Ashley Tries Tee and Jeans

This was a busy week, so I wanted to simplify all my fashion decisions.  What could be simpler than starting every outfit with a t-shirt and jeans?  It’s a great blank canvas.

Day 1:  Fancy

I like to dress up a little bit on Mondays – it helps jumpstart the week.  I started off with an embellished black tee with some gather details and scattered embroidery.  It’s a swing shape, which means it fits through the shoulders then floats out from there.  Since the t-shirt was on the looser end, I picked out jeans in a fitted shape (to contrast with the looseness of the top) and in a dark wash (to keep the whole outfit feeling fancy).

I was much more aware of my shoe choices this week.  I tend to spend more time picking out my clothes, then grab shoes on my way out the door.  Since I themed my clothes with simplicity in mind this week, it gave me a little more time to think about shoes and accessories.

I went with some of my very fanciest shoes – black, gold, and cream heels that can easily overpower an outfit.  With jeans and a nice t-shirt, the shoes got to stand out in a good way.  Along with a simple gold chain necklace, that was the extent of my accessorizing, but the shoes pack a punch.  The complete outfit pleased me, because everything worked together and balanced out.  The shape of the jeans balanced out the shape of the top, the colors in the shoes mimicked the colors in the top.  It felt polished without any layering required.

Day 2:  Faded and Soft

Since I went for a more polished look on Monday, I wanted to focus on a soft, lived-in look for Tuesday.  The top has a breezy soft feel and a gray-and-white stripe woven into it.  It’s one of those rare, beautiful, and elusive creatures, the well-designed neutral tee.  If you see one of these creatures, capture it.

I picked soft, faded jeans and layered on a white jersey cardigan.  I wanted the outfit to feel like a flower that’s starting to fade, when the edges start curling and the petals soften.  My scuffy brown Oxford shoes and pale brown glasses kept everything in that same light neutral color palette.

The outfit was nice on its own, but it was an especially lovely background to highlight my favorite summer scarf.  There are a lot of colors on the scarf – the background is peachy pink and the foreground pattern is a bright blue and orangey red floral.  It was from a sidewalk sale in France and it’s one of my favorite things.  If there’s something you love to wear, create an outfit around it!

Day 3:  Pattern Mixing


A simple starting point doesn’t rule out a bold statement.  A green-based geometric print t-shirt and dark skinny jeans became the starting point for this outfit.  

The weather was chilly and rainy, so I needed another layer.  I love blazers – they take the same amount of effort as sweatshirts, but look way cooler.  So instead of a sweatshirt or a plain sweater or a jean jacket, I went for a print blazer.  

The print combination dazzled and disoriented the eye.  Pretty prismatic.  Bold to the point of foolhardy.  The only reason it kind of worked was the dark jeans and shoes.  I went for a bolder shape on the shoes- they have cutouts and peep toes, but they are black, so they didn’t add to the pattern craziness.  

I enjoyed this outfit – it didn’t feel like a typical t-shirt and jeans outfit, but it didn’t require extra effort.  It just required extra confidence.  It is easy to equate simple with safe or boring, but it doesn’t have to be either one!

Day 4:  Smiling Sushi


I found this smiling sushi shirt at the Salvation Army and I immediately loved it.  It has probably become obvious that I like some eccentric clothes… this one is pretty out there. But it fits great, it seems brand new, and it feels nice.  

Since the shirt was so different, I decided to opt out of the typical blue jeans, and go for a burgundy skinny jean.  They’ve actually been a very versatile pair of jeans for me.  I highly recommend a non-blue pair of jeans.  

This outfit was just a tee and jeans, but it lots of personality, thanks to the details and color.  Smiling sushi can make any day happier!

Day 5:  Layering on the happiness!


The aforementioned Salvation Army visit resulted in a lot of prints, including a button down shirt in a super-bright / bird-of-paradise / tropical print.  I adore a tropical print and they are very on trend right now – Dolce and Gabbana released a haute couture resort collection based around a custom tropical leaf print last year, etc.  

It’s a lot of print, so I kept it open and layered it over a black tee.  That breaks up the print and the black grounds all the bright colors. 

Dark ankle-length jeans and pointy black flats gave it a little 1960s vibe to me.  Like Gidget Goes Hawaiian or something.  

