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.

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Ashley Tries Referential Dressing

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

Day 3

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

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

Day 4

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

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

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

Day 5

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

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

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

Ashley Tries 2017 Fall Fashion Trends

This week was all about the challenge of translating high fashion trends to wearable fashion.  Most of the time, I’m not very concerned about whether I’m on trend on not, so this week pushed me out of my comfort zone.  I decided to take each trend as far as I felt like I could go, while still maintaining some level of dignity and professionalism.  So if you see something I’m trying and think, “That’s cool, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that outfit,” remember that you can take individual elements and make them work for you.  I’m pushing each outfit to its limit (and past some of my limits), but you don’t have to.

Magnificent Western

The first trend I took on was this year’s take on the Old West.  I think Maria Grazia Chiuri’s resort collection for Dior (on location in the high desert) was the year’s best example of mythic western meets haute couture.  It has elements of spaghetti westerns, Victoriana, a whole lot of The Magnificent Seven, even a little steampunk.  Epic.

2017 Trends: Magnificent Western

I tried not to go too literal with it, because I didn’t want people to look at me and think Rodeo.  I didn’t wear jeans or a bandana or fringe – it was more about the feeling that it gave me and the image it gave off to other people.

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The base layer is a black dress that I don’t wear that often, but I should.  It’s my go-to choir concert dress.  It has long sleeves, a hem that hits below the knee, and a collar.  On its own, it ages me.  Combined with a tailored tweed vest and boots, the older-looking elements of the dress become features.  I tied on a scarf to give a little bit of color and pattern and give the idea of a bandana without being that literal.  The leather jacket added another tough element to an already tough ensemble, but the scarf and dress kept it from being armor.  It’s a mix of soft, worn material and tough, worn leather.  The important thing is that it all looks functional and lived-in.

The whole ensemble pleased me.  It turned out better than I thought it would.  This is my favorite style that I tried this week.  If you want to incorporate a few western elements into your fall wardrobe, here are a few things that would look great:

The Warm Fuzzies

It’s all about fleecy-furry-fuzzy things this fall.  I’m always happy to hear that comfy things are in style, because I LOVE COMFY.  I borrowed my sister’s vest for this one, because I actually don’t own much faux fur (or I do, but it hasn’t come out of the winter box yet and I can’t remember it).

This style is fun and meant to be playful.  A faux fur jacket can make an entire outfit look more glam.  If it is bright pink, all the better!  I went with muted tones for this look, but bright faux fur is really popular right now.

SO COMFY.  I want to steal my sister’s vest now.  I should just get my own.

Fuzziness doesn’t always have to be in a vest or a jacket form.  A furry scarf or hat always looks great.  I’ve seen sweaters with faux fur elements (sleeves or panels or collars) and those are super fun.  Here are a few more ways to bring fur into your life:

Textiles and Proportion

This look ticked quite a few trend boxes and it definitely felt a little over the top.  But I’m here to go big or go home.  Here are some of the trends:

Oversized jacket, strong shoulders, belted at the waist.  CHECK.

Velvet.  CHECK.

Plaid / check patterns.  CHECK.

Earthy browns and grays.  CHECK.

This look started with the brown check shirt that I borrowed from a friend.  Plaids and checks are back in a big way.  This is good news for the Pacific Northwest, where plaid is a way of life.  If you don’t own plaid already, be on the lookout for plaid and check material in muted colors and earth tones.  Think 1970s, because that’s another huge trend right now.

Wool and tweed and velvet and fur continue to hold our attention (very luxurious).  Be on the lookout for wool coats and sweaters at thrift stores.  Look in the men’s and women’s section and if you find a coat in a larger size, belt it at the waist to give it some shape and visual interest.  Wide belts are back.  I used to wear wide belts all the time, but I dragged them out and all my wide belts look like they belong to women who run pirate cruises.  Pretty hideous.  TIME TO UPGRADE.  I’m going to invest in a belt this fall.  A grown up belt.

I threw on knee socks and oxfords, because they went with the vibe, but I think it was a mistake.  They kept me warm, so I’ll wear knee socks again, but not with such a busy outfit.

Silver and Fall Florals

Silver is the new metallic in town.  I love metallics.  I have a pair of dull silver oxford shoes that I wear with everything, but I don’t have any silver clothes, so I borrowed a sweater from my sister for this day.  It’s gray with metallic threads running through it, so it’s pretty subtle.

