This has been a WEEK, folks. Since I started the Ashley Tries series on this blog, I’ve been taking almost daily outfit pictures. Imagine (if you will) a picture of yourself every day for months. Yikes. There have been some days where I just want to hide under my desk and not come out. Yes, I know it isn’t necessary. It is a self-imposed trial. But the truth is that I take a picture and say something about the blog post at the beginning of every week SO THAT I CAN FORCE MYSELF TO WRITE THE BLOG POST AT THE END OF THE WEEK. A few things that I’ve learned from taking outfit photos:
- I am my own harshest critic. Some days, I just don’t like my FACE.
- It is impossible to take myself seriously. I’m a data analyst in a tiny town in the Pacific Northwest. Who cares what a hick like me has to say about fashion? The only qualification I have is that I love fashion and I’ve always loved fashion. That’s about it.
- What I like and what people respond to are usually two different things. Sometimes people love the outfits that I don’t enjoy wearing and some outfits I love don’t get much of a response on social media.
- I’ve started learning what kinds of pictures people will respond to and like. With that knowledge comes the temptation to only wear clothes that will get a positive response from other people.
- It’s REALLY easy to be manipulative on social media. I know that isn’t news, but let me tell you something – if I decided to manipulate, I’d be good at it. So it is very important for me to NOT become a manipulator.
I am truly interested in how we relate to images and what we respond to and what we notice first in an image. I’m the same person every day, but my outfit is different, the light is different, my facial expression is different… what draws people in? What sells an idea? So this week, I decided to do some basic image analysis by asking people for a one-word description of each outfit. I tried to keep it simple and make sure the opinions were theirs, not mine. I posted all the photos to my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, so those opinions came from people I know. Two of the days, I posted pictures on a larger social media group where I don’t know most of the people personally.
This was a daunting week for me. Posting pictures is hard enough without asking people to honestly state what they think about how you look. WHAT WAS I THINKING? The problem is that I have a terrible oversupply of curiosity and I love categorizing things and I am fascinated (and terrified) by people and their frank opinions.
Monday’s Outfit: Clear Narrative
I wanted the first outfit to have a cohesive tone with a pop of color for visual interest. This outfit was designed to be simple to comment on. Simple and straightforward in form and function, with feminine details to brighten it up. Even thought blazers are traditionally menswear-inspired pieces, this Zara blazer leans feminine, because the material is light and fine-textured, and it is tailored for curves. Combined with the fine-knit red sweater, it’s definitely womanly, but still very professional. Skinny jeans with pointy flats give a throwback 1960s vibe and reinforce the “I’m a woman” feeling.
So my bet with myself was that people wouldn’t have any trouble summing this outfit up and that the results would be clear and harmonious. Most of the results sorted out nicely into four main categories. While the categories are distinct, they harmonize well together. (Some of the terms were repeated more than once.)
Category 1: Professional
Category 2: Tailored
Category 3: Classic
Category 4: Attitude
- Happy (because of my facial expression)
- Boom (apparently, this outfit has impact)
There were a few outliers that didn’t fit well into those categories: Cold, All-seasonal, and Pinterest. I thought Cold was a really interesting one, because it deals with how the observer feels when they look at the image. Viewer comfort is very important, especially in advertising. If you look at an advertisement for shoes and see pain written all over the model’s face, you won’t want to buy those shoes. The model’s job is to make uncomfortable things look comfortable, and it is a job I do not envy. All-seasonal is a great description as well. It has to do with practicality and use value. I think Pinterest means that it looks good, which I appreciate!
And while I do look professional here, I’ll admit something. After work on this day, I went home, put bubble wrap all over the floor, turned on ABBA records, and danced around on the bubble wrap. Sometimes I’m not all that grown up….
The results pretty much lined up with what I expected – a classic professional look with some attitude.
Tuesday’s Outfit: The Wild Card
You know how I told you that I’m tempted toward manipulation? Well, I designed this outfit to be difficult to describe. I’m sorry, everybody. I wanted to compare Monday’s straightforward look to a more involved, complex look.
I’m an odd duck and I like an odd mix of things, but I’ve learned that some of my more eclectic looks just confuse people. Confusion usually keeps people from commenting (unless I specifically ask for their opinion, like this week). So my bet with myself was that the descriptions for this outfit would be all over the place and some people would love it and some people wouldn’t care for it.
