I could yammer on for a while about how great Ashley is and how she keeps surprising you throughout the whole first game by quoting Tennyson or revealing a spiritual side or telling you an awesome story about her sister beat up her pushy boyfriend. I could tell you how emotional I found her appearance - however brief - in ME 2, and how awesome it was to find this today. That's probably not especially interesting, though, so let's talk about what people on the internet like to hear: something that makes me angry.
So in the first game, Ash is (I think) a pretty hot lady. Here she is talking to her favorite commander.
That's Ash in the Alliance Navy uniform she wears around the ship (she wears non-uniform high-tech armor on missions). I know you can't see the front especially well, but please note that a high-neckline, appropriate (as I believe) to a military uniform, is visible.
This is Ash's new look from ME3:
So a few things different here. She's got sexy new hair. You know what? Great. Seriously. Hair cuts are a great way to express that a character has changed. In ME1, Ash is a grunt, a low-ranked front-line soldier with (so she thinks) a career full of bad assignments ahead of her. She wears her hair in a severe (presumably regulation) bun. In ME3, we've been told a little about Ash and we can guess a bit more. She's an officer now, a lieutenant. Beyond that, she's a Spectre, meaning that she has the full backing of the Council, the most powerful political body in the galaxy, as their trusted agent. We know from ME2 that Ash is now a special forces veteran, and we can guess that she's a renowned hero for her role in ME1. A striking hairstyle is a great way to communicate the character's new role, how much prestige she's gained and how it might make her feel.
But why is she wearing her uniform like that? Is it a useful visual shorthand to communicate something about Ashley to the player, like the hair? Based on the little we know about the plot of ME3... No. It doesn't communicate confidence and prestige in the same way. In visual media, skin and breasts doesn't communicate "powerful professional woman" in the same way that great hair does. Sex and power can be connected, obviously, but as a professional soldier with political connections, that's a little outside of Ash's storytelling archetype.
Let's look at how one very powerful political woman in the real world chooses to present herself:
Hmm. Not so low-neckline. Actually she seems to be making an effort not to appear sexual - almost as if being sexualized might make it harder to take her seriously as a leader. Well, it's only one example.
Well, none of those women are in the military. Maybe female soldiers dress differently.
Point is, Ash's uniform doesn't communicate prestige and authority, and it doesn't communicate professionalism or a military background either It doesn't seem to communicate anything useful about the character, really. The Ash we get to know in ME1 is a consummate professional who is entirely devoted to her career in the Alliance military. Her uniform is an important and empowering symbol to her, and frankly, I don't think she would choose to wear her uniform in a non-regulation way. Especially not a sexy non-regulation way, as her military service is intimately bound up with her late beloved father in her mind. Basically, in this setting, on this woman, that outfit doesn't make any sense.
I just wish I wouldn't have to think about all the sexist baggage attached to this particular costume while I'm doing it..