Ashley Tries Glamour (That Beautiful Illusion)

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

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Glamour reads:

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

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

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

Day 1: Sleek outfit, big hair

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

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

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

Day 2: Dressy outfit, straight hair

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

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

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

Day 3: Color-coordinated

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

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

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

Day 4: Casual, but with red lipstick

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

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

Day 5: Wild Card

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

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

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

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

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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.

Ashley Tries Referential Dressing

It’s easy to overthink clothes, because clothes are so personal.  When I overthink, I tend to lose track of the obvious.  Have you ever been caught off guard by a ridiculously easy question?  Like when you’re at a party and you’re a little nervous and a lot stressed and a stranger asks you how many siblings you have and you panic and just start listing numbers?  I can get that way when people ask me what I like about clothes.  Then my mind goes blank.  What DO I like about clothes?  Um, You get arrested if you don’t wear them in public?……They’re an aspect of art and culture that nobody can “opt out” of?…..They are usually made of cloth??….Okay, okay.  STOP, Ashley.

There are lots of reasons to like clothes, but my reasons aren’t very complicated.  I like clothes because clothes are pretty and interesting and can make people look really good.  There doesn’t have to be a deep reason to be interested in clothes and our clothes don’t have to be separated from what we like in other parts of our lives.

If your house is simple and minimalist, white walls with gray accents, I’m guessing that your clothing tastes will veer toward simplicity and minimalism as well.  If your favorite songs are all by Elvis, I wouldn’t be surprised if your wardrobe has some vintage vibes going on.  I like all kinds of things and that shows up in my clothes.  I love prints that remind me of my mom’s blue-and-white china pattern.  I love colors that make me think of the ocean.  So this week, I tried dressing in clothes that reminded me of other things I love.

Day 1

I love classic children’s literature and I have a particular fondness for the characters who don’t quite fit in with the rest of the group at first, but grow into it.  Usually the funny side characters.  The little, strange, hilarious ones.  Some examples:

  • Beanie Robinson from Dog Friday by Hilary McKay.  I’ve probably already mentioned Beanie on this blog, but she’s so great, I’ll mention her again.  She’s six.  She named herself Beanie, because she thinks a bean pod seems like such a comfy place to live.  She wants to run a Bed and Breakfast when she grows up and my favorite part of the book is when she gets an opportunity to do just that.  That little girl saves the day in such a nonchalant way that want to be Beanie Robinson when I grow up.
  • Dorothea Callum from the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, which are all about kids who camp and sail and have adventures around the Lake Country in England. Dorothea and her brother don’t show up until later in the series, so the main group has already been established and everybody has a role.  Dorothea wants to be a novelist and none of the kids really knows what to do with that at first, but she eventually becomes the one everybody looks to for ideas.  By the time The Big Six comes around, she uses everything she knows about mystery stories to solve a real crime.  She’s just the best.  (EXCUSE ME WHILE I RUN OFF AND READ ALL THE BOOKS WITH DOROTHEA IN THEM.)
  • Constance Contraire from The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  This book is about about a group of kid spies who are put in charge of shutting down a plot to take over the world, but Constance is the least likely child spy of all time.  She’s tiny, weak, grumpy, sleepy, and spends most of the book insulting her other teammates.  Her character development is such a surprise that I’ll just let you read it.  On the spy entrance exam, one of the questions is “What is wrong with this statement?”  The correct answer is that it isn’t a statement, it’s a question.  But Constance’s answer was “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”  That still cracks me up.

This outfit feels old-fashioned and young at the same time.  There’s something about the flats and the collar and the cardigan and the flowers on the shirt.  I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it reminds me of some of my favorite fictional characters, but it definitely made me happy that day!

Day 2

I love westerns and there’s a western trend thing happening right now, but let’s face it, I’m never going to look like Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven.  That’s the tragic fact of it.

I bought these lovely fringed earrings last Saturday and they had a western vibe to them, so I decided to channel the kind of western I knew I could do.  That is a glam western.  A musical western.  A Calamity Jane or Annie Get Your Gun kind of western.  As it turns out, it’s way easier for me to channel Doris Day than to channel Steve McQueen.