I wear florals all year round anyway, so I’m delighted that floral prints are trending this season.  If you don’t usually wear florals, start small.  Try a scarf or a pair of shoes.  In the fall and winter, I usually stick to prints with darker backgrounds and richer colors.  If I go for a pastel print in the fall, I’ll pair it with brown or navy to give it some depth.

Silver adds a great spark.  Here are some ideas for how to add it in:

And here are some retro floral prints that would look great going into fall:

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Fashion Activism

Fashion is always politically charged, but this year has been pouring out high voltage. Culturally, there have been two collections that defined this year.  When we look back at 2017, I think we’re going to remember Gucci’s spring show and Dior’s statement t-shirt.

2017 Trends: Gucci Eccentricity

 

2017 Trends: Fashion Activism

2017 Trends: Fashion Activism by beetlescarab on Polyvore

Gucci has been having quite the year.  Instead of having separate runway shows for men and women, they had a co-ed show with men and women walking together.  The whole aesthetic was very feminine, including the men’s looks.  There was a persistent butterfly theme that represented transfiguration.  The message was pretty clear – their future is female and men will become more feminine, until they are almost indistinguishable from women.  The worship of women has begun.  Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirt is saying the same thing, but in a more straightforward way.

I tried to mimic the Gucci aesthetic on Friday.  This was the most difficult day, because I fundamentally disagreed with the whole idea they were working with.  It’s like they took all the stereotypical feminine elements of clothes and put them into a blender.  Flowers and butterflies and embroidery and lace and pink and bows and bright colors all over the place.  Some of the pieces are gorgeous, but they are swallowed by the chaos.  This look was hard to pull off, because I didn’t feel like myself.  The outfit felt chaotic and forced.

There are some beautiful elements in Gucci’s style, so it has a strange draw for me (strange being the operative word).  But I don’t want to be drawn in by it.  I’m a woman and I don’t want to be worshiped or put on a pedestal or lifted up as some shining example.  That’s a good way to get a warped perspective or get destroyed.  I don’t want other people forced to be like just like me.  That’s crazy.  I don’t want society to be so scared of masculinity that we remove all trace of it and replace it with femininity.  We need true masculinity and true femininity, which is so far beyond throwing bows and lace and makeup all together.

If you don’t think about fashion, start thinking about it.  What is it saying about you?  What is it saying about the culture you live in?  Don’t write it off as unimportant.  If we keep letting other people dress us, our clothes will keep saying whatever they want to say.  So make sure you understand what they are saying.

Guest Post: Mommy Style!

I put together a few mommy style boards together for this post – if you see anything you like, click on the link and it will take you to my Polyvore sets.
I’m very excited about this blog post, because since I started my blog, these have been my top three questions:
  • What should I wear when I’m nursing a baby?
  • I just had a baby and my body has changed – how do I dress this new postpartum body?
  • How do I dress for my job when my full time job is being a mom?

Since I’ve never had a baby, I don’t feel qualified to answer the first two.  The last question I will address later on in the post.  There are clothing principles that apply to every role we have through our lives (student, employee, parent, entrepreneur, leader, follower) and I can handle the principles of clothing fairly well.  I try to keep my blog fairly principle-based, so whoever reads it can apply the ideas to their own clothes.

Honest confession – sometimes it is hard to handle mom-specific questions as a single woman.  If the question comes at an emotional moment, it is easy to hear the question as a subtle rebuke (i.e. Fashion is easy for you, because you don’t have to worry about nursing / a constantly changing body / children) or it can feel like a defense or explanation disguised as a question (i.e. I exclusively wear leggings and t-shirts, because I’m chasing kids all the time and you don’t understand that, because you have an office job and don’t have to chase kids around all day).  I’ll admit that every time I get a question that I can’t really answer, I feel insufficient and stupid.  BUT I KNOW IT IS JUST IN MY HEAD.

Truth is, I sometimes envy moms, because I’d love to have a husband and kids.  But I can still want a family without envying the women who already have them.  So whenever I start imagining that moms are judging me and my “easy” single life, I need to stop it.  Even if moms do think that my life is easy, I can’t control what they think – my attitude is the only thing I can control.  Envy is never the answer.  Envy makes everybody miserable.  If you give envy any opportunities, you open the door to bitterness.  I love you, moms.  And I’m in awe of you.  All the time.  So this one is for you.

