Weight and Body Image

I may come across as confident, but let me tell you, I’ve been scared about writing this post all week.  Weight is personal.  Very very personal.  The only time it’s okay to ask a woman’s weight and age is when that information is going straight into a medical file.

Weight affects us every day.  All humans weigh something.  Earth’s gravity pulls us all and keeps us grounded (quite literally).  And since humans are living creatures, our weight changes constantly.  Usually the changes are tiny and imperceptible, but our cells stay constantly busy.   Over the course of seven to ten years, almost all your body’s cells will be replaced by new cells.  Isn’t that amazing?  The human body is like New York City – there’s construction going on all the time.  Old buildings are being replaced or repaired, new buildings are going up.  It’s mind-melting complicated and amazing and humbling and definitely not something that I consider every day, but I should.  With all the internal turnover going on, it’s amazing that my lungs and heart and muscles keep working so well that I don’t even think about them.  Occasionally, I’m concerned about my how brain functions (or how it doesn’t), but that’s mainly a perception issue.

Weight is a by-product of being alive.  That’s a happy thought, isn’t it?  Always start tough conversations with gratitude.  If the tough conversation takes place in person, start with gratitude and a cup of tea.  Or a glass of wine.  Since this conversation is happening over the internet, we’ll at least start with the gratitude.  That’s one of the major drawbacks of the internet – I can’t offer you a cup of tea while we talk through all this stuff.  (Feel free to take a tea or wine break.  I’m making myself a cup of tea right now.)

Let’s face it.  When we talk about weight, we aren’t usually referring to the specific amount of pull that this planet’s gravity exerts upon us.  If I’m talking about my weight, I’m referring to my body, how it looks, how I perceive it, and how I think others perceive it.  We all have body issues.  Humans have had body issues since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.  When their sin shame kicked in, they tried to cover themselves with leaves.  One of the very first changes after sin was how Adam and Eve viewed their bodies.  It was only one of the symptoms of shame, but it is such major one.  Our bodies are the closest thing we have to worry about and we’ve been worried about them ever since.  Everything changed at the point of that first sin.  For all of history, humans have been trying to get back to the Garden of Eden, back to that pre-sin, pre-shame, pre-curse life.  We want perfect lives, perfect bodies, perfect environments.

One of the most common body issues is misplaced shame.  We’re ashamed that our bodies are not perfect and that we don’t have perfect control over our bodies.  The second issue is more damaging than the first, because we want the godlike power to make ourselves “perfect”.  That was the appeal of the forbidden fruit in first place – the serpent sold Eve on the sin by telling her that she would be like God.

Most of the time, we keep our body issues fairly low profile – out of the way, out of sight, but not out of our minds.  For example, many women I know want to lose five or more pounds.  I include myself in that list.  For many of us, chasing a smaller body is a default state of being, like dogs chasing cars.  What would happen if we actually got what we are constantly chasing?  Would we suddenly be content and stay the same size forever and ever?  Of course not.  If I suddenly lost five pounds, I would probably automatically want to lose to five more pounds.  Then five more and maybe an extra five after that.  I’m so used to wanting it, that it has become a habit.  Being content at one size seems too self-satisfied, doesn’t it?  Distrust anything that makes contentment seem wrong.  When I’m talking about weight, I always feel the need to state (to anybody that will listen) that my body isn’t in the exact state I would wish it to be in.  That’s embarrassing to even admit.  But it’s true.  Of course my body isn’t perfect.  It never will be.  But I still feel the need to apologize for the general state of things, as if at some future date (when I have worked hard enough), my body will finally perfect, living up to all my exacting standards and expectations.

That’s like a new home owner leading a tour around the house in the middle of remodeling and constantly apologizing for the unfinished state.  The implication being that the house will be perfect once it’s finished.  Until then, the flaws are an embarrassment.  The problem about thinking that way is that our bodies will never be perfect and we can so easily fall into misplaced shame and into the trap of control issues.  One place I see this all the time is when new moms say (or imply), “Sorry – I haven’t lost the baby weight yet.”  There’s no need to apologize for that!  You brought a baby into the world!  There are many physical and emotional results of having a baby and every one of them is a testament of how you sacrificed your body, your time, your blood, and your energy to bringing a baby into the world.  So please, don’t feel shame over those physical changes.  Even if your body changes forever, even if you never lose the baby weight you very much want to lose, your kids are more than worth it.  I love you, moms.  I am especially grateful for my mom – she had five c-section procedures to have us all.  Thank you, mom.  So to all the moms out there – I know that it is emotional and difficult when your body changes drastically and it is so hard when your pre-baby clothes don’t fit how they used to.  Childbirth is a sacrifice that doesn’t end with labor and delivery.  It is a very real reminder of something that is easy to forget – life is sacrifice.

