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.

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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.

Ashley and the Allure of Minimalism

I’m not a very organized person.  Fortunately, my life is pretty simple.  I go to work Monday through Friday, spend Saturday doing the things that I haven’t gotten to Monday through Friday, and go to church and rest on Sunday.  It may seem ridiculously simple, but it’s nonstop.  The things that I didn’t get to today will crowd into tomorrow and tomorrow already has plenty in it.

I don’t consciously form routines, but I get used to things really quickly.  This can be good or bad. Not much bothers me.  I moved into my house in November and I’m just now finding places to put all my things.  And not having enough storage makes me frustrated with the things I own and makes me want to purge.

When there’s a lot of chaos, I start thinking about Minimalism.  It’s an alluring concept.  Keeping only the most beautiful, the most useful, the happiest of items.  Streamlining life. Creating an atmosphere of simplicity and tranquility.  Does that sound amazing?  It always sounds amazing to me.  But I also know that for me it would be a reaction away from something else – minimalism as an act of frustration.

My stuff isn’t the problem.  My bad attitude towards what I own is the problem.  That also seems ridiculously simple, but it’s usually not the first conclusion I come to.  When there is a pile of clothes on a chair (because there isn’t room in the closet), the clothes are not being insubordinate and stubborn.  Even if there isn’t a pile of clothes on the chair, there’s always going to be something that isn’t perfect.

Life is complex and chaotic.  It isn’t a bad idea to build your home into a haven of peace, but the peace needs to start internally.  If I start with the externals and ignore the unrest in my soul, a minimal Scandinavian design aesthetic won’t calm me down.

I tried outfits inspired by minimalism this week – neutral colors, simple designs.  Here are a few things I learned through the week:

  • I really missed my bright colors.  A bright print top with jeans takes just as much effort as a black t-shirt and jeans, but it makes a big difference in how I feel.
  • I found myself accessorizing more than usual.  If I’m rushing out the door, which is pretty much every day, earrings are my last priority.  But this week, earrings became a much higher priority, because they seemed to make my outfits more interesting and complete.

  • I kept hoping that simple clothes would make my life more simple.  I’ve heard about “decision fatigue” and how cutting down on the amount of decisions you make frees up your brain to make other decisions.  But I still had to make clothes decisions (i.e. do these jeans make my rear look good / does this top need a camisole / do I need a jacket), so it didn’t noticeably simplify my life.
  • This was a tired and emotional week for me.  I’ve recently taken on more hours and more responsibilities at work and I think it caught up with me.  The change was welcome, because I really love my job!  But I’ve been struggling a little bit to try and re-balance everything around the edges.  (Including the daily outfit pictures and this blog.)
  • I just bought two Ikea cabinets and I CAN PUT ALL MY CLOTHES AWAY AT THE SAME TIME.  Life is good.  If your stuff is too big for your space, find some more space or give away some of your stuff.  I should have done this months ago.

  • I love my little black dress.  It’s comfy and pretty and simply the best.  I want to wear it every day.
  • I realized I want to take a summer vacation from the blog while I figure out how to re-balance everything.  I’ll write next week, but there will be blog silence for about a month.  Don’t worry – Ashley Tries will try again.  This blog has been so good for me and all the feedback has been amazing.  A huge thank you to every single one of you who reads these posts.  I appreciate you!
  • It’s okay for life to be complicated as long as my soul is simple.  If I’m trusting God, it doesn’t matter what life throws at me.  As long as my attitude towards what I own is gratitude and not frustration, it’s a good place to start.

Dignity

This is a request post – a friend asked me my thoughts on dressing in a dignified manner. What a great question!  Clothes are real and practical, but they are also the manifestation of our ideas.  Dignity, honor, and clothing are all closely connected, but we can get so caught up in the practical that we don’t consider the ideals that shape us and our clothing.

This isn’t going to be in an Ashley Tries format, because it was hard to get up every morning, look for clothes, and think, “I’m going to be DIGNIFIED today.”  Any success that happened was partial at best.  But it was a definitely a good exercise, because it forced me to think outside my normal questions:  Which clothes are clean?  Does that top fit well right now?  Does this print top need black jeans to balance it out?  This week the questions shifted to broader questions:  How would my coworkers describe this outfit?  Is this outfit unquestionably appropriate?  Do I look like a woman, not a little girl?  As it turns out, the broader questions are harder to answer, because they encompass all the practical questions and then add perception and standards on top of that already substantial question pile.

