Feeling Beautiful

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

– from Endymion by John Keats

I felt beautiful this Easter.  My outfit was simple, sharp, and neutral – cream dress, tan heels, navy jacket.  Neutral makeup, hair up.  The accessories provided the spark in this outfit – blue topaz earrings from my aunt and a feathered fascinator.

The outfit helped, but I felt in-the-bone beautiful, beyond what I was wearing.  Usually I feel that beautiful when I’m sitting in strong sunshine, soaking in the warmth of the sun and smelling the heat rising off the ground around me.  And it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing as long as it is comfortable.  It doesn’t matter what I weigh or whether my skin is clear or whether people see me sitting there.  The sunlight making my eyelids coral pink is enough on its own.  My sister and I were laughing about how happy sunshine makes us and we agreed makeup was just a way to replicate how we look in the sunshine when there’s no sun.  (Truth.)

Looking beautiful and feeling beautiful are two distinct things.  Women are beautiful, but it would be a lie to say that women always feel beautiful.

Easter was so lovely that I thought, “I feel very beautiful today.  Wouldn’t it be great to feel beautiful all the time?  I’m going to try to leave the house feeling BEAUTIFUL every day this week.”  HA.  As it turns out, that is easily said, not easily done.

We had the Monday after Easter off of work and on that Monday evening I got a cold.  Tuesday, I woke up feeling like an elephant sat on my face all night.  Dark puffy eyes, runny nose, oxygen-deprived brain.  I felt gross and I felt like I looked gross.  The truth is that makeup covers it pretty nicely.  If I hadn’t been coughing/sneezing/blowing my nose all week, it wouldn’t have been obvious that I felt like a dumpster fire.  If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a metaphor for something that starts out garbage and then bursts into flames.  I felt like a DUMPSTER FIRE ALL WEEK, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.  It was one of those truly hilarious scenarios that romantic comedies’ bread and butter, but without any romantic stuff.

Tuesday’s stream-of-consciousness thought process:  My face is puffy and my nose is bad news.  Sleeping didn’t work out that well last night and my brain isn’t working that well now.  Beautiful.  Oh gosh.  I’m supposed to leave the house feeling beautiful.  WHY DO I DO THESE THINGS TO MYSELF?  I’ll curl my hair.  Maybe that will help.  Lots of makeup today.  Especially around the eyes.  Earrings.  Maybe that will help.  High heels.  Maybe that will help.  Nope.  Still don’t feel beautiful.  I feel like a slime monster.  Oh well.  Need to get out the door.  I failed the challenge and it’s only the first day of it.

Wednesday’s thought process:  I like black and I like flowers.  I will wear those things.  My face is still so puffy.  Still a virus-ridden slime monster.  Do I feel beautiful?  Nope.  Oh well.  Failed again.

Thursday’s thought process:  My dream just scared me awake and I can’t go back to sleep.  How did I dream?  It doesn’t even feel like I slept.  I don’t feel like smiling.  I still feel sick.  I don’t feel smart or competent or ready to face the day, let alone beautiful.  I’m going to dress like a grown up today and maybe I’ll look competent and smart.  Blazer.  That’s what blazers are for.  I’m going to straighten my hair.  Because that seems like something a grown woman would do. FAILING AT THE BEAUTIFUL THING AGAIN.  OH WELL.

Friday’s thought process:  How much did I sleepwalk last night?  I know I woke up outside of my bed about three times, but really, I have no idea how much I walked in my sleep.  Scary.  In my dream, a group of friends came over to throw me a surprise birthday party at three in the morning in my own house.  Then they judged me for how messy my house was.  Then I turned off my alarm.  Then I woke up at 8:15.  8:15??????  I should already be on my way to work!  No time for contacts.  It’s a glasses day.  Brush hair, throw on clothes.  Dress and sweater.  Is this the best outfit?  Nope.  But it’ll do!

When it comes down to it, feelings aren’t the most important thing.

Would I like to leave the house feeling beautiful every day?  Of course.  I would absolutely love to feel beautiful every day, but feeling beautiful is elusive and complicated.  It’s true that we learn more from failure than from success.  This week made me think about the difference between my own perception and how everybody else viewed me.

Looking through the outfit photos this week, Thursday (blazer/jeans/straight hair) was by far the most successful outfit, but it was probably the hardest day.  Wednesday was the most emotional day, but Thursday was the hardest, because everything was raw.  My stupid dream woke me up too early (I still don’t remember what about it scared me awake, but I couldn’t go back to sleep).  My nerves were raw, my nose was raw, my throat was raw, and my eyes kept watering.  I felt stupid, but I knew I needed to get a ton done at work that day.  I felt insufficient as a human that day.  Forget about feeling beautiful.  I felt like a scratched scab on Thursday.  Oozy and exposed.  Gross.