Our bodies are poured out on the altar, either in sacrifice to the one true God or to a false god.  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”(Romans 12: 1-2)  In the words of Eric Liddell, missionary and Olympic runner of Chariots of Fire fame, “It’s complete surrender.”

There’s an easy test for seeing if you have idolatry going on in your life  – an idol is anything that you are willing to commit sin for to get or to keep.  While this seems like an easy test, it is very easy to misdiagnose.  Sin is slippery.  Keep an eye out for common sins that can go hand in hand with body issues – envy, discontentment, covetousness, pride, complaining, forming factions…the list goes on.  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s thigh measurements.  It can be easy to think that the ideal body you want for yourself is a happy, harmless dream or just evidence of your high standards for yourself (it’s a good thing to have high standards, right?).  But when you see somebody else who already has that ideal body, the body you wish was yours, does a little envy spill out?  Do you tend to form friendships with women at or below your own “attractiveness” level, because you are afraid of being in direct comparison with really beautiful women?  In sin moments, I have shied away from friendships with beautiful women, because I didn’t want to be compared with them.  Pride is so debilitating.  It keeps us from doing so many things.  Another classic move is to assume that beautiful people are shallow, unintelligent, or unaware of what life is all about.  That’s pure pride speaking right there, because it’s trying to set up a competition with such specific rules that we think we can win.  (I may not be beautiful, but at least I’m smart, which is more than I can say for Person X.)  These are pretty egregious examples, but there are all the little things as well.  When a tiny sigh of comparison escapes as you scroll past an Instagram post of a friend looking outstandingly beautiful.  When you assume insincere motives, like when a friend gives you a compliment and you immediately assume they don’t mean it.  When you turn to the very attractive idea of “body positivity” for validation, because if we can’t make ourselves perfect, the next best thing is to pretend that we are perfect already.  How insecure ARE we?  The answer to that question:  when we’re sinning, there’s almost no limit to our insecurity levels.  And keep in mind that insecurity doesn’t just pounce on the chubby.  Envious Insecurity, a.k.a. Pride, is an equal opportunity pouncer.

But knowing a problem isn’t enough – how do we address the problem?  What should we DO?

Put your trust in God, not in yourself.  Read your Bible and pray and draw near to Him.  Insecurity doesn’t go away through self-belief.  True security and confidence can only be built on Christ, the true Foundation.  Trying to build security on self-confidence is building a house on a sand dune during mudslide season.

Confess sin as it comes up.  Call it what sin what it is, not what it calls itself.  Sin blinds us to what is really going on.  Envy is so fundamental to how the fallen world works that sometimes it doesn’t even look like a sin to us – it seems perfectly reasonable.  (See René Girard’s works on mimetic desire and scapegoating for a much better treatise on this subject.)

Thank the Lord for the body that He gave you.  Contentment isn’t a static state.  If you are actively pursuing losing weight, pray for contentment in the midst of transition and the discipline to keep going.  Losing weight in theory is very simple – cut down on daily caloric intake and be active.  Losing weight in real life can feel like a second job.  But trying to lose weight in a desperate attempt to perfect yourself, or out of envy, or out of of any of the various forms of body idolatry will make the process almost impossible to maintain and even when if works, it is unfulfilling.  That’s why starting with a prepared heart is so important.  Rely on God for the strength you need.  Don’t try to draw it out from deep inside yourself.  Work in the knowledge that you can’t make your earthly body perfect.  Christians can take comfort that we are a part of Christ’s perfect body now and we also can look forward to the day when we have new incorruptible bodies.  Until then, serve the Lord with all you have – mind, body, spirit, strength.  It’s total surrender.

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Where WILL flattery get me?

They say flattery will get you anywhere, but will it really?

This week’s challenge was Ashley Tries Unflattering Clothes.  You (like my friends) might ask, “Ashley, why would you choose to wear unflattering clothes for a week?”  You might even through in a “What’s wrong with you?” for good measure.

