Toronto is a city that I consider a mixed bag although one area where it undoubtedly comes into it’s own is the vintage shopping market. The downtown streets of Queen West, Kensington, Dundas West and Ossington are a veritable vortex of bygone era boutiques selling everything from 1920s cocktail rings to vintage Pucci prints. I traipsed the city and rummaged through countless (literally) outlets but the following stores proved the most impressive;
The bright blue paintwork and naked mannequins above the door make Courage My Love virtually unmissable. I did not happen across this store by chance, I followed an effusive recommendation all the way to the door and was not disappointed by what I discovered. A quick peek behind a Lucha Libre masks display rack reveals a wall covered with hand sewn sequin embroidered patches that can instantly upgrade a denim or leather jacket. Threads suspended from the room create an eye-level costume jewellery display above the long, glass topped counter that houses yet more accessories. The rail of white shirts, bleached and starched to perfection, is filled with high fashion details such as severely nipped in waists, extended tails, and oversized, sharply pointed collars. The star buy, however, are the 100 percent cashmere sweaters hand dyed by the Courage My Love team in bold jewel colours to create a faintly marbled effect. The sweaters are in absolutely pristine condition and phenomenally priced at just $50CAD (£25GBP), making them the most affordable cashmere purchase I have ever made.
Opened by Nicole Manek in 2013, this eclectic boutique stocks a weird and wonderful selection of vintage prints combined with in house brand LOM pieces, stylish home ware and quirky beauty products. Manek, a costume designer and celebrity stylist, uses her impeccable aptitude for colour to select eye catching pieces with true personality and flair. The deluxe LOM fur clutches $129CAD (£65) are backed with leather and completely defy their affordable price tag. For those with more money to spend or an appreciation for the finer things, luxury vintage handbags from Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Fendi can snapped up or gazed at depending on your levels of self control.
Located on the iconic Queen Street West, Mama Loves You Vintage is primely placed in the thick of Toronto’s quirkiest shopping district. Opened by mother-daughter team Mahro and Melo in 2012, this particular store has an element often lacking in vintage establishments; comfort. The store is light, airy, spacious and meticulously organised, making the process of browsing a true delight. Large changing rooms are positioned at the back of the room opposite a comfortable seating area and oversized full length mirror. Although not specifically noted, the carefully curated stock belongs largely to the 60’s and 70’s with the selection of printed silk flares emerging as the jewel in the crown.
Penny Arcade has a clean, fresh aesthetic in common with Mama Loves You Vintage but the similarities end there. Where Mama Loves You Vintage sports psychedelic floral prints, Penny Arcade displays classic, muted tones with an occasional splash of gentle marbling. Independent Canadian brands such as Caitlyn Rose Jewellery and Minnow Bathers Swimwear are not only stocked but championed but the boutique. My favourite pieces are the hand dyed Familiar Spirit scarves designed by Penny Arcade owner Rachel Sheehan and the Bully Boy lingerie, both of which perfectly reflect the gothic minimalist vibe of this hidden gem.
While in the city I also attended the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show and feel that the best vintage pieces on offer are found in boutiques like those listed above. This show, for me personally, offered nothing that I hadn’t seen before elsewhere in the world and was not representative of the incredible and truly original vintage market in Toronto. For those prepared to rummage, rifle and ransack, this city is a vintage goldmine.