I really loved this look.  It’s cute and practical and packs a punch.  Just like Calamity Jane.  If there’s a trend you love, but don’t think you can do, alter it until it suits you!  The trends aren’t the boss of you.

Day 3

I bought this gray top in France last fall and I’m so delighted it’s warm enough to wear it again!  It’s ruffled and voluminous and embellished and it has bell sleeves and is so all-out-feminine that it makes me think of a princess.  Given the chance, I’d dress like a princess every day.  The Child Within still casts a heavy vote and always votes in favor of MORE TWIRLY, PLEASE.

I wouldn’t want to wear a ball gown all the time.  That would be cumbersome and inconvenient.  But I love the idea of truly beautiful everyday clothes and I want to make it a thing.  Princesses in the woods are still princesses and they are still regal and beautiful in hard circumstances.  I always preferred Sleeping Beauty’s everyday clothes to her ballgown.  Probably because the pink-blue-pink-blue gown color change confused me as a child.  Anyway, I don’t know how I will make Princess a THING, but I really want it.  I think that’s why I started doing fashion in the first place.

Day 4

This look is based on one movie scene that shaped my aesthetics more than I can explain.

The movie is Disney’s The Three Caballeros and it’s truly bizarre.  But there’s one scene where there’s a little choo-choo train going through a jungle and the background is completely black and the jungle and the train bright saturated colors.  It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that, with bright colors on a dark background, and boy did that ever speak to my soul.  The old comic, Krazy Kat, holds a special place in my heart for the same reason – the black skies and bright desert of Krazy Kat world strike a chord with me.

So to reference Mary Blaire’s 3 Caballeros artwork, I paired my brightest tropical print top with a black skirt and black shoes. It’s dramatic, but playful. It’s an everyday party.

Day 5

This one is easy. When I saw this romper, it made me think of a circus tent. And circuses remind me of summertime and popcorn and elephants.

I was so overjoyed about the first really warm day that I wanted to celebrate it! With shorts. But most of my shorts are very short. So this was an elevated short look that worked for the office. Win-win.

This was a fun challenge and it amplified all my happiness this week. If you are feeling a little bored with your outfits or just need some inspiration, take inspiration from things you love! What would your favorite book character pick out of your closet? What would an outfit based on toast with jam look like? What color reminds you of your favorite place?

Feeling Beautiful

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

– from Endymion by John Keats

I felt beautiful this Easter.  My outfit was simple, sharp, and neutral – cream dress, tan heels, navy jacket.  Neutral makeup, hair up.  The accessories provided the spark in this outfit – blue topaz earrings from my aunt and a feathered fascinator.

The outfit helped, but I felt in-the-bone beautiful, beyond what I was wearing.  Usually I feel that beautiful when I’m sitting in strong sunshine, soaking in the warmth of the sun and smelling the heat rising off the ground around me.  And it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing as long as it is comfortable.  It doesn’t matter what I weigh or whether my skin is clear or whether people see me sitting there.  The sunlight making my eyelids coral pink is enough on its own.  My sister and I were laughing about how happy sunshine makes us and we agreed makeup was just a way to replicate how we look in the sunshine when there’s no sun.  (Truth.)

Looking beautiful and feeling beautiful are two distinct things.  Women are beautiful, but it would be a lie to say that women always feel beautiful.

Easter was so lovely that I thought, “I feel very beautiful today.  Wouldn’t it be great to feel beautiful all the time?  I’m going to try to leave the house feeling BEAUTIFUL every day this week.”  HA.  As it turns out, that is easily said, not easily done.

We had the Monday after Easter off of work and on that Monday evening I got a cold.  Tuesday, I woke up feeling like an elephant sat on my face all night.  Dark puffy eyes, runny nose, oxygen-deprived brain.  I felt gross and I felt like I looked gross.  The truth is that makeup covers it pretty nicely.  If I hadn’t been coughing/sneezing/blowing my nose all week, it wouldn’t have been obvious that I felt like a dumpster fire.  If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a metaphor for something that starts out garbage and then bursts into flames.  I felt like a DUMPSTER FIRE ALL WEEK, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.  It was one of those truly hilarious scenarios that romantic comedies’ bread and butter, but without any romantic stuff.

