Ashley Tries Fierceness

When you skirt around the edges of the fashion world like I do, it is good to have a contrarian streak.  Fashion People are really good at telling you what you’re supposed to wear.  Some of their pitches are more convincing than others – I personally don’t think they are succeeding with the “culottes are the best” trend that they trying to push right now, but they’re really going for it.  My first reaction to most things is an immediate NO, followed by a grudging I’ll Think About It (if it is really something I should think about).  Anyway, the point is this:  as a 29-year-old single woman who works in a male-dominated field, there are assumptions and suggestions and outright commands that the fashion industry feeds me all the time.  I am supposed to be asserting myself, being (hashtag) Fierce, commanding attention, being unafraid of my own sexiness (like Beyoncé), and generally being (hashtag) Like A Boss.  That’s a whole lot for a woman to impose on a woman who just wants to do good work and get along with people.

img_0508-1.jpg

Day 1:  Punchy Professional

I started off the day with a pretty simple outfit – professional, but with some eye-catching color.  Red isn’t easily ignored – definitely not a color that you wear if you want to be ignored.  The high heels also helped with making my presence known.  Those heels make me look people in the eye that I’m not usually at eye-level with.  They are also loud.  I prefer flats, so I can run silent and run deep, like a submarine.

The most time-consuming part of this week was the hair and makeup, because I think that an aspect of fierceness is looking like you are in control and exercising an intimidating amount of control over your own look – like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.  So I put on more makeup than I usually do and tried to look flawless and sharp and defined.  I don’t know how to do makeup, so my execution let me down a bit, but effort counts, right?  Doing hair is even more problematic than putting on makeup.  In the end, I straightened my hair, because straightening isn’t too hard.  It definitely gave me some mean girl in an early 2000s high school movie vibes.  But I guess that works, because who is in more control of her image and appearance than an apparently flawless high school mean girl?

The good thing about this ensemble is that it helped jump-start my Monday morning.  It felt business-like and kind of powerful.  Ready to go, ready to dive in.  The extra time spent getting ready also translated into being a little more awake by the time I got to work and I looked even more awake than I felt.  The overall outfit didn’t look that different to other people, except that people complimented me on my makeup, but it felt very different to me, because it was more calculated and more controlled than my usual look.

Day 2:  Bigger and Wider

Another aspect of fierceness that I’m fascinated by is fierceness as a defense mechanism.  It’s like moths – not the ones who blend in to protect themselves, but the ones whose patterns mimic eyes, so birds think it is a larger animal and stay away.  I felt a little like those moths this week.  I shall make myself taller.  I shall make myself appear confident.  Do I look like I have all the answers?  Because I really don’t, but maybe if I look like I do, people will assume that I know all the right things to say.  Even if I look fierce, I don’t feel that fierce, but the high heels definitely make me feel more confident.  I think it mostly has to do with the improved posture and the additional height that comes from the improved posture, plus however many extra inches the heels give me.

I pulled out my wide-leg black pants for this outfit, because they look so businessy that I usually don’t wear them.  I work in an informal office, so I sometimes shy away from really professional clothes.  A suit definitely isn’t on my list of clothes that I should own.  So after beginning with the wide-leg trousers, I added a horizontal stripe shirt and a slightly oversized white moto jacket.  Basically all the things that make you appear bigger.  It was an overwhelming outfit, but I wanted to make it work.  First thing I did was tuck in the shirt (something I don’t like doing) and wore a skinny black belt.  That lessened the stripe factor and made my legs look longer, because the trousers hit slightly lower than my natural waist.  The pink high heels were multi-taskers for making this outfit work – they continued the long legs illusion and added some color to an otherwise neutral look.

It was raining that day and I knew that my hair wouldn’t stay straight, so I curled it and tried to make it big.  I love big hair.  I just don’t know quite how to make my hair look big or how to make it stay big.  My hunch is that it would involve hairspray, which always seems like a big deal to me.  Hairspray reminds me of ballet recitals and plays, not real life.  Red lipstick also reminds me of recitals and plays, but I’m trying it more in real life these days.  The pink shoes were providing some color, but they weren’t near my face, so I added some red lipstick.  ALL THE THINGS.

I enjoyed this outfit.  Since it was neutral, the drama came from the volume and the proportions.  The outfit that doesn’t seem like it should work and then unexpectedly works is a happy thing.  I live for tiny victories.

Day 3:  Drama on Drama

I was given this dress and I LOVE IT.  It gives a nod to the 1940s with the fit and flare silhouette and the sleeve length.  It reminds me of Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday – she’s a force of nature, speaks more words in one minute than most people can speak in 15, and stands up to anyone and everyone.

