity / a scavenger hunt that requires finding a bowl of Japanese goldfish, a goat, and a forgotten man / general hilarity ensuing, count me in.  The great leading ladies from that era had so much punch and pizzazz.  They could out-talk, out-dance, out-sass, and out-wit you.  Nothing stops them.  They are like beautiful tornadoes.  The best friend is the kind of role I’m comfortable in, but the powerhouse leading lady (with gumption to spare) is who I want to be when I grow up.

One of my all time favorite performances is Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.  I think that movie still holds the record for words-per-minute.  Unbelievably quick and funny, no punches pulled.  There wasn’t TIME to pull any punches in that movie.  Not many people could steal scenes away from Cary Grant, but Russell did it.  It’s amazing.  If you haven’t watched it, watch it.  It’s an absolute classic.  In the movie, she wears a graphic striped coat, so the striped dress was an homage to her character.  For Thursday’s look, I went for a retro look, with cool construction details and graphic stripes that would look good in black and white.  I also curled my hair to the best of my ability and put on red lipstick.  I felt like a force of nature in this look and I could get used to that!

Friday: The Stranded Overachiever

For the last day, I went with a modern convention that I find pretty hilarious.  It’s the high-powered business woman who finds themselves stranded in a small town, where they must confront their control issues, learn about life and love, stop worrying, and fall in love.  There may be a cute dog.  There is definitely a cute guy.  He may or may not drive a truck or ride a horse.  This character shows up in New In Town, Sweet Home Alabama, and almost all made-for-television Christmas movies.

This convention cracks me up, because in the modern sensibility, it’s frowned upon to even look like you want to get married and settle down.  So in order to make a romantic comedy, Hollywood needs to make to make love look like a happy accident, something that will just happen when you have the time.  Strong, independent female characters have become the new damsels in distress, because most of the time, they are predictable and one-dimensional.  Modern rom-coms tend to make everything terribly convenient and therefore terribly boring, because there’s no sacrifice.  Isn’t “you can have it all” the wishy washy rallying cry of a generation?

If love isn’t worth sacrificing for, what is it worth?  Love IS sacrifice.  Love isn’t something that happens when you are stranded in the snow and forced to glance away from your life goals for a minute.  Love is worth pursuing, it is worth sacrificing for, and it is worth all the ridiculousness and the enforced humility that comes along with it.  You may protest and say that as a perpetually single person, I don’t know anything about any of this, but I have my parents’ example and my siblings’ examples and all those friends I have been the third wheel for, so I’ve seen love up close.  And while I have never been in love (in the romantic sense), I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I see it.

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Where WILL flattery get me?

They say flattery will get you anywhere, but will it really?

This week’s challenge was Ashley Tries Unflattering Clothes.  You (like my friends) might ask, “Ashley, why would you choose to wear unflattering clothes for a week?”  You might even through in a “What’s wrong with you?” for good measure.

Here are some answers to that valid question:

  • Sometimes this blog gets all serious and challenges like this can swing it back towards being funny.  I don’t take fashion very seriously, but it sometimes seems like I take Fashion Seriously.  Nope.  Funniness always wins me over.  Between a funny idea and a solid, practical plan, the funny idea will win.
  • My wardrobe contains some unflattering clothes and it was a good chance to evaluate whether they are completely unfortunate or secretly awesome.  I like to think all my clothes are secretly awesome, but deep in my heart, I know that is not the case.
  • I’m a glutton for punishment and I don’t know when to quit. (Laugh all you want.  It’s the truth.)
  • I have two great pairs of jeans that I wear all the time and both of them were in my laundry hamper last Monday morning.  So if I wanted to wear jeans on Monday (and I did indeed wish to wear jeans), the clean options were limited.  And looking through my clean jeans, I came across a wide-leg pair that I never wear. And since I wasn’t feeling particularly attractive at that point in the morning anyways – and since I hadn’t come up with an Ashley Tries challenge for the week – and since I tried on a drastically oversized top with the wide-leg jeans and then didn’t have time to change, the styling-unflattering-clothes-for-a-week challenge was born.

They’re all reasons.  But the last reason really kicked the week off.  The “stubborn and doesn’t know when to quit” reason kicked in mid-week.  That being said, I liked this challenge, because it was a true challenge and I didn’t know if it would work out.  There were a few times where it didn’t.

Here’s the look that kicked off the week:

This photo cracks me up.  This is how many of my outfit photos turn out, because I’m constantly trying to explain my thought process to my fearless photographer and my explaining photos are just lots of gestures and air quotes and concerned facial expressions.  This is a good week to give an extra loud shout out to my photographing friends, Sara and Lindsey, because this week was COLD.

I love a good pair of wide-leg jeans, but this particular pair is at least one size too big on me, so I needed the belt to cinch them into place.  I think they were designed to be that intentionally short culotte style, but since my legs are very short, they just slightly short on me.

As for the shirt, I found this gem of a blouse in a thrift store.  I cut shoulder pads out of it, so I’m guessing it is from the late 1980s or early 1990s.  Why did I buy it?  BECAUSE I LOVE IT.  It made from some sort of silky synthetic fabric, it has a rollicking rococo black and white pattern, it has a strange little bow tie at the neck, and it has so much material that I could probably wear tights with it and call it a mini dress.  It’s the comfiest shirt I own.  It is more comfy than my pajama shirts.  I wear this shirt with leggings on Saturdays and it’s the comfiest outfit in the world.  That being said, it is not a flattering shirt.  I know that.  But could I put two unflattering pieces of clothing together and create something amazing?  NO.  I could not.  So I threw a black wrap cardigan over the top, cinched the waist and went off to work with an okay outfit.