Tuesday’s stream-of-consciousness thought process:  My face is puffy and my nose is bad news.  Sleeping didn’t work out that well last night and my brain isn’t working that well now.  Beautiful.  Oh gosh.  I’m supposed to leave the house feeling beautiful.  WHY DO I DO THESE THINGS TO MYSELF?  I’ll curl my hair.  Maybe that will help.  Lots of makeup today.  Especially around the eyes.  Earrings.  Maybe that will help.  High heels.  Maybe that will help.  Nope.  Still don’t feel beautiful.  I feel like a slime monster.  Oh well.  Need to get out the door.  I failed the challenge and it’s only the first day of it.

Wednesday’s thought process:  I like black and I like flowers.  I will wear those things.  My face is still so puffy.  Still a virus-ridden slime monster.  Do I feel beautiful?  Nope.  Oh well.  Failed again.

Thursday’s thought process:  My dream just scared me awake and I can’t go back to sleep.  How did I dream?  It doesn’t even feel like I slept.  I don’t feel like smiling.  I still feel sick.  I don’t feel smart or competent or ready to face the day, let alone beautiful.  I’m going to dress like a grown up today and maybe I’ll look competent and smart.  Blazer.  That’s what blazers are for.  I’m going to straighten my hair.  Because that seems like something a grown woman would do. FAILING AT THE BEAUTIFUL THING AGAIN.  OH WELL.

Friday’s thought process:  How much did I sleepwalk last night?  I know I woke up outside of my bed about three times, but really, I have no idea how much I walked in my sleep.  Scary.  In my dream, a group of friends came over to throw me a surprise birthday party at three in the morning in my own house.  Then they judged me for how messy my house was.  Then I turned off my alarm.  Then I woke up at 8:15.  8:15??????  I should already be on my way to work!  No time for contacts.  It’s a glasses day.  Brush hair, throw on clothes.  Dress and sweater.  Is this the best outfit?  Nope.  But it’ll do!

When it comes down to it, feelings aren’t the most important thing.

Would I like to leave the house feeling beautiful every day?  Of course.  I would absolutely love to feel beautiful every day, but feeling beautiful is elusive and complicated.  It’s true that we learn more from failure than from success.  This week made me think about the difference between my own perception and how everybody else viewed me.

Looking through the outfit photos this week, Thursday (blazer/jeans/straight hair) was by far the most successful outfit, but it was probably the hardest day.  Wednesday was the most emotional day, but Thursday was the hardest, because everything was raw.  My stupid dream woke me up too early (I still don’t remember what about it scared me awake, but I couldn’t go back to sleep).  My nerves were raw, my nose was raw, my throat was raw, and my eyes kept watering.  I felt stupid, but I knew I needed to get a ton done at work that day.  I felt insufficient as a human that day.  Forget about feeling beautiful.  I felt like a scratched scab on Thursday.  Oozy and exposed.  Gross.

Feeling beautiful comes down to a lot of different elements, only some of which I can control.  A lot of them I can’t control.  I can’t make it sunny outside.  But I can turn on the song “Ventura Highway” by America and feel like I’m in California driving with the windows down.  I can put on bronzer and look sunkissed.  When I’m happy, I feel sunny in my soul.  Happy is beautiful.  But I have to wait for sunshine.  I can do that.  And the waiting makes the sunshine even more amazing when it comes.

I realized that one of the things that kept me from feeling beautiful this week was comparison.  Comparison is one of the fastest way to stop feeling beautiful.  I was constantly comparing my sick self with my healthy self.  (If I wasn’t sick, I’d feel beautiful.)  We do this all the time.  “Me right now” versus the “Me that doesn’t have a cold”, the “Me with the nice haircut”, the “Me, but 20 pounds lighter”, the “Me ten years ago”….. these are the kind of comparisons that I don’t even need to leave the house to find.  Also, the assumption that the “other Me” would feel more beautiful might not even be true.  On the whole, I feel more beautiful now than I did when I was 20.  I was very uptight at 20 years old.

