Ashley Tries Dressing Like Flowers

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The beginning of summer is one of my favorite times of the year.  Cool mornings, strong sunshine, the occasional thunderstorm.  Delightful.

I took a stroll around my neighborhood on Memorial Day and got bombarded by flowers.  Big flowers, tiny flowers, tightly furled buds, full-blown ruffle explosions…  It was such a riot of colors and textures.  Inspiration hit hard and I decided to let my flower photos be the direct inspiration for my outfits this week.

Tuesday: Hawthorn Blossoms

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Every time the hawthorn trees bloom, I’m surprised by how beautiful these flowers are.  They look like tiny rose bouquets.  And they are all over the place up here.  There’s exquisite detail everywhere I look.  I think the surprise comes from my subconsciously equating exquisite detail and craftsmanship with rarity.  Finding so many tiny perfect rosettes on so many trees in so many front yards seems like coming across a huge pile of Fabergé eggs.  We are ridiculously blessed to be surrounded by beauty.  Fabergé probably wished he could rival the form and detail of a single flower or a single snowflake.  Each blade of grass is a marvel of engineering – strong, flexible, very complicated at the cellular and system level, but outwardly simple and very beautiful in its simplicity.  Don’t take all that beauty for granted.  Take the time to really look at the plants this time of year – they don’t stick around for very long, so enjoy them while they last!

The hawthorn blossoms reminded me of this little floral sundress.  The tiny pink flowers on this print are almost the exact size and color of real hawthorn blossoms, so I started off the week in a very literal fashion.  To make the dress look a little more casual and tone down the print a bit, I threw on a denim shirt.  Soft, thin denim shirts are my preferred summer layer, because they give the look of a jean jacket, but with less warmth.  Cool and comfy and covered is my goal in the summertime.

This dress is simple, but the pink print is so feminine and the shape is so nice that I could definitely wear it to a summer wedding.  But for work on Tuesday, a pair of flats and a jean shirt kept it casual.  If I wore this dress to a friend’s wedding, I’d style it with a pair of wedges (because summer weddings usually involve lawns), some pearl earrings, and I would attempt some kind of updo with my hair.  Then this dress would look all fancy and glamorous.

The problem was that this dress lured me into a false sense of security, because the print matched the hawthorn blossom photo so well.  I thought the rest of the week would be just as simple as this.  I was wrong about that.

Wednesday: Poppy

Take a look at this masterpiece!  This poppy is bigger than my hand, so the scale is automatically impressive.  The petals are more delicate than tissue paper.  The stem seems far too tall and thin to support any bloom of this magnitude, so it must be made of metal or something.  Also, look at that color scheme – orange, red, yellow, and pink on the petals, purple, brown, and black in the center, green and gray on the stem and leaves.

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That color scheme is pure crazy.  Look at how many watercolor pencils I had to use to even get close to those poppy colors!  If I tried to put all those colors into one outfit, people would think I had lost my mind.  Truth is stranger than fiction and nature’s color schemes make our craziest prints seem tame and safe.  Have you ever looked at a candle flame until you see all the layers of color?  White on the very edge, yellow fading into orange inside, and then at the base, deep electric blue and purple, sometimes even a light green.  It’s worth at staring at.  This poppy looks like flame.

Once I started really looking at the photo, I struggled to put an outfit together.  How could I assemble a look that would even come close to this amazing flower?  Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t recreate the poppy, but I could choose individual elements as inspiration and go from there.  Simplification was the way forward on this one.  From a distance, the main petal color is this bright coral red, so I pulled out a bright orange-red top and made it the star of the show.  I also drew inspiration from the stark contrast between the bright petals and the dark center, so I made everything else in the outfit dark – dark jeans, black heels, big black earrings.  (The fringe earrings also reminded me of the fluffy texture in the center of the flower.)

Do you ever need a reminder to not be paralyzed by comparisons?  Those comparisons sneak in.  I was comparing myself to a poppy and it paralyzed me for a while.  It’s so beautiful – I don’t have anything that comes close.  It won’t be good.  I just shouldn’t attempt this one.  Now imagine how much easier it is let people comparisons sneak in.  She’s so beautiful – I wish I could look like that, but I just can’t.  That would look good on me if I was skinnier and taller and had a different face and different hair.  It looks better on her – I just shouldn’t attempt it.  The realization that I was intimidated by a flower made me realize that I needed to nip those envious comparisons in the bud.  Pull out those doubt weeds when they are tiny.  Take inspiration from other people, but don’t try to replicate them.

Did you think there would be life lessons in this blog post about flower styling?  At the beginning of the week, I didn’t think there would be.  But everywhere I look, I see God’s grace at work.  Jesus used flowers to teach us about worry and (even more specifically) about clothes worry.  “And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Luke 12:25-28)

Why would God “waste” so much beauty on flowers?  They don’t last long.  This poppy’s flame petals might already be scattered all over the sidewalk.  But God cared so much about this particular poppy that He gave it colors that the richest queen WISHES she could replicate.  God cares more about you than He does about that flower and He put so much care into that flower.  Keep that in mind next time you start to worry.

