Fashion Writers On Their Favourite Clothing, The Reality Of Dress & The Future Of The Industry

Fashion writers work to decode one of the most complex forms of communication we have. Putting down their pens, a group of local writers reflect on their own wardrobes and consider what the future of the profession might look like.

Every day, as we pull clothing from wardrobes, drawers and

We wear pieces that tell others who we are, where we might be going or what we’re interested in. When we engage with other people, our impressions are formed, in part, through their outfits too.

Maybe you run into a friend wearing an oversized scrunchie? They might be feeling playful and a little nostalgic. Is a colleague donning a shoulder-padded blazer? Perhaps they’re prepping for a big morning meeting. You’ve picked a Canadian tuxedo for the office? It’s a cheeky rebellion against stale and serious dress codes.

The pieces we wear often engage in subtle storytelling. A garment, and its fabric, cut, colour and style, could reference so many different contexts; a historical period, pop cultural moment, political movement, niche subculture, mood, identity, hobby or brand. Of course, the meanings also vary across groups and contexts, picking up different associations based on those influences — making the language of fashion an even messier vocabulary to unpack.

Fashion writing, as experts and enthusiasts, often perform this tricky task. By drawing on rich knowledge, research and the social contexts that surround fashion and dress, they are able to convey the meanings that inform this complicated mode of communication. By breaking down the less obvious ‘whys’ behind runway shows, brand lookbooks, trends, historical archives and our own closets, fashion writers present readers with the tools to better understand their clothing and where it comes from.

While some of this happens, of course, within fashion journalism, writing about fashion is relevant in other literary spheres too. In cataloguing the days of fashion past, historians capture the contexts that led to fashions of the day and present different visions of a fashion industry we might not consider. Authors working within novels, poetry and other prose also use fashion and clothing to tell stories, making some of our everyday expressions more concrete and meaningful.

Plenty of this work is happening locally, with writers legitimising fashion as an art form, industry and material item.

In Dressed: Fashionable Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910, Claire Regnault, author and senior curator of NZ history and culture at Te Papa, draws from specific materials to curate and construct a history of colonial fashion and dress in Aotearoa. Starting from individual garments, Claire considers the social and political environments, geographical locations, peoples, structures and international trends influential for this period of dress.

Grace Stratton.
Grace Stratton.

For Grace Stratton, fashion writing offers an opportunity for “protest”. Grace has written for The Spinoff, Vice and gave the opening speech at New Zealand Fashion Week 2019. The writer also founded All is for All, a creative and consultancy agency that aims to raise the visibility of disabled people and challenge the framing of disability.

Similarly, through the New Zealand Fashion Museum, historical record and a number of other projects, designer Doris De Pont has worked to raise the visibility of fashion and the design industry in Aotearoa. Black: The History of Black in Fashion, Society and Culture in New Zealand is one of the writer’s most formative works, unpacking a vague cultural joke in a sincere and captivating manner.

Caroline Barron (Te Uri o Hau, Pākehā), columnist, ex-owner of Nova modelling agency and author, has captured histories of New Zealand fashion in another manner. The author includes rich descriptions of the mid-1990s Auckland fashion and party scene in her novel Golden Days, to create a vivid and tangible setting — think lace Karen Walker tunics with wide-leg pants and burgundy slip dresses.

Naomii Seah, journalist, writer and poet, utilises fashion and dress within each unique sphere of writing. Like Caroline, Naomii uses fashion as symbol and texture in prose and poetry. However, the writer has also considered the cultures and meanings of fashion journalistically, considering fashion for students and Gen Z groups, unpacking ideas of ‘work-appropriate’ clothing and reviewing Kahuria: New Zealand Fashion Week 2023.

Isabelle Truman Remihana, journalist, editor, podcaster and brand strategist, is also well-versed in multimedia fashion reporting, working and writing for Harper’s Bazaar Australia, Elle Australia, Vice, British Vogue, Dazed and Refinery29, among many other titles. She covers fashion, luxury and the cultural phenomena that drives the fast-moving industry.

Jessica Beresford, Viva contributing editor and Financial Times journalist, closely covers the business of fashion. She covers luxury and designer labels, cultural shifts and ever-changing trends — grounding much of the artistic and creative pursuits of fashion in the industry where it all functions.

Can you tell me about a storied piece of clothing in your own wardrobe?

Claire: I’ve got a few pieces from my mum. I’ve got a really lovely two-piece, sleeveless fitted shift dress, with a beautiful little jacket. It doesn’t quite come to the waist but it’s not quite an empire line either. It’s a beautiful dark blue navy with white polka dots … that’s a very sentimental one. And she has a really beautiful studio portrait taken in it. And then I’ve got a snapshot of me wearing it one evening — the two together are quite nice.

