Ashley Tries: Travel and Transfiguration

At the beginning of this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to France and Switzerland.  This trip was all about a lovely group of people, delicious food, complex wine, sun-warmed castle walls, cows with bells around their necks (and other scenic wonders), and coming back with a fresh perspective.  I loved it.  It gave me fresh eyes and new courage.

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A lot of people have asked me about packing, because I decided to only take a purse and a carry-on duffel bag.  Kind of an ambitious choice for a 13 day trip, but I made that choice because I didn’t want to worry about collecting bags before going through border security in France.  This was the first time I was traveling out of the country by myself, so I wanted to simplify the traveling process as much as possible.  It really helped – my flight to Paris CDG airport got delayed for about half an hour and my connection (with border security and passport checks and everything) was already pretty tight.  If I had to claim checked baggage from that flight, I probably wouldn’t have made my flight to Marseille.  So a win for packing light!

This is the space I had to work with:

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Not very much room, but that also necessitated packing light.  Nature abhors a vacuum and when I have space to fill, I tend to fill it.  Before I went on the trip, I had a plan to find the perfect duffel bag.

1) It had to fit in an overhead bin.

2) It had to be flexible and squashable.

3) It had to have handles and wheels.  Handles for when I wanted to carry it.  When I travel, I assume lots and lots of stairs.  From past trips, I have learned never to assume there will be elevators!  But I also wanted wheels, so I had the option of NOT carrying it.  Wheels are great for airports.

So I looked on Amazon and got overwhelmed with choices.  Then I went to Ross (just in case there were duffel bags there) and found this pretty little blue-and-white number by Chaps.  I measured it to make sure it would fit in an overhead bin (CHECK), it was squashable (CHECK), it had handles and wheels (DOUBLE CHECK), and it was cute!  Added bonus.  This bag was great.  The print made it easy to spot, because most baggage is black – this bag stood out like a bluebird in the middle of a flock of ravens.

Once I had my bag, I needed to figure out what to put in it.  My packing style is idiosyncratic, so don’t feel like you need to follow my example.  When I pack, I assume everything about the trip will go right.  I don’t have backup plans when it comes to packing.  The way I figure it, if there’s an emergency, I won’t be caring about my clothes anyways.  If worst comes to worst (i.e. I get cold), I’ll buy a jacket while I’m there.  Or I’ll borrow a blanket from the hotel and walk around with that wrapped around me.  It’s a foreign country and I probably don’t need to impress anybody.

I had lists all over my house and they all looked something like this:

  • Passport
  • Underwear
  • PJs
  • Phone Charger
  • 1 or 2 pants?
  • Watercolor Pencils (and the list goes on….)

(Spoiler: I only ended up taking one pants.)

I don’t remember where this came from, but I remembered hearing that rolling clothes saved space, so I decided to take that one further.  Behold, the roll of rolls:

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This is the majority of my packing.  This bundle of joy has two pairs of shorts and five shirts, tied with a scarf so they didn’t come apart and dance around the duffle.  One pair of shorts formed the outer shell and then everything else got rolled up separately and then rolled up into it.  I ended up wearing the scarf as well, so this was an efficient little bundle.  In retrospect, I would have only taken one pair of shorts and I didn’t need ALL those shirts.  3 or 4 would have worked fine.  The nice thing about this system (besides saving space) was knowing exactly where my shirts were when I got there.

I had the Shorts-and-Shirts bundle, the Dresses bundle, and the Pajamas-and-Underwear bundle.  Here’s my lemon dress to demonstrate the bundling:

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It’s a cute form of packing.  And that lemon print just slays me.  I love it so much.

As is my habit, I wore all my bulkiest items on the plane (so they didn’t take up room in the suitcase).  My travel outfit included a black cardigan (the closest I came to packing a jacket), black jeans (my only pants), and black Nike sneakers.  The other shoes I took were metallic lace-up flats and strappy metallic sandals.  I didn’t pack heels, because I didn’t have the room and I didn’t want to wear heels anyways.  I only packed shoes that I knew I could walk well in, because nothing can ruin a trip faster than hurt feet.  These metallic flats got MVP for this trip, because I wore them almost every day and they were comfy the whole time:

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We spent most of the time in Provence and it was glorious.  We stayed in two different Chateaus and this is the view from my first room:

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Happy sigh.  It was harvest season, the sun warmed the stone, and the sun and the stone warmed my spirit.  Most of my ideas about Provence come from pictures on wall calendars.  But guess what?  IT IS JUST AS BEAUTIFUL AS THOSE PICTURES.

 

I can’t list what my favorite was.  It was all my favorite.  It felt like I had somehow stumbled onto the set of Much Ado About Nothing and I got to play Beatrice.  (“Thus goes every one to the world but I, and I am sunburnt”)  I know that the colors are going to stick with me.  Yellow stone, light blue shutters, light green doors, dusty rose walls, orange dirt in the vineyards, dark green trees, white roads, strong blue skies, then all these colors turning sudden gold as the sun goes down and tries to drag all the colors past the horizon with it.  Everything turning white and blue in the moonlight.  The sun hitting my face in the morning.  All of it.

I did buy some clothes while I was over there.

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That pink top is definitely the girliest thing I have ever owned.  Maybe that I’ve ever SEEN.  Bows and lace and pink pink pink.  I bought the panama hat out of necessity, because I needed sun protection, but it also added some adventure to each outfit.  I really enjoyed that hat.  I’ve realized that I love hats, but most of the hat shapes I love are traditionally men’s hat shapes.  I will choose a panama over a floppy brim hat and I will choose a boater over a cloche.  If you don’t think you can wear hats, make sure you try a few different kinds of hats!

