Ashley’s Favorites

I have so many favorites that I can’t play favorites.  So here are some things I love:

Surprise

“The world is made up of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  This is a fact well known even to Corporal Nobbs.  It’s also wrong.  There’s a fifth element, and generally it’s called Surprise.”  – Terry Pratchett

I love surprises.  I love quiet people who turn out to be hilarious.  I love unexpected answers to prayer.  I love unforced spontaneity – and yes, there is such a thing as forced spontaneity.  (Forced spontaneity is when people say, “I should be more spontaneous”, proceed to make a list of things to get themselves out of their comfort zone, then freak out about all the little inconveniences along the way.)

There’s this tree stump in front of my house and I assumed it was was a goner.  But spring came and it put out branches and bloomed!

img_0174

In terms of clothes, surprise can be finding an unexpected treasure in a thrift store, figuring out that a style you always considered out of reach actually looks great on you, or receiving a beautiful gift that you wouldn’t have picked out for yourself.  Keep your eyes open and be open to being surprised!  Friends are great for this.  I love shopping with friends who will throw something crazy over the dressing room door and say, “TRY THIS!”

This matching top-and-skirt set was a happy Goodwill surprise:

It’s a batik print cotton set from Indonesia.  How did it end up in a Goodwill in a rural small town in America?  This was such a delightful surprise, because I’ve been keeping my eyes open for matching separates, but they were always cost-prohibitive or not quite right.  This set was inexpensive and comfortable, fit perfectly, and had so much personality.  And POCKETS.  I love it.  Happy surprise.

 

Boldness

I’m an introverted drama queen and I’m attracted to boldness and color and drama.  Over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with how I look and what I like.  That comfort reads as confidence.  Now, I’m not ALWAYS confident.  Heck no.  But I admire boldness, especially in other people.

img_0211img_0409

This summer, I want to go for things.  When the surprises happen, I want to be bold enough to act.  Building up the callouses on my feet, so I can climb rocks barefoot.  Jumping into the water, even if I know it will be cold.  Getting a group together to read through Shakespeare plays and not worrying about how nerdy that sounds.  Learning how to salsa dance.  Cooking more and having more people over.  Nothing major.  Just life stuff.

Laughter

I think I’m funny.  I think this blog is funny.  I think my love of surprises and my drama queen instincts are funny.  I have a brain that’s constantly analyzing – I occasionally think about how I’m thinking about thoughts.  If all this over-analysis stuck around, I’d be in big trouble.  Fortunately, I have a bad memory.  Otherwise, I’d be running through every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done every time I tried to go to sleep.  Only the really embarrassing stories are left.  Also, surprise is easy to achieve when you have a terrible memory.

Other random favorite things:

 

  • Summer rainstorms
  • Singing melodramatic songs
  • Engrossing projects that take all my brain power
  • Eating food with family and good friends
  • Boater hats
  • Mascara
  • Clean laundry
  • Clean hair
  • Songs that I can’t listen to without dancing
  • Trying to make my Shocked Calcifer meme a thing
  • The frantic picking up that happens before people come over
  • Random two-minute outfit photo shoots with my friend Sara
  • Quiet evenings

I’m going to take a summer break from the blog, but I’ll be back!  Thank you so much for reading and engaging with my writing.  Every time I post, I feel like the world’s worst writer, so I’m routinely shocked and delighted that anybody takes the time to read my blog.

If you have an idea for Ashley Tries, let me know and I’ll write it down on the list!  Thank you for listening and laughing along with me.  You’re on my list of favorites.

Advertisements

Ashley and the Allure of Minimalism

I’m not a very organized person.  Fortunately, my life is pretty simple.  I go to work Monday through Friday, spend Saturday doing the things that I haven’t gotten to Monday through Friday, and go to church and rest on Sunday.  It may seem ridiculously simple, but it’s nonstop.  The things that I didn’t get to today will crowd into tomorrow and tomorrow already has plenty in it.

