Posted by Nicole in 1940s, Shop talk, Vintage 101 7 Comments

Have you noticed that I run a home for lost frocks? Since 1980 I’ve adopted dirty, damaged and downright neglected frocks. Frocks that were once beautiful and have fallen on hard times – abandoned by everyone else, I’ve sheltered them from harm and promised to one day return them to their days of glory.

It’s a good thing that you don’t see them as they come to me – many are in a very sad state. Most of my collection is more than fifty years old and that invariably seems to mean they’ve spent a spell out in the wild – stored in a leaky shed or attic, or perhaps crushed in boxes under beds. As long as the fabric is strong, I can help them though.

There’s an enormous pleasure to be derived from taking something that looks like it’s fit for the rag bin and turning it back into a thing of beauty to be enjoyed.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been going through hundreds of pieces, selecting items for tomorrow’s online garage sale and this little darling was sheltering amongst them.

Dress 6

It had been scrunched up in a ball, and stored somewhere damp. Long since dried out, it shows scars and stains from its ordeal.

The fabric is a sharkskin style shot taffeta, with a self-spot. Silk or rayon, a crisp fabric that needs to be dry cleaned. Generally I send frocks like this straight off to the cleaner but I haven’t had much success in them getting stains out so I thought perhaps it could go into the garage sale instead. I gave it a good pressing, but soon uncovered more issues.

Dress 1

Can you see the issues? It’s a beautiful and flattering dancing dress from the very late 1940s with a full circle skirt. The buttons are missing their rhinestones and the belt is missing too but this is an eminently wearable dress, even in its current condition – would look lovely with a crinoline petticoat for extra swoosh.

Are you ready? Look carefully for the large watermark stains, tinged with yellow and brown.

Dress 2

Dress 3

Dress 4

I can soak all of those out with an oxywash cleaner – warm water, and repeated soaks and they will come out. I’ll remove the buttons first (they already need their rhinestone centres replacing) and the dress will look much better – except that the taffeta will crease and lose its crispness and the dress might become floppy like a cotton.

However, on looking at these photos, you can see that the dress is already very crumpled after its adventures over the past sixty odd years so maybe it’s a risk worth taking? I’m going to give it a shot.

If you’re wondering why I don’t spot clean it, it’s because I’ve had too many bad experiences with the dye fading under modern products so I always treat the whole dress.

So this is one frock that won’t be going into the garage sale, but there are many more – it opens tomorrow, is only online (not in the salon) and I hope you find something lovely. There are sizes 2 to 18, from a hundred years of fashion and even some menswear all priced to clear. If you’d like to save the shipping you can pick your orders up from the shop in the week starting October 15th – Circa will be closed next week.

Dress 5

I’ll let you know how I go with the dress!

Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Shop talk 11 Comments

Are you excited about the federal election tomorrow? I’m not.

I’ve been involved in almost every election (state and federal) since 1977 due to my unusually political family. At one stage or another, for one reason or another, I’ve campaigned and handed out how-to-votes for the Liberals, the ALP, the Democrats and the Greens.

My personal political leanings don’t change, more that I like to support friends and family, who have previously included a senator and currently include a couple of MPs. I even stood myself once, for the local council!

Happy 1

Around half of the population is going to be disappointed tomorrow, as their candidate or their party fails to get elected. I remind myself of this because it will hopefully soften the blow as I expect to be one of those people and not winning is never a nice feeling.

The fact is that I live in a fringe world, with fringe interests – and until the majority of the population get over their perception that vintage (because most of it has been worn before) is undesirable and until we can stop buying $5 new dresses made by exploited workers in other countries and until we wake up and realise that we can’t just keep producing new things, filling up landfill forever…well until then, I will continue to dwell happily in my little fringe world caring about things that are unimportant to many.

So it should come as no surprise that most of Australia thinks, and votes differently.


Like me, if you’re feeling a little sad about what tomorrow might bring – here are some ways to make life a little easier.

1 – Join the political party of your choice and get involved. Each has a process for members to influence policy, and the more that agree with you, the more of a difference you can make. It’s hard to achieve much when you’re yelling from the sidelines.