Thursday: Peony

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This was the flower that gave me the idea for this week’s theme.  I want a dress that looks like this peony.  I don’t know how that would work exactly, but I’m ready to figure it out.  The gradient color, the ruffles, the volume, the slightly curled edges – there are so many beautiful elements that can translate directly to clothing.  In some ways, my tastes haven’t changed much from when I first started drawing dresses when I was five years old.  I love a big fluffy voluminous skirt.  I love ruffles.  I love pretty colors.  I love princessy clothes.  A dress inspired by this peony would tick all those boxes.

The peony outfit didn’t turn out super fluffy or ruffled, but the colors were pretty spot on, which pleased me.  I wouldn’t have though to pair these orange-yellow fringe earrings with this bright pink dress, but the center of the peony is a saturated pollen yellow and it looks stunning against the pink and white.  The contrast is so punchy and cool that I would definitely wear this color combination again.

I drew a few sketches of a peony dress.  It’s too literal right now, but I love the idea of the faded color gradient and overlapping petal layers, so I’ll keep playing with it.

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Friday: Daisy

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Daisies remind me of that line from You’ve Got Mail, when Meg Ryan asks, “Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower?”  Yup.  They look like summer and happy sunshine. At first glance, daisies look uncomplicated, but they are far from it.  Each tiny section in that central yellow disc is an individual flower, so this seemingly simple flower is actually hundreds of flowers all growing together.  Isn’t that cool?  Again, it warrants a closer look.

Simple-looking flower, pretty simple outfit: yellow cotton sweater, green chino shorts, metallic flats, and glasses.  I wanted a more casual look for Friday, so I saved the simplest outfit for last.  My goal for the day was to remember to be friendly.  Not that I’m actively unfriendly most of the time, but sometimes I don’t make the time to say hello to people or start up a conversation or arrange a time to meet up for coffee.  I usually chalk it up to being busy and not having time, but it’s usually me being afraid to put myself out there and initiate.  So any reminder to be friendly is a good thing.

This week was great.  My takeaway from this week is this:  if I feel burnt out, uninspired, and un-creative, I need to stop looking for inspiration inside myself.  I usually don’t realize I’m looking inward for inspiration until I’m scraping the bottom of the idea barrel and the ideas are all stale and uninteresting.  Being inward-facing is the very definition of self-centered and that’s bad news.  So open up all the windows and look out.  Take walks and admire everything.  Admire the bugs.  (Just watch – there will be a future blog post where I draw inspiration from different bugs.)  Talk to people and be genuinely interested.  Interested people are interesting people.

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What’s attractive and why does it matter?

My maternal grandmother loves clothes and has always had great taste and a good eye for style.  I know this for a fact, because she kept her prettiest dresses from every decade and I spent a good chunk of my childhood running back to her guest bedroom to play dress up.  There’s a shimmering 1960s turquoise number that still makes me smile just thinking about it.  Actually, I’m planning a trip to see her soon, so maybe I should do a blog post about those dresses!

Whenever grandma sees a style she likes (on me/on one of my sisters/on a random stranger/on a movie character), she will comment on it and say, “Well, I think that’s very attractive.”  That’s not a phrase we hear very much anymore, especially in reference to mainstream fashion.  It’s not just the word Attractive that seems to come from a different era, but the whole concept of using fashion to draw people in.  But it a beautiful concept and one that bears further investigation and unpacking.  Fashion has become a way of dividing people up, instead of drawing people in.

I think this division has to do with a few different elements, starting with a widespread cultural expectation that we are all supposed to be special and we should display our uniqueness through a personal style that is as unique as we are.  After we establish a personal style, we can easily find other people who like the same things we like and unite through a common aesthetic and lifestyle.  It’s simple to find a little tribe, no matter how specialized the style.  Style has fragmented into subgroups.   We’re also spoiled for choice – there have never been more readily available clothing options, so we can go as niche as we want.  There’s also a strong push to define/redefine our identities through clothing and transform into “ideal” versions of ourselves.  Feel like you were born in the wrong decade?  Adopt a vintage style!  Do you like the idea of having less stuff?  Try a capsule wardrobe!  Want to be a cat?  Dress up like a cat!  (You think I’m joking about the cat thing?  Believe me, I’m not.)  Style has become like the cafeteria in a high school movie, with every group sitting at a different table.

In past decades, there used to be mainstream style, then smaller subculture fringe groups existed around the edges.  Sometimes a subculture moved from the outer fringe of society and became the new mainstream.  For example, the hipster/beatnik subculture existed in the 1950s, but in the 1960s, that style moved towards the mainstream and heavily influenced the broader market.  The stereotypical 1950s beatnik girl look was a pair of slim-fit trousers, a pullover turtleneck sweater, and flat shoes.  That was a fairly rebellious look during the 1950s, but by the time the 1960s rolled around, the darling Mary Tyler Moore was wearing a turtleneck and cigarette pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Right now, fashion is entirely made up of subgroups, existing in parallel with each other, each in a constant flux of gaining and losing followers.  Being the mainstream is not the goal anymore.  Everything is about being part of a group that attracts certain people and detracts other people.  Fashion is all about virtue-signaling these days, so it is important for factions to include the people who agree with the virtue that the style promotes.  In high fashion especially, Activism is the new black.