Usually I’d dress down something this bold and pair it with a jean jacket or a navy cardigan, maybe wear flats with it.  But dressing things down wasn’t part of this week’s agenda, so I wore this red cardigan with it.  I don’t think this was my most successful outfit this week.  A little too Hildy Goes Fox Hunting or something, but great fun.

One thing that felt strange about dressing fiercely was the timing, because my family was in town this week and I was happily surrounded by nieces and nephews.  My heart melts around babies and I just go into Auntie Ashley mode, which usually involves monster voices and this kind of thing:

It’s hard to be intimidating with such a furry hat on and it feels funny to wear nice clothes and then be wandering around in the fuzzy ear hat.  Fierceness is about having some hard edges and when I’m around my family, I don’t have them.  A baby smiles at me and I melt into a puddle.  Hard on the outside and soft on the inside – the clothing becomes unnecessary armor.

It’s a similar situation with work.  I don’t have to compete.  I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.  I don’t have to defend myself and I don’t work with jerks.  I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.  I trust the people I work with and they trust me.  I don’t need armor there either.

Day 4:  Time to Rock and Roll

After a few days of drama, I wanted to take it down a notch.  There were a lot of different plans on Thursday and since I was going to be going from place to place, I just wanted something simple.  Truth be told, I love a little rock and roll in an outfit.  If I had a band t-shirt, this would be the kind of styling I would do – skinny jeans, boots, jacket.  I love this jacket, because it has structure through the shoulders and has the classic tilted moto zippers going on, but it’s also super soft and drapey.  The combination doesn’t scream rock and roll, but all together, it just feels cool.

I wore more eyeliner than usual and straightened my hair again.  That also felt cool.  It wasn’t a ton of eyeliner, it was just more than I’m used to.  (Story of this week:  I felt different, but didn’t LOOK all that different.  A possible moral is that I should probably do my hair more.)

Day 5:  Is this like Beyoncé?

The last day, I opened up my closet and thought, “What would Beyoncé pick out of this closet?”  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think of Fierce and Beyoncé as fairly synonymous.  Whatever she wears is hailed as the New Fierce Thing.  It’s hard to keep up, because her styling changes constantly, but the two common factors are Sexiness and Drama.

It’s not that I can’t do the sexiness one, but I’d probably get an email from the human resources department and my baby nieces would be very confused.  So I went for the drama option – something that is a lot of look and needs attitude to pull off.  I have this tiered maxi dress with a beautiful and tons of volume.  I own it, but I’m a little scared of it, just because it’s big.  But Friday is go big or go home day, so it had to be that dress.  To cover up the spaghetti straps and make it more work friendly, I layered and knotted a black t-shirt over it.

High ponytail, black eyeliner, light lips.  Still more makeup than I’m used to, but not enough to worry other people.

This week was a lot of work.  It felt labor intensive, because I for the most part, I don’t worry about looking like I’m in control or looking perfect.  Defensive dressing is putting on armor, but wearing unnecessary armor just weighs you down.  I’m confident without it.  I don’t need to force fierce.  I don’t need to make people respect me, because I’m already respected.  I thank God for that, because I know that isn’t always the case.  So all the single ladies (all the single ladies), you don’t have to be fierce if you don’t want to be.  It’s okay to just do good work and get along with people.  Hashtag LikeANormalPerson.

Ashley Tries: Pattern Mixing

This week, I tried out pattern mixing.  I didn’t think that putting together outfits would be too difficult this week, because I have a lot of prints in my closet.  The funny thing is that only have print in certain kinds of clothes – tops and dresses.  I don’t tend to go for pattern for skirts or trousers.  That being said, there are ways to get creative and mix things up, no matter what you have!

Outfit 1:  Subtle Pattern + Bold Print

You may be thinking, “Um, that top doesn’t have a pattern…”  Here’s a closer look:

See?  The top’s not a solid color – it’s got that tiny gray stripe going on.  This is a good baby steps version of pattern mixing for anybody who gets a little intimidated by the idea.  I went for this skirt, because it has a print (yay!).  It’s also a skirt I don’t wear all that often, because most of my tops have a print or a pattern, so it’s harder to make it work in an outfit.  Once the skirt was established, it determined the color scheme.  It was Monday, so I didn’t want an intense outfit – I wanted something pretty chill and simple.

Keeping to a color scheme can help unify a look – pattern mixing doesn’t haven’t to look super busy.  It was also nice to have a long blue cardigan to pull the outfit together, but even without the cardigan, the top/skirt combo works.