Category 1: Attitude
Category 2: Cuteness
- Lunch Date (I think of date clothes as being cute, so that’s why I stored this description under Cuteness)
- LEGS (nobody actually posted that description, but friends told me their opinions throughout the day)
Category 3: The Mix
- Sneakers? (This one is from my sister who got all excited when she saw that I had curled my hair and then didn’t understand why I was wearing sneakers)
- Retro-inspired (I think this comes from the red lipstick and the tweed mini and the styling)
Category 4: Materials
There were a few outliers that I really enjoyed: Moss (color and softness), Anime, and Dr. Who Girl. The last two kind of formed a little subgroup. This mix almost looks like a character in a show, but a show that is a little strange and a lot foreign. It goes along with the quirky/playful/girly vibes that people were picking up.
There were fewer comments on this outfit and they came in later in the day, like people had been contemplating how exactly to describe this look. Don’t worry. I expected that. The proportions aren’t what you expect, there are sneakers where there should be heels, the skirt is fitted and the top is loose…. chaos. But it’s a chaos that sometimes exactly fits my mood, so I’ll keep a little bit of the weirdness. It’s very me. Because I’m very strange.
Wednesday’s Outfit: The Comment Machine
In all honesty, I designed this outfit to get attention and to be easy to describe. Stripes. A crazy bright color. Shape. Strong attitude. Any of those are up for grabs. This outfit is in your face and demands an opinion. A diva of a look. I’m not actually a diva, by the way. I’m work in a cubicle and do a very specific, very nerdy job that requires some intelligence and a whole lot of stubbornness and independence.
This was one of the two looks that I showed to a much larger audience. Asking your friends for opinions is one thing, but asking strangers is far more daunting. I told everybody to be honest, because I’m tough. That wasn’t a lie. I honestly thought I was tough, but MAN. It is nerve-wracking and humbling to have people give their first impressions of you on the basis of one image. But for social media, that’s usually all we get. That’s why the temptation to curate an image grows so strong. We want people to like us and to find us interesting and to know us. But we only want them to “know” us to the extent where we are still likable and it gets easier and easier to balance on that little balance beam. Like I suspected, the results filtered out into three main categories:
Category 1: Color
The cropped chartreuse sweater got a lot of attention, with Cheerful, Juicy, Zingy, Sunny, Yellow Umbrella, Sunshiney, Pop, Yellow, Bright, Banana Split, SunnyRain, Color, Fresh, Modern 80s, Modern Morton Salt Girl, Vibrant, Banana Peel on a Piano, the end of a pencil, Bright, Artpop, Pop Art, Electric, Meadowlark
Category 2: Stripes
The stripes didn’t have as many variations, but still got plenty of descriptions: Graphic, Bumblebee, Piano, Neo-preppy, Stripey, Striped, Zebralimepiebarcode (note: this technically includes the color as well, but the stripes are mentioned twice, so this one gets stored in the Stripes Category), Nautical, Zebra, Geometric, Jarring, Deco, Rio (referring to Rio de Janeiro’s mosaic sidewalks), Busy, Crisp
Category 3: Attitude and Overall Styling
Sometimes the description comes from the overall vibe of the outfit, rather than the individual elements. There was a lot of confidence and diva: Striking, Bold, Dramatic, Drama, Confident, Pizzazz, Upbeat, Confident, Distinctive, Spunky, YAAAAASSSSS. People picked up on clarity and focus: Sleek, Chic, Straightforward, Smart, OK, Clearcut, Contrast, Snappy, Contemporary, Trendy. Apparently, this ticked some artistic boxes as well: Artful, Whimsical, Twist, Hipster, Artsy, Pinterest, Fun. Oh yeah. And somebody’s description was Outfit. Helpful to know.
There were a few outliers, but most of them had to do with the shape and fit: Flattering, Twirly, Lampshade. Self-explanatory. There was also kind of an animal subcategory, with all the zebras and bumblebees and meadowlarks hopping around.
This outfit got reactions and reactions go straight to the head, like champagne. It would be easy to escape into a heightened version of yourself, the person who always looks confident and chic and artistic, the person who gets attention. Of all the outfits this week, this one is probably the last one I would wear on a regular basis. It is elaborate. I enjoy it, but it only reflects a part of me.