Feeling beautiful comes down to a lot of different elements, only some of which I can control.  A lot of them I can’t control.  I can’t make it sunny outside.  But I can turn on the song “Ventura Highway” by America and feel like I’m in California driving with the windows down.  I can put on bronzer and look sunkissed.  When I’m happy, I feel sunny in my soul.  Happy is beautiful.  But I have to wait for sunshine.  I can do that.  And the waiting makes the sunshine even more amazing when it comes.

I realized that one of the things that kept me from feeling beautiful this week was comparison.  Comparison is one of the fastest way to stop feeling beautiful.  I was constantly comparing my sick self with my healthy self.  (If I wasn’t sick, I’d feel beautiful.)  We do this all the time.  “Me right now” versus the “Me that doesn’t have a cold”, the “Me with the nice haircut”, the “Me, but 20 pounds lighter”, the “Me ten years ago”….. these are the kind of comparisons that I don’t even need to leave the house to find.  Also, the assumption that the “other Me” would feel more beautiful might not even be true.  On the whole, I feel more beautiful now than I did when I was 20.  I was very uptight at 20 years old.

Once I step out of my house, I see beautiful women everywhere.  Actually, social media allows me to compare myself to the world’s most beautiful women without leaving my house.  Comparison City.  If I start down the comparison road, it will never stop.  There’s always something to compare.  My hair versus her hair.  My personality versus her personality.  My nonexistent coolness versus her very obvious coolness.  My body versus her body.  I don’t have many illusions about my body.  I have a My Little Teapot sort of body – short and stout.  (And when I get steamed up, I do end up shouting sometimes.)  If I fall into comparisons and then fall short, there’s a natural impulse to start listing what I have and she doesn’t.  That’s a bad way to go.  Don’t do it.  Confess that sin and get out of there.

The things that counter and conquer comparison are gratitude and love.  Give thanks for what makes that woman beautiful and give thanks for the different thing that makes you beautiful.  How boring would the world be if we all looked the same?  Give me variety.  Give me personality.  That’s what makes me happy.  I love all my amazing friends and how unique and beautiful you all are.  I’m so glad you’re so different from each other and different from me.  It keeps the world from getting dull and obvious.

Getting back to feeling beautiful – what can I control and what can’t I control?

Things I can control:

  • My attitude.  If there’s no sunshine outside, I can still be sunny on the inside.  It’s a cliché, but that is because it is absolutely true.  If I’m sad or anxious or angry, I’m not going to feel beautiful.
  • Clothes.  If my jeans are too tight, I’m uncomfortable.  If my bra is too stretched out, I’m uncomfortable.  I feel great in a dress that fits through the shoulders and the waist, but my go-to confidence outfit is jeans, t-shirt, and a fitted blazer.  The look is tailored and sharp and it suits where I am in life right now.
  • Makeup.  I only do enough makeup to make me feel the way I feel when I’m in sunshine, which isn’t that much.  I usually do a light foundation, bronzer (I don’t own blush right now), mascara, and tinted lip balm.  If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll do eyeliner or lipstick.  One or the other.  I’m more likely to accentuate my eyes.  Eyes are the windows to the soul.  The perfect shade of lipstick, perfectly-applied winged eyeliner, getting the eyebrows together – these are all wonderful things.  They might not sound like much, but they make a big difference.
  • Hair.  I’ll preface this section by saying that sometimes I can control my hair, but sometimes hair can be what insurance companies categorize as an “Act of God”.  Then you just have to do your best and know that this hair day was sent by God Himself.  My hair actually isn’t that difficult.  I do have many many cowlicks.  The cowlicks are more obvious when my hair is short.  Sometimes Good Hair Days and Bad Hair Days fit into the What I Can’t Control section, but there’s always a ponytail.  Or a hat.
  • My surroundings.  When I get ready to go out, I’ll turn on Frank Sinatra or bossa nova samba music or Natalie Cole.  Music can make me feel beautiful.  It sets the mood.  This will sound funny, but I feel especially pretty when I’ve had a glass of wine – not because I’m delusional, but because I’m relaxed.  When I’m having a great meal with friends or family and I’m content and happy and have a glass of wine, I’m golden.  When my house is clean and picked up, I’m more likely to feel put-together.  Even if everything is thrown into the closet, if I can’t see the mess, that’s good enough.
  • My love.  Feeling beautiful is very closely connected to feeling loved.  But I’m not commanded to receive love.  I’m commanded to give love.  God has told me to pay more attention to loving people than to how well those people are showing love to me.  Like feeling beautiful, this is easy to say, not easy to do.  It’s easy to see how people are failing in love towards me, but it’s hard to love people.  I’m always trying and failing and learning and working on it.  I’ll be working on it until I die.

