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.
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.
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).
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.
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.