Interview: Verena Hanley

Verena Hanley graduated studying Media Production, where she specialised in screenwriting. Her love for writing, has influenced her to qualify in mental health counselling. I was lucky enough to have an interview with Verena about her fashion. 

Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

I'm good thank you. 

Tell us a little about your background.

I was born into a military family, German-English bilingual. I grew up moving countries and schools every 3 years or so until I got to Lincoln in 2004. I had many interests in school, I wanted to be a photographer, a psychologist, an artist, a filmmaker. I ended up getting an Undergraduate degree in Media Production, specialising in screenwriting where I found another passion. Later this year I will start a Postgraduate in Creative Writing to develop my craft, and I have plans afterwards to qualify in mental health counselling.

Describe your style.

I think I would describe how I create, and therefore my style, as practical realism with a touch of romanticised modernism. When I get creative I want something that I can look at every day without a fading smile.

When did you start getting into fashion?

I’ve always had an interest in fashion, a keen eye for detail and have always tried to develop skills in design whenever possible. Growing up, I was the deciding vote on which shoes and bags match the outfits my mum and sister asked my advice on. I was the girly one out of the three of us and had an eye for it.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

I do find some gems in the sales of H&M and New Look, but I also like to look through Amazon sometimes. Always read reviews and product descriptions carefully before purchasing online though. However, I’m always looking for pre-loved items on the cheap and cheerful that I can alter into something new.

What inspired you to get into vintage fashion?

To be honest the fit, fabric and style trend of high street stores is a little ridiculous for me. I find that vintage items are of better quality, better fit to natural female shapes, and usually more comfortable.

Do you think it is an important aspect to make your own clothing?

Having even a basic skill in sewing will make life a little easier and cheaper when something in your home or wardrobe goes wrong. It’s also very handy when you come across that special piece in the sale that’s missing a button or has a broken zipper. It is a cheaper and can be less time consuming option than buying clothes, you also know it will fit perfectly if you measure right. Alternatively you can find cool ways to embellish clothes you already have or turn a pair of trousers that no longer fit into a cushion cover. Possibilities are endless when you learn a thing or two about sewing machines and pattern making.

Do you have any tips for anyone shopping in vintage and charity shops?

1. Don’t be afraid of larger sizes: wider material gives you more options and always remember lining fabric.

2. Always read labels: you need to know what kind of material you’re working with to determine it’s worth or how difficult it may be to work with.

3. Seams: how many are there? What will each individual piece look like once you’ve separated the seams, and how that effects the volume of material you can use? If it’s a guideline piece, study where the seams are and this will help to deconstruct a pattern for your person

4. Keep an eye out for unique embellishments: they don’t make clothes like they used to anymore, a piece of well-preserved hand embroidery can go a long way to adding a little extra to something you make without adding the time.

5. Try the material on whenever possible: This helps make you aware of the flow of the material, how it feels against skin, and the weight. All these points you should take into consideration before purchase, especially if bartering is an option!

Why do you think charity shops are an important place to shop?

It’s always worth looking in for fabrics and materials. Sometimes you can find labels from Miss Selfridge, Next, Topshop, etc. those are usually better quality and cut. E.g. A size 14 or 16 skirt that doesn’t fit nor would I wear, I can use for a bodice piece or accessory crafting.

Pros: cheap good material, supporting a charity, cheap prototype/testing material or guidance pieces.

Cons: smell (fixed by a good wash), can take a while to find something decent, takes a lot of rummaging.

Your style is very unique and wonderful; how do you go about styling different clothes?

On a normal day I like to be as comfortable as possible whilst also accentuating some assets. E.g. a loose and long t-shirt or jumper and butt-hugging skinny jeans, flat shoes with comfortable soles and ankle support. I’m really into the strappy bra trend at the minute and I do like my autumn/winter colours, so any excuse to add them to the party. On a day after watching a little too much Pretty Little Liars I push the boat out a bit more than usual and will put anything together that makes me feel powerful and beautiful but also appropriate. That’s when I usually play more with accessories and hair. Most of the time I can’t seem to do anything productive without wearing a good pair of jeans though.

How do you go about finding your own style?

If it makes me happy to wear, I buy it. Unless I can’t afford it, in which case I die a little inside and then try to either find a cheaper version or study it, find patterns online and recreate it when I find the perfect material. Anything that I won’t see on anyone else makes me even happier. That’s why I like to shop on Amazon sometimes, and am learning embroidery to be able to add a little extra flavour to my favourite pieces. I think the biggest reason for my shift in style a couple years ago, was because I just wanted to be taken seriously for a change. I’d always been the “pretty girl with the perfect figure” told by society that I should wear underwired bras that push my boobs together and bodycon dresses to show off my hourglass shape, but I wasn’t taken seriously nor was I comfortable in every public space. So I traded the dresses in for jeans, the underwire for either nada or elastic-no-cups, and I found a love to cotton shirts, oversized jumpers and longline t-shirts. Now I’m always comfortable and it’s easier to be professional or productive.