If you have ever asked me a question about how to dress when you’re nursing or about post-baby dressing and I didn’t answer you, I was too intimidated.  I never feel like I have the ethos to answer those questions.  So I brought in two women with all the ethos.  They are my sisters and between the two of them, they have seven children under the age of seven.  Laura has four children (her oldest is 7, her youngest is 2 1/2 months) and Steph has a 4-year-old and 2-year-old twins.   We had a great conversation last week and here is an incomplete and stream-of-consciousness record of that conversation, divided up into categories.  I’m pretty slow at taking notes, so some of these things are either from Steph or Laura, but I can’t remember which.


They are pretty beautiful.  

On Nursing and Clothes:

Steph:  Nursing twins is like its own THING, though. Nursing camisoles. That’s all I wore.  But I also didn’t leave the house for a while.  Nursing twins makes you REALLY feel like a fertility goddess. And now they feed themselves! It’s a miracle!

Laura:  [she was actually nursing while we had our conversation, which felt very appropriate]  …still nursing my fourth. He’s little and cute and I can’t say no! My other kids say, “Can he have crackers? No! He can just have milk, milk, and milk!”

Laura & Steph:  NURSING CAMISOLES.  You must have nursing camisoles.

Steph: Nursing bra, with a nursing camisole over it, and with a cardigan over that.  Extra layers are helpful. You can pull up the shirt and pull down the nursing cami and not show all of your back or all of your midriff.  Target has a great selection of maternity and nursing-friendly clothes.

Laura:  Don’t wear side-zip dresses.  Besides completely disrobing, there’s no way to nurse in a size-zip dress.  If you really want to wear a sheath or shift dress, get one with a full length zipper in the back.

General nursing clothes advice:

Wrap dresses plus nursing camisoles work really well for the period where you change sizes quickly, because wrap dresses are made to be adjustable.

Go for swing tops that fit at the shoulders, then give plenty of room at the waist.

If you do button-up tops or shirt dresses, you might have to size up to keep them from gapping egregiously, but you can always wear a button-up shirt open over your nursing camisole if it doesn’t fit quite right yet.

Remember that kids get bored and they will unsnap all your snaps and unzip all the zippers and play with all the buttons, so take that into consideration.

On Dressing a Postpartum Body:

Laura:  I think it gets easier after the first baby, because your body changes irrevocably after the first one….but it’s physically and emotionally hard every time.

Steph: With my first, a couple of months afterwards, I could fit back into my pants. But after the twins, it’s been a year to two years before I can fit back into clothes – I’m still not fitting into some things.

Laura: At some point you have to make the decision – I’m tired of my clothes not fitting.  I’m getting NEW CLOTHES.  For a year or two after you have kids, you can be in the position of having tons of clothes and NOTHING that fits.

Steph:  I had to tell myself, “I may never be the same size as I was in college and that’s OK.”  BUT I USED TO BE SKINNY AND NOW I’M NOT.  Hormones don’t help those emotions either.  While there’s a baby in your tummy, there’s a reason for the roundness and now it’s out and you can grab two handfuls of your own stomach.

Laura: Even if you COULD get back into those clothes, they’re out of date now.  The hard thing is that you’re learning to dress a completely different body and you want to dress your OLD body.

General thoughts on post-childbirth dressing:

If you want to spruce up your wardrobe, choose things that are stretchy and versatile.  Your size is changing a lot, so this isn’t the best time to invest in tailored pieces.

Shop for outfits, because it can get frustrating if you have a top that fits, but no pants.  Shop for the size you are, not the size you want to be.  A couple of good outfits can get you through a period of transition.  A pair of pants, a skirt with a stretchy waistband, and three tops – that’s a solid little wardrobe right there.

When you have multiple kids, keeping your clothes clean is almost impossible.  Go for washable fabrics.  [Laura:  When I drop food, it usually falls on the baby.  Baby napkin.]

Kids are more important than clothes.  [Steph:  If my kid spits up on my dress and I get upset, it’s not a kid issue, it’s a heart issue.]

When you go shopping, hire a babysitter or ask your mom or your husband to watch the kids.  It will make the process go much quicker and you can focus on finding clothes.