At the beginning of this week, I reached out on social media and asked my blog readers to list styles they found most attractive.  I took those responses and dressed according to the results for the rest of the week.  These outfits are based on the styles my readers found most attractive:

Quite a variety!  It was a fun week and it made me realize a few things about my clothes.

  1. I don’t have a set style, really.  I wouldn’t label my style as classic or vintage or bohemian or consistent in any way.  It’s a mix.
  2. If I narrowed down my wardrobe to a more specific and defined style, I would probably get more Instagram followers and more blog readers.  (I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.)
  3. The clearer an outfit’s concept is, the more compelling the image is.
  4. I’m drawn to bright colors. (Not exactly a news flash, but bright colors made me so happy this week that it felt worth mentioning.)

To elaborate on the second point, when I started this blog, all the advice I read about starting a blog agreed on one point – all the articles advised me to be super specific.  Find the tiniest niche and be the only person filling that niche.  Don’t try to reach everybody.  Figure out your ideal reader and only write for them.  Figure out your reader’s age/stage of life/likes/dislikes and tailor everything to that.  I agree that it is good advice for a blog, especially if I wanted to make money, but it was advice that I didn’t want to take.  I didn’t want to write for women in only one stage of life or age demographic.  I wanted to reach everybody.  I still do.  Is that a little too ambitious?  Sure.  But why not be ambitious?  My main happiness in this blog is communicating with readers and hearing what they think and trying to answer their questions.  Over the course of a few years, I’ve heard from everybody from teenagers to grandmas.  You all have taught me so much and I appreciate every single one of you.

The fifth thing I realized this week was that I do want to dress attractively and draw people in.  I want to cultivate a friendly style.  A style that looks trustworthy and happy.  It’s very easy to cultivate a defensive style – an armor to keep scary people away and only allow people to get close.  Defensive dressing usually comes out of a place of fear.  Growing up, I was painfully shy and always wore huge sweaters, because I could literally hide inside of them, retreating like a turtle into its shell.  That was my armor.  Now I see that kind of defensive dressing all over the place – t-shirts that only fellow geeks will understand, severely minimal outfits to try to combat the overwhelmingness of life, clothes that beg for attention, clothes that beg not to be noticed.  Clothes are never just clothes.  Everything you put on has a meaning – not only to you, but to everybody who sees you.  What does your style say about you?

Thank you so much for reading this blog post!  If you ever have a question about clothes, please let me know.  I’m more than happy to help answer it.

 

The Nature of Work

Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of going on a vacation with a group of friends.  So much ocean-y goodness.

Stepping away from my normal work for a few days made me reflect on the work I do and just how much I appreciate my job.  I’ve worked at the same company, in the same department in that company, and in roughly the same role in that department for the past seven years.  That’s a long time.  I’ve moved apartments three times since then, which means that my job situation has been more consistent than my living situation.

I really didn’t think too much about this whole job situation during college, because I assumed I’d probably be married with a couple of kids by the time I was 30.  If I did think about about a career, it was in a What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up kind of way and the answer to that question was always fashion designer.  Always.  Part of me still thinks that the fashion designer thing will happen someday.  Maybe I’ll be like Julia Child and revolutionize the fashion industry in my late 40s?  All that to say, a career in data analysis, research, and taxonomy creation never even crossed my mind, but I’m so glad I stumbled into it.

Work is a blessing and a good thing.  God put Adam to work before the fall.  The brand new man was in charge of tending the brand new planet and naming the brand new animals.  The only thing that wasn’t good about that situation was that Adam didn’t have a helper.  Then God created Eve to be that helper and everything was perfect.  But only for a bit, because the fall happened, and work (like everything else) got messed up.  The curse of the fall introduced gender power struggles, unhealthy competition, intense pain, cursed ground, and futility into the mix, turning hard work, that once-good thing, into a problem.

Work is still a good thing, but it’s under a curse, so it is also a difficult, complicated, and emotional thing.  Now, remember that work is different than a profession.  A profession is a job that you are paid to do.  Work encompasses all our responsibilities, whether that is being a mom, a student, an obedient child, a grandparent..  Do you have responsibilities?  Then you have work to do.  I have a paid profession, but I also have other work.  I have my own household to run – cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, budgeting, paying taxes, paying bills….  I don’t even want to discuss laundry right now.  IT NEVER ENDS.  And the work won’t end until I die, so I’m constantly in that complicated Ecclesiastes emotion – alternately laughing and crying over the futility, but seeing glimpses of how beautifully satisfying meaningful work can be.

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil.  Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

I read through Ecclesiastes this week and that section stood out to me, especially the reason for being joyful – God has already accepted my work, such as it is.  My futile, temporary, vanity-of-vanities work.  My tired work that starts when I get home from work.  The work I’m good at, the work I’m bad at, the work that falls far short of where I want it.  My constant fight against entropy and futility and obsolescence.  God has already accepted it.  And that’s why I can work with joy.

So go out there and work your heart out, because your heart is His and He gave it to you for this very purpose.

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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.

