Ashley Tries Glamour (That Beautiful Illusion)

Awards season is upon us and as I sifted through photos of Golden Globes red carpet looks, I started thinking about the concept of glamour.  What is it, exactly?  I don’t think of myself as a glamorous person, but could I become glamorous for a week, wearing my own clothes and doing my own hair and makeup?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Glamour reads:

  1. a magic spell
  2. an exciting and often illusory and romantic attractiveness

Yes.  To both.  It takes a village to make a red carpet look come together.  Sandra Bullock isn’t home right before an awards show, trying to master a smokey eye makeup look and struggling to do up the zipper on the back of her dress.  She has a whole squad of skilled experts to perform magic and turn her into a red carpet glamazon.  Now, don’t get me wrong, she’s beautiful already.  But glamour isn’t the same as beauty.  It is a hex.  A magic spell.  An advanced marketing campaign.

Glamour is a whole lot of work and I don’t think I pulled it off this week.  But the interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter what I think about the looks.  If other people thought my looks were glamorous, the outfits were glamorous.  Glamour is outward, not inward.  The appearance of confidence is just as effective as the real thing.  I’ll go through the thought process behind each look, starting with…

Day 1: Sleek outfit, big hair

This look came together last minute, because my first outfit plan didn’t work.  Mornings are always a scramble for me, even if I think through my clothes the night before.  Even if I look glamorous in the morning, I never feel glamorous in the morning.  I am not a morning person.  My exterior may be that of a swan serenely gliding across a pond, but my brain is more like the little swan legs underneath the surface, paddling like the dickens.

The rare occasion that I do feel glamorous is when I am getting ready for a party at night and I have time to putter around the bathroom, turn on Frank Sinatra, and wipe off the failed eyeliner attempts and try again until it actually looks good.  In the morning, there’s no Sinatra, there’s no second attempt at eye makeup….. it is what it is and out the door I go.

But on Monday, I did manage to curl my hair a bit and that’s a big deal for me.  If you manage to curl your hair every morning, I take my hat off to you – that’s amazing to me.  I wanted big hair and (since the outfit was Take 2) I wanted a simple, sleek outfit.  Black turtleneck and black skinny jeans were my blank canvas, then I went from there.  I tried a couple different jackets before arriving at this striped black-and-white number.  The stripes give the look some drama and the fit is very sleek.  Then a pair of heels.  Out the door.

Day 2: Dressy outfit, straight hair

This week pushed me outside my normal winter uniform of skinny jeans and sweaters.  This two-tone blue and black dress always seems a little dressy for the office, but with a black wool jacket, it looks very work appropriate.  Yes, it is dressy, but one thing I’ve learned while I’ve been doing this blog is that people don’t mind when I dress up.

Do you save nice clothes for some hypothetical future event?  I do.  But I’m going to try to do that less.  I’m going to pull out my cute professional sheath dresses and get more use out of them!  They can always be dressed down with a slouchy cardigan or a jean jacket.  I can make them work for real situations, not just hypothetical ones.

This was the day I straightened my hair and it was ridiculously easy.  I’m not going to straighten my hair every day, but if I want to look a little more put together and I have two minutes to get my hair looking decent, the straightener is coming out.  Not sure why it hasn’t been part of my hair repertoire in the past.  Maybe it is because my hair is longer than usual right now.

Day 3: Color-coordinated

Since black featured heavily in the first two outfits, I wanted to veer into a different color scheme for Wednesday’s look.  Earth tones might not be everybody’s go to color palette for a glamorous look, but I like a challenge.  I started with the tweed skirt and built the outfit out from there.

Red is one of my favorite colors to wear, and I tried a bright red shirt at first, then opted for a more muted rusty red color.  The shirt is a henley style tee from the Salvation Army and it isn’t much to look at by itself, but with outfits (as with life), it isn’t where you start, it is where you finish.  Buttoning up all the buttons made it look less early-2000s-ish and tucking it into the skirt gave it better fit and proportions.  From there, I picked some stockings and shoes in a similar color scheme – an additional benefit of having sort of matching shoes and tights is that it makes the leg line look longer.  Helpful.

The star of this outfit is the jacket.  The white lightens the whole look, the red ties in the earth tones, the blue adds in a refreshing complementary color… all good things.  The only downside to this jacket is that it has hook and eyes instead of buttons, so my skirt got hooked a whole bunch of times on Wednesday.  Fortunately, there weren’t any major emergencies, but it made me very cautious.  This look is my favorite from this week.

Day 4: Casual, but with red lipstick

Glamour and red lipstick go hand in hand in my mind.  When I’m doing my makeup, I tend to focus on the eyes.  There are couple reasons for this.  1) My eyes are quite little and squinty and need a little more help.  2) I like to drink coffee when I am at work and when I wear bright lipstick, most of it ends up on the coffee cup.  But I do understand the appeal of red lipstick.  Red lipstick is bold and beautiful.  It makes us think of the 1950s (a time we associate with glamour) and old Hollywood actresses (who basically invented what we think of as glamour).

Since this was a particularly rushed morning, I needed the red lipstick magic to elevate this outfit.  My hair was still partially wet when I left my house and I was back to my winter uniform: skinny jeans and a sweater (with a jean jacket for extra warmth).  The red lipstick added the zing this look needed.

Day 5: Wild Card

My coworkers occasionally point out that I don’t really do Casual Fridays.  That’s true.  Friday is usually my wild card day – the day where I pull out the look that I’m not sure will work.  This is my mad scientist experiment day.

This gray sweater is so fabulous, but it isn’t simple to wear.  It is a slightly awkward cropped length and it has tiered bell sleeves.  But I love drama, so I love this crazy sweater.  The skirt is a knit skater style in a neutral houndstooth pattern.  And just to show that the outfit wasn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, I added the bright pink tights.

I didn’t feel very glamorous this week.  I liked the outfits, but there’s something about knowing the process to the final product that doesn’t allow me to take my own style very seriously.  Life isn’t the Instagram photo.  It’s all the moments before and after that one frozen instagrammable moment.  Social media is pure theater sometimes.  I thoroughly enjoy Instagram, but I can’t take it very seriously either.

My advice at the end of this week: don’t chase glamour.  It is an outward projection of what we want people to think about us.  Instead of relying on glamour magic to trick people into thinking what I want them to think about me, I would rather focus on building something lasting.  I want to strive for real beauty.  Not just in my outward appearance, but in how I treat people and how I conduct myself and how I speak.  It is more difficult, but it is so much more worthwhile.

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Christmas Party Style!