It was nice to start off the week with something subtle, because the success gave me something to build on.  Like they say – don’t despise the day of small beginnings.

Outfit 2:  Stripe + Abstract Print

I went bolder on the second day, because print dresses are definitely my comfort zone.  For this outfit, the stripes take on the role of a neutral and the more abstract print takes center stage.  Usually when mixing patterns, choose one dominant pattern and one supporting pattern.  The dominant print will usually be more eye-catching – usually it’s more artistic or more brightly colored or just larger than the other print.  The supporting pattern will be something simple for the eye to process – stripes, dots, checks, etc.

This dress is a great mix, because it has cool bold pattern, but in a subdued color palette.  Blue, white, and black all function as neutrals, so it’s easy to throw any kind of jacket or sweater over this dress.  By matching part of the dress’s color scheme, the stripes don’t take away from the print.

Outfit 3:  Floral + Leopard

I found this happy dress for a steal, and I was so excited about that I wanted to wear it immediately.  The day was pretty warm, so I decided to pattern mix with an accessory, not layers.  Pattern mixing doesn’t have to be purely a cold weather sport.  Here’s a close up on the belt/dress combo:

Leopard is a fun print to use for the supporting role, because it is simple, repetitive, and combines two neutrals.  Animal prints can be hard workers for your closet.  Stripes are usually my go-to neutral print, but leopard is running a close second right now!

For the summer, accessories are a great way to add visual interest to your outfit without dying of heat stroke.  You don’t have to sacrifice comfort for fashion.  Have a striped shirt?  Add a denim skirt and floral shoes.  Have floral jeans?  Throw on a polka dot tank top.  You can be creative with fewer pieces.  Keep cool.  Enjoy summer in style.

Outfit 4:  Dots + Florals

This is my new favorite dress – simple enough to throw on without thinking, but with enough detail to stand alone, without needing accessories to make it interesting.  For those sunny days that start out chilly, add a floral scarf.  Once you don’t need the extra warmth, tie the scarf on your purse strap.  It’ll still add color to your outfit and then your outfit will just be simple, like this:

Man, I’m going to wear this dress so much this summer.  I know it’s already arrived for my California and Texas friends, but in Idaho, summer takes on a legendary quality.  SUMMER IS COMING AND IT WILL BE BEAUTIFUL.  And this dress will become a part of the legend.

Outfit 5:  Dots + Florals

After a couple days of using accessories for pattern-mixing, I felt like it was time to go big.  Since I quickly ran out of print skirts, this is a floral dress with a print t-shirt tied over it.  The great thing about layering a shirt over a dress was that I could wear the shirt at my natural waist without worrying about exposing my midriff.  I could essentially wear a crop top, but without the unwanted skin-baring.  It was really fun to wear.  Especially with those shoes – they are pretty-darn-high wedges with poofy flowers on them.  They make me feel like I should be dancing the cha-cha in a flower-filled courtyard somewhere.

This outfit made me remember the point of mixing prints, which is to HAVE FUN.  Don’t be too analytical about it.  If you try it once and you bomb, give it another try.  Keep trying different combinations until you find one you like.  Enjoy the sunshine and enjoy your clothes!

Ashley Tries: Denim on Denim

I got a request to try wearing denim on denim this week – this one has been great, because this is an area where I make a ton of arbitrary rules for myself.  When I create these fashion barriers for myself, I rule out a lot of outfits from the outset.  When you worry less, suddenly your wardrobe contains a whole lot more potential outfits.  (Funny how that works!)

Outfit 1:  Denim Shirt + Jeans

I only own one denim shirt and I don’t wear it all that much, partly because of all those rules I make up (more about those as we go along), but also because it is a buttondown.  Shirts that button tend to gap on me and I sometimes (okay, most times) don’t want to mess with them.  The reason I bought this particular shirt was that jeans shirts seemed to be all the rage, but I didn’t think you could wear a blue jean shirt with blue jeans.  So I bought a gray one.

This was my most apologetic outfit this week – I wore black jeans with a gray denim top and I felt super boring.  That’s why I added a busy jacket – it has quilting detail, contrast zippers, and a bird print.  I also wore red lipstick, which I don’t usually wear.  There’s something about gray that makes me feel like I fade into the background, like I’m a cement block.  So the outfit didn’t start out promising for me, but it grew on me.

I started out not liking how basic the the black and gray jeans looked, but once I got over that, I saw that it was a great blank canvas.  It provided a backdrop for drama – the jacket and red lipstick were the stars of the show.  Simplicity is not my default, but it can be refreshing.  It was a good start to the week, because it made me loosen up and change my mind.

