Elements of Style: Personality

All the other elements of style (texture, fit, color, etc.) feed into personality.  What do your clothes say about you as a person?  This goes beyond clothes.  It’s all about how you wear things and what you’re comfortable in and what you like.

What do my clothes say about me?  I’m hardly impartial, but I’ll try breaking these photos down and running through some of the elements.  (For purposes of illustration, Ashley shall be referring to herself in the third person.)

Drama and Eccentricity

There’s some drama in this woman’s soul.  She’s combined a bright blue, an abstract print, and shoes covered in spikes.  It’s a weird combination, but she’s obviously leaning into the weirdness, because she put them all together.  Each piece could have been toned down – the sweater could be paired with jeans and a t-shirt and the dress could be paired with a structured black blazer.  (The shoes could also go with jeans and a t-shirt, but since they are covered in spikes, they’ll still be funky.  They’re just naturally a little weird.)

The length of the skirt and the length of the dress are both exaggerated, and that larger-than-life attitude translates to drama.  It’s more dramatic than it is flattering, because a shorter hemline would highlight her legs more and a shorter jacket would highlight her waist more.  So she’s not too concerned with how people see her, but she’s definitely not hiding.

She’s not taking this photo session very seriously.  It looks like she’s trying to do the YMCA dance and misspelling it.

High Powered Nerd

She’s got more tailored separates going on for this look, juxtaposed against the informality and nerdiness of her Star Wars tee.  It’s like she wanted to wear the t-shirt, but realized she need to go to work, so she threw on a blazer to make it seem more business-appropriate.  The blazer and fitted trousers just draw more attention to her t-shirt, because it’s the only colorful aspect of the outfit.

It looks like she likes sci-fi and wants to let everybody know that about her.  The outfit and her stance in this photo make her look confident.  The blazer gives the impression of competence and the heels improve her posture.  The whole look says, “I may be a geek, but don’t underestimate me.”

Happiness

This outfit looks happy, cute, and relaxed.  But what gives us those impressions?  The happiness factor mainly comes from the bright splash of sunshine yellow.  Colors are emotional and yellow signals HAPPY to our brains.  The hat and dotted shirt almost have a childlike look to them, which reads cute.  The jeans and flat boots look comfortable and the pose looks natural, which gives the whole outfit a relaxed feeling.  If the person wearing the clothes looks uncomfortable, it’s almost impossible to think of those clothes as comfortable.

The wearer sells the outfit.  Cool girls make the uncoolest of clothes look cool.  You know the kind of girl I’m talking about – they walk into a room wearing culotte overalls over a baggy sweater and you start thinking about where to find some culotte overalls.  Relaxed girls make their clothes look comfortable, beautiful women make their clothes look gorgeous, funny girls make their clothes look quirky.  The more personality you have, the more personality your clothes have.

Practical

This is a simple look, but it gives the feeling of somebody who’s ready to go.  Maybe on a road trip, maybe on a hike, maybe on a small and spontaneous adventure.  That plaid flannel lulls you into a sense of outdoorsiness, whether real or imaginary.  The boots have a weathered patina, but did they come from the store that way?  Or did the wearer earn that distressed finish?  It’s hard to know.

You know those guys in airports?  The ones wearing charcoal suits and black leather shoes, wheeling tiny luggage, and speaking importantly into headsets?  Sometimes you hear snippets of the conversation.  Things like “Brian is still getting up to speed, so I’m having to pick up the slack” and “When I get back, let’s go over the paperwork.”  Wouldn’t you be shocked if those guys WEREN’T going on business trips?  It’s hard for my brain to imagine any other situation for them to be in.  It’s not just the suit and the leather shoes.  It’s the aura of busy-busy-business that they carry around with them.

Some clothes act as a uniform for particular situations.  Like gym clothes.  Or yoga pants.  They are literally NAMED for the situation they are normally found in.  If you’re walking around in gym clothes, you have the air of I’m-just-on-the-way-to-the-gym.  Little Black Dresses are uniforms for any occasion that’s dressy, but not TOO dressy.  Buttondowns and slacks are interview outfits.

People project intention.  Clothes have a ton to do with that.  Want to look responsible?  Dress like a responsible person.  Wear a blazer and slacks and pumps and a blouse and look that interviewer in the eye and speak with good diction.  Are you scared inside?  Absolutely.  But that doesn’t matter right now.  What matters is trying your best to get a job.  Want everybody to leave you alone?  You can wear a shirt that has GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE printed on the front.  Or you can wear facial expression that says that same thing, but with a couple expletives thrown in.  You’ll get the same results.

Personality Personified

When people say that I’m a character, I take that as a high compliment.  I want to be a character.  I want to be interesting and unique and I want my clothes to reflect that.  When I put together my outfits, I don’t copy anybody.  They’re an expression of my intention, my situation, my faith, my finances, my taste, what I love, and what I don’t.

