Monday, February 22, 2010

A Guide to Vintage Shopping in Vancouver

Vancouver, being one of the "greenest" cities in North America, has a large selection of second-hand shopping, most of which is largely forgettable and some of the stores I've only been in once or twice because I happened to be in the neighbourhood. I tend to give the consignment stores a miss because their selection in too hipster and overpriced. However, there are some vintage gems which you must visit in you're ever in town.
DeLuxe Junk on Cordova Street in Gastown has been going strong since 1973 and is Vancouver's first and oldest surviving vintage store. This is my favourite vintage place and is also where I bought my first vintage piece when I was a child. In this large and cluttered shop you'll find a vast array of both vintage and consignment clothing, shoes, jewellery, hats and accessories. There is also a large selection of menswear, including leather jackets and hand painted ties. Everything is divided into sections (sweater, skirts, dresses, etc) and then subdivided by colour, so it is possible to find a maxi dress next to a handmade '40's frock and all clothing is rotated when the seasons change (this being the West Coast there are only two seasons -cool and warm). Only the jewellery, rack of scarves at the front and the rack of mid century beaded and cashmere cardigans at the back remain year-round. The staff, usually only one girl at the till and the voices of people in the back office, are helpful if you don't normally shop vintage and are looking for a costume or if you are a regular, will let you browse in peace and can offer an opinion when trying things on (only four change cubicles). When having a browse, don't forget to look up on the walls to see the expensive selection of untouchable flapper dresses and Jean Harlow lingerie and around the shop at the decorative hat boxes. Everything has been cleaned and steamed before being put out on the floor and mostly everything available operates on the three price system (first prices, marked down price after 30 days and final price after 60 days for those who like to gamble) which makes for some of the most affordable vintage in Vancouver. They never have sales.
In the basement of a donair place on Robson Steet between Granville and Howe is my other favourite vintage place: True Value Vintage! The friendly staff is continuously changing the floor set-up, which is an excuse to drop in regularly. Everything is hand picked and cleaned before being added to the already crowded racks of clothes. There's no strict order to how the racks are set up, at the moment the skirts are next to the men's sweaters, but everything is divided by type and then by fabric or era. As if the crowded racks and room of handbags and shoes (yup, separate room...okay, it's a large closet) weren't enough for hours of fun, there are also hats, purses and shoes piled high on top of the racks and spilling over from the tables and walls. During the warmer months, they remove the coats and add prom dresses and topical shirts and hang crinolines from the ceiling. You can also find a wardrobe of hankies and aprons, display cases of jewellery and my favourite: a bin of 2 for $5 scarves! Their prices are very reasonable ('50's novelty circle skirts are $50) and they often have a $10 rack of dresses and frequently have sales mid season and always end of season (mostly for coats). They also sell new stuff by local designers at the front and Converse.
Main Street has been reborn in the last ten years as being the place to go for antiques, vintage, thrift stores and retro and modern local designers. By favourite one is on 16th called C'est La Vie. This pink boutique has been around for a few years and is a medium sized store. Inside, you'll find colourful and amusing decor that sets off a small, but carefully chosen selection of vintage wear, mostly from mid century. The staff is always helpful and regularly change the window mannequins to reflect the dominant colour selections that they have that week. They also feature their favourite handbags and hats on the walls and divide their racks by type and then colour. They are also one of the few vintage stores to have actual change rooms with a chair, full length mirror and wall pegs and they are the only vintage place to rely mostly on natural light, rather then on icky yellow lighting. Prices are affordable and they almost always seem to have a bin of $5 and under stuff outside. You can see some interior shots here.

Round the corner and up the stairs from DeLuxe Junk is Woo Vintage on Cambie Street. This is a very tiny store and most often you'll find the lovely owner behind the till. Despite being cramped, the store is very well organized and clean. You can spend hours shifting through the well labelled floor and wall racks of clothing and the price tags also include the era information and a list of any flaws the garment has, which comes in handy since there is only one small change room and not enough time to check everything out. The only problem I have with this store is that it's one of those places where you can spend your entire pay cheque, since most of the prices are higher then what you know you can find elsewhere, but it's still fun to browse and save up for something special. They also have a website here.

Edit: As of May 2010, Woo Vintage has moved to Main and 28th into a wonderful store that's double the size of the old one.

Retro Rock Vintage Clothing is known for it's long hours and having two locations, one on Commercial Drive and one downtown on Davie Street, which is the one I prefer. Even though both stores are huge, the majority of the space is taken up by menswear, leather jackets and rock tees. They do have some women's clothing, mostly in the back and it is hand picked and rotated with the seasons. They also have a large selection of handbags, some designer, and keep one eye out for the wall decoration as it is wear they put their ladies hats for lack of a hat stand. The staff is always changing the music around, waiting the help you find something or to get a change room ready or steam your selections. Their prices are reasonable and they always seem to have some form of a sale going on whenever I go past.

What about thrift stores you may well ask. Well, there are more thrift stores here then vintage and consignment combined. However, these are my favourites, not only for cheap prices but also the ones I tend to have the most luck in for finding vintage clothing.
  • Salvation Army on Browadway and MacDonald. This is my favourite thrift store, since I can always find something here and I have had the most vintage luck here. But this might be because it's the closest to my house that I tend to stop here the most.
  • Salvation Army on 41st AVE. This Sally Ann's is in Kerrisdale, which is a neighbourhood known for affluent families and old ladies, which is why this is the best place for quality clothes that have barely been worn.
  • Salvation Army on 12th and Kingsway (one block east from Main Street) is the largest Sally Ann's in the city and tends to be the place to go for a variety of different styles, but mostly stuff that's brought by people on their regular shopping trips back to Hong Kong (which is where a lot of my thrift finds tend to come from, including my favourite skirt)
  • My Favourite Thrift Store on 4th AVE and MacDonald. They don't have a lot of clothing here (I don't think that I have ever bought any clothes here at all) but they do have a lot of vintage furniture and home decor here, plus a large selection of records.
  • YWCA on Main and 28th is small but you'll never know what you might find here. There is a surprising amount of vintage that turns up if you check back often (that's where I got one of my fur coats) and everything is cheap (records are a loonie and books are 25 cents).
Well, that's about it. Is anyone interested in other guides to Vancouver? And what are your favourite vintage stores where you live?

1 comment:

Cheri Pinktrix said...

Super useful post! I'm heading to Vancouver in August and this was just the info I needed to make sure I know the hot spots for vintage!

You wouldn't happen to know if any of these have a plus sized section do you?