Outfit 2:  Blue Jeans + Jean Jacket

After easing into the week, I decided to break the first and most important of the Ashley Denim Rules.  Don’t wear a Canadian Tuxedo.  What is a Canadian Tuxedo?  It’s a blue jean jacket and blue jeans and I don’t know why it is called that, but it is.  I don’t mind the look on other people, especially farmers.  Farmers look legit all the time.  That’s because they care more about the functionality of their clothes than how their clothes look.  I care so much about how my clothes look that I sometimes give up functionality altogether.  SOME OF MY JEANS DON’T EVEN HAVE WORKING POCKETS.  Farmers wouldn’t put up with that for a second.  Anyway, I’ve always felt the Denim Squared look is one of those looks that can only be worn successfully if you don’t think about it.  And I think too much.  Obviously.

I made it a bit more girly with a dotted tee, my grandma’s flower necklace, and pointed flats.  I admit the necklace was a distraction maneuver (DON’T LOOK AT THE JEANS, LOOK AT THIS NECKLACE).  But it wasn’t really necessary – apparently nobody but me cares if I wear blue on blue.  Actually, people liked the look, and by the end of the day, I liked it too.  The nice upshot of all of this is that I won’t worry about throwing on a jean jacket over jeans.  Denim jackets are the perfect weight for spring and I probably will be wearing this one a lot in the near future!

Outfit 3:  Polished Denim

By day 3, I’d already exhausted my denim top options, so I asked my friend Sara to lend me some chambray.  What are friends for?

This blue chambray top had a beautiful tailored fit, so I paired it with dressy pair of jeans – they’re a J. Crew pair I found at a consignment store.  After adding print in the first two outfits, I felt like I should keep everything simple and streamlined.  The fit elevated this outfit.  The darts and shoulder style give the shirt a 1940s feel and very dark wash jeans always feel more dressy to me – the combination felt like a cool mix of conventional and modern.

Black heels were in keeping with this outfit – the peep toes give them a little 1940s vibe, but they are practical and solid.  That’s how this whole ensemble made me feel – professional and put-together, but with a bit a vintage, a bit of attitude, and a killer fit.  Nothing much added, nothing to jazz it up.  I guess good fit is my comfort zone.  If something has a fit that I love, I don’t add distraction pieces.

Outfit 4:  Patterned Denim

This dotted denim shirt also belongs to Sara and it is so comfortable.  I need to keep my eyes open for a chambray shirt, because I see their value now.  The dot pattern and the looser fit of this shirt made it more casual than the last one, so I decided to emphasize the playfulness with some pattern mixing and a light color scheme.  By this point in the week, I was comfortable with denim on denim.  Isn’t that cool?  Four days and my stubborn little opinions changed.

This outfit felt cute, comfy, easy-breezy.  I also want to give a shout-out to my great old Payless shoes.  These babies are workhorses – as it turns out, mushroom color goes with everything.  Who would have thought?

Outfit 5:  Rufflepalooza

On the last day, I returned to my own jean shirt, because I had exhausted my top options.  Since I’d already worn the top, I wanted to style it completely differently.  This denim wrap dress is pretty cool – it was a Ross find from a few years back.  In the summertime, I’d normally wear it over a bright tank top.  In the wintertime, I’d style it with a black turtleneck and boots.  But nothing this week was a normal styling choice for me, so I decided it was time to go big or go home!

The wrap dress gave the gray jean shirt a different vibe – it was reminiscent of a uniform, which I don’t mind at all.  The whole look leaned towards a Dust Bowl / Great Depression aesthetic, so I couldn’t wear ankle boots or oxfords (it would have been too on-the-nose referential).  So I pulled out the spiked wedge sneakers.  These shoes bring a smile to my face and that’s what this outfit needed.  It needed some humor and eccentricity.

I’m really glad I tried this one – it pushed me out of some assumptions that I didn’t even realize were issues.  Why is there such a difference between What Other People Wear and What I Wear?  I never minded when other people wore denim on denim on denim, so it’s hilarious that I had so rules for myself.  It all comes down to self-consciousness.  One major thing I realized this time around is that I’m deep-down afraid of being a Boring Person.  That’s why I wear clothes that make me feel like an Interesting Person.  So when I have a simple outfit on, I’ll put on red lipstick or a crazy necklace or a huge scarf.  Just to feel like I’m seen.  I try so hard not to blend in with the wall, but people see me no matter what I wear.  They notice me more than my outfit.  That’s a big comfort.

Please keep sending try requests!  Thanks to Medora for the denim on denim question.

