A Bettr Series
Image credit: Wong Chu Hui
I spoke with Chu Hui over the phone on a Sunday evening. As a healthcare professional who works in a private clinic in the day, she now volunteers her evenings at the Expo to facilitate the recovery of patients with coronavirus. Our conversation was brief, I was wary of how long I was holding her up for. This conversation is a glimpse into her hectic schedule about her relationship with wear.
As I replay the audio recording of our interview, I notice how Chu Hui’s voice is calm and assuring. Though I have never met her in person, I imagine her presence to be comforting and consoling. In the short 30 minutes, we spoke about her everyday attire, the hospital scrubs, clothing rental experiences and her attempt at creating a capsule wardrobe.
For Chu Hui, wear is essential.
Xingyun: Let us start with a short introduction of yourself and what your habits around clothing wear and use are.
Chu Hui: I am a doctor, so I have to present myself to the public daily. I subscribe to clothing rental platforms and this has helped me to not purchase new items! Looking presentable for work is extremely important to me, so renting helps with not buying new but looking put together at the same time.
Image description: Chu Hui is wearing a pink, white and black pinstripe cape dress, rented from Style Theory. She is hugging Moses, her 3-year-old puppy.
Xingyun: As a clothing renter, how do you view the importance of ownership over the clothes you wear?
Chu Hui: I think it did when I was younger. I was more sensitive and less open to these ideas — only until I was exposed to swapping by my sister (fact nugget: Chu Hui is the older sister of Chu Yun, founder of Shop Bettr), I thought about how it is possible to wash my clothes and wear them again! At work, hospital scrubs are also washed and worn again by different users, so I gradually drew a parallel between the two and became more open to the idea of sharing. I also love how there are many options available on the rental market — a wide range of sizes and styles to select from and convenience of delivery also help.
Xingyun: I did not know that scrubs are washable and re-wearable!
Chu Hui: Yes they are! You can wash and wear them over and over again.
Xingyun: This is new to me, I always assumed that scrubs were made of disposable material. But then again I get most of my limited medical knowledge from watching TV programmes ...
Chu Hui: Maybe we’re confusing scrubs with OT gowns here. Scrubs are washable and re-wearable, while OT gowns (outerwear for operations) may or may not be - it is hospital-dependent. While some hospitals try to be sustainable by providing re-wearable ones, the cost of maintaining sterility is pretty steep and with the current situation, most opt for disposable OT gowns instead. To my knowledge, there will always be wastage in the medical field because it is inevitable. Although there are some ways to reduce waste. For instance, in surgeries, the cloth that is used to cover the patient’s face and other non-operating sites is reusable. So there is an effort in minimising wastage.
Xingyun: Referring back to your stories of ongoing use, what comes to mind at this moment?
Chu Hui: When I think about the clothes that I wear, I think about what colours and silhouettes suit my body type and what styles I want to project. As I grow older, I am learning to live with less. I even tried living out of a capsule wardrobe for a short while! My wardrobe usually consists of staple pieces and solid colours. I emphasise on clothes that provide me with the versatility of mixing and matching, whilst ensuring that I still look put together.
Xingyun: I am so sorry to ask you about work again, but I was wondering if you wear a white coat when you are working?
Chu Hui: Not unless you are a medical student. Doctors on duty usually wear scrubs provided by hospitals and clinics. Scrubs are easy to wash and care for because they are not made of delicate material. It is convenient for doctors who have less time to think about what to put on a daily or have excess time to do laundry. It is just really convenient.
Xingyun: Since you mentioned you are in scrubs most of the time, how does that affect the choices you make towards dressing yourself daily?
Chu Hui: I wore scrubs straight to work from home when I used to have 6.30 am call times. I don’t think it affects how I dress, I reach for my scrubs because it is convenient. If I am returning straight home after work, I don’t have to think much about what I wear in the morning.
Xingyun: So do you view the scrub as a type of uniform?
Chu Hui: Yes, I will say that it is a uniform.
Xingyun: Due to how sensitive the image of a healthcare worker has become in the public eye because of the pandemic, do you think it affects how you see yourself and the way you dress?
