ode to the op-shop experience.

Can't wait for Monday.

Don't hear that too often? Well I'm serious, I can't wait.

On Monday, I'm going op-shopping with my mum. For the whole day :) Then we're going back to her house and rummaging through our finds and cooking roast potatoes, and it's going to be awesome. I haven't done this in so long, I can't even tell you. Sounds strange, seeing as I am a vintage dealer, but I don't source my vintage from opshops or markets any more. It comes from far-off lands, traded by pirates for ale, buxom wenches and salted meat. Or is brought to my pillow while I sleep, carried in the left ear of the BFG and laid down gently by my side. Obviously.

So I'm not looking for stock, I'm not really looking for anything. Op-shopping - or thrifting, is it now? It seems the popularity of sites like Lookbook is pushing this American term upon us, with trendy young Aussie thangs modelling their 'thrifted' cardigans etc. Granted, 'thrifting' has a certain ring to it. But dang it, I'm sticking with my outdated colloquialism.

Anywho, op-shopping just gives me this joy. You know? Do you know? People who love it know what I mean. You first enter the shop and there's the sense of possibility. Anything could be here. This is not like stepping into a normal shop, where the convenience of it all is almost nauseating – size, price, colour choice of every item all laid out to maximum visual effect. Oh no, in this place there's work to be done. Digging to be... dug. You earn your purchase here.

You survey the scene, do a first scan of the racks to decipher the order in which you will peruse and pursue. Is there a vintage rack? Get there. (Though experience will tell you this rack is more often than not completely disappointing and barely even vintage. Still, it's a magnetic force you cannot deny, so don't bother trying). Dress rack? Highest priority. Jackets? Best bargains can be found here. Bags and shoes – 99.9% hideous vinyl 90s atrocities, but occasionally there is 70s leather gold in dem hills, so get digging. Jeans? Mmmmm not so much. Unless you're one of those highwaisty cutoff shorty with florals and nerd spectacles-y type vintage wearers or dealers, which I am not. Not that there's anything wrong with that! It can be cute, but frankly, I'm getting a bit old mature for that type of jazzy scene.

Each op-shop has a presence. It's... the vibe of the thing, as someone cool in the 90s once said. Most of the time, you can kind of tell if it's going to harbour treasure or not. They're not all brilliant like they used to be in 1996, when my best friend and I would hunt for $1.50 fluffy Kurt Cobain grandpa cardigans. Now, if time is of the essence, you need to be selective. Note: Year 2000-era polyester Ice dresses for $10.50 displayed to the front of the shop on neat racks, Rockmans/Supre/Millers pieces priced higher than they were at full retail, and stained, fugly 80s sack dresses on the vintage rack for $25 a piece = BAD. Independent church-run store IN AN OLD CHURCH only open on Wednesdays and Fridays till 3pm, little old ladies behind the desk that take only cash and write hand-written receipts and gossip together over cucumber sandwiches, walls crammed with hideous and wonderful and old and new and brilliant and falling apart clothing, old dusty shelf piled high with boots, and a glass cabinet strewn with 80s costume jewels and glomesh bags = GOOD. This is where you find cashmere beaded cardigans for $3.50. This is where your red leather mary jane pumps come from. This is where that belted 70s Cue sz 6 trench is. This where you buy a Chanel dress for $9.

“But!” I hear you splutter in frustration, “you are fiendishly toying with my emotions! Such a place does not exist!” Well it does. I've been there. I bought those things. I have the hand-written cucumber-stained receipt to prove it. And when I retire... I'll tell you where it is.

That's not to say that brilliance can't be found in unlikely places. A couple of years back I went into a large, reasonably priced, but completely uninspiring op-shop with way too much time to kill. I sifted through every single rack, quite thoroughly, and found absolutely nothing. (I'm sure the lady behind the counter thought I was trying to steal something.) I was just about to walk out the door when this woman picked out – from where I still honestly cannot fathom, it must have been the lingerie rack, ALWAYS CHECK THE LINGERIE RACK – this dream of a 1960s dress. All strapless boned and full skirt, palest shell-pink tulle layers with a deeper raspberry shade underneath, little ribbon rosebuds at the waist. Heaven. Carrie Bradshaw would have taken one look at this dress and cooed, “hello lover”.

