Voting is a privilege, and voting for the very first time is a seminal life moment – a sign of maturity, and the first time you set yourself apart from the parental figures in your life. For some, voting happened as soon as they turned 18, others may wait a few years to become politically engaged. The year you began playing your part in the democratic process can also be a fascinating timestamp of Aotearoa’s history – and changing sense of style.
As part of our nostalgic ‘me, back then’ series, we asked a few friends of Ensemble to dig deep and recall their first year voting – and share some visual evidence. The generational and technological gap quickly became clear, with those of a certain age struggling to find photos of themselves at an early age pre social media, and the more Gen Z among us having election day photos readily to hand.
• Aotearoa’s general election will be held on Saturday October 14, but advance voting is now open – check your electorate, and that you’re enrolled to vote, here. And find all you need to know about voting ahead of election day here
I was 20 the first time I voted. I'd played Spark Arena on October 16, and the second show was actually on election day so I was definitely on a high. Everyone was so happy to be there. I remember saying to the crowd that we were “at the biggest gig in the world right now”. Pretty amazing that we were able to do that when the rest of the world was shut down. I was really happy that Chlöe and Jacinda got in (I'm a Green supporter). So much has happened in the world… It seems like a lifetime ago. It's vital to exercise your right to vote, millions of people don't have the choice.
Dianne Ludwig, founder of Welcome Back Slow Fashion
I don't think I exercised my right to vote until I was 33. It was a dislike of politics that kept me distant. My first vote was cast in the 1996 election (Helen Clark vs Jim Bolger and the first election that MMP came in). Voting then felt a bit like a sports match, whose team would win, but a few weeks out the divisions were not as strong as they are now. The fashion was pretty relaxed too, slip dresses, chokers, pants under dresses, and in my case I was loving men's tailored jackets.
Kaarina Parker, writer and model
It was 2011. John Key vs. Phil Goff. I was 18-years-old and living in Australia, studying history at the University of Melbourne. As the photo suggests, there wasn’t a whole lot of studying being done. I was one of about 20 Kiwis at my college, and we all filled in our absentee voting papers and then trotted down to the New Zealand consulate to hand them in. I remember feeling very adult, voting in my first election from overseas. Nevermind that I was wearing a coffee-stained jumper and eyeliner from three nights ago.
Liam Sharma, writer and head of PR and partnerships for Emma Lewisham
I remember casting my vote in the 2020 election so viscerally. I was in a rush, and it was bright out. Summer felt like it was inching closer. I voted for Chlöe and Jacinda at the Mt Eden voting station on a Friday afternoon, a day before the dedicated general election day (Saturday, 17th).
I had to do it on Friday because Saturday was my belated birthday party at East Street Hall. Soraya, my friend and DJ wizard, turned it on for me on K Road on the election night because she knew how much missing a birthday in my primitive twenties was eating me up inside. So, I partied in October.
Voting felt easy in 2020; I am still deciphering where I’ll cast my vote(s) for this year’s election, but the important thing is that I am working it out. I’m taking the time and the space to reach the point I was in 2020. I will get there.
Abigail Dell'avo, photographer and Ensemble contributor
The year is 2017! And 19-year-old Abi loved her some camo - my friends loved to comment on my no-pants... This was the outfit I wore before heading off to shake some a$$ at Kehlani's SweetSexySavage concert.
I remember feeling super excited to vote; it felt like putting on my big-girl pants, and I was ready to make some sweet sweet, systemic change, baby!
There was a lot of commotion about Chlöe Swarbrick, and seeing someone young and relatable giving a shit was pretty inspiring. This was also the year that Chlöe ended up getting elected (woo hoo!), and soon, a bunch of young faces were campaigning for leadership roles all over the place - I was finally starting to see some representation I had been craving.
I voted two ticks Green then, and in this electorate, I will be doing so again! The Green Party and Te Pāti Māori are the two parties that closely align with my values of taking care of both people and the planet. If you are unsure of who to vote for, there are some incredible resources and quizzes online e.g. The Spinoff's Policy NZ or Vote Compass, but whatever you do, please, PLEASE VOTE! It is such a privilege that we live in a country where we have the opportunity to voice our opinion on who runs our government, and particularly for underrepresented communities, it is vital that you get your voice heard.
Aych McArdle, non-binary activist and human rights campaigner
The year was 2008, I was 20, I had just finished uni and the global financial crisis was in full swing. A fashion degree wasn’t a money maker heading into the full time job market let’s just say that! So when it came to voting the things on my mind were:
- The cost of food, especially cheese omg!
- Greenwashing was becoming a thing. It all felt so disingenuous. - like recycling wasn't going to save the oceans, was it?
- So many white men asking for votes, with no track record of delivering!
That election I got a job as an Election Day Worker at Epsom Girls Grammar School. This was in Rodney Hide's electorate in his hay day for the Act Party after doing Dancing With The Stars a few years earlier. Issuing votes and then doing "the count" after polling closes felt really important. Like I was part of this big collective thing. Everyone was equal, every vote was treated with such care and respect. I've since learned more about barriers to voting for different communities so my view on "equal opportunity" has changed a bit!
