Somewhere in Sydney there are vintage finds you'd sell your grandmother to own. To help you find them, check out our pick of the city's best vintage fashion stores.
In an era where everything old is new again, and 'vintage' has long replaced 'cutting-edge' as the qualifier for all things fashionable, we are truly lucky to be living in Sydney. In the past few years the selection of vintage fashion stores has exploded, making it easier than ever before to resemble Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and just about anyone in an episode of Mad Men. Moreover, it's made people more adventurous and individual in what they wear, and has made people-watching in inner Sydney a lot more enjoyable. More often than not the cute girl or boy you see strolling through Newtown or Surry Hills is dressed to the nines in old threads.
Here, we have compiled a list of what we believe to be the finest vintage establishments in Sydney. With high- and low-end options, the stores on this list promote endless creativity and long hours of delightful rack-thumbing.
Fashion stylists and wide-eyed vintage collectors regularly scour the racks of Grandma Takes A Trip for the kind of clothing you'd sell your actual grandmother to own, complete with rocking chair and half-drunk cup of tea. The store first opened in Surry Hills in 2001, and has expanded to include a Bondi branch, both of which stock a flawless range of cute stuff with new stock coming in at least three times a week. All items are sourced from the UK and Europe, so you find impeccable quality items from the ‘40s to the ‘80s which you'd never find in Australia, because quite frankly the local archive of ‘vintage’ clothing isn’t especially inspiring.
In the last couple of years, the folks at Grandma Takes A Trip have also been designing their own line of dresses, jackets and swimwear made out of re-purposed vintage fabric, adding to the gleeful exclamations which are regularly issued by any lady entering the shop for the first time. The Surry Hills store has the added benefit of now housing a tailor downstairs, who will happily and inexpensively alter all your vintage finds with a discount for anything bought from them.
The Sydney Antiques Centre is always delightful to rummage around in, even when you know you'll never be able to afford that turn of the century ivory walking stick, nor have any purpose for a doctor's leather travelling case. Head downstairs, though, and you'll find the Centre’s Vintage Fashion Emporium, a pocket of stalls with some of the best quality and most beautiful vintage items you've ever seen.
With a layout akin to the permanent indoor markets you find in certain areas of London, every stall holder has a range of carefully edited items which satisfy every old-timey whim you've ever had. Ladies looking for evening gowns or Mad Men-esque summer dresses should check out the stock sold from the Coco Repose and Empire 47 stalls. The arcade also has a faultless selection of men’s vintage clothing, in particular the stock sold by Keep It Secret and What The Cat Dragged In, with excellent selections of shirts and leather jackets and the kind of beautifully tailored suits that would make Don Draper blush.
Mint Condition first opened its doors on Victoria Road in 2006, a product of many years of obsessive collecting and attention to detail. The shop stocks dreamy chiffon and nylon numbers from the ‘50s to the taffeta spectacles of the ‘80s, as well as beautiful shoes and a range of marcasite, rhinestone and flower enamel jewellery.
The vast majority of the clothing is meticulously curated and imported from New York, and, considering the high quality of the items, very reasonably priced. Every item is meticulously checked for flaws, washed and ironed before being put on display, and with over 1200 pieces in store and new stock added daily, it makes it very easy to for you to develop a debilitating addiction which sees you catching two buses every weekend to revel in the racks of brightly coloured fabric.
They really weren't messing around when they decided to call this place an Emporium. Head up to Campbell Street and witness the madness: one staircase leads you upstairs to impeccably sourced vintage - yards of dresses, eighties heels, brooches, vintage sunglasses stacks of sequins and shoulder pads - while the second staircase leads you downstairs to a smaller room with items just as good, but cheaper!