Happy 5

2 – You don’t need to be a member to help out with the campaign. You can even turn up on polling day and help out the volunteers of your preferred party. It can be quite fun on the booth, with a sense of camaraderie and it’s refreshing to find that the how-to-voters get on well, regardless of their political differences. You all share one important thing: you care about the result and are doing your bit.

I’ve met some great people on different sides of the spectrum that I would never meet normally. Minor parties (or major parties in electorates where they have small followings) are generally short of volunteers and thankful for extra helpers. Befriending the people helping other parties means that they might cover you for short breaks too – and (if no one is looking) even hand out your How-to-votes. I’ve done that several times.

Happy 4

3 – There’s nothing better than the feeling that everything’s going your way – but if your party isn’t winning it can be a challenge – remember that your turn may come again with each election and that lending your support can help increase this likelihood, and even when you don’t win, you’ll feel better to have been involved.

Happy 6

4 – Many polling booths are hosting sausage sizzles and cake stalls – check this site to make your voting experience a little nicer, and perhaps come home with a souvenir of the day, all whilst supporting your local community.

Happy 3

5 – Why all the frocks? Because when you’re not feeling so happy, do things that make you happy – go for walks in the park, eat Italian gelati whilst gazing out to sea, visit the NGV or watch an escapist film. Drink gin or champagne (in responsible doses of course!) in the company of like-minded loved ones.

Happy 8

Lucky me, I’m enjoying taking pics of beautiful St Clare in vintage, so here are some of my current favourites. I hope you enjoy them regardless of what tomorrow brings!

Happy 2

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Customers 6 Comments

Okay, so it wasn’t me or my shop, it was one of our frocks but the story stands – here’s St Clare in one of our cotton print ’50s frocks, with her beau Mikelangelo. If you live in the right Melbourne neighbourhood, one of these arrived in your letterbox this week.

Melbourne Leader

This lovely dress is part of the Empire Vintage Collection – and is available in the Melbourne salon or the web shop. I love it.

Melbourne Leader 2

You can read the article online here. It talks about their current show about Johnny Cash called “Song of the Outlaw” and will next be appearing at the Lorne Festival of Performing Arts – we recently caught it at the Newport Sub-station and it’s worth seeing. Don’t be late though. On our night, a bloke was so unhappy about missing “Ring of Fire” the band performed it as an encore. Lucky him, but it was great to hear it again too.

One of the nice things about working with St Clare, is that I get to dress her for her many events – and she takes excellent care of them. It adds to the unique history of the pieces. Here are some more Circa Vintage pieces that are ready for new homes after gracing the stage.

The following pics are all reproduced courtesy Tim Chmielewski and were taken at the final Tin Star gig at the Corner recently.

Tim Chmielewski 1 475

St Clare wears late ’40s silk brocade ballgown.

St Clare TSG 3

St Clare wears 1970s cotton seersucker halter neck dress with fruit print.

St Clare TSG 2

St Clare wears late ’60s fringed suede lace up vest.

St Clare TSG

St Clare wears cotton voile ballgown with ruched bodice.

To even up the balance a little – here’s Mikelangelo in a black self-tie bow tie from Circa. Tying lessons available on request.

Mikelangelo bow tie

Photo reproduced courtesy Mikeangelo. If there’s a more glamourous couple in Melbourne: please introduce me!

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, 1950s, Vintage 101 3 Comments

When I ran Sydney vintage clothing shop “Albert and Gladys” in the late ’80s one of the biggest sellers were ’50s rope petticoats – and they’re still the biggest nostalgia item at Circa, as older ladies see them and get taken back to another time.

They seem to have been de rigueur for a certain era, and were more popular than the big, boofy nylon tulle crinolines trimmed in lace and satin. If you’ve worn both types you’ll know what I’m talking about – the tulle petticoats are lovely but the scratchy nylon puts little rips into your stockings so it’s best to wear a slip underneath them, plus they tend to rip easily.

They do look fabulous though: here’s a nice example from Mags Rags – I’m sure this one won’t hurt your stockings.

yellow crinoline
Image source

We have one at Circa we use for photo shoots and it often needs little repairs. Vintage versions are often shabby if they’ve been worn – I still have all of my old crinolines, that I wore under floral cotton dresses in the ’80s but they’re no longer in good enough condition for resale, so I keep them for old time’s sake.