Things I can’t control:

  • Other people.  If people don’t compliment the look, is the look still good?  I know there’s a disconnect between what I like in my outfits and what other people like in my outfits.  If nobody likes what I’m wearing, it’s hard to feel beautiful in it.  Approval is important to us.  Not everybody needs mass approval, but I think we all have a few people we want approval from.  A compliment can turn a day around.  But I can’t control how people will respond to me or what they will say.
  • The day.  God has a plan for my day that may or may not line up with my plan for my day.  The weather.  My job.  Finances.  People.  If I was solely in charge of orchestrating my day, I’d do a bad job anyway.  It would be a boring day.  As it is, every day is a surprise.
  • Love towards me.  Sometimes I feel unloved or unappreciated or lonely.  All of these feelings are lies.  The amount of love that God pours out on me is laughable.  It’s a hilariously, embarrassing huge amount of love.  The sky is small in comparison.  The ocean is small in comparison.  So when I feel unloved because no guys tell me I look pretty, that displays a stupid lack of perspective.  That’s when the feelings just don’t matter.  Rely on what you know, not what you feel.  Feelings aren’t the most important.  I know that I’m loved.  I’m loved by my family, by my friends, but far and away loved most by my Creator.  I have nothing to complain about.
  • Everything I take for granted.  Even the things I think I can control, I can’t control.  The things I take for granted are a gift, not a given.  My face, my body, my voice, my heart, my passion – these are all given to me and can be taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Everything gets categorized as an Act of God, because everything is.  If there’s anything I assume is an Act of Ashley, I should be prepared for it to be taken away from me.  This week showed me some of my many blind spots and I’m grateful for it.  Blessed by the name of the Lord and here’s to next week.  Like this week, it will be a gift.

 

 

 

 

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Ashley Tries Thrifting and Repurposing

Last week, I went to a Goodwill Outlet store.  It was an experience.

If an item has been at a Goodwill thrift store for a few months, it gets sent to a big outlet warehouse.  It’s the last chance saloon for this stuff and most of it can only really be categorized as Stuff.  None of the stuff is arranged or priced or folded.  It’s thrown into wheely bins that are about the size and shape of dumpsters (but shallower).  Very similar to dumpster diving.  At the end of the time, you roll your cart onto a scale, then they charge you per pound of clothing.  It’s not a relaxing shopping experience.  It involves a ton of digging through junk, the employees are constantly switching out the bins and yelling warnings about switching out bins…..

Truth be told, I don’t shop at thrift stores very often.  If I’m looking for something, I’ll occasionally run through my local thrift stores and see what they’ve got.  Right now, I’m in the market for a dresser, so I’ll check through a thrift store when I’m out and about to see if they have a dresser.  But you can’t count on any particular thing being at the thrift store, so you need imagination and patience.  Some people can’t stand sifting through junk in the hope of a hypothetical treasure, but I enjoy it.  It brings out all my junk dealer DNA.  (We come from a fine junk dealer tradition in my family.)

Thrifting Tip: Never shop desperate.  If you go into a thrift store NEEDING something, you’ll probably get disappointed and frustrated.  Only go if you have the time to sift through and if you are okay with leaving without buying anything.

My challenge for myself this week was to feature clothes I bought from thrift stores or clothes that I’ve altered in some way.  If I thrift clothes or alter my own clothes, those clothes get a second life and it’s fun and satisfying.

Day 1: Red Arrow Sweater

I loved this sweater as soon as I saw it in the outlet bins.  I think this is what the inside of my brain looks like.  I don’t usually do red and black as the primary colors in my outfits, because it ends up looking serious.  I’ll usually pair red with gray or brown or navy, just to soften up the look.  But sweater is the opposite of serious.

But I didn’t just look at the amazing pattern when I picked it up.  I looked for stains and holes and made sure it didn’t stink.  I know my limits.  I also made sure I didn’t have to dry clean it or hand wash it.  Unless it’s a very special piece, I don’t want to have to dry clean clothes.  I love clothes that I don’t have to fuss over.  In order to fit in with my life, my everyday clothes must be worry-free.  And easy to dance in.  And comfy.  And cute.  And sometimes hilarious.  This sweater ticked all those boxes, so I rescued it from the bin and now it has a new home in my closet.

