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Wardrobe chapters: a list.


The wardrobe: that name we give to the assortment of garments, shoes, scarves, hats and little bits and pieces that clothe us, protect us, and reflect our identity to the world.

While I believe a wardrobe should be enduring, by its very nature and purpose it naturally shifts and changes with the weather, whatever occupies our time, or simply a decisive aesthetic rebrand. A constant work in progress, but one we should put thought into. I like to think of a wardrobe’s evolution as a series of chapters, rather than a seasonal model (that word, for me, is far too ingrained in the wasteful and fast-paced fashion retail calendar).

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Wardrobe chapters: a list.


The wardrobe: that name we give to the assortment of garments, shoes, scarves, hats and little bits and pieces that clothe us, protect us, and reflect our identity to the world.

While I believe a wardrobe should be enduring, by its very nature and purpose it naturally shifts and changes with the weather, whatever occupies our time, or simply a decisive aesthetic rebrand. A constant work in progress, but one we should put thought into. I like to think of a wardrobe’s evolution as a series of chapters, rather than a seasonal model (that word, for me, is far too ingrained in the wasteful and fast-paced fashion retail calendar).

The wardrobe: that name we give to the assortment of garments, shoes, scarves, hats and little bits and pieces that clothe us, protect us, and reflect our identity to the world.

While I believe a wardrobe should be enduring, by its very nature and purpose it naturally shifts and changes with the weather, whatever occupies our time, or simply a decisive aesthetic rebrand. It’s a constant work in progress, and one we should consider thoughtfully. I like to think of a wardrobe’s evolution as a series of chapters, rather than a seasonal model (that word, for me, is far too ingrained in the wasteful and fast-paced fashion retail calendar).

It’s a concept that has been on my mind lately, as my partner and I prepare to at last leave the warm climates that have dominated our lives for the past year. We are putting together a roster of practical clothing needed for our next months in Europe: knitwear, a decent coat (from the flea-market), leather gloves, warm socks.

Of all the garments and loose ends that have been dragged around this year, some pieces will stay while others will be sent home for retirement. So as I take stock of all these, I have pause for reflection on the small rotation of hardworking items that have made up this most recent wardrobe chapter. This is a shout-out of sorts, and a collection of attributes and anecdotes. 


Baggy orange trousers, cotton drill, by Penny Sage (made in New Zealand).
These were my only indulgent purchase in the last months of saving for our trip overseas. Bought at a studio sale, I sized up to give my body plenty of leeway - anticipating weight gain, although that hasn’t eventuated yet. Their high waist balances the loose leg, and the vibrant orange hue means I’m easy to spot in a crowd. The cotton drill fabric has been exceptionally resilient, withstanding hikes in the cliffs around Petra and the mountains of Ladakh. Most importantly of all though, they cheer me up.

White German-made t-shirt from the army surplus.
As basic as they come, this standard issue t-shirt differs somewhat from its peers thanks to its raglan sleeve with bound edges. I’ve been endeavouring to keep it white, fighting off daal stains and coffee drips in hotel bathroom sinks.

Khaki trousers, also from the army surplus.
Probably the most well-cut pair of second-hand trousers I’ve ever bought; there’s a lot to be said for functional design. The legs are just loose enough, and the pockets are generously deep. Their muddy colour means they hide the dirt

2 white cotton shirts, made in New Zealand, from Sherie Muijs.
If I had to choose a cornerstone of my wardrobe, whether at home or abroad, it would be a white shirt - it’s like a clean slate and a deep breath all at once. I buy one from Sherie every few years, and feel deeply connected to her small, thoughtful brand with its commitment to quality and creating enduring garments. One is a crisp cotton, while the other is a light voile - the latter worn so frequently over the seven years I’ve had it that it’s starting to fall apart now, with a persistent hole appearing at the shoulder where I carry my bag. I’ve mended it countless times, patching and darning, because I can’t let it go.

Pleated skirt by Issey Miyake, pink and brown houndstooth, made in Japan.
”Forgiving" is an attribute I love when it comes to clothing - reserved for those garments that just make life a bit easier. This skirt is easily one of the most forgiving items I own; its elasticated waistband means it always fits, and the hem hits just at the calf - covering the part of my legs that I dislike. The A-line cut is appealingly swingy when walking (and breezy in the heat) while its print - a houndstooth of candy pink and chestnut brown - hides nearly all the stains its accrued, plus a couple of cigarette burns.