I don’t know why it felt so pretentious to ask myself whether my outfit was “dignified” or not, but it really did.  Probably because I don’t think of myself as a dignified person – I think of myself as a funny, slightly clumsy, sometimes stressed, usually happy person.  I assign the term “dignified” to awe-inspiring people who are older and wiser and calmer than I am.  But I’m thirty and I don’t believe in putting off being an adult, so it’s good to think beyond what clothes are cute and start thinking about what clothes reflect the woman I want to be.

One of the most common verses that comes up when you look up dignity in the Bible is Proverbs 31:25 – “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”  That’s striking and beautiful image, isn’t it?  It’s a good verse to remember when the future feels like NO LAUGHING MATTER.  In Job 40:9-10 (ESV), the Lord asks Job, “Have you an arm like God? and can you thunder with a voice like His?  Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; cloth yourself with glory and splendor.”  In Esther, the king asks what “honor or dignity” has been bestowed on Mordecai for saving the king’s life (Esther 6:3) and the part of the honor that gives Mordecai is to dress him in royal robes.  All of these verses speak about dignity as something that can be bestowed and put on.  It has weight and it can be seen by other people.

We were born wanting honor, but we mess up in how we seek after it and we mess up in how we think it comes to us.  We understand there is a link between clothing and honor, which is one of the reasons that clothes are so important to us.  The bride on her wedding day, the graduation robe, the uncharacteristically professional interview suit, mourning black at a funeral – these all have built-in significance and backstory, but everything we put on has a backstory.  Usually it isn’t as obvious as a wedding dress, but we all know that some clothes have more dignity or honor than others.  But as I said earlier, we can really mess up what we consider honorable.  Attention is not the same as honor.  Approval does not equal dignity.  We’ll settle for acceptance if we can’t get the honor we really want, because all it takes to gain acceptance is to find a group with the same blind spots.  If nobody likes your posts, do you feel unlovely?  Disappointed?  Alone?  That’s an indication that you’re really seeking after the approval of others.  It has nothing to do with strength, dignity, or laughing at the the days to come.  Don’t settle for counterfeit dignity.

A couple of practical applications

  • Even though I wasn’t certain about what outfits were dignified this week, I knew that I could control how appropriate my outfits were this week.  I avoided the the skirt that’s two inches too short when I sit down, the neckline that needs attention whenever I lean over, the jeans that are just a *little* bit too tight.  I aimed for appropriate to the point of boring.  It was a comfortable way to live, because I didn’t have any worry hanging around my clothes choices this week.
  • There’s dignity in dressing for your age and your stage of life.  In an age of perpetual adolescence, it’s beautiful to see a respectable woman in respectable clothes.  I don’t want people to think I’m twenty.  I’m thirty.  I should be leaning into responsibility, not running away from it.  My first impulse is to run away from responsibility and when it’s given to me, I immediately freak out.  That isn’t mature of me and it’s an area where I need to routinely confess sin and fight against my first instincts.  For all the moms out there, it’s just fine to look like a mom.  There’s a ridiculous amount of pressure on moms to get back to where they were “pre-baby”, but everything changes post-baby and it’s a beautiful thing!  Moms, you are amazing.  You have an amazing job and it is fine to wear clothes that are appropriate for it.  Don’t feel like you need to apologize for looking like a mom.  That would be like me apologizing for looking like a data analyst.
  • Shame shouldn’t be our default.  Shame is the opposite of dignity and it should never be where we live.  Shame can be a powerful driver, because the point of shame is to drive us away from our sin and to God and forgiveness.  It is not a good place to settle down and build a house.  If shame isn’t driving us to God, it’s driving us somewhere else.  Shame can drive to self-loathing or self-aggrandizement, to hatred of others or idolatry of others.  Get out of there.
  • I want to be clothed in dignity.  I want honor.  That might seem completely obvious, but it’s not something I admit very often, even to myself.  Because it’s “easier” to stay as I am right now.  It’s “easier” to be whiny and petulant.  It’s “easier” to live without the burden of responsibility.  It’s “easier” to stay #Relatable and celebrate my flaws and my fails.  It’s definitely easier to be worried about the days to come than to laugh at them.  I’m afraid of failing.  But going back to the idea of confidence, God is on my side.  Why should I be afraid of anything?  When I die, I want to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Why do I hold onto things that aren’t easier in the long run?

