Tailoring a wardrobe to fit

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
If I had my way, every day would be a dress-up day, writes Liz Breslin.

On moving to America, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie noticed that "Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance. For serious women writers in particular," she told Elle magazine, "it was better not to dress well at all, and if you did, then it was best to pretend that you had not put much thought into it. If you spoke of fashion, it had to be either with apology or with the slightest of sneers."

She reckons it’s the same the Western world over, and I have to say I agree. In my quest to be a serious woman writer, I’ve tried so hard to maintain this facade of sartorial care less, but the fact is, I love clothes. I love them. Silky textures, vintage fabrics. Sparkles. Hues. And though I tell myself to play it down, to try to be a grown up, if I had my way, every day would be a dress-up day. Nobody really needs 1940s sailor pants or a poached yellow house dress or a 1980s Japanese Mary Quant swingthing. And yet I see them, I touch them and I want them all. Boots and dresses and suits and frills and frills and suits.

On February 29, without the slightest of sneers, I went through my entire wardrobe, putting a heck of a lot of thought into my clothes. Why? Well. I’ve signed up with Wanaka Wastebusters for the Six Items Challenge, which means I only have six things to wear for the whole of March. Six things. Yes, underwear is excluded. And activewear too, which I feel should have a ‘‘while being fit for purpose’’ caveat because if Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came to Wanaka, she might note that women who want to be taken seriously are supposed to substantiate their seriousness with lycra. She dresses, for the record, in beautiful, tailored, colourful clothes, often from Nigerian designers. In heels or in flats or, in fact, in whatever she actually likes.

Jackets. You can also have jackets and shoes. Anyway, when I woke up on March 1, I had the choice of two NOM*d tunics, a pair of black jeans, a black t-shirt, a black flowery dress and a brown jumpsuit. And that’s it. For a month. I tried to choose by principle. The tunics are second-hand from Trademe and my favourite little Wanaka boutique (Wastebusters). The jeans are organic cotton. The t-shirt, Wastebusters, the dress from a Polish designer, Dzien Dobry, and the jumpsuit, linen, second-hand, Melbourne. Which is to say, all boxes ticked. I also tried to choose for the me I want to be, rather than the mumsy nerd who leaves the house, half-matched, most mornings.

So far, so much navel-gazing. But that is kind of the point. The Six Items Challenge, originally set up by Labour Behind The Label, a UK-based organisation campaigning for garment workers' rights worldwide, is a vehicle for considering fashion waste. So the time I spend not stressing about which version of me to present to the world in the morning, I can spend instead on thinking about how I’m actually spoilt for choice. Or handwashing one of my clothing items, which actually takes less time and water than I thought and makes me a bit ashamed of my love of a Sunday morning laundromat excursion. (The noise of the spin of the washers and dryers is exactly the right pitch for writing and editing. I don’t know what that’s about, but it is true.)

Days one, two, three, seven even, were a novelty blend of worthiness and accessorising. Day nine I considered spending in my pyjamas, just for something different. Day ten. Day fourteen. FML. But also, not. Because I’m rediscovering a confidence beyond clothes. Also it feels good to be doing something purposeful, because the stats about fast fashion waste are pretty dim and dismal. I have time to look them up while not having to decide what to wear in the mornings. It’s 4% of stuff in the dump, it’s 10% of our carbon emissions, it’s 32,000 Olympic-size swimming pools of fresh water, it’s deadstock, it’s dire and it’s all those weird little particles of plastic going out to the waterways from my soothing washer-dryers.

Will I make it to the end of the month? Yes. Kicking and screaming and boasting and (very probably) cheating. Will it help me evaluate my buying choices and my wardrobe? I think so. Buy local. Buy second-hand. Buy sustainable. Or don’t buy and just, like, wash things. And will it make me more like Chimamanda if I wear what I love and I love what I wear and, crucially, have more time to write? I can only live in hope.



During my 'Woody Guthrie' period, all I wanted to do was jump freight steam trains, in Rivet™, and a nice Casey Jones cap.

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