Both individualistic and community-orientated, aunty-core style is all about making thoughtful fashion choices and being yourself.
Less a trend and more of a vibe, the concept of aunty-inspired style has been an undercurrent quietly permeating recent fashion collections, and influencing the personal style and discussions in the Fashion Quarterly office. We’ve been referring to it as ‘aunty-core’, and it’s a term that aptly and succinctly describes a certain je ne sais quoi when discussing topics like vintage Prada, a theoretical bob, the resurgence of cardigans, or some divinely lumpy pearly earrings.
It’s a vibe I’ve personally been channeling for a while – particularly since aging out of my twenties – and has stemmed from a conscious evaluation of my own clothing choices as I (like many others) consider what items I truly adore and value, what has purpose, and what enables me to feel like my true self.
I appreciate the approach in others; when people-watching I find myself drawn to older women (and men), people who display a distinct sense of individualism while also expressing a visual embodiment of community and family. It’s all much more refreshing and authentic than the homogeneity of Instagram influencers and young, nubile celebrities that all seem to look the same now.
At its essence, aunty-core is bold and fun, balancing practicality with panache. It’s a pair of funky sandals, a tote bag full of groceries, some jazzy earrings – perhaps bought from a local maker, or handed down from your mum.
This familiar, familial nomenclature can be applied to anyone who is wearing something purely because they love it, rather than trying to appeal to current trends or a societal view of appropriate style.
Aunty-core is sentimental, bestowing equal importance on a handmade bag as an old jumper that you have mended again and again, or a scarf picked up on a special holiday. Aunties are thrifty too; a good aunty knows how to mend, and where the best opshops are.
It’s equally about taking risks and embracing comfort, rather than sacrificing your confidence and freedom for a trend. Self-expression is paramount; aunties dress for themselves. Embracing this style philosophy implores you to ask yourself, “who am I and what do I like?” and “what kind of person do I want to be to others?”
Aunties come in all different forms. There’s the aunty who loves cleavage and might sneak you a cigarette at a family do. The arts-and-crafts aunty loves a funky necklace and her pottery group. There’s the aunty who expertly weaves harakeke. The avant-garde aunty has worn red lipstick forever and has a wardrobe full of Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester – we see you Moira Rose.
Eco-aunty has been composting since before it was cool, has an old pair of Birkenstocks and wears Kowtow, Widdess and some fabulous linen trousers that she bought at a market years ago. There’s the aunty with the faded tattoos that speak of the chapters of her youth; she also has an original Black Sabbath t-shirt. Another aunty can be found making hundreds of dumplings for Chinese New Year, hair perfectly done and nails painted. There are the glamorous aunties who have travelled the world and will gift you their old Burberry trench coat, and there are the aunties who stay put and have the best scone recipe.
One thing they all have in common, aunties are a key figure in every community; from the whaea kēkē nurturing their whānau to Samoan uso o le tinā in their fabulous hats outside church on Sunday, there are aunty figures in all corners of Aotearoa.
Aunties are in fashion too, at least I think so. Or perhaps, they always have been. Margaret Howell continues to create sensible pleated skirts and funky hats.
Far from a new concept, many fashion brands have long-championed a distinctive aunty vibe, like Consuelo Castiglioni’s charmingly arty-and-awkward Marni, and of course Miuccia Prada with her ongoing commitment to knee-length skirts, socks and heels, and intellectual references. Comme des Garçons and Ann Demeulemeester have academic art-aunty vibe.
It’s no coincidence that most of the designers adopting this vibe are women, as its ethos speaks to a feminist approach to fashion – rejecting the male gaze and societal beauty standards, and instead looking towards the motivations of the individual and offering women a sense of agency around their appearance and body.
Tracee Ellis Ross’ fun and fabulous red carpet style? That’s as aunty as anything. Diane Keaton wearing voluminous Maison Margiela jeans to the farmers’ market? Pure aunty core. Harry Styles wearing a Peter Pan collar, pearls and T-bar shoes? Aunty!
Locally, we have plenty of homegrown aunty-core icons including stylist Chloe Hill, whose penchant for bright colours and idiosyncratic ensembles plants her firmly in aunty territory. Kate Sylvester with her signature red lipstick is a chic aunty, as is the eternally cool Bic Runga. Barbara Brinsley is a style star who possesses a wealth of knowledge (as well as a wardrobe that includes Helmut Lang, and Comme des Garçons), while the deeply respected Marilyn Sainty has been a quietly influential member of the local fashion landscape since the ’80s.
Industry legend Doris de Pont not only boasts an enviably eclectic wardrobe, but her work for The New Zealand Fashion Museum and the Moana Currents exhibition speaks to a deeply supportive respect for (and from) the local industry. Similarly, trailblazing designer Kiri Nathan plays a nurturing role in the local industry through her initiative Kahui Collective.
Aunty-core is just as much an attitude as an aesthetic, and it’s one that centres on nurturing and support, while also being fiercely protective and challenging the status quo. This attitude extends to supporting small makers, investing in quality, acknowledging provenance and prioritising sustainability. It’s also about community. Surrounding yourself with inspiring, uplifting people and supporting their endeavours and emotions.
Speaking of communities, who could forget some of the most important aunties of all: ‘The Aunties’ is a grassroots initiative that supports and advocates for women who have experienced domestic violence.
Look around you; there are aunties everywhere, and they offer a wealth of inspiration for both life and style. Aunty-core implores you to be yourself, and encourage those around you to do the same. As we continue to be inundated with youthful ideals, it’s important to also look to older women and those around us for inspiration – women with fully-formed, complete lives.
So this season, if you haven’t already, find some aunties and be an aunty. It’s a nice feeling.