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Shih Yen Chang
7. What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had on the subject of fashion or style?
Actually, I think it was my mother who first influenced my style. It was more a formative conversation than a transformative one. When I was young, my mother used to dress me to go to children’s birthday parties, and she would say things like, ‘This looks nice with that because the colours match.’ So, I think that is still something that influences me today in terms of style – what matches, what colours go together, what would look good.
8. Do you have a unified way of approaching your life, work, relationships, finances, chores, etc.? Please explain.
I don’t know. I’m quite organized, I guess.
9. Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?
My favourite pair of jeans is a Levi’s bold curve skinny boot cut jeans in dark blue denim. I own 3 pairs - 4, if you count the one that's a bold curve classic boot cut. I have so many identical jeans because they are very flattering and fit me and my curves very well. It was as if they were custom made for me.
11. Is there any fashion trend you’ve refused to participate in and why?
I don't like skinny, tapered jeans and I don't buy or wear them. This is because I think skinny jeans is a trend that is not flattering for women who are not stick thin and don't look like models (ie the majority of women). At the height of the skinny jeans trend, I found it difficult to buy flared or boot cut jeans or trousers, which I think is more flattering for women with curves.
14. Was there a point in your life when your style changed dramatically? What happened?
It was probably when I became a teenager, I wore a lot of black t-shirts and jeans. It was partly due to teenage angst and also it was the 1990s and grunge was in.
23. Do you think you have taste or style? Which one is more important? What do these words mean to you?
Yes, I have taste and style. Taste means knowing what is appropriate to wear for what occasion. Style to me, means knowing how to put together items of clothing and accessories so that they fit well.
37. What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?
For me, dressing actually begins the night before. My main consideration is the weather. I will check the weather forecast for the next day and then plan what I will wear.
47. Are there ways in which you conform to or rebel against these uniforms?
In Malaysia, all school students have to wear all-white socks and canvas shoes to school. When I was a student, the school could dictate the colour of my socks, shoes and shoelaces, but there were no rules on how I should tie my shoelaces. So, I tried different ways to tie my shoelaces that were not just plain criss-crosses. How I tied my shoelaces became the only way I had to show my individuality at school.
48. Do you find it comforting or constraining to have a uniform?
A uniform is both comforting and constraining. All the schools I attended had a school uniform. In a way, it was nice never having to worry what to wear to school, but sometimes when the uniform is too restrictive, then it becomes constraining. For instance, in Malaysia, school rules were restrictive and didn’t seem to serve any purpose apart from making us all look the same. There were school rules that dictated hair colour, hair length, skirt length, even fingernail length (and yes, they check!). No hair clips, makeup, jewellery or nail polish (not even clear polish) was allowed. There were rules that stated what colour rubber bands you can use to tie up your hair, even rules on the colour of the lenses in your glasses.
50. Do you ever wish you were a man or could dress like a man or had a man’s body? Was there ever a time in the past?
Never. I have always been happy to be a woman because women have so much choice in what they wear. Women can wear a long or short dress, or skirt or trousers or shorts, but men are restricted to just shirts and trousers or shorts. I feel sorry for men that they don't have as much choice as women.
52. Do you consider yourself photogenic?
Yes, but I don't know whether this is a good or bad thing - that I look better in photos, but not in real life.
53. When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?
I don’t know. It depends on the photo and when the photo was taken. Like if it was an old photo, I would think I look so young. But generally, I like the way I look in photographs – better than how I look in real life.
60. What do you think of perfume? Do you wear it?
I don’t wear perfume, but I think it’s so luxurious. I get perfume as gifts, but they end up sitting in a drawer because I don’t have enough special occasions to wear perfume to.
62. How does makeup fit into all this for you?
I don’t wear makeup because I have sensitive skin. I only wear makeup for special occasions.
66. Tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear. What is it, why don’t you wear it, and why do you keep it?
I have a pair of black shoes by Candy in a Mary Jane style. The shoes have pink butterflies on them and the words 'Happy summer days forever'. There are even butterflies on the soles of the shoes. I love that pair of shoes, I used to wear it a lot, but I never wear it anymore mainly because the soles are broken, and can't be repaired. But I can't bring myself to throw them out. I guess I keep that pair of shoes because I remember falling in love with them, and I remember feeling happy when I wore them because I knew I had butterflies on the soles of my feet.
68. Is there an item of clothing that you once owned, but no longer own, and still think about or wish you had back? What was it, what happened to it, and why do you want it back?
I once owned a long sleeved, black crochet knit top. It was a gift from my aunty when I was about 15 years old. I wore it a lot to parties when I was a teenager. The top was kind of sexy and I always got comments when I wore that top. I kept it for about 18 years before donating it to a clothing bin because it was old and I never wore it. I still think about that top, and kind of wished I had it back even, though I know I won't wear it again. This is because that top reminds me of all the parties I went to as a teenager.
69. If you had to throw out all your clothes but keep one thing, what would you keep?
My bold curve, skinny boot cut Levi's jeans in dark blue denim.
71. What’s the first “investment” item you bought? Do you still own or wear it?
It was probably a traditional Korean dress, a silk ‘hanbok’ that I bought when I went to South Korea. It is the most expensive dress I have ever bought, even more expensive than my wedding dress. I bought it in 2002 and I still own it. The last time I wore it was in 2010, but I only wear it for special occasions, like my graduation or other formal occasion.
73. What item of clothing are you still (or have you forever been) on the hunt for?
I am forever searching for a good, comfortable and flattering pair of trousers. They are so hard to find.
83. Do you remember the first time you were conscious of what you were wearing? Can you describe this moment and what it was about?
I don’t know about other people but my earliest childhood memory involved shoes. I was exactly 4 years and 3 months old, and it was my first overseas trip – to Singapore. I couldn’t tell you who else went on that family trip, I don’t remember what we did in Singapore, or even how we got to Singapore, but I do remember the shoes I wore. They were a pair of pink Mary Jane shoes made of material that felt like leather, and they had proper straps and buckles, not just velcro or elastic straps. I guess the proper straps made me feel very grown up.
In terms of clothes, my first memory was also at aged 4, wearing a dress with vertical pink and white stripes. I had a thing for pink when I was young.
What’s your birth date? Where were you born and where do you live now?
Born in Malaysia, currently living in New Zealand
Say anything you like about your cultural/ethnic/economic background.
I am ethnic Chinese, and grew up in Malaysia.
Are you single, married, do you have kids, etc.?
Married, no kids
How do you feel after filling out this survey?
Chang Shih Yen is a writer from Malaysia, who normally prefers writing fiction. Shih Yen has an interest in traditional clothing from different cultures, and she also writes a blog about shoes.