This story was originally published on Stuff
Clothing is a tool used to control and save money at Gloriavale, with theories about red being a “whore’s colour” and strict rules around how tight to tie your belt.
A Gloriavale leaver has revealed what it is like to wear the infamous long blue dresses and how much pressure women are under in relation to clothing.
The garb has been on display in Christchurch during an Employment Court case involving six former members who argue the domestic work they did for years at Gloriavale was as employees, not volunteers.
Groups of members have been coming and going from the court.
Joy Courage, who is not a witness in the case, said she worked long hours in the sewing room – a pressurised environment where a group of women were given six months to make hundreds of new dresses every two years from mountains of cheap polyester fabric imported from China that is “horrible to wear”.
The Gloriavale website says the blue clothing was designed for modesty and the uniformity means they are instantly recognised by the public, which helps them “witness as followers of Christ”.
“We chose blue because it’s a colour that goes well with any skin colour or complexion... We decided in about 1988 to standardise the type of clothing we wear to prevent the expression of vanity as much as possible, and to make our purchasing of materials and the sewing of clothes more economical.”
The men agreed to wear long trousers and long sleeved shirts buttoned at the neck and wrists, so they lived by the same modest standard.
Courage, 30, said women worked under strict deadlines to make all the clothing for the 600-strong community. They also made elaborate costumes for the community’s biennial concerts and previously made hundreds of jerseys out of imported polar fleece.
She said the sewing room was a production line during the dress runs, with one person cutting out patterns, another making belts and another collars.
She worked long hours and would often take sewing home and do it by hand to keep up with demand.
She went back to work very soon after giving birth and was given a handheld radio so the early childhood teachers could call her if her baby needed breastfeeding. The dress is designed with openings to allow easy feeding.
She said the dresses were uncomfortable and particularly hot in summer.
“It’s a lot of fabric and you have to wear the belt tight. I never felt comfortable with the belt around my waist. If you wore it loose you’d get growled at for being untidy... You can’t be too thin or too big. If you’re too thin you are being vain,” she said.
She was told that former leader Hopeful Christian, who died in May 2018, came up with the design, which he believed would look nice while allowing one size to fit all.
However, she said in reality they had to custom-make dresses for women, which took a lot of time with fittings and sizing.
“People always ask me what’s with blue? Hopeful chose that. As long as I can remember bright colours were evil. Red was a whores colour. Black was allowed only for married ladies’ underwear because it was sexy.”
The head coverings serve as a sign to the angels that a woman has placed herself in submission to the authority of the man and the Bible says women should grow their hair long.
She said the women made all their own underwear except for bras, which were bought from op shops.
“I never got fitted. We were only given second hand ones. There was a banana-box that you could look through and take maybe two,” she said.
She enjoyed the sewing room because it was a break from the other gruelling work – in which women worked in teams on a four-day rotation of cooking, cleaning, laundry and preparation for the next day, she said.
“It’s all about money to build the place up. As long as people are living in fear they can do what they like to you. I’m so grateful my kids don’t have to grow up there.”
She left in 2013 despite immense pressure to stay after her husband was thrown out for disobeying leaders.
On the outside, she started a sewing business with her sister but soon decided it was not for her.
“I got over it pretty quick. I thought I liked sewing clothes but it was just what I did in Gloriavale. Being free to decide to stop was just amazing. I now work part-time on a dairy farm and in a cafe and I love it.”
Adjusting to different clothes was a challenge – especially wearing trousers, which were a manly and ungodly thing for women to wear, she said.
“It was extremely overwhelming. I didn’t know what I liked. I’ve made some mistakes and bought things that I wear a couple of times and then realise I don’t like it.”
She laughed when told all women make fashion mistakes – she’s free now to make them.