Chu Hui: I think so. There was a recent occasion where I felt self-conscious about being seen in my scrubs in public. I went to grab a drink outside of my clinic and the person standing beside me then, literally jumped when he saw me. So it affects healthcare workers. I would say that I am more mindful with my social distancing, as we all should, but particularly more so if I am in scrubs.
Xingyun: With everything that is going on right now that has directly caused a huge shift in your habits at work and a change in schedule, has this affected the way you dress?
Chu Hui: Has the pandemic affected the way I dress? I would say I am more inclined to wear scrubs these days. The effective way to kill off coronavirus on fabric is to wash it at a temperature above 60 degree celsius. There are a lot of delicates in my wardrobe that cannot withstand harsh washing conditions like my scrubs can, so if I know I am not heading out after work, I will opt to wear my scrubs.
Xingyun: So on one hand being seen in scrubs causes you to be more cautious of your actions, but you are still more inclined to put it on because it is safer that way.
Chu Hui: Pre-COVID, I was always conscious of my image at work. But, right now, scrubs are my staple. My priority is still the health and safety of my patients and my family and friends. I do make a conscious effort to make sure that I don’t go out to eat my lunches and prevent walking around too much in my scrubs beyond the premise of the clinic.
Xingyun: Would you say that you were more of an avid clothes renter pre-pandemic than you are now?
Chu Hui: Yes for sure. I used to schedule and stagger my rentals from different rental platforms every week. I am still on my subscriptions to support these companies, but I am not actively renting anything now.
Xingyun: Are there any particular outfits that you are loving at the moment?
Chu Hui: I have two dresses that I wear very, very often. The first one is an olive green Everlane dress. It is fairly simple, has a crewneck and a flowy silhouette. It comes with pockets! It has a nice slit on the side and ends at my calves. The other dress is quite similar, it is a navy blue dress from COS that is made of a silky material. It ends just below my knees, so I am aware that I gravitate towards longer dresses.
Image description: Chu Hui wearing a long, flowy navy blue dress
Xingyun: Has it always been the case?
Chu Hui: When I was younger, I would always opt for something shorter. Now, I try to maintain a minimal wardrobe that provides me with the versatility to mix and match my pieces with ease. I like solid, simple colours, nothing too conspicuous like a big flower motif.
Xingyun: Just off the top of your mind, is there a piece of clothing that you wear the most often?
Chu Hui: (laughs) I do wear this one white blouse quite often. It's one of the few pieces that I have kept from med school until now. It still fits, so that's a plus. It looks formal enough to be worn to work, but it also has a dual purpose where I can wear it to meals with friends depending on how I style it.
Xingyun: Is this why you still keep it till today? Because of its duality and functionality.
Chu Hui: Yes, I think so. I think that is probably why.
Xingyun: Do you mind describing who or what shaped your style over the years?
Chu Hui: I do like a very classic look. I think it takes after my love for the oldies. For example, Audrey Hepburn has got a very well put together look that I enjoy. I do think that as a result of this, I gravitate towards a more simple and classic silhouette — I do like to have either a white or black base with a shirt or a pencil skirt and build my outfit from there. And if I feel like it, I add a pop of colour with my shoes, accessories or even my bottoms. I like the boat neck cut now. It makes me feel put together.
Image description: Accompanied by Moses and Miri, Chu Hui is wearing a white Everlane crop top and a pair of striped skort from The Fashion Pulpit
When asked to describe what her favourite items of clothing are at the moment, Chu Hui describes the details of the dresses she mentioned with ease. She was not home when we spoke, which means she was recalling the elements of the garments from memory. Her easy recounting of the specificity of each garment proves the frequency of her wearing them. So often that the way they look and feel is etched in her mind.
The process of getting acquainted with a particular garment, followed by the repeated intention of wearing it over and over again, sometimes happens subconsciously. We all have wardrobe basics we fall back on — they make us feel safe and seen by holding spaces. These habits of wear are integrated into our lives through ongoing use, and over time, they become essential elements to our wardrobe.
Chu Hui’s story on her relationship with wear leaves us on one final note — not all heroes wear capes — some of them wear scrubs!
Xingyun is a fashion business graduate who advocates for a more humane fashion system. Seeking to address the importance of intersectionality when analysing fashion sustainability, she runs @noordinaryprotest as a platform to call for a shift in mindset. Her favourite time of the day is 5 pm, and her go-to fashion activity is swapping.