A look at Sydney’s best vintage and second-hand stores and why people believe in them.
Retro is coming back in a big way, and there are numerous stores across Sydney ready to deliver. Whether it be clothes, cookery books, or cabinets filled with curiosities, once you step through the doors of a secondhand shop, you’ll find no end of treasures waiting to be bought.
But as much as we’d like to wax poetic about every boutique and bookstore, the list would go on forever. So we’ve picked a few of our favourites for you to peruse, discover, and hopefully fall in love with:
C’s Flashback is the oldest vintage store around, and they’ve used their years of experience to make sure they get it right. In operation for over 20 years, everything at the store is affordable, vibrant, and unique in its own way.
Kim, an employee at the store, comments that ‘secondhand shops tend to have a curated selection’, so each secondhand store has their own flavour or appeal. C’s Flashback has a distinctly late-20th century vibe, with clothes that seem perfectly in line with today’s renewed interested in 80s and 90s fashion, since, as Kim says, ‘Big companies are looking into the past to find styles to refresh and reinvigorate.’
The store is filled with all manner of interesting items, from brightly-coloured polo shirts to well-made leather jackets, and it’s overwhelming in the best way. Browsing through the racks will leave you with a whole armful of clothes that suit your tastes. You could go for the ever-popular corduroy pants and turtleneck skivvies, or find your own spin with any of the numerous choices on offer. They’re affordable, in great quality, and they’re the kind of thing people could easily wear today and into the future.
‘Fashion is cyclical,’ Kim explains, adding that many customers tend to come in families, where the parents can reminisce about their youth and show their kids what fashion was like back in the day, ‘It’s a bit of a flashback.’
Bloodworth Bellamy’s name comes from a combination of two surnames: James Bloodworth, a brick mason and convict who was pardoned and given land in Dulwich Hill for building the first government house, and his wife, Sarah Bellamy. So it makes sense that the store would be packed to the rafters with history.
Store owner Nick Cadey describes his store as ‘a museum where you can buy anything’, and it stands up to that lofty aim. There’s everything from clay figures from 300BC to art supplies from the 1960s, and all of it has a story to go along with it.
The shop started from humble beginnings – Nick’s desk job didn’t suit him, so he started selling art. As a child, he was always interested in antiques, so he added some to his stall. The antiques sold, the art didn’t. He got more antiques, selling them each time, until a family friend suggested that he start a shop.
Three years later, Bloodworth Bellamy stands proudly on King Street in Newtown, with a veritable treasure trove of antiques from almost everywhere you can imagine. There’s a lot from Europe, but also Asia. There are childhood toys, hand-painted signs, bowls that are hundreds of years old. There’s a cabinet made of walnut from the 1750s, and a collection of rabbit sculptures with ceramic faces and clothes made from bits of vintage fabric. There’s a vase rescued from a shipwreck off the coast of China – it’s still got some particularly clingy barnacles on it.
‘I want to give people the chance to own something that’s genuinely unique,’ Nick says, ‘Things you’ve never seen before.’
Having moved from Redfern three years ago, it’s certainly made Darlinghurst home – filled to the brim with pieces imported from France, the clothes on offer are elegant, refined, and infused with historical sentiment.
The store is populated with jackets and coats from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, with a wide selection of designer items and a variety of denim to tie outfits together.
An employee commented that ‘we’re not just selling clothes, we’re selling history.’ And their history stretches across the entirety of Europe in the 20th century, with everything from 30s workwear to army uniforms from Germany. He also advises customers to think of the fades and holes as ‘part of the package’, a way to remind the wearer about the history of the item that they’re putting on.
And despite any imperfections gathered over time, Fabrique Vintage’s offerings remain in exceptional condition- with pieces as well-constructed, like dated Gucci jackets and Burberry trench coats, the fades and tears just give the clothes a timeless quality that speaks volumes about the way style never quite goes out of fashion.
Faster Pussycat is bright, carefully designed, and ‘not for the shy flower’, the words of owner Jenelle. Impeccably dressed and well-spoken, she uses the words ‘camp’, ‘kitsch’ and ‘flamboyant’ to describe the store, which sells clothes from the 30s to around the 80s, as well as a few new pieces imported from London. She justifies the bubblegum-pink interior perfectly. ‘The dresses have stories,’ she says, ‘the shop should too.’
