Step into Dulcie’s new shop, where you can pick a decade, play dress-up and make a real difference at the same time.
Vintage fashion with feeling: One size fits all
It’s impossible not to get a little bit swept away when you visit Dulcie’s.
The wonderfully retro vintage shop is filled to the brim with vibrant patterns, gleaming glomesh and classic pieces with sophistication that can’t be dulled by the decades.
It’s clear a lot of love has gone into not only every single garment that hits the racks – each piece is carefully washed, ironed and mended if needed – but also the interior design of the shop itself. A wall at the back of the Kidman Park store has been arranged in a heavenly pastel rainbow of dresses, handbags and hats.
Some pieces the staff are currently sorting through sit on a table to the side. Shop manager Emma Grierson talks animatedly about a lovely fabric bag and its equally fabulous former owner, Pam.
“Pam’s not with us anymore, but she’s left us all these amazing things,” Emma says. Every piece in the shop has been dearly loved and passed on, in the hopes someone else will have their “Cinderella moment” with it.
Always up for a chat about clothes, media personality Amanda Blair is the mastermind behind Dulcie’s.
“Sometimes people think ‘This old thing’ about something in their wardrobe. Well, it’s not something old to us, it’s something magical and special and I love the stories,” Amanda says. When someone walks into the store with the going-away dress they wore at their 1954 wedding, nobody is happier to lend an ear than Amanda.
“I’ll often take a photo of the donor with the frock and if I sell it, I ask the new owner if they want the dress’s story.
“I’ll tell them all about it and I’ll take a photo of the new owner in the dress and send it to the old owner. To me, that’s the best part because clothes are really emotional; they hold memory.”
Dulcie’s has always been full of love and emotion for Amanda, who started the charitable enterprise with her own collection of vintage clothes and an idea to contribute to the greater good. When Amanda’s grandmother died, she left her clothes to Amanda, expanding the collection.
“My vintage clothing love had died off for a few years, but when I got all her clothes it started it all again and I was just obsessed with the memory of clothes,” Amanda says.
“I look at something that’s vintage and think about who wore it before and where it’s been. I love the fabric, the colour, the memory; I love the stories. I love everything about vintage clothing.”
An ambassador for Hutt Street Centre and supporter for Centacare, the radio broadcaster wanted to donate the proceeds from selling her collection to the causes. It was around Adelaide Fringe time in 2013 and The Garden of Unearthly Delights offered to host an installation for her. Torrens Transit donated a bus to showcase the goods and, from that first year, the trove of vintage delights has now been touring Adelaide events for eight years. But before it could hit the road, she needed a name and Amanda searched high and low for the perfect moniker.
“I thought maybe Veronica, Gloria or Dorothy – my grandma’s name – and then I was in the Hutt Street Centre and somebody said, ‘Oh, there’s Dulcie’ and the name was staring me right in the face.”
Dulcie Boag, 86, is a bit of a legend at the centre – to put it mildly. She volunteered there for more than 40 years. “Once that became apparent to me, it seemed like it was an obvious choice that the bus should be called Dulcie,” Amanda says.
No longer just a bus, Dulcie’s branched out into bricks and mortar late last year and is fast becoming a community hub for vintage-lovers, with crafty afternoons planned to bring everyone together.
The shop is located at Kidman Park, next to a hub of other op shops; right in its element.
Amanda is constantly amazed by the gorgeous offerings she encounters. “Someone left me a green velvet 1950s wiggle dress with a grey fur stole and an anonymous note saying, ‘Dear Amanda’ – in curly nana writing – ‘This was the dress I wore to my 21st birthday. I have no need for it. Enjoy.’
“You can’t just get rid of these things. They’re important to people and we want to know they live on.”
Amanda has even found herself clambering around a giant skip for the sake of vintage fashion. A former dressmaker’s pieces had been discarded and hundreds of dresses in the most beautiful fabrics were about to go to waste, and Amanda wasn’t having it. “We washed and ironed every single one,” she says.
Gasps can be heard from behind the curtains of the whimsically floral pink changing rooms, along with cries of “It fits me perfectly!”
There’s something particularly special about finding the right garment in the right fit, knowing you can’t just fish out another size from the racks. Even more so knowing you’re contributing to a slower way of consuming fashion.
“We try to have these conversations around fast fashion,” Amanda says. “It’s about being more purposeful and thoughtful about what we purchase and how we take care of things.”
Dulcie is the perfect person to represent the shop, not only because she’s a truly admirable character, but also because she looks right at home there.
When Dulcie meets SALIFE, she’s wearing a striking cobalt blue suit that would give women a quarter of her age wardrobe envy. However, once the camera comes out, she excuses herself to change into a white vintage dress, a double string of pearls and an intricately beaded headpiece.
The mother of six, grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of 10 grew up in country New South Wales and says she dabbled in many things throughout her life, including owning a boutique. Her husband John was transferred to Adelaide in his career with the Labor party and she began looking for meaningful ways to fill her time once her children starting leaving home.
“As each one grows up and moves out, it leaves a bit of a hole in your life and I wanted to keep busy, so that’s why I volunteered at the Hutt St Centre,” Dulcie says.
“It was the people that were very important to me. You really got to know them and a lot of the time, I was the first contact for someone who came through the door.
“I was able to help them find a social worker and access the amenities that were there. I just love people; I find them interesting and I love meeting people from all walks of life. There’s a fulfilment – it doesn’t matter who you’re with, they bring something for you and when they leave, they take part of you as well.”
In this respect, there are a lot of similarities between Dulcie and Amanda.
“I think what you experience when you’re down at a place like Hutt Street is an understanding of the issue of homelessness and what feeds into it,” Amanda says.
“There’s a saying that we’re only two pays away from homelessness and I think that you do see that. People can end up in a position that they never thought they would be in and having someone like Dulcie there to say hello and to offer a cup of tea and a chat, that’s a really important thing.”
When the name was first suggested to Dulcie, she was against it; embarrassed by the attention. But one of her sons encouraged it. Amanda tells her she probably didn’t really have a choice.
“I suppose it’s put me on the map and the grandchildren love it,” Dulcie says.
Amanda says she’s so proud to have Dulcie as the venture’s namesake because she’s achieved everything without fanfare or expectation.
“Volunteering and caring for people who often society have shunned is everything we’re about, so it’s great to have a figurehead like Dulcie, who has done exactly that. Dulcie was involved in homelessness before it had a profile, way before it was the thing to care about.
“We doff our vintage hats to her.”
This article first appeared in the July 2021 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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