When I was little, we had Christmas Dresses.  Those jewel-tone velvet ones with contrasting lace collars, bows, sashes, and possibly some faux-pearl buttons down the front.  I LOVED THEM SO MUCH.  They were twirly and comfy and beautiful, and if you stood over floor vents, they poofed up like parachutes.  It didn’t matter if they were hand-me-downs from cousins or older sisters, those Christmas dresses made us feel so beautiful.

I still loving getting my glitz on at Christmastide, but dressing up does get more complicated as a grown up.  For one thing, grown women are (usually) in charge of choosing their own clothes and buying their own clothes.  Unlike the days of my childhood, a delightfully twirly velvet dress does not magically appear every December.

But without the challenge, where’s the fun?

So here are some ideas for how to handle the happy challenges of dressing for the festive season:

Don’t Fight The Christmasness

I love red, but most of the year, I fight the Christmasness of red.  In December, I stop fighting and let the red shine in all its glory.  If you have a red top, this is the time to bring it out.  Wear red with gold, wear red with white, wear red with green, wear red with plaid – you no longer have to worry about looking like a wrapped package, because it is the time of year to look like a beautifully wrapped present under the tree.

It is the time of year to get all dressed up, so don’t worry about being overdressed or too sparkly!  Tis the sequin season, the All-The-Metallics season, and the bright red season, so enjoy it.

Mix and Match

Separates can be a great alternative to a dress.  You can put together different combinations and customize the formality of the look for the occasion.  A beaded dress is usually only pulled out for very formal parties or weddings, but a neutral skirt (like this black and white polka dot number) can go anywhere.  Pair this skirt with a sweater and ankle booties for work or a cute casual party outfit, or step up the formality with a strappy sequin top and a great pair of heels.

I chose this outfit, because I wanted to highlight some alternative styling ideas for holiday parties.  Choose one element to be your neutral element.  (In this case, the neutral element is the polka dot skirt.  Just to explain my terms a little bit, the neutral element does not have to lack personality and it also doesn’t have be black or white or gray.  The neutral element could be a burgundy sweater or a cool pair of wide-leg trousers.  It is the starting point of the outfit, then we build from there.)  The shape of the skirt helped dictated the other elements of the outfit.  Because it is midi-length, it has a lot of fabric, so I didn’t want to pair a long or bulky top with it.  The top had to be fairly fitted, to balance out the proportions.  I also wanted to the top to add color and personality, so I went with this fabulous pink crane sweater and tucked it into the skirt.  That created the high-waisted look I was going for.  To top it off, I threw on a jacket that I wear more during the summer, because it is white and lacy and light.  I found this jacket for ten euros in a French shop and it always reminds me of white stone and hot sunshine and cicadas chirping.  So it has wonderful memories associated with it, but it went well with the outfit, because it gave me an extra layer without adding bulk, the sheer lace allowed the bright pink of the sweater to peek through, and white tied in with the white accents in the skirt and the sweater.

That might sound like an intense process, but it really wasn’t.  It took maybe ten minutes to throw this outfit together and it looked cute and kept me warm and comfy the whole day!  I didn’t have a part that night, but if I was going to a party, I would have switched out the ankle booties for a pair of heels and put on bright lipstick.  As easy as that.

Simplicity and Dressing With Care

I’m aware that the polka dot skirt / crane sweater / white lace jacket look was a lot of look.  I’m comfortable wearing some pretty bold looks, but I’m also aware that a lot of you are NOT comfortable going that bold, so I pared back the outfit for Wednesday and kept the look chic and simple.  Dark jeans, a black blazer, black ankle boots, and a silvery velvet top.

The funny thing is that I felt more self-conscious and exposed in this outfit, because there is nothing to hide behind.  No patterns, no bright colors, no excess material.  My hair was pulled back, so the whole look was like an arrow to my face.  Don’t get me wrong, I do like my face, but this day was ALL about my face.  It took some getting used to, but it was a good look and it just goes to show that a good outfit does not need a lot going on to be interesting.

It also reminded me of that line, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care” and I kept on thinking about that all week.  Does the care we take about things show up?  Does it matter?  Yes, it does.  The difference between regular “getting dressed” and and festive “dressing up” sometimes just comes down to taking more care in how you get dressed.  Enjoying the process and taking time, even if the end result isn’t a Cinderella gasp moment.  The point of dressing up isn’t to end up looking like a different person, it is to honor the day by putting in a little more thought, a little more time, a little more care.  The results really are beautiful.

Classics Are Classics For A Reason

Little black dresses or red party dresses are almost Christmas clichés at this point, but they are classics for a reason!  A little black dress will see you through almost any party dress code in the world and it can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion.  I’m a big fan of rewearing party dresses.  If you love your dress, wear it everywhere.  You are the only person who will care or wonder if anybody else cares.  I’m wearing this red dress twice in one week, because it makes me feel beautiful!

If you want to switch up the look of a basic dress, switch out accessories or hair and makeup looks.  Wearing your one party dress to three different parties in a row?  Wear your hair down and curled for the first one, wear your hair up for the second one, and straightened and half-up for the last one!  Try a bold lipstick for one evening and a smokey eye with a neutral lip for the other.  But the variety is really so it feels different to you.  If you have a signature look, wear it to every party and shine!

Get dressed with care, then the goal is to go to parties and forget what you look like, because you are having so much fun!  Enjoy the season and celebrate with all your heart.

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Ashley Dresses Like Movie Genres

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time or talked to me in person, you already know that I LOVE costume design.  Great costumes bring me so much joy.  I think good movie costumes advance the plot, provide character development without heavy-handed exposition, and (of course) look amazing.  For this week, I didn’t decided to steer away from iconic costumes as inspiration, because it is easy to get overly costumey.  If I went to work dressed up in a gingham jumper, a white shirt, and red shoes, people would immediately get the Wizard of Oz reference.  They would also give me strange looks, because it isn’t Halloween yet and Halloween is the only socially acceptable time to wear such a literal costume.  So I went a little more meta and put together outfits that gave the right vibes, without being tied to any specific movie.

I loved this week.  If you love costumes and/or movies, you might want to try this challenge yourself!  I searched through my old Polyvore outfit boards to find additional example outfits.  If you didn’t know, Polyvore ceased to exist quite suddenly, but I fortunately was able to download all my past work!  It was so fun to sift through the collages and find applicable boards for each genre.

Foreign Language Film

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For this look, I wanted to channel a retro French film style.  The 1950s Parisian style is still actively referenced in so many ways – slim fit trousers, crew neck knit tops, horizontal stripes, pointed toe flats…. the list goes on.  Audrey Hepburn was in American films, but she was in Paris fashion.  Since the Audrey style is so often referenced, I decided to go for a different icon of the gamine style, Jean Seberg.  You may not have seen any of her films, but you’ve probably worn styles she popularized.  If you’ve worn a graphic or striped t-shirt with skinny jeans and flats, that’s a classic Jean Seberg outfit.