It's just about impossible to walk into Zoo Emporium and not buy something, so consider yourself forewarned. While there’s a heavier focus on garb from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, you will occasionally find the odd ‘50s beaded cardigan or cloche hat, and gentlemen will be able to score themselves some very dapper jackets. With some of the loveliest and most helpful staff around, and always appropriately sound-tracked - Bronski Beat's 'Smalltown Boy' was playing last time I payed a visit – you will lose hours in this place.
Three 5 Nine is a true charity shop, belonging to the Red Cross, but like the branches in Melbourne's Fitzroy and Richmond, Three 5 Nine has really taken the charity shop to a whole new level. The walls are kitted out with World War 2 posters, the clothes are arranged by style and falling out of antique wardrobes and all the price tags are printed on the back of hand-drawn illustrations of chic wartime nurses.
With the ladies dresses, mens suits, lacy negligees and the red chaise lounge at the back, they've married the boutique feel of 'vintage' stores with the good old fashioned charity shop ethos. Three 5 Nine have done the hard work and put onto the floors only quality donated items.
Dear Pluto is halfway between a vintage store and an op shop, tucked down a little alleyway in Surry Hills. It has very limited hours of opening - strictly weekends only - so you want to do your research and make sure you're going to turn up on the right day.
Inspired by some of the vintage stores in Berlin which sell clothes by the kilo, Dear Pluto doesn't sell anything over $50 and everything is genuinely second hand. Rather than stock a range of dresses all in the same style made from vintage fabric, they’ve made sure the shop has maintained its warehouse charms, and packed it full of ‘70s and ‘80s paraphernalia, with a lot of the stock being sourced from rural op shops and markets. In addition to the clothes, they host film screenings every Monday and have been known to host the odd speed dating night, too.
South King Street truly is a spectacular untapped resource. Turn left instead of right at the Enmore Road fork and find yourself in a landscape of bounteous records, furniture, bric-a-brac, accessories and buttons. The clothing options down this end of Newtown have traditionally been a little less reliable, but that's all changed very quickly in the last year or so.
The Collective Ensemble only opened in early 2011, but it has already established itself as one of the better vintage destinations on this side of town. There are folksy dresses for girls, jackets for boys and all manner of floral, flannel, check and denim lining the tastefully paint-peeled walls. Spend a little extra time and go for a wander down South King Street; you’ll be amazed what you’ll find.
Just walking through the door of Shag on Oxford Street makes you feel a little bit glamorous, or at least until the beaded curtains get tangled in your hair. The slender, dimly lit room is filled top to bottom with old-school cool.
Shag started off in Melbourne back in 1996, and ten years later deigned to grace Sydney with its presence when it opened up its Sydney branch in Paddington. All manner of fur, sequined, velvet, polka dot and embroidered items are to be purchased here, sourced from all around the world, as well as a pretty spectacular selection of bags and jewellery. There’s a dynamic mix of vintage and new stuff, some in terrible taste and some in amazing taste. Shag is one of those places you have to dig, and where you always find something you never realised you needed.
In the last few years Cream has become something of an inner-Sydney institution. The cute girl with the lace collared dress and the hot guy in the leather jacket you’ve been lusting after on the bus have likely been frequenting Cream for their attire.
Cream stocks clothing for men and women, as well as a range of bags, sunglasses and the ubiquitous leather pixie boots worn by everyone with feet. Everything sold at Cream isn’t vintage per se – rather, everything has been re-purposed and recycled from original vintage fabrics and shipped (mostly) from Japan. With an astonishing turn over in stock and legions of fans all over town, there was no way Cream couldn’t be on this list. And for those who prefer to shop from bed, you can now buy Cream paraphernalia online.
Tucked away in the back streets of Camperdown, a trip to Pigeon Ground takes a little extra effort but is always worth it. In addition to having the coolest looking store front in Camperdown, Pigeon Ground stocks used records, new and vintage fashion and other bits and bobs you want to get your hands on. The carefully selected vintage apparel sits alongside designs from labels like Secret Squirrel and Funkis, so you can mix and match your outfit’s references.