In the closet with Tannia Lee

This week Natasha enters the psychedelic wardrobe of vintage queen Tannia Lee.

Tannia Lee is making Dunedin more colourful, one outfit at a time.

The 36-year-old style chameleon, fashion blogger, stylist and market organiser might don an outrageous day-glo knitted sweater dress one day, a Hawaiian maxi teamed with a giant tropical headpiece, the next.

Her sartorial style is bold, bright and definitely not demure. She loves to take risks and is always coming up with unique ensembles which demonstrate her love for decade on decade and print on print.

“It’s all about the overall vibe when the outfit comes together, so I’m not fussed if they are of the same era, originals, repro, or revamped,” she says.

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Tannia’s wardrobe is so gargantuan that it’s completely taken over the spare bedroom in her house and has morphed into her own ‘walk-in’ wardrobe.
It also encroaches on her ‘shared’ bedroom wardrobe.
“You’d laugh to see how much room I’ve left for the hubby!” she quips.

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Novavogue [her fashion blog] was born because she wanted a way of showcasing the fun she has injecting colour into peoples’ lives.

Her daughter and ‘mini me’ Nova soon became the star of the show. Every week the pair hit the op shops, play dress ups and then shoot the crazy confections for the blog.

Tannia is also the founder of the Vintage Roundup– Dunedin’s only dedicated vintage clothing and craft market, runs the Facebook page Seen in Secondhand Land and draws on her extensive vintage collection for her work as a personal and interiors stylist.

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Dressing up has been a lifelong obsession for her. She has happy memories of accompanying her mother to op shops as a child and remembers growing up with a huge dress-up box full of the family’s old 70s and 80s clothing.
“When friends and family came around, we’d raid the box and play around the farm dressed all crazy.”
This also sparked her fascination with everything vintage. Today she continues to embrace the fun into her everyday life, experimenting with fashion and as always, dressing outside the box.

Wanna find out more about Tannia? Read on!

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You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within?

My closet takes over a spare bedroom in our house (which is my dedicated my walk in wardrobe). It also spills into our ‘shared’ bedroom wardrobe and you’d laugh to see how much room I’ve left for the hubby.

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You’ll find a lot of stand out feature pieces, dating from the 1960s – 1990s. Bright, colourful, eclectic, interesting prints, shapes and cuts.
We took the doors off all our wardrobes, to create the feel for more space but also to see everything. I don’t like to hide clothes away , just like the saying ‘out of sight out of mind’. I like to see all my options when putting together an outfit. The space is like a mini shop, with free standing industrial racks – a place I can play dress ups, style and display all my gems.
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Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?

I love to mix it up, decade on decade, print on print and powerclash my way through my wardrobe. It’s all about the overall vibe when the outfit comes together, so i’m not fussed if they are of the same era, originals, repro, or revamped. I also love to design my own dresses, from retro fabrics, but I always pay a seamstress as I have lost my sewing skills!
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What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection?

I love my ceramic bolo tie collection, they are like nothing i’ve seen before. As well as my bold bright and 80s / 90s knitwear (dresses and coats). A lot of work has gone into these pieces and I appreciate the time and skills used to create them.
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Any noteworthy recent purchases?

Yes, I love my retro Diane Freis bedazzled knit that I bought from Proctors Auction. She is one of my favourite designers, I especially love her original 90s designs because they are quite over the top, full of patchwork prints, frills, layers, pleats all within one dress. I didn’t know she also did knitwear, so that was a cool surprise!
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How did you first become interested in vintage style?

I discovered op shopping (for fashion) during my rebellious teen phase. I was quite influenced by Kurt Cobain grunge style which was pretty easy to achieve second hand. I think I was sick of trying to fit in by wearing all the surf and skate labels and just wanted to do my own thing.
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Once I started op shopping I saw that there was another whole world of fashion out there, where I could put together my own ‘look’ myself. There were no rules and this became an exciting new way to channel my creativity.
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Growing up we also had a dress up box, which we raided when our cousins and friends came around. This had a lot of our family’s pieces from the 80s and my best memories were dressing up like ‘crazies’ to go explore around the farm. I got a taste for the freedom of styling and started to realise I didn’t have to listen to what mainstream fashion was telling me to wear.
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What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?

The fact that these pieces we find are the last of their kind. Some are rare, handmade one off’s and existed in a decade that I missed out on.
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I also love the way we shop for vintage. It’s not handed to us easily in a department store, with every size and colour available. It’s a challenge and we get to refine our skills hunting for these treasures. Every piece is different to the next, it’s exciting and creatively fulfilling way to shop.
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How does it make you feel when you wear it?

