Wardrobe Architect 1: Making Style More Personal

Where do you begin when creating a wardrobe? With garments? With colours? With styles? No – you begin with yourself.

In the first Wardrobe Architect exercise, we consider seven areas which affect who we are and how we dress: our history, philosophy, culture, community, activities, location and body. (Follow the previous link for a handy worksheet to note down your answers – thoughts become much clearer when you need to pin them down in visible form.)

I used to be a bit of a tomboy – short hair and shorts – but from my early teens moved toward length in both hair and clothing: long loose lower half with a somewhat more fitted upper half. I still wear similar looks, but I think my style has refined with time, as I filter out the things which aren’t quite me. I am still a fan of second-hand shopping, but given the difficulty of finding what I’m after second-hand, these days I buy most garments new: good-quality things which will last for years.

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Being a devotée of Jesus Christ affects how I dress – not simply in how much of my body is covered (although that’s usually the first thing people notice) but also in less visible ways. I strive for clothing which doesn’t have a negative effect on the people or planet which produced it, and which doesn’t have a negative effect on me: no toe-mashing shoes or rash-inducing acrylics. Perhaps most important of all is the belief my faith gives me that I do not need to conform to the expectations of a consumer society.

I grew up in Papua New Guinea, with Melanesian modesty standards (must cover loosely from waist to knee). But I also have an overlay of Western culture, and the mix of the two has somehow come out a bit… historical-looking. Not of any one time, mind you, just definitely not modern. (Or post-modern, or whatever we’re up to now.)
Side note: I always find it strange when people ask me if I dress the way I do because my church says so. I have yet to see any other woman in this area who dresses the way I do, so what are people thinking? That I belong to a group so small I’m the only woman, or that I belong to some whacko group which only allows one woman out at a time? For the record, I am the only woman in my church who dresses like me.


I imagine it takes a lot of courage to dress differently if you experience backlash from those near to you. Fortunately for me, I have friends who believe I should be allowed to dress however I choose, and even more importantly, I have a husband who supports me dressing as I choose – despite some people assuming that if a woman is wearing long skirts and a kerchief/bandanna, her husband must have decreed it and is clearly oppressing her. (The padlock possibly doesn’t help this.)

I like to walk freely in my clothes. I don’t like to run in them, but I like to be able to. So tight skirts and high heels aren’t gonna happen. I also like to be able to roll my sleeves up for cleaning, gardening etc. But I generally don’t go in for activities that require special clothing, or for which long skirts are impractical. (Apart from swimming, for which I have a burqini.)

Also: pockets. I always have a handkerchief and a propelling pencil (you never know when you might need to write something) except when I wear one of my pocket-free dresses. And then I fret. I almost feel like this should be under philosophy: I am a vehement antipocketlessite. Never shall I make a pocketless dress. (Cue “Scarlett O’Hara just before the intermission” moment.)

I live in the south of the North Island of New Zealand. Lots of rain, and while temperatures are generally between 0ᵒC and 30ᵒC, the weather is very changeable (it comes from being surrounded by sea). This is a country where people go for an afternoon walk on a lovely sunny day, get lost, and die of exposure when the weather changes. There’s no putting your winter clothes away for the season here.
I remember once putting on cold-day clothes and by the time I’d walked a kilometre down the road to the bus stop, the temperature had gone up ten degrees, and the polyprop underlayer I was wearing was no longer welcome. So layers that can be easily removed (even in public) are the way to go, and separate wardrobes for different seasons is a non-starter. Flexibility is key. Clothes that can’t get wet are less than useful.

I actually quite like my body. It’s fairly averageish in most directions, but not aesthetically unpleasing, I think. I do like dresses which observe my waist, but I don’t have as many as I’d like, because they’re hard to come by (dresses, that is; I only have one waist which is exactly as many as I’d like). Belts are handy in that respect. I feel the cold easily, especially in my feet, so I almost always wear sheepskin slippers (except when out and about). Being private about my body, I prefer clothes that stay in place when I move: e.g. don’t flash the people opposite if I lean over a pool table.

But enough about me; what about you? Feel free to share about one, some, all or none of these in the comments section (comments can be as long as you like), or leave a link to your own post about it, if blogging. And don’t forget there’s a worksheet on the Colette blog (link above) to aid in considering all these influences on the way you dress.

Next month: defining a core style!

The One Thing ISIS Has Right

There’s a lot to dislike about ISIS. Their violence, their narrow-mindedness, their hate. There’s also a lot to pity. Really. For example, what are the chances that any of them will ever enjoy the delights of a loving marriage of equals? Low to none, I would say.

In fact, if you want to live a good life, ISIS is about the worst example you could choose to follow. They are wrong about so many things, starting with the idea that by using violence and ruthless subjugation to gain power for themselves, they are somehow pleasing God. As Anne Lamott observed, “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do”.

God hates when you go around saying God hates things
But there is one thing which they have right. (Just one, last I checked.) And that is that religion matters. What you believe matters. You may not call it a religion; it may or may not have a supernatural element to it, but whatever (or whoever) matters to you the most is your religion, the driving force of your life, and that matters.

I have seen people lump all believers together, as though there was no meaningful difference between, say, Roman Catholicism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Because the world would be a better place if Mother Teresa had limited the public expression of her faith to demanding the right to wear a colander on her head in her ID photo, amirite?

Let me just say this: if the beliefs you profess do not make any difference to how you live, you’re kidding yourself, and you’re probably not doing a very good job of kidding everyone else. People act in accordance with their beliefs (whether or not they are honest with themselves about what those beliefs are).

How we act affects ourselves and others. Therefore, it matters what people believe, and nowhere is this more evident than with ISIS. Because of their beliefs about God, and consequently about the nature of right and wrong, they do terrible things to their fellow humans. They are even willing to die in the commission of violence and murder, because they believe God will reward them with seventy virgins in paradise.

Nuns with guns picture joke
Side note: scholarly research has recently suggested that the 72 virgins said to be awaiting Muslim martyrs in paradise (only male martyrs, obviously; opinion is divided over what, if any, paradise there is for Muslim women) are a mistranslation; the original text should be translated as white raisins [warning: linked article is rather explicit in places].

Would the young men putting their lives on the line for ISIS be quite so enthusiastic if their promised reward was a bowlful of raisins – even really, really good raisins? I doubt it. What you believe makes a difference.

People act in accordance with their beliefs, even those beliefs they are not consciously aware of. That is why saying that people should keep their religion private just doesn’t work. In effect, that is saying that people should act in accordance with their religion only insofar as that is undetectable by those around them. (Otherwise they have to act in accordance with – what? Probably the overriding belief system of those around them, whether that be a religion of money, status, or something else entirely.) This seems to be the one area of life where it’s considered okay to do something just so long as you are completely half-assed about it.

Nor does it work to say that we should all just get along with each other and mind our own business. That’s a religion of tolerance, and, as previously mentioned, tolerance doesn’t work as a virtue, let alone a paramount virtue.

What people believe matters. ISIS know this, and that is why they are relentlessly driving out or destroying all those who hold different beliefs to theirs. Because whatever people believe will come through in their lives. You cannot hide what you are. I cannot hide what I am.We Are N