Jackets and cardigans cover a multitude of sins.  That was my biggest takeaway from this week.  With the cardigan, this outfit looks kind of pulled together.  Without the cardigan, the shirt kept bunching up at the waist and the jeans kept wanting inch down.  I like the idea of these jeans, but they are going bye bye.  Am I keeping the shirt?  Yes.  Because I love it.  Despite its tremendous volume and many weirdnesses.

Day 2:

I decided to tone it down for Tuesday and choose some pieces with more subtle fit issues.  The gray pencil skirt hits below the knee and the bomber jacket has a boxy fit.  I like them both, but I know that shorter skirts and more fitted jackets suit my short frame better.

This turned out to be my favorite outfit from this week.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the elongated vertical line of the skirt helped balance out the width of the jacket.  I was comfortable, I felt absolutely work appropriate, and the striped turtleneck gave it a little bit of color and pizzazz.  Also, it was the second day in a row tucking in my shirt and the second attempt was way more successful, because there wasn’t as much excess fabric to bunch up and move around.  With the shirt tucked in, the length of the skirt looked purposeful and interesting.

Will I wear these pieces again?  Absolutely.  Especially the skirt.  It’s a great skirt.  It came as part of a suit, but it fits well enough to stand on its own.

Day 3:

This was the low point of the week.  I think these are the most instagrammy photos of the week, but that’s because I’m trying so darn hard to make this dress look cool.  I bought this dress at a thrift store for the floral print.  Just the print.  I’m making a mental note to not do that anymore.  Since “my style” basically translates to “things I like”, I thought maybe this dress could be my style, because I liked the print.  Turns out no.  This dress looked like it was supposed to be on a tiny blond woman with an elaborate french braid and a floppy brim hat at her barn engagement photo shoot at sunset, not on me at work.  The dress looked confused.

For the morning, I wore this amazing wool sweater from Switzerland.  But by mid-day, I was sweating in the sweater and cold without the sweater.  The upside to this outfit was that I was warm on a very cold day.  When a dress is loose and flowing, it provides plenty of room for layering.  I had tights, boots, a t-shirt (because the dress goes too low in the front to be work appropriate), the dress, and then the wool sweater on top of that.  It was 12 degrees F and I was perfectly fine outside.  But I work inside, so I got overheated quickly.

A couple of friends told me to change when I went home for lunch, but I didn’t want to admit defeat.  (Have I mentioned that I am stubborn?)  I was not going to allow that dress to be the boss of me.  So I just switched out the wool cardigan for a jean jacket.  It helped a whole lot.

It still looks like I’m going to wander in a meadow somewhere, but the jean jacket suits the dress.  It gives the dress some shape and provides good color and texture contrast.  Am I going to keep this dress?  Nope.  For this dress to feel appropriate, I’d have to go wander in a meadow or stand next to a barn at sunset or become a singer-songwriter-country-folk-fusion artist.  But even if I did those all those things, I think I’d still want to wear something else.

Day 4:

By this point in the week, it was so cold that I was just going for warmth.  I can forgive almost any clothing for being unflattering if it is practical.  Practicality is the best.  So I pulled out all my bulky-lumpy-cozy-practical things.

Exhibit A:  This hat.

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My sister knit me this hat and I call it The Flowerpot.  Even if fezzes become cool, this hat will still never be cool.  But I’m very fond of it.  It looks like a Tea Cozy.  But it’s for my head, so I guess it is a Noggin Cozy.  It kept my noggin very cozy on Thursday and I love how eccentric it is.  It matches my inner eccentricity.  I shall keep it.

Exhibit B:  These Croc Boots

Crocs are a much maligned shoe, mostly because they make human feet look like a Cabbage Patch Kid doll’s feet.  Fair enough.  But these boots have lasted me for years.  These might be ten years old.  They have pretty good arch support, they are comfy, they are warm, they are downright ugly.  I don’t wear them when I’m trying to look sleek or beautiful or important.  I wear my Croc boots when I want to stay warm in the snow and also feel like I’m wearing industrial strength slippers.

Exhibit C:  This coat.

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Immediately post college, I didn’t want to spend money on a new coat, because a good coat costs a lot of money, so I would buy my winter coats at thrift stores.  Sure, they had ripped linings and crazy silhouettes and extravagant shoulder pads, but they all had personality and they were built for extreme cold.  This is one of those coats.  I need to replace the many missing buttons on this coat, but I love it.  It has served me so well.  It probably cost me five dollars and it has kept me warm and protected from the elements, so I’m very grateful for it.

The hats, the boots, and the coat all have memories and practicality on their side.  They may not be the most beautiful objects, but they are lovable and durable and oh-so-very practical.  They are what they are and I like them that way.

Day 5:

Friday was oversized flannel shirt day!  But in the Pacific Northwest, I think every day is oversized flannel day, so I didn’t stand out too much.  I can understand the appeal – flannel shirts are ridiculously comfortable.  It’s like wearing a big hoodie.

