What I’ve learned from my mom

I love my mom.  She is visiting this week and Mother’s Day is tomorrow, so I thought this was a good time to talk about a few things she has taught me on the subjects of clothes and beauty and generally keeping oneself presentable.

Thinking back to tiny childhood, the first gift she gave me was not worrying.  I played in the dirt all the time and I never worried about my clothes and I knew mom didn’t worry either.  When I say I played in the dirt, I don’t mean drawing on the ground with a stick, but still staying fairly clean.  One of my my favorite pastimes was smearing things in mud (my tricycle, the family dog, my sister, myself, anything handy really….).  If/when necessary, my mom hosed me off before I came in the house, but I never had to worry about keeping my play clothes nice.  It translates to a peaceful easy feeling about clothes.  That is a gift that I take for granted, but one that I love so much!

When I wasn’t outside smearing my face with the Dirt of a Hundred Gopher Holes, mom let me play dress up and draw dresses and choose my own clothes a lot of the time.  We also watched a ton of black and white movies growing up.     I think that is where my fashion love comes from – dress ups and old movies.  By the time I got to high school, some of my outfits were pretty strange looking, but mom let me try things and let me fail sometimes.  She gave me freedom to get messy and to figure things out, but she was there for advice when I needed her.

But rules and being allowed to do this or that are only a fraction of what you learn from your mom.  Rules are a tiny part – they are easily overwhelmed by learning through what your mom says and does and how she acts toward people and what she loves.

My mom doesn’t give up comfort or function in her clothes.  She chooses practical clothes in happy colors and never wears anything itchy or constricting.  Since she feels comfortable, she looks comfortable.  She likes clothes, but she mainly likes being able to forget them and get on to what she’s doing.

Simplicity can be very beautiful.  Don’t hide behind artifice.  Mom always looks genuine – she doesn’t change faces when she puts on makeup.  Her beauty is her own and it is linked directly to her kindness.  Kindness is beautiful.  My mom’s smile is like solar power – a powerful sunshine magic that warms you up inside.  My mom gives herself away through those smiles and she gives so herself so freely and sincerely.

My mom rejoices in what makes other people beautiful.  Do you ever look at a friend and see something beautiful about them and sigh inwardly, because it doesn’t belong to you?  It’s pretty instinctive for most of us.  My mom doesn’t do that.  I think it is one of the most beautiful things about her.  My mom is really competitive, but it is the healthy kind of competition that makes every game more fun.  It’s never about having better hair or better makeup or better clothes than somebody else.  Her competitive spirit isn’t tinged with envy.  It doesn’t involve one-upmanship.  She builds people up and focuses on their strengths, even when they aren’t the same as her strengths.

I’m so blessed by my mom.  If you haven’t met her, I’m sorry.  If you do meet her, you’ll understand all this.

Thank you, mom.  This one’s for you.  Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s the thought that counts

For All Occasions

 

It’s Christmas time – the season with a thousand parties, no money to spend on clothes, and no time to spend shopping for yourself, because you need to shop for everybody else.  Without the right attitude, that can be demoralizing.  Even miserable.  Who wants to be miserable at Christmas?  Nobody.  But the truth is, Christmas is a season that comes with so many expectations (both real and imaginary) that it is easy to get disappointed and miserable.  Any time we have an ideal vision, we have to decide how to react to changes BEFOREHAND.  Because it’s not going to be exactly how you imagine it.  That’s a given.  Do you want a beautiful frosty-snowy-silver-white Christmas?  You can’t control the weather, so decide beforehand what you’ll do if the blessed morning is wet and rainy.  It’s a good experiment in general – nobody wants to admit, “If it is wet and rainy, I will fume inwardly the entire day of Christmas.  Because the day will only be perfect if it snows.  If it does snow, I will be grateful and smile all day with love in my heart for everyone around me.”  I can’t control the weather – the only thing I get to control is how I react to the weather.  (Feeling very convicted right now – this is why I hate blogging sometimes.  I’m sure it’s very good for me and I need it.)
Anyway, long extended weather metaphor – we have a lot of expectations about clothing at Christmas.  In an ideal world, we have a perfect outfit for every party we attend, the perfect hat for caroling, the perfect boots for the snow.  And then winter hits and we have to hit the ground running to take care of everybody else’s clothes and everybody else’s presents and decorating the house.  So decide beforehand how you will react to not having the perfect dress for a Christmas cocktail party, because odds are good that you won’t have exactly what you are imagining.  You can decide to feel dowdy and run-down and boring, because it is the one dress you have and you’ve been wearing it to every party for the last five years, or it is the only dress that fits right now, or it suffers by comparison.
Okay – COMPARISONS.  That can be a real season-killer.  With Instagram and Facebook, you don’t even have to get to the party to feel ugly.  Do those pre-party selfies get anybody else down?  Does it ever make you want to not go at all?  If your heart drops and you spiritually give up after seeing another girl’s outfit on Instagram, you are dressing to compete.  Don’t dress to compete – dress to show that you are celebrating!  Choose to love what you have to wear.  If you are bored with your black dress, borrow a cool necklace (go ask your grandma – she has cool stuff).  Throw on your coolest jacket.  Pull those shoes out – the fancy ones that you had to buy when you were in that wedding.  There are all kinds of ways to make what you have look different and feel different.  Red lipstick always makes me feel ready to take on the world.  Find one aspect that makes you feel beautiful – that is all it takes.  I’ve gone very general/spiritual/philosophical on this one, so if you ever have any specific questions about how to use what you have, leave a question in the comments section.  I’d love to help you figure out whatever challenges you have – really, it would make my day.
When it comes to Christmas dressing, the most beautiful thing in the world is joy.  Joy comes from receiving unlimited love and having all that love to give other people.  That is what Christmas is all about.  Don’t let a failed vision or an unfulfilled expectation steal anything from you.  Don’t let comparisons with other people steal anything from you.  There is too much to be joyful about.
There is a beautiful verse from a Christmas carol that sums it up.  I’ll leave you with this, because nothing I can write can top it.  Merry Christmas, everybody.  Thanks for reading.
And ye who would the Christ Child greet
Your hearts also adorn,
That it may be a dwelling meet
For Him who now is born.
Let all unlovely things give place
To souls bedecked with heav’nly grace,
That ye may view His Holy face,
With joy on Christmas morn.
-Alfred Burt