Have you always been into fashion?

Yes. I find it exciting and interesting. Now that I have some knowledge of pattern-making and sewing, I have a newfound respect for designers and higher appreciation for garments. Fashion is so versatile and I truly do believe that it’s the first point of call for telling the world what you’re all about, your mood and how you want to be represented. However, I also think that fashion is meant to be fun and you should be able to enjoy it and be happy with whatever you choose to put on your back. Above all, wear what makes you comfortable and feel good.

What new pieces have you picked up for this Winter and Summer that we haven’t seen on your Instagram yet?

I mentioned before that I’m working on my own bespoke embroidery designs which I should be good enough to feature later this year, possibly even commission. I also have some materials, such as a large over-the-knee purple suede skirt, in stock that I’ve been wanting to work with but haven’t quite decided the perfect piece yet. I’m constantly on Pinterest saving ideas for inspiration. I also enjoy upcycling homeware goods so I may have a few pieces like that come up, or dog toys, who knows! My eyes are always seeing things, my brain is always thinking things, and my hands always want to be busy.

The first step will be re-categorising my wardrobe and building up a pile of things I don’t wear but want to use, and then a pile of what I am happy to alter, and then start drawing ideas and finding helpful aids online. It’s all a matter of what I can get my hands on and then come up with.

What are some of your current fashion obsessions?

Strappy/lacey bras definitely! I may have to get my hands on some delicate material and try my hand at making my own. I do love how a little bit of embroidery can really change the mood of a piece and that’s super on trend at the moment.

What are your favourite pieces of clothing?

Loose fitting, soft, longline t-shirts or long sleeve shirts. They’re just perfect all the time for every reason. I can go braless, I don’t have to worry about bloating, I can lounge, or match with skinny jeans, or stay in the house with no trousers at all! 

What could you not live without?

Leggings. All kinds of leggings. They’re a great, comfortable alternative to jeans or tights, cool enough in summer and still warm enough in winter (ish).

Do you have any career plans?

Not necessarily within fashion at the moment, but yes I want about 3 different careers; I would like to be a successful professional screenwriter or published author, I want to run a creative community to nurture and develop creative peoples’ interests, I want to become a qualified mental health counsellor delivering talk/non-prescription therapy to people battling with mental health problems.

Who was your first style icon?

Naturally, when I was younger, I looked to pop stars and movie stars for fashion guidance as many young women do. However, when emerging into adulthood it was actually my mum who inspired me to break away from what society says you should wear and just wear what makes you comfortable and confident. For the first time in her life, my mum actually bought clothes that weren’t conventional or sized, but made her really happy and wore them to her office job. She went from boring ‘normal’ office clothes to a cross between Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Lilly Tomlin in Grace and Frankie. There are no rules that say what you should wear, just lengths and levels of professionalism or smartness.

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

1. It allows me to get genuine opinions on what I craft from strangers and friends

2. It allows me to boast and showcase something I’m proud of when I’m in more than I am out

3. It’s a way of reminding myself what I’m capable of and how I felt about something whenever I may have forgotten, which makes me happy.

4. It’s a way of reaching out or ‘advertising’ if I need anything to help me progress

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram?

Way more pictures of my dogs because naturally. Light alterations when I hone my embroidery skills a little more. Perhaps some garden furniture or accessory upcycling. When I eventually join the gym during term time, I will probably try my hand at some sportswear pieces, showing them in action.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to set up their own Instagram?

Be prepared for trolls and bots, they will come and it’s never pretty, just delete their hate and move on. Always be cautious with security and identity theft etc. report anything suspicious or outright wrong. Have fun with it, unless you have to portray a certain level of professionalism if it’s for a business, don’t take it too seriously because people prefer personality and intrigue to corporate and sensible. Stay within the legal and appropriate uses of the site so you can keep enjoying its values.

What’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve ever been given?

Stay true to what you want, take suggestions on board and be willing to hear opinions but you can use and discard whatever you want. Art is subjective, if there is talent, there is always an audience.

That usually brings me down from breaking point if I’m struggling with something.

You can follow this lovely lady on her Instagram '@verena_hanley'. She is always posting wonderful fashion and modelling photographs. Photography by Emma Bowman. 

Rhiannon BrittenComment