Nostalgia can be an electric and achy thing. Before the pandemic, I lived a transient life that seems so impossible to imagine now; I freelanced and travelled a lot and was alive with the feeling I was always one email away from something that would change my life. And on a few occasions, it did.
It was a heady, chaotic time like your 20s are destined to be. I never had enough money for investment pieces, so instead took a cyclic approach to clothes, passing them on when they no longer fit my suitcase, my body or the changing style of who I was becoming.
What I wore was who I was. My outfits were often the only constant in my life and now, being home again, pulling them on brings a fuzzy kind of feeling — that the shape of life has changed and will never quite be the same again.
In a few months, I’ll be 30. I had all these visions of being a Well Put Together Woman by then. One who doesn’t reach for a grotty tote bag on the way out or is still getting mileage from teenage shorts, but has a Chic Life instead. I’ve come to realise that those visions are lies and perfection is just a mirage and that some memories are worth keeping, and others are worth letting go.
28 and burning down the highway out of Lisbon with my friend Lisa. We’re both eschewing the collapse of relationships, and spend the week getting tanned and drinking white wine at seafood restaurants recommended by men we match on Tinder and proceed to ghost.
I wear this dress incessantly for a year, using hand soap in hostels to get the sweat stains out of the white linen and wear it to nightclubs in Madrid where we arrive at 2 and leave at 7am to rinse off and go straight to teaching vinyasa at a yoga studio.
Life is chaotic and sweet and, at the time, I knew it, but now I really do, that things will never be quite that way again.
Distressed denim shorts
20, and there’s no feeling so impossibly regional as turning up to a new city from the summer in denim cut off shorts as the Wellington witch-wind rushes through.
I remember trying to make these last for a while – wearing them over ripped tights with long cardigans like the love interest of a Death Cab For Cutie song or like Celine Dion on a good day. I finally had a moment with these at a campsite last summer, thinking, ‘sometimes I like myself in these, sometimes I don’t - that doesn’t seem like enough’.
It made me think about this time where once, on a shoot, a friend of mine left early to go to a celebrity dinner still wearing her yellow Chuck Taylors, denim shorts and a blazer. She looked at me, pointed and said, ‘Oh, these? I’m enough. The rest are just accessories’. I’ll never forget it.
First pair of heeled black boots
The first time I really felt powerful. 21 and on my $37,000 salary, throwing myself down The Terrace clutching a Country Road handbag and an 11” Macbook Pro thinking all my dreams had come true.
They were the most expensive thing I’d ever owned. And if I look closely, I can still see syrupy leftovers from late nights in media where I’d team them with a nondescript Glassons poly-blend dress to seamlessly transition from day to night.
I also loved to wear them with MAC’s ‘Rebel’ lipstick until one day a media salesman came to the office and cooed, ‘you’re femme fatale’, and I never wore it again.
Black skinny jeans
Quite possibly the worst trend to ever happen to me. The true peril of being alive in the early 2000s and having legs that were once described as the ‘tree trunks of New Zealand’ was trying to squeeze myself into a shape made for the hot girls in the senior A netball team or those whose parents bought them a Suzuki Swift.
I still want to light myself on fire when I read any fashion writing that encourages you to ‘pair it with a tight black jean and your favourite billowy top’ like it’s a camel Burberry trench coat we all need to say we’ve ‘arrived’. I want to burn these along with letters from my exes in an exorcism of my old self, who believed that not fitting into shapes designed by someone else meant you were not enough.
The true triumph of this all came when I discovered the pure joy of wide-legged pants which, catch me two chardonnays deep, I won’t shut up about.
The pink coat
I might have to be buried in this. 23 and alive with the sensation of Living Somewhere New, I bought it in a vacuum cleaner store on Chapel St in Melbourne and not a week goes by where a woman doesn’t ask me where I got it from.
I’ve become my whole self in this coat; pitches, pay rises, flying in helicopters, leaving countries, leaving relationships. I even remember a line in an annual review at work urging me to ‘stop being the funny girl in the pink coat’.
How incredible that a $39 street steal can truly shape your life.
So much of my twenties has been spent trying to either get ahead or away; I think of that girl in her first job interview with not much money or idea, of leaving the warm bodies of good loves, letdowns, joy, overwhelm, all of it —
I want to carry the spirit of that girl and become another one entirely.