27 April 2023

Rome, Paris, Milan and Wagga: Aunty Cheryl is 'stylin up' the Riverina with recycled fashion

| Chris Roe
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Aunty Cheryl Penrith

Aunty Cheryl Penrith is well known in op-shops throughout the Riverina and Snowy Valleys. Photo: Chris Roe.

Aunty Cheryl Penrith is undoubtedly one of Wagga’s best dressed citizens and she’s on a mission to get the Riverina to lift its fashion game and do it in a sustainable way.

“There’s a bit of a saying: ‘Every day is a runway and the world is our fashion show’,” she said with a smile, announcing this year’s ‘Hand Me Down – Style Me Up’ program at the Wagga Art Gallery.

“I’m a fashionista and I’m a stylist, so I love dressing up and I love clothes, and I’m an op-shopper.”

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The Wiradjuri elder and op-shop queen loves to share her secrets and also works to empower others to make bold fashion choices and to be confident in themselves.

“I think how you dress really tells people about who you are,” she mused, explaining that she came late to fashion after years of caring for her critically ill husband.

“I’d get around in tracksuits and check shirts, but he passed away 11 years ago and I thought, I’ve got all this time on my hands, I’m going to build a life that I want to live.”

The Wiradjuri elder decided to ‘style up’ and embraced op-shopping as her new passion. She found that her creativity and confidence began to grow to the point that she began sharing her style tips online with a growing audience.

“Everybody in all the op-shops around from here to Tumut to Gundagai and out to Griffith, people know me everywhere I go,” she said with pride.

Aunty Cheryl Penrith and Dr Lee-Anne Hall

“Fashionista”, Aunty Cheryl Penrith and art gallery director, Dr Lee-Anne Hall. Photo: Chris Roe.

Wagga Art Gallery Director Dr Lee-Anne Hall said Aunty Cheryl’s knack for recycled fashion was a perfect fit for Wagga Art Gallery’s 2023 GREEN environmental program, and she hopes it challenges people to rethink their choices.

“Years ago people would hand clothes down, they would repair their clothes. They had a different kind of relationship to clothes than we do today with fast fashion,” she said.

“We’re really looking at rethinking again, those precious resources, because clothes are made out of both natural fibres and they’re also made out of fossil fuels.

“Dig deep and you’ll find that it’s oil that’s fuelling most of our fashion today and we are throwing it away and it takes a very long time to break down.”

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The Hand Me Down – Style Me Up workshops kick off on Saturday with a clothes swap, dressing up, photos and plenty of yarning about how to find your own style.

Aunty Cheryl explained that participants would be welcomed into a safe space where they could find confidence they didn’t know they had.

“I think it’s a real challenge to try to get people to shift the way that they think about themselves by just dressing people up using different clothes,” she said.

“I say to people, ‘Before you walk out the door, have a look at yourself in the mirror. If you haven’t got a bit of colour on, go and grab a scarf or a pretty jacket or a cardigan’.”

With the Wagga Cup next weekend, Aunty Cheryl says it’s a chance for Waggaites to strut their stuff beyond the racetrack.

“How fantastic would it be to see all the people downtown just looking really fantastic,” she said before taking it a surprising step further.

“We could be up there with Rome and Paris and New York, and it only takes a few people to have a think about putting on a bit of colour!”

You can sign up for the workshops here.

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