THE more you travel these days and clothes-hunt abroad, the more loudly Dorothy’s immortal words whisper a loop in your fashionable ears that there’s no place like home, and set you scrambling for her ruby slippers to hasten the journey back.
Fashionistas and vintage vixens are increasingly well-served on Irish streets, thanks to a quiet retail revolution elegantly taking place over dainty china teacups.
Vintage stores offer guilt-free shopping, as you can be 100% certain that you are not funding sweat-shop labour or poisoning the environment. Vintage pieces are often exquisitely crafted, in good-quality fabrics that have already proven their stamina. Vintage, and vintage-inspired designs, also reach back to an era when designers celebrated a woman’s curves, offering styles to suit all body shapes that transcend the whims of fickle fast fashion.
You are also guaranteed that you won’t end up in the same outfit as your ex’s new girlfriend at a wedding or night out.
Many paths wind through Cork’s cavernous English Market, and if you’re lucky (or informed) at least two or three will lead to Miss Daisy Blue, a vintage treasure trove in the Market Parade.
It’s a two-storey bonanza of sartorial delights, ranging from men’s woollen jumpers, to perfectly boxy leather cases, day dresses, cute cardigans, sequined ball gowns, hats from all eras, pearls and tulle. Downstairs holds a wide range of funky and affordable women’s and men’s casual wear, upstairs the focus shifts to formal and occasion wear, with great dresses, hats, furs and good-quality cashmere and angora cardigans, free from animal rights or ethical concerns.
Lounging on the floor by a glass cabinet full of vintage jewellery is a mannequin wearing an enviably perfect 1950s swimsuit, coloured beads draped around her neck. This piece is part of owner Breda Casey’s vintage archive. Worn by Breda’s mum, this swimsuit inspired Breda’s love of vintage, and along with an appreciation for print and an interest in recycling, fuelled her personal collection of vintage which led her to open Miss Daisy Blue.
“When a vintage piece fits you perfectly it is really special, the cut and quality are so good. We stock sizes 4 to 20 here,” says Breda. “1950s clothing and the coats are particularly popular. We also stock Potty but Posh Millinery, created by Cork-based designer Aoife Potter-Cogan who makes beautiful vintage-inspired hats.”
Brocade and Lime, on Cork’s historic Coal Quay is an immaculately and imaginatively renovated Victorian building that also features a vintage-themed beauty parlour. While owner Emma Ahern stocks vintage clothes and hats, most of her stock is new but vintage in design, for those who want the look without the history.
“I always yearned for feminine flattering cuts, attention to detail and thoughtful clever designs. I found them in the costumes of 40s and 50s Hollywood,” she says.
This personal interest in vintage design inspired Emma to leave her career in biomedicine to create Brocade and Lime.
“I favoured the timeless, elegant cut of garments from the past. Designers like Dior, Givenchy, Quant, Clark dressed for either the figure or mood of the time and each decade had a definitive style that complimented a particular body type. Therein lay the concept for my boutique.”
Emma sources her stock internationally but also supports homegrown talent.
“Some of the best designers are Irish. Orla Kiely is our established 1960s label, Alice Halliday from Skibbereen represents my 1970s label. Irene Curran of Olann Millinery from Westport creates our one-of-a-kind headpieces. Rosa Ospina, our hair and make-up artist, is from west Cork.”
Drawbridge Street in Cork is home to Mercury Goes Rertrograde, a shop bursting with everything from elegant 1950s wiggle dresses, to funky tee-shirts, cowboy boots to fur coats. Owner Mary-Joe Murphy’s love of vintage stemmed from her mother’s respect for quality garments and ethical concerns with fast fashion.
“Vintage clothing is exciting, each item is generally a one-off,” she says. “I originally bought vintage because I liked the look of it, but increasingly we’re seeing the injustices behind clothes manufacturing which makes me believe in re-using even more.”
Shutterbug Vintage in Kilkenny has grown from stocking gorgeous and affordable vintage, to new quirky labels to homeware. It is a collection of all the things you’ve most wanted in your wardrobe but had difficulty sourcing. The shop floor and online presence keeps augmenting thanks to stylist and owner Blathnaid Hennessy.
Blathnaid resembled a contemporary version of the iconic 60s Bardot on my last trip to Shutterbug, blonde hair tumbling over a white leather mini-dress, black over-the-knee boots and a grey kimono. Roisin, who found me sublime sequin dresses wore a similar kimono in green, but with her black vintage pencil skirt and cascading long red hair, she embodied a modern Pre-Raphaelite, or medieval queen happily adapted to life in 2014. They wore similar pieces but made them their own.
This freedom of choice and originality that vintage encourages is making vintage very modern. Vintage frees you from identikit current trends and encourages you to dress for you as an individual.
And despite the voracious pace of fashion that tries to sell you more tee-shirts in more shades of taupe than you ever thought existed, a sense of individual style, in which you feel happy and confident is the most memorable and beautiful trend of all.