Once I step out of my house, I see beautiful women everywhere.  Actually, social media allows me to compare myself to the world’s most beautiful women without leaving my house.  Comparison City.  If I start down the comparison road, it will never stop.  There’s always something to compare.  My hair versus her hair.  My personality versus her personality.  My nonexistent coolness versus her very obvious coolness.  My body versus her body.  I don’t have many illusions about my body.  I have a My Little Teapot sort of body – short and stout.  (And when I get steamed up, I do end up shouting sometimes.)  If I fall into comparisons and then fall short, there’s a natural impulse to start listing what I have and she doesn’t.  That’s a bad way to go.  Don’t do it.  Confess that sin and get out of there.

The things that counter and conquer comparison are gratitude and love.  Give thanks for what makes that woman beautiful and give thanks for the different thing that makes you beautiful.  How boring would the world be if we all looked the same?  Give me variety.  Give me personality.  That’s what makes me happy.  I love all my amazing friends and how unique and beautiful you all are.  I’m so glad you’re so different from each other and different from me.  It keeps the world from getting dull and obvious.

Getting back to feeling beautiful – what can I control and what can’t I control?

Things I can control:

  • My attitude.  If there’s no sunshine outside, I can still be sunny on the inside.  It’s a cliché, but that is because it is absolutely true.  If I’m sad or anxious or angry, I’m not going to feel beautiful.
  • Clothes.  If my jeans are too tight, I’m uncomfortable.  If my bra is too stretched out, I’m uncomfortable.  I feel great in a dress that fits through the shoulders and the waist, but my go-to confidence outfit is jeans, t-shirt, and a fitted blazer.  The look is tailored and sharp and it suits where I am in life right now.
  • Makeup.  I only do enough makeup to make me feel the way I feel when I’m in sunshine, which isn’t that much.  I usually do a light foundation, bronzer (I don’t own blush right now), mascara, and tinted lip balm.  If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll do eyeliner or lipstick.  One or the other.  I’m more likely to accentuate my eyes.  Eyes are the windows to the soul.  The perfect shade of lipstick, perfectly-applied winged eyeliner, getting the eyebrows together – these are all wonderful things.  They might not sound like much, but they make a big difference.
  • Hair.  I’ll preface this section by saying that sometimes I can control my hair, but sometimes hair can be what insurance companies categorize as an “Act of God”.  Then you just have to do your best and know that this hair day was sent by God Himself.  My hair actually isn’t that difficult.  I do have many many cowlicks.  The cowlicks are more obvious when my hair is short.  Sometimes Good Hair Days and Bad Hair Days fit into the What I Can’t Control section, but there’s always a ponytail.  Or a hat.
  • My surroundings.  When I get ready to go out, I’ll turn on Frank Sinatra or bossa nova samba music or Natalie Cole.  Music can make me feel beautiful.  It sets the mood.  This will sound funny, but I feel especially pretty when I’ve had a glass of wine – not because I’m delusional, but because I’m relaxed.  When I’m having a great meal with friends or family and I’m content and happy and have a glass of wine, I’m golden.  When my house is clean and picked up, I’m more likely to feel put-together.  Even if everything is thrown into the closet, if I can’t see the mess, that’s good enough.
  • My love.  Feeling beautiful is very closely connected to feeling loved.  But I’m not commanded to receive love.  I’m commanded to give love.  God has told me to pay more attention to loving people than to how well those people are showing love to me.  Like feeling beautiful, this is easy to say, not easy to do.  It’s easy to see how people are failing in love towards me, but it’s hard to love people.  I’m always trying and failing and learning and working on it.  I’ll be working on it until I die.

Things I can’t control:

  • Other people.  If people don’t compliment the look, is the look still good?  I know there’s a disconnect between what I like in my outfits and what other people like in my outfits.  If nobody likes what I’m wearing, it’s hard to feel beautiful in it.  Approval is important to us.  Not everybody needs mass approval, but I think we all have a few people we want approval from.  A compliment can turn a day around.  But I can’t control how people will respond to me or what they will say.
  • The day.  God has a plan for my day that may or may not line up with my plan for my day.  The weather.  My job.  Finances.  People.  If I was solely in charge of orchestrating my day, I’d do a bad job anyway.  It would be a boring day.  As it is, every day is a surprise.
  • Love towards me.  Sometimes I feel unloved or unappreciated or lonely.  All of these feelings are lies.  The amount of love that God pours out on me is laughable.  It’s a hilariously, embarrassing huge amount of love.  The sky is small in comparison.  The ocean is small in comparison.  So when I feel unloved because no guys tell me I look pretty, that displays a stupid lack of perspective.  That’s when the feelings just don’t matter.  Rely on what you know, not what you feel.  Feelings aren’t the most important.  I know that I’m loved.  I’m loved by my family, by my friends, but far and away loved most by my Creator.  I have nothing to complain about.
  • Everything I take for granted.  Even the things I think I can control, I can’t control.  The things I take for granted are a gift, not a given.  My face, my body, my voice, my heart, my passion – these are all given to me and can be taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Everything gets categorized as an Act of God, because everything is.  If there’s anything I assume is an Act of Ashley, I should be prepared for it to be taken away from me.  This week showed me some of my many blind spots and I’m grateful for it.  Blessed by the name of the Lord and here’s to next week.  Like this week, it will be a gift.

 

 

 

 

Ashley Tries Thrifting and Repurposing

Last week, I went to a Goodwill Outlet store.  It was an experience.

If an item has been at a Goodwill thrift store for a few months, it gets sent to a big outlet warehouse.  It’s the last chance saloon for this stuff and most of it can only really be categorized as Stuff.  None of the stuff is arranged or priced or folded.  It’s thrown into wheely bins that are about the size and shape of dumpsters (but shallower).  Very similar to dumpster diving.  At the end of the time, you roll your cart onto a scale, then they charge you per pound of clothing.  It’s not a relaxing shopping experience.  It involves a ton of digging through junk, the employees are constantly switching out the bins and yelling warnings about switching out bins…..

Truth be told, I don’t shop at thrift stores very often.  If I’m looking for something, I’ll occasionally run through my local thrift stores and see what they’ve got.  Right now, I’m in the market for a dresser, so I’ll check through a thrift store when I’m out and about to see if they have a dresser.  But you can’t count on any particular thing being at the thrift store, so you need imagination and patience.  Some people can’t stand sifting through junk in the hope of a hypothetical treasure, but I enjoy it.  It brings out all my junk dealer DNA.  (We come from a fine junk dealer tradition in my family.)

Thrifting Tip: Never shop desperate.  If you go into a thrift store NEEDING something, you’ll probably get disappointed and frustrated.  Only go if you have the time to sift through and if you are okay with leaving without buying anything.

My challenge for myself this week was to feature clothes I bought from thrift stores or clothes that I’ve altered in some way.  If I thrift clothes or alter my own clothes, those clothes get a second life and it’s fun and satisfying.

Day 1: Red Arrow Sweater

I loved this sweater as soon as I saw it in the outlet bins.  I think this is what the inside of my brain looks like.  I don’t usually do red and black as the primary colors in my outfits, because it ends up looking serious.  I’ll usually pair red with gray or brown or navy, just to soften up the look.  But sweater is the opposite of serious.

But I didn’t just look at the amazing pattern when I picked it up.  I looked for stains and holes and made sure it didn’t stink.  I know my limits.  I also made sure I didn’t have to dry clean it or hand wash it.  Unless it’s a very special piece, I don’t want to have to dry clean clothes.  I love clothes that I don’t have to fuss over.  In order to fit in with my life, my everyday clothes must be worry-free.  And easy to dance in.  And comfy.  And cute.  And sometimes hilarious.  This sweater ticked all those boxes, so I rescued it from the bin and now it has a new home in my closet.

Day 2: Reworked Wrap Top

 

This white cotton Ralph Lauren top is another bin rescue.  I loved the lace detail on the sleeves, but it was way too big for me, so I decided to make it into a kimono-like layering piece.  That way I could utilize the wrap style it already had and make the looseness into a feature, not a bug.

This project made me pull out my sewing machine for the first time in forever.  I started out by doing some hand stitching on it, but I ended up stabbing my finger with the needle and then I got blood spots on the white shirt.  Yeah…..  So I washed out the blood, let the top dry overnight and used the machine to hem it the next day.  This is the result!