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The white lace jacket is a lot of fun.  It was inexpensive and not made to last, but I’m going to wear it a lot.  Here are a couple of ways I’ve styled it already:

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I bought this gray top, which is probably the most typically French thing I bought.  Light gray is very popular during the summertime in France and it has cool little stitching details and an interesting shape.

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Most of the women I saw in France looked put together, but not ostentatious.  They favor light neutrals in the summer (cream, gray, tan, light blue).  A lot of French women wear jeans + neutral top + nice shoes as a daily uniform.  But it really depends on what they are doing – it was harvest season at the vineyards while we there, so everybody was pitching in.  There was one winemaker who was wearing her Spiderman t-shirt and jeans and most of the winemakers were wearing rubber boots, because it was time to work in the vineyards and harvest the grapes.  Clothes always depends on the context – it’s easy to have an idealized image of eternally glamorous French women, but everything depends on what’s going on!

Then I came back home filled with so much joy and energy and inspiration.  I feel beautiful and transfigured, like Sabrina Fairchild.  But most of the transfiguration happened internally.  I don’t look that different, but I feel that different.

I crossed continents and oceans.  I packed everything I needed into a carry-on and a purse.  I stayed in a castle.  I saw swans and flamingos.  I saw cowboys herding bulls and cows try to climb down a cliff face.  I sat and sketched the places I stayed.  I witnessed the beginnings of running jokes.  I ate some of the finest figs and pears and plums I have ever eaten, and my heart melted into a puddle of happy whenever I ate a croissant.

I came home changed.  Changed by traveling, changed by new friends, changed by observing another culture, changed by having to be braver.

If you have the opportunity to take a trip, take it.  It doesn’t have to be big.  Try going somewhere you’ve never been before, even if it just one state away, one county over.  It changes you.  I came back ready to take on new challenges and make big decisions.  After living with roommates for my whole life, I am moving into a little house on my own and I couldn’t be more excited for what happens next.

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Guest Post: Sara Tries Refashioning

Hi, everybody!  This is Ashley and I’d like to introduce this guest post from a good friend.  She refashions thrift store finds into wearable (and pretty) clothes.  I admire her vision and her drive and her ability to take a dumpster fire of a dress and make it look like it came from Anthropologie.  TELL ME ALL YOUR SECRETS, SARA!  So without further ado, welcome Sara to talk about her impressive refashion projects.  [Important Note:  Besides this introduction, Sara wrote this whole post – I just want to make sure to give credit where credit is due.]

I get asked a lot how I refashion clothes.  Where do my ideas come from? Do they just leap into my brain fully-formed? Was I BORN with these skills? The answers, in order, are: through lots of practice, not usually, and absolutely not.

I refashion clothes because I love making things – it’s thrifty, it’s satisfying, and living in a small town being able to thrift shop and change clothes gives me lots more options than our local Ross.  It helps to enjoy and have an eye for clothes, but I honestly believe that learning how to refashion clothes is like anything else.  It can be learned and people who do it with any skill have practiced and trained their eye.  The purpose of this post is to give you a jump start.  Here (in order) are the questions that I’ve learned to ask when I’m shopping for clothes to refashion.

1. Do I like this Fabric?

When refashioning clothes you have the ability to change almost anything about a garment.  One of the few things you can’t do much about is the fabric.  If the print is ugly or the fabric is pilly and stained, you’re out of luck.  On the other hand, keep an open mind.  A fabric that might look very dated because of the cut or shape of the garment might be modern and beautiful in a different style or silhouette.  Find a garment with a fabric that you like the look and feel of.  Once you’re there ask yourself the practical questions.  Will I able to work with this fabric?  Will it wash well? I occasionally find dresses made with beautiful silk, but I know that I don’t have the skill or patience to work with a fabric that slippery and delicate.  Find good workable cottons and jerseys, especially as you’re starting out.  Make sure it’s fabric that you can iron so the seams will look crisp and professional.

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2. Do I have enough to work with?

This one is simple.  It’s always easier to work with a dress that’s too big than to try to eke fabric out of a dress that’s too small.  The more fabric you have to work with the more options you have. I have broken this rule, but only if there’s enough fabric in another part of the dress (e.g. it’s a maxi dress, so I make it knee-length and use the extra skirt fabric).  Some people might go out and buy other coordinating fabrics to add to the dress, I generally don’t do this for a number of reasons:

1) I am too lazy.

2) Finding fabrics that work with the color, weight, drape, shape, and feel of the dress is difficult.  It’s always better if you can just work with what you have.

3) I don’t want to spend more money on something that might not work out.

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3. What’s making this dated?

This question is the one that helps me see potential in clothes the most.  A lot of people get hung up one what a garment looks like now.  I grab a dress and the friend I’m shopping with pulls a face because it just looks soooooo 80s and not in a good way.  Yes, but the reason it looks so 80s is because it has shoulder pads, a bodice that’s too boxy, and a v-shaped waistband.  Fix those things, and you’ve got a totally modern dress. Start asking why a garment looks outdated and you’re well on your way to knowing the if  and how to fix it.

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4. Is it okay if I totally destroy this?

Here’s the truth about refashioning: sometimes it will not work out.  Sometimes you will make a cut in the wrong place or you’ll realize that you didn’t have enough fabric to work with, or that ambitious dye job just did not work out.  This is okay if it’s a dress you found at Goodwill for $5.  If it’s a gorgeous hand-embroidered dress you bought at Anthropologie for $250 that’s never fit quite right, find a tailor.  It’s worth it.  Make sure that you’ll be okay if it doesn’t work out.

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5.  Can I handle this?