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Another French film that has killer style is Amélie.   The color styling and harmony between the set design and costume design is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s like seeing the color red for the first time.  Just amazing.

amelie costume board

Style lessons to take away from French films:

  1.  A dramatic hairstyle can be your most important and impactful accessory.
  2.  Wear clothes casually.  If you don’t act cool in your clothes, your clothes won’t look cool.
  3.  Sometimes the simplest pieces have the greatest impact.
  4.  Secrecy and mystery are beautiful.  The French idiom “je ne sais quoi” literally means “I don’t know what”.  It’s an indefinable quality that draws people in.  True beauty lies beneath the surface.
  5.  The eyes are the window to the soul.  If you need to decide which feature to emphasize, choose the eyes.

Drama

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I found this charcoal skirt suit in the Salvation Army in the middle of summer.  I had never owned a suit before, but it was such a good fit and made of such lovely material, I decided to buy it.  I couldn’t wear it immediately, because it was (as Cole Porter put it) too darn hot.  But once the weather cooled down and the Drama genre rolled around, the suit came out for the first time.  Nothing conveys Serious and Dramatic like a dark suit.

Since my office is not exactly a suit office, I expected some reactions, but oh my goodness.  I’ve never gotten so many reactions to an outfit before.  I had coworkers doing double takes, giving me nods of approval, and most of all, asking me what was up.  The suit was a total fake-out, because I didn’t have any meetings, events, or interviews that day.  But the suit looked Very Important.  It looked like I was about to brief the White House on an urgent matter of national security.  The jacket made me sit up straight.  Suiting up made me feel sharper and quicker and wittier.

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Tailored clothes make the wearer look intelligent.  Good tailoring is like a British accent for clothing.  People listen to an important looking suit.  Since suits make everything seem more serious, they are perfect for dramas.  When I think of perfectly tailored women’s suits, I think of Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Ingrid Bergman.  Cool, calm, collected, controlled, complex.  In my opinion, the best drama is like the last scene in Casablanca, when every single person needs to make a decision between doing what’s right and doing what they want.  It’s cinematic perfection.  If you haven’t seen Casablanca, you need to watch it.

The power suit has gone through variations, but has always been a staple of dramatic storytelling.  I’ve included a couple of my favorites – Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully from The X-Files, whose sharp suits support her role as the quick clear-minded skeptic.  I think the current queen of suits is Gina Torres’s character Jessica Pearson on Suits.  That show is aptly named.  Everything she wears is a power move.

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Style lessons to take from dramas:  If you want to be taken more seriously, suit up.  Dress like the stakes are high.

Musical

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After the dramatic suit, it was fun to take a complete departure and try a style based on that oft-maligned movie genre, the Musical.  I love a musical.  I’m perfectly happy to sacrifice a little plot if there’s singing and dancing.  But when everything comes together and the plot, the acting, the singing, and the dancing are all stellar, musicals are truly beautiful.  They are the most difficult genre of movie to make and costuming for musicals offers specific challenges that you don’t find in other genres.

Two of the most important aspects in a musical costume are movement and color contrast.  Let’s start with movement.  The costume needs to hold up through exhausting days of filming dance scenes and look good from every angle.  It needs to accentuate the movement and show off the dancer.  It needs to be a crazy mix of practical and beautiful.  Imagine a hybrid of high-performance athletic wear and an evening gown.  Take a look at this still from Swing Time – one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ finest.

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Fred and Ginger make the dancing look easy.  Likewise, those costumes look simple enough, but I can guarantee that so much engineering that went into making Ginger’s skirt twirl perfectly and making Fred’s coattails flare out when he turned.  Fred and Ginger were the very best and they had costumes to match.

Moving on to the second important aspect of a good musical costume – color contrast.  See Fred Astaire’s spats?  They aren’t just there for nattiness.  The white spats are there to draw focus to his feet.  If he didn’t have a contrasting color on his shoes, his footwork would get lost.  The lead performers need to stand out from the background, and sometimes in musicals, that background includes tons of other dancers.  That’s where contrast comes in.   The first musicals were in black and white, so the brightest and darkest shades were reserved for the lead actor and actress, and the background costumes would either be the opposite color or mid-tone shades.

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When musicals transitioned to beautiful technicolor, color became a huge part of the costuming challenge.  Contrast was still the most important thing, but the designers were no longer limited to just black and white, so the contrast usually came from vibrant color, not just shades.  One of the best recent examples is La La Land.  Emma Stone’s character stands out through color – bright blues, yellow, greens, reds.  Ryan Gosling’s character usually stands out through shade – bright white shirts, black trousers, two-toned shoes.  They not only contrast against their surroundings, but they also contrast against each other.  She’s the sun, he’s the moon.  She’s bright and colorful and new, he’s a throwback to the black and white days.  These are storytelling costumes and the results are stunning.

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Style lessons from movie musicals:

  1.  Twirl Factor is important.  When you’re trying on a dress, take it for a spin in the dressing room.
  2.  Contrast is powerful.  Want to stand out?  Wear bright white or a bold color.
  3.  Have fun!  Dance, sing, and wear clothes you love.

Sci Fi

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Science Fiction – the ultimate What If.  The only limits to science fiction are the limits of your own imagination.  And the limits of the costuming budget.  I find sci fi costumes fascinating, because they present the designer’s vision of the future.  The costumes help answer those sci-fi questions.  What will the future be like?  Will we actively reference the past, like we do now?  Will clothing be purely practical?  Will everyone wear the same thing or will clothing still show layers of societal ranking?  Will it be militaristic?  How connected will clothing and technology be?  Will our communication devices be sewn into our sleeves so we can just talk into our wrists?  WILL THERE BE FLYING CARS? I WANT FLYING CARS.  Actually, I want a personal sized dirigible that works by pedaling, so I can just float above the ground and pedal around town and look at stuff.  But that’s not really sci fi.  That’s more steampunk.

If I was in charge of creating a Future Aesthetic for a sci fi movie, I think I would go the route of Retro-Futurism.  This is the idea that Future Us will reference and draw inspiration from the past.  I don’t think clothing ideas will be entirely new, but they will be transformed into something Other.  Clothing comes in cycles – the 1980s were obsessed with the 1950s, but the references looked like the eighties-version-of-the-fifties.  Think Back To The Future or Madonna recreating Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.  I don’t think the future will be any different – the same ideas will keep circulating, but they will change with each iteration.