Wherever I go, there I am, but that doesn’t mean I stay the same.  I don’t have to uncritically accept myself as a finished product.  There’s room for improvement and there’s time to improve.  I’m a different person than I was ten years ago and my clothes definitely reflect that.  What will I look like in another ten years?

 

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Elements of Style: Color and Fit

Color is emotional and evocative.  It’s one of the first things our brains register when we notice clothes.  Each day last week, I dressed in a different color from the visible spectrum.  Monday – Red.  Tuesday – Orange.  Wednesday – Yellow and Green. Thursday – Blue.  Friday – Indigo and Violet.

The color week kicked off with my first adventure in coloring my hair!  It’s auburn now and it just adds a little spark to these outfits.  January and February are the doldrums for me.  It’s dark, it’s dreary, it’s cold, and everything looks a little gray.  I find myself feeling gray inside and out.  So I decided to go out on a limb and grabbed a box of L’Oreal dye at Walgreens and went for it.  If you’re feeling drab, I’d recommend changing your hair color up a little bit!

 

The bright color brightened my mood in the midst of the doldrum months.  I love all colors, but red is probably my favorite right now.  It’s beautiful and packs a punch.  I probably will never be a pastel pink kind of woman, even though I think pink looks beautiful on other people.  Give me the drama.  Make it bright and bold.

Now, the Roy G. Biv colors were the stars of the week, but the neutrals held these looks together.  Black, cream, gray, navy, tan, and metallics show off bright colors and keep a colorful wardrobe from being a one-note wardrobe.  So you can’t really say that you don’t wear colors, because black is a color and gray is a color.  Even if 90% of your clothes are black, you still have to pay attention to colors and what shades look best on you.  Have you ever tried to match a navy bridesmaid dress to everybody else’s navy bridesmaid dresses?  It’s one of the hardest thing.  There’s a nearly infinite variety of navy shades out there.

To have style, you must have an appreciation of color.  That isn’t to say that you need to wear bright colors, it means that you need to be conscious of what colors you look best in and what colors already exist in your closet.  When you look in your closet do you see all gray, cream, and navy?  That’s a color scheme!  (And it’s a beautiful color scheme.  Don’t feel guilty for liking neutrals.)  If you want to zing up that neutral wardrobe, add a citrus accessory, like yellow shoes or a coral bag or orange earrings.  I really loved how the orange and silver went together this week – it was clean and punchy and sci-fi and COOL.  If all your clothes are bright, you probably need some neutral trousers to balance out the party on top.  Start thinking about your closet as a whole and you’ll have fewer pieces that you’re unsure about wearing.

For the second week, I focused on fit and proportion.  Color is probably the first thing that the eye takes in, but fit is equally important and probably the hardest thing to nail in fashion.  When you find a flawless fit, you want everything to fit that well.  I remember trying on my first pair of jeans that really fit and that was it.  My life changed.  I couldn’t wear mom jeans anymore.  That wasn’t even an option anymore.  ONLY JEANS THAT FIT.

Speaking of jeans, I got questions about how to wear boyfriend jeans, so I went down to Marshall’s and tried on about five different pairs.

 

Like in most trying-on-lots-of-jeans adventures, some fit SO BADLY that I didn’t even take a picture of them.  It just wasn’t worth it.  My opinion:  boyfriend jeans aren’t for me.  I’ve got hips and a rear, but my calves are toned and pretty small.  The boyfriend jeans didn’t reflect that fact, because they’re meant to look like men’s jeans.  A little oversized, a straight fit, and they’re usually damsel-level distressed (to give the illusion that a boyfriend has, in fact, worn them). I think these jeans look best on thin, boyish figures, because they negate curves. When they fit at my waist, there was excess material around my legs. I found one pair that fit better around the legs, but I could BARRRELY zip them up. If I end up venturing away from skinny jeans, it will probably be for some fabulous wide-leg jeans with a high waist, because drama.  I do like the way boyfriend jeans look on other women – they look especially great paired with a buttondown shirt or with a t-shirt and a blazer, because the tailored separates elevate the deliberately slouchy fit of the jeans.

In the end, I decided to get a black skinny jeans and velvet sweatpants.  I love black jeans and I only have one pair right now, so these are definitely going to pull their weight.  And if I’m going for a slouchy fit, the trousers need to not only look comfy, but be comfy.  And boy are those velvet joggers comfy.  The material is nice enough that I wore them to work, but I prefer more structure in my work clothes, because structure makes me feel sharper and smarter.  So the joggers will mainly be change-into-these-after-work clothes.

Fit changes how you feel in your clothes, so for the wearer, it is more important than color.  Color mainly benefits other people, because they see your clothes.  How clothes fit benefits you, because you WEAR your clothes.  Good fit gives you better posture, makes you look put together, and gives an aura of confidence, even if the wearer doesn’t quite know what makes the outfit work.