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.

Ease

Breathless

 

Do you have a friend that seems to be able to pull off whatever crazy style comes along?  I think we all have that friend – the one who always looks amazing, whether she’s wearing a cute dress or a shaggy thrift store sweater with overalls.  It is really easy to look at that friend, despair of your own style, and think, “Man, if I was wearing that sweater, I’d look like a poodle that just rolled in a pile of bark chips.  And don’t even get me started on how that overall situation would look on me.  HOW DOES IT LOOK GOOD ON HER?”  It’s usually a matter of confidence and comfort – if somebody is comfortable, you can tell.  That’s usually what we mean when we think of somebody pulling off a look.  They make the clothes look good and they don’t look uncomfortable in their clothes.  This has to do with ease.
But is ease the same thing as comfort?  I think there’s a difference, because comfort out of place can make other people uncomfortable.  (I was in an airport recently and I can tell you this – pajamas worn as daywear make me uncomfortable.  Yes, sir.  I know your onesie is comfy.  Why don’t you go home and be comfy there?)  Ease is special – it means that the person wearing the clothes feels comfortable and everybody around them feels comfortable as well.  Comfort is physical (i.e. I can breathe, nothing is poking me, I have a free range of movement).  Ease is physical and mental – it’s that happy feeling when you can forget about your clothes and just enjoy who you are with and where you are.  Whether you’re underdressed or overdressed for an occasion, it can ruin your evening.  Have you ever walked into a room and thought “I’m the only woman wearing jeans?  Great.  Now everybody is staring at me like I’m a slob who can’t read a dress code.  Can the earth swallow me up now?”  or “Oh, no.  I’m the only one wearing a dress.  Now everyone thinks that I’m trying too hard.”  That uneasy feeling won’t go away, no matter how comfortable your clothes are.
There are two cultures that make ease the highest clothing ideal – effortless French style and cool California style.  You know that cool friend that makes everything look amazing?  In France and California, it seems like every woman looks effortlessly gorgeous.  When I went to school in California, I felt like every other girl in my high school got the clothes memo (and the hair memo and the makeup memo) and I was the only ugly duckling wandering around wondering what was going on.  No matter what I wore, I didn’t fit in.
Now that I’m in my late twenties, I’m kind of fond of awkward high school me, but it was hard to be that me.  Looking back, I can see how it shaped me and what that experience taught me.  I learned that you don’t have to dress the same as everybody else and not to take fads too seriously (that seems simple enough to learn, but it’s harder than you think). Outsiders get to observe people and fashion from a unique perspective.  I’ve also come to realize that most people care what others think.  If somebody seems like they do not care about what other people’s opinions, they are either good at hiding it or nobody has hit a nerve yet.  Probably every girl in my high school felt uncomfortable in her skin and felt like she didn’t fit in.  It just didn’t occur to me at the time, because I assumed I was the only person who felt that way.  The biggest problem with being uncomfortable and uneasy is when we use it as an excuse to be self-absorbed and consumed by our thoughts.  It is easy to focus on how we think other people perceive us and forget to be kind to other people.
Some thoughts to take away from this – it takes effort to look effortless.  It doesn’t just happen.  So don’t feel sorry for yourself when it seems like other people have it easy in the hair/makeup/clothing department.  Even the cool beautiful people sometimes feel excluded or fat or ugly or uncomfortable in some way.  For the most part, it isn’t about your clothes or your hair or your makeup.  Ease is mostly about where your heart is.  Make sure you are comfortable in your clothes, but respect the people around you.  Don’t make them uncomfortable for the sake of your own comfort.
Instead of worrying, focus on putting other people at ease.  It is such a worthwhile skill to develop.  Be kind to the self-conscious girl who shows up to a formal occasion in jeans – we can all sympathize with that moment.  Be kind to the overdressed girl at a picnic – make sure she doesn’t leave early.  Make them feel at ease.  Show them the kindness that you wanted somebody to show you when you were a left-out sophomore, when you missed the memo on every single current style, when you wondered what other people must think of you.  Beauty comes from inside.  There is nothing more lovely than a kind woman dressed beautifully.  But if you have to choose between being kind and dressing beautifully, choose the kindness.