A day in the life.

I thought you might like – for something different – to hear about an average day in the life of Nicole, vintage clothing shop owner and enthusiast. Every day is different of course, but it will give you a bit of an idea of the fun that I have, and why I don’t miss my old I.T. job.

It starts at a civilised time, not too early: I drop my hubby at his I.T. job in the city and head off for breakfast – my biggest treat is every day, I eat out for the first meal of the day. There are many cafes I go to but this one is in Fitzroy and I had natural muesli with fresh fruit, yoghurt, soy milk and a long black – yum! I like to read the paper, but when I got there, they were all taken. Luckily I’ve been going there for a long time and so the other regular customers know me too, so one of them handed me his copy of The Age when he’d finished it. Most kind!

After breakfast I picked up nine ballgowns and party dresses from the dry-cleaner and went to the shop, arriving at 10am. Then I went over the frocks for potential repairs – all had already been repaired at the stockroom last week, but due to their age (1940s and 1950s), damage might appear after cleaning, and in this case a few of them did need a bit more fixing including a silk ’50s wedding gown that has weak shoulders (probably from a dreaded wire coathanger) and a pink ballgown that has a bit of seam stress (where a too large wearer has stretched the seams) – back to the stockroom for them.

By then Victoria (Circa’s Wednesday shop lady) had arrived and so we discussed prices for the dresses, including a fabulous 1950s red silk organza party dress with bell skirt, and a brand new 1950s ensemble of hot pink, black and cream dress with matching jacket. It’s always exciting to have colourful and flattering new stock in the shop, and I like to bring new things in at least once a week, preferably more.

We opened the shop and the customers started to arrive – some of our more interesting visitors today included a chap looking for a vintage Arabian costume, Lux St Sin, a local burlesque and pin up queen, Andrew, a dashing young man who plays with the Cairo Club Orchestra and an events manager organising a sustainable fashion parade for the L’oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival and wondering if Circa would like to take part?

Meanwhile a lady rang up because she preferred pay over the phone for a couple of items in the Webshop and I went down to the stockroom to pack them up and post them so that she’d get them for the weekend in Sydney.

As well, some mail arrived – including a copy of Dreaming of Chanel by my friend Charlotte Smith – I can’t wait to read it and tell you all about it!

Whilst all of this was going on, Vic and I were working on the main task for the day – I was writing up and measuring a selection of Victorian and 1920s garments and Vic was photographing them, all for the Webshop. I’ve been collecting these things since 1980 and although I’ve wanted to put them into Circa, they’re just a bit fragile to cope with much rough and tumble, so the Webshop is the perfect place to present them to you all – up until now the Webshop has had mostly ’30s-60s. Here are a couple of pics to give you an idea.

Gold beaded dress.
This is a bit like two dresses in one – first the overdress of fine silk tulle embroidered with beads but alas, quite damaged in parts. Underneath is a quite strong dress of silk and metallic gold thread – and in excellent condition. Usually beaded ’20s dresses are fragile and that’s why 90% of them seem to be so damaged to be unwearable, but the underdress is impressive in this case.

After we got this one onto the mannequin, I realised that the sides had been taken in so I gently snipped the additional stitches (they had considerately sewn in orange thread so it was easy to see what needed to be removed) and now I’ll need to remeasure it. It was 34″ bust, 34″ waist, 38″ hips but I expect now it will be a flat 38″ all the way down as most ’20s dresses are tubular. It’s quite common for ’20s dresses to be altered in later decades to give them more shape.

The next piece is an interesting one, because it’s adapted garment – the fabric from a 1920s beaded dress has been cut up and added to some plain silk georgette to create an evening jacket, or shrug, in the 1930s. It’s very damaged and needs lots of restoration – the additional (unbeaded) fabric forms the bottom part of the full sleeves, which are cuffed with rouleaux loops and self-covered buttons.

You probably can’t see from this image but a portion of the silk and beads has been hand-painted and over time this colouring has moved a little and also mostly come off from the beads. This is one of the things that fascinate me the most about historical garments, how they are updated as fashions change. Upstyling is not a new concept.

I have a number of garments made of re-fashioned 1920s beaded dresses: blouses from the ’30s and ’40s, beaded pieces added to WW2 crepe dinner dresses. The dresses must have been expensive originally and so they were preserved and used as much as they could be. If you’re interested in hearing more, let me know and I’ll dedicate a post (with images) to it.

Now the shop is closed for the day and I’m home going through emails – we don’t have a computer at the shop so emails need to be answered later, which hopefully explains why I’m not always the fastest respondent! Soon I will stop for dinner but then will answer some emails, finally finishing for the night, probably at about 10pm – so that is my day!

UPDATE: emails finished at 12.30am – there are still more to go but tomorrow is another day.

PS – if you’re interested in the daily life of a vintage clothing shop owner and enthusiast, you might like to subscribe to my twitter feed and of course there is always Facebook although I try not to get down and dirty there.


  1. Oooh! Yes please, would love to see more adapted clothes from earlier decades. I expect that was common during wartime rationing?

    Also: you mention mending seam stress. I’d love to hear any tips you have as I see this so often.


  2. Ah, I know someone (via Twitter) who plays with the Cairo Club Orchestra. I’ve no idea what his real name is though! He’s @idmacman on Twitter.

  3. Gosh the adapted clothes would be fascinating to see. It’s not a very common thing to do today surely – unless you sew as a hobby, to upcycle things.

  4. Thanks ladies – I’ll post again when I get the other pieces organised with pics.

    Livebird – as you say, seam stress is a common vintage problem, especially with taffetas and satins as they mark easily. The way I repair them is to redo the seam a little further in – and if necessary reinforce it with additional fabric inside.

    Unfortunately it reduces the size slightly and in extreme cases you might need to take the skirt off and redo the waist seam as well.

  5. That was a great read Nicole! Thanks for sharing and yes, I also would love more about the reworking of old pieces. It is becoming quite popular with the young Indie set I see–although cutting up a hem from a maxi to mini without stitching it, then using a strip in your hair is not difficult. However I still love the idea of doing this.

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