As the merry-go-round of fast fashion and fleeting trends reaches a dizzying speed, the wild and wonderful world of thrifting will always win out. These days, it’s touted as a sustainable option for indulging your shopping urges, but stocking your closet with vintage finds is also the easiest way to make an impact on your personal style. With decades’ worth of era-specific garments at your disposal, it’s the realest path to preserving your individuality. Chances of having an accidental twinning moment while wearing an airy, chartreuse-coloured dress with all the ’80s fixings? Slim to none. This desire to stand out is being reflected on the runways too, with even hyper-modern designers like Moncler and Off-White seen dipping into the archives—call it the Gucci-fication of contemporary fashion. Want a piece of it for your own? Here are our tips for nabbing a thrifted bounty that’ll elevate your entire closet.
Exercise your own curatorial skills.
When you’re staring down racks of vintage clothing, a set-up unlike any you’d find in a modern mall, patience is your greatest asset. A thrifting trip might not be fruitful every time, but you can improve your chances by having a discerning eye. Start by following the fabrics: Vintage leather, suede and super-soft T-shirt cotton are all good, long-lasting bets. But before you fall in love with something, give the garment a comprehensive once-over, keeping an eye out for moth holes, worn-out fabric or yellow pit stains; there’s some damage a good wash just can’t fix.
Imagine the potential upgrades.
When you find a piece worth investing in, consider all the possibilities for customization. Adding embroidered flourishes or a raw edge is simple enough, but for more involved alterations—i.e., anything beyond a straightforward hem—turn to a trusted tailor. (Try inquiring in the shop if your black book is blank; if it’s a revered store, the associates are often tapped into the local garment talent.) It’s important, though, to keep your transformation expectations in check: Tailors can work wonders on a one-size-too-big pair of mom jeans, but they probably can’t overhaul a broad-shouldered, ruffled prairie dress that you’re already iffy about. It’s why the adage “If you don’t love it in the change room, you won’t love it at home” is a must-follow when thrifting.
Elevate your haul to the here and now.
The best kind of vintage—the pieces that reap the most compliments—doesn’t look vintage at all. The vibe you’re aiming for is cool and contemporary, not bargain-basement costume. (In other words, pass on that psychedelic polyester top.) To skirt the Halloween overtones entirely, think about your existing wardrobe and which pieces could serve to modernize the thrifted one you’re about to buy. A pair of architectural ankle boots will upcycle a silk nightie from underwear to outerwear, while a printed midiskirt will really editorialize a cozy grandpa cardigan. It’s all about interpreting the garment’s story in the present and making your mark on a little piece of sartorial history.
Take a Vintage Trip with Our Cross-Country Picks
When it comes to neighbourhood haunts, you can always count on the steady, solid selection at Value Village (valuevillage.com); seasoned VV thrifters will tell you the less-picked-over loot is best sourced in locations outside of city centres.
In Toronto, designer wares live at VSP Consignment (1410 Dundas St. W.)—we’re talking little Gucci dresses, wool coats from Burberry and (old) Céline bags. And just down the street is Chosen Vintage (1599 Dundas St. W.), a purveyor of decidedly less pricey but still thoughtfully curated cool-girl pieces.
Tucked into Vancouver’s Gastown district is Hey Jude (315 Abbott St.), which carries a minimalist-inspired collection of vin- tage. (Think avocado-hued blouses and itty-bitty woven bags.)
Calgary’s Kindred Thrift (1221B Kensington Rd. N.W.) boasts an abundance of denim, and over in Montreal, Citizen Vintage’s two popular locations (4059 and 5330 Blvd. Saint- Laurent) blend thoroughly modern finds with their own in-house brand. Prefer the e-comm route?
There’s been a boom in Insta-hosted vintage shops that do the digging for you, hand-selecting a tight crop of pieces with a cohesive aesthetic. Newly launched Habit Vintage (@habitvintage), based out of Halifax’s north end, has become popular with the local fashion set for its breezy, wearable vibe.
You can scoop up all the dreamy underthings at The Faraway (shopthefaraway.com), a Vancouver Island-based online boutique whose offerings date from as far back as the early 1900s.
At the other end of the era spectrum comes luxury-streetwear-focused Kaybee Vintage (kay-bee.ca), which touts itself as “Not your mom’s vintage.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.