I don’t consciously form routines, but I get used to things really quickly.  This can be good or bad. Not much bothers me.  I moved into my house in November and I’m just now finding places to put all my things.  And not having enough storage makes me frustrated with the things I own and makes me want to purge.

When there’s a lot of chaos, I start thinking about Minimalism.  It’s an alluring concept.  Keeping only the most beautiful, the most useful, the happiest of items.  Streamlining life. Creating an atmosphere of simplicity and tranquility.  Does that sound amazing?  It always sounds amazing to me.  But I also know that for me it would be a reaction away from something else – minimalism as an act of frustration.

My stuff isn’t the problem.  My bad attitude towards what I own is the problem.  That also seems ridiculously simple, but it’s usually not the first conclusion I come to.  When there is a pile of clothes on a chair (because there isn’t room in the closet), the clothes are not being insubordinate and stubborn.  Even if there isn’t a pile of clothes on the chair, there’s always going to be something that isn’t perfect.

Life is complex and chaotic.  It isn’t a bad idea to build your home into a haven of peace, but the peace needs to start internally.  If I start with the externals and ignore the unrest in my soul, a minimal Scandinavian design aesthetic won’t calm me down.

I tried outfits inspired by minimalism this week – neutral colors, simple designs.  Here are a few things I learned through the week:

  • I really missed my bright colors.  A bright print top with jeans takes just as much effort as a black t-shirt and jeans, but it makes a big difference in how I feel.
  • I found myself accessorizing more than usual.  If I’m rushing out the door, which is pretty much every day, earrings are my last priority.  But this week, earrings became a much higher priority, because they seemed to make my outfits more interesting and complete.

  • I kept hoping that simple clothes would make my life more simple.  I’ve heard about “decision fatigue” and how cutting down on the amount of decisions you make frees up your brain to make other decisions.  But I still had to make clothes decisions (i.e. do these jeans make my rear look good / does this top need a camisole / do I need a jacket), so it didn’t noticeably simplify my life.
  • This was a tired and emotional week for me.  I’ve recently taken on more hours and more responsibilities at work and I think it caught up with me.  The change was welcome, because I really love my job!  But I’ve been struggling a little bit to try and re-balance everything around the edges.  (Including the daily outfit pictures and this blog.)
  • I just bought two Ikea cabinets and I CAN PUT ALL MY CLOTHES AWAY AT THE SAME TIME.  Life is good.  If your stuff is too big for your space, find some more space or give away some of your stuff.  I should have done this months ago.

  • I love my little black dress.  It’s comfy and pretty and simply the best.  I want to wear it every day.
  • I realized I want to take a summer vacation from the blog while I figure out how to re-balance everything.  I’ll write next week, but there will be blog silence for about a month.  Don’t worry – Ashley Tries will try again.  This blog has been so good for me and all the feedback has been amazing.  A huge thank you to every single one of you who reads these posts.  I appreciate you!
  • It’s okay for life to be complicated as long as my soul is simple.  If I’m trusting God, it doesn’t matter what life throws at me.  As long as my attitude towards what I own is gratitude and not frustration, it’s a good place to start.

Dignity

This is a request post – a friend asked me my thoughts on dressing in a dignified manner. What a great question!  Clothes are real and practical, but they are also the manifestation of our ideas.  Dignity, honor, and clothing are all closely connected, but we can get so caught up in the practical that we don’t consider the ideals that shape us and our clothing.

This isn’t going to be in an Ashley Tries format, because it was hard to get up every morning, look for clothes, and think, “I’m going to be DIGNIFIED today.”  Any success that happened was partial at best.  But it was a definitely a good exercise, because it forced me to think outside my normal questions:  Which clothes are clean?  Does that top fit well right now?  Does this print top need black jeans to balance it out?  This week the questions shifted to broader questions:  How would my coworkers describe this outfit?  Is this outfit unquestionably appropriate?  Do I look like a woman, not a little girl?  As it turns out, the broader questions are harder to answer, because they encompass all the practical questions and then add perception and standards on top of that already substantial question pile.

