Ashley Plans to Go Adventuring

The air has gotten cooler and clearer.  The sunshine is no longer oppressive.  The sky has darkened slightly.  Summer is scootching over and making room for autumn.

I love Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows always, but certain chapters stick out to me at different times.  The chapter for this time of year is called “Wayfarers All”, when all the birds are getting ready to migrate for the winter.  This is the beginning:  “The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why.  To all appearances the summer’s pomp was still at fullest height, and rowans were reddening, and the woods were dashed here and there with a tawny fierceness, yet light and warmth and colour were still present in undiminished measure, clean of any chilly premonition of the passing year.  But the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk to a casual evensong from a few yet unwearied performers; the robin was beginning to assert himself once more; and there was a feeling in the air of change and departure.”

That’s it.  Nothing looks very different, but everything feels different.  Summer is beautiful, but summer doesn’t make me want to run away and explore and change and have adventures.  To use another Wind in the Willows quote, autumn fills me with a “spirit of divine discontent” and that’s where I am right now.  Ready to drop everything and run away.

Monday

This week started with an eclipse – how amazing is THAT?  I didn’t experience the total eclipse, but the moon covered around 94% of the sun.  The light dimmed darker and darker and the air went cold and the ambient noise died down.  I don’t pay attention to the tiny insect clicks and bird coughs until they stop.  It moved me.  Our planet relies on a fireball that is 93,000,000 miles away.  We are so fragile, yet so self-important.  That’s what I loved about the eclipse.  We aren’t awestruck as often as we should be.  It’s good to feel very small and very finite.  Pride does not become us.  Humility makes mankind more beautiful.

That being said, I don’t think this is a very successful outfit.  But I enjoyed the sequins on the shirt, because I’m like a magpie.  I like shiny things.  The cardigan and oxford shoes made me feel like a character in a steampunk adventure.  Am I a drama queen?  Maybe a tad…

Monday Night

I spent that evening with friends.  We sat on top of a dry hill, surrounded by insect hums and dry grass cracklings.  The sun went down and sucked all the color towards itself, until it sputtered on the skyline like a barely functional neon sign.  The air smelled like change and movement.  The neon sun eventually went out entirely and the colors dispersed.  Stars pricked through the fabric of the sky.  Quietness and an open sky are good for me.  It’s easy to lose perspective and get caught up in my tiny comings and goings and my own story.

Tuesday

I like this outfit.  These pants are simple black jeans, but some kind designer added a tuxedo stripe to the side.  That makes them so much cooler.  They’re like dressy Han Solo pants now.  Black ballet flats and a tweedy top layered over a longer black t-shirt.  It looked dressy without trying too hard.

Since I’ve been in Change Everything mode, I made a haircut appointment.  I love haircuts.  I’ve never had a haircut I didn’t like.  It’s possible that OTHER people didn’t like them, but I liked all of them….

I like to feel cute BEFORE I get the haircut (makeup done, a good outfit, etc.), because that really makes the haircut look even better.  I never want to leave the salon still feeling like the Before in a Before and After comparison in an advertisement.  I want to look like the After picture.

Have you noticed how EVERYTHING changes in the After picture?  There’s always the thing the ad wants to highlight (usually dramatic weight loss), but the Before picture is taken in the least flattering clothes and the least flattering light, from the absolute worst angle.  The After picture has the same woman at a great angle, immaculate hair and makeup and a killer outfit, standing in the glow of perfect lighting.  It’s usually because we want everything to change when we change one thing about ourselves.  Sometimes we want a change, but we have remember that one change doesn’t change everything.  This isn’t Roman Holiday.  But haircuts are lovely.  I highly recommend them.

Wednesday

This is the happy smile of a woman with a new haircut.  New hair is the ultimate accessory.  Especially for a woman who struggles to remember to wear earrings.

I love the day after a haircut – my hair still smells amazing, because of the magic potions that the hairstylist puts on my hairs.  It also still has a little bit of styling left, so I don’t even brush it.

Jean and a t-shirt and metallic shoes.  No need to complicate things.


Thursday

I wanted to see how the hair reacted to air-drying.  The results pleased me – it has a lot of personality and movement.