Great fit is all about the details.  For tops, the shoulder is the most important place to fit.  If the sleeves are too long, you can roll them up.  If the shirt is too long, you can tuck it in.  But you really can’t disguise shoulder seam placement, so choose tops based on how well they fit through the shoulders and chest.

For my particular body type, tops and dresses are fairly simple to fit.  The trouble comes at the trousers.  I’m just shy of 5 feet 3 inches.  Therefore, I am a short person.  That’s not unusual.  A lot of people are short.  But I also have a long torso, so my legs are comically short.  Short people make fun of how short my legs are.  I sometimes find capris and wear them as regular trousers.  My usual strategy is to get skinny jeans that fit well at the ankles, so when I roll them up, they stay rolled up.  My other strategy is to get my mom to hem my trousers.  But I’m learning to hem my own.  Because I’m an adult.  If I come across jeans that fit perfectly without alterations, that is cause for rejoicing.  Whenever I get frustrated with finding trousers that fit, I take comfort in this exchange between Jeeves and Wooster in P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters:

“Yes, sir. The trousers perhaps a quarter of an inch higher, sir.
One aims at the carelessly graceful break over the instep. It is a
matter of the nicest adjustment.”

“Like that?”

“Admirable, sir.”

I sighed.

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself ‘Do
trousers matter?’.”

“The mood will pass, sir.”

It is true.  The mood will pass.  Excellent fit is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Great style starts and ends with how your clothes fit.  Texture and color and personality (which we’ll be covering next week) are important, but the first question you should ask is always, “DOES THIS FIT ME?”  If the answer is no, then try a different size.  If you have to go up to an extra large to get the correct fit, who cares?  If it fits correctly, it will look better than a medium.  If you are uncomfortable in the size 10, go up to a size 12.  If it turns out that the style doesn’t fit you, try a different style.

Some women look beautiful in pencil skirts, but if you try on a pencil skirt and it doesn’t look good on you, don’t feel sorry for yourself and stop trying on clothes.  Put the pencil skirt away and try on an A-line skirt.  It’s all about being smart and knowing where to put your effort.  It it never wasting time to try on different styles, even when they don’t work.  Just keep on trying different shapes until you find the ones that work on you.  Then brush off any disappointment and keep track of what you’ve learned.  Be smart in your decisions and start with what looks best on you.  If you look best in flowy tunic dresses and leggings, go find some beautiful tunics!  If you know you look best in a fitted top and a flared skirt, you can skip those pencil skirts and focus on those cute printed shirts.  If you put in the initial time investment and try on a ton of different things, then the next shopping trip won’t be as hard, because you’ll be able to make decisions based on what you know works for you.

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Elements of Style: Texture

Some people collect paintings or coins or comic books or mugs.  I collect clothes.  The nice thing about collecting clothes is that I constantly get to use my collection, not just look at it.  It doesn’t sit around getting dusty.

Putting together an outfit is a skill.  It takes work and practice, but when you put together a great outfit, it’s a great feeling.  Like finishing a puzzle.  Or putting together a beautiful flower arrangement.  Or cooking meat to a perfect medium rare.  The work that you put into it makes it more rewarding.

There’s a difference between wearing clothes (which almost all humans do) and having style.  So let’s break it down and start from the basics – what are the elements of style?  One easily overlooked, but oh-so-important element is texture.

Here are some definitions of texture from the Oxford Dictionary:

“The feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or a substance.”

“The character or appearance of a textile fabric as determined by the arrangement and thickness of its threads.”

“The tactile quality of the surface of a work of art.”

 “The quality created by the combination of the different elements in a work of music or literature.”

Without a variety of textures, clothes can get very monotone.  Now there’s a difference between monochrome and monotone.  An outfit can be all black, but still full of visual interest.  What makes an outfit interesting is how well it is put together and how all the different elements work as a whole.  The world is full of mediocre pasta, because as long as you can boil water and open a jar, you can make pasta.  But every once in a while, you have truly amazing pasta, where the noodles are al dente and the combination of ingredients in the sauce create something entirely new, but still comforting and familiar.  Yum.  Why not work towards making something delightful, rather than mediocre?  What I usually try to achieve in an outfit is a sense of balance and a glimpse into who I am.  Do I always succeed in that?  NOPE.  But that’s what I aim for.

Day 1: Tweed, Knit, Denim

Tweed is one of my favorite materials.  It’s warm, solid, easy to wear, and a very handsome fabric, but the best thing about it is the rough woven texture.  It’s completely distinctive.  A tweed jacket gives character to a t-shirt, jeans, and flats.  It grounds a floral dress and heels.  It’s an effortless way to add texture to an outfit.

Another iconic textural detail is cable knit.  Knitting is a beautiful mystery to me.  I know the basic idea.  You use sticks to knot string into things.  But the result of great knitting is nothing short of art.  Pure and simple.  The process of creating a cable may be a mystery to me, but I deeply appreciate cables and how much coolness they add to my sweaters.

