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!

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Ashley Dresses Like Movie Genres

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time or talked to me in person, you already know that I LOVE costume design.  Great costumes bring me so much joy.  I think good movie costumes advance the plot, provide character development without heavy-handed exposition, and (of course) look amazing.  For this week, I didn’t decided to steer away from iconic costumes as inspiration, because it is easy to get overly costumey.  If I went to work dressed up in a gingham jumper, a white shirt, and red shoes, people would immediately get the Wizard of Oz reference.  They would also give me strange looks, because it isn’t Halloween yet and Halloween is the only socially acceptable time to wear such a literal costume.  So I went a little more meta and put together outfits that gave the right vibes, without being tied to any specific movie.

I loved this week.  If you love costumes and/or movies, you might want to try this challenge yourself!  I searched through my old Polyvore outfit boards to find additional example outfits.  If you didn’t know, Polyvore ceased to exist quite suddenly, but I fortunately was able to download all my past work!  It was so fun to sift through the collages and find applicable boards for each genre.

Foreign Language Film

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For this look, I wanted to channel a retro French film style.  The 1950s Parisian style is still actively referenced in so many ways – slim fit trousers, crew neck knit tops, horizontal stripes, pointed toe flats…. the list goes on.  Audrey Hepburn was in American films, but she was in Paris fashion.  Since the Audrey style is so often referenced, I decided to go for a different icon of the gamine style, Jean Seberg.  You may not have seen any of her films, but you’ve probably worn styles she popularized.  If you’ve worn a graphic or striped t-shirt with skinny jeans and flats, that’s a classic Jean Seberg outfit.

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Another French film that has killer style is Amélie.   The color styling and harmony between the set design and costume design is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s like seeing the color red for the first time.  Just amazing.

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Style lessons to take away from French films:

  1.  A dramatic hairstyle can be your most important and impactful accessory.
  2.  Wear clothes casually.  If you don’t act cool in your clothes, your clothes won’t look cool.
  3.  Sometimes the simplest pieces have the greatest impact.
  4.  Secrecy and mystery are beautiful.  The French idiom “je ne sais quoi” literally means “I don’t know what”.  It’s an indefinable quality that draws people in.  True beauty lies beneath the surface.
  5.  The eyes are the window to the soul.  If you need to decide which feature to emphasize, choose the eyes.

Drama

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I found this charcoal skirt suit in the Salvation Army in the middle of summer.  I had never owned a suit before, but it was such a good fit and made of such lovely material, I decided to buy it.  I couldn’t wear it immediately, because it was (as Cole Porter put it) too darn hot.  But once the weather cooled down and the Drama genre rolled around, the suit came out for the first time.  Nothing conveys Serious and Dramatic like a dark suit.

Since my office is not exactly a suit office, I expected some reactions, but oh my goodness.  I’ve never gotten so many reactions to an outfit before.  I had coworkers doing double takes, giving me nods of approval, and most of all, asking me what was up.  The suit was a total fake-out, because I didn’t have any meetings, events, or interviews that day.  But the suit looked Very Important.  It looked like I was about to brief the White House on an urgent matter of national security.  The jacket made me sit up straight.  Suiting up made me feel sharper and quicker and wittier.

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Tailored clothes make the wearer look intelligent.  Good tailoring is like a British accent for clothing.  People listen to an important looking suit.  Since suits make everything seem more serious, they are perfect for dramas.  When I think of perfectly tailored women’s suits, I think of Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Ingrid Bergman.  Cool, calm, collected, controlled, complex.  In my opinion, the best drama is like the last scene in Casablanca, when every single person needs to make a decision between doing what’s right and doing what they want.  It’s cinematic perfection.  If you haven’t seen Casablanca, you need to watch it.

The power suit has gone through variations, but has always been a staple of dramatic storytelling.  I’ve included a couple of my favorites – Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully from The X-Files, whose sharp suits support her role as the quick clear-minded skeptic.  I think the current queen of suits is Gina Torres’s character Jessica Pearson on Suits.  That show is aptly named.  Everything she wears is a power move.

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Style lessons to take from dramas:  If you want to be taken more seriously, suit up.  Dress like the stakes are high.