 

 

Ashley Tries: The Fancies

I think we all have those things in our closet that seem too fancy to wear on an ordinary basis.  But are they?  I’ve heard of “dressing down” clothes, but does it actually work?  This week, I tried dressing down some of my harder-to-wear fancies and I was pretty happy with how it worked!

First fancy:  Sequin Top

I found this top at a consignment store and bought it because SPARKLES, but haven’t worn it that much, because sparkles.  But it is a good top – the fit is nice and it’s from Ann Taylor (therefore quality).  It definitely deserves to get worn more.  But how to wear a sparkle shirt to work and not feel overly dressed-up?  In this casual climate, Sparkly Top + Jeans + Heels = the dress code for Going Out For Cocktails With Girlfriends.  I wasn’t going out for cocktails.  I was going to work.  And jeans were still my best option, so I needed Flats.

At that point, I had sparkle top + jeans + flats, all solid colors and all dark.  So I either needed something bright or something print, to set off all the dark colors.  I was in more of a monochromatic mood, so I decided against a bold color and went for a bold print blazer in neutral colors.  So the outfit ended up being sparkle top + jeans + flats + print blazer.

It was a cool outfit – I felt like kinda rock-and-roll, like a bass player in an all girl rock band.  Not the lead singer, who would need a more attention-grabbing outfit, but a casually cool background musician.  Not trying too hard is the essence of cool.  I think the success of the outfit came down to the shoes.  If I had worn heels with this outfit, I would have been self-conscious about being too dressy.

My takeaway from this outfit:  If the outfit looks too much like a Going Out For Cocktails outfit, wear flats.  Also, I really like the mix of sparkles and print.  That’s pretty cool.

Second fancy:  Major Shoes

These shoes are a lot of shoe.  They have black and white and gold and straps and buckles and the things.  They are beautiful and intimidating, so I usually find myself going for another pair.  It’s like if you’re recording an album and you have to decide between a diva who is notoriously difficult and doesn’t play well with others, and a singer who is almost as good, takes direction well, and gets along with all the musicians.  It’s tempting to pick the solid singer and not deal with the diva.  Sometimes you don’t want the drama.

That’s how I feel about these shoes.  But they have so much going for them, I really should wear them more.  I didn’t want anything too matchy, so I tried to limit the black in this outfit.  That ruled out black pants, so I went for a pair of maroon skinny jeans.  That way I also didn’t have the blue jean problem of trying to figure out whether to go for a light, medium, or dark wash.  Because there are codes and standards and self-imposed rules that we believe about jeans.  Sometimes it is easier to bypass the blue jeans and all the arbitrary denim rules by choosing jeans in a completely different color.

I wanted some print, because that made the first outfit look pretty cool, so I grabbed a dark floral top.  Because everything was leaning towards dark colors, I decided against a black jacket (and a black jacket would have made it look more formal than I wanted).  A light grayish/tannish tweed jacket lightened up the whole look.  I really enjoyed this outfit and it reminded me of all the things I love about those crazy shoes.  I’m going to be more relaxed about what I wear them with and just use them the way I wear black pumps.  Don’t be afraid of the diva shoes – learn to enjoy the drama and don’t worry about it!

My takeaway from this outfit:  Your statement shoes probably go with more than you think!  Do you have fancy shoes left over from a wedding?  Give them another try.  Heels can literally (and figuratively) elevate an outfit.  Life is too short to afraid of your own shoes.

Third fancy: Velvet Skirt

Between the cranberry velvet and the satin cummerbund belt, this skirt falls squarely into the Christmas Party realm (especially if I paired it with the sequin top from that first outfit).  It looks so christmassy, it seems a little wrong to wear it in the springtime, but there isn’t any real reason not to wear it and velvet is very in right now.

The first decision I had to make was whether to tuck the shirt in.  NO.  It was a pretty easy decision, because I think the skirt waistband looks a little fussy and cummerbundish.  Also, there’s a random button.  Also, it is satin.  So it’s a hard no on the tucking in – the added benefit of untucked shirts is that it kicks the formality down a few notches.  I went for a black and white buttondown shirt that is loose and long, then added a green jacket a bit shorter than the shirt.  A shorter jacket cheats the eye into seeing a longer leg line and draws some attention to your waist.  I needed all the leg help I could get, because I wore flats with this one.

My takeaway from this outfit:  If you don’t like one aspect of a piece, cover it up.  Nobody needs to know that shirt has weird sleeves – wear a jacket.  Nobody needs to know how low the neckline is on that dress – wear a sweater on over it and pretend it’s a skirt.  Nobody knows and nobody cares.  It’s a comforting thought.

Bonus outfit:  Easter Shoes!