“Oh”, she says. “This is nice.” Nice? This is nice?! I scream internally. You're standing there with the embodiment of holy ecstasy in a dress and you think it's NICE? You don't deserve this dress.

“Jess”, she says to her friend, “I might just try this on.” HA!! I am triumphant. It's totally not going to fit. I am mentally buying and wearing this dress, I am skipping down a New York street and being carried into the sunset on the back of my dream man's trusty steed.

“Actually”, she pauses and turns back, “I won't bother. It's only $7.”

Crumbling. Drowning. Weeping. Dying.

I numbly watch her pay for my dress with loose change that barely buys a Maccas meal these days, find myself briefly wishing she get hit by a car as she steps out the door, squash said thought promptly due to its ridiculous and evil nature, and exit myself. So yeah, brilliance can be found in unlikely places, but it doesn't mean you'll be the one to find it.

But I guess that's just the universe balancing things out. Experiences like that have been greatly outweighed by the wonderful finds I have sold and kept over the years. A stunning 1970s acetate backless halter party dress, with an Asian-inspired floral print and a sweep that covered almost the whole of my bedroom floor. Amongst some tacky modern jewellery a 1950s sterling silver filigree cuff with real turquoise and coral stones. A thinner than thin nylon minidress covered in silky black fringe. A $2 satin scarf-print Medieveal-style 70s dress, with some minor damage, but I still use it as a costume piece. My slouchy Italian suede banana bag.

The strapless cream lace wedding dress I wish I never sold.

I wonder what I'll find on Monday?



Ida Jenshus is a gorgeous Norwegian folk/country artist, who in 2009 won the Norwegian Grammy for Country Album of the Year. Above, she is wearing a Damsel Vintage dress. I love love love Ida's style, and am thrilled that she and I share a similar taste in vintage. You can even see a peak of the dress on the cover of her new album, No Guarantees:


Beautiful, stylish, and talented. She reminds so much of my favourite 70s ladies I blogged about here, particularly the look and style of Melanie. Wouldn't you agree? Divine. All photos are copyright Kim Ramberghaug.





And thus I clothe my naked villainy / with old odd ends stolen out of holy writ / and seem a saint when most I play the devil

Rob Pensalfini as King Richard III. Photo by Morgan Roberts.

In my other life I am privileged to belong to a unique and inspiring theatre company, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble. QSE came into my life at a time when I was frankly a bit over acting, and was feeling somewhat jaded about ensemble theatre. Two years as part of their core ensemble helped turn that around - something I am eternally grateful for. In 2010 I decided not to continue in the core so that I could focus more time and energy on Damsel Vintage for a while, but I have managed to merge my two "worlds" by taking on the role of joint costumer designer (with my friend and fellow QSE'r Angel Kosch) for their mainstage production, Richard III, directed by Tom McSweeney.

Finally, my growing collection of medieval dresses and unhealthy obsession with silk velvet has a purpose in life! Angel and I have also been op-shopping like demons, something I haven't done for an eternity. The costumes are starting to come together nicely and as more publicity shots are taken I will post them. For starters, here's a sneak peak.

Rob Pensalfini as Richard III. Claire Pearson as Lady Anne. Louise Brehmer as Queen Elizabeth. Jane Cameron as Margaret. Cienda McNamara as the Duchess of York. Photo by Morgan Roberts.

Claire wears a 1970s emerald wrap dress. Louise wears a 1960s blue velvet bolero jacket with pearl bead and gold embroidery trim. She also wears my 1999 grad dress! Jane wears an early 1960s Young Innocent (which later became Young Edwardian) velvet jacket with fabric buttons and khaki lace trim. The outfit Cienda is wearing is not her final costume - we decided on a long green dress from a fantastic website - holyclothing.com - who do gorgeous gypsy dresses in a huge range of sizes. All photos are copyright Morgan Roberts.