I was on a benefit and dutifully fulfilling my responsibilities and attending the compulsory youth work support hui 3x a week at the Mt Albert WINZ office. I started a fashion blog and wrote for free for any publication that would take my reckons for some more "real world" experience. After a few months, I managed to land a job at one of the big law firms as a legal clerk - it was very Elle Woods. I got a tax cut in John Key's first year in office for my minimum wage job. It was about $10 a fortnight I think. Between my student loan and the price of cheese, it got gobbled up in just surviving. It felt nice on the first pay slip then I just didn’t remember it. But years later we sure as heck noticed it in the years to come when public service funding and wages didn’t keep up with demand, especially in the health and education sectors. Up the nurses, up the teachers!
Fashion for me in this era was "how-the-heck-can-I-hustle-and-be-memorable-enough-to-employ-in-this-industry-on-zero-dollars?". Fashion weeks were prepped with raiding flatmates’ wardrobes, combing op shops and visits to my Gran for accessories I could justify calling "vintage" in street style photos. I also had chronic eczema on my hands that I was super self conscious of so spent many a fashion event covering them up with metalic dollar store gloves. I tried to make it a thing but it didn't catch on!
Lyric Waiwiri-Smith, Stuff culture reporter
I placed my first vote during the 2020 election as a young and very politically eager 20-year-old. Pictured with me is my friend James – we made a plan to vote early in the morning so we wouldn't be held up by the social distance restrictions at the polling booth (remember that?), then we thought we ought to take a self-timer photo to mark our ascension into adulthood and being observers of democracy.
That election will definitely always be remembered for Labour's landslide win and the impacts of the pandemic, but as someone who was an university student living in central Auckland at the time, it seemed everyone I knew was riding the Green wave.
Lara Daly, Ensemble publishing co-ordinator
The first time I voted was in 2014, I was 19-years-old and working full-time at the MAC counter in Kirkcaldie and Stains. I wasn’t very responsible or interested in politics in those days, but my amazing manager Grace Howarth (who is now a primary school teacher) was adamant about us all leaving work to go vote at the Wellington Public Library. It was exciting seeing all the booths set up. I think I voted Green, that's what all my friends were doing. John Key was elected that year – a lot of people were excited about him, I certainly wasn’t.
Tyson Beckett, Ensemble style journalist
I was about to finish high school the first time I voted, those of us who were 18 walked into the St Heliers School hall wearing our leavers jumpers feeling like the weight of the world was on our hungover shoulders. It was 2008, the world's global economy was in tatters, Labour were trying to win a fourth term and the National party standing in their way was fronted by a plucky new leader playing up his business realm leadership. 15 years later the world has changed both massively and seemingly not at all.
2008 has mostly been scrubbed from the internet for me pictorially, so this photo is from 2014, the first year my brother could vote and the height of my fashion turban era. We come from a politically attuned whānau and going to vote as a family on election morning is always a cute start to what can be an otherwise anxious day.
Zoe Walker Ahwa, Ensemble editor and co-founder
I had narrowly missed being eligible to vote in 2002, and remember being incredibly gutted about it; that was the genetic engineering election, an issue that I was deeply invested in. So I was raring to go three years later. 2005 was the Helen Clark vs. Don Brash election – an awful, race-baiting campaign that came after Brash's Orewa speech. I don't remember actually voting, but my mum tells me that I was "very excited". She was an election worker, looking after the special votes, and when I entered the Rutherford Primary school hall to vote we couldn't talk to or acknowledge each other.
Election Day was in September 2005, but it was a big coming of age year for me. My last year of uni, my parents separated, I turned 21, I really started to get into fashion. I was also really insecure in front of the camera, so there is little photo evidence of me existing. This was one of the few I could find: drinking sugary cocktails in Ponsonby for my 21st birthday in December (the idea of a party had been nixed, because of said parental separation). I'm wearing a Karen Walker sundress, that I still own, with a big-buckled clutch from Max, cork wedges, shiny eyeshadow and glossy lips. Very 2005.
Rebecca Wadey, Ensemble co-founder
I was 20 and in my final year at the University of Auckland, working part-time at the Sister store (Kate Sylvester’s first label, launched in the 90s). It was the first MMP election, 1996. I’d been studying politics, women’s studies, English and art history and voted for Helen Clark’s Labour, hopeful we would get our first female prime minister. Instead, under the new MMP rules, Jim Bolger was able to form a government (his third) with none other than… Winston Peters. How unprogressive we are.
It was so long ago and I don’t remember the act of voting, which seems strange as it’s such a milestone occasion I make a huge fuss of these days. Who did I go with? Where did I go? What did I wear? What were memories before we started documenting everything on our phones? This photo is taken from that period. Peak 1996 Rebecca, wearing a Zambesi mesh dress that eventually got into a fight with a cigarette at the Box and came off second best, and my Sister leather jacket I still wear, that I paid for with my student loan. I paid off that loan in 2020.
Jonny Mahon-Heap, Stuff culture reporter
You couldn’t pay me to be 22 again, but I’ll lament the era’s fashion choices for free. I had figured out my politics ahead of my sexuality (as evinced here by an Urban Outfitters cap that seems to suggest, “ask me anything about Imagine Dragons”), and wanted to imagine a world where we could spend more time imagining large-scale climate solutions (and fewer dragons).
Casting my ballot overseas in 2014 allowed for a brief moment of feeling cocooned in France’s New Zealand embassy - meeting a pollster who knew my cousins, being offered tea and toffee pops, and trusting, in the absence of any actual booths, the pollster’s promise “not to look”.
Not to be this person, but it all seems now (if not sartorially), a less politically complicated time – when Pharrell’s Happy was everywhere and ACT was run by bald men who polled consistently around 1%.