Both Laura and Steph:  I like having some kind of pattern on my shirt – a plain t-shirt shows all the bra deficiencies and any rolls you have.

Choose tops that have an interesting pattern or texture.  Draping is nice.  Thicker materials are great.

If leggings or yoga pants or athletic shorts are your favorites, wear them! Cute, active “I’m getting things done” clothes can be helpful. If you wear them out of the house, put on a cute top or little dress over the top and then you’ll feel put together.

You can change habits and setting goals can really help with that.  It can be helpful to make a goal to get dressed before your husband leaves the house, so you feel ready for the day.

You can be content where you are, while hoping to go somewhere else.

Remember, you are pouring out your body for other people.  (When you’re nursing, you’re LITERALLY pouring yourself out.)

Be realistic about sizing.  Don’t buy things in the size you want, buy things in the size you are.  If you really want to change sizes, invest in a couple of outfits for now and start working hard towards your future size.

On Motherhood as a Job:

Being a mom is a full time job.  It’s important and difficult and beyond full time.  So it isn’t accurate to say that moms don’t have to dress for a job, but how should moms dress for their job?  Laura and Steph requested that I bring back the four questions for intentional dressing that I wrote for my first blog post.  If you answer these questions, you can start understanding your role and how your clothes will support you in that role.

  • What time is it? [examples:  Daytime / Evening / August / December]
  • Where am I? [examples:  Home / Work / School / Vacation / Jury Duty]
  • Who do I need to respect? [examples:  Kids / Coworkers / Parents / Spouse / Bride]
  • What are my responsibilities? [examples: Playing Duck-Duck-Goose / Computer Programming / Taking Blood Pressure / Teaching Classes]

Once you answer all those questions, answer the last question.  It’s still important, but it rests on all the other questions.  Ready for the last question?

  • DO I LIKE THESE CLOTHES?

Answer those five questions and you’ll be all right.  And if you have trouble working through stuff, I’m here.  Ask away.  I might bring in outside expertise, but I’m here.

 

Ashley Tries Costuming A Play!

Dance Party

 

I have very specific bucket list items, but I also accept generalizations of those items.  For example, my bucket list includes “Design and create costumes for an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest” and “Drink limoncello on a balcony overlooking the Adriatic” – that kind of thing.  But I check off aspects of each one as well, because anything included in those items counts for something.  Seeing an outdoor Shakespeare play, drinking limoncello, wearing a linen dress, looking at the ocean from a balcony – those still count.  I think they actually count more for day-to-day life than the detailed and perhaps-perhaps-perhaps items.  But I am checking off a major part of that first one, because I got the opportunity to costume a play!  (Not that I am ruling out costuming The Tempest.  I will never rule it out.)
It was a summer play with a small cast and an accelerated rehearsal timeline – a month and a half from start of rehearsals to performance, and they needed a costume manager.  The thought of being in charge of all the costumes for a production was daunting, but I knew I wanted to costume a play at some point, and this seemed like a good opportunity to give it try!
I didn’t have to design and create any of the costumes from scratch, which was a relief, because my sewing skills are pretty rusty.  I’ve hemmed more trousers and cuffs in this last four weeks than I have for the past four years. There was a good costume collection to draw from, so it was all about compiling and accessorizing and tailoring.  It felt like a mix between a mom planning all the clothes for a multiple day trip with a family of ten and curating a vintage clothing display.
Once I agreed to be in charge of costumes, I had to get to know the story and the characters in it, because the purpose of costumes is to advance the plot by telling you more about each character.  Costumes are character development.  And if the costumes look great, it’s a bonus!
The Play:  Over The Moon (based on a P. G. Wodehouse novel)
Where:  New York City
When:  Springtime of 1927
Cast:  6 men, 4 women (all adults)
With that in mind (especially the time period), I started marking up my script.  As each character entered the story, I tried to imagine what they would be wearing.  What time of day is it?  Are they staying at home or going out?  Are they young or old?  Is this character concerned about money and position?  What is his job?  What does she want out of life?
Started with ideas, then went on to the specifics.  Does the character move around a lot?  (If so, focus on looser costumes.)  Do they have quick costume changes?  (If so, keep the outfit simple to take on and off.  Ditch the buckled shoes and button-back dresses.)  Once the cast is in place, you have to keep each cast member’s size and coloring in mind as well.
Once I had a vision (and a 1927-centric Pinterest board), I went to explore the costume collection.  I had a couple of afternoons where I just got to putter around and look at everything and pull whatever I wanted.  SO MUCH FUN.  I know that doesn’t sound super fun to most people, but I love details and colors and fabric.  Spending hours on my own looking at costumes is never a hardship.  What I had available shaped my general vision into a more specific vision.
Some things I learned:  Some details are for the audience and some are for the actors.  Audience details are obvious – sleeve lengths, bold prints, sparkles, contrasting colors, glasses, suspenders, hats, SPARKLES.  Some details are for the actors – the subtle details that you don’t see unless you are up close.  Back in the days of black and white movies, costume designers were asked why they used colors in the design, when the colors didn’t show up in the movie.  They said it was for the actors – an actress will act differently in a red dress than in a black dress.  Costumes inform performances.
Here are some of my favorite details from this show:

 

 

 

 

Another thing I learned is that there’s a difference between what you like and what’s right for the show.  News flash, I know.  But it’s really tempting to fall in love with a vision and stick with it, even if it doesn’t match up with a character or with the story.
When it comes down to it, choose the piece that has the most personality.  Like these hats – I loved this little cream number with the bow, because it’s cute and tiny and simple.  The straw hat is big and loud and covered in holes, but it has so much more personality.  It took me more time to like it, but now I love it.

 

I learned a ton through this experience.  I learned that it’s a ton of work to work through the entire process from vision to execution.  It requires a lot of organization and communication and more bossiness than I have.  I also learned that I’m bad at men’s sizing – I can generally tell a woman’s size, but men’s sizes are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  If I costume another play, I am just going to take detailed measurements at the beginning of the process.
Come see the play!  Sweat, tears, planning, painting, lighting, accessorizing, and MUCH hemming has gone into this play.  The actors have memorized an entire play just for you! Welcome to New York City, circa 1927.

Ashley Tries French Girl Style

Americans tend to idealize French style, because it sums up what we want – natural beauty, effortless  cool, mystery, allure.  Je ne sais quoi translates to “I know not what” – it’s that thing you can’t put your finger on, the thing that can’t be nailed down to 5 Easy Steps, that something that your coolest friend has.  Not just confidence, not just physical beauty, but an indefinable draw.  Cards on the table, I can’t really try that on.  It is beyond me.  But there are aspects of French style that I love and I am traveling to the south of France in the fall, so I am definitely in the mood to give it a try!

Day 1:  Classic Separates

Black-and-white striped top, black skirt, black flats.  Pretty classic.  For this week, I tried to go by Coco Chanel’s rule of “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”  I tried to simplify each outfit.  If an accessory didn’t have an impact, I didn’t wear it.  Even with the simplest outfit, there are ways to give it personality and make it unique.

I decided to wear my glasses, because glasses are an accessory with an immediate impact.  They have the ability to completely change a look.  It’s very French to work with what you’ve got.  What makes you look like you?  Glasses betray that I have a weakness – I’m genuinely nearsighted.  But that weakness is a part of who I am and what makes me me.  I like my glasses, because they help me see and I like how they look.  We don’t have to look physically perfect.  Beauty isn’t pretending we have no weak points.  Beauty is simultaneously telling the truth and concealing the truth.  Being honest and keeping secrets.

The shirt has a boxy fit, so I tied it up and changed the shape to suit me.  French women know how to wear clothes well.  They don’t let clothes wear them.  They will alter the clothes and make sure everything fits.


Day 2:  Favorite Dress

Your lifestyle affects what you wear.  One major logistical aspect of French style is that French women walk everywhere – it’s something that they take into consideration.  It’s about a thirty minute walk from my house to where I work, so I decided to walk to work one day and pick a cute outfit that would stand up to it.

A few thoughts that went through my head during the picking process:

  • It needs to be comfortable for the whole day – not just for walking, but for work as well.  The outfit needs to be multi-functional, because athletic clothes would be very comfortable for walking, but inappropriate in a professional context.  No matter how comfy sweatpants are, they would make me uncomfortable at work.
  • It needs to be cool and breathable.  Otherwise, I will arrive at work a complete sweaty mess.  It’s hard to maintain a cool and mysterious aura when completely drenched.
  • Shoes.  I can’t walk very far in heels.  Even comfy ones.  French women can, but I know my limits.  Flats, then.

