Whether it’s the black that our sporting elite wear on the field, or the cluster of colours flight attendants wear in the sky, uniforms can have a lot of meaning.
Changes in those uniforms can also spark passionate debate from fans – think the white ferns daubed on the new All Black uniform by a French designer, for example.
Corporate changes either just made, or in train, are taking more than just practicality and eye appeal into account – thinking also about sustainability and gender considerations, and in some cases relaxing old rules on makeup, high heels and tattoos.
“Air New Zealand put the call out for designers to express interest earlier in the year,” Stuff‘s style editor Zoe Walker Ahwa tells The Detail.
“They have a long history of working with fashion designers – they worked with Zambesi quite a few years ago, Trelise Cooper has had her uniforms for a number of years.”
Kiwibank has just refreshed its uniforms.
“They worked with about four or five designers, including Kiri Nathan and Barkers. I thought that was really interesting in how they approached it – it was very much about wanting to reflect how New Zealanders dress in terms of culture and identity. There’s a traditional suit as well as a lavalava and a hijab so it really is a uniform that’s a bit broader in how it approaches the idea of a uniform.”
She says that’s a big change from 40-50 years ago.
“[It was] like ‘You fit into the uniform’. It’s changed a lot to be a bit more flexible in terms of culture and identity and personal style and body types. I think society has changed, I think fashion has changed.”
It’s not only businesses that have shifted their scope. Some sports teams are embracing inclusivity – like the Silver Ferns’ new World Cup dress called ‘Manawa Rau’.
“They wanted to design a dress that meant something to them and would help them with their campaign,” sports journalist Suzanne McFadden says.
“The patterns around the bottom of the dress relate to Māori weaving and they represent a lot of things. One of them is a red line that runs right through the design, and that’s like a thread that brings together every Silver Fern who has ever played for New Zealand.
“‘Manawa’ means a single heart beat – so everybody who’s ever worn a black dress – all their heart beats are beating as one – getting in behind this team.”
Then there’s the All Blacks World Cup jersey design by French designer Fey the Wolf.
Instead of embracing New Zealand culture, it’s gone for a fern interweaving the edges of French fronds which has caused a bit of a stir – described by some fans on Twitter as “hideous” and like “some toddler just vandalised it”.
“I don’t think it is a fern anymore, it looks like some kind of creeper,” McFadden says.
“It’s really interesting how the public react. The All Blacks jersey comes out one week and everybody is disappointed with the look and the fact it wasn’t designed by a New Zealander.
“Then the Silver Ferns dress comes out the following week and it has so much meaning and so much mana. The initial reaction on social media is ‘New Zealand rugby, are you taking note of this dress?’
“I feel like people have a real sense of ownership around these uniforms especially something like the All Blacks. As New Zealanders we feel like they’re our team, that we kind of claim them,” Walker Ahwa says.
Find out more about the thought that went into the Silver Ferns World Cup strip by listening to the full episode.
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