Red wide leg jeans, by Kowtow.
Another pair of cheerful pants, these are made from organic cotton and make my bum look good.

Black merino turtleneck.
A wardrobe staple for me, the simple skivvy is both functional and flattering - possessing the transformative ability to make you look chic, intelligent and generally pretty pulled together. From its utilitarian origins it has become a garment now heavily ingrained with subtext, stemming from a visual history that includes social justice movements, intellectuals, artists and high fashion. Mine comes from the New Zealand chain store Glassons, and although they’re purveyors of “fast fashion” I think that if we give a purchase a long life and care for it, that mitigates its origins a bit. I’ve had this one for three years and mend any holes as they appear.

Short sleeved shirt, purple and white gingham (handwoven). Shirt design by Areez Katki. Made in India.
My salvation from the sticky 42°C heat of Mumbai, this shirt is also sentimental as it represents the time I spent staying with textile artist Areez Katki at his family home there. We sourced the fabric, a handwoven cotton khadi in purple and white check, during one of our many trips to local textile merchants. The pattern is from Areez’s own ‘Nightshirt’ design, short sleeved with a half-placket and front pocket, and his family tailor made it for me. I fell in love with all shades of purple in India, seeing it worn by locals of all genders for collared shirts and saris. Soft yet vibrant at the same time, it’s a colour that seems (for me at least) to capture the heat and sensory abundance of the subcontinent. This is a shirt I’ll keep forever and give to my children.

French workman’s jacket, indigo cotton
I bought this on eBay a few years ago. It’s a classically utilitarian jacket made from durable drill, and its many pockets are generously sized and perfectly placed. Most of all, it has a welcome ambiguity due to its simplicity and loose fit.

5 pairs of high waisted underwear (4 black, 1 white)
I like sensible underwear, the full coverage kind that hug your bum and encircle your true waist. This style of fit prevents any tugging or adjusting, and they also look infinitely better under clothes - pants especially. Cotton is a non-negotiable, and means everything gets to breathe, with sweat less of an issue.

Black scrunchy
Nostalgic, practical, but also glamorous in a strange way - perhaps due to the generous bunching of fabric. I bought mine from a woman on the side of the road in Sri Lanka, and it hasn’t left my hair or wrist since.

Adidas slides
I didn’t appreciate how good these were until I found myself walking a great deal in hot, dusty climates. Unlike more elegant leather sandals they actually have arch support (which my weak feet need) and the fact that they are plastic means all dirt and grime wash away. The bold visual contrast provided by the brand’s signature stripes is probably why they’re still collectively popular after so long. They’re good shower shoes too.


This piece was inspired by a tweet by writer Stevie Mackenzie-Smith, calling for shopping lists. She is a co-creator of the excellent podcast Layers, which discusses clothing - what we wear and why. Their second season is out now and a true delight to listen to. For me, it reaffirms the joy, self expression and connections we foster through our wardrobes.

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Mending.


Mending.


My favourite sweater (thick, soft grey cashmere) has a hole now. Small and on the sleeve, it’s there every time I glance down. Feelings of disappointment, that an adored item is no longer as it was when you first brought it home, are mixed with a strange pang of satisfaction; this is not a thing that was worn once and never again, to then languish in a drawer. I can’t help but find sentimentality in wear and tear - a badge of honour for clothes that have put up with me. This sweater in question has been a mainstay for a few years now – combating work air conditioning and winter winds, it’s softness means it’s frequently worn to bed and is usually the first thing I put on when I get home in the evening, seeking comfort. Moth holes however (they love cashmere and merino as much as I do) only get bigger, then they run; then you have a bigger problem to fix.

That particular jumper has now joined my mending pile, and I resist the constant urge to slip it on before bed. Like all personal items, clothes have their own narrative – they’ve experienced what we have, soaking up the same sights and smells. So rather than bin something because it starts to show its history, we should mend. Everything you own should be worth mending – due to quality value both monetary and sentimental – and will look better for it. Like laugh lines, scars and hands that have worked.

The simple act of stitching a button back on or darning a hole may seem insignificant, but the implications of these conscious choices are increasingly important.

