Waitangi Day is for remembering, protesting and mobilising, all while wearing really good fits.
In 2021, te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi questioned the dusty parliamentary dress code that deemed a European style tie “appropriate business attire” for his work in parliament. Waititi rebutted the pressure to conform to this code, stating, “my taonga is my tie”. In doing so, he brought to question what it means to be dressed “appropriately” or “professionally” in Aotearoa and why that might be.
“Business attire” in and of itself is a funny term to contemplate. Even more so if you think about what types of garments fit under its umbrella. Does a musty satin tie, or a sensibly heeled leather court shoe, or a polyester lapel really tangibly add anything to the business being done in professional spaces? Can a heavy piece of pounamu, carved intricately into the curves of an ancestor, really be described as inappropriate or unprofessional? Or is this all symbolic of a more insidious and continuous cultural assimilation? Waititi thinks so. “It has everything to do with the colonial agenda that continues to force Māori to be like Pākehā,” he told RNZ when asked about his attire back in 2021.
In a Pākehā corporate landscape, where “professional” is done, you would be forgiven for assuming clothing was merely a uniform to not get in the way. Besides the standard level of tidiness and cleanliness, a sea of grey crewneck knits, white button ups and cut copy navy suits appear to emphasise neutrality over any expression of belief or statement about who you are and where you might come from.
Looking around Waitangi over the last few days at the hordes of people doing skilled and serious work while dressed in colour, texture and pattern, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this question of clothing, work and acceptability.
I wondered why on earth we hold a sea of grey suit neutrality to such a level of importance when we could dive deep into a brightly coloured moana. To own and wear with pride who we are and what we believe in. Over this weekend, from Te Whare Rūnanga to the connecting bridge, to the market stalls at Te Tii Marae, people showed up to make a statement. And while incredible statements were made in numbers, hīkoi, performance art, haka, waiata, and with words by esteemed orators, I couldn’t ignore how we as Māori, and our allies, fostered statements made visually through our kākahu/clothing.
So, I took it upon myself to observe as many beautiful / cool / outrageous / unprofessional outfits across the weekend as I could. To document some of this Waitangi weekend steez and to show what the uniforms for our skilled and serious work look like.
Ngā mihi nui to all who came out in colour and mana, who chatted with me and let me take a photo.
Eru shared that he takes time and care to put outfits together. This full fit was (proudly) op-shopped.
Varron Armstrong said this look was inspired by being Māori and his mum (who could be thanked for many pieces in this outfit!)
Pele (left), Teuila, Luana, Gerardone and Avaaulii came out in their sophisticated fits, donning bright ili and ‘ei katu.
Deb Rewiri came in full whero as part of a Wāhine o Ngāpuhi protest of the government’s current rhetoric and proposed treaty policy. Deb’s beret was picked up in Europe while “chasing some of our taonga to bring back home” and her tartan was found secondhand from a circular economy store in Kororareka.
Maurice Rehu said he and his wife visited The Hori store for their wedding anniversary and he picked out this piece. He said when he got it, he knew it would be his Waitangi get up.
Ihaka Pharazyn and Tiana Tuhou came dressed up as it was “big days” for Māori. They said “we’re proud to be Māori and wear our feathers every day as it connects and grounds us to our history and genealogy”.
Marama Kihi was repping a hoodie from her sister’s kapa haka rōpu (Te Hekenga a Rangi) and a pōtae with the Tino Rangatiratanga flag which she said she “just got ironed on at one of the market stalls”.
Mikaere (left), Micah and Rawhiti shared that the way they dress themselves is “Tupuna inspired”. They said: “we love to wear our taonga and express our indigeneity through kākahu.”
Delynah Matene Ngatai graciously let me interrupt her pēpi’s feeding to show off her full Te Whakaputanga flag get up (earrings included).
Roger explained his dress as a colour statement of the Rātana faith and the Piri Wiri Tua movement. He said all his colours, but particularly the green and yellow, are symbolic of the manaakitanga of indigenous peoples all over the globe.
Māni came dressed in a cool waiporoporo set with a fresh kete “from a whaea’s stall down the road who should put her rates up!”
Mawena Ruka was up early i te ata in his Tino Rangatiratanga hoodie, ready to watch the waka parade.
Li’omatua Christina Epati (left), Uiterangi Te Tau Tuiono, Teanau Tuiono (current Green MP), Pakilau o Aotearoa Manase Lia and Lotomafana Betham-Rautjoki came dressed as representatives of their Pacific leadership program, Mana Moana. They came out to support Māori and Te Tiriti.