Dress Codes, Social Anxiety, and Loving Jeans

The strictest dress code I’ve ever had to abide by was during high school, but it was not set by my high school.  The dress code was for a choir competition/festival that our choir took part in.  (Why yes, I AM a nerd.  Why do you ask?)  We were only there for about three days, but the outfits for those three days were so thoroughly vetted and measured and calculated that every year when the festival rolled around, my brain had to work overtime.  Recently, I wondered how much of that stress was about putting together the outfits and how much was about me being a sweaty high school mess with major social anxiety going into a different social setting.  Was it really so difficult to put together an outfit that fit a dress code, or did I just MAKE it difficult?

To try and answer that question, I set myself the task of abiding by the dress code for a work week.  This was a short work week, because Labor Day happened, so it was only four days.  That was a comforting thought to me.  Only four days.  I could do that.  Probably.

The first step was trying to remember exactly what the dress code entailed, so I called my sisters.  During my fact-finding mission, I heard several conflicting stories, so I cobbled together these rules based on my recollection and eye witness accounts.  We think these are the rule, but we’re probably forgetting stuff.  The main thing was to compile a set of rules to consistently follow throughout the week.  As far as we could remember, these were the rules:

  1. No trousers.
  2. Skirts must be long enough to touch the ground if you kneel. That means the hem has to hit below the knee, not right above it.
  3. Shoes must have a backstrap.  Basically, no flip flops or slides.  Shoes have to stay firmly on the foot.  The backstrap was the part my sisters and I all agreed on, but I also thought the heel had to be two inches or lower, so I kept my shoes short and secure this week.
  4. Straps on tops or dresses must be at least three fingers wide.  Like a boy scout salute.
  5. No low cut necklines, no visible midriffs.

It’s really not that complicated.  I own skirts and dresses.  It’ll probably be fine, right?

Outfit 1:

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I leaned into the back-to-school feeling for this look.  The elements are pretty basic – a dark denim skirt that works with the length requirements, a collared shirt with little buttons and midsized flowers, a navy blue bomber jacket, and a very worn out and very well loved pair of oxfords.  I even wore my glasses.

What a cute little nerd.  I wanted to steal my own lunch money from myself.  About halfway through the morning, I pulled my hair back into a bun and that really just finished off this look.

I felt like a young student in this outfit.  Not a college student or a grad student, but a grade school student.  Like there was somebody else in charge of my day and my schedule.  Like somebody else bought my three-ring binder, lined paper, and packs of pens.  It was a very correct dress code outfit, but it owned me, rather than me owning it.  But there is something a little bit comforting about not feeling in charge of everything.  Responsibility overwhelms me every once in a while.  A little part of me wishes that my mom still packed me a lunch, because she always packed us great lunches.

The slight weirdness of this outfit was feeling young and small and cute, but still having all the responsibility that goes along with being an adult.  I have a house to keep up, meals to cook, a detailed and complex job that requires brain power and organization, even some management duties.  I don’t think it looked inappropriately young or like a schoolgirl costume.  It looked fine, but it did not kick start my day.  One thing I realized this week is that I rely on clothes to remind myself of all kinds of things.  One of the things I sometimes need a reminder of is that I’m an adult with plenty of responsibilities today and I can’t let them slide into tomorrow, or tomorrow will get pretty darn crowded.

Outfit 2:

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I tried on two dresses that I thought were long enough before I settled on this dress.  Knee length is a pretty squidgy measurement.  As it turns out, most of my knee length dresses hit above my knee.  It’s a good length on me and definitely doesn’t look too short, because I’m very short.  But according to the dress code, all those dresses that almost worked were out of the running.

Out of all the outfits this week, this was my favorite.  The dress comes from a Brtish clothing company called Monsoon and the blazer is an old standby.  I felt like the teacher, not the student.  The outfit ticked all the dress code boxes (hem is long enough, shoulder straps are wide enough), but it went beyond the measurements and also had presence and personality.  The print is the star of this dress, but the fit is nice as well.  The blazer elevated the fit and made the outfit look intelligent and professional.  Low, practical heels and a necessary camisole completed the look.

Outfit 3:

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I ran late this morning, so I needed something that I knew worked, so I basically refreshed the outfit from the first day.  I wore the same skirt, because knew it was long enough, and added a very safe shirt.  The print t-shirt is my friend when I’m in a hurry.  I wore oxford shoes again (in a different color) and threw on a dark cardigan instead of the bomber jacket.

With a strict dress code, some kind of uniform is almost unavoidable.  I only had my self-imposed dress code for four days and I already had a “safe” outfit to rely on.  Basic skirt + printed shirt + jacket + flat oxfords.  There’s nothing wrong with a uniform.  I know people who wear black every day and love it.  I don’t like wearing black every day, but I’m not opposed to a uniform.  When it isn’t dress code week, my uniform would be skinny jeans + print shirt + a dark jacket + flats.  It is simple, flexible, and reliable.  What is your favorite outfit formula?

Outfit 4:

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It was the last day and I was going a little crazy, so I decided to try something completely different.  No more knee-length skirt.  Go for a full-length skirt.  It was hot, so I didn’t want to wear a jacket or even sleeves.  No sleeves.  Do I think this is the best shirt to wear with the skirt?  No.  I don’t.  But it did fit the dress code.  It has a high neckline, the shoulders are more than three fingers wide, it doesn’t show my midriff.  I wore sneakers, I cuffed the bottom of the shirt, which made sense when I left my house and then immediately ceased to make sense.  Do you know why nobody cuffs shirts?  Because it looks stupid.  I had mine cuffed all day Friday, so now I’m an expert on how stupid it looks.

