Whether you’re in the market for circulation-compromising bell bottoms or an authentic 1940s flapper dress, second-hand shops are a safe, often cheap bet. We asked veteran vintage-picker John Christmann, co-owner of Parkdale’s The Public Butter and Queen West’s Black Market Vintage, for some tips.
How much further will $10 get me in a vintage store?
“Black Market has 6,000 square-feet of $10 dollar buys. We sell black leather jackets, suede, and designer products like Christian Dior men’s dress shirts for $10, but I don’t think that happens very often elsewhere in the city. In general, there’s not a lot you can get for $10. We’re on Queen Street, so we make up for costs with a huge cross-section of shoppers.”
A lot of times, isn’t it cheaper just to hit up Urban Outfitters for that retro-looking tea-dress?
Vintage clothing is a culture of quality. The proof is that it’s still around, and it still looks great. Current products don’t usually last as long. Vintage stores offer incredible products like leather coats and cashmere and angora sweaters—things you won’t find for even $100 anywhere else.
How do I know if I’m getting a good deal on a piece?
You’re usually looking at collector’s pieces when you see a $150 item. Stores do make mistakes though. Often, when they first start up, owners will put fairly high prices on things, and it’ll take them six to 12 months to figure out that no one’s buying it.
I’m a good haggler. Should I haggle at vintage stores?
Retailers have a pretty difficult time of it these days, and rents are very high, so negotiating is not so much well-received as it is put up with. Owners have already adjusted their prices, often to a bare bones level, and the last thing they really want to do is discuss a $10 sale.
I’m lazy. Are these clothes harder to care for?
The incredible thing about vintage is that it’s so well made; it’s virtually indestructible if it’s aleady lasted 30 or 40 years. With very basic care of a wash in the machine or a tub-soak, and hang-dry, you’re good to go. Easy as pie.
Why do I feel fatter in vintage stores?
Vintage clothes are traditionally smaller, so you might want to buy the larger size on the rack. We’ve been eating a lot of McDonald’s hamburgers over the last 30 years, and gotten larger in stature as human beings. Also, one company’s size eight is another’s size six, so make sure you try it on.
Is used footwear really a good idea?
If you look at a modern shoe, often times they will have a rubber or composite sole, whereas vintage shoes tend to have leather soles, which are replaceable. If you wore the new shoe every day, it might last you two or three years, but the leather shoe can last forever because there are cobblers around town, like Sandalman Leathercare (1181 Davenport Rd., 416-533-6335), who can re-sole them.
What if I find something I love, but it looks haggard?
Spend the extra money to get a tuck here or there if you want to get a few years’ use out of a piece. If it’s leather, try Perfect Leather Goods (555 King St. W., 416-205-9775). For wool, I would try Victory Cleaners (544 Queen St. W., 416-504-9801).
What’s the benefit of going to a vintage shop over, say, Value Village?
The fashionable customer in-the-know, who already has an idea of what they want, should go to Value Village (924 Queen St. E., 416-778-4818) or the Salvation Army (1219 Bloor St. W., 416-533-9553). It’s cheaper, but it’ll take a little more time to find what you’re looking for. Those who might need help with putting something together, or want to know what’s current, should probably come to a vintage storefront for help.
What about that musty scent?
I’d be more cautious of a store that uses toxic cleaning chemicals than one that’s less-worried about an organic smell. There will be residue of decades past in decades-old pieces. But it’s safe.
Black Market Vintage (256 Queen St. W., #QNW, 416-599-5858, blackmarkettoronto.com); The Public Butter (1290 Queen St. W., #PRK, 416-535-4343, thepublicbutter.com)