I don’t know why it felt so pretentious to ask myself whether my outfit was “dignified” or not, but it really did.  Probably because I don’t think of myself as a dignified person – I think of myself as a funny, slightly clumsy, sometimes stressed, usually happy person.  I assign the term “dignified” to awe-inspiring people who are older and wiser and calmer than I am.  But I’m thirty and I don’t believe in putting off being an adult, so it’s good to think beyond what clothes are cute and start thinking about what clothes reflect the woman I want to be.

One of the most common verses that comes up when you look up dignity in the Bible is Proverbs 31:25 – “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”  That’s striking and beautiful image, isn’t it?  It’s a good verse to remember when the future feels like NO LAUGHING MATTER.  In Job 40:9-10 (ESV), the Lord asks Job, “Have you an arm like God? and can you thunder with a voice like His?  Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; cloth yourself with glory and splendor.”  In Esther, the king asks what “honor or dignity” has been bestowed on Mordecai for saving the king’s life (Esther 6:3) and the part of the honor that gives Mordecai is to dress him in royal robes.  All of these verses speak about dignity as something that can be bestowed and put on.  It has weight and it can be seen by other people.

We were born wanting honor, but we mess up in how we seek after it and we mess up in how we think it comes to us.  We understand there is a link between clothing and honor, which is one of the reasons that clothes are so important to us.  The bride on her wedding day, the graduation robe, the uncharacteristically professional interview suit, mourning black at a funeral – these all have built-in significance and backstory, but everything we put on has a backstory.  Usually it isn’t as obvious as a wedding dress, but we all know that some clothes have more dignity or honor than others.  But as I said earlier, we can really mess up what we consider honorable.  Attention is not the same as honor.  Approval does not equal dignity.  We’ll settle for acceptance if we can’t get the honor we really want, because all it takes to gain acceptance is to find a group with the same blind spots.  If nobody likes your posts, do you feel unlovely?  Disappointed?  Alone?  That’s an indication that you’re really seeking after the approval of others.  It has nothing to do with strength, dignity, or laughing at the the days to come.  Don’t settle for counterfeit dignity.

A couple of practical applications

  • Even though I wasn’t certain about what outfits were dignified this week, I knew that I could control how appropriate my outfits were this week.  I avoided the the skirt that’s two inches too short when I sit down, the neckline that needs attention whenever I lean over, the jeans that are just a *little* bit too tight.  I aimed for appropriate to the point of boring.  It was a comfortable way to live, because I didn’t have any worry hanging around my clothes choices this week.
  • There’s dignity in dressing for your age and your stage of life.  In an age of perpetual adolescence, it’s beautiful to see a respectable woman in respectable clothes.  I don’t want people to think I’m twenty.  I’m thirty.  I should be leaning into responsibility, not running away from it.  My first impulse is to run away from responsibility and when it’s given to me, I immediately freak out.  That isn’t mature of me and it’s an area where I need to routinely confess sin and fight against my first instincts.  For all the moms out there, it’s just fine to look like a mom.  There’s a ridiculous amount of pressure on moms to get back to where they were “pre-baby”, but everything changes post-baby and it’s a beautiful thing!  Moms, you are amazing.  You have an amazing job and it is fine to wear clothes that are appropriate for it.  Don’t feel like you need to apologize for looking like a mom.  That would be like me apologizing for looking like a data analyst.
  • Shame shouldn’t be our default.  Shame is the opposite of dignity and it should never be where we live.  Shame can be a powerful driver, because the point of shame is to drive us away from our sin and to God and forgiveness.  It is not a good place to settle down and build a house.  If shame isn’t driving us to God, it’s driving us somewhere else.  Shame can drive to self-loathing or self-aggrandizement, to hatred of others or idolatry of others.  Get out of there.
  • I want to be clothed in dignity.  I want honor.  That might seem completely obvious, but it’s not something I admit very often, even to myself.  Because it’s “easier” to stay as I am right now.  It’s “easier” to be whiny and petulant.  It’s “easier” to live without the burden of responsibility.  It’s “easier” to stay #Relatable and celebrate my flaws and my fails.  It’s definitely easier to be worried about the days to come than to laugh at them.  I’m afraid of failing.  But going back to the idea of confidence, God is on my side.  Why should I be afraid of anything?  When I die, I want to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Why do I hold onto things that aren’t easier in the long run?