But even with everything checked off the dress code list, there are hidden issues with the outfit that the dress code does not address.  For example, the skirt turns pretty sheer in sunlight, so I needed a slip to make it work appropriate.  The top has a high neck, but the arm holes are stretched out, so I needed to be careful that I kept my bra hidden at the sides.  It would have been better to wear a top with thinner straps and have smaller arm holes.  Those issues aren’t covered in the dress code guide book.  Most of the time, there is no manual when it comes to getting dressed.  It’s easy to make modesty seem all about measurements, because measurement is concrete and understandable and easy to verify.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if all we needed was a tape measure to make sure we’re being modest?  If only it were that easy.  Modesty always requires wisdom, even when there are lots of rules.

It’s easy to hear Modesty Always Requires Wisdom and take the opportunity to sneer at dress codes, but dress codes can be very useful, especially as we grow up.  They are like modesty training wheels.  Dress codes are a lesson in contentment as you refine your judgement.  The goal is to go beyond the letter of the law and learn to be appropriate in any circumstance you find yourself in.  You aren’t supposed to stay in the measuring hemlines stage forever!

I had a fairly loose dress code through high school, a stricter dress code throughout college, and then I started working in a tech department with a group of guys and at that point, I think the department dress code was You Must Wear Pants.  I think shirts and shoes might also be required now, but it is still very casual.  At this point, my dress code is minimal and I have to rely entirely on my judgement, so every getting dressed every morning is a challenge and a privilege, because my managers trust me enough to let me dress however I want.  Now that there is no manual, everything I learned while I was under a dress code helps me determine what I should wear now that I don’t have a strict dress code.  And now I get to wear jeans, which is great.  This week made me REALLY MISS JEANS.  I didn’t realize how much I loved them until I couldn’t choose them.

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At the beginning of the week, I wondered which would be more difficult: finding clothes that fit the criteria or my emotions about the criteria.  EMOTIONS, HANDS DOWN.  I could have worn an ugly sack all week and fulfilled all the dress code criteria, but I would have felt self conscious and feeling self conscious would make me less productive and less social.  Clothes and confidence are very closely tied for me.  I know other women who feel confident when their hair is done, or their makeup is on, or their stomach looks flat.  It’s like war paint or armor.  Now, I know that I’m still just as competent and intelligent in ripped gym shorts and a hoodie, because Gym Shorts Ashley is the same person as Blazer and Dress Ashley, but I sure don’t feel as competent.

I have social anxiety.  If I let it get the better of me, it would be debilitating.  Over the years, I’ve gotten better at faking being okay in social situations, but there are so many things I am afraid of.  I’m afraid of phone calls, I’m afraid of meeting people, I’m afraid of crowds, I’m afraid of the terrifying improv game of life, I’m afraid of people making fun of me.  When I let the fear in, I lose my words, stumble over trying to communicate what I mean, turn red, and feel like I’m falling down a dark well.  I just want to run away and hide until everybody is gone.  That’s why it is so important for me to keep it at bay.

The other day, somebody said, “Wait, you’re an introvert?”  I was shocked that they even asked.  Of COURSE I’m introverted and shy.  It seems so glaringly obvious to me that I almost laughed.  But it has been a long time since I let the fear take over, because the Lord has strengthened me and brought me out when I get in over my head, which is all the time.   I make myself to do things I’m afraid of every day.  You might laugh, but I make myself to talk to people when I grab coffee at work and introduce myself to people I don’t know.  SO intimidating.  I love people, but talking is scary.  Even writing this blog is scary, because I don’t know how people will react to what I say.  Words break down.  What if can’t make people understand what I’m trying to say?

The main way I combat fear is to remind myself of everything I already know.  Remember that God is greater than my fear.  Remember that God loves me.  Remember all His blessings to me.  Remember that I have the ability to speak, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.  Remember that my love for people always needs to outweigh my fear of people.  Remember that I’m called to be courageous.  I can’t just remember these things once and have them stick forever.  I have to re-remember the truth every single day.  I love Bob Dylan’s song A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – in the end, he just decides to tell what he knows to anybody in hearing distance: “And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it, Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking, But I’ll know my song well before I start singing.”  I know the truth.  Now I need to tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, then repeat.

I wear clothes that remind me to be brave, because if I ever decided to disappear, I’d be way too good at it.  I might always need training wheels for wearing my heart on my sleeve.  This may be one battle that I fight until the end and that why I need every reminder I can get, every chance I get.  Confidence doesn’t start with clothes and it definitely doesn’t end with clothes.  The clothes I wear are just one tiny reminder that I  already have every reason to be confident, because my confidence is in Christ and I don’t have to try to create a false little confidence from my looks, a few inspirational quotes, and thin air.  Thank the Lord.