Musical

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After the dramatic suit, it was fun to take a complete departure and try a style based on that oft-maligned movie genre, the Musical.  I love a musical.  I’m perfectly happy to sacrifice a little plot if there’s singing and dancing.  But when everything comes together and the plot, the acting, the singing, and the dancing are all stellar, musicals are truly beautiful.  They are the most difficult genre of movie to make and costuming for musicals offers specific challenges that you don’t find in other genres.

Two of the most important aspects in a musical costume are movement and color contrast.  Let’s start with movement.  The costume needs to hold up through exhausting days of filming dance scenes and look good from every angle.  It needs to accentuate the movement and show off the dancer.  It needs to be a crazy mix of practical and beautiful.  Imagine a hybrid of high-performance athletic wear and an evening gown.  Take a look at this still from Swing Time – one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ finest.

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Fred and Ginger make the dancing look easy.  Likewise, those costumes look simple enough, but I can guarantee that so much engineering that went into making Ginger’s skirt twirl perfectly and making Fred’s coattails flare out when he turned.  Fred and Ginger were the very best and they had costumes to match.

Moving on to the second important aspect of a good musical costume – color contrast.  See Fred Astaire’s spats?  They aren’t just there for nattiness.  The white spats are there to draw focus to his feet.  If he didn’t have a contrasting color on his shoes, his footwork would get lost.  The lead performers need to stand out from the background, and sometimes in musicals, that background includes tons of other dancers.  That’s where contrast comes in.   The first musicals were in black and white, so the brightest and darkest shades were reserved for the lead actor and actress, and the background costumes would either be the opposite color or mid-tone shades.

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When musicals transitioned to beautiful technicolor, color became a huge part of the costuming challenge.  Contrast was still the most important thing, but the designers were no longer limited to just black and white, so the contrast usually came from vibrant color, not just shades.  One of the best recent examples is La La Land.  Emma Stone’s character stands out through color – bright blues, yellow, greens, reds.  Ryan Gosling’s character usually stands out through shade – bright white shirts, black trousers, two-toned shoes.  They not only contrast against their surroundings, but they also contrast against each other.  She’s the sun, he’s the moon.  She’s bright and colorful and new, he’s a throwback to the black and white days.  These are storytelling costumes and the results are stunning.

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Style lessons from movie musicals:

  1.  Twirl Factor is important.  When you’re trying on a dress, take it for a spin in the dressing room.
  2.  Contrast is powerful.  Want to stand out?  Wear bright white or a bold color.
  3.  Have fun!  Dance, sing, and wear clothes you love.

Sci Fi

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Science Fiction – the ultimate What If.  The only limits to science fiction are the limits of your own imagination.  And the limits of the costuming budget.  I find sci fi costumes fascinating, because they present the designer’s vision of the future.  The costumes help answer those sci-fi questions.  What will the future be like?  Will we actively reference the past, like we do now?  Will clothing be purely practical?  Will everyone wear the same thing or will clothing still show layers of societal ranking?  Will it be militaristic?  How connected will clothing and technology be?  Will our communication devices be sewn into our sleeves so we can just talk into our wrists?  WILL THERE BE FLYING CARS? I WANT FLYING CARS.  Actually, I want a personal sized dirigible that works by pedaling, so I can just float above the ground and pedal around town and look at stuff.  But that’s not really sci fi.  That’s more steampunk.

If I was in charge of creating a Future Aesthetic for a sci fi movie, I think I would go the route of Retro-Futurism.  This is the idea that Future Us will reference and draw inspiration from the past.  I don’t think clothing ideas will be entirely new, but they will be transformed into something Other.  Clothing comes in cycles – the 1980s were obsessed with the 1950s, but the references looked like the eighties-version-of-the-fifties.  Think Back To The Future or Madonna recreating Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.  I don’t think the future will be any different – the same ideas will keep circulating, but they will change with each iteration.

I hated the storyline of the Hunger Games, but the costume design was compelling, because they drew on the emotion surrounding the Great Depression.  The poor districts are straight out of the Dust Bowl – flour sack dresses and patches and worn out shoes.  The photographs we have from that time are haunting images of desperation and resignation and those images are seared into our minds, so when we see District 12, we already know that this is a people who have been through a tragedy and given up hope.