All that to say, I don’t know what dignified looks like on me, but I want to grow into it.  I know what it looks like on other people.  There’s dignity in honest work, in kindness, in formality, in reverence, and in loving God with everything I have and everything I make.

Ashley Tries Referential Dressing

It’s easy to overthink clothes, because clothes are so personal.  When I overthink, I tend to lose track of the obvious.  Have you ever been caught off guard by a ridiculously easy question?  Like when you’re at a party and you’re a little nervous and a lot stressed and a stranger asks you how many siblings you have and you panic and just start listing numbers?  I can get that way when people ask me what I like about clothes.  Then my mind goes blank.  What DO I like about clothes?  Um, You get arrested if you don’t wear them in public?……They’re an aspect of art and culture that nobody can “opt out” of?…..They are usually made of cloth??….Okay, okay.  STOP, Ashley.

There are lots of reasons to like clothes, but my reasons aren’t very complicated.  I like clothes because clothes are pretty and interesting and can make people look really good.  There doesn’t have to be a deep reason to be interested in clothes and our clothes don’t have to be separated from what we like in other parts of our lives.

If your house is simple and minimalist, white walls with gray accents, I’m guessing that your clothing tastes will veer toward simplicity and minimalism as well.  If your favorite songs are all by Elvis, I wouldn’t be surprised if your wardrobe has some vintage vibes going on.  I like all kinds of things and that shows up in my clothes.  I love prints that remind me of my mom’s blue-and-white china pattern.  I love colors that make me think of the ocean.  So this week, I tried dressing in clothes that reminded me of other things I love.

Day 1

I love classic children’s literature and I have a particular fondness for the characters who don’t quite fit in with the rest of the group at first, but grow into it.  Usually the funny side characters.  The little, strange, hilarious ones.  Some examples:

  • Beanie Robinson from Dog Friday by Hilary McKay.  I’ve probably already mentioned Beanie on this blog, but she’s so great, I’ll mention her again.  She’s six.  She named herself Beanie, because she thinks a bean pod seems like such a comfy place to live.  She wants to run a Bed and Breakfast when she grows up and my favorite part of the book is when she gets an opportunity to do just that.  That little girl saves the day in such a nonchalant way that want to be Beanie Robinson when I grow up.
  • Dorothea Callum from the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, which are all about kids who camp and sail and have adventures around the Lake Country in England. Dorothea and her brother don’t show up until later in the series, so the main group has already been established and everybody has a role.  Dorothea wants to be a novelist and none of the kids really knows what to do with that at first, but she eventually becomes the one everybody looks to for ideas.  By the time The Big Six comes around, she uses everything she knows about mystery stories to solve a real crime.  She’s just the best.  (EXCUSE ME WHILE I RUN OFF AND READ ALL THE BOOKS WITH DOROTHEA IN THEM.)
  • Constance Contraire from The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  This book is about about a group of kid spies who are put in charge of shutting down a plot to take over the world, but Constance is the least likely child spy of all time.  She’s tiny, weak, grumpy, sleepy, and spends most of the book insulting her other teammates.  Her character development is such a surprise that I’ll just let you read it.  On the spy entrance exam, one of the questions is “What is wrong with this statement?”  The correct answer is that it isn’t a statement, it’s a question.  But Constance’s answer was “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”  That still cracks me up.

This outfit feels old-fashioned and young at the same time.  There’s something about the flats and the collar and the cardigan and the flowers on the shirt.  I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it reminds me of some of my favorite fictional characters, but it definitely made me happy that day!

