Vintage Love

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Lace Edwardian Dress. This was a gift from a lovely lady I met at a vintage fashion show.

Several years ago, when I lived in Australia, a friend and I were proud proprietors of a vintage clothing stall. It was a permanent stall in an antiques market, one of those places where they manage the sales for you in return for a small commission, so we didn’t have to be there every day.

We called our stall Snowdrop and RoseRed, after the sisters in the Brothers Grimm tale. I was Snowdrop, on account of my pale colouring, while my lovely brunette friend was RoseRed. We designed a logo, a Tudor rose with a snowdrop curving around it, invested in a stamp, some manila mail tags and a few clothes rails, and the business was born.

Detail from an embroidered silk caftan I found in a Sydney charity shop.
Detail from an embroidered silk caftan I found in a Sydney charity shop.

And it was wonderful fun. We went into our stall at least once a week, tidying the racks, replacing stock and checking our drawer in the small office to see what sales we’d made. We haunted flea markets and charity shops and EBay, visited auction sites and ransacked our own vintage collections to ensure we had new stock, finding gems all over the world to add to the collection, including a fab collection of 1940’s hats we bought from Wales, and a vendor in Canada who seemed to be selling off the contents of a suitcase of 1930’s clothing. Local charity shops yielded beaded cardigans and gold lame shoes, marquisate jewellery and delicate pearls.

But the best part of it was having all these gorgeous clothes on hand, whenever we wanted them. I’ve been wearing and collecting vintage clothing since I was a teenager – my collection has expanded and shrunk several times, all the moving I do necessitating the occasional downsize. Some pieces I bitterly regret letting go of, such as a black velvet 1930’s evening coat with eau-de-nil silk lining, whereas others were ready to move on to different owners, ready to be worn again. So to have a stall where it was my job to source and buy and wear vintage clothing was a bit of a dream come true.

Me in a vintage op-art dress on a murder mystery weekend
Me in a vintage op-art dress on a murder mystery weekend

For me, the beauty of vintage clothing lies in the construction. The beading, the linings, the delicate handstitched seams. For so much of it is handmade, mass-produced clothing not so readily available back then as now. I also love the glamour – the idea that women wore such gowns when going out for tea or over to a friend’s house or out to the theatre, a sense of occasion that seems to be missing these days. (Do not get me started on the time we went to an evening theatre performance and there were people there in jeans and football scarves).

Detail of a vintage waistcoat I bought at a vintage clothing sale, many years ago.
Detail of a waistcoat I bought at a vintage clothing sale, many years ago.

Of course women have come a long way (though we still have a way to go), and I wouldn’t swap our freedoms for those hazy glamorous days. But there is a mystery and enticement to these old garments, wondering where they were worn and by whom. To the careful, almost invisible, repairs, the tiny stitched pleats and structured linings. They speak of a different world, a different time.

Part of a silk and net Victorian mourning cape. This apparently came from my family, and I remember using it for dress-ups when I was small!
Part of a silk and net Victorian mourning cape. This apparently came from my family, and I remember using it for dress-ups when I was small!

Our stall eventually closed, our circumstances changing so neither of us had the time to dedicate to the business any more. But we each kept our favourite pieces, and our love of vintage, Snowdrop and RoseRed a friendship that endures.

33 thoughts on “Vintage Love

  1. Gorgeous photo! I can empathise entirely with the love of old and beautiful things. I used to run an antiques and collectibles stall too. For me, it is the fans… wisps of artistry of all kinds in miniature, that each have a story to tell or imagine… from the first flirtation through to the mourning fans and the advertising fans that tell of exotic locations and forgotten elegance.

    1. Thanks Sue – that’s so cool that you used to have a stall too 🙂 Oh, fans are so lovely, I have a painted and embroidered silk one which I think my great grandfather brought back from somewhere (he was a merchant sea captain). It’s a bit tattered now, but still holds the memory of a time when such things were commonplace. They do have stories to tell, don’t they? 🙂

      1. They do… and I can never hold one without wondering 🙂 Lovely to have such a fragile bit of history in your hands…especially when it is part of the family.

    1. Thanks, Suzie! Yes, I love vintage clothing – though I only have a small collection now compared to what I used to. I should do another post on accessories – I have some lovely gloves and bags squirrelled away. And thanks for the compliment – it was a hens weekend and my character was Vivienne Eastwood, a fashion designer 😀

  2. Aww, that sounds so nice! What a wonderful memory to have. I love dressing up, and am with you in lamenting the lack of occasion amongst people nowadays. I think when we progressed, we threw the baby out with the bathwater on some things. There is nothing wrong with gussying up; it never killed a woman. If anything, something about when you look stunning affects how you feel about yourself.

    1. Hi Hayley, nice to meet you – thanks for popping over! Snowdrop and RoseRed was a great time, definitely – something I’d wanted to do for ages, so it was nice to make it happen 🙂

  3. Helen, I was absolutely enchanted by your post. I would wear vintage clothing if I could but I am 175 cm tall and not a rake so it’s hard to find things that fit.
    I am an absolute vintage junkie though and I collect tea cups, or trios, as they’re known. My favourites are Shelley and Royal Albert. I have tea cups representing different family members to remember them by. I also have vintage accessories like tablecloths etc. Some are from my grandmother while I have found quite a few on eBay and op shops.
    I live in Sydney and would’ve loved your stall.
    xx Rowena

    1. Thanks, Rowena 🙂 I’m 178cm and quite broad shouldered, so I have the same problem with vintage clothes in that many of them don’t fit me (probably why my collection is quite small at the moment – I only keep things I can wear). I do have a lot of accessories though and, like you, also love vintage tablecloths and linens – one of my favourites is a tray liner embroidered with tiny flowers that spell out ‘Greetings From Wonthaggi.’ My stall was at an antique market just outside Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, but I did live in Sydney for a couple of years as well 🙂 Lovely to meet you xx Helen

    1. Hi Shellie, thanks for popping over and nice to meet you! Yes, vintage is more valued these days, so you do pay more. However, there are still bargains to be discovered in charity shops and flea markets – you just have to be in the right place at the right time 🙂

      1. Ha! You and me both – the number of times I’ve moved, most of this stuff really shouldn’t be with me. But I love it too much to give it all away 🙂

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