Christchurch-based Brodie Hemmings-Sykes tells Natasha about her fascination for the forties, why she hoards vintage shoes, and how there’s nothing like the clunk of Bakelite bangles on her arm.
Brodie Hemmings-Sykes is the Cinderella of vintage shoes. Her petite size 5 feet can squeeze into the daintiest of 1940s slingbacks, peeptoe pumps, Oxfords and saddle shoes. While most of us have to resort to hairdryers, alcohol and newspaper stuffed in too-small-but-super-cute shoes in a bid to stretch them out, she can slide her tootsies straight in– and bag the vintage bargains!
Besides her enviable collection of footwear, the avid op shopper’s closet is a jumble of vintage, secondhand and homemade clothing. There’s no particular theme but she favours hooded housedresses, striking prints, classic coats, handknitted cardigans, Bakelite jewellery. She’s also partial to a bit of ’80s does 40s’.
Brodie’s not one to buy pricey modern reproductions– aside from her prized Freddie of Pinewood jeans that is. She prefers to whip up her own creations on her vintage Elna Supermatic sewing machine (which itself was an op-shop bargain at only $15!)
Keen to have a look inside Brodie’s wardobe? Read on!
You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within?
Thank you. My wardrobe mainly consists of vintage, homemade or secondhand clothing. There isn’t a particular theme because I love different colours and styles but there are a lot of dresses and shoes.
I have a bit of an obsession with vintage shoes, particularly 1940s ones. I’m pretty lucky because I have size 5 feet which means that I struggle buying new shoes but I can fit a lot of vintage ones.
Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?
I love true vintage but it can be difficult to find in the right size and in good condition so I sew a lot of my clothes from vintage patterns and fabric. Where possible I use op-shopped notions and authentic sewing techniques because I want my clothing to look like true vintage.
I sew on a vintage green Elna Supermatic that I picked up from an op shop for $15. It’s from the 1950s and doesn’t do anything fancy but sews really well. I don’t buy a lot of new repro clothing as a lot of it is not my style. That being said, I do love my Freddies of Pinewood jeans.
What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?
My Bakelite is one of my prized possessions. I bought my first bangle in 2011 from eBay and have been hooked ever since. I love the colours and the carvings.
There’s nothing quite like the clunk of a whole stack of Bakelite bangles on your arm.
Any noteworthy recent purchases?
I recently bought a 1940s hooded housedress. A vintage hooded dress has been a holy grail of mine for a long time and I’ve sewn a few from vintage patterns but finding a real one was very exciting. I never thought I would find one in New Zealand, let alone in a vintage shop where I live. I got it from Menage a trois which is a long established vintage shop in a seaside suburb in Christchurch.
How did you first become interested in vintage style?
My mum has always liked “old things” and has been op shopping for most of her life. I grew up in a house filled with secondhand and vintage things. She also sewed a lot of my clothes when I was a kid and helped me make my first dress from a vintage pattern. She is very creative and constantly has some project on the go. I get my love of vintage and crafting from her.
What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?
I love the fact that something I’m wearing has lived other lives. It’s fun to imagine who originally bought a dress and what they wore it for. The fit and the workmanship are also a major reason I wear vintage. Clothes today aren’t made to such a high standard and are not expected to last for 50 or 60 years. The sustainability and recycling aspect of wearing vintage or second hand clothing also appeals.
What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?
At the moment my favourite era is the 1940s. I used to wear a lot more 1950s and 60s styles but over the last few years my style has shifted a bit.
What are your favourite shopping haunts?
For vintage clothing I do a lot of shopping online through Etsy and Instagram. I’ve also found some gems on Trademe. I love op shopping so I check out my local op shops a couple of times a month.
There are a few op shops within walking distance of where I work so I sometimes go on lunchtime op shopping expeditions.
There aren’t a lot of vintage shops in Christchurch but I like Madame Butterfly, Menage a Trois, and for homeware Quaint and the Curious.
Do you have any general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?
I do buy a lot of my vintage from overseas but the great thing about vintage and op shopping here is that there are hidden treasures. I’ve found 1940s dresses and shoes in op shops. It doesn’t happen a lot but it’s always nice to get those bargains. I think op shopping in Christchurch is pretty good. I don’t buy a lot of vintage clothing but get a lot of homewares, furniture and sewing supplies from op shops.
What are your holy grail pieces? Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?
Now that I have a hooded dress, on my wishlist is a 1940s pantsuit in a bright colour.
Who are some of your style icons and influences?
I get a lot of inspiration from people that I follow on Instagram, I love seeing the way that people wear vintage in their everyday regular lives.
Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?
I’m pretty sure the first piece of vintage I bought was a 1980s black velvet cocktail dress that I wore for an Audrey Hepburn costume to a school dance. I was probably 15 or 16 at the time. I actually still own it. I haven’t worn it in a long time but I’m too sentimental to get rid of it.
How do members of the public react to your get-ups?
I used to feel more self-conscious when I first started wearing vintage but I don’t notice the strange looks I get any more. I usually get positive comments from members of the public. Sometimes people come up to me in the supermarket or wherever and tell me they love my outfit. I haven’t really had any negative experiences other than people staring.
Do you wear vintage to work as well? If so, how is your style received in the workplace?
I do wear my vintage and handmade clothing to work. I work in an office with a smart casual dress code. I often have to attend meetings with external parties so need to look professional for those but that doesn’t stop me from wearing a vintage pencil skirt, blouse and heels. My workmates are great and often comment on my outfits or ask me if I’ve made what I’m wearing. I work an an industry that’s seen as very conservative but I’ve never had anything other than compliments about the way I dress.
Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?
My obsession with vintage definitely extends to other parts of my life. I like vintage furniture and homewares and would love a vintage car someday. For me the vintage obsession is about aesthetics and I don’t wish that I lived in another era. I love my smartphone and the internet and bad reality TV.