Cotton rope petticoats on the other hand, are incredibly robust – ladies boiled them up and starched them so they stuck right out, and even when you ripped them badly, they were easy to mend or patch. I’ve often wondered why more haven’t survived, but during the ’60s they were probably thrown out.

Rope (or corded as our American friends call them) petticoats are very full and have rows of rope sewn into casings, to produce a stiffness. They were an early form of hooped petticoat, and go back a long way, as rope has always been an easy to acquire product and they’re simple to make – ladies wore them during the Renaissance and Regency/early Victorian eras before steel hoops came in but in modern times, they’re associated with the late ’40s and ’50s.

One row of rope will give weight to a hem, which will then hang straightly but swing out when dancing, as evidenced here in this late ’40s ballgown worn by Candice DeVille in a fashion parade for the launch of “Our Girls” a book by Madeleine Hamilton.


I’ve sewn many rope petticoats and dresses, and the key is to sew the rope in very tightly. If the casing is too loose, the rope becomes floppy. Sometimes you get many rows of rope, sewn together in parallel rows – as in this re-enactment petticoat found on Pinterest.

corded petticoat 475
Image source

For mid century petticoats the ropes are generally further apart in as in a tiered peasant-style petticoat, as they are in this late ’40s skirt, now available in the web shop.


Wearing petticoats feels wonderful, you just want to swish around in them – and dancing is even better. Once you’ve tried it, I guarantee you’ll want to wear them more often!

I used to wear two or three at a time and once had trouble at a party, when my skirts were too wide to fit down the hallway of a Newtown Victorian terrace house. Ah, that was a great night :)

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, Interiors 10 Comments

It was my birthday on the weekend and my mother-in-law gave me a slow cooker! Like a good ’50s housewife, this was exactly what I wanted, so I was pleased at Carol’s psychic abilities.

Unfortunately, a slow cooker requires a kitchen bench to sit upon and here we have a problem – our kitchen (like the rest of the house) is authentic, unrenovated 1942 style and has no kitchen benches.

Let me describe it to you: black and white checkerboard lino over floorboards, green porcelain small and low sink (made for petite WW2 ladies) under the window, a built in pantry and a cupboard underneath the sink. Very old stove, prone to anti-social behaviour.

We also have a green ’50s kitchenette, and a ’20s Jacobean dining table and chairs – the room is big and quite pretty with yellow walls and tiles, but just short on benches and cupboards. Obviously we need to update our kitchen – but in keeping with the rest of the house.

As inspiration (and hopefully make up for the fact that I’m not showing you our own WW2 kitchen) here are some pics of similar kitchens from around the same time – all of which conveniently share the same colour scheme. A lot has changed in kitchen fashions since the ’40s!

The last pic is 1946 and it looks so much more modern than the rest: the benefits of the post-war era.
Image source

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, Vintage 101 1 Comment

This week I’ve had the pleasure to work on a beautiful gown that was recently purchased from an Australian webshop, and needed a little TLC.

This dress came to the Australian webshop via the Rose Bowl markets in L.A, and probably dates to 1940 or early 1941, before the US joined WW2 and full length dresses were seen as too wasteful with all their fabric. Later during the war, even these long dresses were shortened so they’re hard to find in their original length.

The bodice, sleeves and pockets are decorated with a fancy cotton braid, a technique sometimes known as “Cornelli” or “Soutache”, it’s a type of passementerie and particularly popular in the ’40s (it had a brief resurgence along with other ’40s design elements during the 1980s).

The fabric is one of my favourites: a rayon knit sometimes called “Celanese” in Australia (perhaps because it was the Celanese company that wove rayons amongst other other products, much as Manchester factories produced linens?).

You see a bit of it during the ’30s and ’40s and it has lovely soft draping and breathability – it’s also quite a robust fabric as long as you don’t get any holes in it, upon which, like other knits, it can start to develop bigger holes. One of my tasks was to darn the holes, and secure the cornelli work where it was starting to unravel.

Notice how the bodice is drooping a little on one side – that’s because the seam from sleeve to almost the waist was ripped open.