Overall, this is the most modern styling of the week.  This is kind of a Portland, Oregon look, with the high bun and the t-shirt dress and the flat boots.  I wanted to elevate the shirt and make it look more feminine, because Friday was the last hurrah for the challenge and wearing a men’s flannel shirt with jeans would feel sloppy.

Some thoughts that occurred to me this week:

  • I’m extra grateful for my clothes that fit well, especially my favorite jeans!  A good pair of jeans is a lovely thing.
  • A fitted jacket can streamline an oversized top or dress.  The black cardigan on the first day and the jean jacket on the third day helped out those outfits out immensely.
  • I’m the boss of my clothes.  The last thing I want to do is feel sorry for myself about my clothes or about how I look in my clothes.  It’s a waste of time.  When I put together an outfit, it’s not where I start that matters, it’s where I finish.  Don’t give up or get discouraged.  Get busy.
  • It’s just fine to get rid of a few things that don’t fit well anymore.
  • I’m not a fan of pastel boho maxi dresses.
  • I am a fan of practical coats and eccentric hats.
  • When I start to take my clothes too seriously, it comes from taking myself too seriously.  Taking myself too seriously usually stems from the sins of pride and worry.
  • I am so immensely blessed.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I’m thankful for my body, my clothes, my house, my job, my friends, my family, my life.  Most of all, I’m thankful to my Lord, Who has given me all these things and infinitely more.  He gave me my life.  I want to take everything He has given me and invest it and do my best with it.  How can I possibly complain?  The only response is gratitude.

Stay warm and have merry hearts, my friends!  Thank you for reading the ramblings of a happy little eccentric.  If you ever have any questions, send them my way.  I’d love to help out!

Packing Light, Airport Outfits, and California Style

Last week, I traveled down to see my parents in California.  It’s a fun little challenge to pack for a week in a carry-on suitcase.  Here are my arguments in favor of packing light:

  • If I travel with a carry-on bag and a purse, I don’t have to pay the fee for a checked bag.  $25 to check a bag that isn’t much bigger than my little wheely duffle?  Nope nope.
  • Packing light requires more thought and discipline than just throwing in everything I think I might need.  I’ve overpacked out of nervousness before, but the extra baggage doesn’t help solve my traveling worries.  (If anything, extra baggage increases travel worries.)
  • A small suitcase forces me to think through the place I am going and what kind of events I’ll be attending while I’m there.  That thought process increases my anticipation and makes me excited to GO!
  • On vacation, I’ve never missed anything that I left at home.  When I’m on vacation, I’m not worried about anything.  I’m too busy trying to find cool rocks and wondering what I’m going to eat for my next meal.
  • A sparse suitcase gives me enough room to buy a few cool things while I’m traveling.  An overstuffed suitcase makes it difficult to add new things.

I’ll show you what I packed.  The photos don’t include the outfit I traveled in – a black t-shirt, a long blue sweater, skinny jeans, black sneakers, and a puffy down coat.  My down coat is great for traveling, because it squishes down very small.  (A wool coat would have taken up more space and I only needed a coat for my two airport days.)

What I Packed:

A pair of mid-wash jeans, a pair of shorts, and metallic sandals.  Along with the jeans I wore to the airport, this was plenty.  I was happy to have a couple pairs of jeans, because I did a lot of rock scrambling and I got one pair pretty muddy.  The sandals were dressy enough to wear to a nice dinner, but comfy enough to walk in.  We weren’t going to anything dressy enough to warrant bringing a pair of high heels.  So I went with the black sneakers for most of the time, the sandals for being a little dressy, and barefoot for whenever I could get away with it.

I packed one polka dot dress, which I actually didn’t end up wearing.  (Mainly because my mom just bought a very similar one and I wanted to let her wear her cute new dress without being twinsies.)  I ended up wearing this coordinating top and skirt set instead and I ended up loving this outfit!  The set originally came from Indonesia and somehow ended up in a thrift store, which is where I acquired it, and the cotton is very soft, comfortable, and breathable.  The black and white chevron print is graphic and interesting, but neutral enough to go with other things.  Together, the pieces give the same impression as a dress, but I wore the top with jeans and (if I had gotten tired of jeans) the skirt would have looked good with the other tops.  Versatility is the name of the game!

For tops, I packed one long-sleeved black t-shirt and two short-sleeved tops.  With the short-sleeved black shirt that I wore on the plane, four shirts.  To be honest, I didn’t end up wearing that blue and white one at all.  I wore the chevron top from the coordinating set instead.  Plus, there was a shopping day and a few extra tops entered the equation.  So I could have edited the shirt section even more.

A long blue cardigan and a jean jacket.  These took a little more room in the suitcase, but I wore the long cardigan on the airplane, so it didn’t take any suitcase room on the first trip. My strategy with airport outfits is to wear the bulkiest pieces – in this case, the bulkiest items were my sneakers, this cardigan, and my coat.  Since I wore my sneakers both travel days, I didn’t need to budget room for them in the suitcase.  Shoes take up a lot of room, so always wear the pair that takes up the most space and pack the smaller ones.  Wear the boots, pack the ballerina flats.  Wear the sneakers, pack the flip flops.  My airport strategy used to be wearing the shoes that are easiest to remove for TSA screening, but now my suitcase space matters more than a short-lived shoe removal inconvenience.