Tweed + Cable Knit = Match Made In Heaven.  Two of my favorite textures together.  That’s like cheesecake filling and graham cracker crust.  Toast and jam.  I think I’m hungry, because all my metaphors are turning into food metaphors.  But I swear it applies.  Texture is one of the elements that’s necessary to make great food great.  Take tacos, for example.  (Dangit.  Now I want tacos.)

Day 2:  The Kimono

This burnt orange kimono thing has so much going on that I usually let it upstage the whole outfit.  Jeans are the unsung heroes of my closet.  They win Best Supporting Actress every week.  They add texture in their own right, but the texture is subtle enough to be considered neutral.  A black turtleneck, mid-tone jeans, and tan boots are about as neutral as an outfit can be.  I can wear that combination on its own, but it provides a great blank canvas for accessories or a really busy piece (i.e. this floaty-orange-chiffony-velvety-kimono).

One of the coolest things about this kimono is the branch pattern that runs all over it.  Usually we associate patterns with prints, but this pattern isn’t printed on. The branches are actually velvet woven into the sheer matte material.  The velvet branches have dimension, texture, and shine.  Beautiful.  That’s the kind of detail that gets me excited, because it’s surprising and unusual.

Day 3: Lace, Denim, Tweed

This outfit is proof that some outfits require more work than others.  I liked the idea of pairing the lace top with a tweed skirt and playing with texture mixing, but when I tried it on, I really didn’t like it.  I felt like a square.  In every sense.  The lace top’s proportions threw everything off, because it’s long, loose, and a little stiff.  My solution was to tuck the gray denim shirt into the skirt.  Then I used a hair tie to gather up the excess material at the bottom of the lace shirt and make it a better length for the skirt.  I also rolled up the sleeves, because that made everything seem a little less bulky.

I still wasn’t sure about this outfit when I left the house, but I’m a firm believer in the Just Pick An Outfit And Stick With It plan of action, especially when I have to leave the house in a hurry.  I didn’t actually like it until I saw the picture.  As a whole, the results are kind of cool.  It’s a little funky and bookish and I like those kinds of vibes.  One element that really ties everything together are the wingtip oxfords.  I found them at a thrift store and was immediately attracted to the detailed leatherwork on them.  They make this look make sense.

Day 4: The Subtle

Texture doesn’t have to draw attention to itself.  It doesn’t have to be showy.  This black cardigan is a simple as it gets, but it has ribbing on the sleeves and at the neck.  That’s the kind of detail you might only notice if you’re the one wearing it.  Flannel also has texture, but I can’t really describe it, besides calling it soft.  But it all counts towards the outfit.  Subtlety can be lovely.  It requires being thoughtful about the little details.

These black jeans fit perfectly and have the unnecessary, but delightful, detail of a grosgrain tuxedo stripe.  It’s not a contrast stripe, because it’s not in a different color.  It’s just a texture change, but it adds so much.  It reminds me of tuxedo trousers and Han Solo’s iconic look.  That combination is very hard to beat.

If you love black, texture is your best friend.  An outfit of all-black separates works best when each piece has a distinct texture.  If you don’t like experimenting with color, experiment with different materials.  Pair a black satin camisole with a black tweed jacket, black jeans, and black leather heels.  Wowza.

Day 5:  Wool and Lace

Black wool with a navy lace overlay is a quietly bold choice.  It’s very neutral, but very different.  This jacket is like a quietly confident person.  Not necessarily the person you automatically notice at a party, but once you start talking to them, you get more and more impressed.  When texture is used well, it draws the viewer in.  It catches the light.  It adds depth.  It can be subtle and quiet and interesting.  It can be bold and surprising.  It can be the supporting actor or the lead.  It enhances neutral colors and makes bright colors stand out even more.  It isn’t added on to clothes, like buttons, it is woven into the fabric.  It’s unavoidable and, when used well, very powerful.

Ashley Tries to Write About Singleness Without Coming Across As Whiny or Delusional

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As a perpetually single Christian woman, I’ve read a lot of blog posts on singleness.  I don’t seek them out.  They mysteriously appear on my Facebook wall.  Who knows where they come from originally, but they end up in my feed, like dust bunnies under a couch.  They have titles like “How the Church Fails Singles” or “37 Things Never To Say To Single People” or “Singleness and Contentment” or “Using Your Singleness” or things like that.  I usually read through them, but none of them really captured my attention.  Probably because all of them were so SERIOUS.  I’ve been putting off writing The Dreaded Singleness Post since I started this blog, but it’s time.  The Time Is Now.  My target audience is post-college single women in the 25-45 age range, but please, stick around.