This week was a great palate cleanser – getting ready made easy!  I found myself focusing on one thing in the outfit (shoes or a scarf or a print).  The framework was all set up, then it was easy to infuse personality into the outfit.

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Ashley Tries: The Fancies

I think we all have those things in our closet that seem too fancy to wear on an ordinary basis.  But are they?  I’ve heard of “dressing down” clothes, but does it actually work?  This week, I tried dressing down some of my harder-to-wear fancies and I was pretty happy with how it worked!

First fancy:  Sequin Top

I found this top at a consignment store and bought it because SPARKLES, but haven’t worn it that much, because sparkles.  But it is a good top – the fit is nice and it’s from Ann Taylor (therefore quality).  It definitely deserves to get worn more.  But how to wear a sparkle shirt to work and not feel overly dressed-up?  In this casual climate, Sparkly Top + Jeans + Heels = the dress code for Going Out For Cocktails With Girlfriends.  I wasn’t going out for cocktails.  I was going to work.  And jeans were still my best option, so I needed Flats.

At that point, I had sparkle top + jeans + flats, all solid colors and all dark.  So I either needed something bright or something print, to set off all the dark colors.  I was in more of a monochromatic mood, so I decided against a bold color and went for a bold print blazer in neutral colors.  So the outfit ended up being sparkle top + jeans + flats + print blazer.

It was a cool outfit – I felt like kinda rock-and-roll, like a bass player in an all girl rock band.  Not the lead singer, who would need a more attention-grabbing outfit, but a casually cool background musician.  Not trying too hard is the essence of cool.  I think the success of the outfit came down to the shoes.  If I had worn heels with this outfit, I would have been self-conscious about being too dressy.

My takeaway from this outfit:  If the outfit looks too much like a Going Out For Cocktails outfit, wear flats.  Also, I really like the mix of sparkles and print.  That’s pretty cool.

Second fancy:  Major Shoes

These shoes are a lot of shoe.  They have black and white and gold and straps and buckles and the things.  They are beautiful and intimidating, so I usually find myself going for another pair.  It’s like if you’re recording an album and you have to decide between a diva who is notoriously difficult and doesn’t play well with others, and a singer who is almost as good, takes direction well, and gets along with all the musicians.  It’s tempting to pick the solid singer and not deal with the diva.  Sometimes you don’t want the drama.

That’s how I feel about these shoes.  But they have so much going for them, I really should wear them more.  I didn’t want anything too matchy, so I tried to limit the black in this outfit.  That ruled out black pants, so I went for a pair of maroon skinny jeans.  That way I also didn’t have the blue jean problem of trying to figure out whether to go for a light, medium, or dark wash.  Because there are codes and standards and self-imposed rules that we believe about jeans.  Sometimes it is easier to bypass the blue jeans and all the arbitrary denim rules by choosing jeans in a completely different color.

I wanted some print, because that made the first outfit look pretty cool, so I grabbed a dark floral top.  Because everything was leaning towards dark colors, I decided against a black jacket (and a black jacket would have made it look more formal than I wanted).  A light grayish/tannish tweed jacket lightened up the whole look.  I really enjoyed this outfit and it reminded me of all the things I love about those crazy shoes.  I’m going to be more relaxed about what I wear them with and just use them the way I wear black pumps.  Don’t be afraid of the diva shoes – learn to enjoy the drama and don’t worry about it!

My takeaway from this outfit:  Your statement shoes probably go with more than you think!  Do you have fancy shoes left over from a wedding?  Give them another try.  Heels can literally (and figuratively) elevate an outfit.  Life is too short to afraid of your own shoes.

Third fancy: Velvet Skirt

Between the cranberry velvet and the satin cummerbund belt, this skirt falls squarely into the Christmas Party realm (especially if I paired it with the sequin top from that first outfit).  It looks so christmassy, it seems a little wrong to wear it in the springtime, but there isn’t any real reason not to wear it and velvet is very in right now.