This outfit is very-much-so Me.  It’s kooky, but still practical.  It’s a mix of a little old lady and little kid.  Really bright, but grounded with neutrals.  It’s an outfit that doesn’t really care about what other people think.  Who doesn’t love a Hawaiian shirt?

Friday

This is my favorite outfit from this week.  I think of it as genteel rock and roll, like those rock songs with random flute, cello, or harpsichord solos in the middle.  Wild Thing comes to mind, as does Stairway to Heaven.

Pattern mixing, skinny jeans, some happy messiness to the hair – that’s all this takes.

I’m off on an adventure next week, because I’m flying to Provence!  I may post next week, but I’ll be gone for a while.  Don’t worry – I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.  See you later, folks!  I’m in the mood to fly away.

 

Advertisements

Ashley Tries: Volume & Oversize

After the last post and my rash offer to try anything fashiony, I got one request for overalls.  Maybe later.  If I find a great pair of overalls, I guarantee I will post about it.

Another question that came was how to style pieces that are either oversized or have a lot of material and volume.  Oversize Everything was one of the defining trends to come out of New York Fashion Week this year (big trench coats, wide-leg trousers, volume-on-volume-on-volume), so voluminous clothing will be in our fashion futures.

For this episode of Ashley Tries, I set myself a mini challenge:  choose a different voluminous piece every day and style it up.  I didn’t realize this challenge would lead to the entirely different challenge of photographing those outfits.  This is my first outfit photography attempt, so forgive me in advance for the messiness.  Here goes!

Monday, First (Failed) Attempt:

The first morning, I decided to style my wide-leg trousers from Loft.  They are great trousers – soft, a nice neutral green color, good fit, good length.  The only problem is that they require the right styling, because they have a lot of volume in the leg.  I usually go for looser on top and skinnier through the leg, so I have to reverse my formula to style with wide leg trousers.  The first attempt was with a boatneck navy t-shirt and a striped blazer.  It was a complete fail – the color scheme was nice, but the fit was all wrong. The blazer is a little boxy, so it looked like I was wide through the leg, wide through waist, wide through the bust, wide through the shoulder.  Wide all over.  Then the high neck on the tee just smothered me in fabric.  I was covered cloth from my clavicles to my toes. First lesson:  Proportion is everything.  

Monday, Second (More Successful) Attempt:

I kept the green trousers (because they were the reason for the outfit), but ditched everything else.  After being smothered by that boatneck, I wanted a fitted top with a v-neck.  I picked out a black and white print top in a wrap style.  Some great things about the wrap top fit are the deep-v neckline, cinched waist, and fitted shoulders.  This is one of those shirts that requires a camisole, but it’s totally worth it.  Showing more skin at the neck made the whole outfit seem lighter and drew attention up to my face.  Since the shirt had a defined waist, I didn’t have to tuck the shirt in, but that’s another option for getting the right proportions.  The print added visual interest, but the print wasn’t as important as the fit for this outfit.  I topped it with a black blazer that fit well at the shoulders and waist, to keep the top half streamlined.  When I wear wide-leg trousers, I want all the height I can get, so I wore heels with this outfit.  Actually, wearing heels became a steady theme throughout the week.  I’m 5′ 3″, so getting overwhelmed is my biggest danger with oversized clothes.  A Public Service Announcement to all you short women out there – don’t assume you can’t wear stuff.  It’s all about the fit.  Don’t be afraid to try shapes that are unfamiliar to you.  Switching one thing out can add some Oomph to your closet.

Tuesday:

This is a very poofy skirt.  The picture doesn’t show you just how poofy this skirt is.  It’s a heavy-duty little number I picked up at a Goodwill a while back.  Made from rows of embroidered elastic fabric all stitched together, this baby can stand up on its own.  The shape makes it tricky to put together an outfit.  I started off with a black v-neck tee that I could tuck in, because having a defined waist is really important to pulling off this look.  But I don’t like just having a tucked in shirt, because it tugs and scroonches and works its way up and twists around.  So I tuck in the tee, but layer a light and bright cardigan over it.  That way it’s obvious that the shirt is tucked in, but you can’t see much of it.  It was cold that day, so I chose a jean jacket that hit at the waist.  Any longer and the skirt would have been poofing the jacket out like an umbrella.  Because cold, I wore black tights and black heels – matching tights and heels is a great way to give the legs a little more length.  Second lesson:  Where things hit is just as important as how they fit.  This outfit works because the layers hit at the waist and the skirt ends just above the knee, so my waist and legs are highlighted.  This is why I like three-quarter sleeves (I like my forearms), knee-length skirts (I like my calves), and dresses that hit at my natural waist (showing that I’m curvy while still leaving so much to the imagination).

