I am always saying to my partner that I am so envious of all the people who just stumble upon an old stockroom full of vintage treasures, or happen to inherit a house full of their grandmother’s original 1950s clothing. The underwear gods must have been listening because I have been lucky enough to get hold of hundreds of lovely pieces of underwear from some of my favourite Australian brands.
A couple of weeks ago, a lady send me the following email out of the blue:
I have come into possession of hundreds of items of vintage (circa 1950’s?) girdles and bras (new with labels) left over from a shop that is now closed.
They are mainly Marcel Worth brand, but some Kayser and other brands. So far I have only discovered girdles and bras but I haven’t open all the boxes so far.
They appear to be purely utilitarian styles in white and apricot and bone – nothing particularly decorative.
Is there a market for these sorts of items? Do you have any interest in them?
If you are interested or if you can point me in the right direction I would love to hear from you.
Of course, I nearly exploded with excitement and anxiety! Excitement because I love Marcel Worth and Kayser, and anxiety because I was terrified that someone else would snap these up before I got to them. I didn’t really care what they looked like, I just had to get hold of them. After some negotiation, dozens of courier quotes and hours of waiting around for the delivery of the goods, I was finally the proud owner of hundreds of pieces of vintage shapewear. Now the vintage underwear and I will live happily ever after. The end.
Well not quite…
As I was filing them away, getting ready to write up descriptions for my online shop, I found that a few of the boxes had “Abikhair’s” written on them in pencil. I googled the name and was excited to read that all this vintage stock had come from a very special department store in Albury, name “Abikhair’s Emporium”.
I discovered that just last year, Albury Library Museum hosted a display full of original stock from the Emporium and recreated some of the stores that would have been set up back in the day. I wish I had known about it as it was opening, as I would have liked to pay a visit.
Allow me to give you a little history relating to Abikhair’s and the original home of these pieces of underwear…
The department store opened its doors to the public in 1928 and was run by Syrian immigrant Saad Milham Abikhair and his wife Shefia and became known for its personal service, quality and vast array of products. “Goods on offer included: girdles, stockings, clothing, household supplies, beauty supplies, toiletry supplies, sewing supplies (haberdashery), shoes, hats – and much more in the style of the Emporium.”
Until Abhikhair’s eventually closed in 1996, this mixed-class department store catered for men and women who could find something to their liking, regardless of their level of income. The owners were very clever in this way as they catered for absolutely everybody.
Shop assistants became specialists in stocking and fitting intimate apparel and they even began employing single women, although they were expected to retire when they married. I can only imagine how well turned out these ladies would have been, with their tailored outfits and beautiful foundations and nylon stockings.
The thing that I found really interesting was that this purpose-built store had several entries, one each for men and women, which navigated customers to ‘appropriate’ sections of the store. As it was considered inappropriate for men to see, let alone purchase, women’s ‘unmentionables’, the entry for men took them through sporting goods and men’s supplies. Women were guided through their sections which included children’s, women’s and household items. “As part of the exhibition design, we have incorporated three separate entries for gender to convey the layout and atmosphere of the store.” says exhibition curator and Albury social history co-ordinator, Bridget Guthrie.
The remaining stock was donated to the local council so I would really like to know how these boxes managed to escape…
I’m very happy to say that all the brands in the vintage lot were Australian owned, so if you do purchase a piece or two from my web store, you are in possession of a piece of Australia’s history! I will be adding many items to my online shop, so keep your eyes peeled for an announcement in the coming days.
Information and images sourced from the below links: