Fashionable Guilt

This time of year, I keep half an eye on each city’s fashion week, to see what will be coming down the pipeline to conventional stores soon. Paris, Copenhagen, New York, London, and Milan each have major fashion weeks and each city has its own strengths and weaknesses. Paris’s not-so-secret weapon is its specialized workshops (ateliers) filled with skilled seamstresses, embroiderers, and beaders. Copenhagen is the most experimental, especially in terms of shapes and silhouettes. London excels in traditional textiles and tailoring. New York has the best business sense and the best understanding of which trends will take off and what will sell. Milan values femininity and glorifies a woman’s form.

But each of strength comes with corresponding weaknesses. Paris can get so obsessed with details that the fashion becomes purely for its own sake with nothing to ground it in reality or practicality. Copenhagen can experiment itself right into Dr. Seuss-style weirdness. London tries to push against history so much that it runs away from the traditional craftsmanship that makes it great in the first place and in trying so hard to defy expectations, ends up being predictable. New York can push trends past exaggeration and into ridiculousness. Milan takes femininity and pushes it into overt sexiness.

In the past, there were overarching trends and designers who defined decades – Chanel’s slim-cut suit and little black dress in the 1930s, Christian Dior’s fit-and-flare New Look in the 1950s, Givenchy’s column dresses and Mary Quant’s mini skirts in the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent’s peasant dresses and caftans in the 1970s. But in recent years, there haven’t been as many overarching trends. In fact the only trend I can think of that has been a dominating theme of every city’s fashion week for the past few years has been Guilt. Guilt over the fashion industry’s carbon footprint, guilt over the amount of stuff people own, guilt over cultural appropriation, guilt over body image portrayal in the media, etc.

Now this shouldn’t be surprising, shame and guilt have always been a part of fashion. Adam and Eve fashioned the first clothes out of shame over their sin. Mankind’s relationship to clothes and body image have been complicated ever since. But over the past couple of years, guilt has been so broadcasted and publicized and marketed that it gets more and more difficult to see. It has become part of the air we breathe.

There are a few reasons why guilt has become such a universal trend when it comes to fashion and beauty. The first is that guilt connects everybody. Who doesn’t feel guilty sometimes? And that feeling can be manipulated and monetized and turned into a call to action. Another reason is that the internet defines fashion now and the internet is not a culture of law or grace, but of shame and honor. The Internet chooses who it will honor and who it will shame, like the caste system in India or the pecking order in a high school cafeteria. Just post a photo of a disposable plastic water bottle on Instagram and watch the lynch mob form in the comments section. They are there to shame you into good works and recycling and reusable water bottles (usually whatever brand of reusable water bottle Instagram finds most aesthetically pleasing).

You might be wondering, “Is guilt such a bad thing? The fashion industry definitely has things to apologize for and feel bad about.” Without a doubt, the fashion industry has sins to repent and turn from, but this guilt culture has nothing to do with real repentance. Real repentance leads to joy and contentment, neither of which are easy to manipulate. Where would the trend-makers be if everybody suddenly became content all of a sudden? It is in the seller’s best interest to keep their customers feeling guilty.

What kind of things do we feel guilty about? I know from experience that women can feel guilty about almost anything, even good things. I can feel guilty about having so many clothes in my closet and so much food in my fridge. If I hear a friend’s story about a messed up family situation, it is easy to feel guilty (in comparison) about having a family who loves me so well. I’m supposed to feel guilty about how much trash I generate, where I buy things from, where my clothes are made, and how much water I use. I can feel guilty about not exercising enough or for not loving my body just as it is. Guilt can catch us from both sides.

And for all the young moms out there, bless you. You get more guilt thrown at you than almost anybody else I know. What to feed your kids, the constant vaccination vs. anti-vaccination debate, how to discipline and what to discipline for, and when you should start teaching your kids French, etc. It’s an overwhelming mountain of guilt. When I have kids, I may stay off the internet altogether. Men also get a lot of guilt thrown at them, with all the claims about mansplaining and manspreading and inherent male privilege. But I don’t think that men absorb guilt in the same way that women do. This can be very frustrating to women.

So what’s the point of all of this? My first point is simply to point it out. Pay attention and notice when somebody tries to manipulate your behavior through guilt. A technique for keeping pickpockets at bay is to make eye contact and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t blindly allow guilters to steal joy from you. This joy theft is so common that we sometimes stop noticing it. So keep your eyes open and identify guilt when it comes.

Next, remember that guilt is a terrible place to live. Guilt and shame should prompt us to turn away from sin, repent, and enter into joy. It should never be our permanent address. In Christ, we should enter into and live content in the joy of our Lord. Why set up a tent city in Shame when we can live in Joy? Sometimes guilt and worry feels righteous and productive, because in our Pharisaical little hearts, we want to make other people feel guilty for whatever we think they should feel bad about. Don’t let other people steal your joy and don’t steal joy from the people around you.

Lastly, when you start feeling guilty about something, take a moment and figure out whether it is something you should actually feel guilty about. If it is, repent and turn to joy. If it is not something you should feel guilty about, stop feeling guilty about it. If you aren’t sure which category to put it into, ask your mom. Surround yourself with wise people and practice living in contentment. A content life is a stable life. When guilt dictates our actions, we are like ships without rudders, at the mercy of the tide.