Start small. Know your limits.  If you don’t know how to sew and don’t have a sewing machine, you too can refashion! Find a skirt that would be super cute if only it were knee-length and hem it by hand, or grab a dress that has crazy shoulder pads and snip them out. Small things make big differences. The internet is your friend.  There are so many tutorials, tips, and tricks available.  If you’re more advanced and have made dresses from patterns and have a sewing machine, the breadth of what you are going to be able to do is much wider.  Whatever skill level you’re at, start with something you think you can pull off.  The sense of accomplishment and confidence you’ll gain from a finished project will give you the push you need to keep going and keep trying harder things.  I started small, and continue to push myself to try new thing and learn new skills. Now go make ugly things awesome!

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Ashley Tries Practical and Pretty

This week, I decided to go full on feminine.  Lace?  Check.  Embroidery? Check.  Twirly skirts?  Of course.  (Because deep inside I’m a 4-year-old who judges skirts by their twirliness.)  Florals?  Yes.  Like a rain of flowers fell from the sky.

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Day 1:  There were several practical challenges for this week – it has been hot and smoky (from fires in the next state over) and my workplace has air conditioning, but my house does not.  This week, my clothes needed work for inside my warm house, outside in the hot smoky sunshine, and inside my air conditioned cubicle.  Truth be told, that’s why I chose feminine styles this week.  Dresses keep me cooler and more comfortable than trousers or shorts, so while my primary goal was putting together a pretty look every day, my secondary goal was staying cool and happy.

This post really is an Ode to the Comfy Dress.  The first dress is a Boden print dress in a linen blend.  It has a print reminiscent of a Scandinavian folk art called Rosemåling – simplified and stylized flower patterns in cheerful colors.  That art form is all about beautifying the everyday objects that you see all the time, like dishes, doors, pillows, walls.  And that what’s I want – I want beauty in the everyday.  I want that mix of pretty and practical.  I’m going to list all the practical aspects of this dress:

  • Breathable fabric.  This linen-cotton material allows for airflow, so I stay cool even where I’m covered.
  • Machine washable.  I wouldn’t have bought this dress if I had to send it to the dry cleaners, because I’m not careful with my clothes.  A summer dress can’t be afraid of sitting on grass.  Summer dresses need to have fun and be brave.
  • Pockets.  Real pockets.  These are go-without-a-purse pockets.  Not like the fake pockets that you see in jeans sometimes.  Fake pockets are even more disappointing to me than raisins when I expect chocolate chips in cookies.  And that’s saying something.
  • A good fit through the shoulders, but loose everywhere else.  Really comfy.  I am aware that isn’t the most stunning fit on me, but it is a great day dress.

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Bonus prettiness:  Sara wore this dress on Monday and I love it.  It looks like a watercolor of the ocean.  Pretty dress + simple sandals.  Hard to mess that up.

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Day 2:  The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring

I did all the flowers for Tuesday.  Flower shoes, flower earrings, flower dress.  Meadows of flowers all over me.  Some things I love about this dress:

  • It was really inexpensive.  I spent around ten dollars on this dress.  I really love grabbing a couple of new dresses for summertime.  The price point gives a certain ease to the dress, because I’m not worried about getting it dirty.
  • The print is so busy that if I went on a picnic and spilled a glass of rosé down my front, I doubt it would even show.  If you aren’t a careful person (as I am not a careful person), sometimes it’s a good idea to match your clothes to whatever food you are eating.  I do know that prints are way more forgiving than solids.
  • This dress has good movement.  It’s because of the pleats.  It feels nice to move in.  I know some women who don’t like dresses, because they assume all dresses are constricting and uncomfortable.  This isn’t always the case.  I can’t think of a more comfy article of clothing than a swing dress.

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Day 3:  Polka Dot Dress

I slept through my alarm on Wednesday, so I had ten minutes to get ready and get out the door.  The whole gamut involved in Getting Ready includes getting up, realizing the time, panicking a tad, grabbing a dress, putting on basic makeup (foundation, mascara, and lipstick), and doing Something with my hair.  This day, the something was a messy bun.  A really messy bun.  The thing I realized after I got the dress on is that it’s impossible to tie the sleeve ties into bows from inside the dress.  I ran around my house seeking a roommate to tie my sleeves, but couldn’t find one.  So I tied the ties into knots (using hands and teeth) and ran out the door.

Good things about this dress:

  • Self-sufficiency.  This dress doesn’t need a slip.  It doesn’t need a camisole.  It’s okay on its own, thanks.  That’s why it’s the perfect candidate for a ten minute morning.
  • Focused detail.  The sleeve ties and cutouts are the only details on this dress.  Sometimes clothes needlessly suffer from too many details, when restraint is quite lovely.
  • Print.  The all-over polka dot print is great.  It’s as close to a neutral as a print can get.  Black and white stripes and black and white polka dots are great prints, because they can hold their own, but they are great for mixing with other things.

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Day 4:  Lace and Flowers

The only non-dress in this series.  I would wear more skirts if I had more skirts that felt like this.  It’s crinkly and twirly and flowery and comfy.  Also, it was a thrift store find, so it has still carries the glow of a successful hunt and a great deal.

The lace top was the least practical thing I wore this week.  It’s pretty, but fragile.  I am not great with fragile clothes.  Clothes aren’t supposed to break.  WHY ARE YOU BREAKING, SHIRT??  I got it as a swim cover-up for Mexico, so it’s not an important item of clothing.  Very pretty, very easily snagged.  I plan to wear it to pieces and that will probably come soon.  Beautiful and ephemeral.  Like a white moth fluttering beside a light bulb or a dandelion that’s about to pass away in a sudden fluff cloud.  I am moved by the beauty and fragility of ragged-edged moths and agèd dandelions.  Not everything has to be practical.


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Day 5:  The Blue Dress

I’ve had this blue dress for years.  It’s a blue full of stories.  It’s a blue that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and Wendy Darling and September skies and nests full of robin eggs.  I remember finding this dress and being completely surprised when I tried it on.  On the hanger, the color was the only thing going for this dress.  Some dresses look nice on the hanger and then don’t look good on a woman.