Toiletries and jewelry and watercolor brushes and other various tiny things are combined in this small travel bag.  (Except for any liquids, which need to be relegated to their own little ziplock for security screening.)  Of all the packing, this contents of this bag could have been edited and streamlined, but it is so easy to throw a lot of tiny things together, because they are just tiny, right?  But all the little things add up and take up space.  If I was taking a longer trip, I would take more time to figure out exactly what I needed to pack in my toiletries case.  Earrings can make an outfit look fancy and they don’t take up much room, so I was happy to have a few different pairs.

Other things packed, but not pictured: underwear, socks, pajamas, and watercolor pencils.  With room to spare!  The duffle was a little more stuffed on the way back, because I bought a few tops and a dress and inherited a long trench coat.

Traveling is such a blessing and a joy.  I was able to spend a week in California, splitting that time between my parents’ house (where I spent my whole childhood) and the coastal town where we’ve vacationed as long as I remember.  Both places mean so much to me and the time did me good.  It gave me sunshine on my face and sunshine in my soul.

The main thing I realized is that it is much easier to pack when I’m not trying to impress anybody.  I knew that once I got home, my uniform would be jeans and one of my dad’s old hoodies.  So happy.   The rest of this post will be vacation photos, if you want to check out where I went.  Do you have any travel plans for 2019?  Do you have any packing questions for me?  If you put the questions in the comments, I would love to help answer them!  Also, please send me any blog post ideas or Ashley Tries challenges that you would like to read about.  Thank you for reading!

Ashley Tries Glamour (That Beautiful Illusion)

Awards season is upon us and as I sifted through photos of Golden Globes red carpet looks, I started thinking about the concept of glamour.  What is it, exactly?  I don’t think of myself as a glamorous person, but could I become glamorous for a week, wearing my own clothes and doing my own hair and makeup?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Glamour reads:

  1. a magic spell
  2. an exciting and often illusory and romantic attractiveness

Yes.  To both.  It takes a village to make a red carpet look come together.  Sandra Bullock isn’t home right before an awards show, trying to master a smokey eye makeup look and struggling to do up the zipper on the back of her dress.  She has a whole squad of skilled experts to perform magic and turn her into a red carpet glamazon.  Now, don’t get me wrong, she’s beautiful already.  But glamour isn’t the same as beauty.  It is a hex.  A magic spell.  An advanced marketing campaign.

Glamour is a whole lot of work and I don’t think I pulled it off this week.  But the interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter what I think about the looks.  If other people thought my looks were glamorous, the outfits were glamorous.  Glamour is outward, not inward.  The appearance of confidence is just as effective as the real thing.  I’ll go through the thought process behind each look, starting with…

Day 1: Sleek outfit, big hair

This look came together last minute, because my first outfit plan didn’t work.  Mornings are always a scramble for me, even if I think through my clothes the night before.  Even if I look glamorous in the morning, I never feel glamorous in the morning.  I am not a morning person.  My exterior may be that of a swan serenely gliding across a pond, but my brain is more like the little swan legs underneath the surface, paddling like the dickens.

The rare occasion that I do feel glamorous is when I am getting ready for a party at night and I have time to putter around the bathroom, turn on Frank Sinatra, and wipe off the failed eyeliner attempts and try again until it actually looks good.  In the morning, there’s no Sinatra, there’s no second attempt at eye makeup….. it is what it is and out the door I go.

But on Monday, I did manage to curl my hair a bit and that’s a big deal for me.  If you manage to curl your hair every morning, I take my hat off to you – that’s amazing to me.  I wanted big hair and (since the outfit was Take 2) I wanted a simple, sleek outfit.  Black turtleneck and black skinny jeans were my blank canvas, then I went from there.  I tried a couple different jackets before arriving at this striped black-and-white number.  The stripes give the look some drama and the fit is very sleek.  Then a pair of heels.  Out the door.

Day 2: Dressy outfit, straight hair

This week pushed me outside my normal winter uniform of skinny jeans and sweaters.  This two-tone blue and black dress always seems a little dressy for the office, but with a black wool jacket, it looks very work appropriate.  Yes, it is dressy, but one thing I’ve learned while I’ve been doing this blog is that people don’t mind when I dress up.

Do you save nice clothes for some hypothetical future event?  I do.  But I’m going to try to do that less.  I’m going to pull out my cute professional sheath dresses and get more use out of them!  They can always be dressed down with a slouchy cardigan or a jean jacket.  I can make them work for real situations, not just hypothetical ones.

This was the day I straightened my hair and it was ridiculously easy.  I’m not going to straighten my hair every day, but if I want to look a little more put together and I have two minutes to get my hair looking decent, the straightener is coming out.  Not sure why it hasn’t been part of my hair repertoire in the past.  Maybe it is because my hair is longer than usual right now.

Day 3: Color-coordinated

Since black featured heavily in the first two outfits, I wanted to veer into a different color scheme for Wednesday’s look.  Earth tones might not be everybody’s go to color palette for a glamorous look, but I like a challenge.  I started with the tweed skirt and built the outfit out from there.