Here are some answers to that valid question:

  • Sometimes this blog gets all serious and challenges like this can swing it back towards being funny.  I don’t take fashion very seriously, but it sometimes seems like I take Fashion Seriously.  Nope.  Funniness always wins me over.  Between a funny idea and a solid, practical plan, the funny idea will win.
  • My wardrobe contains some unflattering clothes and it was a good chance to evaluate whether they are completely unfortunate or secretly awesome.  I like to think all my clothes are secretly awesome, but deep in my heart, I know that is not the case.
  • I’m a glutton for punishment and I don’t know when to quit. (Laugh all you want.  It’s the truth.)
  • I have two great pairs of jeans that I wear all the time and both of them were in my laundry hamper last Monday morning.  So if I wanted to wear jeans on Monday (and I did indeed wish to wear jeans), the clean options were limited.  And looking through my clean jeans, I came across a wide-leg pair that I never wear. And since I wasn’t feeling particularly attractive at that point in the morning anyways – and since I hadn’t come up with an Ashley Tries challenge for the week – and since I tried on a drastically oversized top with the wide-leg jeans and then didn’t have time to change, the styling-unflattering-clothes-for-a-week challenge was born.

They’re all reasons.  But the last reason really kicked the week off.  The “stubborn and doesn’t know when to quit” reason kicked in mid-week.  That being said, I liked this challenge, because it was a true challenge and I didn’t know if it would work out.  There were a few times where it didn’t.

Here’s the look that kicked off the week:

This photo cracks me up.  This is how many of my outfit photos turn out, because I’m constantly trying to explain my thought process to my fearless photographer and my explaining photos are just lots of gestures and air quotes and concerned facial expressions.  This is a good week to give an extra loud shout out to my photographing friends, Sara and Lindsey, because this week was COLD.

I love a good pair of wide-leg jeans, but this particular pair is at least one size too big on me, so I needed the belt to cinch them into place.  I think they were designed to be that intentionally short culotte style, but since my legs are very short, they just slightly short on me.

As for the shirt, I found this gem of a blouse in a thrift store.  I cut shoulder pads out of it, so I’m guessing it is from the late 1980s or early 1990s.  Why did I buy it?  BECAUSE I LOVE IT.  It made from some sort of silky synthetic fabric, it has a rollicking rococo black and white pattern, it has a strange little bow tie at the neck, and it has so much material that I could probably wear tights with it and call it a mini dress.  It’s the comfiest shirt I own.  It is more comfy than my pajama shirts.  I wear this shirt with leggings on Saturdays and it’s the comfiest outfit in the world.  That being said, it is not a flattering shirt.  I know that.  But could I put two unflattering pieces of clothing together and create something amazing?  NO.  I could not.  So I threw a black wrap cardigan over the top, cinched the waist and went off to work with an okay outfit.

Jackets and cardigans cover a multitude of sins.  That was my biggest takeaway from this week.  With the cardigan, this outfit looks kind of pulled together.  Without the cardigan, the shirt kept bunching up at the waist and the jeans kept wanting inch down.  I like the idea of these jeans, but they are going bye bye.  Am I keeping the shirt?  Yes.  Because I love it.  Despite its tremendous volume and many weirdnesses.

Day 2:

I decided to tone it down for Tuesday and choose some pieces with more subtle fit issues.  The gray pencil skirt hits below the knee and the bomber jacket has a boxy fit.  I like them both, but I know that shorter skirts and more fitted jackets suit my short frame better.

This turned out to be my favorite outfit from this week.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but the elongated vertical line of the skirt helped balance out the width of the jacket.  I was comfortable, I felt absolutely work appropriate, and the striped turtleneck gave it a little bit of color and pizzazz.  Also, it was the second day in a row tucking in my shirt and the second attempt was way more successful, because there wasn’t as much excess fabric to bunch up and move around.  With the shirt tucked in, the length of the skirt looked purposeful and interesting.

Will I wear these pieces again?  Absolutely.  Especially the skirt.  It’s a great skirt.  It came as part of a suit, but it fits well enough to stand on its own.

Day 3:

This was the low point of the week.  I think these are the most instagrammy photos of the week, but that’s because I’m trying so darn hard to make this dress look cool.  I bought this dress at a thrift store for the floral print.  Just the print.  I’m making a mental note to not do that anymore.  Since “my style” basically translates to “things I like”, I thought maybe this dress could be my style, because I liked the print.  Turns out no.  This dress looked like it was supposed to be on a tiny blond woman with an elaborate french braid and a floppy brim hat at her barn engagement photo shoot at sunset, not on me at work.  The dress looked confused.

For the morning, I wore this amazing wool sweater from Switzerland.  But by mid-day, I was sweating in the sweater and cold without the sweater.  The upside to this outfit was that I was warm on a very cold day.  When a dress is loose and flowing, it provides plenty of room for layering.  I had tights, boots, a t-shirt (because the dress goes too low in the front to be work appropriate), the dress, and then the wool sweater on top of that.  It was 12 degrees F and I was perfectly fine outside.  But I work inside, so I got overheated quickly.