Grace Kelly Style

Last week, I watched the movie Rear Window for the first time. Do you ever have those movies that hang out on your “I know I should watch this” list for years? Rear Window was one of those classic films for me. It did not disappoint – the nearly impossible camera work, the dialogue, the premise – all fantastic. But the performances of the main characters took all the technical brilliance and gave the film warmth and humor and personality. Grace Kelly entered each scene like a sunbeam and her near-perfect style inspired my wardrobe choices all week.

I’ll run through my styling choices for each day and talk through the inspiration, then after the specifics, I want to talk about why Grace Kelly’s style is so enduring and why this week was so intimidating to take on!

For the first day, I had to scramble a bit, because I decided on this grand Grace Kelly styling challenge late Sunday evening. But looking back over the week’s outfits, this one turned out to be one of the most successful looks, because it was the most simple. A fitted blue cardigan, a gray pencil skirt, and low-heeled pumps. Oh, and nylons. (What do you call skin-colored tights? Some of my friends call them pantyhose or hose, but my mom calls them nylons, probably because my grandma called them nylons. An old fashioned term for an old fashioned article of clothing.) Nylons are not my friends, guys. Nylons and hangnails wage a bitter war against each other and since I neglect my fingernails, I ALWAYS have a hangnail. Or two. Or three. Putting on a pair of nylons unscarred by hangnails is a minor triumph and a triumph I only rarely achieve. That’s why I usually don’t wear them. I stick with thick tights, specifically choosing pairs that look like they can survive contact with a twig. But Grace Kelly would wear the nylons, so I wore nylons.

Tuesday’s goal was a simple, tailored, and coordinated look. We tend to think about Audrey Hepburn when we see a little black dress, but Grace Kelly wore black beautifully. Take this stunning Edith Head design from Rear Window:

She also famously wore beautifully tailored coordinating sets and suits, so I tried to reference that by adding a fitted black blazer over the black dress. A jacket made the outfit more office appropriate, because on its own, the cute black dress looks more appropriate for dinner and dancing.

The overall shape turned out pretty 1950s, with the nipped-in waist and flared-out skirt, but was simple enough to not turn the outfit into an exaggerated costume. Throughout the week, I actively tried to avoid looking like a background extra in the TV show Mad Men. There is a fine line between taking inspiration from the past and playing dress up, and my goal was to take inspiration from Grace’s 1950s style, but keep all my outfits wearable and modern.

On Wednesday, I tried another skirt and top combo, but instead of a pencil skirt like Monday’s outfit, I went for an a-line skirt that hit below the knee. I tried on a few sweaters with this skirt, because that was a popular 1950s combination. It made me realize that I like my sweaters loose and big and cozy, which is the opposite of how Miss Kelly would wear a sweater. In the fifties, the sweaters were fitted and the skirts were voluminous, whereas my style tends toward a voluminous sweater over fitted jeans.

Eventually, I went for a fitted long-sleeved tee to go with my flowy skirt. One of the main lessons I learned about Grace Kelly style this week is balance between pieces. A fitted top balances out a full skirt. A silk blouse brings femininity to wool or denim trousers. A crisp white shirt brings sharpness to a brightly colored suit. A loose jacket with an immaculately fitted skirt, like this suit from To Catch A Thief:

Many of the other outfits from To Catch A Thief have become more iconic over time (the white evening gown, the elaborate black and white beach ensemble), but this simple black and white suit is my favorite.

On Thursday, I found the sweater I was looking for on Wednesday. I actually altered this sweater by cropping it to waist length. It used to come down to mid-hip, but that threw the proportions off. When a sweater is long, I don’t want it be tight as well. So now it is a short, fitted sweater and it flatters far better than before.

A printed cotton dress and a sweater were a classic casual outfit combination in the 1950s. A normal, everyday look. I paired it with flats to make it look more casual, but it made me realize just how casual our current culture is. My grandmas wore dresses almost every day, looked lovely, and got so much work done that I feel lazy whenever I think about their work ethic. It makes me think of the adage that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels.

If you dress up, chances are good that you will get comments on your clothes, whether you want them or not. But a little more formality isn’t a bad thing. A well dressed woman can brighten up a room just by stepping into it.

The only costume from Rear Window I thought I could replicate was Grace Kelly’s most casual look – a coral pink silky blouse, cuffed jeans, and loafers. It turned out I couldn’t even replicate her simplest look, because I don’t own a buttondown shirt that would work, so my friend lent me this silky top. Three cheers for friends!

The individual pieces are all simple, but the fit is perfect. I will be the first to admit that my outfit did not fit me perfectly, but I did feel put together and pretty in this outfit.

WHY DO WE STILL REMEMBER GRACE KELLY’S STYLE?

What makes her style classic? I have been trying to answer that question all week. Grace Kelly was not a trend setter for her time. She did not push the envelope of fashion. Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn set the trends. Grace wore conventional styles, but with such poise and taste that we still remember them. She looked cool, calm, and collected. Her clothes showed off her beautiful face and fit her to perfection. In every trend, something is exaggerated. Take jeans – from the flares of the 1970s, to the acid-wash high-waisted styles of the 1980s, to the low-rise cut of the early 2000s, and back to high-waisted styles in the 2010s. The denim jeans remain, but the cut changes. What Grace proved was wearing clothes that fit you well and suit you always works. No matter what the current trend dictates.