I hated the storyline of the Hunger Games, but the costume design was compelling, because they drew on the emotion surrounding the Great Depression.  The poor districts are straight out of the Dust Bowl – flour sack dresses and patches and worn out shoes.  The photographs we have from that time are haunting images of desperation and resignation and those images are seared into our minds, so when we see District 12, we already know that this is a people who have been through a tragedy and given up hope.

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Probably the most famous example of retro-futuristic design is Blade Runner.  In the highest strata of society, the fashion is an exaggerated 1940s style, which gives the whole movie a Film Noir feel.  It bends the genre into something new – a future film noir fusion, with Harrison Ford in the Humphrey Bogart role.  The aesthetic of a movie can cross genres and make you see an old story in a new way.

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Style lessons from science fiction:  Our decisions now will influence the next generation, so we should be actively involved in shaping culture now.  We shouldn’t hide from art and fashion and music.  If we want to hand something good down to our kids, we need to step up and make it now.  The past affects the present, so the present affects the future.

Western

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Westerns are America’s mythology.  Cowboys and gunfighters are our version of knights in armor, our Lancelots and Mordreds.  My grandma lives in the desert and we have watched many, many John Wayne movies at her house.  There’s something about watching a western, then stepping out the door into the perfect setting for a western.  Icy night air, bands of cold white stars, bare rock hills, sagebrush, moonlight, coyote howls…. the Mojave Desert is one western cliché after another.

Of all the genres I tried this week, cowboy movies are the most personal to me.  If I got the chance to make one movie, it would be a western.  A good western is a combination of everything – it’s a historical period piece, a drama, an action movie, a character study, a romance, with comedy thrown in for good measure.  Plus guns and horses and hats and all that good stuff.  Actually, I think cowboy movies are the reason I started making hats.  I can never find a hat that is exactly what I want.  I want a Magnificent Seven hat.  One day I will make the perfect Magnificent Seven hat and I will be so happy.

Western style has actually been having a high fashion moment for the past couple of years.  Dior, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren have all had Tombstone moments within the past five years.  It’s in the air.

What do I love about western style?  It is a beautiful style without being purely decorative.  The materials are chosen for protection and constant wear – wool, leather, denim, canvas, metal.  It’s distinctly American, but it comes from everywhere.  The cowboy look has elements from Britain, Mexico, Spain – anyone who came out west had a hand in shaping it.  It has a landscape associated with it and it’s a landscape I know and love.  It has power of myth behind it.

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Style lessons from westerns:

  1. Don’t buy purely decorative clothes.  Have some clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  2. If you need an extra push to feel brave, wear adventure clothes.  Remember, according to Chesterton, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
  3. A great pair of jeans is a gift.
  4. Vests are underrated and we should bring them back.
  5. Paris isn’t the only place with great style.

Thank you for reading!  I had an absolute blast putting these outfits together this week.  Also, if anybody needs help costuming a movie, call me.  I’ll clear my schedule.

Active Contentment

The other day, somebody asked me if I was a “content person” and my automatic knee-jerk response was a heavy sigh.  Or a groan.  I can’t remember which reaction it was, but it was not eloquent.  They probably left that conversation thinking, Wow. Ashley is obviously having some issues with contentment.  They wouldn’t be incorrect in that assumption, because contentment is a heavy sanctification area for me right now.  Contentment does not always feel like my state of being.  But what does it mean to be a content person?  Can I categorize myself as a content person, even if I don’t always FEEL like a content person?  I’ve been thinking about it and here are some thoughts…

Stoicism isn’t contentment.  Placidity isn’t contentment.  Coziness isn’t contentment.  Happiness isn’t contentment.  True contentment doesn’t depend on my willpower, my circumstances, or my feelings.  Contentment doesn’t mean fooling myself into thinking everything is perfect.  Ignoring problems in order to feel warm and fuzzy is just delusion.  A content person does not equal a delusional person.  If everything was perfect, we wouldn’t even need contentment.  If all I needed was warm fuzzy feelings, I could get a giant mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles and call it good.

I keep seeing motivational posters with pretty lettering that say You Are Enough.  I understand that it’s supposed to be encouraging, but that isn’t good news.  That slogan is trying to cover up a gaping hole with decorative lettering.  I know that I’m not enough on my own.  I’m mortal.  As soon as I was born, I started dying.  I’m under a death curse.  I’m not perfect.  My words and actions have hurt people and I’ve been hurt myself.  How could I possibly be enough on my own?

On my own, I can’t make myself righteous or content.  On my own, I’m broken, dying, incomplete, constantly breaking – a textbook example of entropy in motion.  Just saying I Am Enough won’t change that. That’s like putting up signs that say Everything’s Perfectly Fine all over a critical nuclear reactor and expecting the posters to fix the meltdown problem.  The real good news is that I’m NOT enough on my own.  I am in Christ and He is enough.  All I brought with me was my brokenness, my debts, my sin, and my discontent.  All my not-enough-ness.  He healed my brokenness, payed my debts, took the penalty for my sins, and gave me rest in Him.

The rest and peace I have in Christ is my contentment.  I trust in God, because He truly is enough.

Apart from Christ, there are two ways to try and handle the brokenness.  People can try to fix themselves and fill the gaping hole through self-improvement.  They try to achieve contentment by losing weight, getting the perfect job, curating an immaculate house, dressing to impress, getting high grades – excelling in any way they can.  They try to control their environment, because that feels like the only way to control life.  And it’s easy to not worry about being content when you’re too busy to slow down and think, right?  On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people embrace the brokenness as a feature, not a problem.  They focus on loving themselves, flaws and all.  They preach acceptance and tolerance and inclusivity, because they want to feel included and accepted, because those feelings mimic contentment.  If you flip to the end of either of these stories, you’ll see that neither of these methods work.  The Type-A self-help people will work and work and try harder and harder, without reaching a point where they can rest or be content.  It’s like being on a stationary bike – it doesn’t matter how hard you pedal, you still aren’t going anywhere.  The “Love Your Brokenness” group will struggle to maintain the levels of love they want to give to themselves and to other people.  They’ll get frustrated by conflict, feel guilty about feeling guilt, and blame other people’s negativity for bring them down.

Both ways are exhausting.  They are heavy and self-imposed burdens.  That’s why Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  We want rest and contentment, but we can’t get it on our own.

But I know the truth and I still struggle to trust God sometimes.  That’s the sanctification part.  Sometimes I’ll realize I’ve been trying to change on my own.  (If I only try a little harder, I’ll be better.)  It’s hard for me to see it while I’m in it, but I’ll realize it once I’m exhausted and frustrated and burned out.  The temptation usually starts when I look at my circumstances, get scared, and attempt to control or manipulate them somehow.

