This veteran magazine editor recounts her power-dressing career journey

22 August 2019
By Fashion Quarterly

Pamela Stirling, editor of the Listener magazine

Pamela Stirling heads-up the Listener, New Zealand’s bestselling current affairs magazine, covering the political, cultural and literary life of the country. What does she wear to get it done?

For a recent photoshoot in Fashion Quarterly, the editor of the Listener found herself searching through her closet, as well as a second-wardrobe she had relegated to the attic. While she used to believe the outfits she wore to rise through the ranks of investigative journalism and publishing were classic, she now thinks it was really all “camouflage”.

“I think a lot of women of my generation resorted to that as they progressed up the career ladder,” says Pamela. “We were the first women to be able to wear whatever we wanted to work when we were young… But then somehow the sound and brightness got turned down and our wardrobes morphed into a version of what the guys were wearing: classic suits, complete with big shoulder pads to figuratively signal that women could “shoulder responsibility”. It’s changed since then of course… Now I would describe my style as confident. It feels authentic.”

Read more about the editor’s new stance on style and sustainability below:

How important is being well-presented to your job?
Very. My advice to young people is to dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have.

What are some of your favourite fashion brands?
For the office, I like Diane von Furstenberg, Ralph Lauren, Helen Cherry, Karen Millen, Tommy Hilfiger, Gerry Weber and also Paula Ryan’s merino wool basics. For dress-ups, I’m open to anything but will always champion a New Zealand or Australian brand if I can.

How does what you wear to work differ from what you wear at home?
Last weekend I was planting trees on our old family farm, covered in mud and I had to use my heavy-duty gumboots to stand on the electric fence so I could get my tools over it.  That’s my idea of great out-of-office wear.

Your best style tips?
A third of the clothes you buy will never really fit you or even suit you.  Get a trusted friend or partner to help you make decisions and give them permission to say what they really think. On second thoughts, just get them to nod enthusiastically or shake their head. Pay them a commission of a coffee for every great recommendation of a style that would suit you.

What advice do you give to your friends?
I saw a terrific outfit recently that I knew would suit my sister, and when she and her friend immediately bought it, I couldn’t have been happier. When you’re assessing styles for other people, it helps you learn to articulate what best suits your own shape too. Honestly, it’s the most satisfying thing to be a style scout.

Why is sustainable fashion important to you?
In the past 15 years, global clothing production has doubled, with an astounding half of fast fashion items thrown away within a year, according to the consulting firm, McKinsey and Company. Textile production is contributing to greater carbon emissions than air travel and shipping combined. And there’s the social cost too of low-paid workers overseas. “Fast fashion” is certainly harmful – that wear-it-once on Instagram culture is fuelling a frenzy for single-use new clothes that comes with a huge environmental cost. But there’s a trend away from disposable clothing and towards higher-quality and more considered purchases.

As far back as 2004 – long before Time magazine – the Listener was raising the alarm about climate change in its cover stories. Our award-winning environmental journalism has gained our writers fellowships to study climate change and sustainability at universities as diverse as Cambridge in the UK and Stanford in the US. And as the magazine looks forward to celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, we are more passionate than ever about our kaupapa to be a positive, energising force in the discourse about the future of both New Zealand and the planet we all inhabit.

What was your last meaningful fashion purchase?
Recently, I was on holiday in India with my husband and a small group of friends. It was our own tour so we prioritised our spending to help women’s collectives. I love the gorgeous handmade textiles we saw being made – the colours and embroidery are stunning – and it was deeply satisfying to know that we were helping village women in sometimes the most tragic of circumstances. In one village in Rajasthan, a woman was killed shortly before we arrived by a tiger as she collected firewood. Helping the villagers means they have sources of income other than tiger poaching or scavenging for fuel in the tiger reserve.

What do you love most about your role, and journalism today?
I can’t imagine a more stimulating role than working with such smart people and engaging with such lively readers. In times of profound change, people gravitate to brands they trust and for more than a decade, the Listener has been building a deep respect for its agenda-setting coverage on climate change and environmental issues.

Interview: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photography: Michael James Rooke


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