Wednesday:

I bought this shirt in Mexico and it is one of my favorite things – I’ve included a close-up on the embroidery, because IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL AND I LOVE IT.  Also, these colors give me life.  They remind me that there sunshine somewhere on this planet.  It’s a beautiful one-size-fits-all tent.  To balance out the volume, I paired it with skinny jeans and heels.  The black cardigan has some nice weight to it and fits well through the shoulders, so it slimmed down the shoulders and was a nice frame for the embroidered top.  Third Lesson:  If you love something, make it the focus.  It’s okay for everything else to be in supporting roles.  You can balance out bright colors with neutrals, but be conscious of the neutrals – if I wear white jeans with this top, it would look like a summer beach party.  Darker colors help ground it.

Thursday:

For the last official day, I decided to go big – a maxi dress with a big old sweater.  I found this dress at Ross a few years ago and it just made me happy.  It’s a subtle ombré – the top is pale blue and it fades out into white – putting it on is like traveling through a cloud layer into a clear sky.  A loose maxi dress only has to fit through the shoulders.  If the shoulders fit, everything else can float away from the body.  The cardigan has been a favorite as well – it also has an ombré effect from the different mixes of yarn and a fantastic drape.  The shoulders fit and everything else drapes.  Fourth lesson:  Volume is dramatic.  Wearing oversized clothes does not deflect attention – it attracts attention.  It’s possible to do volume on volume as long as you don’t get swallowed up by the clothes.  Height helps with not disappearing into a sea of fabric, so heels are your friend if you are short (like me).  I felt cool all day in this outfit, because it was a statement.  It was immediately noticeable, without trying too hard.

I wore an oversize t-shirt and jeans and flats on Friday, but I spilled coffee on the shirt and it is in the laundry.  Imagine that it looked cute and effortless, okay?  Maybe it didn’t, but it felt easy and comfortable.  A nice outfit for a busy day.

I enjoyed the week, because I got to wear some clothes that take a bit more effort to style. Challenges help me be creative and conscious of what I wear.  It also introduced me to outfit photography.  I am such a newbie, but I’m going to keep working on it and challenge myself in that way as well!  Is there something you want me to try?  Comment and let me know.  Thanks for reading.  I appreciate all of you!

Ashley Tries X: Dress Over Trousers

One of the fun things about being an amateur fashionista is that people occasionally ask me for advice about clothes.  You can’t even imagine how tickled I am when people message and ask how to dress for a new stage of life or how put together an interview outfit or if I can help them pick out their wedding dress.  Yes yes yes yes yes.  I feel like I’ve gotten a reputation for knowing about clothes just because I won’t shut up about it and by being okay with wearing strange combinations of things.  So far it’s really paid off, because people keep asking me questions on a subject that I want to think about anyway!

The other day I got a question from a friend asking whether it was a fashion crime to wear jeans under dresses.  I sent off my preliminary thoughts right away, but I decided to go one step farther.  I’m using the question as an excuse to kick off a question-based series called Ashley Tries X.  Send me a question about a tricky trend – is anybody else confused by this culotte renaissance?  Or send a question about that one piece in your closet that never gets worn, because it doesn’t play well with the rest of your clothes and you don’t know how to style it.  Ask about fashion crimes.  Ask away!  My fate is in your hands.

So here’s the story on my dress + trousers day:

Friday morning, I was getting ready for work in my ordinary morning haze.  I honestly think the Morning Haze has more to do with my fashion sense than anything else.  It’s easy to make bold choices when you are half asleep.  And I don’t like strong light when I first wake up.  This leads to crazy color combinations, because everything matches in the dark.  Anyways, as I sifted through my t-shirts and jeans, I discovered a knit leopard-print dress in the same drawer.  Finding it mixed in with all the trousers and shirts reminded me of my friend’s question about layering dresses and jeans.  My morning-muddled mind asked WHY NOT?