The following scenario might sound stupid, but it’s very real:  I have four siblings and all four of them are married and each family has four kids.  (Yes, I have 16 nieces and nephews.)  If I allow my brain to start doing the Terrible Math, I am behind everybody else.  I’m missing one husband and four kids.  The Math preys on the mind, because it’s all about comparison. Everybody else is a unit of six and I’m still just a unit of one.  I’m behind and I’ll never catch up.  I’m 31.  There isn’t enough time.  Why don’t I have a family yet?  Then I try to figure out what’s wrong with me.  Why am I not married yet?  What is the matter with me?  Then feel like I have to fix whatever is wrong with me before I can move forward with my life.  It feels like it’s my fault for not knowing what’s wrong AND not knowing how to fix it.  So I’ll be stuck forever.  Maybe if I’m prettier – maybe if I’m thinner – maybe if I’m friendlier – maybe if I’m more outgoing  – maybe maybe maybe maybe.  All of this internal monologue and accompanying temptation happens faster than I can even express.  The randomized guilt hits fast and hard and goes straight for the gut.  I know it doesn’t make sense.  I know God loves me and that he is telling the best story with my life.  He isn’t trying to manipulate or torture me.  He’s got everything under control and He loves me more than I can even begin to comprehend.  I thank the Lord that contentment does not rely on my own performance, because I’ve had to confess my lack of trust so many times.

That’s why I choked when somebody asked me if I’m content.  I don’t feel like I’m always content.  But that’s a feeling and contentment isn’t a feeling.  I wish contentment could be as simple as breathing.  I want to swim through contentment like a fish.  I want to soak in contentment like a warm sunbeam.  But it isn’t that simple.  Contentment isn’t passive.  It isn’t enough to sit still and hope contentment just happens to me.  With every change in circumstance, there’s a choice – whether or not to trust God in that circumstance.  It requires vigilance and active trust.  I can say I am a content person, not because I’ve reached some mythical balance in my life, but because I trust God and I’m content in Him.  I’m not trusting myself to never fail.  I’m trusting Him never to fail me.  And that’s enough.

Ashley Goes To Hogwarts!

Last week, I had a wonderful birthday and then caught a virus, so I was out of commission from Wednesday to Sunday.  Since I needed some extra momentum, I decided to do a really fun challenge this week!  Fall puts me a bookish adventure mood and October always puts me in a costume frame of mind, so I decided to draw some bookish inspiration from the Harry Potter series.

My challenge:  put together an outfit for each of the Hogwarts houses, drawing on the house colors and traits.  

Right at the get-go, I’ll fully admit that I’m not a dedicated Potterhead.  I just enjoy the books (and most of the movies), so I leave the intensive trivia to my friends.  It’s very similar to my relationship with Star Wars.  But I do love the whole aesthetic of Hogwarts and the pageantry that comes with school houses and (being me) the costumes are mainly what I remember.

Monday: Ravenclaw

You know those Harry Potter fan friends I told you about?  Well, last year one of them threw a theme party where we all were sorted into houses (via a quiz) and I was sorted into Ravenclaw.  That’s flattering, because Ravenclaw is the most academic of the houses. Witty, clever, sharp, surprising.  Luna Lovegood, my favorite character, comes from Ravenclaw.  All very cool.  I was happy to start off the week in a Ravenclaw state of mind, because I needed all my wits about me.

The house colors are blue and bronze.  Since most of my wardrobe is blue, it wasn’t difficult to put together this outfit.

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I wanted this outfit to give academic uniform vibes without looking like a costume.  So I kept to a subdued color palette and added texture details.  I loved wearing this outfit.  The elements are very simple (jeans + sweater + blazer), but it looked sharp and I felt sharper than I had in days.  After being home sick, I always feel like my brain is trying to catch up.  This was a great way to start the week.

The clothes elements were very basic, so this outfit needed details to make it feel like Ravenclaw.  Knit scarves are one of the most iconic elements of Hogwarts uniforms, but I didn’t have four rugby stripe scarves to wear each day.  So I chose a gray scarf that reminded me of Hogwarts, but kept with the navy and gray color scheme.  The white stripe on the navy sweater also helped give the impression of a school uniform without going into the whole white-collar-with-tie thing.  For the bronze accents, I added my favorite heels (a bronzey faux snakeskin pair from Clarks) and some long earrings.  Voila!  A smart, sharp, blue-and-bronze Ravenclaw look!

Tuesday: Hufflepuff

I always feel a little sorry for Hufflepuff, the most underappreciated Hogwarts house.  It feels like a catchall for the kids nobody else wanted to pick.  Ravenclaw for the smart kids, Slytherin for the ambitious kids, Gryffindor for the brave kids……and Hufflepuff takes all the rest.  Hufflepuff is the alto section of Hogwarts houses.  But looking at the attributes of the house, I want to be more like a Hufflepuff.  They are hardworking, loyal, kind, down to earth.  They are also great at finding things and keeping plants alive, two attributes that I DESPERATELY WANT, BUT DO NOT HAVE.  Some notable Huffles include Cedric Diggory and Newt Scamander, who are two of the kindest and noblest characters we encounter in the magical world.  They are in-the-bone kind.  I’d rather be kind than clever or powerful or bold.  But the good thing is that we don’t have to choose.  We can be clever, ambitious, brave, and deeply kind.  There’s probably one attribute that we’re more drawn to and one that we need to work on, but they all need each other.  Hufflepuff is great.  It’s not an afterthought house.  Kind, hardworking, loyal people will always be in high demand.

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Poor old Hufflepuff – their colors are yellow and black, like a bumblebee.  Or a taxi.  At least they have a cool house animal, which is a badger.  I definitely felt like a honey badger on Tuesday, because honey badger don’t care.

This was the only outfit I needed outside help on, because I don’t own any yellow clothes.  But I’ve always admired my sister’s goldenrod yellow sweater and I was curious if the color would suit me.  It is pretty adorable.  But the adorable sweater is also very warm, which is why I chose to wear a comfy skirt (for the very practical purpose of airflow and not sweating at work).  After all, Hufflepuffs are practical and don’t care about looking sleek.  I was considering wearing skinny black jeans, because I knew skinny jeans would look better with the sweater, but it was more practical to wear the comfy skirt and not overheat.  Admittedly, not the sleekest look, but SO COMFORTABLE.  I may have to buy a yellow sweater myself!  So cheery and cozy.  (But I probably still wouldn’t pair it with black.)

