Selina Tusitala Marsh on mood-boosting clothes & what she wore for the Queen

6 July 2022
By Fashion Quarterly

In a seven-part photographic series, we ask our favourite trendsetters to explain what fashion means to them.

Selina wears op-shop patterned pants, from a Glenn Innes store, Glassons crop top, Pipi Cafe beaded necklace, Swarovski earrings, Oscar Wylee glasses and Hannahs boots.

This week we talk to professor and acclaimed poet Selina Tusitala Marsh about how her style has evolved over time, her preferred way to shop, and what she wore when she performed a poem for the Queen.

How would you describe your personal style?

Boho-chic, kick-boxing, bad-ass poet – that is when I’m completely in the zone. My fashion is a mix of comfort activewear and creative, funky, slightly out-of-the-box op-shop styles that exude fun, freedom, and difference. I love earthy greens and bright oranges. Mute tans and whites against explosive paisley florals.

What are your go-to outfit staples?

Comfy tights and built-in bra tops (I’ve become intolerant of bras except when absolutely necessary), a tailored activewear jacket and vest, or soft, oversized merino possum wraps and cardis. I live in jandals. Slingbacks from Havaianas are a fave! 

How or in what ways has your style evolved over time?

I used to be a bit scared of my looks. I was a bit embarrassed at getting attention. I felt like an awkward giraffe. I was teased at school as a mophead (I even wrote and drew an award-winning graphic memoir series called ‘Mophead’!)  So my fashion sense was quite functional. I’ve always been an active person. I’ve always been drawn to colour. For the past two years I’ve gone through a dramatic life shift with the result that I care less what other people think and more about how I feel. This has resulted in more ease in mixing types of fashion – workout gear with fancy fun tops, a mish mash of colour and texture. I love showing my best parts off. My best investment ($10 at Glassons) were two multi-coloured cross-over knit crop tops that show off my shoulders – best part is, no bra required!

How would you say fashion makes you feel?

Striking the right balance for me means that the outfit is easy to wear, comfy, striking, and beautifully tailored so that it celebrates my curves and angles in all the right places. When I’m wearing flattering, beautiful and stretchy clothes that I can do a performance in then hop on my bike and ride along the waterfront for a meeting in Mission Bay, that makes me happy, gives me confidence and enhances my zest for life. 

Do you think fashion has the ability to alter your mood?

Absolutely. When I was learning about decluttering and came across the minimalist fashion guru Courtney Carver’s Project 333 challenge (wear only 33 things – including shoes, bags, jewellry –  over 3 months.) It decluttered my soul! My binary distinction between good/formal clothes you wear only on ‘special’ occasions and everyday clothes you can afford to wear (as in down) out. Her principle of dressing up your casual wear, and dressing down your formal wear, meant less clothes could be worn more often, with the result that I wear more ‘special’ clothes casually, even if the only person I see is myself reflected on my laptop screen. And I feel wonderful! Every day is a ‘special’ day because I am alive and expressing myself.

What is your preferred way to shop?

In person. Op-shops are my territory. And high street yoga wear – Lululemon tights a staple. My body is deliciously mine so online just doesn’t cut it. 

Can you tell us about one of the all-time favourite outfits that you’ve worn?

My ankle-length electric blue puletasi (Samoan traditional dress), created by MENA, a fashion line owned and created by five Samoan sisters. Their shops are in Grey Lynn and Apia, Samoa. I wore it when I performed a commissioned poem for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II for Commonwealth Observance Day in 2018 as the Commonwealth Poet.

What about one of your first memories of a good (or bad!) outfit? 

At the same event as above my friend, writer Paula Morris, lent me her beautiful size 11 snakeskin high heels. But my hotel was in Trafalgar Square, and the event was in Westminster Abbey, and I’m 6 foot tall so seldom wear heels. I didn’t know that one might pop one’s heels in one’s bag and walk to one’s event in sneakers. I just thought ‘Hell no, I’m not walking to the Abbey in those!’ So I donned these thick black velcro sandals I bought from the Warehouse. My sister Sam, who watched the BBC broadcast to 20 million viewers, was fuming after she saw what was on my feet. She said ‘I can’t believe you wore old man Warehouse sandals in front of the Queen!’ It helped fortify my core values – comfort over style – no matter what. Also, the way you wear a piece dictates how good you feel in it.  And I felt a million dollars in my Samoan styled puletasi.  

What is it about fashion or what you choose to wear that interests or excites you?

Like my everchanging moods (to cite Style Council) what I choose to wear can enhance or work against what I’m feeling at the time. Tapping into that, syncing with my mood that day, is key to expressing myself in the world, and to myself. Fashion isn’t about expense, although it is about quality, whether second hand or otherwise. Having quality essential pieces (tights, singlets) that can then be enhanced by more flamboyant pieces, that can then be worn to a book awards ceremony, a Royal Society performance, or to a meeting at a local cafe is the way I’m feeling my fashion right now.

Discover more of our favourite trendsetters and the transformative power of fashion in the new winter issue of Fashion Quarterly, on sale now.

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