Thursday’s Outfit: The Hardest Day
By Thursday, I was worn out. I’m moving into a new house and I’m in the middle of a long project at work that requires all my stubborn will power, but I came into the day emotionally drained. As soon as I started asking for people’s snap judgments at the beginning of the week, I had started judging my photos more harshly and I got more and more self-conscious. Even when people are nice, it is still emotional to hear other people’s opinions of me. Even when it is not personal, it feels personal. After all, they are looking at this picture of me. And my face. And my body. And all my flaws. And WHY DID I EVEN START THIS ALL THESE PICTURES ARE GARBAGE AND I AM A MONSTER WHY AM I NOT LIVING UNDER A BRIDGE WAITING FOR BILLYGOATS TO DEVOUR and by Thursday, I was already toting around three days of that. Moral: Don’t look at your own photos too much, it will just highlight everything that makes you self-conscious.
On Thursday, I still had my terrible curiosity and my terrible stubbornness and they keep me going on terrible ideas. Smart people probably reconsider bad ideas mid-week. I’m not smart enough to do that. I would like to say it’s discipline. Or a thirst for knowledge. Or that it is fun for me. Or that I love carrying out plans and checking things off lists. But it isn’t. It is just stubbornness and the knowledge that I am a slow writer of an insignificant blog that I don’t NEED to write every week. But if I don’t write this week, I won’t come back to write it next week. So I have to write a blog post this week in order to write a blog post the next week and the next week and the next week.
I had already decided that Thursday’s outfit should be nondescript. A dull echo of Monday’s outfit, a direct contrast to Wednesday’s outfit. Plain. Simple. Not very sharp, not very colorful. Not pretty. Ordinary. To tell the truth, I like the outfit. It’s a meat and potatoes outfit. Nothing to write home about, but sturdy and practical and comfortable. It just isn’t an outfit that demands photographic evidence. It is an ordinary life outfit, like most outfits should be.
By the time Sara took my photo, I was tired and emotional and tired and headachey and TIRED. Do you ever forget how to smile? I do. It’s like when you’re lying in bed, wide awake at three in the morning, and you can’t remember how to fall asleep and you wonder if you will ever sleep again. If I have a headache, I’ll forget how to smile. When I do smile, you don’t have to wonder whether it is real. If I’m smiling at you, it’s genuine. Very bad at faking stuff.
So Sara took my picture and then I was in possession of a non-smiley, aggressively ordinary outfit photo. Like I said at the beginning, I’m my own worst critic. I didn’t see any beauty in that picture. That’s when the temptation to control and the fear of criticism kicked in. Why not just ignore it and do nothing? I don’t OWE anybody a picture of me, especially not in a boring meat-and-potatoes outfit with an ugly face that is incapable of smiling. It would have been tough for me to post that picture anytime, but on the week where I was asking for one-word descriptions? That seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. How I could show that ugly face to my friends, let alone strangers?
It took all my stubbornness to talk myself down and push aside the self-consciousness and post this one. And ask for opinions about it. I already knew that I didn’t see anything good about it, and if I didn’t, who would? Every comment that came in just made me more tired of myself. My tiredness and emotion kept me from having sound perspective. By late evening, I was on the brink of tears. Let me stress that it was not the comments that made me cry and I appreciate every single one of you who wrote a one-word description. By that point, I felt hideous.
But I’m still a data analyst and the data must be analyzed! Most of descriptions shook out into clear categories:
Category 1: Simple
Some of the descriptions in this category referred to the color scheme: Muted, Earth-tone, Dull. Most of them referred to the overall look: Solid, Basics, Casual Chic, Practical, Simple, Dependability, Conservative, Classy, Conservative-esque, Casual, Timeless, No, Relaxed, Jewelry-less, Classy, Midwest, Texas Chic, Country Casual, Chic, Comfortable, Same. Stable to the point of boring.
Category 2: Intellect
Professorial, Library, Studious, Professor, Intelligent, Science, Smart, Articulate, Sharp
Category 3: Masculine
Masculine, Menswear-inspired, Garçonne, Androgynous, Strong, Strength, Power, “more Mars then Venus”
Category 4: British Vibes
English, Oxford, Susan, Buchan, British, Scottish, Female Dr. Who, Equestrienne, Autumnal, Mixed, Tweedy
Category 5: Professional (Possibly Ruthless)
Attorney, Spy, Business, Business Casual, Corporate, Boss, ThugAccountantMom, Professional
Category 6: Attitude
Serious, Presence, Yaaasssss, Sassy, Pride, The “I’m listening, but already shaking my head ‘No’.” Look
If we combine all these categories, this look has a distinct persona. Something along the lines of an intelligent British man in a stable, boring profession, who is secretly a ruthless spy. Weapon of choice: sarcasm.
