Every Piece of Clothing You Can Find in an Australian Op-Shop

“What would an Australian op-shop be without its fedoras?”

31 March 2022, 2:57am

Imagine this. You enter through a rectangular glass door into a boxy shop on some side-street. A front counter, decked in half-price knick-knacks and an odd assortment of jewellery, greets you. As you walk within the creamy-walled interior, the low fluorescent lights display your every pore. You notice the walls are decked in nondescript landscapes framed in wood, and the shop volunteers – dressed in fluorescent vests – load unwanted garments back onto their shelves.


You might walk past a panel of ties, a rack of wood-beaded jewellery, and a forgotten shelf of VCRs and CDs. The second-hand quilted bed sheets remind you of that mothball smell of the early 2000s. Everything feels a bit damp, or at least smells a bit damp. 

What you’ve just experienced is the Australian Op Shop. 

The Australian op shop is not just a place -  it is an entire institution. From the smell, to the lighting, to the well-to-do elderly lady that sits behind the front counter. I’d liken it to a museum of sorts: on display are the fashions and interior decorations of times gone by. 

Though the op-shop’s original intention was to be a charity-led initiative (it definitely still is), when the hipsters caught on in the 2010s (and yes, they were called hipsters back then), it became a free for all: A battleground to find the most unique and sought after pieces of clothing possible. A new wave of the op-shop era commenced.

The Op Shop is now etched into the collective imagination of people across the nation: The feel, the atmosphere, the second-hand bargains. Every now and then you’ll find a diamond amongst the rough, but most times the racks change slower than the seasons. And every trip seems the same: 

You enter the women's section, it’s full of dresses. Everything is either leopard print or some kind of flower pattern. It is all either too big or too small. 

The mummy moo-moo and the soccer dad special

“Yeah, I can make something out of this,” you tell yourself. 

“Maybe I’ll just cut the bottom off, and put a belt on it. It’ll be cute!” You put it in your basket. In the back of your mind, you’ll know that later it will lie in a million scrap pieces on your bedroom floor. At least you tried.


At the back of the store, a measly section known as the “Men’s” stops you: two tiny racks. It’s filled with short sleeved collared-polos in every sort of blue: spots, stripes, plaid! All you need now are the knee-long khaki shorts and your dreams of being a middle aged dad are set to manifest.

The vest looks good, right? RIGHT?

There are matching shoes on the wall behind. Long, pointed brogues: exactly what you were looking for. Behind them is that vest you will grow to have a love/hate relationship with. “It’s kind of a vibe”, you tell yourself, “isn’t it?” 

The good ol' School Uniform and Rugby Jersey

Later, you’ll have no idea how you ended up in the section of old cotton t-shirts with collars. It’s always a mix between old school uniforms and rugby jerseys. You find both. “Yeah, yeah, I can wear this to bed,” you think. You avoid the NSW Origin jersey.

From your little brothers hat collection circa 2010

A familiar something catches your eye. “The Knicks, huh?” Someone’s younger brother hung this on their wall in 2010, before realising they just weren’t cool anymore. Probably for the best.

Your grandparents mugs

It’s time to move out of the clothes section, your baskets already brimming. Aside the kooky-collection of white plates with ornamental flowers and silver candle holders comes the ceramic cups. These days every wannabe potterist makes cups like these, maybe they’re making a comeback? You grab one, telling yourself it’ll look perfect amongst the other mismatched mugs in your 5-person share house.

Fish stuff. Why's there always fish stuff?

“Fish stuff, why is there always fish stuff?” you ask yourself. You’ve accidentally wandered into “the land the light never touches” a.k.a the back corner of the store a.k.a a wasteland of forgotten things. You avoid this section completely. 

The Library of Dan Brown

You’re feeling kinda cultured, like you wanna read something and the overflowing bookshelves call to you. You pick up a book. It’s Dan Brown’s Inferno. “Hm, not this time”. You pick up another. Dan Brown The Lost Symbol. “Huh, another one by Dan Brown?”. You look up at the shelf. Nothing but Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code is missing. You’ll find it next time.

You move to the Stephen King section.


You're getting tired, the fluorescent lights are making your eyes water and you're sick of waiting in line for the two change rooms that consist only of a thick curtain that doesn’t quite stretch from wall to wall. You hope no one saw you in your undies. 


On your way out you see some perfectly placed fedora’s, and you think to yourself, “What would an Australian op-shop be without its Fedora’s?”

When you finally tear your eyes away and make a bee-line to the front counter, an elderly lady with kind eyes greets you. She stoops behind a cash register, likely from the dark ages, while glancing up with a friendly smile, “Find anything good, love?”

“Yeah, a couple of things.”

She taps a few numbers into one of those calculators you used in primary school and stuffs everything into an old Coles bag. 

“There you go sweetheart.”

You smile, thank her, and exit through the rectangular glass doors in which you came. 

On to the next.

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

Read more from VICE Australia.


Australia, shopping, Second Hand, thrift, Op shop

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