Fit, Part 2: Trousers, Skirts, Belts

Last week’s post dealt with fitting clothes on the top.  This week, I’ll cross the equator and deal with how to fit the bottom half.  During the process, I realized that I owned a few pairs of jeans that I never wear.  It’s not that they aren’t good jeans – they just don’t fit me properly.  My favorite pairs are dangerously threadbare, because I only have a couple of pairs that I wear all the time.  If I sat on a splinter, my worn out jeans might side with the splinter and decide to leave me.  Heartbreaking.  But I took this opportunity to think about what I require in a new pair of jeans and craft a plan before going to the store to look for replacements!  It’s important to have a game plan, because jean shopping can be a pretty demoralizing experience for me.

This post is in an Ashley Tries format, because I wanted to try on different shapes and think through pros and cons.  I only did one skirt, but I’ll talk through different skirt shapes and how to find a good fit.  Belts also made multiple appearances, to varying levels of success.

Monday

On Monday, I decided to tuck my shirt into my jeans.  And wear a belt.  The reason I did this on Monday:  I dreaded it very muchly and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.  Why do I decide to do things that I dread?  I have a bad case of the Curiosity and I want to know all the things, that’s why.  Truth is, I don’t know if I had ever tried it before.  I think I just assumed it wouldn’t be a great look on me.

Guess what?  It’s NOT a good look on me.  But it is for more subtle and interesting reasons than the simplistic and unbased fears that I made up.  My basic fear before I tried it was that the look would look terrible, because it would show my stomach, which is a squishy area for me.  I’ve heard such squishy areas referred to as “problem areas”, but that term seems overly dramatic.  If one of my organs failed, I’d consider THAT a problem area.  Squishiness is just squishiness.  But I can still be self-conscious about it, because I am a human woman and I can blow things out of proportion and manufacture crises where no crises exist.

When the outfit came together, I realized it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t a great look for me for a couple of different reasons.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  This is why you need to try things on.  Fears are too general, because they are hypothetical.  When it comes to clothes, facts before fears.  Try stuff on and see if those fears are actually grounded.  When you put on clothes and look in the mirror, you will have concrete examples of what works on your body and what doesn’t.  Don’t try to forget the aspects that didn’t work, because that is important information that can save you time next time.  If you know for a fact that sheath dresses don’t work on you (because you have tried on sheath dresses and they don’t make you look fantastic), you probably won’t take an armful of sheath dresses into the dressing room next time.  If you are just afraid that sheath dresses won’t look good on you, I’m going to make you try on a sheath dress, so we can get the facts.  And don’t get discouraged if a certain style doesn’t work on you.  You are more important than that style.  The process is all about growing in wisdom and knowing your frame.

Here were the reasons that tucking my shirt into jeans doesn’t work that well for me.  Sure, the midsection looked a little lumpy, because I don’t have flat abs, but it was the overall proportion of the outfit that presented most of the problems.  I’m only 5 feet 3 inches, and even for a short person, my legs proportionally short.  Long torso, little legs.  Kind of like a corgi.  The jeans are technically high-waisted, but since my torso is so long, the waist hit at a slightly awkward not-high-not-low rise.  It was just meh.  It also highlighted just how short my legs are and made me look disproportionate from chest to hip.

So I eventually untucked my shirt and immediately felt more comfortable for the rest of the day, but happy in the knowledge that I knew what I didn’t like about it.  My curiosity was satisfied.

Tuesday

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Skirts!  Pretty and sometimes tricky.  This skirt is the simplest fit for me – the waist hits at my narrowest point, then flares out.  This is known as a “fit and flare” style.  Circle skirts also fit into this category, but have an even wider flare.  The most important aspects of fit for skirts:

  • Does the waist fit?
  • Does it fit through the hips?
  • Is it the right length?

Remember last week and the ranked importance for fit on tops?  (Shoulders, chest, waist.)  Skirts are so much less complex than tops that if a skirt doesn’t fit ALL my criteria, I won’t buy it.  If the waist and hips fit, but it is a little too long, I might make an exception, because hemming a skirt is one of the easiest tailoring jobs.  Even I can do it.  If I can do it, you can do it.  But if a skirt is too short, there’s nothing I can do to make it longer.

One of the upsides to having short legs is that short skirts don’t look as short on me.  Tall women have a much harder time finding skirts that are long enough.  But even with my short leg advantage, I have to test run how the skirt fits when I’m sitting in it.  Remember, every skirt is two skirts – Standing Skirt and Sitting Skirt.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  If Sitting Skirt is bad news, don’t buy Standing Skirt.

The fit and flare suits my frame best, but I have a few shortish straight skirts.  I usually save them for winter, because they work well with dark tights.  In the summer, I stick to longer, breezier styles that don’t need help from tights.

With a skirt, I’ll happily wear a wide belt.  It serves no structural purpose – it is not necessary to keep the skirt on my body.  The belt is simply there to fashion up the outfit and draw attention to an already nice waistline.  Belts are either for practical purposes (to hold one’s trousers up) or for emphasis.  If you don’t need a belt to hold anything up and you don’t want to emphasize your waist, you don’t need to wear a belt.  That is entirely up to you.  I wore three belts this week and that’s three more than I usually wear.  My belts live in a shoe box like a nest of snake babies and most of them are accidental belts.  Accidental belts come attached to other items of clothing as an unnecessary add on. (“Buy this shirt dress and get a belt ABSOLUTELY FREE!”)  I usually detach the belt immediately and throw it in the shoe box.