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Probably the most famous example of retro-futuristic design is Blade Runner.  In the highest strata of society, the fashion is an exaggerated 1940s style, which gives the whole movie a Film Noir feel.  It bends the genre into something new – a future film noir fusion, with Harrison Ford in the Humphrey Bogart role.  The aesthetic of a movie can cross genres and make you see an old story in a new way.

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Style lessons from science fiction:  Our decisions now will influence the next generation, so we should be actively involved in shaping culture now.  We shouldn’t hide from art and fashion and music.  If we want to hand something good down to our kids, we need to step up and make it now.  The past affects the present, so the present affects the future.

Western

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Westerns are America’s mythology.  Cowboys and gunfighters are our version of knights in armor, our Lancelots and Mordreds.  My grandma lives in the desert and we have watched many, many John Wayne movies at her house.  There’s something about watching a western, then stepping out the door into the perfect setting for a western.  Icy night air, bands of cold white stars, bare rock hills, sagebrush, moonlight, coyote howls…. the Mojave Desert is one western cliché after another.

Of all the genres I tried this week, cowboy movies are the most personal to me.  If I got the chance to make one movie, it would be a western.  A good western is a combination of everything – it’s a historical period piece, a drama, an action movie, a character study, a romance, with comedy thrown in for good measure.  Plus guns and horses and hats and all that good stuff.  Actually, I think cowboy movies are the reason I started making hats.  I can never find a hat that is exactly what I want.  I want a Magnificent Seven hat.  One day I will make the perfect Magnificent Seven hat and I will be so happy.

Western style has actually been having a high fashion moment for the past couple of years.  Dior, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren have all had Tombstone moments within the past five years.  It’s in the air.

What do I love about western style?  It is a beautiful style without being purely decorative.  The materials are chosen for protection and constant wear – wool, leather, denim, canvas, metal.  It’s distinctly American, but it comes from everywhere.  The cowboy look has elements from Britain, Mexico, Spain – anyone who came out west had a hand in shaping it.  It has a landscape associated with it and it’s a landscape I know and love.  It has power of myth behind it.

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Style lessons from westerns:

  1. Don’t buy purely decorative clothes.  Have some clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  2. If you need an extra push to feel brave, wear adventure clothes.  Remember, according to Chesterton, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
  3. A great pair of jeans is a gift.
  4. Vests are underrated and we should bring them back.
  5. Paris isn’t the only place with great style.

Thank you for reading!  I had an absolute blast putting these outfits together this week.  Also, if anybody needs help costuming a movie, call me.  I’ll clear my schedule.

Active Contentment

The other day, somebody asked me if I was a “content person” and my automatic knee-jerk response was a heavy sigh.  Or a groan.  I can’t remember which reaction it was, but it was not eloquent.  They probably left that conversation thinking, Wow. Ashley is obviously having some issues with contentment.  They wouldn’t be incorrect in that assumption, because contentment is a heavy sanctification area for me right now.  Contentment does not always feel like my state of being.  But what does it mean to be a content person?  Can I categorize myself as a content person, even if I don’t always FEEL like a content person?  I’ve been thinking about it and here are some thoughts…

Stoicism isn’t contentment.  Placidity isn’t contentment.  Coziness isn’t contentment.  Happiness isn’t contentment.  True contentment doesn’t depend on my willpower, my circumstances, or my feelings.  Contentment doesn’t mean fooling myself into thinking everything is perfect.  Ignoring problems in order to feel warm and fuzzy is just delusion.  A content person does not equal a delusional person.  If everything was perfect, we wouldn’t even need contentment.  If all I needed was warm fuzzy feelings, I could get a giant mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles and call it good.

I keep seeing motivational posters with pretty lettering that say You Are Enough.  I understand that it’s supposed to be encouraging, but that isn’t good news.  That slogan is trying to cover up a gaping hole with decorative lettering.  I know that I’m not enough on my own.  I’m mortal.  As soon as I was born, I started dying.  I’m under a death curse.  I’m not perfect.  My words and actions have hurt people and I’ve been hurt myself.  How could I possibly be enough on my own?