So I layered the knit dress over skinny military-green trousers and added a jean jacket.  I didn’t wear jeans, because my jacket was already denim and it seemed redundant.  (It probably would have looked better with jeans and a different jacket, but I’ll take that into consideration for next time.)  This decision took about two minutes, because I was hungry.

This was not my first time at the dress-over-jeans rodeo.  Babydoll dresses over flares used to be my scene circa 2005 to 2010.  It was fun.  It was playful.  The dresses were MADE to be worn over jeans.  It was the water I swam in.  I think that’s one of the reasons I felt super young in this combo – it kicked my memories back to a more Lizzie McGuire age.  Young and informal – not un-cute, but I didn’t feel grown up.

During the day, I was very conscious of the outfit’s proportions.  (…If the dress was a little bit shorter, it would be better…..if the jeans were tighter at the ankle, it would be better….)  So if you want to try this, make sure to use your most fitted jeans – the tighter the better.  To look modern, the jeans should be taking the place of leggings or tights.  Don’t wear a pair of jeans that makes the dress look lumpy at the ankle or at the waist.  The green trousers I wore fit me great from the calves up, but they get a little bunchy toward the ankles.  The problem was that the dress covered up the places where they fit well and highlighted the places where the fit wasn’t great.

But there were definitely parts of the combination that I enjoyed – Friday was a crazy weather day and as I walked outside, the updrafts were pulling a Marilyn Monroe on my skirt.  It was almost impossible to hold down all the points of a skater skirt when the wind has different plans.  So I held down that skirt the best I could, but it was comforting to have something more substantial than tights to keep me covered!  The skirt is fairly short, so I would normally wear the dress with tights or leggings, but it’s nice to have another option as well.

It was an interesting balancing act between how I act in a dress and how I act in jeans.  I enjoyed the mobility and ease of not having to worry about my skirt riding up, and I would find myself not being as careful sitting down or leaning over. But then I would remember that I had a dress on and cross my legs like a lady.  Again, I felt really young – I remember being little and wearing a dress meant you had sit up and cross your legs and be careful and not turn all the way upside down on the monkey bars.  But I’m grown up now – I’ve learned how to handle dresses and I really like dresses.  It’s second nature now.

It made me realize that I carry myself differently when I’m wearing a dress.  Then when jeans enter the equation and the dress takes the place of a long top, it’s a little confusing to know how to behave in it.  I came to the conclusion that even with the added coverage, if you’re wearing a dress, wear it like a dress.  Don’t put things in your pockets.  Don’t sit with your legs open.  Behave like a woman, not a kid – which may seem like a no-brainer, but I had to remind myself more than I thought I would.

Conclusion:  I would wear a dress over trousers again, but not with the same clothing combo.  For this layering to work, the proportions are the most important part.  I didn’t think about how my trousers fit at the ankles until I got to work and then I noticed it all the time.  I wouldn’t wear it on a day when I have to be in charge of something or need to do something very adult (like file taxes or go to the DMV), because it made me feel young and informal.  But there was a certain ease to it that I really enjoyed and I loved how different it was.

Who should try this:  I know some women who feel really uncomfortable in dresses, because they feel like they have no range of motion.  This would be a fun idea for them to try, because it gives them the security of wearing jeans, but adds the option of cute and comfy dresses.  It would also be great for the moms who tell me, “If I wear a dress, my kids are just going to pull it up and hide under the skirt!”  If they are worried about wearing dresses, because they don’t want to accidentally flash everybody, this could lessen that worry  It’s also a great way to combine clothes you haven’t worn in a while – that slightly-too-short dress in a great print will pair nicely with those slightly-too-tight jeans that you still love.  I’m not going to rock it every day, but on a blustery day or a I’m-in-the-Mood-for-Something-Different day, I think the dress-over-jeans will ride again.