Day 2

I love westerns and there’s a western trend thing happening right now, but let’s face it, I’m never going to look like Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven.  That’s the tragic fact of it.

I bought these lovely fringed earrings last Saturday and they had a western vibe to them, so I decided to channel the kind of western I knew I could do.  That is a glam western.  A musical western.  A Calamity Jane or Annie Get Your Gun kind of western.  As it turns out, it’s way easier for me to channel Doris Day than to channel Steve McQueen.

I really loved this look.  It’s cute and practical and packs a punch.  Just like Calamity Jane.  If there’s a trend you love, but don’t think you can do, alter it until it suits you!  The trends aren’t the boss of you.

Day 3

I bought this gray top in France last fall and I’m so delighted it’s warm enough to wear it again!  It’s ruffled and voluminous and embellished and it has bell sleeves and is so all-out-feminine that it makes me think of a princess.  Given the chance, I’d dress like a princess every day.  The Child Within still casts a heavy vote and always votes in favor of MORE TWIRLY, PLEASE.

I wouldn’t want to wear a ball gown all the time.  That would be cumbersome and inconvenient.  But I love the idea of truly beautiful everyday clothes and I want to make it a thing.  Princesses in the woods are still princesses and they are still regal and beautiful in hard circumstances.  I always preferred Sleeping Beauty’s everyday clothes to her ballgown.  Probably because the pink-blue-pink-blue gown color change confused me as a child.  Anyway, I don’t know how I will make Princess a THING, but I really want it.  I think that’s why I started doing fashion in the first place.

Day 4

This look is based on one movie scene that shaped my aesthetics more than I can explain.

The movie is Disney’s The Three Caballeros and it’s truly bizarre.  But there’s one scene where there’s a little choo-choo train going through a jungle and the background is completely black and the jungle and the train bright saturated colors.  It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that, with bright colors on a dark background, and boy did that ever speak to my soul.  The old comic, Krazy Kat, holds a special place in my heart for the same reason – the black skies and bright desert of Krazy Kat world strike a chord with me.

So to reference Mary Blaire’s 3 Caballeros artwork, I paired my brightest tropical print top with a black skirt and black shoes. It’s dramatic, but playful. It’s an everyday party.

Day 5

This one is easy. When I saw this romper, it made me think of a circus tent. And circuses remind me of summertime and popcorn and elephants.

I was so overjoyed about the first really warm day that I wanted to celebrate it! With shorts. But most of my shorts are very short. So this was an elevated short look that worked for the office. Win-win.

This was a fun challenge and it amplified all my happiness this week. If you are feeling a little bored with your outfits or just need some inspiration, take inspiration from things you love! What would your favorite book character pick out of your closet? What would an outfit based on toast with jam look like? What color reminds you of your favorite place?

Confidence

This is a fashiony blog, but this post isn’t going to dwell too much on clothes and the ever-present buzzword, body confidence.  When it comes to confidence, each person has a completely different set of situations and worries and insecurities that layer up, so it’s impossible to deal with specific body issues on a general blog like this.  If you have a specific question about how to dress for your body shape or how to be more confident in your clothes, please let me know and I’ll help out in any way I can!  We all have body issues.  Humans have had body issues ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit and suddenly became aware of their nakedness.  This isn’t a new issue created by grocery store magazines yelling at you to start getting that perfect beach body for the summer.  That’s a symptom of the problem, not the source of the problem.

I looked up Confidence and here are a few of the definitions that came up:

  • the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.
  • the state of feeling certain about the truth of something.
  • a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

The common thread through all of those definitions is the feeling of certainty.  What that tells me is that confidence isn’t dependent on having an objectively beautiful face or the most fashionable body shape.  (If you don’t think that there are fads in body shapes, you’re wrong.  Ask me about it sometime.)  A woman can have perfect skin and wear a size zero and still have body issues.  Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, still two of the most influential beauty ideals of the past century, were both massively insecure about how they looked.  They projected confidence, but they didn’t have it.  If you don’t get your heart and mind right, no amount of externals will give you confidence.