Day 2: Reworked Wrap Top

 

This white cotton Ralph Lauren top is another bin rescue.  I loved the lace detail on the sleeves, but it was way too big for me, so I decided to make it into a kimono-like layering piece.  That way I could utilize the wrap style it already had and make the looseness into a feature, not a bug.

This project made me pull out my sewing machine for the first time in forever.  I started out by doing some hand stitching on it, but I ended up stabbing my finger with the needle and then I got blood spots on the white shirt.  Yeah…..  So I washed out the blood, let the top dry overnight and used the machine to hem it the next day.  This is the result!

Here’s what it looks like when it isn’t tied in front:

I didn’t do much to rework this top – it involved seam ripping the hem along the front of the shirt and detaching the sides.  Then I re-hemmed the base and stitched up the sides again.  It took some tweaking to figure out the angles I wanted on the front, because I had to leave enough slack to make a tie.  The main thing was just making sure everything was symmetrical and one side wasn’t way lower than the other.  Is it the finest sewing job?  Nope.  But it was fun to plan out the logistics and then have a functional garment.

Day 3: Knit Dress

I found this J. Jill dress in the bins and it definitely didn’t deserve to be in that situation.  It was better than that.  This dress is a basic tunic dress made from quality fabric.  It’s comfy, stretchy, machine-washable, and the print is classic and versatile.  I’ve worn it twice in the past week (Sunday and Wednesday) and I loved it both times.  It’s just so COMFY.

No alterations necessary for this dress, but since it is fairly shapeless, I added a wide belt on Sunday and a buttoned cardigan on Wednesday.  The belt and the cardigan are both great shaping pieces.  It’s all about showing that you have a waist – there’s no need to make the outfit tight or uncomfortable.  I’ll probably wear it without a belt at some point, just for variety, but a belt is an easy way to alter clothes.  No sewing necessary!

Day 4:  Reworked Top

I was going to give this cream top away to a thrift store, because I didn’t wear it anymore.  There was a stain at the neck and the sleeves were that awkward length.  The length where it’s too long to be a real short sleeve, but it’s not elbow length…. The sleeve length combined with the high neck made me look matronly and I try to avoid matronly.

But the material has great texture and I have hardly any white shirts, so I was wavering between keeping and giving it away.  Then I saw Black Panther and got super inspired by the costume design, so I decided this shirt was the perfect blank canvas to experiment with embroidery!  And I cut the sleeves off.  That improved the shirt by about 85%.  The embroidery isn’t perfect, but it draws attention up to the neck and gives the whole top more visual interest.

Day 5: Striped Turtleneck

This turtleneck has roughly a million colors and short sleeves, so it was the wild card purchase of the outlet trip.  It gave me mad nostalgia vibes, because I used to wear shirts exactly like this.  I’ve been seeing this style of top coming back in, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a style that might look terrible on me.  The fit is actually okay, but the sleeves don’t hit at the most flattering place.  They form a perfect line right across the wide part of me.

But with a printed blazer and fitted trousers, this outfit turned out to be one of my favorites from this week.  Even if I always wear it as a layer underneath a jacket or a sweater, it was worth the less-than-a-dollar that I paid for it.  Cute, funky throwback style.

Thrifting is fantastic for trying a funky color, or a different silhouette, or a current trend that you aren’t sure about (*cough cough* bell sleeves).  I’ve lived through the bell sleeve trend once.  I had some bell sleeves that I really liked and some I really hated.  If you spend very little money, if it doesn’t work out, you don’t feel pressure to keep wearing it.  If you don’t end up wear it, give it back to the thrift store or cut it up and use it as a rag or embroider all over it and make it cool again.

One thing I really loved about my childhood was that mom didn’t worry about our clothes.  She let us run around outside and get dirty and not worry.  I never buy anything at full price.  I take reasonably good care of my clothes, but I never worry about them.  I try not to buy clothes that come with a side of guilt.  I buy clothes that come with a side of happy.  That happiness comes from cuteness or comfiness or easy-breeziness.  Don’t buy clothes that make you miserable.  That should be easy, right?  But it’s amazing how easily we can make ourselves miserable with worry.  It’s great to enjoy your clothes!

Bonus: DIY Mask

I went to masquerade ball on Friday night and I made my mask from tulle left over from trimming the bottom of my dress.  My dress is now the correct length AND I had material for a cool mask.  Win-win.

Bonus:  The Thrift Treasure

The real star of the outlet shopping trip was this beaded cardigan.  The beading is immaculate, which is incredible, because I’m sure this baby came from 1950s.  This is pure Sandra Dee vintage right here.  It was exactly the kind of thing I hoped to find and I couldn’t believe that I got to walk away with it!