Red is one of my favorite colors to wear, and I tried a bright red shirt at first, then opted for a more muted rusty red color.  The shirt is a henley style tee from the Salvation Army and it isn’t much to look at by itself, but with outfits (as with life), it isn’t where you start, it is where you finish.  Buttoning up all the buttons made it look less early-2000s-ish and tucking it into the skirt gave it better fit and proportions.  From there, I picked some stockings and shoes in a similar color scheme – an additional benefit of having sort of matching shoes and tights is that it makes the leg line look longer.  Helpful.

The star of this outfit is the jacket.  The white lightens the whole look, the red ties in the earth tones, the blue adds in a refreshing complementary color… all good things.  The only downside to this jacket is that it has hook and eyes instead of buttons, so my skirt got hooked a whole bunch of times on Wednesday.  Fortunately, there weren’t any major emergencies, but it made me very cautious.  This look is my favorite from this week.

Day 4: Casual, but with red lipstick

Glamour and red lipstick go hand in hand in my mind.  When I’m doing my makeup, I tend to focus on the eyes.  There are couple reasons for this.  1) My eyes are quite little and squinty and need a little more help.  2) I like to drink coffee when I am at work and when I wear bright lipstick, most of it ends up on the coffee cup.  But I do understand the appeal of red lipstick.  Red lipstick is bold and beautiful.  It makes us think of the 1950s (a time we associate with glamour) and old Hollywood actresses (who basically invented what we think of as glamour).

Since this was a particularly rushed morning, I needed the red lipstick magic to elevate this outfit.  My hair was still partially wet when I left my house and I was back to my winter uniform: skinny jeans and a sweater (with a jean jacket for extra warmth).  The red lipstick added the zing this look needed.

Day 5: Wild Card

My coworkers occasionally point out that I don’t really do Casual Fridays.  That’s true.  Friday is usually my wild card day – the day where I pull out the look that I’m not sure will work.  This is my mad scientist experiment day.

This gray sweater is so fabulous, but it isn’t simple to wear.  It is a slightly awkward cropped length and it has tiered bell sleeves.  But I love drama, so I love this crazy sweater.  The skirt is a knit skater style in a neutral houndstooth pattern.  And just to show that the outfit wasn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, I added the bright pink tights.

I didn’t feel very glamorous this week.  I liked the outfits, but there’s something about knowing the process to the final product that doesn’t allow me to take my own style very seriously.  Life isn’t the Instagram photo.  It’s all the moments before and after that one frozen instagrammable moment.  Social media is pure theater sometimes.  I thoroughly enjoy Instagram, but I can’t take it very seriously either.

My advice at the end of this week: don’t chase glamour.  It is an outward projection of what we want people to think about us.  Instead of relying on glamour magic to trick people into thinking what I want them to think about me, I would rather focus on building something lasting.  I want to strive for real beauty.  Not just in my outward appearance, but in how I treat people and how I conduct myself and how I speak.  It is more difficult, but it is so much more worthwhile.

Christmas Party Style!

When I was little, we had Christmas Dresses.  Those jewel-tone velvet ones with contrasting lace collars, bows, sashes, and possibly some faux-pearl buttons down the front.  I LOVED THEM SO MUCH.  They were twirly and comfy and beautiful, and if you stood over floor vents, they poofed up like parachutes.  It didn’t matter if they were hand-me-downs from cousins or older sisters, those Christmas dresses made us feel so beautiful.

I still loving getting my glitz on at Christmastide, but dressing up does get more complicated as a grown up.  For one thing, grown women are (usually) in charge of choosing their own clothes and buying their own clothes.  Unlike the days of my childhood, a delightfully twirly velvet dress does not magically appear every December.

But without the challenge, where’s the fun?

So here are some ideas for how to handle the happy challenges of dressing for the festive season:

Don’t Fight The Christmasness

I love red, but most of the year, I fight the Christmasness of red.  In December, I stop fighting and let the red shine in all its glory.  If you have a red top, this is the time to bring it out.  Wear red with gold, wear red with white, wear red with green, wear red with plaid – you no longer have to worry about looking like a wrapped package, because it is the time of year to look like a beautifully wrapped present under the tree.

It is the time of year to get all dressed up, so don’t worry about being overdressed or too sparkly!  Tis the sequin season, the All-The-Metallics season, and the bright red season, so enjoy it.

Mix and Match

Separates can be a great alternative to a dress.  You can put together different combinations and customize the formality of the look for the occasion.  A beaded dress is usually only pulled out for very formal parties or weddings, but a neutral skirt (like this black and white polka dot number) can go anywhere.  Pair this skirt with a sweater and ankle booties for work or a cute casual party outfit, or step up the formality with a strappy sequin top and a great pair of heels.

I chose this outfit, because I wanted to highlight some alternative styling ideas for holiday parties.  Choose one element to be your neutral element.  (In this case, the neutral element is the polka dot skirt.  Just to explain my terms a little bit, the neutral element does not have to lack personality and it also doesn’t have be black or white or gray.  The neutral element could be a burgundy sweater or a cool pair of wide-leg trousers.  It is the starting point of the outfit, then we build from there.)  The shape of the skirt helped dictated the other elements of the outfit.  Because it is midi-length, it has a lot of fabric, so I didn’t want to pair a long or bulky top with it.  The top had to be fairly fitted, to balance out the proportions.  I also wanted to the top to add color and personality, so I went with this fabulous pink crane sweater and tucked it into the skirt.  That created the high-waisted look I was going for.  To top it off, I threw on a jacket that I wear more during the summer, because it is white and lacy and light.  I found this jacket for ten euros in a French shop and it always reminds me of white stone and hot sunshine and cicadas chirping.  So it has wonderful memories associated with it, but it went well with the outfit, because it gave me an extra layer without adding bulk, the sheer lace allowed the bright pink of the sweater to peek through, and white tied in with the white accents in the skirt and the sweater.