WHY THIS WEEK WAS A SUCH A CHALLENGE

This week pushed me well out of my comfort zone and made me question why I dress the way I normally do. For one thing, it made me try harder every single day. It pushed me to look polished before I left for work every morning, which included hair and makeup. My hair got curled more in the past week than it has in the past few months. But putting the extra effort into making my hair look nice has made me appreciate my hair again! Currently, my hair is at a length that drives me crazy (history has shown this over and over again), but putting in the work changed my attitude toward it.

I have considered doing this challenge in the past, but the thought always intimidated me, because Grace Kelly is a legendarily beautiful woman. You know when you’re little and the roles you play are entirely based on hair color? I was never Sleeping Beauty, I was always Belle. Part of me still thinks that way a little bit (i.e. I can’t pull off Grace Kelly style, because I’m not a gorgeous blonde). But I take fashion inspiration from so many women who don’t look exactly like me. Why not learn from the best?

My hair color excuse was really a symptom of fear, the very common fear of comparison. With most women, fear of comparison comes as naturally as crying when cutting onions. But it doesn’t just happen with stunning actresses, it can happen between best friends and sisters. (If you hate being in a group photo, because you think all your friends look better than you do, the root cause is probably fear and envy.) I realized the reason I didn’t want to do this challenge was because I didn’t want to directly compare myself with Grace Kelly. As if I would lose some kind of popular opinion competition by drawing attention to the fact that she is prettier than I am. Life is not a beauty contest and women shouldn’t view each other as competitors. This may seem obvious, but we compare ourselves to other people constantly and we sometimes don’t read our motivations or responses correctly.

In light of that realization, my main takeaway from the week is to appreciate and learn from other women and their beauty and style, without giving in to envy or worry. My other takeaways: taking the time to look polished is worth it, excellent fit and balance will always be in style, and I love feeling like a grown woman. Thank you, Grace Kelly.

Hats Are Great

Last week’s challenge was styling all neutrals and this black hat made an appearance.  (Because it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity.)  Wearing one of my favorites reminded me that I love hats and I should wear them more!  So I wore five different hats this week and thought about why people don’t wear hats very much anymore.  Here are photos of the hats:

Monday:  Gray Wide-Brimmed Felt

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Tuesday: Black Felt Bowler

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Wednesday:  The Blue Hat My Sister Knit for Me

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Thursday: Felt Fedora

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Friday: Farmer Hat

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Five days, five very different hats.  With so many different types of hats to choose from, why don’t people wear hats much anymore?  That was the question I wanted to think through this week.

The most common comment I get when I wear a hat is, “I love your hat!  I like hats, but they don’t look good on me.”  There are many different hat shapes, so whenever somebody tells me they don’t look good in hats, I ask them what kinds of hats they have tried on.  Somewhere out there is a hat that suits your face.  It isn’t necessary to like all types of hats.  I don’t enjoy wearing floppy-brim hats (even though they have been in style for the past few years).  My preferred hat shapes have internal structure and a narrower brim.  A big hat overwhelms me.  But on someone else’s face, a softer wide-brim hat might suit them better than a structured style.  Some of my favorite hat shapes to wear are boaters, fedoras, bowlers, panamas, and knit beret styles.

If you like the idea of a hat, but get intimidated by the idea of them, try a knit hat.  They are easy to find, are extremely practical in any kind of cold weather, come in beautiful colors, and stretch to fit your head.

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My sister knit me this beauty and I carry it around in my purse.  If my ears get cold, I’ll put it on and feel warmer immediately.  We lose a good deal of our body heat through our heads, so if you get cold easily, consider wearing a knit beanie when you go outside.

But this leads to another question, which is how to handle hat hair.  I had to deal with that question a lot this week, because most days I did not wear the hat continuously throughout the day.  The only hat I wore all day was Tuesday’s bowler, because it was an integral part of the outfit as a whole.  (I was going for a Charlie Chaplin/Buster Keaton black and white ensemble.)

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On the other days, I would wear my hat to work, sit down at my desk, take off the hat, and put it on again when I went outside.  For the most part, I wore my hats outside and took them off inside.  Because of the constant on and off, I kept my hair fairly simple this week – either down and wavy or pulled back into a low bun.  A high bun or ponytail simply wouldn’t fit under a hat.  Sometimes my hair looked a little smooshed once the hat came off, but I ruffled it a little bit and it went back to normal.  A sleek low bun is optimal hat hair, I think.  Or a wavy chin-length bob haircut (which I am tempted to go back to after this week), because a hat and a short haircut frame the face beautifully.

For clothes styling, nothing was too fancy this week.  Except maybe my full length black raincoat on Thursday.  It went so well with the gray fedora.  Besides, I wanted to feel like I was in a black-and-white mystery movie starring opposite Humphrey Bogart.  (Good news:  that’s exactly how I felt on that day.)  But even though the styling was simple, hats automatically make outfits more interesting and memorable.  People love it when other people wear hats.  This is a truth universally acknowledged.  Hats start conversations.  That may be why you steer clear of hats.  Maybe hats seem to attract more attention than you want to receive.  But I welcome any opportunity to practice being a better conversationalist and chatting about hats is a welcome change from starting a conversation about the weather.