A couple of friends told me to change when I went home for lunch, but I didn’t want to admit defeat.  (Have I mentioned that I am stubborn?)  I was not going to allow that dress to be the boss of me.  So I just switched out the wool cardigan for a jean jacket.  It helped a whole lot.

It still looks like I’m going to wander in a meadow somewhere, but the jean jacket suits the dress.  It gives the dress some shape and provides good color and texture contrast.  Am I going to keep this dress?  Nope.  For this dress to feel appropriate, I’d have to go wander in a meadow or stand next to a barn at sunset or become a singer-songwriter-country-folk-fusion artist.  But even if I did those all those things, I think I’d still want to wear something else.

Day 4:

By this point in the week, it was so cold that I was just going for warmth.  I can forgive almost any clothing for being unflattering if it is practical.  Practicality is the best.  So I pulled out all my bulky-lumpy-cozy-practical things.

Exhibit A:  This hat.

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My sister knit me this hat and I call it The Flowerpot.  Even if fezzes become cool, this hat will still never be cool.  But I’m very fond of it.  It looks like a Tea Cozy.  But it’s for my head, so I guess it is a Noggin Cozy.  It kept my noggin very cozy on Thursday and I love how eccentric it is.  It matches my inner eccentricity.  I shall keep it.

Exhibit B:  These Croc Boots

Crocs are a much maligned shoe, mostly because they make human feet look like a Cabbage Patch Kid doll’s feet.  Fair enough.  But these boots have lasted me for years.  These might be ten years old.  They have pretty good arch support, they are comfy, they are warm, they are downright ugly.  I don’t wear them when I’m trying to look sleek or beautiful or important.  I wear my Croc boots when I want to stay warm in the snow and also feel like I’m wearing industrial strength slippers.

Exhibit C:  This coat.

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Immediately post college, I didn’t want to spend money on a new coat, because a good coat costs a lot of money, so I would buy my winter coats at thrift stores.  Sure, they had ripped linings and crazy silhouettes and extravagant shoulder pads, but they all had personality and they were built for extreme cold.  This is one of those coats.  I need to replace the many missing buttons on this coat, but I love it.  It has served me so well.  It probably cost me five dollars and it has kept me warm and protected from the elements, so I’m very grateful for it.

The hats, the boots, and the coat all have memories and practicality on their side.  They may not be the most beautiful objects, but they are lovable and durable and oh-so-very practical.  They are what they are and I like them that way.

Day 5:

Friday was oversized flannel shirt day!  But in the Pacific Northwest, I think every day is oversized flannel day, so I didn’t stand out too much.  I can understand the appeal – flannel shirts are ridiculously comfortable.  It’s like wearing a big hoodie.

Overall, this is the most modern styling of the week.  This is kind of a Portland, Oregon look, with the high bun and the t-shirt dress and the flat boots.  I wanted to elevate the shirt and make it look more feminine, because Friday was the last hurrah for the challenge and wearing a men’s flannel shirt with jeans would feel sloppy.

Some thoughts that occurred to me this week:

  • I’m extra grateful for my clothes that fit well, especially my favorite jeans!  A good pair of jeans is a lovely thing.
  • A fitted jacket can streamline an oversized top or dress.  The black cardigan on the first day and the jean jacket on the third day helped out those outfits out immensely.
  • I’m the boss of my clothes.  The last thing I want to do is feel sorry for myself about my clothes or about how I look in my clothes.  It’s a waste of time.  When I put together an outfit, it’s not where I start that matters, it’s where I finish.  Don’t give up or get discouraged.  Get busy.
  • It’s just fine to get rid of a few things that don’t fit well anymore.
  • I’m not a fan of pastel boho maxi dresses.
  • I am a fan of practical coats and eccentric hats.
  • When I start to take my clothes too seriously, it comes from taking myself too seriously.  Taking myself too seriously usually stems from the sins of pride and worry.
  • I am so immensely blessed.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I’m thankful for my body, my clothes, my house, my job, my friends, my family, my life.  Most of all, I’m thankful to my Lord, Who has given me all these things and infinitely more.  He gave me my life.  I want to take everything He has given me and invest it and do my best with it.  How can I possibly complain?  The only response is gratitude.

Stay warm and have merry hearts, my friends!  Thank you for reading the ramblings of a happy little eccentric.  If you ever have any questions, send them my way.  I’d love to help out!

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.

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.

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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.