Remember that you are the best part of your outfit.  Your body, your face, your personality, your words, your glances, your walk.  The clothes are there to beautify you.  To use the rosemaling folk art example again, you are the permanent part.  You are the house.  You are constantly there.  Clothes are the decorations that beautify the house.  If you are discontent with the house, painting flowers all over it probably won’t suddenly change your mind.   If you always feel like clothes look better on the hanger, if you are habitually disappointed whenever you try things on, then you are probably disappointed in yourself, not the clothes.

I am taking a week off from Ashley Tries next week, because I have the happy opportunity to address my most asked question since I started this blog.  I have gotten this question many times and I’ve never felt qualified to answer it, because I’m not a mom!  So many moms have asked me the best ways to dress for a postpartum body and nursing, so I’ve decided to bring in some experts.  My sisters are some of the wisest and kindest women I know and they are going to be helping me out on this one.  It’ll be great, so keep your eyes open for that.  If you have any particular questions that you’d like them to answer, please message them to me sometime during this coming week!

Ashley Tries Styling Statement Pieces

I’ve probably said this before, but I’m not much of a basics girl.  Sure – I love my jeans.  I love a comfy black t-shirt.  But they don’t make my heart start singing Nessun Dorma.  Color, detail, texture, something unusual – these are all things I love to find.  My closet is not minimal.  It is not mostly basics with some statement pieces thrown in.  It’s more like statement pieces with some basics thrown in.  The practical upshot of this is that I have to be creative in how I wear my statement pieces.  If I have a statement top, but I only wear it with black pants and black shoes, that outfit will get tired and overused.  Keep your boldness and creativity and style those statement pieces.  Go for the gusto.

Day 1:  Embroidered Tunic

You know I love this top.  WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE?  The hand embroidery, the color scheme, the memory of finding in Mexico – everything about this top moves me.  This is one of my Nessun Dorma pieces.  It’s loud and recognizable – definitely a statement.  Probably the hardest part about wearing this top is the volume – it’s a one-size-fits-all design that would probably last somebody through pregnancy.  Since I have absolutely no need for maternity wear right now, I always have to decide how to deal with the size.

Since this top has a ton of material, I figured I’d use that to my advantage.  I usually avoid these white jeans because they do not make my rear look amazing.  COME ON, JEANS.  YOU HAVE ONE JOB TO DO.  Seriously.  That’s all I ask of jeans.  This top + jean combo is a symbiotic relationship.  The white jeans make the bright colors look even brighter and the top covers my least favorite part of the jeans.  Fantastic.

White jeans are still kind of a statement, because the eye is drawn to bright white.  This outfit still needed something to ground it.  Enter accessories.  Brown shoes and a brown and black belt, to ground and tone down the color scheme.  Black accessories would have been too sharp a contrast, white accessories would have been a little too matchy-matchy for me.


Day 2:  Tropical Print

Another shirt I love.  This tropical print is SO bright and bold that it feels like I don’t have to do anything besides add jeans and (possibly) shoes.  While that’s true, it’s not creative.  Think a little more, Ashley.  If I always take the easiest route with an outfit, I’ll get bored or it will start to feel schlubby.

So I started thinking about alternate layering techniques with this one.  I can’t put it under a blazer right now, because it’s blazing hot and only one thing should be blazing.  (But I do think it would look rad under a blazer, so I’m looking forward to that day.)  Another option is layering a tank under it and keeping it open, but I’ve done that before.  But one layering option I haven’t tried is layering it under a dress.  It turned out cute!  To continue the cute/ladylike vibe, I rolled up the shirt sleeves and pinned them.  That makes the whole shirt look smaller and more fitted.

Neutral shoes, shell earrings in the shape of palm fronds (because the tropical earrings + tropical shirt combo made me chuckle).  Hair was kinda messy Elvis, which I didn’t mind.  Overall, I really enjoyed this outfit.  Happy outfit.


Day 3:  Romper!

My first romper, everybody.  A lot of people have asked my opinion on rompers and I’m here to say that it all depends.  It depends on you and it depends on the romper.  I found this one on major sale at Banana Republic, so the material is good quality and I’m not worried about it falling apart.  I picked it up before I realized it was a romper – actually, that’s how I pick up most rompers and jumpsuits.  The scene at the store usually goes something like this:  Ashley picks up romper:  “Cute dress!  Oh….it has shorts.”  Ashley picks up jumpsuit:  “Cute maxi dress!  HEY – WHY IS THIS PANTS?”

So I didn’t set out to get a romper.  I was mainly drawn in by the stripe – it reminds me of a striped beach umbrella or a cheerful restaurant awning.  Pulled it out and oh…it has shorts happened, but this time I decided to try it on, rather than put it straight back on the sales rack.  Because that STRIPE.  When I had it on, I fell for the slouchy ease of it.  The looseness and length sold me on this romper.  If it had been a smidge tighter or shorter, it wouldn’t have felt right.

I’ve seen some really short rompers.  The DON’T LEAN OVER rompers. The More Than I Wanted To See rompers.  The Kind Of Like A Dress But Way Shorter rompers.  I think that’s where my fear came from.  They are a weird combination of looking like a dress, but nobody feeling like they have to follow the dress rules, because shorts.  Moral: be cautious leaning over, no matter what you’re wearing.

There are a couple of downsides, even to this longer-length romper.  Problem 1)  It tends to ride up.  Problem 2)  It adds an extra level of difficulty to every bathroom visit.  It’s the one-piece swimsuit problem.  I won’t go beyond that, but it’s kind of a pain and not necessarily something that I think about in the dressing room.


