You've possibly walked right by this shop on Cowper Wharf Road in Woolloomooloo and never noticed it, or if you did, maybe you stood at the window and looked in at the naval badges on display, metaphorically shrugged your shoulders and thought, ''hmm, obscure''.
Glendinnings Menswear certainly is a niche shop, specialising in Navy uniforms, merchant marine uniforms, charter vessel uniforms and other naval supplies. But considering it is right across the road from the Royal Australian Navy's East Fleet Base at Garden Island, the location is perfect.
Most of the Navy's main fleet was in port, except for HMAS Success, which is in Singapore being re-hulled, and another couple of submarines are at HMAS Sterling in Western Australia, while there are a few other ships in Darwin and the Gulf.
How do I know this? I learned a lot about the Navy when I popped in to Glendinnings to have a snoop around, as I do.
The shop was established at Woolloomooloo in 1951 to make and supply naval uniforms but has since branched out to include racks and racks of surf-wear labels including clothes, hats, sunglasses, back-packs and shoes for men and women.
Glendinnings also has branches at a handful of other Navy bases around Australia, so it has become a first stop for sailors as they return home. They also sell toasters and other electrical goods.
The shop is owned by Dennis Stokes who runs it alongside his son, Jason. They also have a team of about three or four other sales people and a crew of seamstresses and tailors.
Endless Navy mementos.
This HMAS Kuttabul thing being shown below, is called a Tally Band and is just one component of the Navy's full-on dress requirements. Seriously, they must take hours to dress in the morning, especially when they have an official or formal event to attend.
Take, for example, this simple sailor's collar (below), which comes with four components: the collar, a bow-tie, a length of thick string and a black satin band.
The collar is first buttoned on to the sailor's jacket, with the black band placed underneath and secured with the bow-tie. The string then has to be knotted and placed in a certain way so that it runs under and over the collar before finally picking up the bow-tie at the end. Even Dennis had a hard time trying to piece it all together.
I loved the sailor collar so much, and it only cost about $25, so I asked for one for Christmas - which I received! I also loved it when I was taken to the sewing room out the back of the shop, where Betty, Vanessa and another tailor were hard at work making naval uniforms.
It's hard to believe but most of the naval and merchant sailor uniforms and components are made right here by this small team of three hard workers. They make the trousers, the jackets, the shirts and other little bits and pieces. Glendinnings is actually renowned around the world, especially for its shirts, which are made of cotton. British merchant sailors are issued with their uniforms in London, but their shirts are made from a rather thick and sweat-inducing fabric, so when they visit the tropics they nearly pass out from the heat. Savvy sailors have started ordering the cotton shirts from Glendinnings with the Woolloomooloo shop sending out batches of parcels every day. Some British sailors order eight to ten of the shirts at a time.
As a former seamstress, I was tempted to sit down at one of the ready-machines and put my foot down, but I restricted myself to just taking photos of all the beautiful trimmings, such as these striped naval ribbons for carrying medals:
Vanessa was working the embroidery machines, stitching names on to fabric patches:
Betty was busy pressing the seams of a pair of white Navy trousers she had just sewn:
I would have like to have chatted with Betty at length but she was busy and I didn't want to disturb her for too long. Betty was born and raised in Surry Hills and recalls the Razor Gangs of the late 1930s or 40s. She said a couple of fellas in the gangs lived up the road from her on Albion Street, Surry Hills. I asked if they were rough and scary and she said, ''not at all, they were just regular blokes''.
I also asked her about Ruth Park, the novelist who wrote about Surry Hills during the late 1940s and who died on December 14, aged 93. But Betty was not a fan of Park and claimed the author had got it wrong about the neighbourhood. This was a common criticism of Park, who was born in New Zealand. Many Australians did not appreciate her depiction of the neighbourhood and its poor living conditions in her novels The Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange.
So I said goodbye to Betty, Vanessa, Dennis, Jason and the gang and headed across the road to Harry's Cafe de Wheels for a disgusting pie, where I bumped in to actor Russell Crowe and which I will write about in a forthcoming post.
Shops 2 and 3
7-41 Cowper Wharf Road
Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
02 9358 4097