Wednesday:  Slytherin

I didn’t have any trouble assembling a Slytherin look.  I own a ton of black.  I’m also more than a little dramatic and have great villain eyebrows.  Also, ambitious and sometimes shrewd.  Good at keeping secrets.  Yeah, there’s a lot in there.  But ambition (and eyebrows) can be used in a positive or negative way.  It’s all about who’s in control of who.  If my eyebrows and ambition controlled me, I’d be in big trouble.  As long my eyebrows and ambition are under control, it’s okay to have copious amounts of them.

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I wanted this look to be sleek, strong, and a bit more magical than the last two.  Slytherins WANT to use magic and look powerful.  Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs could probably adapt pretty well to muggle life, but Slytherins wouldn’t like muggle life at all.  The Slytherin colors are green and silver, their animal is the snake.  Pretty stereotypical bad guy colors, because the green makes us think of poison and snakes and silver reminds us of the always changing moon and the inconstancy of water.  While black isn’t technically part of the color scheme, can you imagine somebody who graduated from Slytherin NOT wearing black?  I can’t imagine Professor Snape in any other color.  So I chose black as the base, then layered on the green jacket.  The jacket isn’t a very strong green, but it green enough and it has a power shoulder that went so nicely with the theme.  This jacket is the most wizardly item of clothing I own.

I do wear a lot of black, so I wanted to make this outfit a little more interesting by adding texture.  The sequins kept this black on black from looking drab and matte.  Also, sequins look like snake scales (very on brand for Slytherin House).  The jacket is a faux suede, so that added a little textural dimension as well.  I added my favorite black oxfords and a pair of stabby silver earrings that look legitimately dangerous.  For added sharpness, I pulled my hair back into a high ponytail and added a little more eyeliner than I would normally use.  I’d definitely wear elements of this outfit again, but probably with different earrings (to soften it up a little bit).  I love the idea of looking sleek and intimidating, like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, but it’s not a natural look for me and it usually takes more effort than I want to put into it.

Thursday: Gryffindor

Gryffindors are bold, courageous, nervy, and chivalrous.  They are hero material.  If Hufflepuff is the alto section of the Hogwarts choir, Gryffindor House is the soprano section.  You can always tell where the Gryffindors are, because of all the loud boldness happening.  It is easy to get annoyed at Gryffindors and other extroverts, but when I get annoyed at extroverts, the annoyance is tinged with envy.  I envy their nerve.  I envy their loudness.  I wish I had effortless charisma and confidence.  Courage does not come naturally to me, but that’s why I work on it.  Because a life without courage is a life that never changes. A little more Gryffindor wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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I was kind of rushing out the door on Thursday, so I relied on Gryffindor confidence to see me through with this outfit.  Fortunately, the Gryffindor colors are red and gold.  It’s pretty easy to look confident when you’re wearing bright red.  The blazer gave that feeling of a uniform without looking too much like a school child.  I wanted my hair to have lots of volume and feel like a lion’s mane, because the Gryffindor animal is a lion.  I don’t know how to do good hair and it just turned out normal/sort of curled.   But it had a bit more volume than usual and just the knowledge of effort made me feel cute all day, so it was a win.  

It’s finally cold enough start wearing these brown boots again and I’m so happy about that.  They are sturdy and comfortable and give me so many adventurer-steampunk vibes.  I actually forgot to add anything gold, but gold earrings or a cool necklace would have been a great accent to this look.  Believe me, I kicked myself when I realized that I had neglected one of the house’s signature colors.  But I did wear my glasses, because Harry Potter.  The whole idea of this outfit was just to feel confident and courageous and I think it did just that.

Friday: The Monster Book of Monsters

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Once I went through all houses, I had an extra day and I decided to go for the gusto and be the Monster Book of Monsters.  A magical book about magical beasts.  So I had owls on my shirt and dragony shoes and so much faux fur.  It was such fun.  One thing I realized this week was that I love having a secret, so I just might do it again.

Asking About Accessories (For a Friend)

Accessories aren’t just for fun, but they are one of the easiest ways to add fun to an outfit.  That being said, I’m not very knowledgeable about accessories.  I’m more interested in clothes.  Usually the fun in my outfit comes from the clothing, whether it is bright color, prints, patterns, or texture.  My accessories are usually more pragmatic.  I carry a purse because I need it to hold all my stuff and I wear shoes…because it isn’t socially acceptable for me to be barefoot all the time.  So in my outfits, accessories are usually supporting cast, not stars.  But for a lot of people, it’s the exact opposite – the accessories are the stars of the show and the clothes take supporting roles.

Shoes

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I don’t dislike shoes.  I like them on other people.

Shoes really can elevate an outfit, though.  And I’m not just talking about high heels, which literally making women taller.  That’s an added bonus.  The simplest jeans-and-tee outfits can be beautified by a killer pair of shoes.  They don’t need to be heels, but one of the hidden bonuses of heels is that they change the way you stand.  So if you wear a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of really cool flats, be sure to have great posture.  The posture sells the outfit.  And ladies, you can tell when a heel is too high – you can tell when you’ve reached your shoe height limit when you can’t walk in them.  We all have our limits and some of us are more limited than others.  I’ve seen some women glide over the ground in stilettos and I’ve seen some women struggle with two-inch wedges.

Be honest with yourself about how well you can walk in a pair of heels and also about how much they hurt, THEN decide whether to wear them to something fancy.  Some shoes are so pretty that the baby-giraffe-level unsteadiness seems worth it, but will it be worth it after the first 45 minutes of the event?  I used to choose aesthetics over function for parties, but at this point, I know that my feet should not hurt after just walking from my car.  That’s why I exclusively buy shoes from brands that cater to middle-aged women with back issues and they have words like “comfort” or “memory foam” in their descriptions.  Oh, who am I kidding?  If the shoes are fabulous enough, I’ll probably ignore the consequences and wear them anyway.

Caring about shoes isn’t just a girl thing.  For a lot of men, shoes (especially sneakers) are way to be into fashion without it seeming weird.  It’s a socially acceptable guy way to care about fashion.  I personally don’t think that the high-end men’s sneaker trend is going to last for another decade, so my advice would be don’t invest too heavily in it right now.  A good pair of leather shoes will outlast them all.  You should ideally have a pair of black shoes and a pair of brown shoes, but if you had to choose just one, I’d suggest black.  Brown shoes can’t replace black shoes for anything formal.  Good solid men’s shoes can be expensive, but the shoes also tend to last and be versatile.  A quality shoe is an investment, but a worthwhile one.