Cheap, disposable clothing is now the widespread norm - worldwide we purchase four times as many clothes than we did two decades ago. This is largely due to low prices driven by large-scale, offshore manufacturing that facilitates big box stores and online retailers – the popularity of which is understandable due to the ever-rising cost of living, housing and painfully stagnant wages. Consumer addiction to discount shopping, and retailer’s reliance on the discounting that increasingly erodes their margins, has also driven the inherent value of items to plummet further. Everything is replaceable and transient; even though some discarded clothing does go to charity shops (and we feel morally better doing so) only around 10% of this is ever actually sold – instead going on to landfill or to flood the markets of developing countries, undermining their own garment industries and cultural traditions. Clothing purchases are now rarely weighted with a financial burden, therefore can be made on more of a whim. If something tears or rips, why not replace it since it cost barely anything in a first place – particularly as, in most cases, it is more expensive to pay for something to be mended than simply replace it; I regretfully spent over twenty dollars to have a white t-shirt hemmed, something I could not do myself. Not even a generation ago, clothing (like most items) was more expensive, so people owned less and needed less. Quality was also higher, as being made to last was imperative. You bought something, you kept it and you fixed it. Mending was simply part of ownership.

The act of mending is a therapeutic one, like most repetitive tasks of the hand. Thoughtful yet mindless, it can be solely focused on - or undertaken whilst indulgently binging on Netflix, to absolve yourself of some guilt. I’ve got one sweater the colour of underdone toast (visible above) around thirty years old, and looking at each of its mended holes, I can tell who’s hands did the darning – my mother’s, my grandmother’s or my own. It’s soaked up the time and care taken by women dear to me – something I find increasingly moving, the older these women become. This sweater is a chain letter of matrilineal skill and love; skills they’ve made a priority to pass on to me, not wanting me to be alone in the world with holes in my socks, jeans and knitwear. It is these skills that I worry about. 

In an age where all clothing is disposable and value is lost, the care to maintain things is going to disappear quickly.

When I worked in retail, on numerous occasions customers would bring in “broken” items of clothing with loose hems or lost buttons – incapable of or uninterested in the simple task of sewing them back on; they returned snagged knitwear as faulty, oblivious to the notion that branches, pets and children would catch and pull knitwear quite happily. The effects of life are not a fault – this we must remember, for we seem to have forgotten it.

With the cost of living continuing to increase (because how could it do otherwise) we will be forced to find value in practicality and repair. As our planet increasingly struggles under the burden of our society, and the tipping point looms ever closer, people are collectively becoming more aware of the environmental impact caused by our disposable consumerist culture; social responsibility means no longer can we sleep easy knowing that polyester sweater is sitting, intact and unchanged, in a landfill.

How will these precious skills to repair and mend be passed on if we do not practice them, share them and uphold their importance – the resilience and empowerment that comes from a decisive action to fix, and the larger impact those small choices have on our environment and economy. The simple act of stitching a button back on or darning a hole may seem insignificant, but the implications of the conscious choice are increasingly important; value things, and then fix them.

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An indulgent sleeve.


An indulgent sleeve.


There’s a lot to be said (and enjoyed) about a spare, rigorously refined aesthetic; a Spartan approach to dressing goes hand in hand with the concept of a foundation wardrobe and the eschewing of frivolity. Whilst most important sartorial messages are communicated quietly – through cut, fabric and line – making a statement has a valid place too.

There’s something irresistibly indulgent and dramatic about an oversized sleeve – both of which are traits that are generally (if not frowned upon) discouraged, particularly if you’re a female who wishes to be taken “seriously”. Channelling the likes of the ever-inspiring Lord Byron and Diana Spencer, a deliciously grand sleeve amplifies even the subtlest of gestures, any decisive movement or point you wish to make is reinforced by the swathes of fabric around your arms and shoulders.

Although steeped in history and tradition, volume has been enjoying a gentle renaissance – with some of the more epic sleeves of note appearing in the recent Marni collection (pictured), which was a far cry from community Shakespeare and the fifth season of Seinfeld. With clothing moving relentlessly onwards, from wearable technology to the prevailing dominance of athletic wear and overt sex appeal (apparently not mutually exclusive anymore), there’s something appealingly naïve and romantic about an aesthetic that's so dated.

From a bishop’s sleeve to leg-of-mutton, proportionally they look best cinched in with a cuff, a decisive finish to what might otherwise be overly saccharine. With polyester too reminiscent of 60s game show hosts, crisp cottons and silks provide more class and body.  At the heart of it, a big sleeve is FUN. I find the drama and impact of sweeping some outrageous sleeves around gives you instant confidence and presence. Relish the impracticality and avoid cooking and sharp objects.