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An Expert Vintage Shopper Spills Her Secrets

On the eve of Op Shop Week, we talk to a stylist who excels in one-off finds

Anna Saunders

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to delve into the wardrobes of countless stylish women (a perk of the job). And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that – among the luxury basics and designer accessories – you’ll always discover a vintage treasure that was picked up from an out-of-the-way consignment store in New York or bought for next-to-nothing at a tiny market across town.

Unlike the women I’ve interviewed, I have never been much of a vintage shopper. As a teenager, I was never into op shops, and these days I’m even less inclined to spend my weekends combing the local markets I search of faded-to-perfection vintage Levis. Not when Net-A-Porter is so ordered, colour-coordinated and easy-to-navigate. 

Yet as the fashion tide turns inexorably away from fast fashion and its fleeting, gimmicky trends, and towards a more environmentally conscious approach, secondhand shopping just makes sense. Why get caught up in the latest fad, when the fashion carousel is moving so fast that those exact same looks are probably already sitting in your local consignment store?

One woman who knows a lot about vintage is Ali Carey. We worked together in fashion magazines several years ago, and afterwards Ali went on to become a stylist at SBS. She is a consummate vintage shopper, and after following her on Instagram for a while, I’ve realised that she is also brilliant at pulling together secondhand and vintage looks in a way that somehow looks completely fresh and modern. We asked her to share her tips on how to shop vintage, but keep it modern.

Consider consignment

“I bought this ‘80s Escada blazer at The Sleeveless Society in [Sydney’s] Bronte, which is a consignment store. One of the reasons I think that my look is a little different is because I do a lot of consignment shopping, as well as vintage, and consignment shops tend to be very curated, especially compared to Vinnies or the Salvos where you’ve got to search through all the racks.

“Jaimi, from The Sleeveless Society, collects from all around the world. She goes on buying trips to Italy and the US as well. She also does a lot of selling on Instagram. She posted this blazer on Instagram, and I have been looking for an Escada blazer from the ‘80s for so long- I love the wide lapels – so I contacted her immediately!”

Take pieces to the tailor

 “I got the sleeves taken up and the waist taken in on this blazer to balance out the big shoulders, and that’s another tip: make the pieces fit you. I bought these jeans at Buffalo Exchange vintage store chain in America for $15.”

Mix decades 

 I got this dress for $50 from Swop in [Sydney’s] Newtown and I believe it’s super late ‘80s or early ‘90s. I love that it’s electric blue, and I wear it to work or out on a Friday night for dinner. I love the masculine-feminine mix – a strong shoulder up top, and a nipped-in feminine waist down below.

The shoes are Jil Sander by Di Nuovo in Sydney’s Paddington. Someone had dropped off two pairs – in white and black – and they had never been worn. I got them for $200, which sounds expensive but they would have retailed for triple that. 

My advice is don’t be afraid to mix things you might not usually. This outfit mixes a feminine dress – which most people might wear with a heel – and a shoe that’s quite bold and out there. It also mixes vintage and consignment. Some people shop vintage because they love to recreate a particular era, like the ‘70s or ‘80s, but I just search for pieces that I love.”

Be discerning

“I started shopping vintage as a teenager because it was fun and cheap, but I’ve become better at it as I’ve come to understand my body and style. Nowadays, I’m more discerning about what I buy, and one of my tips is to be as discerning in a vintage store as you would be in a high-end boutique. Even though it’s cheap, you still need to ask yourself: Do I need this? Do I love it?”

Get to know vintage store owners

“These pants are Bassike and I bought them from SWOP, and the shoes are by Chloe. They still had their tags on when I bought them at Di Nuovo. 

The top is a collaboration between H&M and Margiela, which I bought at The Sleeveless Society. It was originally sold as a jacket, but when I went into the store, the owner suggested trying it on as a top, and I loved it much more. Often the people in consignment stores are the owners and they know their stock back to front and can tell you where a garment is from and why they love it. Shopping in consignment stores is a collaborative process in a way, and it’s worth getting to know the owners as you’ll always get to see the best stuff. I’ve had people text me to tell me that something’s come into the shop that they think I’ll love.”

Everything that is cool has already been cool

I bought this boiler suit, which is probably from the mid-‘80s, at the Anglicare warehouse in Villawood where you buy clothes by the kilo. I get a lot of attention when I wear it – people always stop me and ask where I bought it. I love that it’s pastel pink, and I love jumpsuits. But when I bought this it was in terrible shape. I had to wash it probably five or six times and then dry clean it because it was covered in mould.

I bought this five years ago, and now boilersuits have become this crazy trend, which just goes to show that you can get contemporary trends from vintage stores. So much of what we see has been around before. Sometimes it’s worth having a look through what you already own.So often you can recreate a look with what you have or vintage pieces. Everything that is cool has already been cool before.”

Want to try vintage shopping? Here are our favourite spots in Sydney and online. (Please tell us any others you love, in the comments below!)

Di Nuovo  – A designer consignment store in Sydney’s Paddington.

Vestiaire CollectivePre-loved designer fashion online.

The Sleeveless SocietyIn Sydney’s Bronte

SWOP – A place to buy and sell preloved fashion in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne






BY Anna Saunders

Anna is the co-founder of PRIMER. She has sold clothes on consignment for years, but thinks it's about time she started buying them too

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