For some people, choosing clothing is more than just having a favourite outfit, or throwing something on in the morning. Instead, it’s an important part of the way they present themselves to the world. Here are some of their stories, as told to Emily Winstanley.

LaQuisha St Redfern

Non-binary drag queen

In my life, I've blurred the line between drag and reality. When I was younger, I thought "drag queen" most closely aligned with what's inside me. But then a friend of mine referred to me as "gender-variant" and I was like, "huh, what's he seeing?" You know when you're the last one to find out? Then words like "non-binary" started becoming more commonplace, I realised that's what's been going on for me the whole time. In my daily life, outside of drag, I wear more jewellery than a man would wear in New Zealand, and I'm often at work in lipstick.

I starting doing drag in Hamilton in the 90s, and it was very conservative. But what happens in places with great conservatism, is it's like this pressure cooker - so there was a veneer of respectability but there was this underground craziness happening behind closed doors.

Georgina Beyer was living in my friend's flat at the time, and she said, "Honey, you have to have a wig." This was in Hamilton in 1998, and wigs were in short supply. But Dusty Springfield is one of my all time favourite performers, so I really love big hair. I also have a bit of a thing for mid-century design graphic design and science-fiction. Those inspirations are kind of what I'm drawing from.


I wear a beard, I don't shave anything, I don't wear breast forms, I don't pad my hips or arse. I have a very male body under the 2 inches of makeup and the clothes. This strapless gown is really elegant and it shows off my slightly hairy chest to its best advantage.

I visit a barber for my beard every two to three weeks. I don't do it myself because one wrong move and you've made a bald spot.

People always ask about the white, it's totally natural. I started to go grey, but then it turned out to be stripes and I was like, "Oh thanks, Mother Nature!"

Part of the reason I now live in Wellington is people are very chilled out about difference. Buskers turn up and they're, like, juggling chainsaws and a baby from the audience, and people are like, "Oh yeah, it's Wellington, we're too cool to react to that." So that's part of the reason I'm here.

Noeleen van de Lisdonk

Payroll administrator

Noeleen van de Lisdonk. Photo / NZ Herald
Noeleen van de Lisdonk. Photo / NZ Herald

I'm Maori so I'm tangata whenua. I converted to Islam about 38 years ago. I married a Muslim man, and while there was no real pressure to embrace the faith, I found the essence of Islam was pretty much equal to what I had always felt as a young girl. I've always been a spiritual person and it sort of connected the dots.

When I got divorced, I was wearing a hijab, and I couldn't find a job. I had to make the decision to take my hijab off. For a Muslim woman to have to do that, it's disempowering. You struggle with your iman, your faith. It's another barrier for a Muslim woman in the workforce, and it shouldn't be.

Gradually, I made the decision wear my hijab again, and I have to say my current workmates were very welcoming about that, and asked what took me so long. For a long time, I wore more traditional clothing. But part of the process of self-empowerment for me was finding a style that I was more comfortable in.


Now, I wear conservative clothing, maybe long sleeves or long dresses, but I play with my headgear. For my hijab, I wear more of a turban style, an African look. People look at me on the street, but it's not normally in a negative way, it's curiosity.

I'm still on a journey to find myself and part of that is going back to my roots, so moko kauae (female facial tattoo) has been of interest to me. My whanau from Ngati Porou had my own moko kauae designed. I can't ink my body as a Muslim, but I have found a medium, berry ink, that suits me. I put it on for more of a cultural identity - for a special occasion or just because the urge is there for me to wear it.

You have to find the strength to take on the challenges that you may face because you wear hijab. It's an issue for Muslim women in general, because we are easily identified, so when something negative has happened around the globe, it's us who are targeted. But when people to tell me to go back to where you come from, I don't feel embarrassed or ashamed.

I'm lucky enough to be indigenous to this country, that gives me extra strength.

Chiaki Fenemore

Engineering student

Chiaki Fenemore. Photo / NZ Herald
Chiaki Fenemore. Photo / NZ Herald

The summer before my second year at uni I went on holiday with a few of my friends, all girls. I remember looking back at photos of us together and realising that I looked very out of place. I was trying to fit in, but it was glaringly obvious to me that I was not going to be one of these girls. I started transitioning a few months later. I felt my whole life that something was not quite right, but that was when I worked everything out.