Naomii: Whenever I travel, I like to buy a piece of clothing from that place and it will remind me of that time. I have a lot of pieces from Dunedin that remind me of the city. I have this one great vintage Hawaiian-style shirt I bought from Rarotonga, and my friend who I was travelling with also bought one, and that reminds me of a time and a place.

Isabelle: I went to a Kim Gordon’s wardrobe sale [from Sonic Youth] in LA. It was such a cool thing to get to experience. I just got a plaid J-Crew shirt that Patrick Dempsey actually wore in the original 90s campaign, and a Sonic Youth band tee, both from her closet. I think I’ll hold on to those for the rest of my life.

Doris: I did a beautiful collection with Gregory O’Brien, a poet and writer. I saw some of his work in the Wellington City Gallery so I used his poetry to make imagery to print on garments. I have a jacket, with a print on it called House and Children, which I wear all the time.

Jessica: I was obsessed with Karen Walker’s Perfect Day collection from 2011. The collection at the time, you could walk anywhere in Auckland and see people wearing it. It was really distinctive — full of prints, peak maximalism. I’m pretty sure that the one I was obsessed with was a pink, orange and white floral vintage print. I still look for it on TradeMe. I’ve got it in a jumpsuit, trousers, top … it really just stood out to me.

Jessica Beresford. Photo / Babiche Martens
Jessica Beresford. Photo / Babiche Martens

Grace: I have a Camilla & Marc jumper, which they do every year for ovarian cancer. [It] says ‘ovaries, let’s talk about them’. I have probably got the most wear out of that jumper, out of any of the jumpers in my closet. The reason I wear it all the time is because it’s always a conversation starter. From a personal perspective, it probably represents why I got involved in fashion in the first place, which is more about what the industry can do, rather than the clothes themselves.

Caroline: I’ve got an amazing black velvet Versace coat with really fluffy red cuffs and collar. That was a gift a long time ago — it’s something that is so outstanding but so classic. I just love to get that out whatever chance I get. I’m a big believer in overdress, don’t underdress. There’s a bit of magic with fashion isn’t there? I feel that when I put that coat on. When you put a piece like that on you know you can walk into a room and it gives you the little boost you need.

How do you approach fashion and dress in your everyday life? And does your experience in fashion writing affect this?

Naomii: I really like subverting expectations. I feel like having an understanding of specific items of clothing and the history or connotations associated with something brings a playful element to dressing up. I like doing that and subverting expectations, you can really evoke different ideas or concepts with fashion. When I put on my cheongsam for graduation it was because I really wanted to mihi my parents and where I came from to get to the point of graduation.

Isabelle: I think for a while it took a bit of the joy out of it, because instead of it being something that I was passionate about and something that I loved, it became work. Recently, I’ve taken a step back and am having fun with it again. If I’m drawn to wearing a really girl-ish dress this day and jeans, hoodie, and sneakers the next, that doesn’t matter. I don’t have to fit one aesthetic. I’m trying to put joy back into the whole thing — which is why I got into the industry in the first place.

Doris: I think previously [dressing] had a lot more to do with things that I liked and now it has a lot more to do with things that have meaning. [I also think of] dressing as a mark of respect, how you dress yourself shows how you respect the person you’re interacting with. You develop an awareness of the power of clothing itself to speak and communicate.

Doris De Pont’s Beausoleil House and Children print jacket, with text from Greg O’Brien’s poem.
Doris De Pont’s Beausoleil House and Children print jacket, with text from Greg O’Brien’s poem.

Jessica: I think I’m interested in what is popular at any given time and I can’t help but be influenced by that. A while ago I wrote a story about Y2K fashion and swore that I wouldn’t wear low-rise jeans, but now, here we are. I’ve always tried to be less fashiony. Now, I’m much more practical and leaning much more into that journalist side, and trying to wear fashion in a way that’s much more palatable to everyday offices. I think the longer you’re in it, the less you want to dress to what you’re reporting on. I think a lot of fashion journalists stick to a uniform.

Grace: As a disabled person, the world that our community navigates is largely informed by notions of independence. We don’t necessarily value interdependence and requiring help. When I was growing up and needed help getting dressed and still need help getting dressed today at 24, it’s not necessarily something you talk about, because it’s representative of dependence or a perception of dependence. It comes back to everything I’ve done in fashion; it’s tried to respond to those ideas and talk about them in a different way and challenge them. It has probably changed my broader thinking around needing assistance with dressing.

What are some important characteristics of good fashion journalism?

Grace: Writing is protest, right? You can reveal things to people that they might not have thought of before. We can use writing as a tool to get people to think differently about the sectors they interact with every day. And that’s really important, otherwise we just end up in this hamster wheel where we just represent the same people and make certain groups of people invisible.

