A grown-up treasure hunt
By: Jessica Moy
Walking down Queen Street West, you’ll witness an array of boutiques and fabric shops destined to attract the effortless fashion forward innovators of tomorrow.
Ask any of these leather purse carrying, skinny jean-wearing youngsters we call “trendsetters” where they shop now a days, answers will likely be the same.
It’s time to embrace the fact – what is old is new again.
“I’m the type of person who hasn’t been into brands so I wanted to look for other ways to style and make art without spending so much money,” freelance stylist and thrift shopper enthusiast Patrice America said.
She looked at me with excitement; eyes wide open as we sat at the back of her reclaimed vintage fabric store “Preloved” on Queen Street West.
With the store showcasing an array of colourful, old-fashioned sweaters and cardigans in one dim-lit room, America was dressed conservatively, yet stylish in black. She admits to getting her laced shoes for $12.99 and zip-up jacket for $7.99 at Value Village. She also wore wide legged dress pants, full-length metal arm bangles, and a floppy hat that draped her long black hair.
Introducing America to Value Village, her mom told her not to turn a blind eye to used clothing. At first she thought it was grungy and dirty, but that quickly changed once she embraced the thrift experience.
“I fell in love cause it’s like a treasure hunt. You can find an entire outfit under $20,” America said.
When it comes to being fashionable, there are many definitions. America says you don’t need to own brand names to be considered a fashion icon. She says it takes knowledge to understand fashion, yet it takes taste to understand style.
“A lot of people in fashion … want to have a staple look, like a Louis Vuitton bag,” America said. “I think people that shop at thrift stores are more comfortable with who they are when it comes to their style.”
With experience in styling local fashion shows in Toronto and interning for stylist Rose Garcia in New York City, America admits from her experience, she’s opposed to shopping at malls and department stores.
“It’s all the same clothes and I don’t like to have what other people wear,” America said. “Everything in thrift and vintage stores are one of a kind.”
Any person of fashion will tell you that the most important aspect of putting together an outfit is mixing together thrift and expensive pieces.
“I try to mix staple pieces from other stores from clothes I find from thrift stores,” America said.
Vintage store Lavish and Squalor owner Anne Middleton adds, “Budget and style wise, mixing vintage in your wardrobe is key.”
The reason being, it will give you a unique, yet trendy look no one else on the street can resemble. Plus, buying thrift saves you money so you can purchase expensive accessories to mix and match. It’s a reflection of you and how you want to portray your style.
As a graphic design graduate, Middleton has always been interested in independent expression of style. She altered and sewed her own clothing when she was younger and now owns Lavish and Squalor, another Queen Street West vintage shop she started with her friend a few years ago.
When it comes to finding vintage pieces, Middleton’s keen on bold pieces such as boots and coats.
“Statement pieces to add to my wardrobe,” Middleton said, who admits the best piece of vintage clothing she owns is her wool poncho she wears everyday from September to May.
To be a good thrift shopper, according to America, you have to go into the store with a blank mindset.
“People go and try to find such good stuff, but you have to … search through every single rack to find something,” America said. “If you like [the clothes] and works with your every day wardrobe, then it’s something I’d get.”
The coolest piece she’s has ever found were brand items that were less than $10.
“I was going insane. Vintage Christian Dior blouse circa 1995, I got it for $7.99,” America said excitedly. “Won’t ever expect to find those name brands at so little of a price anywhere else.”
One other piece of advice when thrift shopping, is to look at the demographic of the store. Look at how people dress in that area. Those are the type of people who are going to be donating at that store.
“I always go to Bloor and Landsdown,” America said, admitting she likes the more upbeat, trendy clothes in that area. “As well as Goodwill at Sherbourne and Bloor, they have 50 per cent on Fridays so it’s a plus.”
This seasons thrift trends are brands called Woolrich and Pendelton. According to CTS (Canadian Thrift Store) manager Emma Recourt, she says these wool jackets with navajo prints in the early 60’s are “flying”.
“It’s a native print, not in reference to the actual tribe, but reference to the kind of print that’s on it,” Recourt laughs. “Big comfy, wool jackets – those are wicked popular right now.”
Recourt has an eccentric style, which makes an impression on people.
“What I want is for people to have any fucking idea what’s going on,” Recourt laughed.
As a sculptor and painter for the last five years, Recourt says she’s always been a creative person visually. She now represents her art through clothing.
“I’ve always been an eccentric dresser, changing my hair styles and what I wear very quickly … [thrift stores] is the opportunity to get so much stuff and use it as my art, turn my body into a canvas,” Recourt said.
With her long brown hair, which is buzzed and blonde at the sides – she wore a mustard yellow jumper, which looked comfortable when she sat crossed legged on a blue chair at the back of her thrift store on Queen Street West.
This particular store had less selection and clutter than other thrift stores.
“We’re selective of what product we put on the floor and that’s very different from a lot of the vintage stores,” Recourt said in her raspy voice. “Every piece of clothing from this store has been handpicked by someone and has a purpose here rather then taking donations and putting them on the racks.”
She says stores like the CTS has glamorized second hand and vintage clothing.
“Vintage is available on Queen Street but it’s dead expensive,” Recourt said. “The kinds of people who come [to CTS] come for a purpose. There’s not a lot of people sifting though stuff, they’re in here looking for something specific.”
Every piece of clothing in CTS has been handpicked and has a purpose rather then taking donations and putting them on the racks.
“[Value Village and Goodwill] you can find great stuff there but you got to sift through a lot of crap to find it,” Recourt said. “A lot of shops like ours are popping up now, including ours, which are curated.”
They have private buyers who collect from different warehouses or stores and select every piece of clothing that’s on their walls.
Recourt notices customers come in CTS and look for pieces to make clothes or because they’re starting a brand new style. She says it’s definitely a place where trends start.
America admits even though thrift stores are cheap in price; she always gives herself a budget.
According to American resale professionals NARTS, Goodwill generated $2.69 billion in retail sales in 2010.
Recourt always tell customers they can spend $100 and walk away with four to six items at a thrift store. Or, they can go to another store and you might get one thing for the same amount of money.
“You go to H&M or Urban Planet, there are stores you can buy things cheap, but they’re not unique nothing special about them,” Recourt said.
“There’s no history, no style, no art behind it. You go to a thrift store and spend $100 you are getting things unique and one of a kind and you walk out setting new trends.”