On my own, I can’t make myself righteous or content.  On my own, I’m broken, dying, incomplete, constantly breaking – a textbook example of entropy in motion.  Just saying I Am Enough won’t change that. That’s like putting up signs that say Everything’s Perfectly Fine all over a critical nuclear reactor and expecting the posters to fix the meltdown problem.  The real good news is that I’m NOT enough on my own.  I am in Christ and He is enough.  All I brought with me was my brokenness, my debts, my sin, and my discontent.  All my not-enough-ness.  He healed my brokenness, payed my debts, took the penalty for my sins, and gave me rest in Him.

The rest and peace I have in Christ is my contentment.  I trust in God, because He truly is enough.

Apart from Christ, there are two ways to try and handle the brokenness.  People can try to fix themselves and fill the gaping hole through self-improvement.  They try to achieve contentment by losing weight, getting the perfect job, curating an immaculate house, dressing to impress, getting high grades – excelling in any way they can.  They try to control their environment, because that feels like the only way to control life.  And it’s easy to not worry about being content when you’re too busy to slow down and think, right?  On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people embrace the brokenness as a feature, not a problem.  They focus on loving themselves, flaws and all.  They preach acceptance and tolerance and inclusivity, because they want to feel included and accepted, because those feelings mimic contentment.  If you flip to the end of either of these stories, you’ll see that neither of these methods work.  The Type-A self-help people will work and work and try harder and harder, without reaching a point where they can rest or be content.  It’s like being on a stationary bike – it doesn’t matter how hard you pedal, you still aren’t going anywhere.  The “Love Your Brokenness” group will struggle to maintain the levels of love they want to give to themselves and to other people.  They’ll get frustrated by conflict, feel guilty about feeling guilt, and blame other people’s negativity for bring them down.

Both ways are exhausting.  They are heavy and self-imposed burdens.  That’s why Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  We want rest and contentment, but we can’t get it on our own.

But I know the truth and I still struggle to trust God sometimes.  That’s the sanctification part.  Sometimes I’ll realize I’ve been trying to change on my own.  (If I only try a little harder, I’ll be better.)  It’s hard for me to see it while I’m in it, but I’ll realize it once I’m exhausted and frustrated and burned out.  The temptation usually starts when I look at my circumstances, get scared, and attempt to control or manipulate them somehow.

The following scenario might sound stupid, but it’s very real:  I have four siblings and all four of them are married and each family has four kids.  (Yes, I have 16 nieces and nephews.)  If I allow my brain to start doing the Terrible Math, I am behind everybody else.  I’m missing one husband and four kids.  The Math preys on the mind, because it’s all about comparison. Everybody else is a unit of six and I’m still just a unit of one.  I’m behind and I’ll never catch up.  I’m 31.  There isn’t enough time.  Why don’t I have a family yet?  Then I try to figure out what’s wrong with me.  Why am I not married yet?  What is the matter with me?  Then feel like I have to fix whatever is wrong with me before I can move forward with my life.  It feels like it’s my fault for not knowing what’s wrong AND not knowing how to fix it.  So I’ll be stuck forever.  Maybe if I’m prettier – maybe if I’m thinner – maybe if I’m friendlier – maybe if I’m more outgoing  – maybe maybe maybe maybe.  All of this internal monologue and accompanying temptation happens faster than I can even express.  The randomized guilt hits fast and hard and goes straight for the gut.  I know it doesn’t make sense.  I know God loves me and that he is telling the best story with my life.  He isn’t trying to manipulate or torture me.  He’s got everything under control and He loves me more than I can even begin to comprehend.  I thank the Lord that contentment does not rely on my own performance, because I’ve had to confess my lack of trust so many times.

That’s why I choked when somebody asked me if I’m content.  I don’t feel like I’m always content.  But that’s a feeling and contentment isn’t a feeling.  I wish contentment could be as simple as breathing.  I want to swim through contentment like a fish.  I want to soak in contentment like a warm sunbeam.  But it isn’t that simple.  Contentment isn’t passive.  It isn’t enough to sit still and hope contentment just happens to me.  With every change in circumstance, there’s a choice – whether or not to trust God in that circumstance.  It requires vigilance and active trust.  I can say I am a content person, not because I’ve reached some mythical balance in my life, but because I trust God and I’m content in Him.  I’m not trusting myself to never fail.  I’m trusting Him never to fail me.  And that’s enough.