This one came before I set the challenge, but I loved pulling out the crazy bridesmaid shoes for Easter.  I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure whether they would match the tone of the dress and the jean jacket.  But I COULDN’T RESIST BECAUSE THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL.  That is all.  Check out all the crazy sparkles!

I enjoyed this week – it made me realize that I put some clothes into an arbitrary Wear Only For Special Occasions category.  And they don’t have to be off limits – it’s not like they are beaded ball gowns.  I feel like I got some of my clothes back.

Live boldly!  Wear your pretty things!  Enjoy the things you have while you have them.

Thanks for reading my blog – if you have anything you want me to try, let me know!

Costumes & Someone Else’s Story

Beatrice
What’s the difference between clothes and costumes?  It’s a good question to ask around Halloween (one of the more socially acceptable times to wear costumes around town).  The distinction isn’t between normal and fantastical, because some costumes look like normal clothes and some clothes can look other-worldy or bizarre or fantastically beautiful.  In a performance, costumes are designed to tell stories.  So is the distinction between clothes that tell stories and clothes that don’t?  I’d argue no.
All clothes tell stories, but the difference comes with the story.  Your clothes tell your story.  Costumes tell somebody else’s story.
A helpful experiment is to switch your point of view and pretend to be a costume designer.  This is a happy game for me.  Ever since I was little, costume designer has been at the top of my list of Jobs I Want When I Grow Up.  This is the same list as the glamorous jazz singer… and the Indiana-Jones-but-a-girl museum archivist….and the unflappable secret agent (or all of those in some kind of combination). But clothes came first.  I’ve been obsessed with fashion and costumes for as long as I remember.  Around age 12, I started checking out design history books from the library and studying costume design, focusing on Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1960s and all the famous costumers (Adrian, Orry-Kelly, Cecil Beaton, Edith Head, the list goes on).  Weird hobby, I know.
Once you look from a costumer’s point of view, it’s hard to stop.  I didn’t realize how much I did, until last year, when I went to a local production of Romeo and Juliet and spent most of the play mentally redesigning all the costumes.  Permission to geek out a little bit?
In my dream production of Romeo and Juliet, the set, lighting, and costume design would be centered around two lines.  There’s that one line that everybody knows from the balcony scene, when Romeo asks, “What light from yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”  The second comes from Friar Lawrence in Act II, “These violent delights have violent ends/ And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,/ Which as they kiss consume…”  Juliet is the rising sun.  Juliet is a consuming fire.  Costume design will help illustrate the arc of Juliet, from the first quiet sunbeams to the scorching destruction of her zenith.
The very beginning of the play would be in shades of gray, because Juliet (the sun) hasn’t appeared yet.  There wouldn’t be color until the moment Romeo sees Juliet at the party.  That moment is dawn.  After that, nothing can stop the sun’s rising.  As soon as Romeo and Juliet meet, it’s the equivalent of a ticking time bomb – that’s what the friar means when he says they are fire and gunpowder.   Juliet would enter in sunshine yellow – a color that connotes youth, innocence, energy, friendliness.  Romeo plays the moon, the counterpart to Juliet as the sun – he would wear shades of gray when he is by himself, because the moon produces no light by itself, it only borrows light from the sun.  When he is with Juliet, his costumes start showing hints of white, because he reflects her light.  By their wedding day, Juliet’s color would deepen to a bright gold and Romeo’s colors would lighten to gray and white – it is their mid-morning.  Then the seeds of violence from the beginning of the play start to sprout and the death counts start escalating.  Romeo is exiled and separated from his light source – he returns to his gray clothes.  During his exile, Juliet grows in resolve and passion – her clothes start showing tinges of red, like flame edges.  At the beginning of the play, she’s the first cool rays of dawn, but by the time Romeo returns from exile, she’s the scorching heat of summer.  She’d burn down the whole world to be with him.  The sun has terrifying power – it’s 93 million miles away and that still seems too close when it beats down at midday.  The play ends at high noon- the height of her beautiful, but destructive power.  She ends in flame red, he ends in black.  Their ending is the explosion that Friar Lawrence anticipated from the beginning – when fire and gunpowder kiss, they are both consumed.
That came from two lines of text and it’s just an example of how much thought goes into designing a world.  A costume designer has to know their characters.  The more detailed the character analysis, the more the costume can tell us.  What do the characters love?  What do they want?  What scares them?  Where do they come from?  How much money do they have?  What colors speak to them?  What secrets are they hiding?  When we’re watching a movie or a play, we agree to play along.  Without our imagination filling in the gaps, it doesn’t work.  The first time we see the main character, we subconsciously fill in their backstory before they say their first line.  That has everything to do with costume storytelling. We invest in those characters for two and a half hours and figure them out by every decision they make – what they decide to say, what they decide to do, what they put on in the morning.
We are used to this judgement process in a movie setting, because that is part of the game.  But how does it work in real life?  We usually try to fight against that impulse. We are told we shouldn’t form opinions based on appearances – don’t judge a book by its cover.  Why not?  When I meet somebody new, they are a puzzle to me.  If I care about them at all, I will invest some thought into finding out who they are.  Unlike the movie character, they didn’t spring into existence when I walked into the room.  They have a real backstory, not one that I assume or make up.  You can never ask all the right questions to get to know somebody, but you can know a lot about somebody by their reactions and their choices.  Be observant and pay attention to people.  Be interested in the real stories around you.  That girl who is taking your order leads a parallel life to you.  Unlike Juliet, she exists all the time.  Juliet exists (very dramatically) for three hours at a time.  So pay her the compliment of wondering about her and her story.  Try to figure out a little bit about who she is.
When we say “don’t judge on appearances”, I think we mainly just don’t want other people judging us.  I know that’s the case for me.  This blog post has worked me over, because I took a step back and asked, “If there was a character who dressed like me in a movie, what would I think about them?”  I didn’t like it.  I cried.  But as long as it teaches you something, don’t avoid it just because it’s hard.
Two big questions to start with:  what does this person love?  What does she fear?  Based on Ashley’s clothes, I’d say that she loves colors and interesting prints and textures and is enthusiastic about her interests.  She loves other people, but she doesn’t get too entangled in other people’s stories.  She doesn’t dress to attract guys, but she’s not dressing to repel them either.  In the movie, she’s the observer, the romantically neutral character – the protagonist’s best friend or an eccentric coworker.  Her main fear is being overlooked and ignored. Being invisible. Her bright colors are to avoid fading into the background.  She wants to be noticed on her own terms – as an interesting person with a sense of humor and things to say.  She’s just scared that nobody cares enough to ask.
So judge by appearances.  Don’t rely on people telling you everything.  Be willing to invest in the lifetime pursuit of learning about people. Make guesses.  Be genuinely interested.  Figure out what they love.  Figure out what they fear.  Just be willing to figure yourself out at the same time.