Wednesday and Thursday

 

This is my typical warm-weather work style – fitted skinny jeans, paired with a looser top.  It’s simple and comfortable.  I added the belt to the cream top, because I was trying to wear more belts this week and I thought it would add some shape and look cute.  This is a prime example of an accidental belt – it’s a nondescript strip of green fabric that came attached to some matching shorts.  Didn’t want the belt on the shorts, because I didn’t need it on the shorts, so I took it off and threw it in the belt box.  My main use case for belts is to cinch voluminous tops or loose dresses and for this use case, it doesn’t matter whether the belt is skinny or wide.  Skinny belts are more subtle, so they are probably the more practical of the two, because you can wear one belt all the time and nobody will notice.  But if you want people to notice, a wider belt is probably going to be your thing.

Here are some reasons I like skinny jeans.  (Bear in mind, I was anti-skinny-jean for a long time and then I caved big time.)

  • They usually have a lot of stretch, because you need some give to get the skinniness over your legs.  The elasticity makes it easier to get a good fit through the waist and hip, because it will conform to your shape.
  • I don’t have to hem every pair.  Capris are full-length on me, folks.  With a skinny fit, I can just tuck any extra material inside the ankle and it will stay.  I can also cuff it on the outside and it will stay.  No pinning involved.
  • My calves are naturally toned, no thanks to me.  It’s just genetics.  I’m going to highlight those calves while I have ’em.
  • They look good with loose tops and tailored tops.  I tend to wear looser tops, so skinny jeans balance out the look.  It is possible to wear loose trousers with a loose top, but it would be more difficult to balance the look out.

Friday

Friday was the most fun, because I borrowed a pair of fabulous wide-leg jeans from my sister.  It had been so long since I had worn that fit and I wanted to try it without making a rash committment.  After a few years of skinny jeans, it felt so different and I loved them.  I actually went and bought a pair of wide-leg jeans for myself this morning.

I felt like a superhero with a swishy cape around each ankle.  I felt like a business-woman with a great work life balance.  I felt more dressy and more people commented on my dressiness, even though the outfit was a shirt and jeans.  There was also something about the extra length – with heels on, it still almost touched the ground.  I felt taller.  It’s just a testament to the how much fit matters.

The fit elements for trousers are the same as skirts, but in a slightly different order:

  • Do they fit you at your widest point?  (That is different for everybody – it can be the  waist, hips, or thighs.)
  • Do they fit at the waist?
  • Are they the right length?

These are ranked again, because the waist and hem length can be altered, but if a pair of jeans do not fit your hips or thighs, that’s a deal breaker.  You belt the waist or cuff the hem, but you can’t add more fabric.

This was a funny week, because I dreaded it more than last week’s post, but I learned so much more this week.  Just goes to show (once again) that unfounded fears aren’t the most reliable source to consult on such matters.  Be curious.  Figure stuff out, even if it means that you fail a few times in the process!  Learning is challenging, but worth it.

As always, thanks for reading!  I appreciate you.  Go be brave this week.

Fit, Part 1: Tops and Dresses

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Since fit is so important and so tricky, I’m going to take a couple of weeks to talk through what to look for and how to make clothes fit better.  What kind of clothes do you find most difficult to fit?  I can tell where most of my fit difficulties lie, because I steer away from clothes that are difficult to fit and require an inordinate amount of effort.  Taking an honest look at my clothes, I tend to gravitate towards tops and dresses, because I can find a fit that I like fairly easily.  Trousers, skirts, and shoes are more difficult to find, so I have fewer of them.  I wear my favorite jeans until friction reduces them to shreds.  My shoes fall into two camps: worn thin or like new, because I wear my comfortable shoes all the time and uncomfortable (but oh so pretty) pairs very rarely.

Now, this isn’t to say that all tops and dresses fit me.  Oh heck NO.  I just have a better grasp of which tops and dresses look best on me and I can see possibilities while they are still on the hanger.  But probably the main reason for fit issues is how my weight fluctuates.  If I gain weight, I tend to gain around my stomach area, so jeans and skirts will fit me differently at different seasons, while my top half remains fairly consistent.

That’s why I’ve decided to split this fit discussion into a couple of different posts – Tops/Dresses this week and Trousers/Skirts next week.  (If you have any specific requests about trousers and skirts, please let me know during the week, so I can address them next Saturday!)  I may make accessories into a separate post as well, so this may be a three week miniseries.  I should end this post on a cliffhanger, so you can’t wait to see what happens next!

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These are the fit areas for tops, ranked by importance:

  1. Shoulders
  2. Chest
  3. Natural waist

Let’s break this down a little bit, because a list on its own doesn’t take us very far.

SHOULDERS

If your top or dress only fits you in place, it should be through the shoulders.  Examples of styles that fit only at the shoulders:  trapeze dresses, tunic tops, swing tops and dresses, smocks… the list goes on.  Here are a few visual examples:

 

In a miniature heat wave, the fewer points of contact between me and my clothes, the better.  A lightweight swing dress is one of my summer staples, not because it is cute, but because of how practical it is.  (It can also be cute.  Cute and practical – best of both worlds.)