All that to say, I don’t know what dignified looks like on me, but I want to grow into it.  I know what it looks like on other people.  There’s dignity in honest work, in kindness, in formality, in reverence, and in loving God with everything I have and everything I make.

Waiting Around On Valentine’s Day: A Study In Metaphors

[An important preface to this post:  I wrote this on February 15th while on airplanes.  Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I tend to get pretty philosophical on flights.  Maybe it’s something about hurtling through the air, being a little sleep-deprived, being very aware that my fate is NOT in my own hands, whatever.  If it doesn’t make sense, I apologize.  It’s probably the just the flight talking.  Alternate titles I thought of:  Singleness 2:  Even More Single?  / Does Hope Hurt?  / A Bad Day to Fly / Why Am I Still Here?…..  Yeah.  It was a long day.  Here goes!]

On Valentine’s Day, I spent a good chunk of the day in a tiny rural fog-bound airport.  I was waiting for a plane.  (As one does.)  The irony of sitting around waiting alone on Valentine’s Day didn’t escape me.

Trying to keep the boring part of the story short, I was dropped off for a mid-morning flight.  The weather didn’t look promising – snow flurries and freezing fog between the flurries.  The airport is so small that it only flies to one destination and the plane wasn’t at the airport yet.  It hadn’t even left the other airport yet.  That plane kept delaying and delaying and delaying.  Then finally, the news was announced that the plane was wheels up and on its way to us.  (Rejoicing!  Hope!  Hurrah!)  We had been in the airport for around 4 or 5 hours by that point.

As we scurried through The TSA Security Pageant (the most common form of interactive live theater in the United States), hope was running through our blood.  And as we sat in that post-security lockdown area, we heard the plane.  And then there was silence.  And then we heard the plane again.  That plane circled the airport three times, couldn’t find an opening in the fog, then went back to its original airport.

Canceled.

Went back through the line, got rebooked for an afternoon flight (which was about an hour away at that point), went back through The TSA Security Show and got patted down that time.  Why be MORE thorough the second time through security?  It’s a mystery.  Sat back down in post-security lockdown, and heard the plane.  And heard the plane.  And heard the plane.  Then heard the announcement that the plane circled three times and went back to its original airport.

You know the hardest part of waiting?  The hope of imminent change.  In this case, it was hearing both of the planes.  It was going through the motions and getting packed and getting prepped and getting patted down, then sitting there with a suitcase and going nowhere.  It felt like a Buster Keaton movie and I’ve never felt more for that sad-face little figure who was funny just because he didn’t know when to give up.

T.S. Eliot has a line in the Four Quartets:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope / For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love / For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith / But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. / Wait without thought thought, for you are not ready for thought…

Are you ever afraid of hope, because it seems so tied to disappointment and hurt?  I know that I’ve made hope into the enemy, because I’ve tried to fool myself into thinking that if I don’t hope for anything, I can’t be disappointed.  Making waiting and wanting into a problem and trying to solve them by ignoring them.

HOPE IS NEVER THE PROBLEM.  Hope is hope.  It is good.  How can we even pretend to be fine without it?

Today, I’m writing this on an airplane.  The weather is absolutely gorgeous.  The snow hills look like sleeping swans with their heads tucked under their wings.  From the air, school buses look like chopped up No. 2 pencils.  The world was blue and white and brightness.  My prayers have been answered.  Not that they weren’t answered yesterday, but yesterday’s answer was Wait.  Not gonna lie, I never like that answer.

But the truth is that yesterday was a terrible day for flying.  Today is a good flying day.  Today is everything that I hoped yesterday would be.  It’s obviously the right day to go.  I woke up knowing that it would work this time.