Grown Up Cuteness

Necktie

 

There are some very cute trends from the runway this fall, which is nice.  I don’t like walking into a store and seeing nothing feminine.  (If the season’s styles are boring and/or colorless and/or downright ugly, clothes shopping can be really tough….)  I keep trends in my peripheral vision, because they will determine what I’ll have to work with.
Some of the trends I’ll be keeping my eyes open for this year:
  • Velvet, faux fur, all the softy-kind fabrics.  [I would probably go for very small quantities, because of the richness.]
  •  Extravagant sleeves [I’ll admit, I now am the proud possessor of a sweater with tiered ruffle sleeves.  J’adore.]
  • Renaissance / princess style [think bodices, long skirts, square necklines, rich fabrics..kind of like Ever After.]
  • Floral prints [you know how I feel about floral prints]
  • One-shoulder or off-the-shoulder tops and dresses [when I was little, one shoulder dresses were the essence of elegance and I still love the idea]
  • Ribbon ties [tie-neck blouses, especially]

Those are ideas that will be floating around this fall.  The next step is figuring out how they work on you and how they would fit into your life.  So let’s get practical about finding clothes and apply the principles we already have to the looking process.  Because we’re grown ups and if we think about what we are buying, we can love our decisions when we get home!

These are the main things I think about when I go shopping:
  • Start with the four practical questions (so you can be intentional about your clothes):
    • What time is it?  [Is it appropriate to the season?  This applies to those super cute clothes that are completely unsuited to the climate you live in.  You probably don’t need a down coat if you live in Los Angeles.  Even if it’s cute.]
    • Where am I going?  [Will it work for the places you go all the time?]
    • Who do I need to respect?  [Think about the people you see all the time – how can you show them respect through your clothes?]
    • What are my responsibilities?  [Can you do everything you need to do in that article of clothing?  Try sitting down.  Bending over.  Raising your arms.  If you can’t do those things, that’s a problem.]

