1
Apr
2014
Posted by Nicole in 1970s, Australian Fashion, Vintage 101 6 Comments

I’m fascinated by sub-cultures: the ways that a group of people bond, and how they present themselves to the world.

The first sub-culture I became aware of was in 1976. Chocolate brown skivvies were all the rage but the shop wasn’t well lit and mum brought me home a black version. Everyone knew you couldn’t wear black: only Rockers wore black and I was sure to get beaten up for crossing the code.

In my sheltered Perth world there were only two sub-cultures: Mods and Rockers. They hated each other and the rest of us tried to keep out of the way of the carnage that resulted when they met. Think Quadrophenia. I didn’t know any Rockers of course, and never did so I can’t be sure it was true.

In 1979 I moved to Scarborough High School, close to Scarborough Beach where the legendary Snake Pit was home to Bodgies and Widgies. Or rather, it had been in the ’50s. In the ’70s it was all about Surfs and the Snake Pit was a smelly old cafe with pinball machines in the dark backroom. Soon it would be gone, demolished as the strip became upmarket and the beach ruined by a Gold Coast style tower.

I’ve never met a Bodgie or a Widgie but Surfs were so commonplace in Scarborough, I hesitate to call them a sub-culture but Puberty Blues (the original book) was the story of my early teens. Tradition dictated you’d lose your virginity in the back of a panel van in a beach car park. I was very unhappy: it wasn’t my scene. I couldn’t even manage a decent tan despite the daily beach visits. I read that book until the pages all fell out and then I sticky taped them back in.

The Sharpies passed me by – I thought they were a Melbourne only group until Catherine Deveny put up this clip from a Daddy Cool gig in ’75:


If you’re reading this via email, click here to see the clip.

What a dance! I love that this group had their own unique style. Australia generally follows the Northern hemisphere in most things but here was something uniquely our own. It’s an easy to learn dance with plenty of scope for different tempos or levels of enthusiasm. It can be both flirtatious for women and aggressive for men. It’s also rather comical. If you want to see more, just ask youtube for “Sharpie dancing”. There are some great examples.

The Sharpies started off in the ’60s, influenced by English Mods and created by post-War migrants who would bring out European fashions when they arrived in Australia. They had a taste for Italian style, especially in tailoring and knitwear, hence their name: Sharpie came from “sharp” dressers.

Subbaculture from Top Fellas
Sharpies 1972 – from “Top Fellas” by Tadqh Taylor. Very Mod.

As fashions changed through the ’60s, so did they, and by the time they reach the era of their fame, the ’70s, there was a uniform: fine knit jumpers and cardigans with stripes plus high waisted tight jeans or pinstripe trousers. Sometimes very wide legged and long, covering their clomping big boots or shoes: platforms or clogs.

Sharpie shoes

Sharpie fashion. Photo source: “Skins n Sharps”

The girls (known as “Brushes”) wore jeans, denim mini skirts or pinafores with the highest chunky shoes they could: often with cork bases. Or “treads”, shoes with a sole made of old tyres.

The distinctive fashion item was the striped knitwear called the “Connie”, originally the “Conti” as they were made by Thornbury tailor Mr Conti. Here you could either choose one from the shelf or custom made to the colours and stripes of your choice. They didn’t come cheap – almost a week’s wages for a teenager – but they were very prized.

Punk Journey Sharpie clothing - Peter BRookes cropped

Photo source: Facebook

At Circa, I’m often asked for Connies but sadly, I’ve never seen one to buy. They seem to be kept (hopefully well protected) by their original owners, who still value them. Either that, or perhaps they were worn to shreds, or shrank a little too much in a too hot wash. If I do find one, it will go into the private collection for use in talks etc – the Sharpies are becoming an affectionate part of Australian social history.

The Sharpie style is very similar to the current fashions of the time, incorporating elements of Glam Rock and roller skating culture, but with a harder edge. The ’70s was a very body conscious decade, and they wore the clothes small and tight. The Connies were worn especially small and tight, resembling midriff tops at times, with three quarter length sleeves. The hairstyles were reminiscent of Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust, although when others grew their hair long the Sharpies kept it short.

