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2016 was the year TV took a deep dive into an exploration of mental illness. Shows like UnReal, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Lady Dynamite each had its own nuanced take on what used to be referred to, simplistically and erroneously, as “crazy.”
Critical darling You’re The Worst — which returned to FX for its third season last night — was perhaps the most notable of all, with its depiction of the way depression and anxiety impacts not the individual dealing with it personally, but their relationships as well.
Gretchen, the show’s unlikely heroine played by actress Aya Cash, nearly hit the point of self-destruction last season, with heartbreaking effects on her boyfriend Jimmy (played by actor Chris Geere). There’s no rom-com cliches here; just an afflicted publicist sneaking out of her lover’s bed to cry alone in her car. Cash’s portrayal of a woman sinking into despair earned her a Critics' Choice Television Award nomination for Best Actress.
But You're The Worst is still a comedy, after all. Her character, Gretchen, is a brash and cynical Hollywood publicist who drinks, resents babies at parties, and steals wedding gifts in addition to her neighbor’s dog (to be fair, it was a pug named Sandwiches).
Cash felt honored to portray a complex character that can straddle both humor and vulnerability with a bottle of whiskey in hand. For that, she credits the show’s staff. “The writing is very, very good and as actors, we get a lot of credit for that.”
There’s also her wardrobe. Gretchen opts for skinny jeans, short tight skirts, low-cut tank tops with a peek of a bra and gold accessories. These are items Cash calls traditionally “sexier,” with an emphases on the quotes surrounding that word.
Out of character, Cash is more of a jeans and relaxed T-shirt kind of gal. She opts for a more casual wardrobe, although she does have one sweet spot.
"I tend to like a lot of things that could also be on 12-year-olds," says Cash, "in a way that Gretchen does not.” Cash loves jumpsuits and overalls — a kind of Gymboree chic. “I have actually shopped at a kids store," she confesses. "I'm only 5'2”so I can fit into those things.” After eyeing a poncho recently at a high-end children’s store in Brooklyn, she asked the clerk, "Does this come in adult sizes?”
Cash's favorite brands include Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, and Alexander Wang, and she shops online at TenOverSix. But having grown up on a limited budget, vintage and secondhand stores still remain her go-to.
“I still have issues spending money on clothes — I get very intimidated going into high-end boutiques even though, technically, now I can afford that,” she says. “I feel like I don't belong in some way and I get nervous. I often embarrass myself in front of the shopkeepers by being like, ‘I can't believe I'm the kind of person who is buying these $300 shoes.'”
Cash distinctly remembers waitressing during her early career and serving a friend who was wearing Rachel Comey shoes. “I remember thinking, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to afford a pair of shoes like that.”
Even with her newfound success, Cash is more likely to search for designer brands on sale than hit up Rodeo Drive. Her current fixation involves hunting for Jesse Kamm pants at a more affordable price point. "I'm trolling eBay constantly for cheaper ones," she confesses.
Cash also takes an unorthodox approach to her red carpet choices, which are often a mixture of menswear-inspired outfits: suits in bold colors, and metallics and geometric prints with sophisticated touches like oversized velvet bows and silk lapels.
This past awards season, she got several uses out of a Sandro suit with a sly style trick: swapping out the blouse. “Everyone says, ‘Oh my god, I love that suit’ and I respond, ‘You just saw me in it last week,’” she laughs, noting, “men get to do that all the time.”
Most of all, she possesses a refreshing sense of humor about getting dressed. Of the colorful Rebecca Minkoff suit she wore to her show’s premiere, she self-deprecatingly wrote on Instagram: “I attempted Diane Keaton meets Glenn Close.” One of her favorite recent presents is a vintage Taco Bell T-shirt, an homage to her former dependence on the fast food chain during a movie shoot.
Cash takes risks at press events, with help from her stylist, Chris Horan, but is adamant that she wants to enjoy her clothing. She is not as interested in building a cohesive fashion look.
“I wear what I like and sometimes I feel like I'm all over the place,” she says. “I'm also not trying to get on lists. I'm not trying to brand myself in a fashion way. I'm just trying to enjoy and feel good in what I wear."
Her fashion philosophy garners attention, and occasionally a raised eyebrow. The actress finally got those coveted Rachel Comey shoes — the designer’s furry Dahl mules — and paired them with a tuxedo-inspired jumpsuit for the Television Critics Association press tour this month. She personally adored them, but not everyone appreciated the fluffy footwear.
"I end up getting fugged [by Go Fug Yourself]. That was so sad!" she laughs. “Everybody's got their opinions. I felt great and that’s all that matters.”
Cash’s response might have you believing she’s as over it as Gretchen is. The actress does care about what she wears and to some degree, she cares how it’s received. But, she says, "Let’s be clear: I do give a fuck, I just don't give that many. I don't want to pretend I just wake up in the morning and pull whatever out of my closet.”
There are some items she’ll never give up on, no matter how harsh the feedback. At what best demonstrates her style tenacity, she describes a pair of American Apparel drop-waist pants she repeatedly wears to set. They’re comfy, they’re loose, and they’re precisely the type of pajama-like attire she wants for 5 a.m. call-times.
“I call them my poopy pants,” she says defiantly. “Poopy, like dog poop,” she clarifies, in case you thought she meant poofy. “Because you could take a dump in them and no one would know. I’ve never done that, just to be clear. I get made fun of all the time for wearing them, but I don’t care. I love them.”