I spent a lot of the stuck-in-the-airport time reading, but also browsing social media.  A lot of single people kinda lost their minds over Valentine’s Day.  Reactions ranged from the ambivalent (Well, the day after Valentine’s Day, all the chocolate goes on sale) to pure reaction (Well, I’m going throw a party for myself and celebrate singleness!  Yeah!) to offended, wounded, and in despair.  Like waiting for a plane, this despair over a reminder of romantic love has everything to do with unfulfilled hope.  Being single on Valentine’s Day can be like hearing that your long-awaited flight has finally been canceled.  It’s a symbol of love and you feel excluded and alone.  But hope isn’t the problem.  You know the most important time to have hope?  When it is hard.

It’s the same with all virtues.  Fellas, love is easy when she’s looking beautiful in that black dress and her smile is stopping your heart.  A stranger could fall in love with her when she looks that beautiful.  Love is hard when the baby’s crying in the middle of the night and you’re deciding whether or not to acknowledge it or not.

Hope is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  We can’t cultivate it on our own.  Without God’s grace, love, hope, and peace are just words and words we can’t possibly understand, let alone carry out their actions.  We want hope without any need for hope.  We want love without any trials to refine our love.  We want peace to mean there is never any conflict for us to resolve or any anxiety to make us doubt.  We want to be great without trying.  Without difficult people or difficult circumstances messing our hair up.

Show love while waiting for love.  Have hope when it’s hard to wait.  Have peace when you start to doubt whether you even want hope.  Peace.  Be still.  I’m frustrated and illogical.  Peace  This is the most important time to have hope.  Hope comforts, disappointment hurts.  Don’t confuse them.

I was shown so much love on Valentine’s Day.  My family loves me so well.  I love them and I like them.  I’m spoiled and I know it.

My dad expresses his love in a lot of ways, but they fall under the general category of Caring.  He takes really good care of me.  He helps me with paperwork and booking flights and talks through car problems and taxes.  All the stuff that intimidates me.  We were on the phone so many times during the no-fly day, thinking through everything.

My oldest brother drove me to the airport, because he wanted me to be safe on the icy roads.  My second-oldest brother gave me a ride back to my house once everything got canceled and after finding out there wasn’t food in the airport, he made a detour to buy me chicken nuggets and sweet’n’sour sauce.  My sister fed me dinner and we made snow ice cream.  I’m so thoroughly blessed.  Saturated with blessings.

Waiting and hope are two different things.  Sometimes waiting feels like the airport.  Sitting.  Nothing to do except wait.  A defined timeline.  Between things.  Between what you have and what you want.  But I don’t think it is a good metaphor for hope.

Hope is like anticipating a really good dinner.  You have your work to do, but you have friends working alongside you, and you remember throughout the day that dinner is going to be amazing.  It isn’t static or wistful.  It’s a certain knowledge that God loves His children and He is going to give us exactly what we need.  Even if the work is hard, even if there are times you have to work alone, remember that there’s blessing ahead and it’s going to be exactly what you need and it’s going to taste even better after all that work.  Don’t JUST wait.  Work.

I’m saved by the blood of Jesus, so I can work in peace, knowing that He’s always taking care of me.  You know the only thing I have to do before I die?  Live.  That’s it.  Live in the delight of my Lord.  Do the work I’ve been given and give thanks for it.  Will that someday take the form of a house and a husband and some adorable fat babies?  I sure hope so.  But I’m not just going to sit and wait, because my life isn’t defined by what I don’t have right now.  I have so much to be grateful for and so much to do!  Time to get busy.  Keep praying, keep desiring good things, strong in faith that God gives His children everything they need and blesses far beyond.

If you’re waiting and struggling, maybe despairing, whether it’s for waiting for marriage, a job, reconciling with your family, or healing, I understand how hard it is.  I’m a 30-year-old virgin.  I know what waiting is like.  I look back on some of my life’s rough patches and just see darkness.  But I also know that those are my growth rings.  The hard times are the times when I’ve grown the most.  Those are my book of Psalms.  Seek out wise counselors, invest in friends, invest in family.  Don’t be embarrassed to cry in front of other people.  Let other people help you.  You don’t have to go it all by yourself.  You really don’t.  If you find that you’re stuck in airport mode, always sitting and waiting for that one thing that is out of reach, leave the airport.