The Shirt and the Iron

by Adele Leung

For the last sixteen years, my work revolved around clothes and fashion.

But I have never acquired the love for ironing…at least not until today.

I have a great appreciation for clothing, both in its functional and aesthetic purposes.  But more so, it is the art of expression through clothing that I find intriguing.  I do not believe that clothing on their own have power.  They cannot, in essence, give us anything.  What the fashion industry sells, actually is not clothing, but branding and marketing.  What I know though, is when we begin to know who we truly are, the fire within us will fluidly translate and impress into everything we are, including what we wear or not wear.  Therefore, the reason I continue to work in fashion, is because this industry somehow has got it all reversed…yet I have digressed.

My dislike in ironing reflects my long time rebellion towards authority and perfection, I find anything too flawless, unnerving; and I certainly don’t like to be told what to do .  Starched, perfectly pressed white shirts represented a sort of acquiescence for me.  I much prefer denim shirts, with their worn out softness and fading color.  Livingness is the preciousness in life for me.

Today I am preparing for a styling job–the wardrobe consisted of 5 cotton dress shirts and several jackets.  If there is one insufficiency of garment steamers, it would be their inability to provide a well-pressed shirt.  Dress shirts and irons are definitely a complementary match.  I prepared to plug in the iron and wait for the ironing experience to begin.

Due to my general distaste and lack of patience for ironing, never have I taken this responsibility seriously.  When I was young, I had burned clothes and burned myself–until a few years ago, the triangular-shaped iron burn I left on my right inner wrist was still visible.  The photo shoot to be commenced this afternoon requires close up shots, the product being sold is high-end and elegant, so the shirts had to be impeccable.

So ironing I began.  And ironing I continued.  For one shirt I ironed forever, experimenting, experiencing, exploring…ironing in circular motions, straight lines, horizontally; without water, with water or steam; digging into the nooks and crannies around the particularly stubborn areas of creases; figuring out the ways to alleviate issues caused by over-spraying or stray-spraying of  water droplets; laying out the shirt in particular ways and developing a personal sequence of ironing order of shirt parts and so forth.

A lot of time has passed.  I finally finished ironing the 5 shirts.  And realized that it is not necessary anymore to resist what was purely my perception and projection of authority.  I no longer needed to fight against what I have always felt was absurd or clearly ridiculous.  What is life opened up in grand proportions and ease when the need to have something my way disappears.  Suddenly I felt like I have grown up.

And more importantly, I had enjoyed the ironing.

Photo: UN Workshop