I feel like ME. I vividly remember the shift of consciousness, from dressing ‘normal’ to discovering the world of vintage and pre-loved clothing. It was a lightbulb moment where I realised ‘This is who I am’. I felt more comfortable and confident dressing how I wanted to and not how society thought I should.
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What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?

60s | flower power + hawaiian + tiki + peggy square + kimono
70s | psychedelic + western + oriental + embroidery + kaftan
80s | Bedazzled + tassels + patches + patchwork + high waist + big earrings
90s | fluro + floral + sequins + badges + Fresh Prince + logo tees + high tops + bomber jackets
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Where are your favourite shopping haunts?

I love The Vintage Roundup, clothing and craft market. Not just because I run it, but because it’s bought together such a friendly bunch of vintage and craft lovers. There is such a variety of ‘mini shops’, as we all have a different skills, style and fashion era or genre that we are drawn to.
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Even tho I’ve created the ultimate shopping experience for our scene, I also look forward to the social aspect, catching up with stallholders and customers. Some people stay for the whole 4 hours, carefully looking through each of the 20+ stalls and trying on lots of fab pieces. We encourage customers to come out and show us what they have tried on, we love having these impromptu fashion shows.
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What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

I think I will address the op shop V’s vintage clothing shop debacle. I always appreciate a good vintage clothing shop. I get upset when people complain that they are expensive, because they are comparing them to op shops.
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It takes a lot of time and skill to curate a great vintage and retro collection. Vintage shop owners have done all the hard work for you, offering you the very best. They have travelled (sometimes afar) to spend hours or days trawling many op shops, garage sales, online shops, and personal collections to carefully hand pick their stock. They have a great eye and years of experience and knowledge to spot pieces that are rare, well made, collectable, designer and on trend.
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You are not just paying for the garment, but this exceptional service. Most vintage shops have put much thought into their shop layout, styling and merchandising, where they display items like they actually matter, with love. They also create amazing window displays and have positive customer service to achieve a fab shopping experience. Their business is their baby, literally created from blood sweat and tears. So please don’t compare this to your local op shop!

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What are your holy grail pieces? Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?

Retro knitted dresses or peggy square coats (longer the better) I can’t resist retro Coogi knit!
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Cheongsams or high neck dresses from the 60s / 70s (anything from Hawaii is fab!)
80s / 90s kids bomber jackets branded with classic cartoon, movies or tv shows (memorabilia)
Sequin jackets coats or dresses pretty much everything from Braxae on Etsy
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Whose closet do you envy and why?

Basically any eccentric, vintage shopper from Texas or just America in general. I freakin’ love American vintage, probably cause not much of it shows up in New Zealand op shops. It’s hard to find here in Dunedin!
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Who are some of your style icons and influences?

Firstly please google ‘Advanced Style’ and scroll. I’m a very visual person so get very influenced by street fashion, movies and cool designers & fashion bloggers in my insta feed. Too many to name and wouldn’t want to miss anyone out.
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I’ve also recently discovered Jenny Kee, an artist and designer who creates amazing knitwear (Since the 1970s) She has recently launched a new limited edition capsule collection of knitwear called ‘New Beginnings’ teamed up with woolmark. Check out her insta @jennykeeoz
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Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?
Yes, this gorgeous 1960s floral cheongsam from Remains to be Scene in Hamilton.
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How do members of the public react to your getups?
I mostly get a positive comments and reactions, people love to see more colour down here in Dunedin. I have also found that people often smile at me on the street when I wear flowers in my hair (try it and see!). I’ve had a few conservative elderly ask me “don’t you worry about what people think?” I’m happy to let them know that i’m not dressing for others, I’m dressing for myself.
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Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?
Absolutely! My home is very much an extension of my wardrobe, filled with cool retro collectables and art in bright colours and bold prints. Almost my entire home decor is purchased second hand from op shops, vintage shops, trademe and the Auctions houses. Mixed up with prints and paintings by my fave Wellington artists and street artists. My obsession also extends to clothing my daughter, i’ve basically turned her into a mini me.
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Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?
Black puffer jacket and tracksuit pants, which seems to be the Dunedin uniform and crocs.

Want to channel some of Tannia’s unique vintage style? Head to the Vintage Roundup this weekend. Check out the poster below!

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