Going by that criteria, I picked out one of my favorite dresses.  It was one that I actually wore a lot when I was in France.  Stretch jersey, a neutral print, a couple of details (ruffle sleeves, tie waist), and a great fit.  Light enough to keep me cool all day, pretty enough to make me happy all day.  That’s why it is one of my all time favorites.

I only had accessories that helped me out.  Sunglasses – pink ones that make me think of la vie en rose and that line in Sabrina (“Only in Paris, where the air is pink, does that song make sense.”)  Shoes – compact black Nike sneakers that transitioned well from the walk to the office.  I’ve heard the NEVER WEAR SNEAKERS IN EUROPE advice a lot, but it really depends on the sneakers.

The walk was wonderful.  Contemplative, unhurried, a good time for sorting through thoughts and planning out the day.  Appreciating often-overlooked processes is a beautiful part of French life.  Enjoying meals and making the meals, enjoying the process of getting ready, enjoying walking to work and walking back home from work.  In The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a wise fox tells the little prince about the importance of ritual:

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox.  “If, for example, you come four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances.  At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about.  I shall show you how happy I am!  But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox.  “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”

There are sweet rhythms and rituals to life – enjoy them and make them into something beautiful.



Day 3:  Covered/Uncovered

French style is sexy.  Undeniable fact.  But it’s more complicated than a see-up, see-down, see-through sexy.  It’s a mix of covered and uncovered.  It’s the allure of having a secret.  On a date, you probably don’t want the whole restaurant and your date to have the same reaction to your outfit.  A sliver of shoulder that only your date can see is just as alluring and has the added allure of mystery.  To quote The Little Prince again, “It’s only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  There’s always more to be discovered.

I wanted to create a low-key mix with this covered/uncovered feel.  The color scheme was neutral again, but the lovely light neutrals that you see all over France in the summertime.  French women love their neutrals, but they also dress seasonally.  Black in the winter, cream and navy in the summer.  Black might make an appearance in a linen summer dress, but it isn’t the predominant color scheme.

For this look, I chose a cream lace shirt and layered it over a gray camisole.  I love this top – it combines the sheerness of the lace with a very classic shape (high neck, short sleeves, a structured fit).  I wanted to wear linen at some point this week, so I brought out my tan linen shorts.  They are loose and comfortable, with a natural ease to them.  Mushroom-colored heels that cover the foot finished off the ensemble.

I didn’t wear any eye makeup on that day – not even mascara.  I wanted all the focus to be on the lips, so I put on foundation, then mixed red and bright pink lipstick for a really bright lip.  The whole look made me feel very beautiful.


Day 4:  Denim Dress and Dizziness

This day wasn’t much of a clothes day, because I got to work and immediately started feeling sick and dizzy.  So I came home and got into pajamas.  But before the pajamas, I wore a new favorite dress – an oversized denim shirt dress that is the perfect blank canvas for bold accessories.

Spikey shoes and hammered silver earrings and a textured ponytail.  Mascara and eyeliner.  Cool look.  But when you feel sick, you just don’t care.

When I get sick, I get dizzy and faint.  Then I get scared to drive, because I am afraid of passing out and crashing and generally being a danger to myself and others.  It’s best for everyone if I just get back into bed and sleep until I feel not sick.  Kind of a waste of an outfit, but again – I just didn’t care at that point.

Day 5:  Femininity

After spending Thursday in bed, I got up on Friday and felt like a new woman.  To celebrate, I put on one of my prettiest dresses.  It’s an ultra-feminine little number in a blue and white floral pattern, with a fit that makes the world a better place.

For all my confidence, I kind of steer away from this dress, because it’s so girly and pretty.  Just writing that down makes it sound stupid, but it’s the truth.  It’s easier to wear something quirky/interesting and be the person in the background.  This dress gets noticed.

In movie costuming terms, this is a romantic lead outfit, not a quirky best friend outfit.  Maybe that is part of the indefinable beauty of French women – maybe they naturally step into that lead role without thinking too hard about it.  I do tend to shy away from anything that seems romantic, because I’m perpetually single.  Sometimes it seems like a waste to wear pretty things, but it isn’t.  Life is short.  Wear the pretty things.  Wear them in celebration, wear them in confidence.