Everybody used to wear hats.  Why did we stop?  Hats are so practical.  They can keep you warm and cozy in the winter, cool and shaded in the summer.  One of the thoughts that occurred to me this week is that hats used to be more necessary when people spent more time outdoors.  Even in the winter, I go from a climate-controlled house to a climate-controlled car to a climate-controlled office.  Even if it is 25 degrees outside, I can go without a hat for the few minutes I am in between the car and a building.  But if I spent more time outside in the winter, a hat would quickly become a necessity.  If I worked in a field all day, a large sun-blocking hat would be a need, not a fashion statement.  We get to choose whether or not to wear hats.  The only places that require hats now are very fancy horse races and Royal Weddings and most people don’t attend those.

Hats are great.  You should give them a try.  Look for a style that fits your head and frames your face, because the goal of a hat is not to hide your face.  Stay warm in the winter with a wool hat or cool in the summer with a straw hat.  In the past few years, I’ve started wearing a hat on Easter Sunday and it is a tradition I love.  A beautiful Easter hat is a literal picture of adorning one’s head with joy.  And what is a more joyful day than Easter?  We should show it in every way we can and that includes HATS.

If you have specific questions about hats, please send them on to me.  I love hearing from you and helping answer any fashion questions that come up.

For bonus happiness, here are a few hat sketches I did while eating lunch today.  As always, thank you for reading!

 

 

Ashley Tries Styling Neutrals

This week was about all styling neutrals and staying warm in the snow, which came down in buckets.  The amount of snow definitely affected this week’s clothing choices, especially in the footwear department.  I needed boots, because every morning, I had to clamber onto a snowbank to scrape the ice off my car.  Very very grateful for boots.  Heels or flats or sneakers just wouldn’t have worked.  For outerwear, I alternated between a heavy duty wool coat and a down puffer coat.  Dress for the weather, folks – if you are cold and wet, you will be miserable all day.  Let’s go through the outfits first, then I’ll talk about neutrals, the ideas that go along with them, and some additional styling ideas.

Monday: Cream & Denim

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The first outfit combined a couple of my favorite neutral winter staples – a cream sweater and dark indigo jeans.  I polled the internet crowd on Monday and the general consensus was that blue jeans were considered a neutral.  I was happy about that, because I consider jeans to be neutral and due to the snowy conditions, skirts and dresses did not make an appearance for most of the week.  Besides the traditional denim indigo color, I tried to restrict the week’s color palette to black, gray, navy, cream/white, and brown.  Even within those limits, there are so many different shades and hues and saturation levels, so I didn’t boxed in at all.  There were so many combinations to explore and I only got to a few of them.

 

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This is a standard winter outfit template for me:  pullover sweater + jeans + boots.  Throw on a heavy coat and you’re ready to go.  The geometric pattern on this sweater reminds me of the traditional fair isle pattern, but simplified and done in two different shades of gray, which makes it look very wintery and modern.  It looks good with jeans and skirts and it is wool, but not super itchy. Pretty ideal.

The jeans were chosen for their color (the dark wash contrasts nicely with the cream and makes the sweater look brighter) and for their shape (skinny enough to be tucked into boots).  The brown boots were chosen because they are the only tall boots I own and the snow drifts were well above my ankles at that point.  Practical.  Most of my scarves are very bright and colorful, but I found this sturdy gray scarf that I bought to be the tail on my Rocky the Flying Squirrel costume for Halloween one year.  (Yes, Rocky and Bullwinkle shaped my childhood imagination to an extent that even I don’t fully understand.)  It was warm and comfy and sturdy and I was thankful for the added warmth that day.  This outfit ticked all the boxes – simple, cozy, and practical.  A good start to the week.

Tuesday: Black

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Since this whole week was a style challenge, I decided to push myself on Tuesday and try a trend I’ve seen for the past year or so – a completely monochromatic outfit.  Since black is the only color I own enough of to do a head-to-toe look, black it was!  The week’s least practical outfit, because (as it turns out) white snow is very visible on an all black outfit.  And I wore the black ankle boots, to my ankles got chilly.  I may give the monochromatic trend another go in the spring.  This attempt lacked…finesse.  Okay, but not great.

All black can look great, but I do think the simpler the all-black outfit is, the better it is.  A little black dress with black heels?  Lovely.  I think the aim with all black is to look effortless, but this look made me feel a bit like a Bond villain (a group not historically known for their effortless style and ease).

Tuesday’s outfit did look like it meant business, so it had that going for it.  Very serious.  Much drama.  And entirely covered in snow.  If I do another monochromatic look, it will be after the snow melts!

Wednesday:  Navy

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For Wednesday, I wanted a softer and more practical look, that still kept some of Tuesday’s tailored feel.  This is another tried and tested outfit template:  tee + blazer + jeans + boots.  Usually I go for a brightly colored or patterned tee with my neutral blazers, but I enjoyed the simplicity of the black and white micro-stripes with the more formal navy blue blazer.

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I was back to blue jeans and brown boots, because the previous day’s chilly ankles convinced me to stick with the tall boots.  Lighter wash jeans would have looked nice as well, but the dark blue blazer and the dark blue jeans created a clean visual line together.  A lighter denim would have created four visual layers to the outfit – the light shirt, the dark blue blazer, the lighter blue jeans, and the brown boots.  This way, there were only three visual layers – the light shirt, the dark blue jacket and jeans, and the brown boots.  Thinking through the color blocking is a simple way to visually clean up an outfit.

