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Five Questions with Deborah Bannister and Elizabeth Howcroft

Deborah Bannister and Elizabeth Howcroft are both long term volunteers with the National Trust and along with their fellow volunteer,  Betty Spangaro, they are responsible for the annual and wildly successful, National Trust Vintage Clothing sale which has rapidly grown in size, since it first started in 2010.

This year, it comes to the Abbotsford Convent for the first time.

1. The National Trust started doing vintage clothing sale back in 2010, how did the idea get off the ground?

EH: The Vintage Clothing sale started in 2010 as a garage sale. Nance Houen and I had been working as volunteers with the National Trust Costume Collection for 12 years or so and we knew it needed funds for cataloguing, better storage and maintenance. We received a large donation of clothes for possible inclusion in the Collection, but they were unsuitable, so we decided to raise some money by selling them in a garage sale. We raised just under $10,000! Excited by this we asked friends for clothing donations and a year later raised the same amount in another garage sale. The Trust offered us Como House ballroom for a sale the following year,   and  we asked for donations through the National Trust membership, and away we went! I think we almost doubled the amount raised each year.

DB: Elizabeth Howcroft started this back in 2010 and I have been involved for 10 years which unfortunately, has included the past two years of the pandemic. I became involved (due to my knowledge of antiques) to help sort a large donation of haberdashery, materials, linen and small collectables which were to be included in the sale for the first time. Due to the success of that those items,  we have included them in the sale ever since.

2. Where do you source your clothes and how do you curate what gets in from a vintage perspective? What’s your definition of vintage?

DB: Many of our donations come from Trust members and also through word of mouth. An equal contributor/ volunteer with our sale is Betty Spangaro who has a wealth of knowledge over decades in the fashion industry.  She knows labels and eras,  and with Elizabeth Howcroft and my knowledge, we are able to assess the suitability of clothes and general goods for our sale. We take a broad view of the term vintage!

EH:  Our definition of ’vintage’ is pretty loose. We have items from as far back as the late 1800s right up to last year. Many beautiful dresses, overcoats and pieces of knitwear from 1940s, 50s and 60s – Norma Tullo, Prue Acton. As well as contemporary designer wear such as Armani, Prada, Australian designers – Carla Zampatti, Collette Dinnigan. We have men’s wear too such as vintage suits and shirts – a set of tails worn by a ballroom dancing Champion in 1956. We also have a lot of children’s clothes this year.

3. What can the first-time National Trust Vintage Sale attendee expect to see?

DB: So, apart from an extensive range of clothing for women, men and children (including some terrific men’s knitwear), they will see a full range of accessories: shoes, handbags, scarves, belts, millinery, gloves and handkerchiefs.

We also have a huge collection of wonderful linen, bedding, dressmaker and upholstery fabrics, haberdashery and collectibles.  For example, we have beautiful unused damask tablecloths, while there are some cupboard stains, they still have the  original finish, these stains will easily wash out.

For the home sewer/knitter, there are tortoiseshell knitting needles, packs of haberdashery of all sorts, cottons and silk thread and bags and bags of lace. Our collectibles include a trouser press, a hat stretcher and blocks and some old scales and weights.

4. You haven’t been able to stage your sales for the last two years, will this be your biggest sale yet? How many items do you estimate will on sale? What’s the average cost of an item?

DB: Yes, we’ve had to move to a bigger venue to the Industrial School at Abbotsford Convent so I wouldn’t be surprised if we exceeded 10,000 items for sale. The majority of clothes are priced between $20 and $40, but, naturally, there is a broad range of prices depending on the quality and specialty of the item.

A reminder that we close our doors at 12 noon on Sunday and reopen 15mins later with most items to then be sold at half price

EH:  After three cancelled sales and continuing to take donations we have thousands of items, ranging from gloves and bundles of linen hankies for $5 to a coat for $900. Most items would be in the $10 – $40 range – many for $20.

5. What’s the most rewarding aspect of organising such an iconic and popular event?

DB: Being able to do this for the benefit of the National Trust of Victoria so they can enhance their wonderful fashion collection or to support and maintain the significant heritage buildings they care for.

EH: We do this to raise money for the National Trust. For the preservation and restoration of Trust properties, especially Como House and the very special Costume Collection which consists of over 5000 superb items following the history of Melbourne. It has become a real passion!

National Trust Vintage Clothing Sale
19-20 March
Industrial School
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