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A passion for vintage fashion

The story behind two unique vintage fashion exhibitions currently being held in Adelaide is as remarkable as the collections themselves.

The Violet Rowe: A life of fashion and Violet Rowe Vintage Swimwear Collection started life nearly 60 years ago when 76-year-old Violet Rowe made a few treasured purchases at the age of 17. At the time she was working as a junior employee in the fashion department at Myer Adelaide and her involvement in theatre also fuelled her passion for collecting authentic and distinctive fashion items.

“I didn’t have much money then so I had to buy on lay-by,” says Ms Rowe. Since then, Ms Rowe has been scouring op shops, garage sales, markets and fares for items for her collection, learning as she went along what was good and what was not. Her collection now fills three sheds, the spare room and every cupboard in the house – and the overflow stocks her ‘Dresses and Drawers vintage clothing shop which she opened in Adelaide around 13 years ago.

Ms Rowe's collection started with a few treasured purchases at the age of 17.

“I was nagged to get the shop – the whole idea was to downsize at home,” she explains. 

“When I find a piece then I am supposed to take out a piece and put that in the shop.”

Ms Rowe says it is getting harder to find some things now. “You can’t really get original clothes from the 20s and 30s,” she says. Clothes from this era tend to be very small and fragile, and Ms Rowe points out storing can be an issue. “The very fragile ones can’t be hung up and have to be stored carefully in a box. I’ve got wedding, ball and ballerina dresses but these are only bought out for display now.”

Parts of Ms Rowe’s collection have been used for numerous theatre productions, fashion shows, exhibitions and they’ve even been used in period films and TV productions. “I get requests from the South Australian Film Corporation and other film companies,” she confirms. “The Dr Blake Series have come twice to the shop to buy things.”

For theatre and film productions, Ms Rowe points out the devil is in the detail. “For instance, if I’m dressing a man from the Victorian era, I will deck him out top to toe – shoes, striped trousers, cutaway waist coat, shirt, hat, gloves,” she says.

Ms Rowe’s collection have been used for numerous theatre productions, fashion shows, exhibitions, period films and TV productions

As for today’s fashions, Ms Rowe says we’ve got some wonderful practical things now, but feels our era isn’t as stylish as others. “When I was younger I wouldn’t have left home without my stockings, handbag, hat and gloves,” she says, highlighting its easy to pick 60s, 70s and 80s fashions. 

And her favourite item? She couldn’t really decide although she says her handbags are to die for after a life time of collecting.

Ms Rowe has permanently donated the items for the beach fashion exhibition, which includes beach coats, swimming costumes, sunhats, sunglasses and more. She says she has reached a point where she needed to make some decisions and she was thrilled the City of Holdfast Bay accepted her offer to display the collections, and to make the beachwear one permanent.

“It gives the opportunity for people to see them,” she says. “I loved going through everything, so I hope they like the displays too.”

Violet Rowe: A life of fashion (ends 27 November) and the Violet Rowe Vintage Swimwear Collection are open daily, 10am-4pm. See more on the City of Holdfast Bay website or call 08 8179 9508.

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