To change the shape of the blazer, I added a skinny belt and I don’t know why I’ve never belted that blazer before.  It delineated a clear waistline and changed the intentionally boxy shape of the blazer.  My belts don’t get used very often, so I don’t buy belts very often.  I have a box of belts that have accumulated over the years, almost entirely from trousers and dresses that came with belts already attached.  There was a (mostly) unfortunate Large Statement Belt stage in the early 2000s, but pirate/gypsy/peasant looks were very in at that point, so they worked.  So I don’t know where this little belt came from, but I am happy about it.  (Maybe I should buy a nice black belt sometime.)

This was my favorite look of the week.  And there was sunshine and sun beams go straight to my head, so that affected my mood even more than the outfit did.

Thursday: Cream and Tan

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I thrifted these trousers because I’ve been seeing this slightly-darker-than-camel tan shade all over the place recently and the high-waisted shape has also been very trendy as of late.  Rather than spend a lot to buy a pair new, I found a pair in Goodwill to try out the trend.  After wearing them a few times, I have arrived at the conclusion that I like the trend more on other people.  (This is why I like trying out new trends at thrift store prices.)  My next plan for the trousers is to cut them to ankle length and see if that helps the legs lay better.  The ankle cuffs aren’t really working for me.  All that being said, I do like the color – a rich butterscotch shade of brown.

To lean into the warm neutrals, I paired it with a cable knit cream sweater, the ever-reliable brown boots, and a very light blush bandana that I believe belonged to my sister at one point.  These colors worked nicely together.  The overall tone was warm and cozy, and the cable knit added some nice texture.

This kind of warm neutral outfit gets a lot of attention on Pinterest and on YouTube, but it is okay if the aesthetic isn’t your cup of tea.  I prefer an outfit with a little more contrast in it, personally.  This outfit is just fine, but I don’t feel the urge to hop on this particular trend bandwagon.

Friday: All The Neutrals At Once (Plus A Hat)

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By the end of the week in these challenges, Friday is always a wild card day.  I’ve usually used up any firm ideas I started the week with and there are limited resources left.  But sometimes the Friday outfits are the most fun.  My thoughts that morning were 1) maybe I should wear all sorts of neutrals at once and 2) I should wear my black hat.  So this outfit combines black and gray and brown and a little bit of white from the polka dots.  And a hat.  It actually turned out better than some of the outfits I planned out more.

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I won’t go into singing the praises of hats just yet, because that will be next week’s blog post.  What I would like to talk about is why I think this color combination works, even though it is all over the place.  These brown boots would not have worked with that severe black outfit on Tuesday, but they work okay with this outfit.  Why?  The overall tone of this outfit is comfortable and a little slouchy (thick oversized cardigan, a soft jersey dress, soft leather boots).  Also, the addition of light gray softens the whole look and makes the addition of brown boots less stark.  So even thought there is a lot of black in this outfit, with the dress, hat, part of the cardigan, and tights, the gray and brown help balance each other out.  The addition of the lighter neutrals made this outfit less formal, but that is okay, because it was a casual Friday look.

Conclusions

Contrary to popular opinion, my wardrobe is mostly neutral colors.  I just don’t tend to wear them all together.  I like to include some color in my outfits, along with the neutrals, usually via my tops.  My trousers and skirts are mostly neutrals and then my tops and dresses are where I go for broke on bright colors.  I’m already thinking about how I can infuse a little color into my favorite outfits from this week!

There are assumptions and ideas that go along with neutral tones.  Black and grays look serious and chic and business-like.  White and cream are bold and attention-grabbing, but clean and crisp.  The human eye is naturally drawn to white space.  I think a crisp white shirt is a beautiful thing, but also a terrifying thing, because what if I spill something on it?  Neutrals are also associated with the popular idea of a minimalist aesthetic and the idea of making life simpler by removing excess noise from all areas of life, including the wardrobe.  I tend to like a little chaos in life and in clothes.  It keeps things interesting.

Neutrals are beautiful.  A crisp white snowy landscape, a textured gray pebbly beach, rich brown desert dirt turning into gold at sunset, a jet black sky pierced with too white stars to count, a perfectly camouflaged leopard.  Neutrals aren’t supposed to be boring.  They aren’t the lack of color.  They are beautiful colors.

After a week of styling bright colors and a week of style neutrals, my conclusion is that I want them all.  I don’t need to dress in all black to create the illusion that I am a chic, serious fashionista.  I don’t need to exclusively wear bright colors to make it look like I’m constantly super happy.  I don’t need to wear solid neutral clothes to make my life seem simple and curated and under control.  If my clothes become a facade to hide behind, that isn’t a healthy thing.  My goal is just to be honest.  And wear all the colors.

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Ashley Tries Styling Bright Colors

It’s been a while since I’ve done an Ashley Tries [Something For Five Days] styling challenge and I’ve missed them!  Limitations and challenges are rich soil for creativity.  So this work week, I tried incorporating bright colors into my outfits and thought about why I like bright colors and why wearing bright colors might be intimidating.  Let’s talk through the individual outfits and then go into the ideas behind bright colors.

Monday: Purple

Purple was always my favorite color growing up, but I haven’t worn it as much in recent years.  Then I found this lovely Banana Republic pullover sweater for 60% off the clearance price after Christmas, so I decided it was time to start wearing purple again!  The shade falls somewhere between lavender and violet – not quite a pastel, but not a dark royal purple either.  A bright mid-tone purple.  (Tip:  If you find a shade of a color you love, figure out how to describe it.  In the age of shopping online, those who can describe what they really want can really win.  For example, if I was trying to find a sweater to replace this one, I could do searches for lavender, violet, lilac, light purple, etc.  Then once I had narrowed down what designers tend to call this color, I would continue down that search.)

