Vintage Clothing Research Project

Increasingly, students ask me to help with assignments that they have on vintage or the history of dress or the industry – to make things easier, I thought I’d answer Jenny’s questions here. If my responses are of use to you, you’re most welcome to use them with accreditation. Thank you.

How did your shop come about? Where can we find it?
Basically, I’ve collected most of my life. I used to run a vintage shop in Sydney in the late ‘eighties and in 2003 noticed that it had closed down. Sensing an opportunity, I rang the owner and negotiated to buy it. Then we packed it all up, moved it to Melbourne – and set about working what to do. At first, I opened a stall at Chapel Street Bazaar but I wanted more than a hobby, I wanted a lifestyle – so a proper shop was needed.

When did you start collecting vintage clothing?
I’ve always worn vintage, ever since I was a kid (but we called them hand me downs then) and started seriously buying it when I was fifteen. I went through the yellow pages and looked up all the vintage shops and checked them out – it was love at first sight.

Has your view on vintage clothing changed since you first entered the business? How has the market evolved?
Absolutely. After collecting for more than twenty years, I thought I knew a lot, but when it’s your every day existence, you see so much, talk so much, read so much, think so much more. I know at least ten times more now, than I did when I opened.
As far as the market evolving, like every shop I have my niche. In general, I would say that there is more acceptance and awareness of the vintage market – and of course, environmentally, it’s profile will increase too. There are many reasons to buy and wear vintage, it’s great to see that appreciation.

Describe your customer. Who are you selling to?
My customers are men and women from 14 to 74 – people with a sense of style who appreciate good quality with a sense of history. Some are performers or artists, people who want interesting clothings or inspiration.

What is your specialty?
Circa stocks clothing and accessories from the Victorian era to the 1980s: most are from the ’40s or ’50s, with less items from the ’20s-’30s and ’60s-’70s. Our preference is for the better pieces: dressier, more glamourous or well made from good fashion houses. All items are cleaned and fully restored, so they’re ready to wear.

We source our stock locally, so Australian fashion labels are a specialty. Melbourne used to be the fashion hub of Australia so our racks represent the cream of the industry.

We like to be able to present the whole range of accessories so that a whole outfit can be made up – for this reason, we also sell reproduction vintage accessories where the real thing is difficult or impractical, like braces for men and garter belts for ladies.

How do you decide what to sell at any given time?
We like to be able to present a good cross section of items, so most of the range changes little through out the seasons. Coats, swimwear, shorts and playsuits, however, are only brought out at particular times due to space restrictions. When an item is in fashion, we do our best to expand the choice as well

Describe how you price your pieces. How much do your clothes cost?
Our garments are priced on a range for type, style, quality, condition, size and fabric. For example, scarves are priced between $5-35, so a modern design in polyester with a small amount of damage will be at the low end and a 1930s floral rayon crepe will be at the top end. The same works for the other garment types.

Do you sell both women and men’s clothing? Do you find that either market is stronger?
We sell both, probably slightly more ladieswear, although we’re very fond of menswear and the chaps who wear it. It’s my dream one day to have a second shop, to dedicate to menswear, probably something a bit like Old Hat in London. Something reassuringly old fashioned and glamourous.

Do you collect vintage objects other than clothing?
Of course, I love many old things and our home is testiment to this – but I try to limit my collecting to clothing. An exception is Golora, a photograph from 1915 taken by Charles Gilhousen. Every photo is hand tinted, and so different – my parents had one when I was a child. I have six now.

Where is your favorite place to thrift?
I can’t resist a good forage at an op shop, and rarely miss an opportunity but have to admit that rarely do I find anything of the requisite quality or era. I keep looking though, as you never know.

What is the best piece you ever bought?
“Best” is such a relative term – there are many amazing things out there. Perhaps it was the Paul Poiret hand painted silk coat, trimmed in monkey fur, or the 1930s evening gown by Schiaparelli, or the 1920s beaded Chanel frock that needs some serious restoration, or likewise, the 1930s Vionnet boudoir gown? I love them all, no matter how grand or ordinary.

Please add anything else you would like here:
I hope that my answers are of use to you and your project!