How to tell if the shoulders fit:

  • The back is not pulling and creating lines across the shoulderblades.  If there are stretch lines across the shoulder blades, that is an easy way to see that a top is too tight.
  • The neckline lays properly.  Like the back of the shirt, the neckline shouldn’t be pulling into a different shape.  I don’t my v-necks turning into u-necks.  The opposite can also be a problem – I don’t want my neckline flopping around, falling off my shoulders, or gaping.
  • The sleeve seams hit near your shoulder joints.  If the seams hit well outside the shoulders, the top or dress will look oversized.  Oversized tops are a very fashiony thing right now, so you will often find extra-wide shoulder seams for effect.  Just know that a very oversized top will need to be balanced out with a slim cut on the bottom (skinny jeans, etc.)

The nice thing is that the most important area to fit is not the trickiest.  If the shoulder seams hit your shoulders and the neckline is laying nicely (not pulling or flapping), you’re probably good for shoulders.

CHEST

Closely following the importance of shoulder fit is chest fit.  I have been very blessed in the chest department and my goal is always balance – not too tight, not too loose.  That balance is a very tricky thing and still one that I have a hard time working with.

I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t mention bras at this point.  I won’t go into detail, but if your bra doesn’t fit correctly, tops will not look right, even if they technically fit.  If you are having a very difficult time finding tops and dresses, go get a fitting and find a couple of good bras.  It will help.  Trust me on this one.  The clothes you already have will fit better and the clothes you try on will automatically look better.

The wrong chest fit is the main cause of the common shirt tragedy that is GAPPING.  I gave up on buttondown shirts for a while, because if the shirt fit my shoulders, it did not fit my chest (and vice versa).  Recently, I’ve come across a few buttondown topsthat were designed with curves in mind and actually fit.  Color me shocked!  The unicorn tops are out there – the ones that fit through the shoulders and the chest.  Gapping is the main reason I’ve never been very into shirt dresses.  I think they are adorable, but unless the dress fits perfectly at every point, the gaps will take over and run wild.  I’m not giving up hope on a perfect shirt dress, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.  (Mainly because if I hold my breath, the gapping gets worse.)

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One note while we’re on finding a good fit through the chest – sleeve length is super important.  Wherever sleeves end, they create a visual line across the torso.  This holds true for the necklines and hemlines as well, which is why I tend to stay away from boatnecks and crewnecks, which create a solid line from shoulder to shoulder.  A v-neck or a scoop neck breaks up that visual line and doesn’t draw as much attention to the width.  If a sleeve hits at an unflattering point, but everything else on the top fits well, try rolling up the sleeves and pinning them in place.  It can change the whole look.

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NATURAL WAIST

We are getting into the bonus categories now – the Nice To Haves, rather than the Need To Haves.  If a top fits through your shoulders, chest, AND natural waist without any alterations necessary, you’ve found yourself a unicorn.  If it is within your budget, snag it.

Where is the natural waist?  It is the narrowest point between the chest and the hips.  For most women, it is near the base of the rib cage.  I have a long torso, but a pretty high natural waist.  I try to highlight my natural waist, because it gives the illusion that my legs are longer than they actually are.  Every little bit helps when you have legs as short as mine.  True story.

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This black and white top has beautiful construction – every line and fold and twist leads the eye to the natural waist.  This is one of those rare finds that fits everywhere – shoulders, chest, waist, and hips.  As far as fit goes, this is my favorite shirt.  I wish this shape came in every color and every print.  I’d happily have five of this shirt.

Dresses are more likely to accentuate the waist.  If you have a dress that doesn’t, there are simple ways to change that.  Belting is a good option.  (Here I reference every episode of What Not To Wear.)

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This dress fits through the shoulders and then floats out from there.  To add some more fit, all I had to do was add a thin belt.  It made a big difference in how people perceived the dress – I got a lot more comments on the overall style (“What a cute dress!”),and with the dress unbelted, I got a more comments on the shiny fabric and how comfy the dress looked.  All it needed was a little shape!

Ways to emphasize the waist:

  • Choose a skirt or trousers that hits at the waist, then tuck in or knot the top.  That can give a loose top some needed structure.
  • Layer up – a jacket that buttons at the waist will give a structured hourglass effect.
  • Belts – they do the trick.  I’ll admit I’m not that into belts, but I’ll deal with that more next week.
  • As far as alterations go, taking in the sides of a shirt is as about as easy as alterations get.  Turn the shirt inside out, try it on, safety pin the sides, then use a sewing machine or hand sew the sides.  Minimal tailoring skills required and the results are so rewarding.

If you have other questions about fit, write me and let me know and I’ll try to address them during this series!

I came across some of my old fashion sketches the other day, including this one, a copy of an antique fashion illustration:

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The dress is beautiful, but it also makes me grateful that I don’t have to wear a corset every day!  My clothing issues don’t include struggling for breath or having my spine rearranged.  We’ve gained comfort and a whole new set of fashion issues, but it’s always good to approach the new fashion issues with gratitude.  Clothing is a gift to mankind, but we as humans are very good at perceiving gifts as rights, and then turning rights into complaints.  So if I ever start to complain about how clothes don’t fit right, please remind me that I could have much more challenging fashion problems.