It breaks my heart to see a beautiful woman who is overly-critical about herself and others.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m all in favor of being clear sighted and critical about myself.  If I sin, I want to see that sin, so I can confess it and ask for forgiveness.  But after that process is done, I’m confident enough in the goodness of my God to leave it behind and walk away happy.  That contains some self criticism, but it isn’t a constant state of being.  Hypercritical is a different animal.  A hypercritical person can have a very hard time leaving things behind and the criticism takes a hundred different forms.  Lying in bed remembering something embarrassing that you said two years ago.  Not accepting compliments, because you don’t think you deserve them.  Apologizing constantly for things that don’t offend anybody except yourself.  Not using your gifts, because you don’t think they are good enough to share or even bring up.  Being too afraid to go for it, because you’re afraid you’ll fail or be embarrassed or say something wrong or die or all of the above.  Beating yourself up about something you should have done, but didn’t.

The hard part about criticism, especially self-criticism, is that it can masquerade as humility.  If you turn up the doubts, they can drown out what’s actually going on.  I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of doubt and it’s dark.  It’s dark and dusty and scary and it’s just you down there.  If you get to the point where you think you can’t do anything right, you get stuck, because you’re too afraid to do anything.

Another common response to doubts is to try and compensate for perceived lacks.  This is the old “Well, I’m not pretty, but at least I’m smart” scenario and it looks different for each person.  It can be talking too much, because you’re nervous.  Looking for affirmation in followers and likes.  Sticking with what you are good at and avoiding things that you probably won’t be good at, so you keep developing your strengths and ignoring weaknesses.  Focusing on the things you think you can control (your look, your house, your job, your family, your ideals) and pushing down the things you can’t control, until you can look perfect from the outside and feel like an absolute mess on the inside.  It’s the equivalent of stuffing everything into a closet when people come over, but your soul is the closet.  I’ve been in the hypercritical camp before, but overcompensating is my main temptation.  While criticism can mask itself as humility, overcompensating can mask itself as confidence, but it’s the difference between being brave and having swagger that makes you LOOK brave.  Usually I turn on the faux-confidence when I’m at my most terrified.  It’s not a good solution.  Scratch that – it’s not a solution at all.

Of course we lack confidence.  We’re broken.  We long to be whole.  We long to be immortal, perfect, in control.  We want to go back to the Garden, back before every day was a reminder of death.  But the temptation is to try to go back the wrong way.  That’s why we try (and always fail) to deal with our failures, our shortcomings, our imperfections.  We want to fix ourselves.  But we can’t fix ourselves.  Sometimes we forget that that is the good news.  It’s the best news, because there’s a way back to the Garden that actually works.  Have confidence in Christ’s ability to fix you.  Don’t try to fix your own brokenness, even a little bit.  In a world where every human is either trying to fix their problems or ignore their problems, the truth that you can’t fix your own problems and that there is a Savior who can fix the problem is water in a drought.

Christians should be the most confident people in the world.  Romans 8:31 asks a question, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  That’s the overwhelming question, isn’t it?  Why do we hide?  Why are we afraid?  Why aren’t we satisfied?  Why do we try to fix ourselves?  Because we look for confidence in all the wrong places.

For practical application, here are few things that will help you if you struggle with confidence:

  • Trust God and trust true friends.  That’s a confidence you can rely on.
  • Give thanks for what you have.
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Distinguish vague doubts from real issues that need to be addressed.  Don’t let past embarrassments or anxiety about the future cloud the here and now.
  • Go ahead and laugh.  Life isn’t as serious as all that.
  • Be kind.  Be generous.
  • Go for it.  Live life boldly.  If you fail, you fail.  God is for us.  Why should we go tiptoeing around?  My prayer right now is for God to give me chutzpah.  That covers it, I think.

I love you all.  I know you have body issues and confidence issues and worries creep in.  Believe me, I have them.  That’s why I have to preach to myself.  If you ever want to talk through stuff, let me know.  I’m right here.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.