Naomii: What I find really inspiring, and what I saw coming out of New Zealand Fashion Week recently, is fashion writing as arts criticism. That is the stuff that really appeals to me because fashion is the most visible form of art that you will encounter in your day-to-day life, it’s a way to communicate what is going on in the world with you. I love fashion writing that treats fashion as art that has something to say.

Kiri Nathan’s show at Kahuria: New Zealand Fashion Week 2023 was among many where writers unpacked the runway garments and performance within their cultural and historical context. Photo / Getty Images
Kiri Nathan’s show at Kahuria: New Zealand Fashion Week 2023 was among many where writers unpacked the runway garments and performance within their cultural and historical context. Photo / Getty Images

Doris: One of the things that is very important for me about fashion writing is to have what I write accessible and understandable, so I’m very anti-academia in the way that I write. I don’t use sociological or anthropological terminology. I’ve tried to make it very grounded and very understood for what’s going on.

Jessica: Personally, with my own fashion writing, I always try and not be too flowery, because that is the industry standard and is often the case with lots of creative writing. I’ve always liked those journalists in particular because they were actual journalists. I think not overusing lots of words and trying to avoid cliches as well, that’s a big thing.

Isabelle: I think it’s really important to be honest in the writing. I think having your own ethics and values behind everything you write really goes a long way, because you know from the offset what you will and won’t do. And I think it’s really important to hold other people to certain standards as well, and to speak out when you don’t think something is right.

What can writing about fashion in fiction achieve?

Naomii: My favourite fashion writing breaks down what fashion represents, but I think in fashion prose, using fashion can signal to the audience what is going on with your character, without you having to explain it which is the great symbolic value of fashion. As a writer, it’s show don’t tell, show don’t tell. Fashion and clothing have so much symbolic meaning and it’s a really rich existing text for writers to draw on.

Caroline: As Golden Days has kind of shown, I think you can use fashion to help authentically paint that picture. Along with architecture, what they’re reading, playing, doing, wearing, eating all of those things can really help paint a picture of a time. Fashion has a really big part in that, signalling the time zone that you’re in.

How can fashion writing document our histories?

Claire: Fashion magazines, historical magazines, they are just fantastic. Often, they do give you a sense of the ideal of the period. The language is also different, and you get a feel for the personality of the time, and the fashionable language that is being used. At the moment I’m looking at a scrapbook of fashion writing from the 1940s and even if the article isn’t about the military influence on clothing, the military influence is all through the writing. You can often see the same stresses or the same arguments happening decade after decade, but with slightly different nuances. The archives reveal how cyclic things are, definitely. And how quickly we dismiss the past, or think something is silly.

Doris: One of the really important and valuable things about fashion writing is that it gives you an opportunity to reflect. You have to sit down with those things and be with them to gain a bit of insight or understanding. I suppose it’s quite a contemplative space, as you’ve done your research and sit with that and think, ‘How is that all connected?’

What are some of the things that make you hopeful about the future of fashion and fashion writing?

Isabelle: I’m really passionate about sustainability and fashion and I think that oftentimes both designers and consumers and the industry as a whole think it’s too hard or gloss over it — as well as size-inclusivity, and diversity in general. I think a few years ago we saw a huge shift in the sizes of the models on the runway, and now it’s kind of gone backwards again. Last season it was really refreshing to see a lot of fashion journalists pushing back on this and saying, ‘This actually isn’t okay.’ And I think it’s really important to continue to hold the industry to these standards. There are so many amazing people doing the work, really figuring it out for the rest of us.

Jessica: Fashion journalists should be writing with a more sustainable skew, diverse skew, that all should be thought about and considered in journalism and reporting.

Grace: I think now, in 2023, we’ve come a lot further with a lot more disabled writers, you know, I worked on something with The Iconic, and when it went to media, the women who wrote about it for The Guardian had a disability. I thought, ‘Oh that’s so cool, we’re heading towards this time where it’s not just the models who have disabilities, it’s also the journalists and photographers.’

You could even say that people on Instagram are fashion writers when they write about their outfits. It’s a nice thought to consider how things might be democratised these days. Instead of someone else having the power of perception over your outfit or you, actually, maybe you have that.

Doris: One of the things that does give me hope is that space where you have social media and the globalisation of access to information. I’m hopeful that we are becoming more broad-minded and more global in our conversation. To broaden those conversations to become more inclusive and speak more about the world today, because Fashion with a capital F, doesn’t really exist anymore. We don’t exist in a world where what we wear is dictated. Individuals much more own their fashion and their expression.

An Extended Fashion Reading List

Authors and articles as recommended by writers.

Sundressed by Lucianne Tonti.

Being There by Cecile Geary.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

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