Music was important to the Sharpies and back then when you couldn’t get band t-shirts, they’d get their favourite artist’s name made up in flocked velvet letters on a t-shirt. Bowie and Slade were favourites (soon to become B wie and Sl de when the letters peeled off in the wash). They loved Aussie rock with Lobby Lloyd and Billy Thorpe amongst their favourites.

The t-shirts also declared the name of their gang based on their suburb or even their street. They congregated in large groups, often at gigs or train stations and were very violent, often scrapping with rival gangs. Apparently even the police were scared of them.

Perfect Sound Forever
Photo source: “Skins n Sharps” Love the lumber jacket in the front: for when the Connie wasn’t warm enough.

Sharpies have been compared a lot with skinheads and there seems to have been a certain degree of overlap – the best site for Sharpie information is “Skins n Sharps” but for me, there was always a difference. Although I didn’t know any Sharpies, many of my friends dressed similarly and some of the girls even danced in that idiosyncratic way – I’ve never seen a man dance like that though. A pity.

Sharpies seemed to vanish in about ’79 just when punks, mods and skinheads were taking over – those were the groups I knew. The skins were very violent and we all knew to keep away from them in groups. I was once chased through the dark streets of North Perth by a skinhead with a knife after I looked at him the “wrong” way in 1984.

So if you do see any Connies, treat them tenderly and stash them away: you’re looking at a piece of Australian sub-culture history. Here’s some Connie style in this House of Merivale striped jumper:

circa_vintage_webshop_196_0_0
Striped woolen jumper by the House of Merivale, mid ’70s.

Original Connie short sleeved cardigan
Sharps n Skins 1

Photo source: “Skins n Sharps”

The same colours have been used used in this House of Merivale jumper. I love how the stripes only go around the front.

circa_vintage_webshop_198_0a

Striped woolen jumper by the House of Merivale, mid ’70s.


29
Nov
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, 1970s, Designers, Vintage 101 5 Comments

Today I’ve been looking into a new outfit, that’s just gone online – this “two piece dress” or top and skirt set by Melbourne designer Noeleen King.

circa_vintage_webshop_269_1

Noeleen was born in Ireland about 1933 and first learnt her trade under fashion designer Sybill Connolly. After migrating to Australia in the mid ’50s, she worked as a salegirl for five years before setting up her own label in Flinders Lane making “street dresses” with a small workroom and three machinists.

The following year she started making evening and cocktail wear, which sold better. True success came to her after five years, in 1965. With her Vidal Sassoon Eton crop hairstyle and lashings of mascara, her style was very young and hip. She was compared to Norma Tullo in importance for the era.

Noeleen and models Aus Womens Weekly 1965
Noeleen and models, Australian Women’s Weekly 1965.

Noeleen’s label primarily produced clothes she wanted to wear herself, and was described as “Medieval Mod”. Her customers were mostly teenagers and women in their early 20s – the largest size she stocked was SSW (Small, small woman, roughly equivalent to a modern size 8!). You can see the medieval influence in the outfit above, and sure enough, the size is “XXSSW” – equivalent to a modern 4 but don’t worry, we replaced the elastic in the tiny waist (it had deteriorated) now making it a size 8. It’s a very unusual style, with it’s double puffed, Renaissance style sleeves.

Aus Womens Weekly 1966
Jean Shrimpton in Noeleen King, Australian Women’s Weekly 1966.

Mary Quant was a friend and fan of Noeleen’s designs, and authorised Noeleen to produce her designs in Australia, under licence. The Vintage Fashion Guild have a copy of the Mary Quant/Noeleen King label if you’d like to see it.