Here’s what it looks like when it isn’t tied in front:

I didn’t do much to rework this top – it involved seam ripping the hem along the front of the shirt and detaching the sides.  Then I re-hemmed the base and stitched up the sides again.  It took some tweaking to figure out the angles I wanted on the front, because I had to leave enough slack to make a tie.  The main thing was just making sure everything was symmetrical and one side wasn’t way lower than the other.  Is it the finest sewing job?  Nope.  But it was fun to plan out the logistics and then have a functional garment.

Day 3: Knit Dress

I found this J. Jill dress in the bins and it definitely didn’t deserve to be in that situation.  It was better than that.  This dress is a basic tunic dress made from quality fabric.  It’s comfy, stretchy, machine-washable, and the print is classic and versatile.  I’ve worn it twice in the past week (Sunday and Wednesday) and I loved it both times.  It’s just so COMFY.

No alterations necessary for this dress, but since it is fairly shapeless, I added a wide belt on Sunday and a buttoned cardigan on Wednesday.  The belt and the cardigan are both great shaping pieces.  It’s all about showing that you have a waist – there’s no need to make the outfit tight or uncomfortable.  I’ll probably wear it without a belt at some point, just for variety, but a belt is an easy way to alter clothes.  No sewing necessary!

Day 4:  Reworked Top

I was going to give this cream top away to a thrift store, because I didn’t wear it anymore.  There was a stain at the neck and the sleeves were that awkward length.  The length where it’s too long to be a real short sleeve, but it’s not elbow length…. The sleeve length combined with the high neck made me look matronly and I try to avoid matronly.

But the material has great texture and I have hardly any white shirts, so I was wavering between keeping and giving it away.  Then I saw Black Panther and got super inspired by the costume design, so I decided this shirt was the perfect blank canvas to experiment with embroidery!  And I cut the sleeves off.  That improved the shirt by about 85%.  The embroidery isn’t perfect, but it draws attention up to the neck and gives the whole top more visual interest.

Day 5: Striped Turtleneck

This turtleneck has roughly a million colors and short sleeves, so it was the wild card purchase of the outlet trip.  It gave me mad nostalgia vibes, because I used to wear shirts exactly like this.  I’ve been seeing this style of top coming back in, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a style that might look terrible on me.  The fit is actually okay, but the sleeves don’t hit at the most flattering place.  They form a perfect line right across the wide part of me.

But with a printed blazer and fitted trousers, this outfit turned out to be one of my favorites from this week.  Even if I always wear it as a layer underneath a jacket or a sweater, it was worth the less-than-a-dollar that I paid for it.  Cute, funky throwback style.

Thrifting is fantastic for trying a funky color, or a different silhouette, or a current trend that you aren’t sure about (*cough cough* bell sleeves).  I’ve lived through the bell sleeve trend once.  I had some bell sleeves that I really liked and some I really hated.  If you spend very little money, if it doesn’t work out, you don’t feel pressure to keep wearing it.  If you don’t end up wear it, give it back to the thrift store or cut it up and use it as a rag or embroider all over it and make it cool again.

One thing I really loved about my childhood was that mom didn’t worry about our clothes.  She let us run around outside and get dirty and not worry.  I never buy anything at full price.  I take reasonably good care of my clothes, but I never worry about them.  I try not to buy clothes that come with a side of guilt.  I buy clothes that come with a side of happy.  That happiness comes from cuteness or comfiness or easy-breeziness.  Don’t buy clothes that make you miserable.  That should be easy, right?  But it’s amazing how easily we can make ourselves miserable with worry.  It’s great to enjoy your clothes!

Bonus: DIY Mask

I went to masquerade ball on Friday night and I made my mask from tulle left over from trimming the bottom of my dress.  My dress is now the correct length AND I had material for a cool mask.  Win-win.

Bonus:  The Thrift Treasure

The real star of the outlet shopping trip was this beaded cardigan.  The beading is immaculate, which is incredible, because I’m sure this baby came from 1950s.  This is pure Sandra Dee vintage right here.  It was exactly the kind of thing I hoped to find and I couldn’t believe that I got to walk away with it!

I haven’t found the right thing to wear it with, but I adore it, so keep an eye out for Sandra Dee!  Yup.  I’ve named the cardigan.