Welcome to the latest highly exciting instalment of Who What Wear UK’s Best Wardrobes in Britain. It’s where we do exactly what it says on the tin: delve into the most fantastical, awe-inspiring and downright influential wardrobes in this fair country of ours. We’re honing in on the women who cause the street style photographers to press their shutters as much as the characters you don’t yet know—the ones who fly under the radar with secretly incredible clothing collections.
Currently, the idea of stepping inside someone else's home is unthinkable, however, before the country went into lockdown back in March, I entered one of the cheeriest flats in London for our Best Wardrobes in Britain franchise. Everything about Zeena Shah's home reflects her optimistic outlook—she lives in a one-bedroom flat in a 1920s Art Deco building in East London which has a baby blue and sugary pink exterior that looks it belongs in Miami, and certainly not Hackney. It's a fitting backdrop for Zeena given she dresses like a rainbow every day of the week and you could use the word 'pretty' to describe pretty much everything she owns.
Zeena is the Art Director of the children's book company Wonderbly, however, she is also a print textile designer, has published two books and often runs craft workshops. The work she does with fashion brands on her Instagram account is, therefore, a tiny fraction of her working week. Her little corner of the internet is filled with things that make her, and many others, happy—every image has a big smile, positive affirmations and lots of colour. It's no surprise then that with such a cheery disposition she works for a children's illustration company.
On Zeena: H&M Studio Shirt and Trousers from previous collection; Stine Goya Hairclip; Swedish Stockings Recycled Socks.
Since going into lockdown many of us have had to reassess what makes us happy, and it is certainly challenging for many to keep a positive focus in the face of the relentless news cycle. Zeena has tried to unite her followers behind something uplifting, by every week dressing in the seven colours of the rainbow, and asking everyone else to join her in this thematic dressing. It's a small initiative that she says has helped her to keep smiling. She has also set up the hashtag #diversifyyourfeed to introduce her followers to her favourite accounts created by people of colour, and to make sure "we’re listening to everyone and educating ourselves and those around us and not looking away."
Having spent several hours among Zeena's dress collection and an array of trinkets, what I appreciated the most about her wardrobe was how established and identifiable her own personal style is. Even her sofa and the prints on her wall are in line with this aesthetic. There can be an idea that a "uniform" means sticking to minimalist, simple pieces, however, Zeena shows that "timeless style" can mean a different thing for everyone and that you can wear a lot of colours but still shop mindfully. I have a feeling that if I revisited Zeena in 10 years' time, she'd still be wearing a pastel jumpsuit with a statement headband.
Keep scrolling for a glimpse inside her very colourful wardrobe.
Tell us about the rainbow challenge. What was your idea for this and how has it impacted your mood?
I love colour. I'm always drawn to it and instantly notice the benefits of wearing colour can have on your mood. At a time when there was so much uncertainty and sadness, I wanted to share some positivity and a bit of a distraction from all that was going on. My friend and fellow content creator Natalie Wall and I got chatting and realised we had both spotted rainbows the symbol of hope appearing in windows as we went on our daily walks. We both live in rented art deco buildings (small world) and couldn't paint our listed buildings windows so decided to re-create the rainbow of hope on our Instagram feeds. Within a few days, we'd set a colour for each day (pink on Wednesdays was a must) and we were off.
We dressed in a colour a day and within a day or two, we'd had so many of our followers join in. It brought so much joy to see my community join in and spread some joy through colour. I had so many lovely messages of how it encouraged people to get up and out of bed and dressed in something fun. Even families got involved. It also reinvigorated a love for mine and other's wardrobes. It was so successful and we didn't want it to end so ended up adding two extra days to the challenge. We created a dateless version of the colour prompts and it still brings so much joy to scroll through the #instarainbowchallenge hashtag and see how much positivity it has helped to spread.
How has what you have worn throughout lockdown had an impact on your mood and what have you been wearing the most at home?
I started off the lockdown embracing loungewear like most of Instagram. Wearing coloured and printed jogging bottoms on repeat was oh-so-comfortable, but I quickly found it put me into a "weekend mood" and made me feel less motivated than usual and ready to binge Netflix all day every day, which is very unlike me. So I kept getting dressed and putting on nice dresses just for me! I've definitely been much more creative with my wardrobe, delving into the back and digging out forgotten gems. I've also become a big slippers gal and save my loungewear for the weekends!
Do you think clothes can have an impact on your mood and focus?
They definitely can. I've noticed a huge difference in my mood and focus over the past ten weeks. I'd encourage everyone to get up and get dressed, the routine itself helps to set some focus and motivation for the day ahead. The more colourful the better!
Have you always worn so much colour?
I used to be a real navy and black girl, but in recent years as fashion has evolved there has been more colourful pieces available to buy. I am always drawn to colour, print and pattern.
What is your favourite colour?
Definitely pink! It has to be pink. I hated it as a child, but maybe five years ago I started wearing more pastels. I bought a pale pink boilersuit from Urban Outfitters, and I was hooked. From that moment I was obsessed with pink, and it started coming into interiors and I started collected little bits here and there. And now I'm addicted to the colour!
On Zeena: Résumé dress, & Other Stories Headband.
Have you always been very into interiors?
Yes, I'm always someone who curates every aspect of my life. My wardrobe is very curated, and I only realised this as I've got older—the way I might put a mood board together, is the way I put my wardrobe and outfits together. Which is slightly bizarre, but then makes so much sense as I'm from a design background. I know what I like, and I know what I don't have in my wardrobe and what I can pair with things. Although you can never have too many boilersuits! I know that a vintage prairie dress will always fit in with everything I already have—like the trainers and the headbands.
Do you then buy a lot of similar things?