Noeleen’s skirts came in three lengths: day (just above the knee), cafe (mid calf) and evening (touching the instep) – another way of saying “mini, midi and maxi”. The one above must be “evening length”. The long maxi skirt with a wide ruffle to the hem is quite fashion forward – this style was influenced by the ’40s fashions and became very popular in the mid ’70s.

nicole-de-la-marge-in-printed-cotton-dress-with-tiered-collar-by-noeleen-king-photo-by-norman-eales-may-1965-b
Nicole de la Marge in printed cotton dress with tiered collar by Noeleen King, photo by Norman Eales, May 1965 Photo source here.

In 1965 Noeleen was shipping her designs to the US and the UK from her factory of 80 machinists in the basement of 45 Flinders Lane and warehouse at 23 Lincoln Square South, Carlton. She lived in a South Yarra maisonette with her husband Ron (also her production manager).

Aus Womens Weekly 1965
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1965

Aus Womens Weekly 1969
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1969

Noeleen King label late '60s
Noeleen King label from the late 1960s.

Noeleen’s old factory in Flinders Lane is now a theatre and earlier this year a production was staged there about Noeleen’s life and label! I’m not sure when the label ceased, but I suspect it was the late ’70s – certainly, I can’t find any references to the company or fashions after then.

Thank you, Noeleen, I’ll be looking out for more of your beautiful fashions from the ’60s and ’70s.


6
Sep
2013
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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


4
Sep
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s 5 Comments

When I read the news this morning, I got excited because the Victoria and Albert boutique must be a vintage shop surely?

But no: Victoria and Albert designed their own range of contemporary fashion starting in North Sydney in 1964 and moving to Double Bay soon afterwards, where they traded for forty years.

auction 3

If you know Sydney, you already have a good idea of what sort of stock a North Sydney shop in 1964 and Double Bay for 1965-2004 is likely to have – they picked up a youthful clientele in the swinging ’60s and then probably catered to them as they got older. I would expect classic but conservative clothes, in very good, even couture quality.

Like many fashion designers, they kept historical clothing in their archives for inspiration -and (along with the groovy ’60s frocks), this is what I would be most interested in: see below for images of an amazing velvet cloak with matching bag, and beaded ’20s dress.

Auction Details
Sunday 15 September 2013 at 1:00pm
Shapiro Gallery, 162 Queen St, Woollahra, Sydney
Woollahra Hotel Function Room, 116 Queen Street, Woollahra, Sydney

Catalogue available online.
More information here. Images reproduced courtesy Victoria and Albert boutique and Shapiro Auctions.

I haven’t seen any vintage clothes with the Victoria and Albert label, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for them.

auction 2

auction 1

C536596-Patricia_Burkett


31
Aug
2013
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!


30
Aug
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, 1970s, Costume Collections, Designers, Vintage 101 8 Comments

There’s nothing new under the sun, is there?

I’m reminded of this constantly when I see contemporary fashion ranges because they’re always similar to something that has been done before – currently we’re seeing a lot of the late ’70s to early ’80s and a smattering of early to mid ’90s.

For me, all of it was more interesting the first time around so it works best when a new spin or twist can be applied.

Today I read this:

Len Vogue 1974 3

It sounds like the current crisis, doesn’t it? Except that this is old news from The Age in 1974!

I was researching Len Vogue – because I find lots of Len Vogues and I wanted to know more.

Len Vogue opened in 1965 and closed in 1975 and supplied over 1,000 retailers around Australia including their own shops.

They became successful because instead of the usual system of the time, whereby retailers would order from sample ranges and wait for delivery, Len Vogue produced stock daily and kept a large amount available at all times.

They started off as Len Vogue Industries, and developed into Len Vogue Distribution as their grew their list of customers – and had a team of fashion designers and researchers to produce up to 30,000 garments a week from forty factories!

That’s a lot of frocks!

They were based at 31 Wangaratta Street, Richmond, tucked behind the Corner Hotel and a stone’s throw from Richmond Train station.

Because fashion styles go in and out, I really appreciate the certainties in the fashion world and if you can pin down the dates that a label operated, it can be very useful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have this Len Vogue ensemble, just listed on the web shop today.