That might sound like an intense process, but it really wasn’t.  It took maybe ten minutes to throw this outfit together and it looked cute and kept me warm and comfy the whole day!  I didn’t have a part that night, but if I was going to a party, I would have switched out the ankle booties for a pair of heels and put on bright lipstick.  As easy as that.

Simplicity and Dressing With Care

I’m aware that the polka dot skirt / crane sweater / white lace jacket look was a lot of look.  I’m comfortable wearing some pretty bold looks, but I’m also aware that a lot of you are NOT comfortable going that bold, so I pared back the outfit for Wednesday and kept the look chic and simple.  Dark jeans, a black blazer, black ankle boots, and a silvery velvet top.

The funny thing is that I felt more self-conscious and exposed in this outfit, because there is nothing to hide behind.  No patterns, no bright colors, no excess material.  My hair was pulled back, so the whole look was like an arrow to my face.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like my face, but this day was ALL about my face.  It took some getting used to, but it was a good look and it just goes to show that a good outfit does not need a lot going on to be interesting.

It also reminded me of that line, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care” and I kept on thinking about that all week.  Does the care we take about things show up?  Does it matter?  Yes, it does.  The difference between regular “getting dressed” and and festive “dressing up” sometimes just comes down to taking more care in how you get dressed.  Enjoying the process and taking time, even if the end result isn’t a Cinderella gasp moment.  The point of dressing up isn’t to end up looking like a different person, it is to honor the day by putting in a little more thought, a little more time, a little more care.  The results really are beautiful.

Classics Are Classics For A Reason

Little black dresses or red party dresses are almost Christmas clichés at this point, but they are classics for a reason!  A little black dress will see you through almost any party dress code in the world and it can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion.  I’m a big fan of rewearing party dresses.  If you love your dress, wear it everywhere.  You are the only person who will care or wonder if anybody else cares.  I’m wearing this red dress twice in one week, because it makes me feel beautiful!

If you want to switch up the look of a basic dress, switch out accessories or hair and makeup looks.  Wearing your one party dress to three different parties in a row?  Wear your hair down and curled for the first one, wear your hair up for the second one, and straightened and half-up for the last one!  Try a bold lipstick for one evening and a smokey eye with a neutral lip for the other.  But the variety is really so it feels different to you.  If you have a signature look, wear it to every party and shine!

Get dressed with care, then the goal is to go to parties and forget what you look like, because you are having so much fun!  Enjoy the season and celebrate with all your heart.

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A Former California Girl’s Guide to Surviving Winter in Style

I grew up in central California, where (contrary to popular opinion) there are white Christmases.  The white is fog, not snow, but we took whatever we got.  I just looked up the current temperature there and it is 56 degrees Fahrenheit in my former hometown.  The fifties are cold for California, okay?

When I moved up to Idaho for college, I had no clue what a snowy winter would be like.  I knew I liked the IDEA of snow, but was scared about driving in it.  A lot has changed since freshman year of college.  Idaho feels like my home now, but California also feels like home.  So here’s what I’ve learned about dressing for a real winter.  Believe me, this was a long trial-and-error process.

Lesson 1:  Find A Good Coat

My first winter up here, I thought that I would freeze to death without snow boots and wool trousers and a wool sweater and mittens and a hat and a coat and long underwear.  I quickly learned that wearing everything at once was complete overkill, unless I was going to be outside for an extended period of time.  Inside buildings, everything is heated and toasty warm.  Sometimes TOO warm, especially if I layered the wool on too heavily.

For my average winter day in my office, jeans and a fuzzy sweater will keep me warm and happy.  Getting to and from places is when I really need my coat.  This past Thursday, it was 20 degrees as I walked to my car to drive to work.  Now 20 degrees is doable, but I have to gear up for it, because I need to plan for a temperature leap of more than 45 degrees once I get to my destination.  A good coat takes care of me when I’m outside and keeps me from freezing into a snowball.

Here are some things I need in a winter coat:

  • Choose function over form.  If the coat is pretty, but not warm, DON’T GET IT.  Nothing is more miserable being cold all winter.  Ideally, the coat is both beautiful AND warm.  But if you need to choose between a boring practical coat and a beautiful coat that isn’t quite warm enough, be practical.  Your future self with thank you.
  • I’ve had waist-length wool coats before, but for a good winter coat, I want something that covers my rear.  Here’s why – my rear gets cold faster than any other part of me.  We had a Ranger Rick Christmas Book growing up and it was great, because it combined Christmas Spirit and Science.  Ranger Rick taught me that layers of clothes keep us warm by creating air pockets and trapping in our body heat.  My working theory is that my rear gets coldest soonest, because my jeans are too tight to create the ever-important protective air pockets.  So my coat needs to help out with that.
  • I’ve also had a collarless coat before and it was beautiful, but that made a scarf (or a turtleneck) necessary.  As much as I love scarves, I don’t want need one every time I go outside, so my ideal coat has a collar that buttons or zips up.
  • A good coat has plenty of pockets.
  • Wool coats can be very expensive, so if you’re looking for a wool coat, try the thrift store or the antique store first.  I’ve found some of my favorite coats in thrift stores.  A new set of buttons and a dry cleaning can give new life to a beautiful old coat!