I’m 30 and haven’t been asked out on a date since I started my job, and I’ve had my job for about 6 years now. Not that I think my job has anything to do with it.  I just tell time by landmarks. I don’t remember specific years when things happen.  Now, I don’t really know why I haven’t been asked out.  In my lower moments, I can think of all sorts of reasons why guys wouldn’t be interested in getting to know me.  Maybe I don’t talk enough.  Maybe I’m uninteresting.  Maybe I don’t seem interested.  Maybe I seem too independent.  Maybe I can’t cook.  Maybe I’m not attractive.  Maybe I’m mean without realizing it. Maybe it’s because I’m either overdressed or I look like one of the Lost Boys fro Hook.  Maybe it’s because my eyebrows are constantly trying to take over my face.

Let me exhort you not to fall down that rabbit hole.  If you have a specific concern, ask your family or a close friend in honesty and humility.  “Am I careless with my words?  Do I hurt people?”  Don’t ask yourself.  If you are asking the question, you either you don’t know the answer or you are ignoring the answer.  So stop asking yourself questions that you don’t know the answer to and move on to something else!

Have you ever auditioned for anything?  It’s a vulnerable, nerve-wracking, competitive experience, because you have to stand up on your own and perform to a room full of people who are there to judge you.  Sometimes the cast list comes out and your name isn’t on it.  The best advice I ever received about auditioning: Don’t try to figure out why you didn’t get the role.  That’s a fast way to go mad or get bitter.  Either you blame yourself and start obsessing about what you could have done differently, or you blame your competition.  Either way, you can start thinking “I didn’t get it because I didn’t have enough breath control for that low note.” “I should have had more confidence coming in.  “I’m too ugly for that role.” “She only got the role because she’s blonde – typical.” “Why did SHE get the role? My audition was so much better.”  DON’T DO IT.  The same thing applies to unwanted singleness.  If you like a guy and he starts dating your best friend, how do you respond?  It’s ridiculously easy to automatically blame your friend or blame yourself or blame the guy you liked.  DON’T DO IT.

But like I said, those are the low moments.  Most of the time, I’m happy and fine and enjoying life.  But I do run into some hilarious singleness problems.  Like people being concerned about me and offering me advice and comfort.  It’s amazing how uncomfortable comforting can be sometimes.  This is where all those “37 Things Never To Say To Singles” posts come from.  But OH COME ON.  How pretentious would it be to walk up with a scroll, dramatically unfurl it, and announce All The Thinges Which Maye Not Be Uttered In My Presence.  That’s what those posts are like.  Are people always going to say the right thing?  No.  Will they always be sensitive to the issue you’re handling right now?  Nope.  When people try to comfort you and do it clumsily, recognize their intention.  Remember all the times that you clumsily tried to comfort a friend.

I have a little collection of singleness sayings at this point. One of my personal favorites: “Don’t worry, it’ll happen when you least expect it.” At this point, I don’t know how I can expect it any less.  But the winner of the most uncomfortable (and unintentionally hilarious) comforting was a lady who came up to me at my Grandaddy’s funeral. Here’s the scene – I’m in the receiving line and a kind stranger comes up to me and starts this gem of a conversation:

Lady: “Do you have kids?”

Me: “No, I don’t have kids.”

Lady: “But you have a husband, right?”

Me: “No.”

Lady (patting my hand): “Aww. It’s still just you and Jesus.” (Lady walks away, while I struggle to keep a straight face during all of this, because this was at a FUNERAL.)

Enough concerned people have asked me if I had tried online dating that I eventually joined OKCupid.  There were a few reasons for this.  Reason 1)  If I tried it, I could just say “Yes. I have tried online dating” and quickly switch to a more interesting subject.  Reason 2)  It was free. 3)  I’ve heard some success stories from OKCupid, so I was interested to see what it was like.

I think the main thing that drove me nuts about it was the inefficiency of the process.  Inefficiency is fine when there is warmth and personality and kindness.  Greece is inefficient, but if there’s blue ocean and delicious food, I don’t care how inefficient it is. But the deadly combo of inefficient AND impersonal eventually made me put the online dating account on ice. If I wanted inefficient and impersonal, I could run down to the DMV or get called involved in some other tedious bureaucratic process.  In my opinion, trying to meet somebody shouldn’t feel like a part time job.  What happened to the original matchmaking services, dinner parties and dances?  I like those.  If nothing came out of the dinner party, at least you got dinner.  If nothing came out of the dance, at least you got to get dressed up and see all your friends.  If nothing comes out of online dating, you’re just home in your pajamas, clicking through photos of strangers, probably holding a glass of white wine.  No wonder we feel isolated sometimes.  Real people are more fun than the ideas of people.

I want Amazon or Netflix to start an online dating service. Sure, it would be icy and impersonal and probably run by evil masterminds, but at least it would be highly efficient. Netflix wouldn’t even need me to fill out a profile – they already know too much about me. They know that on emotional days, I either want to watch Disney movies or the category they have labeled as Emotional East Asian Dramedies.  If dating comes down to algorithms, I want a service with the very finest algorithms.  Amazon’s dating service would come with reviews for each person.  That would drastically simplify the process.