Comment if you have any ideas for what I should try next! 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Women

True Power

 

What does the power of women look like?  It’s something that I have been thinking about recently. I’m 29, single, working in a steady job, fairly intelligent, fairly successful.  What am I supposed to be aiming for at this stage in my life?  I know that my life and purpose are not going to magically come together when I get married or when I have babies (even though I want both of those things).  The last thing I want to do right now is kill time.  I want to DO things and be ambitious.  What is my power?  How do I pursue glory?  I think sometimes the terms woman power or strong woman conjure up images of Rosie the Riveter (We Can Do It!) or Beyoncé (looking fierce and intimidating and sexy all at once) or Anna Wintour (the editor-in-chief of Vogue choosing what we will wear next year).  Or maybe that’s just want my brain leaps to….
Does our power lie in what we can accomplish?  Is a powerful woman self-reliant, able to achieve success in her career and life?   Does a powerful woman put herself first?  Does independent success equal power?
Does a powerful woman exude confidence?  Does she draw attention to herself with her words or her talents or her body?  Is she intimidating?
Truth is, accomplishments and self-reliance and confidence look like what we think power should look like.  True power hides in long hours and hard situations and pain.  The power of women is in giving ourselves away.  It doesn’t matter if you are 3 years old or 96 year old, whether you are going to school, working, or raising a family.  Wherever you are, you are surrounded by people who need love and need you.  Success sometimes doesn’t like success.
As women, we are designed to give ourselves away.  The most obvious example is pregnancy – while babies are developing, they rely on their mothers for absolutely everything.  The mothers support two lives at once – two people in one.  But a mother does not become less of a person as she gives and gives and gives.  She can give herself all day, every day and never be less herself.  There is a way of giving that builds up the giver and the receiver, but women can also give themselves to things that destroy and consume, whether it is an emotion (like envy or bitterness) or an ideal (like a perfect body or a perfect family).
It matters what we give ourselves away to.  It matters what we do.  Even when it looks like we aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary.  Building always takes time and building people up can seem like an unbearably slow process.  But you can’t know how much your gift means to somebody else.  Encouraging words have tremendous power.  Kind actions have a power beyond what we can see.
No matter what stage you are at, you can do this.  Are you going to school?  Befriend that kid who has no friends.  Be kind to your teachers – they have a hard job.  Are you working?  Go above and beyond to help your coworkers.  Be quick to help customers (even when they are unreasonable).  Take the hard jobs.  Switch shifts with the single mom who wants to be with her kids.  Are you married with kids?  Give yourself to your husband and children.  Feed them.  Hug them all the time.  Smile at them.  (Smiles also have a power beyond what we can understand.  Smiles are amazing.)  Women are glory creatures.  Women are beautiful, and we are most beautiful when we are kind.
So be ambitious.  Make and pursue big plans.  Use your brain and use your talents.  Just go out with the right drive and motivation.  Set out on your adventures ready to give yourself away, ready to sacrifice, ready to figure out who you are meant to help today.  Use everything you have to bless other people.