This pic is a little clearer – a very brave lady would be needed to wear this gown!

Here are more rips – now, the difference between a rip and a tear: a rip is where stitches are missing along a seam, and a tear is where the fabric is has been damaged. Rips are easy to fix and in this case when I found more than twenty, I realised it would be more effective to resew every seam.

Back before synthetic textiles were invented in the ’50s, all garments were sewn with pure cotton (or sometimes silk) thread – and as wonderful as that is, over time the natural materials deteriorate. Many dresses from the early ’40s still have strong stitching, but when you see random missing stitches like this it’s usually a sign that the thread itself needs replacing.

From the ’50s to the ’80s, thread was generally a mix of cotton and polyester – and in more recent time, threads are pure polyester. Now as much as I dislike poly, I have to admit that it’s much stronger than the earlier materials and comes in a great range of vibrant colours, that don’t fade.

Here’s an example of a tear at the neckline – someone has probably been in a hurry to take the dress off and has tugged at the neckline, tearing into the fabric. To fix this, I unpicked the neckline a bit, ironed the opening flat, stitched the two broken sides together and then resewed the neckline a little over to one side, to take the stress off the weak spot. In this case, with the ruching at the neckline you don’t see the repair. Neckline rips are common, but straightforward to fix.

If you’re reeling at my mention that I restitched every seam, I’ll show you another reason why it was a good idea: the gown showed signs of many previous repairs – and not only were they not done very well, the thread colour didn’t match.

Inexpert hand sewn repairs can often be lumpy, and ruin the line of a seam – I carefully unpicked every repair and restitched by machine. As well, I replaced the lumpy shoulder pads with smooth modern versions (WW2 shoulder pads are often misshappen) of a size preferred by the client, and secured the neck and sleeve facings by hand.

I’m sure that I now know the gown inside out and it’s probably the most attention it’s had since the original seamstress did her work! Thankfully this is a beautiful gown, and looks wonderful on her new wearer and its now strong enough to last many years and hopefully grace many lovely events.

These dresses are getting harder to find, but if you fancy whipping one up for yourself, I have a similar pattern in the webshop. It would be great in a nice silk jersey.

As an aside, I’d like to mention that if you do receive a damaged garment from an online trader, regardless of any policies they might have saying “No Returns”, they have a responsibility to provide a garment that is fit for its purpose, ie, wearable – and under Australian law you are entitled to a refund, or happy resolution.

I like to think that all traders seek satisfied customers and are keen to resolve any issues, so I always recommend bringing them to their attention so that they have an opportunity to do the right thing.

And if you do have a frock that needs some love – I’m at your service!

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Sewing, Vintage 101 5 Comments

Learning to date vintage clothing is one of the challenges that the vintage lover faces: unfortunately, unlike vintage cars, clothes don’t come with VINs to help you on your mission – you need to read and interpret the clues in the style, fabric, construction and detailing. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some provenance too, but if incorrect that can send you in the wrong direction.

Books can be a great help, as can magazines, newspapers, films, TV – and the more you expose yourself to the fashions in their original settings, the better you get at it. When I was learning, I used to visualise which Golden Era of Hollywood movie star I could see in something: is it a Jean Harlow outfit (’30s), or more Rita Hayworth (’40s) or perhaps it’s something that Marilyn might have worn in “Bus Stop” (’50s)?

It’s not an exact science, and that’s why you often see people identify an item using a decade or more, but I’ve discovered that with skill, you can often narrow it down to a year or three.

Thankfully there is one easy tool at your disposal – some sewing pattern companies print dates onto their products. Also, you used to be able to order patterns through certain magazines and newspapers, and some had them as supplements too, so if you have the original publication or post-marked envelope, you’ll have a date there too.

Today I’ve been listing vintage patterns onto the webshop, and I like to play “Guess the Date” with the styles – and then I can turn it over and find out if I’m right.

Here are some for you to test your knowledge with: keep in mind a few things – the patterns all give you bonus clues with accessories, hairstyles, make up, poses, and style of graphic. Sewing patterns are rarely fashion forward, and generally represent popular designs that have already sold well in the community, so can be sometimes a little behind the times. Also: if the pattern sells well, and fashions haven’t changed much, they still might make it for a few years. The date should be from when it was first printed though.

