Southland has for years been renowned for its lack of fashion sense but some Southlanders beleive the real issue is the region’s conservative nature.
Scrawling through pages of information on Southland it is not unlikely for the word “conservative” to crop up.
Apparently though, Mayor Tim Shadbolt is the region’s knight in shining armour whose arrival in 1992 was just in time to pull Invercargill from its conservative image in what has been dubbed on the Te ara website as ‘the Shadbolt era’.
Judged from afar
Southland has for years been notoriously known by most of the country as a hick town where everyone is behind the times and the dress code is about 10-years-old.
In 2001 Lonely Planet and Let’s Go New Zealand guide books said Southland produced people who donned bad haircuts and checked shirts but even then Southlanders were biting back, feeling as though they were being perceived negatively by people who had hardly even visited the area.
Southland designer Warwick Woodfield begs to differ.
Having moved to Southland in 2003 he said he always thought Invercargill had a high standard of dress.
“Invercargill people have always dressed well. I’ve always thought that.”
He said he put it down to people feeling they had to prove themselves due to the fact that Southland was right at the bottom of the country and people were aware of the reputation it had. He even went as far as to say Southlanders were more fashionable than most of New Zealand.
It seems Mr Woodfield wouldn’t want to be anywhere else when it comes to stylish locations.
He did, however, agree that Southland was perhaps not the most liberal city in New Zealand in a sense where difference is not generally embraced. I guess you could call it old fashioned.
He said Southlanders were becoming more global and open now and were beginning to think “outward rather than inward”.
Well, that’s a start at least.
A passionately well dressed Invercargill boutique owner who did want to be identified as someone criticising Southland’s dress code said she had not seen Southland up the ante when it came to fashion in her 24 years of owning her store.
She said black was still the go-to outfit for almost every woman which resulted in everyone looking the same, and not in a good way.
“They all look like they should be at home doing house work”.
Having clearly thought hard about the issue on a day to day basis, she described her theory of the trend as a vicious cycle in which everyone wore black to fit in which resulted in everyone being too afraid to wear colour as it would stand out like a sore thumb.
She said the younger students were bringing a bit of style to the city but it was the older women who were stuck in what they felt comfortable in.
Woman turned 20 and left fashion behind, she said.
“They are frightened of people looking (at them).”
It seems the step to bringing light into Southland wardrobes could be as simple as making people feel confident enough to wear what they want without worrying about what everyone else is doing.
Awards create hype
CEO of Gore’s Hokonui Fashion Design Awards, Heather Paterson, said the awards had put Southland on the map when it came to fashion.
“It changed the idea of what Southland’s all about” she said.
The fact the Hokonui awards are held in Gore of all places, the country’s notorious bogan capital, is a question on a lot of people’s minds, but the fact that it has become so big is mind blowing. Somehow though, it just seems to work.
Hokonui has been slowly evolving during its 23 years, becoming bigger and creating hype around New Zealand.
Beginning as a competition on a radio show, the awards are now drawing the country’s biggest designers to Southland every year as the show is the only one of its kind, and Paterson said it would not have the same effect anywhere else.
She said noted designers such as Trelise Cooper have commented on Southland’s clean, green atmosphere and the hard work that gets put in by volunteers to be able to bring the show together.
Something like this would be hard to have in the likes of Auckland, she said.
Having a specific category for local designers, the show proves that Southland is a land of more than just gumboots and swannies.
The rest of the country looked down on us, but Hokonui gives us a good name, Paterson said.
“We are slowly changing people’s ideas. We can dress well and be up there too.”
Weather affects choices
SIT fashion programme manager Paulette Caulton took over the fashion department in 2010 and has since made many improvements, bringing the quality of the courses to a new level.
The result has been an increase in numbers to the fashion courses which brings a slight increase of style savvy students to the region.
Caulton said she thought the cold weather had a lot to do with people’s fashion choices, or lack there of, as people chose to be warm and comfortable and it was hard to be warm and stylish at the same time.
Wearing something a bit different was the “exception rather than the rule”.
She said she could not see the style situation improving as the weather would always stay the same.
The lack of fashionable people in Southland concerns music student Manea John who was unimpressed with the boring nature of clothing.
She said she noticed people found it strange when someone wore high heels. Everyone would notice.
It just goes to show the conservative nature of the society in a case of tall poppy syndrome.
Maybe the problem isn’t that people are clueless about fashion, the problem is that the thought of standing out from others scares them.