“There’s a choice, there’s a history, there’s an energy behind the clothes already,” muses Peter from behind the counter of C’s Flashback, one of Surry Hill’s veteran vintage shops.
Going to a mall and buying overpriced, fresh off the conveyer belt style clothes has never been my cup of tea. Yet too many times I’ve found myself in a white walled fitting room several floors away from natural light, buying a half decent item of clothing just so I can get out of there.
It’s very likely that most of our clothes will outlive us. They might be handed down or donated to charity but the majority of what we wear will probably end up in landfill.
For a more ethically and sustainably sound way to shop, there is little reason to look past vintage. Characterised by unique prints and fabrics, craftsmanship and embedded nostalgia, vintage clothes are worlds away from the cheap garments we churn through without a second thought.
Crown Street is the epicentre of the Surry Hills vintage scene, with institutions like Zoo Emporium, C’s Flashback, U-Turn, Storeroom Vintage, Cream on Crown, Miss Brown’s and Route 66 all a stone’s throw from each other. And that is only naming a few.
C’s Flashback has been on the strip for over twenty years and, while the suburb itself has evolved exponentially around it, the store has very much maintained its old-school approach to vintage.
“The way we approach the shop is you go in there and you find it,” Peter tells me as he helps me into an oversized fifties tweed jacket that caught my eye as soon as I walked in. “You go with what you feel and how you react to an item, rather than being told this is what you have to wear.”
At Storeroom Vintage, one off tees, tracksuits, jackets and cargo pants line the walls. Most of their vintage stock is hand picked at markets during their pilgrimages to America.
“Vintage tees are like records. Sooner or later people are going to start framing them on walls,” owner Lee explains as he points to a rare N.W.A tee hanging above the register, one of his many prized pieces.
The appropriately named Zoo Emporium is just off Crown on Campbell Street. “We have a lot of collector’s pieces, designer pieces, vintage from the 1900s all through to stuff now. Everything is generally just fabulous,” says Zoo employee Ella.
Each garment has life weaved through it. Vintage shopping is an adventure, a portal to times in history that I would otherwise have no tangible connection to.
Just down from the epicentre, on a Cleveland Street corner lives Dolly Up Vintage Emporium. Personal stylist and vintage obsessed Erin (@dollyupvintage) runs the shop, and her eye for timeless styles and well-made garments has secured Dolly Up as a go to for vintage lovers around the world.
Dolly Up specialises in ‘adult vintage’ and eveningwear. Gowns hang delicately from the rack that winds around the store and sparkle in the natural light coming in from the street. “Vintage is a history and an art lesson,” Erin tells me as I try on a yellow floral dress from the sixties that she found in Paris.
The dress is something that I would never think to put on and it somehow changes how I feel altogether. “I think vintage shopping offers something in the way of happiness to a lot of people,” muses Erin.
Surry Hills vintage shopping attracts people who are thoughtful, who favour something that is well made over something that is cheap and mass-produced, and who love the little thrill that comes from rummaging and discovering treasure.
“Vintage fashion is the future, to be honest,” Cream on Crown owner Johnno says. As oxymoronic as it sounds, ethically, sustainably and style wise, Johnno may well be correct.