Ashley Goes To Hogwarts!

Last week, I had a wonderful birthday and then caught a virus, so I was out of commission from Wednesday to Sunday.  Since I needed some extra momentum, I decided to do a really fun challenge this week!  Fall puts me a bookish adventure mood and October always puts me in a costume frame of mind, so I decided to draw some bookish inspiration from the Harry Potter series.

My challenge:  put together an outfit for each of the Hogwarts houses, drawing on the house colors and traits.  

Right at the get-go, I’ll fully admit that I’m not a dedicated Potterhead.  I just enjoy the books (and most of the movies), so I leave the intensive trivia to my friends.  It’s very similar to my relationship with Star Wars.  But I do love the whole aesthetic of Hogwarts and the pageantry that comes with school houses and (being me) the costumes are mainly what I remember.

Monday: Ravenclaw

You know those Harry Potter fan friends I told you about?  Well, last year one of them threw a theme party where we all were sorted into houses (via a quiz) and I was sorted into Ravenclaw.  That’s flattering, because Ravenclaw is the most academic of the houses. Witty, clever, sharp, surprising.  Luna Lovegood, my favorite character, comes from Ravenclaw.  All very cool.  I was happy to start off the week in a Ravenclaw state of mind, because I needed all my wits about me.

The house colors are blue and bronze.  Since most of my wardrobe is blue, it wasn’t difficult to put together this outfit.

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I wanted this outfit to give academic uniform vibes without looking like a costume.  So I kept to a subdued color palette and added texture details.  I loved wearing this outfit.  The elements are very simple (jeans + sweater + blazer), but it looked sharp and I felt sharper than I had in days.  After being home sick, I always feel like my brain is trying to catch up.  This was a great way to start the week.

The clothes elements were very basic, so this outfit needed details to make it feel like Ravenclaw.  Knit scarves are one of the most iconic elements of Hogwarts uniforms, but I didn’t have four rugby stripe scarves to wear each day.  So I chose a gray scarf that reminded me of Hogwarts, but kept with the navy and gray color scheme.  The white stripe on the navy sweater also helped give the impression of a school uniform without going into the whole white-collar-with-tie thing.  For the bronze accents, I added my favorite heels (a bronzey faux snakeskin pair from Clarks) and some long earrings.  Voila!  A smart, sharp, blue-and-bronze Ravenclaw look!

Tuesday: Hufflepuff

I always feel a little sorry for Hufflepuff, the most underappreciated Hogwarts house.  It feels like a catchall for the kids nobody else wanted to pick.  Ravenclaw for the smart kids, Slytherin for the ambitious kids, Gryffindor for the brave kids……and Hufflepuff takes all the rest.  Hufflepuff is the alto section of Hogwarts houses.  But looking at the attributes of the house, I want to be more like a Hufflepuff.  They are hardworking, loyal, kind, down to earth.  They are also great at finding things and keeping plants alive, two attributes that I DESPERATELY WANT, BUT DO NOT HAVE.  Some notable Huffles include Cedric Diggory and Newt Scamander, who are two of the kindest and noblest characters we encounter in the magical world.  They are in-the-bone kind.  I’d rather be kind than clever or powerful or bold.  But the good thing is that we don’t have to choose.  We can be clever, ambitious, brave, and deeply kind.  There’s probably one attribute that we’re more drawn to and one that we need to work on, but they all need each other.  Hufflepuff is great.  It’s not an afterthought house.  Kind, hardworking, loyal people will always be in high demand.

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Poor old Hufflepuff – their colors are yellow and black, like a bumblebee.  Or a taxi.  At least they have a cool house animal, which is a badger.  I definitely felt like a honey badger on Tuesday, because honey badger don’t care.

