Made to Measure with Max – Part Three The Age of the Purple Ladies



With a background in fashion and garment construction, and having run his own made-to-measure business, Maximillian has fantastic insight into fashion trends and dressing for self expression. To read Part One of this series where I talk to Max about all things fashion, click HERE or for Part Two: The Rise of Androgyny, click HERE.



With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit



During our time together, Max and I discussed some of the many ways in which we police ourselves in how we choose to present ourselves. The ‘rules’ that we choose to keep to can be related to gender, class, culture, but also our age.

We got onto the topic when I told Max about how ever since my friend had a baby, she doesn’t buy clothing for herself that has animals or animal print on it. She told me ‘I am a Mum now so I can’t wear something that young and playful.’ This intrigued Max.

We already have these rules about what is appropriate and why do we have those rules? Who dictates those rules? I’m fascinated to know who she thinks is watching and making a judgement. Is it really because she thinks she couldn’t possibly wear those or is it because she thinks that if she wears those she will be judged in a certain way by some of her peers, whoever they are, whether that’s family, friends, other mothers, you know?’


Should. The word should is fascinating. Who creates that? You know, sometimes I think that it’s all these constant subtle messages that we receive from media, that we receive from looking at people around us. We make up these rules. Again, it’s the idea of uniform. If we see lots of people in our age group wearing these sorts of clothes then we start to categorize what we should wear to be acceptable in this category.’


For my generation, it has been my experience that teenagers want to look older and wear short skirts or piercings that clearly distinguish that they are no longer a child. However, Max says that teenagers wanting to dress older has diminished significantly in his lifetime.

‘I have to say, having grown up in the 80s, I just remember up until the early to mid or late 80s teenagers wanted to dress as adults and be perceived as adults and that doesn’t really happen as much in the same way now. People want to be seen as being young, people who are older than teenagers want to be seen as being young in many instances. That’s really dramatically changed.’

Two things that I can see have changed from that time. One is, young people aren’t dressing to look old any more. They used to really dress to look older. To look ten, fifteen years older. I mean, previously there was quite a much clearer distinction between age groups, I think that’s really breaking down. Now people don’t do that. Teenagers don’t necessarily want to look like adults. They don’t want to look like 28 year olds which is what they used to want.’

‘…teenagers were wearing jackets, blazers with shoulder pads: totally indicative of money, power, professionalism, adulthood. Which was hugely fed by: a) Norman Bell’s Dynasty costumes, with shoulder pads referencing 1940s (and business) symbols of affluence, working professionally (which was inherently an adult occupation). And b) British royal family, Sloane Rangers (again power – but social power as well as wealth).’


Something that I had heard Max mention in passing was that of the ‘Purple Ladies.’ This is a title he has affectionately given to a minority of women who, once they reached a certain age, chose to predominantly or only wear purple clothing. When I asked Max about this decision to become a Purple Lady he jokingly told me ‘You should be asking my Mum because she is a card holding Purple Lady. She’s a regular.’

I think there’s a few different potential aspects to it. We can’t ignore the spiritual side to purple. Even throughout history purple has been a colour which is identified with spiritual power. In quite a variety of different beliefs. It’s not the only colour obviously but it has had significance in a large range of spiritual and religious beliefs about being a colour of power and spirit. I’ve also had a theory – I’m just laying out some things that could be valid things – I’ve heard that people’s perception of colour changes over age and just as people’s perception of fragrance and taste and hearing changes and that some people for some reason, women in particular seem to veer towards purple. They may have gone through pink, then through red in their middle years and then crimson and then gone to purple? I’m just putting that out there as a theory that someone recounted to me once. I don’t know how scientifically based that is…’


While Joseph’s poem (above) is well known among the Purple Ladies Max has spoken to, this attraction to purple seems to be more than just a woman who has let go of certain self or society imposed rules and regulations. Perhaps Purple Ladies are tapping into something much deeper or more historical. Perhaps this is only possible when you begin to release your grip on self policing and allowing yourself more freedom in your self expression?

I think that purple is a really important symbol for a lot of women and I think that it relates to their sense of self and their personal sense of spirituality, their sense of belief and I think that those beliefs often don’t fit into any orthodox religion, necessarily. I think it relates to being a symbol of their own sense of intuition and knowing, their own sense of wisdom. A lot of the Purple Ladies that I have spoken to have a sense of their own intuition about belief, knowing, and spirit that doesn’t belong to any of the codified systems and I think that’s a very strong symbol for them. A lot of people who are into purple are also into crystals and what we currently refer to as new age beliefs or practices but I think it’s a lot older than that.’

Max comments, ‘I think for the Purple Ladies it’s not just putting on a colour. It’s them. Yeah, I think it’s an aspect of them. I’m not going to say that it’s the same aspect for every Purple Lady… you’d have to ask each of them, that would be an interesting interview: “Purplism”.’

Whether it be for a teenager experimenting with standing out vs fitting in, a twenty-something trying to ‘adult’, a middle aged woman letting go of unnecessary self inflicted body policing, or a woman looking for a purple trench coat to complete her purple wardrobe, fashion holds the opportunity to express whatever it is you want to say in a certain chapter of your life. I think it is important to remember that the chapters of one’s life will look and feel different for everyone. Some Mums wear pants with rabbits on them and some don’t, and that’s okay.


For the final part of Made to Measure with Max I ask him about fitting clothes for different bodies.

Bicky Lee

Bicky Lee

Bicky Lee is a feminist performance artist from New Zealand. She writes for Hot Chicks with Big Brains and Tearaway as well as Leiden and enjoys looking after her friend's cats.

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