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.

Single Marine Program opens doors for single Marines 111206-M-HG547-006

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!

Swimming in Strange Waters: Finding a Swimsuit that Suits

I have yet to meet any woman who finds shopping for a swimsuit easy. For some, the process is fraught with body-hating trauma, for others it’s a pure and simple pain in the proverbial. Because most swimsuits are designed to display the body, and if you aren’t happy having your body on display, you are likely going to have a hard time finding swimsuits that work for you.

And even if you do manage to find something you’re happy to appear in public in, you are going to have to deal with people’s assumptions – kindly meant for the most part, but insulting nonetheless – that the only reason a woman would want to cover up is because she is somehow ashamed of her body. This is not, in point of fact, true. Or at least, not in all cases. Yes, some women cover up because they don’t like their bodies and they feel that everyone else will, given the opportunity, share their low opinion.

Bathing suit 1858

But not all. Some cover up because they’re very fair skinned and they look like a lobster after five minutes in indirect light. And others cover simply because they feel their body is their own damn business and the general public does not have viewing rights.

I fall into the latter group. It is well known among my friends that the day I wear a bikini is the day hell freezes over. Not even over (or rather on) my cold dead body. My body is mine and I don’t have to share it (even visually) with anyone, unless I choose to. Not even if I like to go swimming sometimes. Which I do.

Of course, this leaves me in a rather difficult position, swimsuit-wise. But it gets worse. Erogenous zones, as mentioned before, differ from place to place and time to time. Where I grew up, the erogenous zone on women was between the waist and the knee. Elsewhere – meh. Breasts are for feeding babies.

Lactancia 9 meses

I had made my previous swimsuit last ten years (with infrequent use) – a one-piece worn with board shorts. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone who’s ever tried this how inconvenient it can be, and it made me feel like a rather pudgy kid running around the beach. I’m a grown woman; I wanted to look (and feel) like one.

Incidentally, in the course of my runnings round the beach, I found I was the only person there not baring their midsection. When my husband lost his glasses, all he had to do to find me was scan the beach for swimsuit material at belly-height – and there I was.

So I decided to see what the internet could tell me about modest swimsuits – and I was, to put it lightly, surprised. The companies trumpeting themselves as cornering the market in modest swimwear were advertising two-piece suits where the stomach was well-covered and the legs were bare right to the crotch. OK, I’m probably more sensitive about legs than the average Westerner, but really? The stomach?

I’ve never actually sat down and listened to Nicki Minaj’s song Anaconda, but I’m pretty sure the lyrics aren’t “Oh my gosh, look at her GUT!” (At least until Weird Al sings it.)


It’s the same with kids’ togs, actually. Little boys get to run around in a pair of shorts, and little girls get to wear a top which covers their puku and the chest they don’t have, while their bikini bottom shows off half their butt to the world at large. (And that’s before they start riding up.) Who thought that was a good idea?

The internet also brought to my attention various family-run companies in the States who make swimdresses with matching tights, but I ruled them out on the grounds of a) expense and b) luridness of material. Henry Ford said you could have any colour, as long as it’s black; these folk seem to think black and “Hawaiian” print are a sufficient number of options.

Then there were the companies that said they were all about letting women decide how much they wanted to expose, but offered only skin-tight bicycle-courier styles. Call me nit-picky, but adding a glaze of lycra to my butt doesn’t give me a whole lot more privacy.


Eventually, I found what I was looking for. Not perfect, but pretty close. It covers what I want covered (and keeps the sun off most of the rest), it’s feminine, it’s good quality at a decent price, and it doesn’t ride up or restrict my movement. It’s a burqini.

For those of you who’ve never seen a burqini, it’s basically a long-sleeved tunic over leggings or, in my case, slim-fit trousers. Like a shalwar kameez, but made of UV 50+ swimsuit material. They come in a variety of colours (and fits): mine is deep plum and coral – which is to say, purple with pinkish sleeves. (And it arrived on my doorstep less than 48 hours after I ordered it from another country.)

I’ve taken it to the pool to water-test, and it was fine. Slightly more drag than bare limbs, but that’s to be expected. Full range of movement, and no embarrassing air-pockets. I felt free and easy, and the thought of only having to apply sunblock to my face, hands and feet the next time I hit the beach is a very cheering one. Try as I might, I always managed to miss a bit somewhere…

Sunscreen on back under normal and UV light

There was another unexpected benefit. New Zealand English being non-rhotic (unless you’re from the south of the South Island), I was able to fool one of my pro-bikini friends into thinking that hell had indeed frozen over, and I had bought a bikini – because the two words are pronounced almost exactly the same way. The look on her face when I walked in wearing a burqini will warm the cockles of my heart for years to come.

I admit, I’ve never really understood why people are comfortable appearing in public in outfits that cover less of them than their underwear does – but then have nightmares about appearing in public wearing said underwear. As the classic Trumpet ad says: “Skin tight swimming togs: an item of clothing you’d happily wear in public, but not in public.” Can someone please explain?