The first decision I had to make was whether to tuck the shirt in.  NO.  It was a pretty easy decision, because I think the skirt waistband looks a little fussy and cummerbundish.  Also, there’s a random button.  Also, it is satin.  So it’s a hard no on the tucking in – the added benefit of untucked shirts is that it kicks the formality down a few notches.  I went for a black and white buttondown shirt that is loose and long, then added a green jacket a bit shorter than the shirt.  A shorter jacket cheats the eye into seeing a longer leg line and draws some attention to your waist.  I needed all the leg help I could get, because I wore flats with this one.

My takeaway from this outfit:  If you don’t like one aspect of a piece, cover it up.  Nobody needs to know that shirt has weird sleeves – wear a jacket.  Nobody needs to know how low the neckline is on that dress – wear a sweater on over it and pretend it’s a skirt.  Nobody knows and nobody cares.  It’s a comforting thought.

Bonus outfit:  Easter Shoes!

This one came before I set the challenge, but I loved pulling out the crazy bridesmaid shoes for Easter.  I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure whether they would match the tone of the dress and the jean jacket.  But I COULDN’T RESIST BECAUSE THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL.  That is all.  Check out all the crazy sparkles!

I enjoyed this week – it made me realize that I put some clothes into an arbitrary Wear Only For Special Occasions category.  And they don’t have to be off limits – it’s not like they are beaded ball gowns.  I feel like I got some of my clothes back.

Live boldly!  Wear your pretty things!  Enjoy the things you have while you have them.

Thanks for reading my blog – if you have anything you want me to try, let me know!

Investment

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

Outfit Construction, Pt. 1

Outfit Construction, Pt. 1

 

Here are a few tips and tricks for putting together an outfit – I’ll be using the outfits above as reference.  I find it’s helpful to have a strategy, because the time I get dressed (morning), is also the time when I have the hardest time making decisions (because morning).
Start with the item of clothing you like most.  I like dresses, but dresses are so easy, they are almost cheating for this exercise….so I’ll do tops.  I like tops.  Notice, I’ve used the same top for Outfit No. 1 and Outfit No. 2.  It’s a cool top.  It has a lot of colors I like, the floral print reminds me of Liberty of London, and the high neck is nice.  So that’s where I’ll start.
Okay.  We’ve got the shirt.  It’s navy, so I wouldn’t wear dark wash jeans with it.  I have reasons for this.  Either the dark jeans will match the navy top (head-to-toe navy) or the jeans will be slightly lighter or darker (and it will look like the top and jeans were supposed to match, but somebody miscalculated and now it’s awkward).  Contrasting is easier than matching.  Always.  
I like to keep things streamlined for the bottom half of my outfit.  In Outfit 1, I’ve picked a gray a-line skirt – nice and basic, a contrast to the navy, and not too full and not too restricting.  For extra flattery, choose a skirt with a waistband that fits at the natural waist, then tuck your shirt in.  If the idea of tucking your shirt in makes you hyperventilate a little bit, breathe.  It’s okay.  Pick a cardigan or a jacket, button at the waist, and you’ll be able to tell time by your hourglass figure.
For Outfit 2, I’ve picked trousers that are simple and fitted, in a nice military green color to provide that color contrast.
To finish this outfit off, pick a cardigan or a jacket that isn’t bulky, but has some drape and movement.  This softens up the look and makes it more comfy and casual.  I do love a colorful cardigan – it just brightens up the day.  My chartreuse cardigan gets thrown on over everything – it’s one of my most-worn pieces.
Outfit 1 = Floral Top + Fitted Skirt (in contrasting color) + Bright Cardigan
Outfit 2 = Floral Top + Tailored Trousers (in contrasting color) + Draped Jacket
Now here’s the fun part – we can generalize this equation and it can be really flexible and useful.  Like fashion algebra.
(piece you like) + (fitted piece) + (softer piece) = your fashion decision for the day
Here’s an example, starting with something different – you have this polka dot skirt and it’s making you happy. GRAB IT.  The skirt has a little more volume, so choose a knit shirt in a contrasting color, then elevate the look with a fitted jacket.
Polka Dot Skirt (happy) + Structured Jacket (fitted) + Knit Shirt (soft + contrast) = YAY!
Play around with it.  It’s fun.
Do you have any fashion decisions that seem especially difficult?  Any concerns about what will look good on you?  Feel free to leave a question in the comments section, because I’d love to help out.  My goal is to make getting dressed a happy part of your morning.  Thanks for reading!