 

  • Then I move on to my “do you like it?” questions:
    • Does it fit correctly?  [This is really the most important question to answer.  Don’t buy clothes for your next size.  Buy clothes for your now size.  Be honest in the dressing room, because dishonesty in the dressing room leads to a closet full of clothes that almost fit.  That’s the worst.  Have trouble with dressing room honesty?  Take your brutally honest friend and let her tell you if things work or not.  A good friend is the best mirror!]
    • Does the color look good on me?  [It doesn’t matter how popular a color is – if it makes you look like death warmed over, don’t wear it.  I know Pinterest likes mint green.  But make sure mint green looks good on you, not just on that Pinterest-Pixie-Dreamchild on your phone.]
    • Is there something you like about it?  [This seems like an obvious question, but sometimes we go to the store and come back with clothes we don’t like.  Why do we do that?  Sometimes we buy out of a feeling of obligation or desperation.  If you don’t like something about it, don’t buy it, because you won’t wear it!]
    • Does it feel nice?  [Is it good quality material?  This is one of the reasons I don’t like shopping online – I like to feel all the fabric.  Crisp cotton, tweedy texture, stretchy jersey….they all have their own special qualities and they make me happy!]

 

 

Clothes Scenario: Work

Pajama Style

 

This week, a friend asked me, “Can you do a post on how to dress for work?”  The answer is YES.  We’ll start with our four practical questions and go from there.
  • What time is it?  For a lot of us, work goes from morning to evening in every season.
  • Where are you?  The workplace.
  • Who do I need to respect?  Managers, coworkers, customers, and clients.
  • What are my responsibilities?  To deliver consistent, high quality work.

I’m keeping the answers pretty generic, but fill them in with specifics – specificity helps narrow down what you need to rise to each occasion.

Personally, the time question presents the biggest challenge for workwear, because that is a lot of time!  When you pick an outfit for a cocktail party, it’s okay if you pick a semi-painful (but beautiful) pair of shoes.  It’s a limited amount of time, and if it’s a good party, you’ll take off your shoes to start dancing anyway.  When you’re at work, you are there all day and there’s no chance to try again (and you have to keep your shoes on, because going barefoot is unprofessional).  You’re stuck in that outfit until five, so picking an uncomfortable outfit can ruin the whole day.  Keep the season in mind, but also keep the temperature of the building in mind.  Freezing air conditioning in the summer can turn you into a sundress-clad ice cube.  Over-enthusiastic heating in the winter can make anybody in a sweater a sweaty mess.  I advise layers.  Then you can thermoregulate.  Even in the summer, I keep a light sweater in my desk drawer (for temperature emergencies).

While time is the hardest challenge, appropriateness is the most important.  For clothing in general, if you can see up it, see down it, or see through it, DON’T WEAR IT.  Overly sheer clothing isn’t a new problem – in 1945, Emily Post wrote, “Also wear clothes that properly cover you….Many a [manager] has asked that a girl who inclined to dress in transparencies be transferred.”  Don’t own a slip?  Buy one.  Is the neckline too low?  Get a camisole.  Slips and camisoles might seem outdated, but they work.  They’ve literally got you covered.

Miss Post also warns against anything that makes it difficult to do the job or that is distracting.  “Above all, avoid wearing clothes that need constant arranging.  If you have to keep fussing at your belt or your neck or your wrists, if anything dangling drips into things or catches on knobs or typewriter keys, discard the distracting detail quickly.  It is not necessary to sacrifice prettiness to exaggerated sleekness as on horseback, but the nearer you can come to avoiding everything that interferes or catches, or keeps getting out of place, the better.”  I’m a fidgety person anyway, so any time I wear a bracelet, I play with it constantly.  That would be okay if I were the only person in the room, but I have coworkers.  If my jewelry is constantly jingling or making noise, or if I’m always fiddling with my clothes, it’s distracting to everybody who can see me or hear me.  Don’t keep other people from their responsibilities – respect them by allowing them to work.

It really depends on where you work, but obey any written dress codes.  (This falls under the respect question.)  That may seem obvious, but it can be easy to make excuses in order to wear what you like.  For work, it’s more important to wear what your employer requires, rather than to wear what you want.  If it’s a casual workplace without a dress code, you should still feel free to ask your manager what would be best.  Feel free to dress up more than other people do, if dressing a little more formally makes you feel awake and ready to get to work.  The motivation for how you dress makes a difference – when you’re at work, prioritize work.  Don’t dress to get the attention of your cute coworker – your attempts might derail their concentration, but will definitely derail you and your concentration.

Last piece of advice – there’s no rule that work clothes have to be boring!  Wearing a great outfit can help you feel confident and that confidence will help with the thousands of little decisions that you have to make during the day.  If you have to wear a suit, get it tailored.  Don’t just wear it because you have to, but because you want to and because, incidentally, it looks fierce and amazing.  If everybody at your office wears jeans, dress up those jeans with a blazer and a print blouse.  Or wear a dress.  Why not?  Go above and beyond.  Dress like you want to be there!