Style

Seven Women On Their Enduring Love of Vintage Clothing

We asked seven vintage shop owners to share their thoughts on the power of second-hand style—and to model some of their favourite fall looks.

A photo of Space VIntage owner Natasha Roberts in an orange gown in her shop

“I wore this dress the first day Space Vintage reopened in Kensington Market. It was made by French designer Michel Goma in 1977. I had never worn orange before, and it was great to fall in love with a new colour. Now, this dress hangs in my wardrobe as a symbol of resilience and confidence.” (Photos, Carmen Cheung)

Natasha Roberts
Space Vintage; Toronto

@spacevintagexo

Sustainability in fashion is part of my upbringing. My grandmother made bridal dresses and she would always buy patterns and fabrics for me and spend hours sewing my clothing. My mom had a vintage clothing store, and I made my first sale there when I was six. Fast fashion has always been foreign territory to me.

Space Vintage is a safe space for everyone. My mission is to make it the safest shopping experience in the world. The main vibe is one of celebration. You can dance, you can sing, you can do anything in the store. But we also take fashion and styling very seriously, even when it comes to challenges in styling. We’ve styled people in wheelchairs and people with colostomy bags. We style any size, any height, and we incorporate any style. I do feel like we can do it all, and we strive to do it all.

When you’re first starting to shop vintage, you do have to be patient and try a lot of things on. The best place to start is with a statement blouse. You can pair it with a basic like your favourite jeans; it looks cute and can be modern as well. I find the easiest way to shop vintage is to understand what era and silhouettes work best with your body type. For me, I know that ’70s dresses work best because they’re long and flowy, they cinch at the waist, and I’ll get a good fit. A lot of people think there are only small sizes in vintage, but that’s not true. I’m definitely not a size 2, but I can still find a lot of great pieces.

I don’t really think about aesthetics or the material aspect of fashion; I dress more toward a feeling. I put my heels on, put a ’70s dress on, have my hair out and I go to work. I’m not trying to impress anyone; it’s about personal expression. I’m just thinking about how I feel. Some days, even though I’m in Toronto, I have all these dresses that make me feel like I’m the girl from Ipanema, or I have some dresses that make me feel otherworldly and powerful.

I only wear dresses and skirts. I don’t wear pants; I don’t wear shorts. I’m definitely feeling super free in my dresses. I like to feel comfortable while slaying.

A photo of Velour Clothing Exchange owners Myra and Michelle Miller

Myra (left): “This trench is vintage Aquascutum, which was the first company to provide the British army with waterproof cloth. I was excited to find these Eileen Fisher silk pants at another second-hand shop.” Michelle: “My jacket is corduroy with suede details and was made in Calgary. My backpack was brought into the store and I just had to buy it. And I got my vintage wool plaid skirt through a swap.” (Photos: Elyse Bouvier)

Myra and Michelle Miller
Velour Clothing Exchange; Calgary
@velourclothingexchange

Myra: My daughter Michelle heavily influenced my interest in vintage. She wore it all through high school, and I was thrilled to see her loving the trends from my eras, the ’70s and the ’80s. We both have a love of fashion, and that translated into doing vintage pop-ups at markets in Calgary. I worked as an executive director for a not-for-profit, and this was my side gig for many years until we opened our shop in 2016.

From the get-go, we’ve striven for diversity with our photo shoots. We also are pretty heavily connected to the LGBTQ+ community. By having the store organized gender-neutrally, and by carrying extended sizes, we want to create a safe, welcoming place for people to explore. So many people haven’t felt comfortable exploring their personal style for all sorts of reasons. We are so heavily bombarded by fashion magazines saying, “You have to fit this mould. This is what you should look like.” It’s really exciting that that idea is getting challenged and explored, where you’re seeing way more diversity in fashion. It’s about time. What we’re trying to do is say, “We see you. We are you.”

Right now, I feel most comfortable wearing minimalist, classic, monochromatic clothing. With women my age, when you know your style, you risk getting stuck in a rut. I think you can experiment at a vintage shop a lot more than at a higher-end store because the price point is a lot lower. You can afford to take a risk.

Michelle: I love vintage so much. I love that it’s unique. I love that I don’t know what I’m going to get, I just kind of find what fits me. And I like the hunt. People always say that, but I really do enjoy the experience. I also like being able to mix different eras and trends, like when I find something from the ’60s or ’70s that I can pair with something from the ’90s and make a really cool outfit.

I have two different styles that I go with depending on how I’m feeling that day. On my comfy days, I dress skater style and gender fluid. Then the days that I want to dress up a bit more, I’m typically going to be wearing some loud, patterned pieces. I strive to wear head-to-toe second-hand or vintage. I don’t remember the last time I went to the mall.

In terms of expanding your personal style, be open-minded about what’s out there. If a customer says they wouldn’t usually wear something, I tell them to try it on. You’ll always be surprised. And you only live once. I’m all about saying things loudly, being loud and being seen.

A photo of Julie Yoo in her Toronto vintage shop, I Miss You

“I found this Noir Kei Ninomiya Comme des Garçons top with new tags in New York at one of my favourite resale shops. I had originally purchased this Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons skirt new in 2007 and then sold it. I came across it again at a resale shop. My Gucci 1970s suede coat came from a vintage closet buy-out I did around 2006. I rarely keep things, but I did keep this because of how special it is.” (Photos: Carmen Cheung)

Julie Yoo
I Miss You; Toronto
@imissyouvintage

It started as a hobby. I always liked fashion, I liked shopping, and I loved history. I was always thrifting. As a student, I’d find unique things at the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, wherever. Then it slowly started turning into a collection, and then it started taking over my attic and then another room. When people started saying I needed to open a store, I took the leap.