Last spring, I stumbled across my silver puffer coat and it ticked all the boxes – it keeps me toasty warm, it covers my rear, it covers my neck, it has good functional pockets…. and bonus points for the fact that it looks good and it was on clearance for cheap!  I wear it every day and it does its job in style.

Lesson 2:  Keep your feet warm

If my feet are cold, I’m cold everywhere.  When I’m at home, I live in a pair of fuzzy slippers with pom poms on them.  For everywhere else, I’m usually in a pair of boots, unless I’m at a fancy Christmas party.  Even then, I’ll wear boots until I get inside the party location and then change into cute shoes.  I’ve ventured out into snow in heels before, but I advise against it.  It is brave, but foolhardy.  Brrrrrrrrr.  Little bits of ice tend to sneak down the foot and then melt inside.  For a cold day with no snow, I might wear a pair of heels, but they need to be a solid pair that covers most of my foot.

If you have tennis shoes that you want to wear during the winter, I highly recommend a  water-repelling spray like Scotchgard.  It’s amazing.  It works on faux suede as well, but make sure to read up on the instructions for proper application.

Here are my new favorites:  they are black ankle booties from Dr. Scholl’s and I’ve worn them a ton already this year.  They go with everything – classy enough to wear to with dresses, simple enough to wear with jeans.  And most importantly, they are comfortable, supportive, and warm.

Lesson 3: Gear Up!

Winter accessories make outfits more fun, but their usefulness extends far beyond their adorableness.  Once the weather gets below freezing, I carry a pair of gloves in my purse at all times.  Otherwise, my fingers would get frostbite and fall off one by one.  My present pair of gloves is a teal leather pair my mom gave to me and they have been fantastic.  The main criteria I have for everyday winter gloves is that they must be waterproof.  I’ve scraped snow off my car in non-waterproof gloves before and it is no fun.  Any cute knit and/or fingerless gloves are saved for the autumn or spring seasons.  For snowy seasons, gloves need to keep my fingers dry and warm and far away from frostbite.

Another accessory that saves my life and limbs in this frozen wilderness:  TIGHTS.  Now, I know that tights are polarizing.  Some women have a love-hate relationship with tights and some women just hate them.  In one Dilbert comic, Dilbert puts his life at risk and asks his coworker, Alice, what she thinks about the concept of pantyhose.  Alice answers with the valid observation, “AAARGH!  WHAT MORON INVENTED LEG COVERS THAT CAN BE DESTROYED BY TOUCHING A TWIG?!”  I sympathize.  Most of my tights have at least one snag or run in them.  But their usefulness outweighs their drawbacks for me and I wear them all the time.  They allow me to wear dresses all year.  My outfit today was a sleeveless jersey dress with a turtleneck layered underneath it, plus black tights and black boots.  I wore that same dress through the summer (with sandals) and fall (with ankle boots and a cardigan).  Tights help me get the versatility I want out of my wardrobe.

In the constant struggle to stay warm, hats and scarves help a surprising amount.  According to a scientificky fact I heard somewhere (probably that Ranger Rick Christmas Book), a good deal of heat escapes through the top of the head and the ears.  That’s why hats help.  If my winter coat does not have a hood, I carry a knit hat in my purse (along with my gloves).  A hat isn’t as important as gloves, but once it gets below 15 degrees, a hat or a hood is necessary.  Otherwise, the ears start hurting.  Scarves are practical and beautiful.  Double the happiness.  Scarves are an easy way to add color or texture to an outfit.  I love bright colors all the time, but I need them even more in the wintertime.  I need brightness and warmth and happy colors, because the days are short and dark.

Lesson 4:  Be Of Good Cheer

Learn to love wintertime.  Gratitude makes everything so much better.  Sure, there are elements of winter that are still hard for me.  The main ones are 1) scraping off my car and 2) how short the days are and 3) the amount of darkness around.  But when the snow starts to fall, I forget all that.  When it is snowing, the world turns quiet.  The air smells like metal and every house looks like a gingerbread house.  Snow counteracts the darkness, because it reflects all the light and multiplies it.  On a snowy night, the streetlights reflect off the low cloud cover, so the ground is white and the sky is peachy pink.  I love that I get to live here.

As soon as the days get short, I put up lots of white Christmas lights inside my house.  Not just on my Christmas tree.  The extra lights stay up from November to March, because I need the light.  Light cheers me up.  Also, slippers and fuzzy blankets and art projects and books and soup and making Christmas presents and all that fun stuff.