This was the only outfit I needed outside help on, because I don’t own any yellow clothes.  But I’ve always admired my sister’s goldenrod yellow sweater and I was curious if the color would suit me.  It is pretty adorable.  But the adorable sweater is also very warm, which is why I chose to wear a comfy skirt (for the very practical purpose of airflow and not sweating at work).  After all, Hufflepuffs are practical and don’t care about looking sleek.  I was considering wearing skinny black jeans, because I knew skinny jeans would look better with the sweater, but it was more practical to wear the comfy skirt and not overheat.  Admittedly, not the sleekest look, but SO COMFORTABLE.  I may have to buy a yellow sweater myself!  So cheery and cozy.  (But I probably still wouldn’t pair it with black.)

Wednesday:  Slytherin

I didn’t have any trouble assembling a Slytherin look.  I own a ton of black.  I’m also more than a little dramatic and have great villain eyebrows.  Also, ambitious and sometimes shrewd.  Good at keeping secrets.  Yeah, there’s a lot in there.  But ambition (and eyebrows) can be used in a positive or negative way.  It’s all about who’s in control of who.  If my eyebrows and ambition controlled me, I’d be in big trouble.  As long my eyebrows and ambition are under control, it’s okay to have copious amounts of them.

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I wanted this look to be sleek, strong, and a bit more magical than the last two.  Slytherins WANT to use magic and look powerful.  Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs could probably adapt pretty well to muggle life, but Slytherins wouldn’t like muggle life at all.  The Slytherin colors are green and silver, their animal is the snake.  Pretty stereotypical bad guy colors, because the green makes us think of poison and snakes and silver reminds us of the always changing moon and the inconstancy of water.  While black isn’t technically part of the color scheme, can you imagine somebody who graduated from Slytherin NOT wearing black?  I can’t imagine Professor Snape in any other color.  So I chose black as the base, then layered on the green jacket.  The jacket isn’t a very strong green, but it green enough and it has a power shoulder that went so nicely with the theme.  This jacket is the most wizardly item of clothing I own.

I do wear a lot of black, so I wanted to make this outfit a little more interesting by adding texture.  The sequins kept this black on black from looking drab and matte.  Also, sequins look like snake scales (very on brand for Slytherin House).  The jacket is a faux suede, so that added a little textural dimension as well.  I added my favorite black oxfords and a pair of stabby silver earrings that look legitimately dangerous.  For added sharpness, I pulled my hair back into a high ponytail and added a little more eyeliner than I would normally use.  I’d definitely wear elements of this outfit again, but probably with different earrings (to soften it up a little bit).  I love the idea of looking sleek and intimidating, like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, but it’s not a natural look for me and it usually takes more effort than I want to put into it.

Thursday: Gryffindor

Gryffindors are bold, courageous, nervy, and chivalrous.  They are hero material.  If Hufflepuff is the alto section of the Hogwarts choir, Gryffindor House is the soprano section.  You can always tell where the Gryffindors are, because of all the loud boldness happening.  It is easy to get annoyed at Gryffindors and other extroverts, but when I get annoyed at extroverts, the annoyance is tinged with envy.  I envy their nerve.  I envy their loudness.  I wish I had effortless charisma and confidence.  Courage does not come naturally to me, but that’s why I work on it.  Because a life without courage is a life that never changes. A little more Gryffindor wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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I was kind of rushing out the door on Thursday, so I relied on Gryffindor confidence to see me through with this outfit.  Fortunately, the Gryffindor colors are red and gold.  It’s pretty easy to look confident when you’re wearing bright red.  The blazer gave that feeling of a uniform without looking too much like a school child.  I wanted my hair to have lots of volume and feel like a lion’s mane, because the Gryffindor animal is a lion.  I don’t know how to do good hair and it just turned out normal/sort of curled.   But it had a bit more volume than usual and just the knowledge of effort made me feel cute all day, so it was a win.  

It’s finally cold enough start wearing these brown boots again and I’m so happy about that.  They are sturdy and comfortable and give me so many adventurer-steampunk vibes.  I actually forgot to add anything gold, but gold earrings or a cool necklace would have been a great accent to this look.  Believe me, I kicked myself when I realized that I had neglected one of the house’s signature colors.  But I did wear my glasses, because Harry Potter.  The whole idea of this outfit was just to feel confident and courageous and I think it did just that.

