The Genteel
January 16, 2021

Best Kept Secrets

Sorting through the wares at a second-hand shop is an art form that is easy to learn (Photograph by Cate Lorimer).

Many Christmases ago, my mother gave me a most thoughtful gift. For a year, she had been secretly collecting vintage clothing, and by Christmas Eve, a box of dress-up clothes was waiting for me under the tree. I used the trunk of clothes to create wardrobes for the characters I would play: a black dress became a working woman's power suit and a pair of gold kitten heels was worn by a famous singer.

My penchant for dressing up followed me into adulthood. I love starting off the day in an outfit that is uniquely me, and in something that no one has seen before. Rarely do I shop at the mall, as the thought of showing up to work wearing the same outfit as a colleague makes me cringe. Which is why I find myself gravitating towards the thrift, vintage and consignment shops sprinkled around Toronto and beyond. My mother believes that it has something to do with my love of dressing up as child, and she could be right. After all, every bargain shop resembles a treasure trunk of some sort. What I love most about thrifting is that it allows me to be very creative with my wardrobe while also rekindling that vivid imagination of dress-up that I now long for as an adult. I am going to share with you some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to building a second-hand wardrobe. Don't worry, these tips are simple to remember and easy to follow. One day, I hope you'll find a piece that will leave you as giddy as I was on that Christmas morning.

If there is a glimmer of potential, it's worth trying on 
(Photograph by Cate Lorimer).

The first rule of vintage shopping is to shop with an open mind. Walking into a thrift store can be overwhelming, but remember that searching for that something special will take time and effort. So, it's important to go in with a game plan. Decide what type of occasion you are shopping for, and then break it down to exactly what you need. A helpful hint: good second hand stores usually divide their wares by garment type, so by no means should you riffle through the entire store if you know you're looking for something in particular.

When it comes to second-hand shopping, the old adage "never judge a book by its cover" bears truth. I learned this first hand after many years of shopping with one of my best friends who happens to work for a well-regarded fashion magazine and breathes haute couture on a daily basis. She has the ability to make a paper bag look like a ball gown, often pulling the oddest pieces, then styling and altering them to look fabulous. She also understands her body type, what fits and what silhouettes work for her. Sometimes, a great piece is a few minor alterations away. If something doesn't fit like a glove when trying it on, don't toss it aside just yet. Take a moment to determine if you can alter it, and most importantly, if those changes will fit your body type. My best advice is that if you think there is an inch of potential, throw it in your cart and keep going. It's only when you get to the change rooms should you run through what you found and do the first rounds of eliminations. Thinking about it too much will just frustrate you, so just have fun and play dress up! There are many worthy second-hand shops around Toronto: I Miss You Vintage specializes in vintage designer clothing and they're great if you're looking for a cocktail dress; and Pretty Freedom, which is great for pieces to spruce up your everyday outfit without breaking the bank. 

What I love most about thrifting is that it allows me to be very creative with my wardrobe while also rekindling that vivid imagination of dress-up that I now long for as an adult.

My third golden rule is to remember that fashion is always repeating itself. How many times have purchased something only to be told by your mother, "When I was your age, I had one just like that! I can't believe you kids are wearing it now." It's true. Most classic silhouettes, fabrics and cuts have always been present - or at least for the last century or so. While perusing through the latest runway collections, I often see echoes of the past. Take Versace's recent capsule collection for H&M, for instance. The minute I saw it, it reminded me of several references. First, the tropical patterns of Miami beachwear found in the early 90's worn by the gang of Beverly Hills 90210. Secondly, the large glittery bling paid homage to 80's costume jewelry adorned by the lovely Ivanka Trump. Finally, the fabric. A lot of leather, spandex and sateen - all materials that have cycled through the fashion mill before. Whenever you see a trend that inspires you, pick out the elements that you love, and I guarantee that you can find something similar for half the price.

Take the weekend to clean out your closet and make a little cash on the side. Who knows what pot of gold lies in your closet. If you are no longer wearing a good quality piece, sell it to a consignment store. Not only do they offer you cash, they also allow you to trade your clothing for their merchandise. It's a great way to purge while making room for a new addition. There are some great consignment stores in Toronto to check out such as, Kind Exchange, Fashionably Yours and Off the Cuff (which specializes in Menswear). 

Building a fantastic wardrobe (at half the cost) is pretty simple. All it takes it an open mind and the willingness to be creative. Being able to find pieces you love without digging deep into your pockets makes shopping so much more fun, in my humble opinion. It's also nice to know that what you buy is 100% original. So fall in love with shopping again, but most importantly, fall in love with your closet!



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