To style this bright purple sweater for work, I went with dark jeans, a printed neutral blazer, and flat black boots.  As you can see, it snowed quite a bit on Monday and my main goal was warmth.  The sweater is very cute on its own, but it is on the thinner side, so the blazer added an extra layer of warmth and its abstract print gave the look more visual interest and dimension.  The bright color gives a nice spark to an otherwise dark outfit.

Other ways I plan to style this bright purple sweater:

  • Sweater + skinny jeans + ballet flats + cool earrings + high ponytail for a fun 1960s-inspired look.
  • Sweater + printed/patterned skirt + tights + boots for a look that is comfy and pretty.
  • Sweater + black pencil skirt + heels (and maybe a fitted blazer) for a more structured, sophisticated outfit.
  • Sweater + my comfiest jeans + sneakers for a wandering-around-and-enjoying-life outfit.

Bright colors can get a bad reputation for not being versatile, but bright pieces can be worn all kinds of ways.  They are just more noticeable than dark neutral tones, so if I wore the purple sweater every day for a week, people might comment.  (But I’ve learned that for the most part, people at work don’t care what I wear, so they might not even notice.)  But I would happily wear this sweater three times in one week, especially if I styled it differently each time.

Tuesday: Coral

This scarf inspired the whole week’s challenge.  It’s so big and so bright and so fluffy.  My mom gave it to me for Christmas and I love it, but it is a little challenging to style.  The first challenge was how to not make it look too Christmassy for January.  Because even though the scarf is coral, not pure red, if I paired it with anything green, it would look very seasonal and that season has already passed.  Even white or cream with this coral could veer Christmas, so I paired it with a very light blue sweater, mid-tone blue jeans, and brown boots.  The pastel blue sweater kept the tone of the outfit light and the combination of orange and blue is a classic, because they are on opposite sides of the color wheel and are complementary colors to each other.

If I wanted to pair this scarf with a darker outfit, I probably wouldn’t go for a black top, because that would look very intense.  A navy or dark gray top would work better with the saturated coral color and keep the combination from looking too Darth Vadery.  This scarf would also look great with a print dress and a big coat.  It really is the softest thing and I can’t wait to figure out other ways to style it.  Thanks, mom!

Wednesday: Saturated Floral Print

This blouse has one of my favorite prints – this beautiful painterly floral print with almost every bright saturated color in it.  Orange/red/pink/magenta/forest green/mint green/white/blue/purple artfully arranged on a black background that makes those colors look even more vibrant.  If you aren’t confident on how to pair bright colors together, a print is the way to go!  The textile designer has done all the hard work of figuring out the colors, shades, and composition.  Then the clothing designer has taken that print and figured out the pattern, the structure, and the seaming.  When clothing design is good, you can simply that printed shirt with jeans and head out the door.  Good design should make your life easier, not more complicated.

On this day, I had important meetings and a presentation and a ton of work to get done.  So I wanted to look confident and professional and ready to go.  I know some people who feel very confident when they wear all black, but I tend to feel more confident in bright colors.  (More on that topic at the end of the post.)  This outfit is a play on the classic work look – a button-down blouse, a skirt, tights, and heels.  This button-down blouse just happens to have a whole jungle full of flowers on it.  To ground the outfit, I added the black skirt and black shoes.  I could have gone with black tights as well, but I liked these burgundy tights that picked up on some of the darker shadow tones in the print.  This is one of my favorite outfits from the week.  Ladylike, fun, comfortable, and practical for a very full day at work.

Thursday: Red

I love red.  Red is special.  So when I saw these red corduroys on the clearance rack at Anthropologie after Christmas, I had to try them on.  Considering the trouble I have finding trousers short enough, these are a bona fide Christmas miracle.  No alterations necessary.  Since I went bright on the top on Wednesday, I decided to keep Thursday’s outfit simple and subdued on top with a navy-and-white striped tee and a gray blue blazer.  A shoutout to one of my favorite style pieces: the neutral blazer.  A tailored blazer gives my bright clothes some polish and professionalism.

While a neutral top looks great with these red trousers, I don’t feel like the top NEEDS to be neutral every time I wear them.  On a really fun day, I may combine Wednesday’s top and Thursday’s trousers!

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Friday: Orange and Blue

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Friday was another real snow day, so warmth was foremost in my mind.  The color scheme of this sweater went so well with these thick tan trousers that I decided to lean into it and make everything color coordinated.  My sister knit me this orange hat, which I lovingly refer to as The Flower Pot Hat (for obvious reasons).  The most important part about this hat and this sweater is that they are both super warm and cozy.  Do I think this is my most successful outfit styling-wise?  Nope.  Not even close.  While I will wear all the individual pieces again, I probably won’t wear this combination again.  But I did get compliments on the sweater and the bright colors in it, so it goes to show that a little color can really help an outfit.  Bright color looks happy.