I haven’t found the right thing to wear it with, but I adore it, so keep an eye out for Sandra Dee!  Yup.  I’ve named the cardigan.

Pensées: Clothes and Other People

This post isn’t going to be in an Ashley Tries format, which can get a bit dangerous.  Without my “this is what I wore Monday and here’s a little bit about it” template to lean on, I tend to wander.  So I’ve labeled it as Pensées – fragments of thoughts, internal conversations, little brainstorm dust devils twisting across an idea field.  This way, I don’t have to worry about format and the wandering is the point.  The French don’t apologize about it, why should I?

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“Do you dress for yourself or for others?” is a very common clothes question.  But is it a trick question?  Should it be “Do you dress for a) yourself, b) others, or c) all of the above?”

At a purely practical level, I clothe myself for protection against the elements.  Even if there wasn’t another person around for miles, there’s still the small matter of freezing coldness.  And pricker bushes.  Rogue raccoons.  The odd hedgehog.  Dancing around outside in the altogether isn’t something I necessarily want to do.  Nature is full of things that I don’t want to encounter without protective layers.  That’s one element of dressing that is for myself, I suppose.  I also like clothes and enjoy the wearing of them.  But I do want to dress for others.  Don’t want to be a selfish clothes-wearer.

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I think the point of that question about wearing clothes for yourself or for other people comes down to respect.  Do I wear clothes because I want other people respect and honor me?  Or do I wear clothes to respect and honor other people?  It’s a matter of motive.  The problem is that Motive is hard to judge, even with insider information.  I have a hard time judging my own motives, but does that stop me from turning around and assuming somebody else’s motive?  Nope.  I live within a flurry of assumptions and some of them are correct and some are incorrect.  The incorrect assumptions aren’t usually on purpose.  Incorrect on purpose falls under the category of Delusion.  I’ve had my delusional moments, for sure (especially about my own motivations).  But for the most part, my incorrect assumptions are mistakes that I’ve never thought enough about to correct.

So if other people assume my motivation is X, but it is (in fact) Y, I don’t get too worried.  Unless I realize that they are reading my motivation better than I am.  In that case, it’s time to revisit my motivation.

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Okay, I wandered and I forgot what I was talking about..  Yeah.  I was thinking about Dressing To Get Respect vs. Dressing To Give Respect.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting respect, but dressing to give respect is actually a more reliable way to get respect.  When you dress trying to get respect, it is easy to get a quick respect substitute and stop there.  Attention, acceptance, attraction – these responses feel like honor, but they don’t actually mean much.  Give honor to other people and don’t worry about getting attention. Fools get attention, but never respect.

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You know when you record your voice and you don’t recognize your voice?  I always feel like Yzma when she turns into a cat in The Emperor’s New Groove: “Is that my voice? Is that MY voice?”  That’s because I am the only person on the planet that hears my voice from the inside.  I have a unique and warped perspective, because I hear it in the echo chamber of my skull.  It sounds different to everybody else.

It’s the same with my clothes.  Everybody else can see my outfit better than I can.  I have that unique and warped perspective again.  I know what my clothes feel like, but everybody else knows what they look like.  The only way we can see ourselves is through eyes of others.

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I’m stubborn and independent and I don’t like asking for help.  I like getting dressed.  It’s a solitary activity in which I have control over every aspect.

But I really love people.  They make life worth it.  Sometimes they make life hard.  But they are still worth it.

When it comes down to it, I care more about my relationships than I do about my clothes.  I want to make my mom and dad happy by the way I look.  It’s as simple as that.

 

Ashley Tries Hard, Ashley Fails Hard

I got a new razor for the first time in forever and now my left leg is bleeding profusely from three tiny wounds.  The nicks themselves are nearly invisible, but you’d never know that from the blood rivulets that came waterfalling out of them.  It’s just overly dramatic and I wish my leg would stop it already.  It’s like those soccer players who assume the fetal position and howl whenever another player bumps into them by accident.  Just stop it already.  You’re not gonna die, legs.  STOP BLEEDING SO MUCH.

So I’m sitting here in shorts, waiting for my leg to scab up enough to put on jeans and not have gratuitously graphic blood stains spread all over them.  It feels pretty Capital-L-On-The-Forehead Loser.  But my whole week felt pretty Loserly, so it’s par for the course.

I’ve been doing Ashley Tries for a while now and my main discovery during the process is that one of the common side effects of trying is failing.  I’ve also realized I hate failing.  I hate failing so much that sometimes I don’t want to try, just in case I fail at it.  But the irony is that failing to try is way more loserly than trying and failing.  I know that.  I still don’t like it.

