Vintage clothing couldn’t be hipper, but there was a time when the only way to find real vintage was to become a regular customer of charity shops such as Vinnies, Salvos or the Red Cross. To shop there was to become part of a secret fashion coterie and to declare that you got your best clothing at an op shop was usually met with an air of disdain. Many people thought there was something inherently icky about putting a garment on your body which had been worn by someone else, but that is one of the wonderful things about second- hand clothes, someone’s history is carried in its very fabric.
Vintage clothing enthusiast and author Isabel Wolff put it perfectly “I look at these exquisite shoes [and clothes], and I imagine the woman who owned them…. When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you’re not just buying a garment – you’re buying a piece of someone’s past.”
Another bonus of vintage shopping is that it frequently delivers the kind of heady rush you get when scoring an unbelievable buy. My favourite purchase is still the L.A.M.B. t-shirt I found recently for $3.00; this uber-hip brand created by singer Gwen Stefani is super pricey and to put my great buy into perspective the tees in their online shop sell for $245.
In the last decade or so the stigma about charity shopping has gone; the stores now attract a wide clientele and real (and fake) vintage shops have sprung up in every retail precinct. It seems that everyone wants the thrill of finding a hidden treasure, so now the real work has become trying to find a true vintage shop, full of quirky clothes, accessories and unexpected finds. In the West End we are blessed, here we have the wonderfully authentic West End Vintage a true vintage treasure trove owned and run by Marie Lowe.
The store contains quality pre-loved male and female clothing of every kind: shoes, hats, jewellery, bags, evening frocks, jackets, suits, winter coats, scarves and vintage and modern wedding dresses. Of course the hardest thing about working in such an environment is resisting the urge to take home every great find which comes in the door. Marie explains that she has had to fine-tune her will power otherwise she wouldn’t be selling anything. Instead she concentrates on helping her customers to find that perfect item and has noticed that clothes from certain decades are particularly sought after: the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s.
Young girls flock to the shop from their late teens onwards along with Newcastle’s drag queens who are partial to anything with bling. Her most fascinating customers would have to be two sisters well into their 90s who come in to shop and have a chat, one of the women worked in the store decades ago, back when it was a dry cleaning business.
West End Vintage sources its stock widely with Marie scouring warehouses in Sydney, deceased estates and markets as well as buying online. On the day I called in there are pieces to instantly fall in love with – multicoloured wedges, a cream backless wedding dress (like Portia de Rossi’s), a quirky red winter coat with polka dots, black satin sling backs with diamantes and a fake fur beret. I do find myself ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over a particularly tempting brightly crocheted poncho which is just urging me to slip it on and put flowers in my hair, but then Marie produces the pièce de résistance, a brass metal clutch complete with tassels – it was one of a kind.
The boys are well catered for too. While I am there a male customer snaps up a safari suit jacket, declaring that the return of this 1970s casual classic is well overdue. There is only one question remaining – what treasures will you find?
West End Vintage, 705 Hunter Street, Newcastle West. Phone: 4929 6522. Opening hours: Every day. Monday to Friday: 10:00am-6:00 pm, Saturday to Sunday: 10.00am-4.00pm. Find them on Facebook: West End Vintage.
Have you chosen the West End as your home, or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here is how to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0413 250 155.