Truth be told, I am picky. Evidence to this fact: I’m 30 and oh so very single.  But I’ve waited this long, so why should I settle NOW?  It seems like bad timing.  I’m holding out for great.  I’m not planning on lowering my standards.  If anything, my standards have gotten higher.

Okay, now I’m going to say some things that I should probably Never Say To Singles, but rest assured, everything I’m going to say to you, I’ve already had to preach to myself.

  1. STOP COMPLAINING THAT ADULTING IS HARD.  Also, we need to stop using the word Adulting.  Sure it’s hard.  It’s real life.  But you’re a real adult, so stop pretending that you’re still a child trying to do adulty things.  You’re an adult doing what you have to do and have every capability of doing.  Do you want to be treated like an adult? Act like one. Commit to things. Don’t have one foot out the door.  As a single person, it’s easy to sit at the kid’s table for a lot longer.  My younger sister feels more like an adult than I am, because she has a husband, three kids, and a household that she has to run.  But that’s a feeling.  The truth is that I’m just as much of an adult, but it’s easier to not see myself that way.  It’s time to put down roots and start building my own household.  If I’m building that household on my own right now, that’s not a problem.

2. GIVE UP THE HYPOTHETICAL TIMELINE AND LIVE IN THE REAL ONE.  It’s easy to sigh and think, “When I was in college, I assumed I’d be married and have kids by this point.”  That’s a hypothetical timeline, but it feels more real the more you dwell on it.  This feeds into a particular smart girl problem of being terrified of falling behind or failing.  Sometimes it feels like I fell behind a long time ago and now I’ll never catch up.  It’s not a race.  Don’t feed the fake timeline.  Give up your disappointment.  Give up the fake competition.  This is the real timeline. Live in it and love it.

3. MAKE GOOD FRIENDS.  If I could have one thing written on my tombstone, I’d want it to be Good Friend.  Cultivate your existing friendships and always be open to new ones.  This probably seems like a no-brainer, but be a good friend to your family.  Sometimes it’s easy to ignore that aspect of family, but being friends with your siblings and your parents is one of the best things in the world.  Spend the time and really invest in people.  Let your focus be external, rather than internal.  Focus less on being interesting to other people and focus more on being truly interested in other people.

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4.  BECOME ADMIRABLE.  Keep learning.  Keep improving.  Become an intimidating force of nature.  Do the hard things that you have to do and don’t complain about it.  I find it so easy to complain.  Way too easy.  I don’t want to be a wimp or a whiner.  If an amazing man does come along someday, I want to be standing on my two feet and carrying out a plan, because that’s what I’d expect from him.

5.  USE WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN.  A couple days ago, I was reading The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.  It’s one of the hardest parables for me to read.  “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.” (Matthew 24:24-25)  I don’t know about you, but it’s very easy to me to feel sorry for that man with one talent, but that is because he uses the same excuse that I do.  LORD, I WAS AFRAID.  I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANTED ME TO DO.  WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?  The answer is anything except nothing.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If he had put the talent in the bank, he would have at least earned interest on it.  Don’t be afraid, because fear only paralyzes.  Use whatever you have been given.

Love isn’t a feeling.  It’s something that you do.  Don’t sit and wait for love.  Don’t bury it in the ground.  Don’t be afraid.  Love God and love your neighbor.  That’s it.  That’s what we’re told to do.  Loving other people does not require any other person giving love to you.  God has already given you all His love.  More than enough for you to give away every second of every day for as long as you last.  Don’t be afraid.

So whatever I go for this year, I want to go full out.  If it doesn’t work out, that’s okay.  I want to do anything except nothing.  I want to invest in people and build up my friendships.  I want to put down roots and not be afraid that it’s the wrong thing.  It’s not the wrong thing.  The wrong thing would be to bury what I’ve been given in the ground.

To all my single ladies, my amazing friends:  I love you so much.  You’re like those classic actresses in black and white movies – fierce, funny, witty, compassionate, intelligent, and beautiful.  Most people don’t think they make women like that anymore, but I know that’s not true, because I know my friends.  I’m telling you that you are all worth getting to know and it’s my privilege to know all of you.  Are you intimidating?  Absolutely.  Please don’t lower your standards.  You don’t need to settle for mediocre.  You deserve legendary.

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Ashley Tries to Start the New Year Right

Hello and a very happy new year to you!  I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, because I sure did.  There was family and snow and food and twinkle lights and food and fireplaces and cozy socks and food.

After such a wonderful Christmas, I really can’t be anything except grateful.  Not even my day-after-Christmas stomach virus couldn’t shake that gratitude off of me.  During the stomach bug, I was grateful for hot showers and sleep and disinfecting wipes and my warm little house, and the biggest blessing of all was that it held off until after Christmas!  Now that I’m well again, I’m so grateful to be healthy!

I’m trying to start this year off right.  I even bought a calendar planner thing – look!