Why I Like Wearing Bright Colors

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I usually don’t think about why I like things.  I like bright colors and my thinking doesn’t tend to get too far beyond that.  But “Why Do I Like What I Like?” is always a healthy question to ask, especially about things we take for granted.  So this week was also about thinking through why I like to wear bright colors.  Here are a few of the reasons – some surprising (even to me), some very obvious:

  • Bright colors are beautiful.  In the summertime, when all the flowers are in bloom, the flowers supply all the beautiful colors around me, so I don’t feel as much need to contribute to the overall riot of colors.  I just get to appreciate it.  But in the winter when everything is white and gray and black and brown, color becomes especially important to me, in the way that sunshine is a physical need.  During the winter, bright colors brighten up the dark months.
  • I would rather look friendly than serious.  I am a naturally shy person and introducing myself to strangers is always a bit daunting, but I am constantly working on it.  Wearing all black doesn’t only make me look aloof and serious, it can make me feel aloof and serious as well.  Bright colors make me look a little more approachable, a little less serious, and they give the impression of cheerfulness and goodwill.  It helps me look and feel a little more friendly and that is always worth it.
  • If fashion is an art, why limit the oeuvre to only a few colors?  I went to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence last year and the paintings were breathtaking.  It staggered me to think they were hundreds of years old – the colors looked brand new and bright and pristine.  Even though all the tourist guides tell you to wear black in Italy, I came back inspired to wear every color under the sun and to wear velvet all the time, because the Renaissance really rocked the velvet.
  • I work with mostly men and they wear mostly gray and blue and black.  Wearing a bright purple sweater makes me feel like a woman.  I am glad I work in a place where I don’t feel the need to dress in a more masculine way fit in or to compete.  I am not trying to blend in and be “one of the guys” and that is respected.
  • Whether it is true or not, my default assumption about myself is that I fly under the radar – that people don’t necessarily notice me or what I am wearing.  I’m probably more noticeable than I assume I am, but this long-held assumption has freed me from worrying about what people think about me.  Because I just assume they are not thinking about me.  And most of the time, it is true!  If you avoid bright colors because you are afraid people will notice you, take courage in the fact that most people don’t pay much attention to what you wear.  It is true that bright colors are more noticeable and memorable than neutrals, but what’s the worst that could happen?  You might get noticed.  But that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

If you would like to try to introduce color into your wardrobe, but aren’t sure how to do it, start small!  A beautiful scarf or a pair of bright red shoes or a multi-colored print blouse can add spark and personality to your outfits.  If you aren’t sure how to combine colors, choose one bright color to be your focal point and make the rest of the outfit neutral.  If you want to get more bold in your color combinations, try wearing a print and then using one of the colors from the print somewhere else in your outfit.  Have fun with it, because that’s exactly what bright colors are – pure fun!

Thanks for reading!  It was very fun to be back and doing a fashion challenge again.  If you have specific questions about colors and styling, please message me or write a comment and I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability.  Next week will be a companion piece to this week – styling all neutral colors.  We’ll see how it goes!

 

Simplifying our complicated relationship with stuff

I cleaned out my fridge and freezer today.  There were some real surprises in there.  It also revealed some of my behavior patterns when I grocery shop.  Like the obvious pattern that I never check to see whether I’ve finished the last bag of baby carrots before buying two more bags of baby carrots.  So many half-bags of baby carrots.

Is January a cleaning-out-and-organizing month for anybody else?  For me, the stage starts with the necessary cleaning up after Christmas and figuring out where to put new things, then I end up enjoying the feeling of productivity so much that I keep going.  I don’t go too crazy with the organizing, though.  “I need to do a closet purge” is a sentence I’ve heard regularly for a few years now, but the term “purge” always sounds a little too witch-hunty to me, like Senator McCarthy’s hunt for Communist sympathizers in the 1950s.  It sounds like the unwanted clothes in those closet purges have committed some terrible deed and must be forcibly removed for the sake of the whole closet.  If you want to get rid of some of your old clothes, that’s fine.  But remember that it’s not a moral imperative.

We have a complicated relationship with stuff.  Our own stuff.  Other people’s stuff.  Things we want to own, but don’t.  Even things that don’t really belong to anybody, but suddenly require our attention, like leaves that get tracked onto the floor.  Outside on the sidewalk, that leaf wasn’t my responsibility, but my shoe brought it into the house and now it is my responsibility.  And every object brings with it the complicated questions of ownership and stewardship and status and practicality and envy and usefulness and Material vs. Spiritual – it’s complicated.  It is also very difficult to ignore stuff, because there is just so much stuff about.  Many parents have asked themselves WHY DO WE HAVE SO MUCH STUFF?? right after stepping onto a thin, painful layer of lego pieces.

Okay, so our relationship to stuff has always been complicated and will probably always be complicated, but here are few ways to make it is a little less complicated.

1.  Don’t worry about other people’s stuff.

Not worrying about other people’s stuff simplifies things a great deal.  Actually, this principle can be taken even further:  Don’t Worry.  Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything.

Jesus went into specifics on this very subject in Matthew 6:25-34:  “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

It’s like He anticipated all my questions.  He covered all the things I feel justified in worrying about – food, clothing, shelter.  Trust God and don’t worry.  That’s a good reminder for a new year, isn’t it?

2.  Randomized guilt isn’t a good thing.

Don’t feel guilty about your possessions, unless there is something specific to be guilty about.  If you stole a car, the guilt is justified and the guilt should drive you to return what you stole and make restitution.  If you feel guilty because you own a car, but Mr. X down the street can’t afford to buy a car, stop feeling guilty and offer your neighbor a ride to the grocery store.  If you feel guilty because you misused money, buying new clothes with the money set aside to pay the utility bill, that is a justified guilt.  But feeling guilty because you haven’t worn an item of clothing very much is a waste.