Day 4:  Sheer Kimono

Funny story about this interesting layering piece – it was part of a 3-piece set.  The set was a long sleeveless dress, a sleeveless tunic to go over the dress, and this sheer layer to go over both of them.  My friend Marguerite tried it on and the dress + tunic combination were absolutely her gypsy aesthetic, but once she put on this layer, it aged the outfit roughly 30 years.  So we split up the set – she has the long dress and the tunic.  I have this kimono.

It’s a lovely fabric – soft and sheer, with crushed velvet forming silhouettes of branches and flowers.  A bohemian vibe, which isn’t usually my style, but I’ll make an exception for this one.  I really have to fight the hippy look on this one, or everything goes Professor Trelawney very fast.  Jeans and a black t-shirt are really good at being the supporting cast.  Black t-shirts and jeans are the Sam Rockwells and Stanley Tuccis and Greg Kinnears of the wardrobe.  They don’t usually get starring roles, but that’s because they are such great supporting actors and they are easy to take for granted, but I love them dearly.

I could have just done the kimono and the metallic shoes, but since my mental taglines for this week were Today, I Go For The Gusto and Make A Statement, I added the camel necklace.  A necklace featuring camels definitely counts as a statement necklace.  Bold design and humor and whimsy all together in an accessory?  That makes me very happy.

If I wanted to mix it up more, I could wear this kimono piece with a patterned shirt.  It would have to be a pattern that doesn’t take away from the kimono, something clean and simple, like a stripe.  It would also look cute over a short dress and ankle booties.  But sometimes it’s nice to keep the outfit simple and make that statement piece the star of the show.


Day 5:  Statement Necklace

Since I highlighted the statement pieces on Thursday, I wanted to make the statement fade into the background for Friday.  To be honest, I don’t wear that much jewelry.  I try to at least wear earrings, but if I’m rushing out the door, I’ll forget to put them in.  Every couple of weeks, I’ll wear a necklace.  I have a pretty turquoise ring, but I probably only wear it once or twice a year.  Never wear bracelets or watches.  Not the best at accessories.  I’m in awe of women who have more than one purse and switch out depending on the outfit.  That’s so cool and sophisticated to me.  I get one purse for twenty dollars or less and I use it for everything until it falls apart at the seams.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  I don’t wear much jewelry, so when I do wear it, I want it to have an IMPACT.  I want it to be SEEN FROM SPACE.  I found this necklace at a thrift store and bought it because it was so big and chunky and multi-media.  It’s the necklace equivalent of a super excited, bubbly person with no chill.  I liked the idea of giving it a little more chill and subtlety by having it blend in with a floral print shirt.

I wore a soft, faded pair of jeans and flip flops.  I don’t usually wear flip flops to work, but on Thursday, my friend invited me to come get a pedicure with her.  It was my first pedicure ever and my feet have never looked so pretty!  I can no longer walk over hot gravel barefoot, because my calluses have been grated off and my feet are like baby feet.  Also, my weird toenail on my pinkie toe has never looked so normal.  Hurrah!

This week was a very busy work week and it helped that I started each day trying to be bold.  It’s not just about clothes.  There were a lot of opportunities for me to be brave this week and if you are mentally prepared to be brave, it is easier to face whatever comes up.

Ashley Tries to Trick the Eye

Putting on clothes and looking good relies entirely on proportion and balance.  It doesn’t matter what the number on the tag says.  Those numbers are more like guidelines than actual sizes.  The truth is sometimes that 8 will not fit me the way I believe that 8 should fit me or how other 8-sized clothes have fit me in the past.  But do I get frustrated with that 8?  NO.  I am the boss of my clothes – they ain’t the boss of me.  If I have to go up a size, no big deal.  What matters is where that hem hits, what the neckline looks like, the length, the cut, the seaming, the material…fit and proportion are my primary concerns when it comes to clothes.  Everything else is a bonus.

Like everybody else, I work with the constraints of my body type.  I’m a short, curvy woman.  How short?  I include an important Almost in my height.  I’m Almost 5′ 3″.  That’s how short I am.  How curvy?  I’m not going to tell you.  I know this is the internet, but I have standards.  So I’m short and curvy, but I can control how I other people see me.  It goes beyond throwing on high heels to give me another couple of inches (but that helps).  Proportions control perceptions.  This is clothing magic and wardrobe sleight of hand, full of distraction, illusion, smoke, and mirrors.

Day 1:  Magic Shirt

When I first tried this shirt on, I knew that it was going to be a winner.  I’ve had it for years and I’m going to wear it until it disintegrates.  It combines different proportion magics.

Proportion Magic 1:  Wide Shoulders.  This shirt gives the impression of cap sleeves without actually having cap sleeves.  The style lines in the print aren’t cut off and they flow from shoulder to hem, which the eye translates to length, which translates to tallness.  The width of the shoulders balances out the peplum, making the waist look little in comparison.

Proportion Magic 2:  Faux Wrap.  I love the look of a wrap shirt or a wrap dress, but I don’t want to deal with the hassle of real wrap style.  Fake that wrap.  The wrap creates a deep v neckline and that lengthens everything out, translating to tallness.  The style lines in the print and in the gathers meet up at the natural waist and have a party.  If this shirt was your friend, it would be the really nice friend who compliments you to other people and says things like, “Look at Ashley’s waist – look at how cute it is!”  It draws attention in the kindest way.

My goal for this outfit was to create the illusion of being taller and a couple of people told me I looked taller, so it was a WIN.  The shirt does most of the work in this outfit, since it has all those great vertical lines (drawing the eyes up and down) and drawing attention to a high waist (giving the impression that my legs start high up and are therefore longer).  I pulled out all the trickery for this one – I wore jeans that hit slightly above the ankle and added heels.

Heels add height, but the shape of the heels can add even more to the perception of height.  If you are trying to make your legs look longer, choose an open-front pump over a heeled bootie or a t-strap heel, because those styles will cut up the sight lines.  You want an uninterrupted line from the top of your leg to the top of your toes.

