You could say that Sue Tilley knows a thing or two about style, having previously moonlighted as club kid in residence at performance artist Leigh Bowery’s legendary Taboo nightclub, whilst simultaneously being hailed as official artist muse to a certain Lucian Freud.

Avid readers may recall my Artist Spotlight feature with Sue Tilley (Issue 150), which ran earlier this year during those initial tenebrous days of the pandemic. Captivated by her flamboyant persona and inimitable flair for all things creative, when Sue asked if I’d be interested in writing about her street fashion photography project, some months on, I felt only too happy to oblige!

Sue and I caught up post lockdown, in the final throes of the long hot summer of 2020, to talk about the eclectic attire of Hastings and St Leonards most fashion savvy residents and why looking good has never been so vital!

Left to right: Personal Shopper Maxine, 58, St Leonards/ London, Fashion Designer Stephen Linard, 61, St Leonards, Burlesque Performer Linda, 40, St Leonards
PICTURES: Sue Tilley

I absolutely adore your street fashion photography as currently showcased on your Instagram page @Stleonardsandhastingsfashions. What inspired you to start taking pictures of the people featured?

Well I was visiting a friend who lived here in Hastings, before I moved down from London, in 2017. I remember seeing a lady cycling down Norman Road… she was wearing a beautiful bright yellow beret which immediately caught my eye! People in Hastings and St Leonards always seem to look so interesting and really make an effort style-wise. I was very much drawn to the area for that reason and have since decided to capture the latter on my travels around town! I already knew some of the people in my pictures beforehand, but many were strangers who have subsequently gone on to become friends!

What do you think makes Hastings and St Leonards unique when it comes to one’s sense of personal style? What do you look for when scouting for new subjects to join the acclaimed echelons of your virtual gallery on Instagram?

I like to take photos of people who dress with a sense of purpose and aren’t afraid to make a statement in what they wear. I’m a huge fan of vintage fashion and also love bright colours – theres such a wonderful plethora of second-hand shops within the local area; people have everything they need to dress in a creative, yet affordable way. I think the amazing arts scene here has a lot to do with people’s dress sense too, all of that visual flair seems to spill out of the galleries onto the streets and I just can’t get enough of it! I’ve always been drawn to people who stand out from the crowd – people who aren’t afraid to be themselves.

How much do you think the location of Hastings as a coastal town influences its residents’ sense of style and individuality, compared to the bustling metropolis of a city such as London?

I think where you live can definitely influence how you present yourself to the rest of the world. The pace of life in the city is so different to that of Hastings – it all seems much more centred around work and monetary gain in London – everyone looks the same! Seaside towns have long been associated with leisure and relaxation and I think people’s style here reflects that. I also think Hastings is very unique – even compared to the nearby towns of Bexhill and Eastbourne – as we have a very long and esteemed tradition of dressing up here. I love Pirates Day and Jack in the Green – such unique community events really celebrate daily life here and encourage anyone who wants to take part to make an outfit or just come along for some fun. I know some people who spend weeks planning what they’re going to wear! People don’t take themselves too seriously here and I think that’s so important in life overall.

How would you describe your own personal sense of style, and do you think this has changed or evolved in any way since relocating to Hastings, from London?

I’d say my style is very mixed – I tend to pick up items to wear at random, wherever I find them! I like zany colours and bold designs. I often think I dress more like a child than a grown woman of sixty-three, but that’s just me! I’ve definitely become more comfortable in my own skin since moving to Hastings – I have more of a tan now, which is nice, and I’ve allowed the grey to grow out in my hair too. I definitely wear less makeup these days – I still love my red lipstick though –it just seems to have the power to make even the most overcast of days brighter!

How important do you think fashion and individual style is in our everyday lives, and how much does it relate to our personal wellbeing and sense of self-expression?

What people choose to wear can really help to define them, as clothes can say so much about who you are as a person. It’s almost primal and feels quite instinctual in a way; I see personal style as an integral part of the human condition. There can be a downside to all of this however: we’ve set so many restrictions for ourselves over the years fashion-wise. For example, by enforcing ridiculous rules such as having to wear a smart jacket to an exclusive restaurant, or a woman being expected to wear heels to work in order to look ‘professional’. The good news is that society is slowly changing and evolving as attitudes move forwards; but these issues are still worth holding in mind!

Ultimately, I firmly believe that getting dressed each day should be fun, something to enjoy, it’s a form of self-care. I hope the images of people on my Instagram help celebrate this, whilst also giving a glimpse into life in our wonderful town!

Thank you so much for your time Sue, it’s been a real pleasure as always! Do you have any style tips you’d like to impart for any budding fashionistas in the local vicinity, eager to be featured on your Instagram page?

Yes of course, here are my style essentials:

• Always be comfortable in what you wear and don’t forget to own it, self-confidence can make or break an outfit!

• Don’t be afraid to mix things up – a touch of disordered messy fashion is always good!

• Forget trends and what the media says you should wear – make up your own rules fashion-wise and just go with it!

• Lastly my Instagram says it’s celebrating the style of the over-forties in Hastings and St Leonards – I’d like to take this opportunity to say that you’re never too young or too old for fashion, so go out there and make it your own!

Please refer to Sue Tilley’s official Instagram page @stleonardsandhastingsfashions for all the latest updates on her one-woman fashion crusade!

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