Purses

At various times, I’ve thought, “Okay, Ashley.  You’re an adult now.  You invest in a nice purse and have that be your purse for years and years.”  But that sounds like a lot of commitment.  What if I don’t like the purse in two years, but I still need to use it to justify the amount of money I spent on it?  What if I put it down on the ground and then a water bottle tips over and the purse sustains water damage?  What if I routinely stuff too much stuff in the purse and the straps strain and eventually break?  (That’s happened to me before.  But that was more the case during school, when my purse was also my book bag.)  It almost feels like the responsibility of buying a pet.  AM I RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH TO TAKE CARE OF A REALLY NICE PURSE?  My answer is always no.  So I buy a cheap purse at Ross or Marshall’s and use it until it until the straps fall off.  (Repeat.)

I love the idea of having an elegant high-end bag, but it would need to win me over.  It would have to be a thing of beauty.  A joy forever.  A bag that I wanted to look at every day for years and years.  Until I find that one, I’ll buy inexpensive purses and use them until the handles fall off.  I’m using this small pink one from Salvation Army right now.

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If you love purses and are ready to commit to a beautiful investment bag, think through the pragmatic side first.  Purses don’t have to match your clothes, but they should either blend with your wardrobe color scheme or be a good complementary color that provides a nice contrast.  Complementary colors are on the opposite sides of the color wheel.  For example, blue and orange are on the opposite sides of the color wheel.  If the predominant color in your wardrobe is blue, a warm cognac brown bag would contrast beautifully against all of that blue, because brown is the neutral form of orange.  If your whole wardrobe is black and gray, you could either keep that up that theme with a black purse or go very bold with a bright color.

Beyond color, you need to figure out what size you should be looking for.  That involves thinking through how much stuff you need to carry around on a daily basis.  If you always carry a laptop, look for a bag with enough room for a laptop.  Otherwise, you’ll need to carry it loose in your arms (a recipe for disaster) or you will need two bags (a bit much).  If you don’t want to carry a whole lot of stuff, you might want a small purse – it forces you to pare down what comes with you.  Enforced minimalism.

But the most important thing is that you love your purse and think it is beautiful.  On a purely practical level, a purse is just a sack to carry our things in.  We could all carry our possessions around in plastic grocery bags and it would serve the same purpose.  But beauty is important to us, even more than we realize.  It’s a lovely thing to have a pretty purse and I’m keeping my eyes open for a great one!

Hats

I’m very into hats right now, because I’ve been trying my hand at hat making!  I started a couple of months ago and made a conscious effort to figure out as much as possible on my own, only consulting the internet when absolutely necessary.  The internet is full of entertaining tutorials and advice and yelling, but I’ve realized that if I fall down a tutorial rabbit hole, I just watch the tutorials and run out of time to make the real things.   And the hard way has always proved my most successful learning system, so the hard way it was.

So I bought my wooden hat block, found raggedy old hats, steamed, reblocked, and retrimmed them.  It is a long process and it is so much fun.  This little blue number is the first hat I made:

This yellow hat is my third attempt:

Here’s what you need to know about hats – people notice them.  If you want to blend in, hats are not the way.  You need a certain amount of confidence and commitment to choose to be a “hat person” and I’m not even sure if I’m a hat person yet.  Hats get a lot of attention and I’m not used to that.  I love the process of making them and I love the hats themselves, but I’m not used to wearing them on a regular basis.

NOT ALL HATS ARE CREATED EQUAL.  Not all hats will look good on you or match your personality, so (like purses) it is worth looking around until you find one that you love.  Using my hats as examples, that little blue hat is not a good hat for me.  I wanted to try wearing it once, because it was the first hat I ever made, but it really is rough.  It looks like a lumpy blue fez and fezzes aren’t cool (no matter what Doctor Who says).  In the photo, it looks kind of cute (in a Zooey-Deschanel-quirkify-your-life sort of way), but in person, it looked legit crazy.  I had people avoiding making eye contact with me on that day.  No hat is better than the wrong hat.  But the yellow hat turned out much better and it feels amazing to have a bespoke hat that fits perfectly.  I love that hat.  A great hat makes wearing a hat fun, not awkward.

If you want to wear hats, but are intimidated by them, start by wearing a hat when the situation calls for one.  There are situations where hats are completely practical, like working outside in the sun.  But just because it is practical doesn’t mean it can’t also look great.  Like cowboy hats.  Real cowboy hats look amazing.  They are practical and personal.  If you live in a cold climate, winter is a great time to try a hat, because hats keep you nice and warm.  You could go for a simple beanie, but if you want to step it up, try a wool beret or a cloche style.

Well, I’m going to wrap up this post, even though I know I haven’t been comprehensive.  If there are other accessories you would like me to write about, let me know!  I’m always ready to try things out.  This post made me realize that I’m far more practical about accessories than I am about clothes.  Not that I don’t choose practical clothes, but beautiful clothes move me emotionally.  I’m far more likely to fall in love with a Kate Spade jacket than a Kate Spade purse.  For you, it may be the complete opposite, so start thinking about things you really like.  There are always practical considerations to keep in mind, but accessories are very personal and it is so important that you enjoy them!

 

 

 

How to be a Sharp Dressed Man (as told by a Woman)

Here are my qualifications for writing about men’s clothing:

  1. I like clothes.
  2. I like people.
  3. I’m observant.
  4. I have opinions.

Those are pretty good reasons, but I don’t have any specific qualifications.  For instance, I don’t fully understand men’s sizing charts.  So I will caveat the heck out of this post and put in many disclaimers along the way, like the conscientious data researcher I am.  I just want to tell the truth and be helpful.  Those are two of my main goals in life.

Gentlemen, get out your notepads and pencils, because I’m going to tell you how to step up your style.

Men tend to change their style at life transition points – when they leave for college, when they start a new job, when they start dating, when they get married, etc.  Women tend to change their style when they when feel like they need a life transition.  That may be one of the reasons why men’s style hasn’t changed drastically in the past hundred years.  The materials and fits have changed, but there is more equilibrium and stasis in men’s clothing.  If one of my brothers wore my grandfather’s navy blazer, it would look sharp, but it wouldn’t necessarily stand out.  If I wore my grandma’s dress, people would say, “It’s so retro!”  Women’s fashion changes more.  Men tend to keep their clothes for longer and wear them out.  That’s why most thrift/vintage/consignment stores will have more limited selection for men – the men are still wearing those clothes or the clothes are completely worn out.

So if you are at a transition point and want to change your style, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Fit

Men, fit is the most important element of style for you.  Let’s break down how individual pieces should fit:

Shirts

A good shirt will fit through the shoulders without pulling.

You’ll be able to tell if the shirt is pulling if there are stretch lines across the back or gapping buttons in the front.  Now, I know it’s easy to avoid the tightness problem by going too far in the opposite direction, because I’ve seen tons of guys wearing shirts that are two sizes to large for them.  You can tell the shirt is too large when the shoulder seams are too wide and do not hit your shoulder.  If the shoulder seam is somewhere on your upper arm, the shirt is way too big.

