A soft motorcycle jacket a cozy wool sweater high-waisted jeans that make your butt look like the literal peach emoji. A great vintage piece, as any fashion lover knows, is worth its weight in gold (but, odds are, it probably cost you an awful lot less than that).
Though the city’s difficult commercial real estate market has claimed some of its bigger vintage players in recent years, our second-hand shopping scene is still alive and well, with plenty of well-curated stores – each with a signature style all its own – ready to connect that perfect piece with the right person.
There are plenty of style-driven reasons local vintage stores are thriving, including the streetwear boom and a new appetite for 90s and early 00s pieces, but it’s hard to discount the economical and ethical incentives for shopping second-hand. Globally, we consume a jaw-dropping 80 billion pieces of clothing per year, and the fashion industry is one of the world’s top-polluting industries.
As shoppers become increasingly trend-conscious and cost-conscious, fast fashion has come to dominate the clothing market, flooding shelves with inexpensively (and, often, unethically) produced clothing meant to last for a season or two rather than standing the test of time. Buying second-hand from your neighbourhood vintage store is a great way to break the cycle, help a local biz pay its rent and make all your friends jealous of that sweet vintage tee.
Here are 12 of our favourite places to shop for the perfect find.
The vibe: Winona Forever
The best trends of the 90s – velvet, chunky heels, lingerie as daywear and a whole lot of animal print – live at Melissa Ball’s Dundas West shop, which wears its influences on its witchy bell sleeve. If you want to make sure you get your hands on the best finds before anyone else, they make some of their choicest picks, like ruffly party wear, statement suits and leather pieces in woozy pastel shades, available online. NM
1599 Dundas West, 647-346-1993, chosen-vintage.com
96 Tears Vintage
The vibe: A makeover montage starring Stevie Nicks, Kurt Cobain and Weird Al
Chris Koyionis and Colette Todoroff’s Parkdale shop, named for Question Mark and the Mysterians’ classic 60s organ jam, is a haven for rock ’n’ roll weirdos, with metallic leather pants, auto-mechanic coveralls and flame-covered 90s button-downs mixed in among the worn-in tees and denim jackets. Their iconoclastic mix of offerings is about to get even more unique, with a line of house-made pieces (including of-the-moment mini handbags and groovy metallic paisley pants) rolling out this spring. NM
1267 Bloor West, instagram.com/96tearsvintage
Penny Arcade & Tambourine
The vibe: Downtown vs. uptown
Penny Arcade has been a fail-safe source for easy vintage staples since 2008. The neat racks are arranged with rows of silk tees and blouses in every imaginable colour, black blazers, leather jackets, and cut-off shorts in a spectrum of washes. If opulence is more your thing, head to newly opened sister store Tambourine on Roncy, where silk scarves, statement coats and an eyebrow-raising array of archival designer pieces hang side by side in a serene white space. NM
The vibe: The thrift store, but better
Benefit from everyone else in town’s vigorous Marie Kondo-ing at this string of buy-sell shops with locations in the Annex, Riverside and Parkdale. The staff buy based on quality and seasonality, with a varied mix of aesthetics in mind. Though Common Sort doesn’t exclusively carry vintage items (modern brands ranging from H&M to Max Mara are represented), there’s a fair bit of retro gems – and the forgiving price point means you can snag a score for well under 40 bones (and, if you’ve previously brought in pieces for trade, maybe even for free). NM
800 Queen East, 416-479-3517 1414 Queen West, 416-463-7678 and 444 Bloor West, 416-532-5990, commonsort.com
The vibe: Punk rock junk shop
Black Market Vintage is the unofficial tickle trunk of Queen West (honestly, if you’ve never been elbow-deep in cheap sunglasses and polyester dresses while the Buzzcocks blare over the PA, are you even a Torontonian?), but those in the know head right for its Parkdale satellite store instead. The grungy flea market atmosphere remains intact, but Public Butter’s pieces – think Levi’s, leather motos, handbags and varsity jackets – are infinitely more wearable and durable, and still available for well under what you’d pay at more curated shops. NM
