In Fashion, Retro’s So Tomorrow | FEATURE
This article first appeared as a full page feature in The Warrnambool Standard (Fairfax Media) on July 19 2014
FROM catamarans and crockery, to go-go boots and genuine pieces from the 1930s and ’40s, Warrnambool’s op shops and vintage stores are a treasure trove of undiscovered gems with stories to tell.
Proving one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure, there has been significant growth in the popularity of vintage and op shopping over the past few years.
Customers range from those looking for a one-off costume to people who wear vintage every day of the year.
Warrnambool boasts more than 10 vintage and op shops, some of which have been around for more than a decade.
In that time they’ve seen people come in looking for all manner of things, often influenced by what’s popular in the cinemas and on television.
Lifeline community engagement manager Chloe Brian attributes the store’s recent collection of ’80s and ’90s furniture to people upgrading their homes inspired by renovation shows like The Block.
“With the big estates being built in Dennington and north Warrnambool, people are wanting a modern look, so they’re bringing in their old stuff and buying pieces from the ’50s and ’60s to do up,” she said.
“Every time Mad Men is on, we see a spike in people looking for ’60s clothing. Anything 1920s has also been really popular recently following Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby.”
And the pop culture influence isn’t just limited to the fashions of glamorous eras gone by, with other customers looking for clothes with a little more bite.
“We even had lots of people coming in searching for zombie-related things after the popularity The Walking Dead and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” Ms Brian said. “But at the moment, it’s definitely the 1920s and 1950s which customers are looking for.”
Many store owners attribute a noticeable increase in customers and a greater variety of clientele to the changing perception of op shops.
The stigma traditionally associated with shopping at op shops has all but disappeared, according to Vinnies Op Shop Warrnambool centre manager Kevin Bond.
“The perception of op shops has definitely changed,” he said.
“People both young and old regularly come in to our store to have a look.”
Ms Brian believes the rise of op shops is also linked to the charity work they do.
“As people are becoming more socially conscious and connected to charities, the op shops that service that charity also become more popular,” she said.
“I think our op shop in particular looks quite boutiquey, which has certainly opened up our market.”
But Paul Sheedy, proprietor of Long Gone Antiques & Collectables, believes that while op shops have upmarketed themselves to attract new customers, they may have alienated their original customers.
“You walk in and you’re not sure if it’s a shop or a boutique,” he said.
“They are more selective about what they stock so it’s more difficult to forage.”
Op shops are also a valuable source for vintage store owners who use their extensive knowledge to uncover rare or valuable pieces that can often be overlooked.
Totally Barking Vintage owner Hazel Mason regularly attends auctions and scours op shops to find unique items for her store, although the majority of her stock comes from people who come to her when they are sorting through their parents’ estates.
Mr Sheedy doesn’t attend many auctions any more as locals bring a lot of stock to his shop, which has been around for over 10 years.
As a result they’ve both seen some special pieces come through their doors.
“One of the most interesting pieces I’ve had was a 1930s wedding dress which belonged to a Cobden lady and a dressing gown that she had made for her wedding night,” Mr Sheedy said.
“It was floor-length satin silk with a big band of art deco lace on the front and across the shoulders — quite spectacular.”
For Mrs Mason, it’s the stories behind the pieces that make them so unique and special.
“I opened up a lovely old handbag and inside was a handkerchief and gloves,” Mrs Mason said.
“It was something someone had had for their wedding day and kept all together. There was even bits of confetti still inside from the day.
“Even putting your hand in a coat pocket and finding tickets to the theatre, and imagining them wearing it.”
But despite having these interesting pieces right on their doorstep, Mr Sheedy says he often gets locals coming in who had no idea the shop existed.
“I have a number of Melbourne rock ’n’ rollers who regularly come down, as well as a group from Adelaide who always visit the shop when they’re down for the Camperdown Cruise,” Mr Sheedy said.
“But on the other hand, I still get local people saying ‘Oh I didn’t know you were here!’ ”.
The visitor book in Totally Barking Vintage reveals comments from guests the world over, but Mrs Mason says she also gets locals discovering her shop for the first time.
Most customers enjoy Warrnambool’s vintage shops because they are much more reasonable compared to the hefty price tags you find in Melbourne vintage stores, Mr Sheedy said.
For Mrs Mason, the best thing about vintage and op shopping is the thrill of the hunt and the reward of discovery.
“It’s the buzz of finding things and never quite knowing what you might find,” she said.