I also got Mom and DadMom, so I guess this look gave off parental vibes. It goes along with all those dependable/practical/conservative descriptions.
This day actually received the most descriptions of the entire look, rather than descriptions of individual pieces. I’m guessing that is because none of the individual pieces stood out enough to deserve a separate comment. The tweedy blazer and the glasses gave rise to most of the Intellectual, Professional, and British ideas. I’ve always been nearsighted, and it is true that people assume you are smarter if you wear glasses. My friends would try on my glasses and then ask, “do I look smarter?” I couldn’t answer that question, because I couldn’t see them without my glasses.
I think the Simple and Masculine ideas go together. Men aren’t expected to be fancy, so it is perfectly acceptable for guys to form an outfit without accessories or bright colors. Good fit and quality materials are the main concepts for men’s fashion. Women’s fashion builds on the foundations of fit and quality, but adds another element: visual interest. Makeup, jewelry, accessories (especially scarves, bags, and SHOES), color, print, texture…these are the glory of an outfit. The point of a little black dress is not the black dress, it is the woman inside it.
This outfit had a lot of direct comparison to Monday’s outfit – same jeans, sweater under a blazer, flats. But Monday’s outfit had feminine elements (earrings, pointy-toe flats, a bright red sweater) and Thursday’s outfit had masculine elements (muted colors, a straight-line blazer, and boots).
It’s probably obvious by this point, but I’m a nut and a major overthinker. Thursday was the hardest day, because I was asking for judgement on something I had already judged. But Thursday was the day that I learned the most about how I handle criticism and a couple of strong temptations. I’m tempted to only show people what I want them to see. I’m tempted to try to control everything. I’m tempted to rely entirely on my own judgement.
Well, that got heavy. But it’s honest.
If you ever get anxious, there is a Bible verse that I ran across recently and I’m trying to remember it when I worry:
“In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Do not fear;
Zion, let not your hands be weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17)
Why should I be afraid? God is with me and He rejoices over me. He sings over me, a nut who overthinks everything and gets scared about what other people think. I get afraid of things that don’t matter at all and He is so happy to have me that He is singing. That’s humbling, folks. Okay, I’m crying again, but happy tears this time.
Friday’s Outfit: Last Hurrah
I woke up on Friday with no headache and no fear, which does wonders for one’s perspective. Friday’s outfit is comfy and different and I like it. It’s busy, but grounded in the black and white color scheme. The main thing that made me happy about this picture is that I LOOKED happy in this picture. Truly, smiles make everything better. Don’t be self-conscious about smiling. Yes, your eyes squint and your cheeks bunch up, but you look lovely. If you can smile, smile. There’s nothing more beautiful.
On Friday, I only asked for opinions on my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, because I wanted to keep the result size more manageable. I was already starting to compile and categorize the results from the previous days, so I had plenty of results to go through. This outfit wasn’t planned for a particular reaction and that made the reactions more fun, because they were unexpected.
Category 1: Nature
- Glistening like an icicle
Category 2: Attitude/Overall Impressions
Category 3: Texture and Movement
- Cozy Party
Category 4: Pattern-Mixing
I was surprised by all the nature-inspired descriptions, but I love them. I totally see Nudibranch (technical term for sea cucumber) – it’s all about the ruffled edges and the movement. The sweater DOES look like fish scales. It looks like ice and snow and the ocean and all those things.
My sincere thanks for the Miyazaki description. How cool is that? It goes along with all the overall impressions of boldness and whimsy and wildness. This persona could have her own Hayao Miyazaki movie. It would be set in winter and there would be lots of fish in it.
And so my science experiment comes to an end. My hypothesis was correct. I have an instinct for knowing what kinds of images will get the most reactions. But what I didn’t anticipate was my own discomfort throughout the week. I came into this week thinking I was tough and I came out all vulnerable. By the end of the week, I found myself wanting people to tell me that I look pretty. Asking for judgement on my appearance opened up a fear door I didn’t even know was in the house.
My conclusion: I need to be honest. You know when I said that the reason I need to write the blog post this week is so I can write the blog next week? The same applies for honesty – if I start lying, it will be a fast trip downhill. If I try to create an image and become one person in real life and another person for the camera, I’m in trouble.
Thank you for all your descriptions! This post couldn’t have happened without your help and I appreciate you all. As always, if you have a fashion question or want help with something, send me a message and I’ll try to help out in any way I can. That’s why I’m here.