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Published: 01 April 2023

By Andy Ross

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A national cloth?

Dress is celebrated as part of a nation's cultural identity in many parts of the world. 

Across the globe people dress in their national costume to celebrate their unique place in the world. A quick Google search using the terms "national dress" turns up 1,550 million results, an impressive number by any count. When it comes to Aotearoa New Zealand though, national dress is a much more complicated affair. For those of Maori descent there are the magnificent cloaks and skirts, worn for special occasions or performance, but for others the issue of national dress is made more complex by the fact that the country's population is made up of people from all over the world, each with their own national costume. Tartans from Scotland (currently enjoying a revival) feature heavily in the Southern part of the South Island. In the cities and towns, one can see Pacific Island dress, Bolivian embroidery and hats, and the bright cloths of Africa. It all points to the wonderfully multi-cultural country that this has become. 

This week, while working on a business plan for setting up a weave studio on the Coast, an off-hand comment by a reader of that plan has been taking up some thinking time. The comment "Tweed is not really a New Zealand tradition" came about because of the mention of the word "tweed" in connection with weaving wool. It is true that the country does not have a distinctive tweed but borrowed colours and patterns from Scotland, Ireland and England, however once there was a mill on the Coast in Hokitika and that mill made a cloth very like tweed. The cloth though has disappeared from the country and now tweeds are imported.

Given that there is no national dress in Aotearoa - the bushshirt aside -  what would it take to create a national cloth, one that could be used by anyone to create a national costume? Is there any reason to do so? Would people wear a national costume? What would its cloth be made from? There are so many questions. Maybe some of our readers might like to contribute thoughts...