Enjoy the thrill of the hunt through racks of vintage.
Enjoy the thrill of the hunt through racks of vintage.

Retro, vintage - it's all chic

A RETRO favourite - Retropolis in Mullumbimby - sells clothing, homewares and garden furniture.

It wasn’t so long ago that most of us wouldn’t have been seen dead in second-hand clothing, let alone decorated our homes with recycled homewares and furniture.

But while vintage may have once been simply a code name for affordable hand-me-downs, today it is shorthand for chic. That’s right, vintage has not only come of age, it has become collectable. Dare we say that it also has a certain cred, even among celebrities such as Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts and Kylie Minogue, as well as devotees of second-hand stores.

Style commentator and author Maggie Alderson believes our attraction to vintage is fuelled by a need to buy something original.

“Fashion has become so global and homogenised, with rip-offs of designer looks in shops within weeks of the catwalk shows, that vintage is a way to be individual. You’re not going to see someone else walking around in the same jacket or carrying the same bag and you also get amazing quality for your money,” she says.

When it comes to homewares, a 1950s sofa with an old but respected brand may be better value for money than a couch from a modern-day chain store. The vintage couch will hold its value and, in many cases, has been made using old-fashioned craftsmanship that guaranteed it was made to last. The quality of many retro items surpasses much of what is made today.

Of course, another argument for buying vintage clothing and household goods is that you are recycling and therefore contributing to saving the environment. Buy second hand and you can still exercise your consumer power but stay squeaky green.

So what exactly is vintage?

The word is bandied about to the point that it’s easy to think that anything that isn’t current is vintage, which is not technically true.

Antique clothing is generally anything before 1920, whereas vintage is from the 1920s to roughly the mid-1970s.

Retro is a term that can be used for anything that is not current and is more often associated with latter vintage such as the 1980s.

Much frequented by those who know good vintage when they see it is the laneway store, Retropolis, at Mullumbimby.

The shop started just over a year ago, in one of the worst years in Australian retail, and yet the business has grown rapidly to have a strong client following.

Specialising in genuine vintage and retro accessories, bric-a-brac and garden furniture, Retropolis is operated by Sam Carew-Reid, Jonny McClay and Savannah Mitchell.

McClay has seen a huge demand for retro from all age groups. “I think the media has had a huge impact,” he says.

“Young girls who grew up watching Sex and the City really love vintage clothing and now the whole Mad Men thing has thrown a new light on that look.

“With summer coming, ’50s sundresses and pin-up style swimwear is huge and so are cool vintage sunglasses for guys.”

Local landmark The Old Romantic Shack, in Clunes, attracts not just casual buyers but plenty of collectors.

According to owner Leonie Wilmoth: “People will collect absolutely anything, jugs, dairy cans, whatever.”

When pressed about what really sells well, she says: “I know when I get beautiful old teapots or a cane outdoor setting they’ll go really quickly. We also do really well with clothes, accessories and bags. But it’s getting harder to get old clothing like we used to.”

Furnishing your home with vintage homewares guarantees character.

Rather than bland, contemporary designs, vintage pieces are generally one-off and made to last.

If you don’t want to go all the way and furnish your entire home with vintage furniture and soft furnishings, add a single element, such as a lamp, to create atmosphere.

There are no hard and fast rules to buying vintage homewares. Everyone loves different eras and styles so go by your instinct.

You’re the one who has to live with it. And, obviously, buy the item in as good a condition as you can afford.

According to Tony Bannister, from SCOUT Trend Forecasting, genuine vintage is getting harder to find and the prices reflect that.

“In the vintage stores in Los Angeles and Paris the store owners are running out of places to plunder,” he says.

“Customers like a sense of nostalgia and belonging. Certain periods are more popular than others and at the moment it’s the 60s with skirts. The TV series Mad Men has had a huge impact.”

So, what’s next in vintage that’s worth watching for?

Andrea Duff, from Byron Bay’s Strangetrader, recently returned from her annual buying trip in Europe.

Duff finds much of her exquisite vintage pieces in Europe but, this year, she has noticed a new trend.

“Everyone is talking about upcycling, which basically means the posh version of recycling,” she says.

“Upcycling means taking something basic and adding a design element to bring it back to life. For instance, there’s an English designer using black garbage bags and making gorgeous crochet handbags from them.”

From hand-me-downs to upcycling, vintage has truly come of age.

Where to shop

Alstonville: Gingerlily Vintage Wares, 76 Main Street, 6628 1450.

Ballina: Gorgeous Gussy, 41 River Street, 6681 1622.

Bangalow: The Retro Shop, corner of Station and Byron streets, 6687 1233 and Heath’s Old Wares & Collectables, 12 Station Street,  6687 2222.

Brunswick Heads: Clem’s Cargo & Collectables, Shop 1, 38 Tweed Street, 6685 1213 and Resould, 48 Tweed Street, 6685 1540.

Byron Bay: Polish Antiques, Centennial Circuit, 6680 7010.

Casino: McKee’s Old Bakery Antiques, 99 Centre Street, 6662 1005.

Clunes: The Old Romantic Shack, Main Street, 6629 1722.

Lismore: Alba, 28A Terania Street, 0431 590 008; Bold ‘n Beautiful Interiors, 75 Union Street, 0431 590 008; Carrington Street; Bazaar, 40 Carrington Street, 6622 0992; Lismore’s Fairmarket Antique Centre, 78 Keen Street, 6622 0992.

Mullumbimby: Retropolis Vintage Fashion, Home and Garden wares, 59A Burringbah Street (behind the florist shop), 0488 992 963.

Newrybar: Country House Antiques, 19 Old Pacific Highway, 6687 1601.

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