She wears it well

19th January 2007 at 00:00
Challenged to find a different outfit every day, Sue Wade tells Irena Barker how she tried almost everything - even perspex

Sue Wade has not always been obsessed with clothes. On her first day at work as a teaching assistant at Hethersett High School in Hethersett, near Norwich, she blended into the crowd in a mumsy skirt and comfy flat shoes.

But when she found that wearing her mother's vintage cashmere and diamonds solved her discipline problems, a new passion for workplace fashion was born.

Last year Sally Hirst, the school's head of art, noticed Sue's snappy dressing and the fact that she never seemed to wear the same outfit twice.

Spotting a great idea for a photography project, she challenged the 63-year-old to turn up at school in something different every day - for a whole year.

Sue's incredible sartorial efforts were recorded daily on a digital camera and uploaded to a website. And she more than met the challenge, managing to keep it up for 18 months. In the end she clocked up 400 outfits - some of which were quite outlandish, others more workaday, but all the cause of much conversation and debate.

Some of her more outrageous outfits have included a perspex box, a Father Christmas costume, and even a bucket. She has trawled charity shops in posh Norfolk neighbourhoods for some couture bargains, raided her mum's collection of 1940s wear, rifled through her own wardrobe and even travelled the globe.

In Peru, she was handed a traditional outfit by a woman in the street and in Libya, a police escort offered her his shirt.

Her daughter also bought a floor-length, purple velvet coat from a costume sale in Hollywood, which is one of Sue's favourites. The other is a green and black spotty outfit from the 1980s. It is really a pair of flares converted into a skirt and was worn to raise money for Comic Relief because it is so awful.

Sue, who was awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours for services to education, says: "The pupils are always excited to find out what I'm wearing each day, especially the boys. I'm definitely doing it for the kids. It's a great way to connect with them because each outfit has a story, sparking discussion. We talk about the textiles, the colours, where the clothes have come from.

"It has also gone a long way to tackling the children's obsession with designer labels. They have learnt that it is better to be original and inventive. And with the help of my friends and family, I haven't spent that much money - I haven't needed to."

But has Sue ever slipped up and worn the same thing more than once? "Not that you would notice," she says. "I'm always snipping and trimming things, making them into something new."

And according to Sally, Sue shows no sign of stopping. "She's amazingly energetic and creative and she has gone on longer than we thought she possibly could."

But what plans does Sally have for her incredible series of photographs?

"Some have suggested making a flicker book or perhaps a pack of cards. I would like to exhibit the pictures locally. I think Sue would be keen on that."

Visit www.flickr.com.photoshethersett

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