Having lived in Melbourne and Sydney for many years, I have (like many women fond of a polyester frock), fallen prey to the urban myth surrounding out-of-the-way suburbs and their untouched op shops. We are willing to travel beyond the tram line on the off-chance that the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence in Werribee has a secret stash of fabulous clothing donated by a woman whose mother has just died. This recently deceased woman was a size 10 -12 and dressed up every day of her life. She kept every item of clothing purchased between 1950 and 1984 because she knew that one day they would be appreciated by someone who shares her exceptionally good taste. She also kept the Glomesh handbags, the Bakelite bangles and the marcasite earrings. When she finally kicked the bucket these items were discovered in mint condition in her room. Her family, who didn’t care for fashion, dumped the entire contents of her period correct wardrobe on the doorstep of the local op shop, whose volunteers are completely ignorant when it comes to vintage, and put the lot in the five dollar basket next to the Mills and Boon. These clothes are always discovered by a friend of a friend of a friend who travelled to the outer burbs on a whim with twenty dollars in her pocket and returned home the envy of all of Northcote.
Many years ago, I had a friend who had a friend who had a retail store on Errol Street, which meant she was permitted to buy second hand clothes by the kilo from a man operating out of a garage in Thomastown. She allowed us to use her ABN and we borrowed someone’s car and we Google mapped our way into the burbs and spectacular new wardrobes. Well, my friend did; six foot six drag queens can make anything look spectacular, but I struggled to find anything worthwhile amongst the mothball ridden jumpers and the beige twinsets. In desperation I settled on a 60s raincoat approximately six sizes too big for me. It had a brown stain on the collar. I told myself I would have it altered and the stain removed. I did neither but I wore it anyway and when people asked where I bought it I misread their confusion for admiration and bragged of my day trip to Thomastown. Eventually I got rid of the raincoat, but I continued to travel to the ends of the earth in search of the ultimate op shop find.
After spending entire days rummaging through old school uniforms hopeful that the next item I pulled off the rack would belong to that recently deceased lover of quality frocks and matching accessories, I would leave convinced not that such women never existed on the outskirts of Airport West, but that I was too late. Someone else, more hip, more glamourous and more in the know than me was strutting around East Brunswick in a mint condition 60s cocktail dress by Emilio Pucci. Someone else was meeting her boyfriend for dinner in the jumpsuit Grace Jones wore when she performed at Studio 54.
So you can imagine Rachel’s and my excitement when we discovered Maryborough.
We were assured by many women, and even men, that Maryborough, a mere 30kms from Newstead, is the Last Untouched Op Shopper's Mecca.
It took us ages to get there, we had been putting it off until all three kids could be with their dads and we could strut from one untouched op shop to the other, our arms bent under the weight of so many fabulous frocks! We worked ourselves into a frenzy the day before: The ultimate out of the way town that only the truly dedicated could be bothered going to! A lot of the houses on the way into town are 50s cream brick so obviously all recently deceased women wore clothes to match, in our sizes. We would have to go to Bistro Lola every weekend for the rest of our lives in order to show off all of our new outfits.
Of course, there is never a time when all three kids can be with their dads, so we took all three kids and we spent most of the morning in a kid-friendly cafe on the main drag. The little time we did have in the op shops was spent yelling, 'Don't touch anything!" Not that there was anything to touch. Did it occur to us that in a town identified as one of the top three disadvantaged communities in Victoria, maybe the women had better things to do than dress up everyday? Or that it is 2018 and proprietors of op shops, even in so-called out of the way towns, have access to the internet? They know better than to throw the 80s Lurex in the five dollar bin. Also, despite our few years in the bush, we looked like idiots visiting from Brunswick, which is what we are, and I'm pretty sure they raised the price of everything as we approached their front doors.
We found a lot of polar fleece.
Here's a photo.