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I don’t do grand resolutions at the beginning of each year, but I did write down some things I want to in 2018:

  • Get into a good rhythm for cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping.  Be a good steward of the house and enjoy everything about it!
  • Plan a trip for the autumn of 2018.
  • Have people over for dinner.
  • Learn how to dance salsa and get good at it!  (Why not?)
  • Go on walks and explore.
  • Invest in the blog and figure out ways to make it more helpful/applicable/encouraging.
  • Make new friends.
  • Learn and record some songs and learn more ukulele chords.  (At the moment, I only know about six chords.  That’s perfectly adequate for most folk songs, but I think E major would really come in handy.)  Bonus points if I record Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet and send it to Mark Knopfler and he decides that I should sing backup vocals for him.  Why not?  Dreams can come true.
  • Find or make art for my house.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour.
  • Use up my art supplies.

I thought those sounded like good things, but I decided to approach them without any sense of panic or neediness, just gratitude for what I already have.  These are things that will help me love what I’ve already got!

I have a house to clean and care for and decorate however I want.  It’s such a blessing to rent this cozy little place and I want practice sharing it.

I have functioning legs for walking and dancing and a whole world outside to explore.

I have this blog and readers who constantly encourage me.  I just hope that I can encourage YOU as much as you encourage me.  All my love to you.

I have the time and independence to travel right now, so it’s the perfect time to go have adventures.

I love singing and I love doing art, but I don’t practice them enough to get excellent at either of them.  It’s time to invest and improve on them.  If I come to the end of 2018 and I’ve used up all my art supplies, I’ll be thrilled.  Those oil pastels aren’t supposed to sit in the box.  They’re supposed to become something.

I’m just going to go for it this year.  My sister gave me this for Christmas:

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Change doesn’t come through bemoaning what you don’t have, it’s building on what you already have!  Do you want to lose ten pounds?  (You probably do.  I haven’t met anybody who doesn’t want to lose at least five pounds.)  Start with what you have.  Do you have legs?  Give God thanks for the legs He gave you and go for a walk or a jog or a run.  Don’t bemoan.  Give thanks and go for the gusto!  That’s my goal this year.

 

Ashley Tries To Dress How Her 16-year-old Self Thought 30-year-olds Dress

I’ve been 30 for a couple of months now, and I highly approve.  30 is pretty nice.  Teenage years fill up with a torturous amount of FEELINGS and the twenties tend toward pressure and hard decisions and confusion.  But at 30, you’re expected to have some of your life figured out, I guess.

The theme for this week came from getting dressed in all black separates for a choir concert last week.  As I put on black trousers and a black shirt and black shoes and lots of black eyeliner, it reminded me of high school, because I did all black a whole lot more when I was around 16 or 17.  And when I had my look all together I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Wow.  This is what I was going for in high school, but I didn’t know how to do it.  This is what I was TRYING to achieve.”  It’s kind of a nice thought.  That made me laugh, but it also made think about my teenage aspirations.  At 16, what did I assume about my life at 30?

I’m kind of weird in this aspect, but I don’t tend to dwell on the past or do much planning for the future.  A lot of people talk about living in the present, but that’s my default.  I live in the future and I have a bad memory and pretty terrible planning skills.  I don’t do much comparison at all, which is why the idea of taking stock of where I am and measuring that against my teenage ideals seemed like an interesting experiment.

Here’s that black on black on black on black outfit.  The main reason I don’t usually do all black separates is that most blacks do not match each other and unless you go for black separates with radically different textures, the ensemble can be off-putting.  The other reason is that I love color.  But in high school, I hadn’t realized either of those things yet.  I wore black because I wanted everybody to see that I was serious and very into fashion and super mature and mysterious and DESERVING OF RESPECT AND ADORATION.  I was also going through an extended Audrey Hepburn phase and Audrey wore all black, so I had to wear all black.

At 16, I was sure that future me would be a serious fashion designer (with emphasis on the serious part).  If I had watched The Devil Wears Prada at the point, I would have related to Miranda Priestly, which is NOT the preferred takeaway from that movie.  Looking back, I would have told little me to talk to more people, to be less serious, and to loosen up.  I was a little too good at being mysterious.  At my graduation, probably less than ten people in my class actually knew me as a person.  My “mysterious” persona was just a way to avoid opening up to people, so I wish I had pushed myself to talk more.

16-year-old Ashley would have really liked this all black outfit, but she would be shocked at how tight my jeans are and she would be disappointed that I was a data analyst and not a fashion designer or at least a costume designer.

I was trying to remember one of my favorite outfits from high school…. then I remembered and immediately started laughing.  I’ll talk you through the elements:

  • Nondescript baggy jeans.  I didn’t know jeans were supposed to fit at that point.  I didn’t anticipate skinny jeans in my future.  Or in ANYBODY’S future, for that matter.
  • A bright white canvas jacket that I called my “Luke Skywalker Jacket”, because it had those square military-style pockets on the front.
  • A neon orange, oversized, long-sleeved t-shirt that I found in the boys section of a Gap Kids store.  Since the neon orange probably wasn’t garish enough to make sure that people could see me from space, it also had GAP in giant reflective letters across the chest.
  • Some sort of shoes.  Maybe clogs.  Maybe bulky tennis shoes.  Maybe Birkenstocks.  Don’t remember much about my shoes at that point.  I have a bad memory and that can be a mercy.

