A Bison Abroad| Melbourne brings back vintage fashion

Top three stores to visit for your vintage fix in Australia

Melbourne, the second most populous city in Australia, is known in the “land down under” as being the cultural capital of countless arts and art scenes. The city hosts annual international film festivals and is latticed with laneways that are completely covered in vibrant street art.

Melbourne also takes home the title of coffee capital of the world. (Or so I’m told. Coffee is most certainly considered an art form by many in Melbourne.) However, one artistic medium Melbourne may be less known for, but it nonetheless excels in, is fashion.

Not only does Melbourne have its very own fashion week and get to boast about being the location of Australia’s biggest fashion event — Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival — but it also has a culture surrounding style that means the city has some of the most unique clothing boutiques around. 

So, I spent an entire Saturday exploring vintage clothing stores in the central business district (CBD), which is just one small facet of Melbourne’s style scene, and have compiled an insider’s guide to my top three locales.

RetroStar Vintage Clothing

RetroStar has only been open in Melbourne since the early 2000s, but they have already become an iconic shop in the city when it comes to alternative fashion. Organized effortlessly by style and decade, going back all the way to the 1940s, RetroStar has beautiful, high-quality garments lining their walls from floor to ceiling.

Everything about this store acts like a piece of art in its own right, from overflowing cases of unusual jewelry that frame either side of the register to the dressing rooms that are wallpapered with antique clothing ads ranging from couture to kitsch.

My favorite finds from RetroStar include a fine selection of glamorously ugly ’80s sweaters and some handsomely made Katharine Hepburn-style pants. The store also features a surprisingly specific section of American graphic tees from the ’90s, and it is a unique experience, equal parts bizarre and confronting, to find a tourist T-shirt advertising Atlantic City in a vintage store on the complete opposite side of the world. 

Such strangeness, however, is part of the experience. RetroStar Vintage Clothing has pieces for any possible vibe a person could be trying to achieve, and they all come together to form one wonderful vintage store.

 Vintage Soul

RetroStar may have a vast variety of fashion to choose from, but for a more specifically tailored vintage fashion experience, Vintage Soul is the way to go. Vintage Soul is a small boutique that consists of a modest showroom with crooked wooden stairs that lead up to an even more petite balcony, but every garment that is able to fit in the shop is eye-catching in its own peculiar way. 

The boutique is packed with elaborate pieces, ranging from embroidered leather jackets and flared corduroy pants in every color of the rainbow to brogue cowboy boots. Stepping into Vintage Soul feels very much like stepping into some secret fashion underground that only a select few are privileged to know.

My absolute favorite find in Vintage Soul is a black velvet blazer that is cropped short and intricately sequined in white, yellow and emerald. It absolutely looks like something Roger Taylor would wear in the ’70s, and I am absolutely so pleased to have found it. Come to think of it, every single member of Queen would probably be able to find full outfits for their more outrageous ’70s years at Vintage Soul.

Out of the Closet Vintage Clothing

The very experience of walking through the front doors of Out of the Closet Vintage Clothing signals that the store holds all manner of clothing treasures inside. The store is located on Flinders Street, one of the busiest roads in the entire CBD, and entering it is like stepping through a portal to some place magical. 

The entrance doors transition directly into stairs going down, and the ceiling and walls are covered in Technicolor album covers going back decades and decades. When I walked down those steps, the store speakers were playing Jimi Hendrix at the perfect volume. Descending the stairs of Out of the Closet is like transcending from Flinders Street into a more peaceful plane of existence. 

From amongst all of the vintage stores I visited in the CBD, Out of the Closet easily has the most diverse collection of clothing. Shifting from rack to rack across the delightfully creaky wood flooring reveals new discoveries at every turn: ’90s floral dresses, charmingly grungy ’70s overalls, unplaceable and borderline unwearable tweed jackets, practically the whole nine yards. The store even has an impressive array of vinyl, and the shopkeepers might cut you a sweet deal on the price if you’re nice.

My favorite finds from Out of the Closet Vintage Clothing are a mid-century floral skirt that is secretly a pair of wide-legged pants with pockets and an actual skirt that looks like it was stolen from the set of 1982’s own “The Safety Dance” music video. I cannot recommend Out of the Closet enough.

The wonderful thing about fashion in Melbourne, and really anywhere, is that it isn’t just something ephemeral and inaccessible that only exists on runways and in high-end fashion houses. When it’s applied to an individual and their style, it becomes an art form of expressing themselves and presenting the way they want to be seen in the world. 

Individual fashion can turn the wearer into a work of art that is intimately tied to who they are. Because of this, visiting vintage clothing shops in Melbourne and really delving into what they have to offer is a fascinating way to get a feel for the city and its history. 

Each piece of clothing I encountered in my investigation was worn by a real person with their own sense of individual expression. Each piece of clothing has its own history and, through some mysterious process, travelled through time and space against all odds to be collected and curated in RetroStar, Vintage Soul, Out of the Closet and countless other Melbourne boutiques. 

Now in the present, these physical markers of past people can be renewed, remixed and refreshed by the people of Melbourne, transformed into brand new, but continuous, art.

Leave a Reply