I am often simultaneously intrigued and baffled by the outfits donned by Ashlanders in restaurants and on the street.

An Acts Matter essay


With all the bigger issues we face in the world, it may seem frivolous to spend a second thinking about what can diplomatically be called "Ashland fashion." But this time of year, when New Year's Eve events beckon and even the buildings are dressed up in sparkling lights, I ask myself: "When did Ashlanders become so casually dressed, so modernly miscellaneous?"

I am often simultaneously intrigued and baffled by the outfits donned by Ashlanders in restaurants and on the street. On any given day, regardless of the temperature, you'll find a man wearing layers of Polartec, sheepskin-lined clogs and socks knitted by a herdsman in Tuva. He is seated across from a woman in a long, wispy skirt, multiple scarves and sandals.

Such a mix of apparel could indicate any number of activities in which the wearers might be prepared: a trek in Nepal, a hike in the Alps or a maypole dance at a Renaissance convention. Hairstyles are just as equally entertaining, offering an array of high-maintenance mullets to I-don't-care laissez-faire.

Those from a different generation or the Midwest will understand when I say there was a dress code. Jeans were reserved for gardening or washing the car. People were groomed when they were in public. They dressed up to travel, always wore black at funerals and never wore white to weddings, or before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

In an effort to express themselves and reject convention, many Ashlanders now cultivate an it-is-what-it-is culture. Perhaps this might explain a fact in the 2010 census: Only one in three Ashland households has a husband and wife living together.

That leaves a lot of us single and perhaps looking. For those interested in dating, I ask you: What do you wear on a first date? Do you don a take-me-as-I-am look? Or do you thoughtfully select something intended to impress, allure, titillate?

A few years ago, when I became single again, a friend suggested I try online dating. I spent a lot of time crafting my profile to accurately represent my authenticity and generous nature. A lot of deliberation also went into choosing the outfit for my picture: upscale casual that would attract but not reveal too much.

I received a fair amount of responses, but was shocked at the skewed perspective that exists. While the men defined their preferred female attributes as fun (translation: not too serious), slim (translation: sexy and fit) and easy-going (translation: low-maintenance), the majority of them chose to present photos of themselves in sunglasses and baseball caps (translation: emotionally unavailable and probably bald), T-shirts and jeans (translation: you're not worth the effort) and physiques that didn't meet their own requirements.

I wondered how many responses I would have received if I had posted a picture of myself in my bum-around-the-house outfit. My guess is that I would have been sized up as not worth the effort.

What is worth the effort? In her book "La Seduction," Elaine Sciolino describes how the French are schooled in the art of seduction, from the way they present an argument to how they flirt. Both sexes dress with exacting purpose — yet looking as though it happened naturally — to engage one another.

Success is based on tactical performance and the frequency with which one wins. Our degree of victory is relative to the effort we put forth. So if, in the game of romance, men want to win and women want to be won over, shouldn't we all feel we are worth the effort?

Gwenne Wilcox moved to Ashland in 2005 from Los Angeles with her daughter, son and three pets. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design/Advertising Communications from Art Center College of Design. She is an active volunteer and member of the Ashland Independent Film Festival's Advisory Council.