It is easy to confuse guilt and feeling bad about something, but if you feel “guilty” about owning something, don’t just sit under that cloud.  Figure out the root cause of the guilt and if it is actually a sin, confess it and make amends.  If your guilt is too nebulous to pin down and you feel bad about all the stuff you have, you might need to confess ungratefulness.  Guilt is a bad place to live.  I think one of the most easiest places to see this is with food – are you constantly guilty about what you eat?  Give thanks for the gift of food and stop worrying.

3.  Be grateful!

We have all been given so much.  Every breath and heartbeat is a gift.  And after Christmas, we should be especially grateful, as we try to shuffle our current gifts around to make room for new gifts.  How delightful is that?  A house overflowing with new things can be overwhelming, but let those overwhelmed feelings lead you to gratitude, not guilt.  Is it messy?  Sure.  Is it is wonderful?  Absolutely.

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Ecclesiastes Months and Thanking the Lord for Christmas

As far as blog posts go, I have fallen off the face of the earth for the past few months.  Some months are fairly normal months and some months are Ecclesiastes Months.  The past three months have been the latter for me and my family.

“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Over the course of a year, I’ve lost both of my grandmothers.  My Grandma Beth died at the beginning of October, just a few days before my mom and I traveled to Italy for the first time.  Joy juxtaposed over mourning.  The bitter and the sweet.  The trip was a true joy and the mourning was real grief.

In November, my newest and tiniest niece made her appearance a month before her due date.  She gave us a scare by coming early, but she is healthy and beautiful and eating constantly, like a little hummingbird.  During the time when baby and mom and dad were at the hospital, the rest of the family rallied around to help take care of the kids, and the things that struck me most were all the normal things – even during a crazy time, we still need to eat, we still need to find clothes to wear, we still need to sleep.  In fact, we value all those normal things even more than usual.  When the circumstances aren’t normal, the normal things become important.  If you know a friend who is going through a hard time, take them a meal.  Volunteer to help them fold laundry.  Unload and reload their dishwasher.  It’s the absolute best.  (Also, the joy on the kids’ faces when their mom and dad and baby came back home from the hospital – that joy made me cry happy tears.  Just the thought of it is making me tear up.  It was a pure gold moment.)

Between trying to catch up on life and work and laundry and making sure my family was okay, this blog was the last thing on my mind.  I would think about it every Saturday, decide that there were other more important things to get done, and shelve the whole idea of writing a blog post. And there were more important things to get done, so it truly was okay to not write a blog post on those days.  But I started to think, “What is so important about clothes anyway?  Clothes aren’t important.  Nobody needs another blog about clothes.”

And yes, in the grand scheme of things, there are so many things that are more important than clothes.  But sometimes I fall into the trap of belittling something because I don’t want to deal with that thing.  Does anybody else do this?  When I am running out of the house and don’t have time for breakfast – “what’s so important about breakfast?”  All of my past history has proven that while breakfast might not seem important in that moment, it is indeed VERY IMPORTANT. Once I realized that I was belittling this blog to make myself feel less guilty about not writing, it was obvious that needed to stop. So I started being honest about where writing a weekly blog post fell on the list of priorities and if something else was more important, I stopped feeling guilty about the blog. Because nothing ruins a good thing faster than nebulous guilt.

Then I got sick.  Real sick.  Home sick in bed for a solid week, coughing and exhausted for two more weeks (and that brings us to the present).  One day I sneeze-coughed up something that looked so much like a dragon, that in my tiredness, I checked to see if I had actually sneezed out a tiny dragon.  I still can’t sing without coughing, but I’m praying for a Christmas miracle so I can sing on Christmas Eve.  But believe me, after being home in bed for a week, I stopped belittling the importance of clothes.  Once the fever broke and I was able to go back to work, it felt so amazing to put on real clothes again.  Just because something is little and normal, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.  But the smallness and normalcy can blind us to how important that thing actually is.

And that’s why I am especially thankful for Christmas this year.  The Incarnation teaches us never to belittle the little.  A newborn in a food trough saved our world.  The birth of a baby warranted an angel choir filling the sky with light and music and a traveling star guiding wise men to His home address.  The Son of God gave up His seat at the right hand of the Father in order to have a right hand small enough to hold on to one of His mom’s fingers.  God became man in the most undignified way.  The closest equivalent I can think of is a mom having her baby in the hotel parking garage, because there weren’t any vacant rooms in the hotel and there was nowhere else to go.

When we are overwhelmed (and Christmas has an amazing way of overwhelming us), it’s easy to start belittling and doubting the importance of what we are doing.  Yes, it’s just food.  It’s just lights.  It’s just more stuff to deal with.  It’s just singing.  It’s just one more trip to the store.  It’s just so much work.  It’s just a day.  In the grand scheme of things, these things may seem small and unimportant, but we carry them out in joyful celebration of a monumental event that closed the separation between heaven and earth.  Christ’s incarnation and His holy life and holy death brought heaven down to earth and lifted us up into heaven.  But this monumental and earth-shattering event that looked very small and haphazard at the time.  So no matter how small and normal the blessing appears to be, accept it as a gift and bless the Giver, because God uses the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the wise and powerful.  In my weakness and foolishness, I say AMEN TO THAT.  Thank the Lord for Christmas and all the littles that come along with it.  Merry Christmas, everybody!

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manager.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  (Luke 2:9-14)