The New Old

Vintage fashion comes alive in Brisbane

Issue: Jan 2010

A treasure-trove for the vintage fashion gurus.
A treasure-trove for the vintage fashion gurus
Photo courtesy of Sharon Blance,

The urge to go retro is slowly but surely taking Brisbane’s retail districts by storm. Whether it’s clothes, accessories or even make-up, increasingly more fashion gurus are borrowing a style from the past and transforming it into a fashion statement for today.

The secret to vintage fashion is to celebrate your individuality. That means there are hardly any rules to follow when you mix fashion elements from the past – whether it’s a Gatsby-style evening dress, or an art deco brooch. It’s in the mixing and matching that makes you look unique.

Retail goes vintage

With the recent wave of interest in vintage fashion in Brisbane, vintage retail outlets are sprouting all over. Generally vintage can refer to “antique” clothing, which usually refers to clothes produced before the 1920s, while fashion rolled out from the 1920s to the 1980s is considered retro – although many use the terms interchangeably. Most vintage clothing has been previously worn but a small percentage has not.

A simple 1930s evening dress looks elegant when accessorised with vintage jewellery
A simple 1930s evening dress looks elegant when accessorised with vintage jewellery
Photo courtesy of Sharon Blance,

The demand for vintage clothing surged in the early nineties when celebrities like Julia Roberts and Kate Moss started wearing it. Also, in an age that is pro-recycling and reusing, vintage wear seems more politically correct. Added to that, the renewed interest in music and dance genres of the past, like swing dancing, has lured fashion followers back in time.

If you’re looking for high-end vintage, then head down to Paddington, known for its quality second-hand shops. There you’ll find eclectic outlets and a wide range of clothing spanning fashion styles from the 50s to the 80s. You will also find that some Brisbane stores specialise in a particular era, for instance a clothesline inspired by the rock & roll culture of the 50s.

Whatever the case, there are many outlets to meander through, that will quench your thirst for all things vintage. And not all of them are high end or expensive. Try looking through thrift shops to find a fashion piece that looks classic and antique. The item may have had a previous owner, but if it’s still in good condition, it would be worth the buy, considering it would cost a lot more in a specialty shop.

From vintage clothing, accessories to lingerie, Clara Fox is a small shop filled to the brim with treasures from the past.
From vintage clothing, accessories to lingerie, Clara Fox is a small shop filled to the brim with treasures from the past
Photo courtesy of Sharon Blance,

Vintage shops can offer any number of fashion styles spanning various eras through history. Take Clara Fox, for example. Located along Brunswick Street, this tiny shop is filled to the brim with vintage treasures ranging from the 20s to the 80s. But you’ll find that most of their stuffs come from the 1940 to 1960 time period. Bam Bam Vintage offers a mix of imported and Australian vintage clothes, designer labels, vinyl records and collectables, plus options for fancy dress parties. Boxvintage, a vintage, retro and unique secondhand clothing from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s clothing and accessories located at West End is where you will discover some great finds.

Some vintage retailers only specialize in accessories. A vintage parasol or hat, for instance, in good condition, is often the thing to complete your look. Hats have a rich history behind them, with different decades spawning a slew of varied styles.In the war years of the 1940s for instance, it’s been said that milliners created elaborate designs to lift the spirits of women grappling with rationing and bad news. It seemed that materials were the only items that were not rationed. Hat makers opened the flood gates and began to use vividly hued feathers, artificial flowers and delicate veils. One style that emerged was the “Doll” hat that sat over the forehead, reminiscent of Victorian fashion. The era also saw the rave for turbans. Plumes of feathers, gigantic bows, colourful turbans – a radical departure from what originated as a strict decree in the Middle Ages for hair to be covered when entering a church.

A good history of hats can be found at the website of the Vintage fashion Guild. The guild is an international organisation for vintage fashion professionals. Their site serves as a central educational resource available to everyone interested in vintage clothing.

In step with the old

If you’re unfamiliar with what to look for when going vintage, try keeping these suggestions in mind.

Striking not gaudy. Go out on a limb when mixing fabrics. Choose colours that stand out, and prints that are iconic and represent an era past. Or use textures - like velvet, for instance - which are reminiscent of a fashion rave at one time. Mix these in with today’s mainstream fashion lines so that you create, in the end, an ensemble that is distinctive, not gaudy.

One unique piece. Try and wear at least one original vintage fashion piece when you pull together your retro look. For instance, a pair of 1960s high-heeled Mary-Janes, can add a certain authentic elegance to your otherwise eclectic vintage statement. Moreover, old and original fashion pieces – a pendant, a felt hat, an intricate French-lace waist sash – make wonderful conversation starters.

The ever-fashionable Mary-Janes adds an authentic elegance whatever you are wearing.
The ever-fashionable Mary-Janes adds an authentic elegance to whatever you are wearing
Photo courtesy of Sharon Blance,

Resurrect & Repair. When you go vintage-fashion shopping, be prepared to hunt. As more vintage stores come alive in Brisbane’s retail havens, you will find yourself spoilt for choice. Be prepared to go through racks of clothes and boxes of old fashioned items to resurrect that one item you’re looking for. When you do find it, don’t despair if you discover a broken zipper or the wrong size. Buy it anyway and get it altered and the missing or broken bits replaced.

Panache. Vintage fashion needs to be pulled off with confidence. Quell any doubts about those 1950s suede boots you’re wearing with your new retro look. Love the fact that you’re probably the only person in the room that owns a pair. Celebrate your individuality with panache!

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