Clicking on each pattern will take you to the webshop listing and you can see how accurate your guesses are! Good luck.

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, Shop talk, Style icon 4 Comments

My vintage mannequin collection is one of the most important parts of what I do: whilst many shops make do with reproductions, the real deal have a soul and integrity that I find is lacking in their modern mass-produced cousins.

A few years ago I found this little early ’40s cutie at Leonard Joel’s and I knew she had to come home with me.

We’ve been putting her to good use recently, photographing hats for the webshop, but realised with astonishment that we’d neglected to name her! Cue a roll call of ’40s movie stars – Rita? Judy? Joan? Veronica? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

Veronica Lake was known best for her peek-a-boo hairstyle, later borrowed by Jessica Rabbit, perhaps the sexiest fictional character ever – part Veronica Lake, part Rita Hayworth.

Veronica famously changed her trademark hairstyle after her wartime fans were risking their lives operating factory machinery with their locks falling in front of their faces. Ms Lake joined a campaign for womens safety: practicality first, glamour second!

You could cut glass on those cheek bones.

Here’s a safety film she made as part of her war effort – suddenly all those fabulous ’40s updos and snoods make sense.

(If you’re reading this on email, click on this link to see the video).

Meanwhile, back at Circa you can now see our Veronica modelling hats for your consideration – here’s my current favourite, from the ’30s with a sequinned calla lily motif.

She looks equally smashing in a 1950s straw with upturned brim.

Click on the images to see more about the hats.

Posted by Nicole in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, New in store

Here are some pics of some of the evening dresses we now have available in the salon – they’re all from the late ’40s to the late ’60s and sized between and 8 and a 12. We have other gowns too, of course, especially of other sizes.

Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Circa event, fashion parade 1 Comment

A little while ago we put on a fashion parade for the Australian Sewing Guild – this one was a little different to our usual formats, for a specialised audience and we combined the parade with my popular talk on ladies fashions of the ’20s to the ’70s.

Instead of me just standing up the front and showing dresses, the dresses were worn by models, who strolled around and let the audience touch the fabrics and see them up close.

It was a great success and I loved the opportunity to focus more on the fabrics, the construction techniques and the detailing than usual – here are some of the frocks as worn by our lovely models Apple, Carolina, Lola and Carley. Esther helped behind the scenes with dressing.

Here are some of the many frocks that were paraded: we took a few liberties with accessories: they’re not all period correct, but I think they’re suitable for each era to help create a look.

Carley looking very chic and summery in 1920s fuji silk day wear.

Apple in 1920s silk crepe with cutouts and embroidered detailing.

Carolina, stunning in 1930s silk evening gown – now available in the salon for purchase.

Carley in my WW2 Red Cross nurses uniform.

Lola in cotton print 1950s sundress – coming soon to the webshop.

Carolina in 1950s silk ballgown – this one is featured in my book “Love Vintage” and I now suspect it was made by Sydney couturier Beril Jents.

Carley in 1960s polyester dress with machine smocking – now available in the salon.

Apple in sheer floral party dress, early 1970s – coming soon to the webshop.

Lola in early 1970s cotton print Laura Ashley – everyone loved this one especially, we all seem to have worn something similar at the time!

A surprise finish was not a dress at all but Carolina in a silk pantsuit! Now available in the salon.

My favourite photo – the happy audience! The parade went really well and the feedback I got was wonderful. Here are some words from the National Newsletter about the event:

“Nicole spoke on the history of fashion and fabric through the 20th century and with four beautiful models paraded clothes from the ’20s to the ’70s…there were a lot of gasps of joy and no one wanted her to leave. As we said our goodbyes the audience were slow to leave, wanting to savour the moment a little longer”.

Thank you to Fay for inviting us to be a part of your event and sharing these great photos, the lovely models, Esther for dressing and Sue, the editor of the Newsletter – it was a lot of fun and a great to meet like-minded people. I hope we can work together again!

Unless stated otherwise, all content © Circa Vintage Clothing 2004-2014. ABN 37 840 548 574.
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