This week’s Ashley Tries was supposed to be featuring accessories and I don’t think I did it well at all, so I’m going to try again next week.  Take 2 on Accessorizing.  It’s not that I failed at putting on accessories, I just lacked focus and intention and, to be completely honest, I lost interest in my Try this week.  That’s what made it a fail for me.  This week just happened to me.  I prefer to happen to the week.  I want the week to look back at me and think WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything this week.  I learned a ton this week.  But most of what I learned wasn’t about accessorizing.

Things I learned this week:

  • In order to get more done, I need to wake up earlier.  I learn this lesson every week, without ever really absorbing it.  There are many lessons that fall into this category, including: If I don’t make a list, I’ll forget things at the grocery store and I won’t have clean clothes until I actually clean my clothes.  The Vicious Cycle kind of lessons.  The lessons that are solved through self discipline and a good solid routine.  I fail so much, guys.  I FAIL ALL THE TIME.
  • I’m way more likely to cry-laugh when I’m tired.  I laughed until I cried a lot this week.  Over random stuff.  Over that mouse in Cinderella who is sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to untie his tail.  Over not-that-funny jokes that in the moment WERE that funny.  Cry-laughing tends to derail work meetings, by the way.  Lesson learned.

  • If I want something, I have to ask for it.  Nobody is able to read my mind.  I’m not able to decipher my own mind a lot of time and I really shouldn’t expect other people to do what I don’t want to do.  It’s easy to think, “If they really love me, they should know what is up with me.”  But sometimes I don’t know what’s up with me, so how could they possibly know?  Asking is not admitting defeat.  It’s just something I have to do.
  • If it was possible to fidget to myself death, I’d already be dead.  I wore a ring for the first time in forever this week and I am SUCH A FIDGETY PERSON.  That ring was twisted every which way, taken on and off, and thought about way too much throughout the day.  I’m going to have to try again next week, just to see if I can get better at wearing a ring.  Accessory fail.

  • I tend to rely heavily on the things that I’m good at and avoid the things I’m not good at.  I stay well within my comfort zone on most things.  And since my comfort zone doesn’t necessarily look like anybody else’s comfort zone, I can get an undue reputation for boldness/confidence/bravery.  I wear weird outfits and post the outfit results every day and I’m a scaredy cat.  My fears aren’t obvious from the outward facade that I’m pretty good at presenting to the world.  My fears involve me not being respected, being a failure, and being a flaky person who doesn’t fulfill any of her obligations.  Sometimes my drive comes from trying to prove myself wrong about myself.  It’s stupid, but it’s true.
  • Not feeling pretty isn’t the same as being ugly.  That seems obvious, but when I’m tired and I don’t feel pretty, it seems like a safe assumption that I’m just a hideous person.  Intellectually, I know that I looked perfectly normal this week.  But I felt like a troll.  A fat ugly troll who lives under a bridge and gets annoyed at how loudly goats walk.
  • My job is great, but difficult to explain.  I emailed the US Department of Labor last week and didn’t even think that it was weird until I thought about it afterwards.  I really like my job and one of the reasons things fell through the cracks this week was a major project that I was trying to finish.  Most weeks aren’t entirely fails.  Usually it’s a mix.  This week was a work-win-week, but not a life-win-week.
  • Razors are one of the things I always forget to buy at the grocery store, because I stupidly decide not to write grocery lists (see Lesson 1), so I finally ended up ordering razors from Amazon and when I used one of the new razors, I cut myself in multiple places and then I realized that bandaids are the other thing that I always forget to buy at the grocery store.  Please excuse me while I sit here covered in the gory reminder of my failure.
  • Failing isn’t fun.  I know there are tons of TED talks featuring tech magnates with square glasses calmly talking about how failure is so good for you.  I always want to slap the square glasses right off of their overly calm faces, because they make it sound so easy to analyze everything.  My initial reaction to failing is laughing.  Or crying.  Or laughing until I cry.  It definitely is not gleaning the important lesson that I should be learning from my failure.  It takes me a while to calm down enough to acknowledge the moral of the story that just happened. And that is okay.  As long as you get to the point eventually, you don’t have to be okay immediately.  I’m a little teapot (short and stout) and like most teapots, I get steamed sometimes.  And I keep everything bottled up inside until everything comes out with a shrieking whistle noise.  My first reactions are emotional, but I don’t always let them out right then.  They do come out at some point, but usually they come out after building up for while.
  • Humility is a good thing.  I can present the image of having everything under control, but I don’t.  I’m good at some things, but I’m bad at so many things.  So. Many. Things.  The good news is that I don’t have to be good at everything.  Thank goodness.

