Back when Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana and the Olsen twins had a clothing line for eight-year-old fashionistas, I worked at a magazine for tween girls. That’s where I met Ashley DeGree, a Kansas City, Missouri native who became the magazine’s beauty columnist/photo shoot stylist/editor extraordinaire. She also became my BWF (that’s best work friend). The whip-smart midwestern gal recently left her gig at the glossy to go freelance, which perfectly suits her on-the-move lifestyle—her husband’s job as a Navy pilot has taken them from California to Virginia and back, with extended layovers in Mississippi and Florida. The couple recently came to town for a Navy football game (fun fact: our husbands went to Annapolis together), and Ashley was kind enough to let me peek into her travel bag. Here, she shares what she loves about freelancing, her best beauty advice, and how she makes it through her husband’s deployments (hint: There’s a lot of wine involved).
You landed a job at a magazine straight out of college. What did you do to prepare for that?
I always knew (starting way back in middle school!) that I wanted to work for a magazine, so I had a pretty clear goal in mind. I attended the University of Missouri, where I was lucky enough to get hands-on experience working for the Journalism School’s in-house magazine and newspaper. This field is all about experience, so I took every opportunity I could to build my resume. Months before graduation, I started sending out portfolios of my work to pretty much every magazine I could think of...and let fate take it from there.
You recently made the switch to freelance writing and editing. What does a typical day look like?
The best part about being freelance is that there isn’t really a “typical day” anymore! It’s great being on my own schedule. I’m not exactly a morning person, so I’ll usually sleep in a bit, head to the gym, and take my dog Hugo for a walk before getting started. When you work from home, it’s easy to lose the work/life balance so I always try to sign off as soon as Matt, my husband, gets home from work. But as a jet pilot for the Navy, his schedule is always up in the air (pun intended), so on days when he has a night flight, I’ll hang out with him during the day and work at night instead. Having that flexibility is wonderful beyond words. As long as I get it all done, it doesn’t really matter what time it is...or if I’m still in pajamas on certain days!
You mentioned that your husband is a Navy pilot. How do you deal with deployments?
Having your husband deploy for up to eight months is tough, but having Hugo to snuggle with helped so much. And keeping busy. I made sure I had something to look forward to each month, whether it was a trip to see family, a girls weekend getaway, a theme party, or even a port call visit to meet Matt in Dubai (a super long flight for just two and a half days...but so worth it!). I was always counting down to something. We had also just bought an adorably outdated house at the beach that needed a lot of work, so renovating bathrooms, installing wainscoting, and tearing out kitchen cabinets helped keep me busy, too! But the real thing that got me through two back-to-back deployments was my amazing group of friends. Whether I needed a shoulder to cry on, a froyo-for-dinner partner, a drinking buddy, or just someone to come over because I heard a scary noise at night, they were always there for me no matter what. We went through so much together, and they will forever be like family to me. Oh, and wine. I drank a shit ton of wine.
You wrote a regular beauty column for a magazine. What’s some of your best advice?
Wear sunscreen! Every. Day. Even on days you don’t think you need it. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to take care of your skin, and not just in the I-don’t-want-wrinkles kind of way (but it does dramatically help with premature wrinkles, too!). One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime, and that’s not a pretty statistic. I’ve already had five pre-cancerous moles removed, and I have the scars to prove it. One of those scars is right on my nose, so it’s a pretty blatant reminder for me each morning. I’m always harping on friends, family and my poor husband to put on sunscreen, keep an eye on all freckles and moles for any changes, and to schedule a yearly check-up with a dermatologist. And for women, wearing sunscreen daily is easy! Just switch to a foundation with a built-in SPF 30 if wearing a separate sunscreen seems like too much work. Anything is better than nothing!
Do you have any can’t-live-without products?
Absolutely! I wear SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen on my face every day. It’s paraben and chemical free, and protects my freckly face. I also love St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Lotion. I mean, everyone wants a little color and this is my way of achieving a sun-kissed look, even after all that SPF. I actually found this gem back in college while studying abroad in London (where self-tanner is totally needed!) and was so happy when it made its way to the US! Another British beauty buy is my mascara...I love Rimmel London’s Extra Super Lash. Mascara is definitely my “you’re on a deserted island and can only take one beauty item” pick. (Well, after sunscreen, of course!) I don’t leave the house without at least a little on. I’ve tried tons of different tubes over the years, but I swear by this one. And the best part? It’s less than $5!
You have Victoria’s Secret-model hair. Please spill your secrets.
Have you been drinking? But seriously thanks, you’re way too nice. I love having long hair but it doesn’t happen overnight...and it can be a lot of upkeep! While I was growing my hair out, I had it trimmed every 6-8 weeks! It seems counterintuitive to keep cutting it off when you’re trying to grow it out, but it’s so needed. Nobody wants long hair that looks dead and dry, and if you don’t take care of it during the growing-out phase, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Long hair can go from gorgeous to gross in a snap, so even now I have it trimmed a lot to keep the dead-ends away. I also don’t wash and style it every day as I’ve learned that’s way too harsh on my hair. To style it, I blow it out with an ionic blowdryer and then use a one-inch curling iron to add in loose waves or a slight curl, depending on how much time I have, then finish it off hair spray. The best tip I have for beachy waves is to always point the barrel of the curling iron down, never up. It makes a world of difference! And since you don’t want waves that are too “perfect,” straighten out the very bottom inch or so of each strand. I can’t take credit for that one, though...I learned that from my super-stylish sister.
How would you describe your style?
I’d say I’m classically trendy with a nautical twist. I love stripes. And I mean it, I love them. My closet is so full of blue and white stripes that my sister actually forbid me from buying anymore, but I just can’t help myself! (I broke out of my box for these pics...my sister will be proud!) I also love button-ups, navy blue and white, gingham, anchors, monograms, flats, oversized sweaters, a simple watch, bangles, stud earrings. I’m a total planner and I love when things match perfectly, from my outfits to my home decor. My love for blues and stripes extends well past my wardrobe, just stop by my house sometime and you’ll see!
Last question: If you could only keep one pair of shoes in your closet, which ones would you chose and why?
This is a hard one...I love them all! But if I had to pick just one, I’d go with a pair of my Tory Burch flats. A great pair of flats is a must-have in every girl’s closet. This pair is totally classic so I can wear them with just about anything. Well, except for pajamas!