The shoulder fit is the most important.  The second is how the shirt fits through the body (basically everything that isn’t sleeve).  Most of the time guys do not tell me their fashion woes.  I am left to figure their woes out on my own.  But the rare exception is shirt fit – they tell me all about that problem.  Apparently, it is very difficult to find a shirt that is long enough without drowning in excess material.  In America, there’s a preconceived notion that if you are tall, you are also wide.  If you are tall, but not wide, it’s probably best to search for slim fit shirts.

If the shirt fits through the shoulder and the body, the sleeves and collar are the last and finest details.  The ideal sleeve fit long enough to hit just past the wrist bone and show just a sliver of the shirt when you are wearing a jacket.  The ideal sleeve width is wide enough to be comfortable and allowing for movement, but not poofing out.  We should know roughly what your arms look like and you should have enough room to roll up your sleeves if you want.   (Disclaimer:  I know that some fancy shirts do not have sleeve buttons and require cuff links.  I honestly don’t know much about cuff links.  If the shirt fits well, how the sleeves fasten doesn’t matter much to me.)  As far as the collar goes, you should be able to button it without choking to death.  That way you can wear a tie without looking like your are attending your own hanging.  Believe me, I’ve seen many grown men look desperate at the mere thought of putting on a tie.  Well, tough.  Ties are required sometimes and that’s just how the world works.  I was asked about my opinion on collar buttons and I’ve thought about it.  I don’t mind them, but I think a collar looks cleaner and sharper without buttons.  That being said, they look fine – they just make the shirt look much less formal.  They make me think of checked farmer’s shirts, which I have a great fondness for, because my dad is a farmer and he wears his checked shirts every day and they suit his job.  For a formal shirt, I would look for one without collar buttons.  For a work shirt, wear whatever suits the work you are doing.

Now I can hear what you are thinking.  It sounds very difficult to find a shirt that fits in all those ways.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to wear clothes that are a size too big and not worry about the sizing?  Yes.  It would be easier, but easier is not the goal here.  I want you to look handsome, respectable, and like you care.  I don’t want you to look like those high schoolers working at Olive Garden who were told they needed a white shirt, so they all buy identical oversize white shirts to wear with their restaurant-official black ties and aprons.  Do they look like they want to be there?  Nope.  Looking like you care counts.  It counts for a whole lot.  The bar is set very low for men’s style and you can easily go beyond looking okay.

Trousers

Don’t worry – trousers are much simpler than shirts.  Trousers should fit at the waist with enough room to tuck your shirt in.  Ideally, they should fit well enough that you don’t need a belt, just in case there’s an emergency and you need your belt to make a stretcher or a tourniquet or something.  You don’t want to be overly dependent on the belt.

They should be long enough to touch the top of your feet.  I don’t want to see your socks when you’re standing up.  When you sit down, your trousers will get a bit shorter and then it’s okay to see your socks, but if your shoes are leather, those socks should not be white.  White socks are okay with sneakers or slip-on canvas shoes, but if you are wearing white socks with dress shoes, I’ll disown you.

Jeans should be worn loose enough for comfort – your comfort and the comfort of others.  Also, there will never be such a thing as dressy sweatpants.  They just look like pajamas.  I know that “athleisure” is a fad right now, but it’s already on its way out.  The athleisure trend has been great for the people who primarily wear workout gear, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that it looks dressy or professional.  Athletic clothes and sweats are great for working out in and sleeping in and taking your friend to the airport at 3:30 in the morning, but not for work. Not even the grocery store, really.

Jackets & Suits

I love jackets.  If you live in a climate that is too hot for jackets, I’m sorry for you.  They cover a multitude of fashion sins.  Most shirts look perfectly fine under a blazer, even the ones with stains or big sleeves.

If you are in a climate that allows for jacket-wearing, I highly recommend them.  A good jacket should fit through the shoulders (are you sending a theme here?), have enough room to fit over a shirt and a light sweater without looking lumpy, and sleeves that hit at the wrist bone.  A jacket doesn’t have to be formal, like a blazer or a sportscoat, but those styles do look great.  Bomber styles or basic jean jackets can be versatile casual options.  Here’s the rule – the more casual a jacket is, the larger it can be, because you need to do more in it.  If it is too tight to work in, it’s impractical.  The more formal a jacket is, the better it needs to fit.  That goes for most clothes.  The clothes need to be appropriate to the situation.  Speaking of appropriate situations, let’s talk about suits for a minute.

I think every grown man should own a suit.  There’s probably at least one guy out there who thinks he has absolutely no use for a suit and never will in the future either.  If you know any people at all, a suit will be appropriate at some point in your future.  Weddings, funerals, business meetings, interviews, parties.  There will be important times you are called upon to celebrate, to mourn, to witness, to take joy in.  The older you get, the more you will be called upon, because you will know more people and have more responsibility. Suits show respect to other people and, in turn, gain respect from other people.  So work toward owning a suit.  If you can’t afford one right now, that’s a perfectly good reason to not own one, but start saving up for one.  It is a good investment.

There are specific rules for how the ideal suit should fit and how it should be worn.  Once again, the shoulders must fit well.  The sleeves should be slim, but allowing room for movement.  The trousers should not wrinkle up around the ankles – they should hang straight and just cover the top of the shoe.  It all sounds like something out of P.G. Wodehouse, doesn’t it?  It reminds me of the moment when Bertie Wooster asks his valet the important question, “There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'” “The mood will pass, sir.”

Jeeves, as always, is correct.  The trousers matter.

As to how a suit should be worn, the lowest jacket button should never be buttoned and the same goes for a suit vest.  Don’t button that lowest button.  It just isn’t done.  When standing, the top button should be buttoned, but you should unbutton all jacket buttons when you sit down.  That seems like a lot of math, but it’s fairly simple.  Two button jacket?  Just button the top one.  Three button jacket? Definitely button the top one, but the second button is optional.  Vests can stay buttoned when you are seated, except for that lowest button.  I only learned all of this recently, but it makes sense.  All clothes become more constricting when you sit.  The ideal suit should fit perfectly when you are standing, so the jacket would be a little tight to sit down in.  Nobody wants an overly tight jacket, especially at a dinner.

Wow – that post covered a lot. I don’t feel like I have room to really do justice to styling and accessories this week, so this will be Part 1 and next week we will go beyond fit and deal with shoes, ties, hats, haircuts, etc. Send me all your questions!

I hope at least part of this post was helpful – if not, please let me know! I am far from an expert on this and I love learning new things and hearing from you all.