This wasn’t a terrible week.  It was just a long week and I was tired for the majority of it.  There was a lot of cry-laughing in it, but that’s way better than a lot of crying.  My life is pretty darn funny.  I’m listening to a Roger Miller record while writing this and if you’re having a long week, I’d highly recommend listening to Roger Miller songs.  Hilarious.  This is the comic genius who wrote You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd and other such classics.  Take this lyric:

Ya can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
Ya can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
Ya can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage
But you can be happy if you’ve a mind to –
All ya gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it.
Yeah!  You said it, Roger Miller!  I’m going to try again next week. (Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it.)  If I fail next week, which is a possibility, because accessorizing isn’t one of my strengths, I’ll try again the next week.  It’s not a big deal.  Not trying guarantees failure.  If you try, there’s a possibly of failure, but there’s also a possibility of success.  So I’ll be back next week and I’ll try again and we’ll see how it goes!  Thanks for putting up with me, friends.  I’m know I can be a drama queen and a little steamed-up teapot and a loserly mess, but I really like all you of you guys.  You’re pretty great.  If you feel like a loser this week, join the club.  It’s no fun, but it isn’t the end of the world.  Have a good laugh.  Learn something from it (eventually).  Go ahead and try again.  And then try again.
I’ll be back next week with something to say about accessories.  Hopefully.

Waiting Around On Valentine’s Day: A Study In Metaphors

[An important preface to this post:  I wrote this on February 15th while on airplanes.  Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I tend to get pretty philosophical on flights.  Maybe it’s something about hurtling through the air, being a little sleep-deprived, being very aware that my fate is NOT in my own hands, whatever.  If it doesn’t make sense, I apologize.  It’s probably the just the flight talking.  Alternate titles I thought of:  Singleness 2:  Even More Single?  / Does Hope Hurt?  / A Bad Day to Fly / Why Am I Still Here?…..  Yeah.  It was a long day.  Here goes!]

On Valentine’s Day, I spent a good chunk of the day in a tiny rural fog-bound airport.  I was waiting for a plane.  (As one does.)  The irony of sitting around waiting alone on Valentine’s Day didn’t escape me.

Trying to keep the boring part of the story short, I was dropped off for a mid-morning flight.  The weather didn’t look promising – snow flurries and freezing fog between the flurries.  The airport is so small that it only flies to one destination and the plane wasn’t at the airport yet.  It hadn’t even left the other airport yet.  That plane kept delaying and delaying and delaying.  Then finally, the news was announced that the plane was wheels up and on its way to us.  (Rejoicing!  Hope!  Hurrah!)  We had been in the airport for around 4 or 5 hours by that point.

As we scurried through The TSA Security Pageant (the most common form of interactive live theater in the United States), hope was running through our blood.  And as we sat in that post-security lockdown area, we heard the plane.  And then there was silence.  And then we heard the plane again.  That plane circled the airport three times, couldn’t find an opening in the fog, then went back to its original airport.

Canceled.

Went back through the line, got rebooked for an afternoon flight (which was about an hour away at that point), went back through The TSA Security Show and got patted down that time.  Why be MORE thorough the second time through security?  It’s a mystery.  Sat back down in post-security lockdown, and heard the plane.  And heard the plane.  And heard the plane.  Then heard the announcement that the plane circled three times and went back to its original airport.

You know the hardest part of waiting?  The hope of imminent change.  In this case, it was hearing both of the planes.  It was going through the motions and getting packed and getting prepped and getting patted down, then sitting there with a suitcase and going nowhere.  It felt like a Buster Keaton movie and I’ve never felt more for that sad-face little figure who was funny just because he didn’t know when to give up.

T.S. Eliot has a line in the Four Quartets:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope / For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love / For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith / But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. / Wait without thought thought, for you are not ready for thought…

Are you ever afraid of hope, because it seems so tied to disappointment and hurt?  I know that I’ve made hope into the enemy, because I’ve tried to fool myself into thinking that if I don’t hope for anything, I can’t be disappointed.  Making waiting and wanting into a problem and trying to solve them by ignoring them.

HOPE IS NEVER THE PROBLEM.  Hope is hope.  It is good.  How can we even pretend to be fine without it?

Today, I’m writing this on an airplane.  The weather is absolutely gorgeous.  The snow hills look like sleeping swans with their heads tucked under their wings.  From the air, school buses look like chopped up No. 2 pencils.  The world was blue and white and brightness.  My prayers have been answered.  Not that they weren’t answered yesterday, but yesterday’s answer was Wait.  Not gonna lie, I never like that answer.