Before that year's engineering ball, I was saying, "I don't have anything to wear so I'm not going to go." Then my birthday came up a month or so later, and my friends had put together a little bit of money each, saying, "Here's some money for a suit." I ended up taking a couple of friends to help me choose, and went to the ball the following year.

I felt a lot more confident than perhaps if I'd worn a dress, which I have worn to a ball in the past. If the ball that I wore a suit to was one of the most empowering experiences of my life, the ball where I wore a dress was probably the most uncomfortable.

It is a pretty standard blue suit, but the shirt and tie are are a bit different. The idea was just to stand out a bit more. It's easier to express yourself with clothes. I'm not a very outspoken person, but I've actually been very open with my transition. I'm quite comfortable talking about it, and very happy to open up and say: "This is who I am and this is what I'm doing with my life." Clothing comes into that quite a lot.

I'm quite a small person, I'm only about 5ft1, so clothes usually are much too big or long. I roll the cuffs of my jeans quite a few times so everything looks a little bit too big. Wearing a suit that actually fits properly in all the right places and is the right length is really quite hard to explain. It makes you feel like you belong. Like you're not different.

Christian Harmes

Menswear buyer at Smith and Caughey's

Christian Harnes. Photo / NZ Herald
Christian Harnes. Photo / NZ Herald

I wear a tie every day, and have done for the past seven or eight years, so I feel a bit odd not wearing a tie on weekends.

At work, I've got to dress in an influential way, so it's suit, tie, pocket square, all that carry-on. There is a traditional dress code, so I'm trying to fit into that with my own unique finishing touches, without stretching the boundaries too much.

When I go home, the whole lazy rock 'n' roll look is just really comfortable. It gets people thinking, when they see pictures of me at work versus how I am quite sloppily dressed in the weekend, it's a bit of a dichotomy. That translates through into the buying I do for the store as well. While we have to buy stuff that's going to sell, I also like to pick a few edgy pieces for the window.

What I wear wouldn't be what a traditional Kiwi would wear, and a good 20 per cent of the collections I buy would push the boundaries as well. Often the outfits that make you question your own decisions - are the ones that get the most positive feedback.

There is certainly room for improvement with Kiwi men's fashion. I think bold colour is a difficult one for some Kiwi men. I also want to get guys out of wearing boardies - boardies are for the beach.

There are a couple of outfits I clearly remember from growing up. In the 80s, I got my mother to sew me up a pair of MC Hammer pants. At the time, I definitely had a strut, but when I think about it now it is with more of a cringe. Not long after that came the Kurt Cobain era, so I went from some white rap look into a long haired, greasy, sort of grunge look. I guess it's just trying to find your position in the world.

Velvet DeCollete

Vintage designer, pin-up model, burlesque dancer

Velvet DeCollete. Photo / NZ Herald
Velvet DeCollete. Photo / NZ Herald

The most common question I get is, "What are you dressed up for - are you going to a fancy dress party?" Generally I just tell them I'm dressed up for life.

For me, the vintage appeal is the structure of the clothes. These days, a lot of our clothes are stretchy, they're T-shirts and jeans, very casual. I like being dressed in really nicely tailored clothes that were made to suit my body shape, rather than to suit everyone's body shape, which is what you get with mass-market clothing. I think you look so much nicer, and so much more put-together. And to me, that's really important.

For people in general, I think a lot of the appeal is nostalgia. People have a very rose-tinted view of the 40s, 50s and 60s. I think they look back at it as a time of glamour and femininity. So it's almost a push-back against the over-sexualised media, and the state of the world now. People are trying to retreat to what we look back on as a nicer or more innocent time.

I started doing burlesque a couple of years before I got into pin-up. I was making a friend all these amazing costumes, and then I saw her wearing them and I thought, "Oh, I wish I could do that!" After a while, my husband convinced me to give it a go. I ended up getting up on stage in this enormous dress I'd made, and felt like a beautiful sparkly unicorn. After that, I just kept going. It was a really freeing experience, it definitely boosted my confidence, which is probably why I had the confidence to start wearing vintage and pin-up in public on a Tuesday.

