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?



“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.



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.


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.


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.




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.

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.”


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.


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.



Elements of Style: Texture

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

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

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

Here are some definitions of texture from the Oxford Dictionary:

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1: Tweed, Knit, Denim

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

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

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

Day 2:  The Kimono

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

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

Day 3: Lace, Denim, Tweed

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

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

Day 4: The Subtle

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

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

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

Day 5:  Wool and Lace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Tries Doing Her Own Hair and Ponders Gift Giving

This week has been a departure from my standard Ashley Tries format.  I did try to do my hair a different way every day, but that really wasn’t anything to write home about.  I’m still really bad at doing hair.  The main thing I learned was that I had to decide the night before that I was going to try to do something different, so I was mentally prepared to try something new the next morning.  The first day was the highlight – I tried that I’m-a-millennial-so-I-don’t-curl-the-ends-of-my-hair hair and that worked out pretty nicely.  I also tried to put together my best millennial outfit and break out the instagram pose, just for consistency’s sake.
The only problem with having a win early in the week was that it lulled me into a false sense of security.  Tuesday I tried to do a french braid.  WHY?  I never learned how to do a french braid and I have very little dexterity when I’m trying to knot hair on the back of my own head.  I didn’t have Sara get a picture of back of my head, because I didn’t even want to know what it looked like.  This picture was taken an hour or so after I twisted my hair into what I hoped looked like a braid and it was already falling out.  Fortunately, I was wearing a turtleneck and pumps to prove that I am in fact an adult and a professional.  I wore red lipstick to try to salvage the hair and face situation, but my hat is off to those women who can somehow knit together a masterpiece on the back of their own head.
By Friday, I had definitely run out of ideas, so I went with a ponytail.  I realized that I use clothes as way to control things that I’m not great at.  Mainly hair.  “Well, my hair is kind of boring, but I’ve got a red shirt on.”  “My hair is mess, but I WILL DISTRACT YOU WITH MY BLAZER.”  And it works.  People assume that I’m a put-together person most of the time.  I’m really not.  I have a million ideas sleeting through my head and a stubborn streak, but discipline doesn’t come easily to me.  But if a blazer makes people think that I’ve got it all together, you’d better believe I’m going to wear that blazer.
The main thing I focused on this week was creating gift guides and thinking about presents!  I love Christmas and I especially love the tradition of gift giving.  The only reason I object to the idea of Santa is that sometimes he’s used as a works righteousness threat.  (Be good or Santa won’t bring you any presents!)  NO.  The whole point of Christmas is that God gave us everything when we least deserved it.  This world was a planet of Grinches and Scrooges and we deserved worse than nothing.  Then God sent His Son and saved us.  He gave us everything.
When we give, we give ourselves.  Love who you give presents to and love what you give.  Watching kids open Christmas presents is the absolute best.  They haven’t gotten to the stage where they don’t know what they want.  They ask for what they want and when they unwrap the thing they really want, there is pure joy.  Adults are trickier to shop for and sometimes we just need some inspiration.  So I made a few themed gift guides to help get your giving going!
Gift Guide: Geek/Nerd/Fan
Gift Guide: Organized vs. Crazy
A few parting thoughts about giving fun presents:
  • Figure out a budget for presents and stick with it, so that your giving isn’t grudging or tinged with guilt.  Antique stores and consignment stores and thrift stores are great places to look for inexpensive presents with a lot of personality.
  • Some people get very burdened by physical possessions.  If you’re trying to figure out a present for somebody who already has too much stuff, give them a gift card to a coffee shop and plan a time to hang out together, or buy them a movie pass and plan a movie night together.
  • Food is a great present.  I adore food presents.  I’m a farmer’s daughter and one amazing thing about farmers is that they give what they grow.  It’s so personal and wonderful.  Growing up, the other farmers would give us tangerines and oranges and almonds and pistachios.  They didn’t grow chocolate, but they also gave us a lot of chocolate and it was the BEST EVER.
  • Don’t shy away from practical presents.  The older I get, the more I appreciate nice socks in my stocking.  I wear socks all the time and nice socks are such a delight!  I was given a little pocket knife one year and that was fantastic.  But I lost it somewhere along the way and I am living a knifeless life.   I should ask for a little Swiss Army Knife for my stocking!
  • Give music!  I signed up for Pandora Plus (because I got sick of listening to ads) and I love it.
  • Give presents that foster a sense of adventure – if they want to travel to Iceland, give them a travel guide to Iceland!  Give them a map of hiking trails in your area.  Give them trail mix and a compass.  Give them a globe.  I loved our globe growing up.

The main thing is to just love your people and give out of gratitude.  Start Christmas off right by having a happy heart!