Friday: The Monster Book of Monsters

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Once I went through all houses, I had an extra day and I decided to go for the gusto and be the Monster Book of Monsters.  A magical book about magical beasts.  So I had owls on my shirt and dragony shoes and so much faux fur.  It was such fun.  One thing I realized this week was that I love having a secret, so I just might do it again.

Asking About Accessories (For a Friend)

Accessories aren’t just for fun, but they are one of the easiest ways to add fun to an outfit.  That being said, I’m not very knowledgeable about accessories.  I’m more interested in clothes.  Usually the fun in my outfit comes from the clothing, whether it is bright color, prints, patterns, or texture.  My accessories are usually more pragmatic.  I carry a purse because I need it to hold all my stuff and I wear shoes…because it isn’t socially acceptable for me to be barefoot all the time.  So in my outfits, accessories are usually supporting cast, not stars.  But for a lot of people, it’s the exact opposite – the accessories are the stars of the show and the clothes take supporting roles.

Shoes

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I don’t dislike shoes.  I like them on other people.

Shoes really can elevate an outfit, though.  And I’m not just talking about high heels, which literally making women taller.  That’s an added bonus.  The simplest jeans-and-tee outfits can be beautified by a killer pair of shoes.  They don’t need to be heels, but one of the hidden bonuses of heels is that they change the way you stand.  So if you wear a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of really cool flats, be sure to have great posture.  The posture sells the outfit.  And ladies, you can tell when a heel is too high – you can tell when you’ve reached your shoe height limit when you can’t walk in them.  We all have our limits and some of us are more limited than others.  I’ve seen some women glide over the ground in stilettos and I’ve seen some women struggle with two-inch wedges.

Be honest with yourself about how well you can walk in a pair of heels and also about how much they hurt, THEN decide whether to wear them to something fancy.  Some shoes are so pretty that the baby-giraffe-level unsteadiness seems worth it, but will it be worth it after the first 45 minutes of the event?  I used to choose aesthetics over function for parties, but at this point, I know that my feet should not hurt after just walking from my car.  That’s why I exclusively buy shoes from brands that cater to middle-aged women with back issues and they have words like “comfort” or “memory foam” in their descriptions.  Oh, who am I kidding?  If the shoes are fabulous enough, I’ll probably ignore the consequences and wear them anyway.

Caring about shoes isn’t just a girl thing.  For a lot of men, shoes (especially sneakers) are way to be into fashion without it seeming weird.  It’s a socially acceptable guy way to care about fashion.  I personally don’t think that the high-end men’s sneaker trend is going to last for another decade, so my advice would be don’t invest too heavily in it right now.  A good pair of leather shoes will outlast them all.  You should ideally have a pair of black shoes and a pair of brown shoes, but if you had to choose just one, I’d suggest black.  Brown shoes can’t replace black shoes for anything formal.  Good solid men’s shoes can be expensive, but the shoes also tend to last and be versatile.  A quality shoe is an investment, but a worthwhile one.

Purses

At various times, I’ve thought, “Okay, Ashley.  You’re an adult now.  You invest in a nice purse and have that be your purse for years and years.”  But that sounds like a lot of commitment.  What if I don’t like the purse in two years, but I still need to use it to justify the amount of money I spent on it?  What if I put it down on the ground and then a water bottle tips over and the purse sustains water damage?  What if I routinely stuff too much stuff in the purse and the straps strain and eventually break?  (That’s happened to me before.  But that was more the case during school, when my purse was also my book bag.)  It almost feels like the responsibility of buying a pet.  AM I RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH TO TAKE CARE OF A REALLY NICE PURSE?  My answer is always no.  So I buy a cheap purse at Ross or Marshall’s and use it until it until the straps fall off.  (Repeat.)

I love the idea of having an elegant high-end bag, but it would need to win me over.  It would have to be a thing of beauty.  A joy forever.  A bag that I wanted to look at every day for years and years.  Until I find that one, I’ll buy inexpensive purses and use them until the handles fall off.  I’m using this small pink one from Salvation Army right now.