Other random advice.  These all come from experience and years of slow learning:

  • Drink lots of water.  It’s easy to get dehydrated in the wintertime.  Technically, I need that advice every day of the year.  But it’s easier to think about drinking water in the summertime.
  • Use moisturizer.  (I found out that cold, dry weather chaps my hands and if I don’t moisturize regularly, my knuckles split and bleed.  No fun.)
  • Don’t leave the house with wet hair.  It will take forever to dry and also, SO VERY COLD.  If you’re in a hurry, dry your hair part way and then turn on all the front vents in the car on the way to work.
  • Plan trips and take trips during the winter.  The mere idea of sunshine makes me happy, but a trip in January or February makes me even happier.
  • Celebrate Christmas as much as you can!  Make the Yuletide bright, make your house bright, make your spirit bright, and bring light to people around you.

My Fall Outfit

This last week, I didn’t take many outfit pictures, because I was mainly focused on Halloween costumes and work.  When I don’t take daily outfit shots, I tend to wear pretty same-ish outfits during the week.  This week The Outfit was jeans + pullover sweater + boots.  It’s a good solid outfit.  I could wear some variation on that theme for the rest of the fall and winter, but that would might get a little monotonous.  In an effort to jazz up my go-to fall outfit, I decided to do a little hypothetical styling challenge.

My starting point is the jeans, pullover, and boots combo that I wore on Friday.  The jeans are from The Gap (via a consignment store), the cotton cable sweater is from H&M, and the boots were a clearance find at Famous Footwear.  It is a muted, comfortable, simple ensemble.  This is the kind of outfit I’ll throw on if I need to run errands or meet up with somebody on a Saturday.  My work clothes are usually a step up from this, but it was a casual Friday, so this was the look!

The outfit really is fine by itself, but it doesn’t provide much visual interest.  I love each piece individually, so I figured this outfit was a perfect blank canvas for styling.  The sweater is purple, but it isn’t a bright purple.  This purple is on the burgundy end, which makes it a great background color for bright pops of color.

Variation 1:

One easy way to add a bright pop of color is to throw on a big scarf!

That looks more interesting already, doesn’t it?  This scarf is from H&M.  It’s about the size of a baby blanket and the poppy print has tons of colors in it, including burgundy, which visually ties in with the sweater.  The scarf gives a focal point to the outfit and draws the eye upwards.  It not only gives color contrast, it gives good textural contrast, because the silky texture of the scarf is very different from the matte cable texture of the sweater.  (A dark cable knit scarf wouldn’t show up well against this purple cable knit.)

Variation 2:

This variation is just an accessories swap.  Easy as pie!  (Tangent:  “Easy as pie” is kind of a confusing saying, isn’t it?  Is it as easy as making a pie?  Because I don’t think making pies is particularly simple.  Is it as easy as eating a pie?  Because I’ll agree that is a very easy and happy thing to do.  I guess it doesn’t matter.)

Instead of brown boots, black flats.  The shoe swap automatically sets the outfit tone a little bit higher, because they look a more feminine.  Black also looks dressier than brown.  To go with the dressier and more feminine vibe, I chose a whimsical flower necklace.  I found this necklace at my grandma’s house and she let me keep it.  The off-white contrasts so well against the purple and the 3D flowers give some interesting dimension to the look.  Instead of a short necklace, you could always layer on some long necklaces – that would look great.  I like how long necklaces look, but I usually end up having Thoroughly Modern Millie problems with long necklaces….

Another fun way to add some interest is to switch out your purse.  I don’t switch out my purse unless it’s for an occasion, because it takes some work, but a cute clutch really makes this look into a Look!

Variation 3:

A cool coat makes a basic outfit look intentional and interesting.

No scarves or necklaces this time.  I found this great western coat in an antique store and it is one of my favorite possessions.  It has woven birds flying all over the outside and a beautiful feather print cotton lining the inside.  No matter what the outfit looks like, every piece of clothing takes a supporting role to this coat.  That makes it perfect to brighten up an otherwise muted outfit.

Other layering pieces that add visual interest (and warmth):  oversize cardigans, vests, blazers, scarves, shirt-dresses-worn-as-jackets, etc.  A floral kimono-style cardigan would look really cute over this pullover.  I don’t own one, but I’m sure it would look good.

Variation 4:

Instead of layering over, this variation is all about layering under.

A collared shirt under a sweater is pretty classic.  A collar gives dignity to a pullover and the pullover hides any button-gapping problems that the collared shirt might have.  Win-win!  This collared shirt is another vintage find.  The 1970s peach-orange-brown color scheme is so groovy that it can be difficult to style in a modern way, but this look has enough retro and enough modern that it works!

Collared shirts aren’t the only pieces you can layer under sweaters.  Long-sleeved dresses, turtlenecks, and striped t-shirts are all great candidates for under layers.  Roll up the sweater sleeves to show off a contrasting color.  Winter is coming.  Stay warm, my friends.

Variation 5:

If you feel like you are blending in with the wall and want to be a little bolder, keep the formula, but go bolder.  This is still the same kind of jeans, sweater, and boots outfit, but with a much bolder color of sweater.

I love the purple sweater, but this yellow sweater has much more visual punch.  The stitching details give textural interest and the color is bright, bold, and in your face.

If you love jeans and comfy sweaters, that’s great!  So do I.  But if you want to jazz that outfit up, it’s easy and inexpensive.  Get creative with what you have around.  Layer it up, layer it down.  Find a printed scarf and add it into the rotation.  Have fun and stay cozy!