1290 Queen West, 416-535-4343, publicbutter.com
Black Diamond Vintage
The vibe: Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb
With its butter-yellow walls and 70s bric-a-brac collection, this newish arrival to Parkdale has one of the more defined aesthetics of any vintage store in town, occupying the intersection of Woodstock flower power, Runaways rocker glam and Stranger Things early-80s sportswear. Nineties minimalism isn’t really its thing here – but as long as it’s bold, patterned and colourful, the store will stock pieces from as far back as the 20s. NM
1614 Queen West, 647-208-1148, instagram.com/blackdiamondvtg
House of Vintage
The vibe: Ready for a road trip
The offerings are all over the map at this sizeable Parkdale store (shout-out to the not-for-sale white go-go boots that have been taunting me from a top shelf since 2014). But where it really excels is vintage Americana: Levi’s, fringed jackets, wool blankets, cowboy boots. Bargain hunters should zero in on the racks of perfectly beaten-in Harley Davidson and rock-band tees – which, unless they’re ultra-rare, are forgivingly priced (often under $30). NM
1239 Queen West, 416-535-2142, instagram.com/houseofvintagetoronto
F as in Frank
The vibe: 90s logo-mania
If you’re into streetwear, this Queen West shop has probably been on your hit list for a while now. F as in Frank focuses on sportier pieces and denim from the late 80s to early 90s. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for vintage hip-hop, rock and metal concert tees – they start at $20 and can go up to $400 for that rare collectible piece. It also has an endless supply of Hawaiian shirts and Levi’s cut-offs if you’re looking to revamp your summer wardrobe. ML
418 Queen West, 647-341-6606, frankto.ca
In Vintage We Trust
The vibe: Streetwear trophy-hunting
This Parkdale gem is for the vintage streetwear lovers. Specializing in mens’ pieces from the 70s to the early 00s, In Vintage We Trust has a trend-driven focus on sportswear (including ball caps, tees, as well as MLB and NBA team jackets), plus tech clothing and vintage movie tees. There’s even some adorable kids’ sportswear for the tiny hypebeast in your life. As a bonus, most pieces are under $100. ML
1580 Queen West, 416-781-0395, invintagewetrust.com
The vibe: Your really cool grandma’s closet
Stacey Collrin, who co-owns the nearby Odd Finds General Store, has an eye for picking vintage. Siberia’s assortment changes with the seasons and features a large collection from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. You’ll find hipster granny booties and fur coats in the winter, and retro slingbacks and Hawaiian shirts once the weather warms up. Dresses are arranged by colour and range from ruffly cocktail attire and mod floral-print shifts to gowns straight out of Scarface. MDS
955 Bloor West, 416-476-5152, instagram.com/siberiavintage
Sub Rosa Vintage
The vibe: Millennial hipster rediscovers grunge
If you made the mistake of getting rid of all your clothes from the 80s and 90s, stop into Sub Rosa for a re-up. The Kensington Market shop stands out amongst the neighbourhood’s myriad vintage options because of its friendly, helpful staff and tightly curated collection. Its offerings always seem to reflect whatever’s trending on Instagram at the moment – right now, that’s pastel-hued fleece sweatshirts and camouflage cargo pants – and a rotating sale rack means you might even score a treasure that’s deeply discounted. MDS
16 Kensington, subrosavintage.com
Courage My Love
The vibe: Artsy, bohemian magpie
A Kensington institution since 1975, Courage has held on to its hippie import-store roots (those jewellery supplies, lucha masks and perpetual cloud of patchouli scent aren’t going anywhere) while still offering one of the most reliable selections of vintage and upcycled clothing around. In the market for a nice cashmere sweater? They come in every colour and size. How about a pair of perfectly broken-in boots? You want cowboy or lace-up? Grab a ring that looks like an eyeball and a novelty postcard for your fridge on the way out. NM
14 Kensington, 416-979-1992, instagram.com/cececourage
Model: Robyn Philips. Clothing provided by Chosen Vintage, 96 Tears and Penny Arcade.