Dress and jacket ensembles came in during the ’30s and again in the ’50s to early ’60s and at first I wondered if this was from that later era? It has the princess seams, and shift silhouette that was popular in the early part of the ’60s but the candy stripe reminded me of this dress in the Darnell Collection, that is featured in my book “Love Vintage” and also last year’s “Fashion Meets Fiction” exhibition.

So I wondered if my ensemble could be late ’60s too? A google through the newspaper archives found the relevant dates so now I’m happy on when it was probably made.

This style is perfect for the races or a wedding, especially with some nice accessories.

Have you found any Len Vogues during your vintage adventures?

Len Vogue label

Update: Shel has sent in pics of her Len Vogue ’60s dress and label – thank you Shel. I love it! Readers, you’re always welcome to send me pics when I post about fashion houses – the more designs we can see of a label, the more it contributes to our knowledge of them.

1111 475

Photo reproduced courtesy Shel Wang.

Update: Rachelle has sent in a pic of her Len Vogue early ’70s sundress, and some articles from the Australian Women’s Weekly.

Rachelle 475

Photo reproduced courtesy Rachelle Summers.

AWW 1968
AWW 1968 2

Australian Women’s Weekly – 1968

AWW 1972

Australian Women’s Weekly – 1972


13
Aug
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1970s, Shop talk

Yes – nine years ago we opened at Gertrude St, which also makes it a year that we’ve been at Mitchell House in the city. Hurrah!

If you’ve with been us all the way, you might remember this lovely lady, who graced our first shop post cards – meet Dolores Costello, grandmother to Drew Barrymore and wife to John Barrymore. This image is from 1921.

To complete the circle here is Clare St Clare in Ossie Clark moss crepe circa 1972, with a Celia Birtwell print called “Floating Daisies”. I’ve used this frock in a few talks, notably the Art Gallery of Ballarat and today we ostensibly photographed it for the webshop but well, I’m not sure that I’m ready to sell this one.

People often ask me if I’m reluctant to part with vintage, but generally I find it a pleasure, as I love dressing people but sometimes there is a piece that I want to keep. The Ossie falls into this category. I’m sure that one day she will arrive on the webshop, looking for a new home but in the meantime I shall keep her safe and warm.

Sometimes, the piece is too special to part with.

Happy birthday Circa! May you have many, many more.


3
Jan
2013
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.









































20
Dec
2012
Posted by Nicole in 1970s, Melbourne, Menswear, Where to buy vintage

Once upon a time, the Melbourne CBD was full of clothing factories – as time went on, they gradually moved to the suburbs and then more recently most closed down as the fashion and textile industry moved manufacturing offshore.

Imagine my surprise to find a relic of the past just around the corner from our city salon! A visit to the Phillips Shirt factory is truly like stepping back in time – the factory occupies the first floor of 274 Lonsdale Street and the warehouse is on the next floor, sharing space with a shop/museum full of vintage shirts and Liberty print cushions and blouses, along with memorabilia of interesting items found tucked away in the building.

The building dates to 1915 and features many original features but the Phillips Shirt factory moved in in 1958 – the offices are wood pannelled with built in cabinets including a bar, in true Don Draper style. Most of the furniture looks to be of the era too, and so are many of the factory machines.

Here’s the front door to the factory and offices –

Brand new and unworn vintage shirts for sale.

A display of collars and cuffs.

These are shirt fronts only, a pity as I’m sure many of us would love original ’60s paisley prints from Liberty of London.

The expansive warehouse – or rather, a small part of it.

There was more vintage fabric than I think I’ve ever seen before, most of it with the original dates.



The gorgeous old fabric cutting machine – you can cut through many, many layers with this useful device.


Shirt patterns, there were hundreds of them.


The secret to a very pointy collar is this amazing vintage machine.


Wonderful fancy ’70s shirts for special occasions.

The shop/museum is open Wednesday to Saturday 10.30am – 3.30pm or by appointment. Tours of the factory are available by arrangement too.

They can custom make shirts or blouses, as well as selling vintage or modern styles. If you’d like to learn more, the website has lots of great history and information as well as many great pics.


22
Nov
2012
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.