Yes, I do end up buying a lot of the same things because I know I like it. It becomes my uniform. I have seven printed shirts that are very similar. I have six or seven pairs of colourful jeans that I rotate with jumpers. I end up having the same sets, that I then rotate them to have a uniform.
Colour can be hard to style, so what are your tips for people wanting to wear more colourful outfits?
Colour can be very difficult to wear if you don't know how to wear it, so you have to build up the collection slowly. Pastel pink is great, as it goes with so many other things and is easy to style. But once you know 'I can wear that with green, blue or orange', wearing a lot of colour becomes a formula. It's like how you mix paint colours actually! So you know pink and red will always look good together, and purple and blues will always slot in easily too.
You can always do it by starting off small—I started to begin with wearing a navy dress with colourful socks. I always had a pop of colour with my socks—partly because you could find them on the high street easily. Topshop had the phase of having loads of colourful socks, and I think it's only in recent years that you could actually find a polo neck in every colour of the rainbow. I used to really struggle to find colourful pieces and just go straight to Uniqlo.
Are there any colours you would never pair together?
I have only gotten into green in the last year or two, as I always avoided it as didn't think it suited my skin tone. But then I found the right shade of green for me. I'd still steer away from foresty dark greens, as they do nothing for me. Brights, acid colours or pale pastels always work better for me.
On Zeena: O Pioneers dress, Adidas Trainers, Shrimps Headband.
You often speak out about sustainability. What are your tips for having a more sustainable and considered wardrobe?
I am definitely on a journey, and am by no means doing it well at all. However, it's about thinking carefully about what you need versus what you want. I have a long way to go and do have a lot of clothes, so am trying to look into my wardrobe first before I ever buy anything new. I try to stop looking at the people who show me Zara's latest piece every single day because that makes me think I want it when I actually don't. My other tip is also to sleep on any decisions. I have been looking at a pair of By FAR shoes in the sale for a month and I keep looking at them, and thinking about them and if I really want them and how much I'll actually wear them. If I am still thinking about them, then I can be certain they'll fit into my wardrobe.
With sustainability there can be the idea that you need very classic, minimal and timeless pieces, but actually, you show it's more about sticking to your own personal style.
I agree. I wear a lot of vintage with high street, and it's all about how you style things, rather than what they are. Things come back into fashion so frequently, so it's about you being confident in your own style and not worrying about wearing things again and again. I don't believe in buying things to wear them once. I buy things that I really love, treasure and want to wear three days in a row.
As an influencer, do you feel conscious of that and not promoting people wanting to buy more?
I tend to not care what people think, and I have that attitude. I see it as my place to be me. If you want to be part of it, join and be part of my family, but I don't feel like we should be worried about the pressure of everybody overthinking things. I treasure my clothes so much, and as I'm from a textile background I am so particular about the fabric and will really check every detail when I'm shopping, such as the quality of the seams.
Because of that, I want to make sure I'm buying and wearing things again and again. Also because I make clothes too, I really appreciate how long it takes to make a garment—one of my dresses took me three days to make. So when you think of a cost of a Topshop dress—and I love the shapes, prints and what they are doing in making clothes accessible and affordable—at the same time I don't want or need to buy one every week, and I can't afford to either. It's much better for my bank balance to re-wear everything in my wardrobe again and again.
Expensive doesn't necessarily always mean better, but I think if you're smart—and you're not buying six Zara tops—you can sometimes buy something from a brand you really love for a little bit more, will treasure and it will last longer because the quality of the fabric is better. Even if you're buying from somewhere independent, you can support amazing places with a purchase, and that makes me feel really good too. It's such a privilege to be able to buy something new, and we must not forget that. I think we have got into a bad habit and a bad culture, and it's important to value what you have already and then think about where (and to who) your money is going.
You love vintage shopping. Where are your favourite places to go in London?
So pre-lockdown, I went to Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney every Saturday (more than often you will find nothing, but when you do it's such a thrill). My top tip is to keep looking and revisiting. Trade in Dalston is amazing—I've seen Alexa Chung drop in big bags on more than one occasion, and then I run in afterwards. Then the affluent areas have the best charity shops and I'll always find a good little vintage trinket in a charity shop in a seaside town.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
Always! My mum is such a shopaholic and I have two sisters, and she used to take us every weekend around the shops for hours and hours. We hated it! She wanted to be the queen of the high street—which she is. She has impeccable style and taste and gave us a love of clothing and of the way you put things together. In Indian culture it's all about colour and the way you put your garments together—you have a top, shawl, sari, accessories etc. It's always very bling and fun and so she has had a big impact on how I dress. She taught me how to make clothes and craft from a young age, so that inspired a lot of my How to Print Fabric book.
On Zeena: L.F. Markey Shorts Set, Tort Clips, Swedish Stockings Socks, Arizona Love Sandals.
How do you balance having a full-time job with all your side projects?
I have always been someone who likes to do a lot of things, and have a varied career. Everything has been very organic as well, but I always say yes to everything, which I'm trying to stop, but I always want to soak up opportunities. It's also about me knowing how I work best—I am 10 times more productive when I'm juggling a lot of things, than having one or two things to do. I also love doing all the things I do so am really lucky.
What are the items you treasure the most?
I think the vintage pieces or things with a story of when I bought them. My Shrimps handbag was a birthday present from my fiancé and was the most extravagant gift he's ever bought me, and I just love everything Shrimps do so it's very special to me. It's things like that that are meaningful that you will keep forever.
And finally, what do you buy the most of?
Boilersuits, colourful socks and jumpers! I could just shop forever, but am trying to stop myself buying anything new. I also have a small flat so have a strict one in and one out policy—and it's nice to sell things on and give things a second life.
On Zeena: UGG sandals, H&M jumper, Topshop jeans, Shrimps hairclip, Arket socks.
Thanks for having us, Zeena!