You can find out more about the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble on our website, and keep update to date with news and Richard III details on our facebook page. More costume updates soon!


Oh Liv

Gotta love the Lifeline Book Fair. Sometimes the endless rows of books – countless trashy forgotten works obscuring the occasional treasure - can be so overwhelming that I leave empty-handed and more than a little frustrated. But back in June I hit the nostalgic jackpot with a hidden chunky pile of 90s Rolling Stone mags – yesssssssss. Satisfaction.

I fully anticipated my amusement at the white boy homie fashion ads, and wasn't disappointed. 26 Red, anyone? Klue?


Oh yes, anyone over the age of 25 just admit that you had a phase. Admit it. Someone? Perhaps it was just me then. Well, for the benefit of the uninitiated, you got the tightest crop top possible and the baggiest lowest jeans imaginable and the stupidest bandanna in existence, and you paraded around Sunshine Plaza (or equivalent) in this ensemble trying (and failing) to intimidate the skegs (surf brand wearers) with your bad 12 yr old self. Wich yo baaaaaad self.

Hmmmm. I don't quite remember THIS on the Hot Tuna racks:

But frankly, let's be honest now, it's about on par with the young strapping lads of today insisting on persevering with this fluro shorts + slip-on loafers sans socks debacle. And even with the occasional questionable fashion moment there's something about these 90s mags that I appreciate, now more than ever. There's a rawness to them, less manicured, youth searching for identities rather than having just a few highly specific acceptable options shoved down your throat. Leo was the wonder-boy heartthrob (go Leo!). Anthony Kiedis was sex. Courtney Love made great music, and was known for that. Soul Asylum were self-indulgent wankers who, though at one time were insanely famous, left a pretty small mark in the end. So though I was fully expecting to be amused, I wasn't quite prepared for a slight niggling feeling of loss.

At what? Not sure really. I don't miss being a teenager. Maybe... being so enveloped by music. Being inspired by these magical girls. Looking forward to being... wanting to be... somebody. Not
Somebody. Just somebody.

This girl, which I wasn't. THAT girl.

This girl, which I wasn't.

The cooler than cool grunge chick that no longer seemed to exist in society by this time I became... confident to be myself.

Liv. Dear god, at age 17. Was there ever ANYONE else so... disarming? Liv. Just about to be cast in Stealing Beauty. On the cusp of ridiculous beauty of her own.

A 90s moment remembered. I've struggled with the resurgence of 90s fashion, I guess mainly because the young girls today do it so much better than I ever did. Sexier, for a start. A little unauthentic perhaps, more mainstream, but still better. (maybe that's just what mainstream is: trend + sexy + unauthentic = mainstream). But Liv in this movie represents the best that 90s fashion ever was or ever will be. If I could recreate even half a percent of the magic she did, I might reconsider my stance on it. Might even try and bottle it.


the girls that I adore

Rediscovering my undying love for Steve Nicks recently has inspired me to find a few images of other girls that continually fuel my passion for vintage clothing, and who represent the wonderful unique style I try to resurrect in the pieces. I want to see it walking on our streets today, people! Free-spirited, talented, shining lights of their time - unpretentious, individual, authentic - ahh one can only dream to be so fabulous.





And last but, oh, certainly not least. Far less famous than all of the above, though not deservedly so. Melanie Safka was, and still is, a stupendously gorgeous and talented singer, whose style - particularly in the 1960s and 70s - I adore. Her songs were so unashamedly honest and heartfelt. Some could even be considered cheesy, and would be if they were released today. Yes, one song does actually say:

If I weren't afraid you'd laugh at me
I would run and take all your hands
And I'd gather everyone together for a day
And when we gathered
I'll pass buttons out that say
Beautiful people
Then you'd never have to be alone
'Cause there'll always be someone
With the same button on as you

However, I argue that her complete hippie authenticity and magnetic presence on stage, not to mention her amazing voice, nullifies that...

Are songs like this still made? I'm not sure we're that hopeful anymore.