The store itself has been around since 1996, but Jenelle bought the store three years ago and overhauled it, turning it from a shop focused on reproductions and ‘hotrod fifties clothing’ into what it is today.
When asked about her usual customers, her answer is surprising. ‘Normal girls that don’t normally shop vintage,’ she says, adding that she’ll give them a history lesson. Newcomers to vintage sometimes have the preconception that ‘vintage’ equates to ‘smelly second-hand clothing’, but Faster Pussycat’s clothes are elegant and gorgeously designed – 1960s suits with impeccable stitching, silky nightgowns, and a 1950s prom dress that any teenager would be proud to wear today.
Jenelle herself is also a force to be reckoned with, a fashionista like no other, and fondly regarded by secondhand owners and customers alike. To find out more about her, check out this documentary and see if it’ll inspire you to embrace the Faster Pussycat experience:
The first thing you might notice, when you happen upon the Newtown chapter of Elizabeth’s bookshop, is an intriguing display outside: a selection of books wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, with a few choice phrases printed on the front. Their blind date with a book initiative, which began over five years ago, where customers can pick a book according to how intrigued they are by the vague description on the front.
The books nestled in brown paper are new, crisp and untouched by eager readers, but they’re the only ones. Elizabeth’s Bookshop specialises in second-hand books, and they’ve done so for over forty years. There’s a range of books for sale, from cookery guides to children’s books (with a gargantuan fiction section to boot), many of which are sourced from people looking to sell books they want to get rid of.
They come in boxes, and sometimes they’re full of books of different genres and in sellable condition, and sometimes they’re full of books and some things that are decidedly not books. Rachel, an employee, fondly recalls finding video recorders, a solemn letter to an ex, and a book with a very detailed explanation of what was wrong with it written in the front, beginning with the line ‘To the person reading this, I wanted to tell you why I hated this book so much’ (She thinks it might’ve been a Brett Easton Ellis book, but she’s not sure).
For more information on how to sell your secondhand books for cash or Elizabeth’s Bookshop credit, head to their website.
GOOD TIMES VINTAGE
Good Times Vintage is a new addition to the Newtown vintage scene, having opened its doors to the public for the first time on the 18th of August this year, but they’ve already started to make their mark.
Helmed by Deborah and Ruben, a couple with a penchant for fashion, their store mixes old pieces with gleaming interior design – giving off the look of H&M, while selling clothes that have and will last for longer than any fast fashion will. They specialise in ‘everyday classics’, as Deborah describes them, referring to the kind of vintage clothes that you could wear on the street without any apprehension about looking out of place.
Deborah’s background in fashion and fine arts gave her an appreciation for old tailoring, and after a five-year stint in the vintage industry in Melbourne, she’s using that knowledge to bring a fresh perspective to Sydney. Countless hours of searching wholesalers and markets garner secondhand gems, some of which she repairs. The selection is inspired by trends and streetwear, so there are 90s sports jackets (‘hard to find in good condition’), vintage mens’ shirts (‘refit to how men would wear them now’), and a fair number of sequinned and sparkly garments (‘for people who want to go to festivals’).
There’s a fair few new pieces as well – Deborah estimates that the store is around 35% new, 65% vintage. She explains that the basics that often work as the base of the outfit, like white shirts or crop tops, aren’t often found in good condition.
‘You don’t have to wear vintage from head to toe,’ she says. And it’s true. All you need to do is have a good time with it.
THE VINTAGE CLOTHING SHOP
Nestled in St James’ Arcade, The Vintage Clothing Shop presents a kind of austere beauty that harkens to the origins of fashion, holding the key to the beginnings of luxury fashion, which echoes around the area.
This shop may be suited for those really looking to delve into the world of vintage fashion, going all out – however, you can always add a touch of vintage to your outfit, with a wide range of jewellery, hats, and small wearable items for sale. Many customers, however, do want to go the full yard, with some being very specific about the decade and only choosing to wear clothes from the 50s or the like.
It’s been in operation since 1975, so it’s had time to accrue a vast collection of delicate and beautiful pieces. ‘As old as is wearable,’ an employee states, referring to the wide variety of styles available, spanning history as far back as wearable clothes can go.
And if you’re going to a dress up party, this is one place to go that’ll give you everything you need to make a true statement.