But the truth is that yesterday was a terrible day for flying.  Today is a good flying day.  Today is everything that I hoped yesterday would be.  It’s obviously the right day to go.  I woke up knowing that it would work this time.

I spent a lot of the stuck-in-the-airport time reading, but also browsing social media.  A lot of single people kinda lost their minds over Valentine’s Day.  Reactions ranged from the ambivalent (Well, the day after Valentine’s Day, all the chocolate goes on sale) to pure reaction (Well, I’m going throw a party for myself and celebrate singleness!  Yeah!) to offended, wounded, and in despair.  Like waiting for a plane, this despair over a reminder of romantic love has everything to do with unfulfilled hope.  Being single on Valentine’s Day can be like hearing that your long-awaited flight has finally been canceled.  It’s a symbol of love and you feel excluded and alone.  But hope isn’t the problem.  You know the most important time to have hope?  When it is hard.

It’s the same with all virtues.  Fellas, love is easy when she’s looking beautiful in that black dress and her smile is stopping your heart.  A stranger could fall in love with her when she looks that beautiful.  Love is hard when the baby’s crying in the middle of the night and you’re deciding whether or not to acknowledge it or not.

Hope is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  We can’t cultivate it on our own.  Without God’s grace, love, hope, and peace are just words and words we can’t possibly understand, let alone carry out their actions.  We want hope without any need for hope.  We want love without any trials to refine our love.  We want peace to mean there is never any conflict for us to resolve or any anxiety to make us doubt.  We want to be great without trying.  Without difficult people or difficult circumstances messing our hair up.

Show love while waiting for love.  Have hope when it’s hard to wait.  Have peace when you start to doubt whether you even want hope.  Peace.  Be still.  I’m frustrated and illogical.  Peace  This is the most important time to have hope.  Hope comforts, disappointment hurts.  Don’t confuse them.

I was shown so much love on Valentine’s Day.  My family loves me so well.  I love them and I like them.  I’m spoiled and I know it.

My dad expresses his love in a lot of ways, but they fall under the general category of Caring.  He takes really good care of me.  He helps me with paperwork and booking flights and talks through car problems and taxes.  All the stuff that intimidates me.  We were on the phone so many times during the no-fly day, thinking through everything.

My oldest brother drove me to the airport, because he wanted me to be safe on the icy roads.  My second-oldest brother gave me a ride back to my house once everything got canceled and after finding out there wasn’t food in the airport, he made a detour to buy me chicken nuggets and sweet’n’sour sauce.  My sister fed me dinner and we made snow ice cream.  I’m so thoroughly blessed.  Saturated with blessings.

Waiting and hope are two different things.  Sometimes waiting feels like the airport.  Sitting.  Nothing to do except wait.  A defined timeline.  Between things.  Between what you have and what you want.  But I don’t think it is a good metaphor for hope.

Hope is like anticipating a really good dinner.  You have your work to do, but you have friends working alongside you, and you remember throughout the day that dinner is going to be amazing.  It isn’t static or wistful.  It’s a certain knowledge that God loves His children and He is going to give us exactly what we need.  Even if the work is hard, even if there are times you have to work alone, remember that there’s blessing ahead and it’s going to be exactly what you need and it’s going to taste even better after all that work.  Don’t JUST wait.  Work.

I’m saved by the blood of Jesus, so I can work in peace, knowing that He’s always taking care of me.  You know the only thing I have to do before I die?  Live.  That’s it.  Live in the delight of my Lord.  Do the work I’ve been given and give thanks for it.  Will that someday take the form of a house and a husband and some adorable fat babies?  I sure hope so.  But I’m not just going to sit and wait, because my life isn’t defined by what I don’t have right now.  I have so much to be grateful for and so much to do!  Time to get busy.  Keep praying, keep desiring good things, strong in faith that God gives His children everything they need and blesses far beyond.

If you’re waiting and struggling, maybe despairing, whether it’s for waiting for marriage, a job, reconciling with your family, or healing, I understand how hard it is.  I’m a 30-year-old virgin.  I know what waiting is like.  I look back on some of my life’s rough patches and just see darkness.  But I also know that those are my growth rings.  The hard times are the times when I’ve grown the most.  Those are my book of Psalms.  Seek out wise counselors, invest in friends, invest in family.  Don’t be embarrassed to cry in front of other people.  Let other people help you.  You don’t have to go it all by yourself.  You really don’t.  If you find that you’re stuck in airport mode, always sitting and waiting for that one thing that is out of reach, leave the airport.

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?

 

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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