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If you love purses and are ready to commit to a beautiful investment bag, think through the pragmatic side first.  Purses don’t have to match your clothes, but they should either blend with your wardrobe color scheme or be a good complementary color that provides a nice contrast.  Complementary colors are on the opposite sides of the color wheel.  For example, blue and orange are on the opposite sides of the color wheel.  If the predominant color in your wardrobe is blue, a warm cognac brown bag would contrast beautifully against all of that blue, because brown is the neutral form of orange.  If your whole wardrobe is black and gray, you could either keep that up that theme with a black purse or go very bold with a bright color.

Beyond color, you need to figure out what size you should be looking for.  That involves thinking through how much stuff you need to carry around on a daily basis.  If you always carry a laptop, look for a bag with enough room for a laptop.  Otherwise, you’ll need to carry it loose in your arms (a recipe for disaster) or you will need two bags (a bit much).  If you don’t want to carry a whole lot of stuff, you might want a small purse – it forces you to pare down what comes with you.  Enforced minimalism.

But the most important thing is that you love your purse and think it is beautiful.  On a purely practical level, a purse is just a sack to carry our things in.  We could all carry our possessions around in plastic grocery bags and it would serve the same purpose.  But beauty is important to us, even more than we realize.  It’s a lovely thing to have a pretty purse and I’m keeping my eyes open for a great one!

Hats

I’m very into hats right now, because I’ve been trying my hand at hat making!  I started a couple of months ago and made a conscious effort to figure out as much as possible on my own, only consulting the internet when absolutely necessary.  The internet is full of entertaining tutorials and advice and yelling, but I’ve realized that if I fall down a tutorial rabbit hole, I just watch the tutorials and run out of time to make the real things.   And the hard way has always proved my most successful learning system, so the hard way it was.

So I bought my wooden hat block, found raggedy old hats, steamed, reblocked, and retrimmed them.  It is a long process and it is so much fun.  This little blue number is the first hat I made:

This yellow hat is my third attempt:

Here’s what you need to know about hats – people notice them.  If you want to blend in, hats are not the way.  You need a certain amount of confidence and commitment to choose to be a “hat person” and I’m not even sure if I’m a hat person yet.  Hats get a lot of attention and I’m not used to that.  I love the process of making them and I love the hats themselves, but I’m not used to wearing them on a regular basis.

NOT ALL HATS ARE CREATED EQUAL.  Not all hats will look good on you or match your personality, so (like purses) it is worth looking around until you find one that you love.  Using my hats as examples, that little blue hat is not a good hat for me.  I wanted to try wearing it once, because it was the first hat I ever made, but it really is rough.  It looks like a lumpy blue fez and fezzes aren’t cool (no matter what Doctor Who says).  In the photo, it looks kind of cute (in a Zooey-Deschanel-quirkify-your-life sort of way), but in person, it looked legit crazy.  I had people avoiding making eye contact with me on that day.  No hat is better than the wrong hat.  But the yellow hat turned out much better and it feels amazing to have a bespoke hat that fits perfectly.  I love that hat.  A great hat makes wearing a hat fun, not awkward.

If you want to wear hats, but are intimidated by them, start by wearing a hat when the situation calls for one.  There are situations where hats are completely practical, like working outside in the sun.  But just because it is practical doesn’t mean it can’t also look great.  Like cowboy hats.  Real cowboy hats look amazing.  They are practical and personal.  If you live in a cold climate, winter is a great time to try a hat, because hats keep you nice and warm.  You could go for a simple beanie, but if you want to step it up, try a wool beret or a cloche style.

Well, I’m going to wrap up this post, even though I know I haven’t been comprehensive.  If there are other accessories you would like me to write about, let me know!  I’m always ready to try things out.  This post made me realize that I’m far more practical about accessories than I am about clothes.  Not that I don’t choose practical clothes, but beautiful clothes move me emotionally.  I’m far more likely to fall in love with a Kate Spade jacket than a Kate Spade purse.  For you, it may be the complete opposite, so start thinking about things you really like.  There are always practical considerations to keep in mind, but accessories are very personal and it is so important that you enjoy them!

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fit

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

Shirts

A good shirt will fit through the shoulders without pulling.

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

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

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

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

Trousers

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

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

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

Jackets & Suits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dress Codes, Social Anxiety, and Loving Jeans

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

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

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

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

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

Outfit 1:

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

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

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

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

Outfit 2:

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

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

Outfit 3:

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

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

Outfit 4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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