My first real vintage-inspired outfit was a wiggle dress I made from a vintage pattern, with a vintage halo hat and black opera gloves. That was a turning point for me, I loved that, I felt so special and womanly, because it shows off all your curves. After that, I was hooked.

I still have casual clothes but they're probably different from everyone else's casual clothes. I have one pair of track pants that I wear to walk the dog. My husband dresses like a general Kiwi bloke most of the time, but when we go out he dresses up really nicely and does the 1950s husband look for me.

It changes the way I interact with people because I feel more confident. I think I have better posture when I'm wearing my pin-up and vintage styles too, because clothes that aren't stretchy are much less comfy to slouch in. It definitely makes you more aware of how you're walking and sitting and standing.

I think this style of clothing is a lifelong thing for me. It's timeless, you can wear it at any age, or any size. You don't have to feel awkward if you're over 20 and wearing short shorts. It's a very forgiving inspiration to have for your wardrobe. I'll definitely be wearing it forever.

Wayne Painter

Motorcycle enthusiast

Wayne Painter. Photo / NZ Herald
Wayne Painter. Photo / NZ Herald

I'm the North Harbour branch president of the Ulysses Club, which is an international social club for motorcyclists over 40. It was started to give older motorcyclists a chance to ride and socialise together, because all the young ones want to go heads down and arse up and 200 miles an hour.

I usually wear leather when I'm riding, or GoreTex, depending on the weather. If you hit the road, you just have to hope the leather's strong enough to keep you safe if you come off. It's pretty good, believe me, because I have. I came off in diesel on a corner. Diesel and motorbikes don't go together. The back wheel slid out, bike went over me three times, but I just got a sprained finger. That's the way it is. Some people say if you haven't crashed three times you're not a true motorcyclist. I don't believe that.

My favourite outfit? I only have one - heavy leather jeans, and a leather jacket. I wear a leather vest too, with logo and badges on it, like a life member badge, and remembrance pins. I've got a drawer full of 300 or 400 badges from different things - rallies and charity rides and things. Day to day, I wear black. I think I have a blue T-shirt and I might have a red T-shirt but the rest of my clothes are black. My bike is a black Indian Chieftain. Most of my bikes have been black.

The club, and riding, are a great way to age together. Within our club, people support each other. It's my family.

My children know that if something happens to me and my wife, there are club members they phone before they phone anyone in my family. I've never asked anyone if they find us intimidating in our leathers, we try not to be. We're not a gang, we're not threatening. The ride is more important.

Michaela de Bruce

Costume enthusiast

Michaela de Bruce. Photo / NZ Herald
Michaela de Bruce. Photo / NZ Herald

When I was very young, my dad brought home preview tapes of the musical Phantom of the Opera. He was one of the first people in the country to have them. I heard it and went, "Wow, this is amazing." So I researched the costumes, and got into Victorian dressmaking.

I have a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma in Performing Arts, but while I was doing both of them, I spent most of my time in the library, looking up costume history. I especially loved the German princesses from the 16th century, who just look like they've stepped straight out of a fairy tale.

I've been researching the area of Cleves and Cologne, it's sort of halfway between the Netherlands and what we think of as Germany. It has this crazy dress style, and I've found what I think is a new portrait of Princess Anne of Cleves, so I've been recreating her dress.

It's strange wearing these clothes that are nothing like what we wear normally. We're so used to wearing clothing that we can pull off or on, and throw straight in the washing. With these gowns, you have to wear your linen layer underneath because really rich silks couldn't be washed, and there's no way you can wash silk that's embroidered with metal.

The weight of them is interesting too. The skirt weight is all around the waist, and you stand differently because it doesn't feel like anything you normally wear. Even most ball gowns don't feel the same, because there's not the same weight, so there's not the same restriction.

The joy is in making the dresses, but I do use any excuse to wear them. The rest of the time I'm a jeggings and loose top sort of top girl, but I have purple hair. I have a disability that affects my joints, so I tend to wear fairly relaxed clothes, but I have bright pink or purple hair to make myself feel better.