I can look back on that crazy outfit with fondness, because I really loved it.  Nobody else would have worn it.  I was brave to the point of foolhardy.

In an homage to my neon t-shirt, I wore my brightest neon jacket.  It’s so orange that everybody feels free to comment on it.  People have said that I look like a convict, like I’m going hunting, or that I fly an x-wing.  X-wing pilot is my personal favorite.  It’s a bold look, but Fortune Favors The Bold.  It’s hard to be as bold as a teenager who doesn’t know anything, because the more you build, the harder it is to risk.  Nobody cared what I wore when I was 16.  Nobody cares that much now, but it feels more important.  I just need to go for it.  Be bold and happy.

My style references during high school were all from old movies.  Those movies shaped me.  My style icons were Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall and Natalie Wood and Katharine Hepburn.  I didn’t have any current pop culture knowledge at that point (current here being early-2000s), so I think it’s pretty adorable that 16-year-old me was absolutely convinced that that a fashion design career was not only likely, but inevitable.  While it’s good to have some fashion history, knowing what’s going on currently is kind of important for a fashion designer.

I think it’s pretty fascinating how influential Audrey Hepburn was and continues to be.  I don’t think she was necessarily the best fashion role model for me, because I not only went through an all black separates stage, I went through a boatneck top stage.  Boatneck tops look wonderful on Audrey Hepburn.  They make me look top-heavy and matronly.  At that point, the fact that Audrey and I have VERY different body types didn’t even occur to me.

When I do throwback styles now, I don’t go for Audrey.  I go for Lauren Bacall or Katharine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell, because their style was more based around their personality and not around a specific clothing style.  I want to own my style, rather than having the style own me.

I think 16-year-old Ashley would be confused if I went back and told her what I’m doing now.  The plan was to grow up to be a cool, fierce, respected, serious fashion designer.  A woman who has everything together.  A woman who could give anyone a run for their money.  A woman who always stands out, but stands apart.

I’m not that superwoman.  I’m a 30-year-old data analyst who spends a lot of time working with spreadsheets.  I live alone.  I’m definitely not serious, because serious people don’t laugh so hard that their noses run.  I think I’m hilarious, even when I’m not.  I’m a total nerd.  There is so much stuff I’m bad at.  If I need to do something that is out of my comfort zone, I freak out.

But even though I grew up to be a happy nerd, I still found myself breaking into the fashion world through a side door.  I’ve been making Polyvore boards for a few years now and my boards have been viewed over 400,000 times!  I have Polyvore contacts and followers all over the globe, including a small (but dedicated) band of followers from Bosnia.  Who would have guessed?

The fashion game has changed and I’m in it.  In a small way, but I’m still still in it.  Living the dream!

The point is this –  life doesn’t go according to our plans, but that’s not a reason for disappointment.  In high school, I mainly thought about myself, because I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have to support myself or my family.  It was easy to be self-absorbed.  My plans were as small as my vision and my vision was as small as myself.  Thank goodness we don’t have to write our own stories.  We’d leave out all the good parts.  I didn’t know that I’d go through times that left me in tears and drove me to my knees. I didn’t know that I’d cry at good news.  My world has gotten so much bigger since then, but my world is still small.  Imagine how much more I’ll learn in the next 30 years.

Here are a few things I took away from this week:

  • I thank the Lord I am no longer in high school.
  • I have gotten less serious as I’ve gotten older.
  • Talking to people is hard, but it is great.  It’s true that people are sometimes the worst, but people can also be the best.  So be brave and get to know more people. (That’s the one piece of advice I wish I could have given to myself during high school.)
  • Comparisons can be odious, especially when you compare between What You Wished For and What Actually Has Happened.  Remember that only one of them is real.  Give thanks for the real one.
  • When expectations meet reality, give yourself a break.  The things we wished for can hurt us if we let them.  I thought I’d be married by now / I thought I would have a house by now / I thought my career would be steady by now / I though my fashion creations would be on the cover of Vogue by nowI thought I would have lost that weight by now.  Give thanks for what you have NOW.  And work from there.  Make a plan and work on it.  But don’t give your expectations the same weight as reality.
  • Keep learning.  Don’t let yourself stay in the same place forever.  Keep developing your mind and your soul.  Our desires should change as we grow up.  Be honest with yourself and surround yourself with honest friends who love you.
  • I know I’ve said this before, but the hardest times of our life are also the times where we grow the most.  We would never plan on the trials, but we need them.  Without them, our vision would stay small forever.
  • I’m not where I imagined that I’d be by now, but I’m so glad.  I’m grateful for where I am at right now.