Other sneaky details – statement stud earrings to draw the eye up, darker eye makeup and paler lips (again, to draw attention upwards), hair up (everything UP), a little detail on the toes of the shoes.  Focus is controllable – the focal points for this outfit were my eyes, my waist, and my toes.  This forces the eye to travel vertically – it’s all illusion.  I am still only Almost 5′ 3″, but the impression is taller than that.  Now you know my secrets!

Day 2:  Minimizing the top half

I have been very blessed up top, which is great.  Most of the time.  But sometimes I want to downplay the top half, just to make it appear more proportionate with everything else.  For this outfit, I started with this lovely thrift store skirt.  It has a lot of print and a lot of volume.  Super comfy and great for dancing!  Twirl twirl twirl.

To balance out the skirt, I wanted to keep the top simple and streamlined.  I chose a black tank top.  The scoop neck opened up my face and neck and added some length.  I steered clear of t-shirts with short sleeves, because short sleeves create a horizontal sight line right across the bust and I was trying to avoid that.  Visually, the tank top created a rectangle (rather than inverted triangle) – does that make sense?  The skirt was already a triangle, so I didn’t want another triangle on the top.  Now, you can have the triangle-on-top and triangle-on-the-bottom shape, but it emphasizes the hips and the bust (and makes the waist look small in comparison).  For a less exaggerated look, mix up the shapes.

The jean jacket helped with the summer work challenge of heat outside and air conditioning inside.  I think cold air conditioning is a wonderful challenge to have.  Love air conditioning.  Light-colored wedge shoes helped lengthen my legs, which in turn helped out with the skirt length, which was a little longer than I would normally wear.

Day 3:  Built-In Structure

The print made me pick this dress off the rack, but the complicated structure was what sold me.  The designer formed the bodice by stitching together thin strips of fabric into parallel diagonal lines.  The skirt flares out, but not too full.  The top and bottom balance each other out.  This is more of a triangle-triangle, but the tailored structure keeps it from getting too exaggerated.

This dress does all the work.  I added a belt for some pattern mixing fun, but the shape doesn’t depend on the belt.

I love finding clothes that have interesting seams and some good architecture going on.  A t-shirt dress is comfy, but it doesn’t get me excited.  A structured blazer gets me excited.  I love clothes that are engineered to fit a woman’s shape.  So much math and precision and practical magic goes into a wonderful fit.  Sometimes the things that aren’t immediately obvious are the best parts.  SEAMS, everybody.  The unsung heroes of clothing.

Day 4:  Tee and Jeans

My sister-in-law gave me this gray t-shirt on Wednesday night, so I thought I’d give it a try on Thursday.  There are a few design features in this shirt that really work.  First, the sleeve length and fit – it’s a fitted sleeve and it comes down to the elbow.  Elbow sleeves, cap sleeves, or three-quarter sleeves are usually more flattering and visually interesting than a straight-across short sleeve that hits right at the bust.  If a tee looks too boxy, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them into a modified cap sleeve.  Sleeves can change a look.  The other nice thing is that hem goes up slightly on the sides – it softens the sight line across the hips and makes them look narrower.

I added my new favorite black pants.  You can’t see it in the picture, but they have a tuxedo ribbon on the sides.  Or (as I like to think of it) a Han Solo stripe.  That kind of detail makes me disproportionately happy.  A little thing can produce a great deal of happy.

The goal for this outfit was to create a look that was sleek and cool.  The shirt is slightly oversized and soft, so I had to fight against its casualness.  That’s why I added a big statement necklace – it’s probably my most Cleopatra accessory.  It’s pretty major – rows and rows of faux pearls with sparkles thrown in just for fun.  The shoes pulled their weight as well – they added a sleekness to the whole look.  It was a fun challenge to start with a casual piece, then balance out the outfit by adding some structure and some prettiness.

Day 5:  A Simple Distraction

I wanted to include some horizontal stripes in this post, because so many people say tell curvy women to avoid stripes.  It all depends on the stripe width and the structure of the top.  I’ve tried on t-shirts that look like I just escaped from prison, so I avoid those, but I really like striped shirts.  It usually come down to the fit.

This top is a good length for me – it hits right around the hip bone and the ruffle sleeves add an interesting detail to an otherwise basic top.  It also happens to be a little boxy, which can be a little problematic visually (especially when combined with horizontal stripes).  Here’s where distraction and trickery comes in.  The human eye is pretty lazy – it just wants to something to settle on and it is drawn to blank white spaces.  So this boxy white shirt can turn into a canvas for whatever you want – a necklace, a scarf, or a tie (as demonstrated).  I used this black satin belt as a makeshift tie, because I wanted to draw the eye up and down, rather than side to side.  Without the tie, the eye would take in the square whiteness of the shirt.  With the tie, the eye is drawn to the center and up to the face.  All is Illusion.

You control your appearance and what you show to other people.  You can control more than you think.  These ideas are just a few of the many ways to play with proportion and perception and focal points.  When you pick your outfit, think about what you want to highlight or what you want to downplay, then choose clothes around that.  Just like magic.

Ashley Tries Pin Curls and a Play

This week has been dress rehearsal, soft open, and full performances for the play!  I have one more performance to go and I’m already missing everybody.  That’s what makes plays so amazing – it’s the camaraderie, playing off each other’s reactions, feeding off everybody’s energy.  It’s the joy that comes with creating art with other people.  I’m tired and happy.

This week, I had to keep all the normal life stuff going (especially work) and prep for the play as well.  Curly hair felt right for my character – curly hair has tons of personality and energy.  It feels spunky and bouncy and individual.  That kind of sums up my character, so I felt like I needed to do pin curls.  This is a disclaimer up front to say that I brought this on myself – nobody made me do my hair in pin curls this week.  I volunteered.  I’m so glad I did, because the curly hair helped me get into character and it takes my costumes and makeup to the next level.  It added a little bit of complexity to getting ready in the morning, but it was worth it!

