The Vintage Drawer

Vintage is not my thing, however I live in a suburb known for its wonderful Vintage and the shop that stands out for me is The Vintage Drawer. I sat down and had a chat with DeborahThomson the owner to find out a bit more about what makes great Vintage.

Deborah Thompson, The Vintage Drawer, Newtown, age 52.
Me: Okay. Now, are you vintage all the time?
Deborah: No. I am most of the time. Always when I’m in the shop, always. I would never wear anything but true vintage in the shop. But when I’m home, working, relaxing, gardening, going for a walk, obviously I do have a pair of tracksuit pants that I’ll throw on [laughs]. But I wouldn’t be seen out and about socially in modern clothing. If it’s not vintage it would at least be a very good reproduction. When I say reproduction, it has to still be the right length, the right circumference of skirt, that type of thing.
I think one of the issues with reproduction can be that it’s not the right length, which is very important, and it can often not be the right circumference of full skirt. Reproduction is my preference if I’m not wearing vintage as opposed to say a vintage-inspired, which can be inspired by vintage, like brands like Review or Alannah Hill which do a really lovely job, their clothes are lovely but the hems are often too short or the skirts are not full enough, so that’s what I mean by inspired versus reproduction.

Me : How did you get into vintage? Was it something that you…
Deborah: I guess it comes from growing up in a small country town, always being surrounded by an old aesthetic. I never grew up – I’ve never, ever lived or grown up in a modern home or modern surroundings. I guess my mum has always been into antiques and old homes, and ever since I can remember I’ve always been just instinctively attracted to the beauty of vintage from a very early age. I remember being 13 and wearing an Edwardian camisole teamed with a pair of jeans, or teamed with a skirt, that a family friend had given me and I just thought it was so beautiful.
I wasn’t really conscious of what vintage was back then, and of course back then there wasn’t really that kind of realisation of vintage anyway. It hasn’t really emerged in full scope I think until maybe the last – in terms of it being popular to wear vintage, I think probably in the last 20 years, but prior to that you didn’t really think of something as vintage. There weren’t really vintage shops as such even, it was more antique shops and people would collect – there would be collectors who would collect vintage. But in terms of wearing it in the way that I do and lots of other people in this vintage world that I exist in, it’s not been a really common thing until I would say a good 10 years ago or more.
Me : You mentioned earlier, Mad Men was a peak?
Deborah: Yeah. The popular, like popularity in antique furniture ebbs and flows in troughs and peaks, and Mad Men when I first started my business four-and-a-half years ago Mad Men was on TV, had a major influence on the wearing of vintage. People were looking and wearing vintage more, and the same thing when The Great Gatsby movie came out, everyone was wanting to have Gatsby parties and dress like that. So always it’s been an influence.
Since Mad Men has finished it’s plateaued a little bit in popularity but there still really is a very strong culture. There’s quite a big vintage world out there, more than you would maybe imagine. I take part in the Fifties Fair, which is at Rose Seidler House every year, and it’s when you go to something like that and you get people coming from all over Australia to attend that event that you realise that’s it’s a very huge world, the vintage world.
Not everyone is into it, and I think the demographic of Newtown particularly does support vintage. There’s quite a lot of vintage stores, in King Street particularly, of all sorts of shapes and sizes and furniture, collectibles, clothing. I’m probably the only one that has a high end clothing store and true vintage in King Street, but there are some other really interesting vintage shops around here as well that have more ’60s, ’70s, ’80s whereas I specialise more so in ’40s and ’50s or ’30s to ’50s is my main focus.

Me: What’s the difference – because well, the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s body shapes were quite different.
Deborah : Very different, and also we have grown. We have changed; our body shape has changed significantly since the ’50s. Often it’s very hard or very challenging to find a dress to fit a larger woman. I try to cater for all sizes but you only get what you get in vintage, it’s not like I can ring up China and order [laughs] the same dress, and I wouldn’t want to anyway, in different sizes. So it is challenging because when you think about the lifestyle, back in the ’50s on a day-to-day basis a woman would expend more energy on a day-to-day basis just doing her daily chores.
She would spend more time doing the washing up, the washing. She would drive less. People didn’t eat out as much, particularly in Australia. It’s probably different in America, but in Australia much more we were less affluent than the Americans. So they used to wear their garments to death, and there’s a lot more preservative in our food now. So when you think about all that, our lifestyle now, we drive so much more often. One household will have two or three cars. We’ll press a button to wash up, press a button to do the washing. We tend to not expend the energy, we don’t exercise as much, we work too much.
So we have, over time, over the decades just grown. So very rarely do I get anyone who will come into the shop who is a 22-inch waist or a 24-inch waist. The average waist size I guess in here would be about a 28-inch waist, which is about a size 12. Then once a lady is over 30 inches it becomes very, very difficult to cater for true vintage. It really does. It’s disappointing for a lot of women, and it’s difficult when you have to say to a lady I’m really sorry but I don’t have anything at the moment to cater for your size. You feel really awful because you don’t want to make them feel bad about their size, but it’s just a fact. It is very difficult to get true vintage in larger sizes.
The good side of being able to get a vintage dress and go to a function is that no one else is going to have your dress on. You’ll truly stand out. You always will steal the show in true vintage and the girls who come in for their formal dresses, for example, from school who have the confidence and the bravery I suppose at that age to wear vintage, always steal the show when they go to their school formals.
The downside is that you have to find something that will fit you, the colour’s right, the style is right. There are many, many factors that come into play, but if you find the right vintage dress it normally is meant to be. There’s a real meant

Yeah. There’s something about vintage that I wanted to mention, and it’s the attitude of well, not only men but people in society towards you when you wear vintage. I notice – I get a lot of compliments, and it’s when I wear vintage. I get them from both men and women, but from a male perspective, men absolutely love women in vintage. They prefer a woman being covered up, longer lengths.
Something I’d love to really stress to anyone who thinks that showing cleavage and legs and all of that is sexy, I’d love to challenge them to think about that because men absolutely find women incredibly sexy in longer lengths and covered-up cleavages and in vintage, particularly the ’50s. I get so many compliments.
I also get a different attitude from people in the service industry, so if I am popping into Coles on the way home and I can’t reach something at the top shelf and I’m wearing vintage, within seconds I’ll have somebody come and help me get it down from the shelf. I get treated differently, almost. I get a different type of level of service, it’s quite extraordinary. It almost – it’s like it commands some kind of respect or a different type of etiquette. It’s really quite interesting.
My heart sinks often when I go into the city at night and I see what some of the young girls are wearing, and I think if you really want to get yourself a nice boyfriend, get yourself into vintage [laughs]. Truly. Whatever age you are, get yourself into vintage. Wear something that suits you because it will ultimately make you look sexy in the right way. Sex appeal is not about showing everything, it’s about wearing something with femininity, with elegance, that shows off your body but doesn’t show your body [laughs].

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