I did my undergrad in fine art history, and then I did museum studies in my master’s. I ended up working in various museums and galleries, but eventually I threw it all away to sell used clothes. It’s not that different from my education in that we’re learning how to look at objects and speak about them. That’s how I look at clothing—as design and art. That’s how I like to curate. I like the provenance, the history, the links you can make with it, the prior life that it had. There’s something about vintage clothing that has all of that romanticism and excitement that contemporary clothing just doesn’t.

That said, not everyone’s always dressing head to toe in an era-specific outfit, unless they’re going to a Mad Men party. In order to grow to the volume-based business that I currently have, and to pay the rising rents, I started selling contemporary clothing from labels like Chanel and Louis Vuitton, which seems to have a wider reach.

My personal style is a hybrid of minimal and edgy contemporary, and I’m notorious for wearing all black. I like to mix in avant-garde with some retro, rock ’n’ roll glam. I like a lot of shiny and ’70s stuff. But even though I do like a certain aesthetic that’s always been sort of standard, my style does change based on what is current at the time, like skirt length, fit, et cetera. It would be boring to wear the same look all the time.

A photo of Portia Sam in her vintage shop, Miscellany Finds

“The jeans and the fuchsia silk shirt are both from the shop. The knit throw was made by a local artisan and my bracelets are from the Cedar Root Gallery in the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre. I’ve collected my silver rings over the years.” (Photo: Ariella Ilona)

Portia Sam
Miscellany Finds; 
Vancouver
@miscellanyfinds

I was born in Trinidad but I grew up in Winnipeg and moved to B.C. in 1990. I have a background in business and owned a consignment and vintage store with my sister from 1994 until 2000, when I had my daughter. I eventually got back into vintage, but I was inspired to do it in a different way.

After experiencing some trauma, I was a volunteer coordinator at a battered women’s support organization that had a social enterprise—and I found that it is a really great way to train people in back-to-work skills for the job market.

At Miscellany Finds, we maximize our social impact by partnering with organizations in the Downtown Eastside, as well as Corrections Canada, to train women and raise money for programming. The end goal is to pay them living wages as they start moving forward in their lives. The people who shop here are really lovely. They have a lot of patience because they know what we’re doing.

If you’re new to shopping vintage, start with a curated store like ours. People are always shocked when they walk in here. More vintage stores are realizing that people don’t actually want to go and dig through stuff. Personally, I like digging—that’s how I started in 1979, going to Value Village—but I recognize that that’s a barrier for a lot of people.

I’m not tooting my own horn here, I’m old enough so I can say it: I have style. I don’t think that I dress particularly fabulously, but people on the street always tell me I look so nice.

I always think, “Huh, this shirt cost me four bucks.” I actually wear a lot of men’s linens that I find in thrift stores. You can rock just about anything—it’s all in the way that you put it together.

A photo of Elaine Leveille and Emmanuelle Rochefort in their shop, Era Vintage Wear

Emmanuelle (left): “My sequinned mini skirt is by Theory and my leather boots are from Casadei circa 1999. This black long-sleeve turtleneck came from Banana Republic and is part of the basics we keep in the shop for customers to try on with our pieces, which usually require something like this to tone them down!” Elaine: “This black silk T-shirt is covered in hand-stitched black sequins and my pants are by Pierre Cardin. Both are from the 1970s. My black leather belt is by Christian Dior circa 1983.” (Photos: Monique Simone Weston. Makeup: Maxime Poulin, Guerlain Canada.)

Elaine Leveille and Emmanuelle Rochefort
Era Vintage Wear; Montreal
@eravintagewear

Elaine: I’ve been collecting vintage clothes for as long as I can remember. My mom refurbished antiques, and she was always bringing me to people’s houses who needed her to fix things. She would tell me to go look in the attic or the basement because there would be a bunch of clothes there and I could play dress-up. That’s literally how I started collecting vintage. For me, it’s about looking for old stuff that’s really high-quality. It’s not about the label or the brand, it’s truly about the materials.

Generally speaking, we all need to buy basics. We all need a pair of jeans, we all need a few T-shirts, we all need a cute pair of running shoes. Once you have this, you need to whoop it up. You know that blue fairy in Cinderella who takes the dress everybody thinks is a disaster and transforms it? I like to do that to clothing. I’ll add something and remove something. It’s a bit like painting.

Clothing should showcase your personality and who you are as a person. I’ll show up to the chalet in a sequined top because the first thing I want to do is to be me. I’m not going to show up in sweatpants, even though I did bring them for later. Everybody knows I wear vintage stuff all the time. It’s obvious when you have pieces that were not bought at the mall. You can see when things are not of this world.

Emmanuelle: Fashion has always been a huge part of my life. My mom opened her store when I was very young, and now I work here doing graphic, brand and web design. A lot of my wardrobe comes from the store.

We sell some very unique things that my mom spends months putting together, like turning two skirts into a dress. I appreciate that, but I have more of a millennial outlook. My version of vintage is more casual. I have my own little vintage collection in the store, and it has a low-key vibe. It’s more accessible and balances out my mom’s artistic-ness.

I’m 21, and my generation looks at vintage in terms of sustainability, not just because it’s older. Before you wanted vintage Dior or vintage haute couture. Now, you could buy a white crop top anywhere or you could come to Era and find one from the 1970s that’s good for the planet, and it’s also better quality. A lot of my friends say they feel better shopping vintage because they feel like they’re not ruining the environment or creating waste. With everything going on in the world right now, that’s at least one thing we can help with.