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Monday was full dress rehearsal – hair and makeup.  So I woke up, washed my hair, started pinning down hair spirals.  It’s not done until my head looks like a satellite photograph of hurricane season.  The finished product looks a little strange, so the challenge this week has been making the bristling-with-pins porcupine stage look okay.

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Method 1:  Hat.

The truth?  I really like hats, but I feel a little self-conscious about them.  I probably shouldn’t be.  Most people really like seeing other people wear hats.  Unless everybody is lying.  That’s a possibility.  I wore my little bowler hat, my new favorite black pants, black flats, and a tie-front cropped top over a camisole.  One theme that ran through this week – earrings.  I tend to forget to wear earrings most of the time, but with all my hair up, my ears felt exposed and bare without a bold pair of earrings.

I included the second picture, because I want to show you what Sara (my long-suffering photographer) has to put up with.  Lest you think I’ve got things together.  Lest you think I am naturally photogenic and all the pictures look decent.  NOBODY’S PICTURES ARE DECENT ALL THE TIME.  Most of the time, Posing plus Ashley equals Disaster.

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Came home, took out the pins.  This happened.  I looked like Moss from The IT Crowd.  Slightly shocking, but it softened up as the evening went on.  Like stage makeup, this hair is exaggerated.  Perfect for stage, a little crazy in normal circumstances.

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This is the same hair after a long, hot, sweaty rehearsal.  It looks very 1920s and that’s exactly what I was going for, so I’m pretty happy with those results!

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Tuesday was a dress rehearsal, but no hair or makeup, so I just got to enjoy the leftover curl in my hair.  Waking up with my hair big made me want curly hair.  I loved it.  Threw on one of my happy little summer dresses and black flats (because they were already out from the day before).  No makeup, because I ran out of foundation the day before.  Happy day.

Note to my friends with naturally curly hair:  I love your hair.  I wish I had it.  Some of my friends in high school straightened their hair all the time and I didn’t even know they had curls.  That’s crazy!  Reshaping your hair every day is an enormous amount of work!  Just know that I love your big hair.  It’s like hats – people love hats on other people, but they are self-conscious when it comes to wearing hats themselves.  It takes a little bit of boldness, especially if you aren’t used to it.  But you should give it a try, especially during the summer.

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Method 2:  Headwrap

Do I think this is the best look ever?  Nope.  But it worked.  I pinned those curls up until my head looked like typhoon season over the Indian Ocean, then wrapped a black satin belt around my head.  It didn’t cover the pin spirals, but it did make them look more intentional.  Ever wonder what the difference between Fashion and Throwing On Random Stuff is?  Intention.  Or the impression of Intention.  Intention and confidence are very closely connected.  The confident person makes everything that they wear look planned, under control, intentional, even when nothing is planned, nothing is in control, and the intention got painted on after the fact.

Striped shirt (a happy thrift store find), old jeans, heels (to give the impression that my life is under control…), and earrings that I don’t usually wear.  I don’t usually wear them, because when I turn my head too fast, they slap me in the face.  They are very long earrings.  Handy for distraction and misdirection.  “Yes.  All my hair is pinned to my head in little circles, but LOOK AT THESE EARRINGS.  I CAN SLAP MYSELF IN THE FACE WITH THEM.”  If I get self-conscious, I can just run away while they’re thinking about that statement.

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I used the headwrap again on Thursday.  This was a half-up, half-down hair day, because I ran out of time that morning.  The curls in the front are the most important part, because I pin the back of my hair up into a faux bob for the play.  Again, not the most successful overall hair look, but the dress is so fun that it distracts from the hair shortcomings.

I think print dresses are wardrobe stars.  One and done.  If I’m in a rush, I reach for a print dress.  This day was great, because we had our soft open on Wednesday, so I still had a little glow from a successful performance and a sparkle from anticipating Opening Night.  Happy day.  Have I mentioned I love performing for an audience?  If you want to see a happy Ashley, come find me after a whole audience laughs at my jokes.  *happy sigh*

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My other hat.  A straw one that I really don’t wear very much, but it’s a lovely hat.  I’ve realized I like classic men’s hat shapes best – bowler, fedora, panama, boater.  I want a silk top hat at some point in my life.  I’m not attracted to floppy brim hats, even though they are all over the place right now.  If you are intimidated by hats, try a few different styles.  You might find one and think, “This is my hat.  Hello, hat.  This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

This outfit went bold, because of the hat.  Hats get noticed.  The shirt dress is subtly bold, because the proportions are interesting.  I like it.  Added a pair of heels for height, because the dress is a bit oversized and having longer legs kept it from overwhelming my short frame.

This week made me appreciate my grandmas – they both used to do their hair in pin curls and they looked beautiful.  Of course, they didn’t have them in during the day – they slept in them, which must have been very uncomfortable.  Some days when I woke up with curl in my hair, it made me think I looked like my Grandma Margaret.  That makes me happy, because she’s gorgeous.  If I grow up to have half of her spunk and gumption, I’ll be happy with that.

This week also made me appreciate my hair.  I don’t do much with it and I usually think of it as very normal and / or boring.  But it’s nice hair.  I like it.  And now I know how to make it curly!  Will I do pin curls all the time?  No.  It’s too much work to do all the time, and I’m not very skilled at it, so the curls are all different sizes and it gets frizzy.  But it’s been a great week.  The last performance is tonight and the curls will bounce again!