Investment

Clothing Investments
As we start 2017, it’s a good time to think about wardrobe investments.  Some pieces are worth spending more money on, but with almost unlimited options out there, which ones fit best your budget and your life?  In this post, I’ll try to break down what makes a good investment piece and how to make good money decisions when you are shopping.  It always pays to be smart and disciplined!
There are a couple of things to factor into clothing decisions – the first one to consider is material cost.  Some clothes are expensive simply because they cost more to produce, but they can definitely be worth investing in, especially if they serve an important purpose in your wardrobe.  Wool, silk, leather, and other luxury materials cost more, but if you take care of them, they can last a lifetime.  You pay for quality.  Ask any knitter what it would cost to knit a full-size sweater out of quality wool – the yarn alone would probably be a couple hundred dollars, but you also have to factor in the time it took to make.  So usually the nicer the fabric and the better the workmanship, the more it costs.  But the reverse doesn’t always hold true – you can’t just assume that every expensive item of clothing must be good quality.  Sometimes it is just high-priced garbage.
The second concept to consider is cost per use  – to get an item’s cost per use, divide the initial cost by the number of times you wear that item.  This is all very well and good, you’ll say, but I’m not a prophet – how can I tell now how much I will use something in the future?  One way to figure out what you will wear most in the future is to figure out what you have worn the most in the past.  When you are investing in a piece, bring all your past experience to that purchase.  Here’s a great story from Emily Post circa 1945:
A very beautiful Chicago woman who is always perfectly dressed for every occasion has worked out the cost of her own clothes this way:  One a sheet of paper, thumb-tacked onto the inside of her closet door, she puts a complete typewritten list of her dresses and hats and the cost of each.  Every time she puts on a dress, she makes a pencil mark after its notation.  By and by, when a dress is discarded, she divides the cost of it by the number of times it has been worn.  In this way she finds out accurately which are her cheapest and which her most expensive clothes.  When getting new ones, she has the advantage of very valuable information, for she avoids the kind of dress that is seldom put on – which is a bigger handicap for the medium-sized allowance than many women realize.
When you are investing in a piece, bring all your past experience to that purchase.  Yes – your experience dressing your body gives you a perspective that nobody else has – every struggle to create an outfit before work, every outfit triumph, every body frustration, every “DANG – my rear looks good in these jeans”.  Take all that valuable knowledge and apply it.  I might be buying a wool coat soon – my usual modus operandi is to buy a really funky vintage wool coat at a thrift store or consignment shop and wear it until it falls apart.  But I’m an adult now and it will be good to have a nice wool coat, because in the long Idaho winters, that is the first (and sometimes only) thing people see.  But all my lovely funky thrift store coats have shown me what I need in an expensive coat.
1) The coat needs to have a collar, because I’ve had collarless coats before and you lose a surprising amount of heat from your neck.  I’m already cold enough.  I’m an expat Californian in the frozen north.
2)  It needs to have buttons – none of this open-front-with-a-belt business.  It looks pretty, but when the wind picks up, I want my coat to stay shut with me holding it on.
3)  It needs to be long enough to cover my rear.  My trousers can’t protect it all by themselves.  It needs an extra layer to keep it warm.
So those will be my coat requirements.  What requirements do you bring with you when you go shopping?  Which jeans do you love?  What kind of neckline draws attention to your face?  What sleeve length do you like?
A discussion of cost per use wouldn’t be complete without mentioning bras.  Bras make or break a wardrobe.  If your bra isn’t doing its job well, the rest of your clothes won’t fit right.  If you have never had a proper bra fitting or your size has changed, it is worth it to go get a fitting and a couple of nice brassieres.  They are worth the expense.  Trust me on this one.
I have also gotten to the point where I want to invest in nice shoes – this decision probably would have come sooner if I liked shoes.  But I’m stubborn and I don’t like shoes (probably because I don’t usually get good ones) and nice shoes are expensive…  But the truth is that bad shoes kill your back and can be treacherous in any weather.  Good shoes are a good investment for you and for your physical well-being.  Besides, if you buy a cheap pair of boots every winter, an quality pair that lasts for a long time will be cheaper in the long run.  A couple of thoughts – make sure to invest in the kind of shoes you wear the most.  If you always wear heels, invest in an excellent pair of heels.  If you always wear flats, choose a great pair of flats.  Choose a color that will go well with all of your clothes – if you need a visual reminder, take a picture of your closet and look for the dominant colors.
Imagine your closet is a garden filled with a mix of annuals and perennials.  Annuals need to be replaced every year – these are the inexpensive clothes that you can wear until they disintegrate.  They add color, variety, and punch. All trends and fashion experiments should live in this category until you have made up your mind firmly about them.  Perennials come back year after year, so they should be a delight.  Pulling out your wool coat and leather boots every winter should be as happy as the sight of the first crocus pushing through the snow.  Think about the things you wear the most – those are your candidates for perennials.  Do you wear jeans every day?  It is worth investing in a few nice pairs.  If you carry a purse every day (and odds are that you do), it might be worth looking for a beautiful one that makes a statement.  If you live a warm climate, look for fine cotton and linen.  If you live in the frozen north, look for wool and silk blends.
An investment purchase is not the time for experimentation or impulse buying.  Buy something you know you need, not something you feel like you might need.  If you can’t make up your mind, walk away.  Don’t shop desperate – the clothes can sense fear.  Be shrewd and patient.  Read the inside tags and figure out what that sweater is made of and how to take care of it.  Keep your eyes open in thrift stores and consignment shops and discount stores like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, and TJMaxx  – I recently found an Ann Taylor leather jacket in the Salvation Army for less than ten dollars (score!).  Look for things in the “wrong” season – boots are inexpensive in July and swimsuits are inexpensive in November.  Be observant and you can find quality for a great price.  Most importantly, love what you invest in – make sure that the color looks beautiful on you and the shape shows you off in the best way.