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Ashley Tries Closet Evaluation 

Every so often, I think “WHY DO I HAVE ALL THESE CLOTHES?”  It’s usually in the summer, because wearing clothes isn’t as fun in the summer.  Too hot.  The WHY CLOTHES WHY stage is a good time to do some closet evaluation, but I usually advise taking it slow.  Some clothes are obvious donation material – the clothes that don’t fit you and that you didn’t like even when they did fit.  But I tend to like all the clothes I buy, so sometimes it’s hard to let them go.  This week for Ashley Tries, I evaluated some pieces that I haven’t worn for a while.  Should I keep it?  Should I give it away?  Should I rip it into pieces and make it into rags?  (There are a few t-shirts from high school that should probably be made into rags soon….)

Day 1:  Oversize shirt that shrank in the wash

Like I said, I tend to like all my clothes.  This shirt is no exception to that.  I love the floral print and I like the drape and movement it has.  The problem is the length – it’s shorter in the front and longer in the back.  That’s not automatically a problem, but the shirt did shrink when I washed it, so the front has inched up into an awkwardly short length.

I can always wear it over high-waisted jeans, but that puts everything from my waist down on display and my tummy is not my favorite part of my body.  If I’m going to do a short top or a tucked-in top, I want a skirt fits at my waist and then floats away from the body.  All is Illusion.

To style this little challenge, I chose a simple black skirt that has a pretty high waist and doesn’t add too much extra volume.  Not a pencil skirt, but not an a-line.  Even with the higher waist, I still had to be careful if I reached up for anything (and that included adjusting my ponytail).  I wanted my hair up and out of my face, and I decided to wear my glasses.  Pretty simple.

I added the pink shoes to give the outfit some color, and since I was in an evaluation mode, I decided it is time for the pink shoes to go.  I bought them from Payless a few years ago and they have served me well, but they weren’t built to last and the heels are all the way worn through.  They have been truly great, so I’m going to keep my eyes open for a pair of brightly colored heels.  Since I know how versatile this inexpensive pair has been, I might invest more money into a replacement pair.  Sometimes clothes surprise you – it’s delightful when something bright or eccentric or funky turns out to be really versatile and adds a lot to your wardrobe.


Day 2:  Black and White Dress

I bought this dress at Ross five or six years ago.  When I first had it, I wore it all the time, but I hadn’t worn it recently.  I decided to check and see if it still fit and if I still liked it.  Good news:  it still fits and I still like it.

One of the tricky parts about the dress is the major ruffle business on the top.  There’s already plenty going on on my top half, so adding volume up there isn’t usually the best plan.  But the deep v-neck makes the ruffle less overwhelming and the waist hits at a great place.  Good posture is a must in this dress.  To draw even more attention to the waist, I might replace the attached belt with a contrasting belt in a bright color.

This dress is coming back into rotation!  (My happiness in this dress was helped by getting to hold my baby nephew.  Happiness is holding a tiny sleeping baby.)

Day 3:  Purple Top

This purple draped shirt is another one that I used to wear all the time, but haven’t worn recently.  This one feels old to me, even if it doesn’t look like it.

Pros:  A great color – rich, regal purple without too much blue, so it contrasts well with jeans.  The asymmetric drape and the length are nice as well.

Cons:  Because of the drape, I have hold the neckline when I lean over.  The material isn’t the nicest, so it is wearing thin in some places.  Ruffle sleeves aren’t my favorite anymore.  (They used to be, though.)  It feels old and worn out to me, just because I know how often I’ve worn it.

It comes down to this:  if I had to choose between one of my other shirts and this shirt, I wouldn’t pick this shirt.  Time for purple top to retire.

I enjoyed the outfit overall – skinny jeans, heels to make the jeans look good, and a lace cardigan.  The cardigan is great because it doesn’t hide the shirt underneath it and it gives great texture to the outfit.  The purple shirt added all the color and I loved having that brightness, so I should probably look for tees that aren’t black or navy…

Day 4:  Striped Shirt

Shirt length has changed since I bought this little striped number.  It is short, but not cropped.  I don’t like the accidental flash of back or midriff, so I have to careful about what jeans I wear with it.

I don’t like having to be careful.  The more I have to fuss with my clothes, the less I like them.  Pulling down and tugging up and adjusting… let’s not.  That’s why I have abandoned strapless dresses (unless they fit really well).  I call the constant tugging up of strapless dresses The Bridesmaid Dance.  We’ve all been there.

The outfit worked because I tucked the shirt into some blousy linen shorts (which almost have a skirt look to them), so the length wasn’t as much of an issue.  It still looked a little plain, so I added a huge necklace I found at the Salvation Army.  Gold sandals helped me hit the balance of nice casual that was aiming for.

It is time for this shirt to retire as well.  I have gotten a ton of use out of it (I think I got it during college) and enjoyed it, so I am happy to let go.

Bonus:  Sara Style!

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Sara’s outfit was so cute that I just had to share.  One cool aspect of this outfit is that the top isn’t a blouse – it’s a sundress.  Just goes to prove you can work with whatever you’ve got!

A big shout out to Sara, who takes my outfit pictures in random two-minute photo shoots most days.  Thank you!

Day 5:  Linen Wide-Leg Trousers

Okay.  These trousers are epic.  They are just SO epic that they intimidate me and they are hard to pair with stuff.  I love them, but I don’t end up wearing them very often.

I decided to wear them how linen trousers are meant to be worn – very casually and simply.  It all comes down to the proportions, because the legs are so wide.  The t-shirt is slim fit and has a print that stands up to the bold color of the trousers.  I also wore wedges to give the appearance of a longer leg line.

The important thing for wide-leg trousers is balance – keep the top more streamlined and embrace the breeze around your ankles.  I love these pants.  I am definitely wearing them more this summer.

My advice for closet evaluation is this – don’t purge.  You have all the time in the world.  Try on a couple things a week and think through pros and cons.  Keep it doable and you might just do it!