Way back in January, Gillian and I decided it might be fun to attempt to shoot a capsule collection of vintage resort wear, since I was going to be in Barbados on a family trip. So we pulled some dresses and jewelry, packed them into my suitcase, and I put my game face on. Modelling (and I use that term loosely) is not exactly in my comfort zone.
But, two months later, we did manage to put together a dreamy little lookbook, which you can see on our site here! I know everyone else is showing next year’s Fall collections, although hell it still feels like deep winter up here and we’re nothing if not rule-breakers. Rule-breakers!! Or something like that.
The flora was so lush in Barbados that there was no shortage of great backdrops on which to shoot. My husband Chris did the photography while I attempted to style, art-direct, and smize all at the same time. Neither of us will be quitting our day-jobs. But it was fun to pretend. My dear Gillian – your position as Symmetric model-in-residence is intact.
Here are some extras and outtakes from the shoot.
High security fencing with spikes in the background kind of killed the illusion here. Next location!
In Part One of our thrifting series, Gillian shows you how to navigate the wild west of thrift store clothes shopping. Now, her guide to what to do once you’re back home…
So, you’ve got the loot home. Now what? Throw everything in the laundry on the sanitize cycle and douse yourself in Purell? Boo.
What you really need to do is pour a drink (it’s been a long day, girlfriend), get some tunes going, and put on an epic fashion show for whomever will watch (cue your loving husband who will no doubt be ‘wowed’ by some of your less conservative purchases – but hey, you probably found him a decent shirt or two, and spent less than half your normal shopping bill…!).
Seriously though, here’s a little post-op cheat sheet that will help you take your thrift finds from, “where did you get that?” (as in, it looks like your great aunt Rose’s and smells like mothballs) to, “where did you get that?!” (as in, it’s super-rad and I want it!).
1.Cleaning: If the garment still has original tags intact, you may be lucky enough to find washing instructions. I usually exercise caution with most fabrics regardless. Vintage clothing is, well, old, so extra care needs to be taken.
I typically throw any synthetics or synthetic blends in a regular cycle.
Cottons and linens go in a delicate cold water cycle.
Silk and wool really should be dry cleaned. Now, I have broken this rule many times, with mixed results (that little black dress all of a sudden becomes that tiny black dress…). If you have a front loading machine with a hand-wash cold water cycle you will likely be okay, especially if you have some allowance for minor shrinkage.
As for the dryer, any synthetics can go in a regular timed or automatic setting. Gentle, low-heat settings are better for cotton and linen. Silk and wool should lie flat to dry or air dry on a hanger.
2.Freshening Up: I feel slight shame admitting it, but hey, we’re all friends here. I have definitely worn thrift finds that have not seen soap & water. Maybe I couldn’t face that $30 dry-cleaning bill at the time (man, it hurts when the cleaning bill is twice the cost of the clothing!) or maybe I needed to wear said item that very night. Excuses, excuses.
Regardless of the reason, if you need to perk up your new-to-you item, find an iron. A steamer and good ol’ fresh air also work wonders (note that if your iron has a steam setting, then the garment steamer is likely redundant unless you plan on some truly serious steaming action).
I like to add a drop or two of my favourite essential oil to the steam/iron water or, if I am feeling très fancy, French linen water is pretty fantastic.
Most irons have a variety of fabric settings, so again – use restraint and start on low settings for delicate fabrics, and reserve the higher settings for hardier materials.
Simply airing clothing outdoors on hangers also goes a long way towards ridding clothing of any musty odours.
3.Alterations: There are many minor alterations you can do at home, even if you are sartorially challenged. You will need a good pair of fabric scissors, a seam ripper, and a basic sewing kit.
For instance, most shoulder pads can be removed (comme ça) from the outside with a seam ripper, and you can probably deal with buttons and the odd loose stitch or hem on your own.
For taking in seams, fixing zippers, or shortening hemlines, Shanan and I bring in the big guns – our mother-in-laws! Otherwise you can bring your goods to a tailor for a fairly reasonable fee.
Usually I follow the rule of thumb that if I love a certain thrift find (and it was affordable) then even with the cost of an alteration, I’ll still be ahead of what I would spend buying new. And, I’ll have something timeless and unique.
4.Styling: You’re alone in your bedroom. All the sh*t that was in your cart a few short hours ago is now strewn across the floor. You feel like a drag queen. Your husband just asked you if you’re planning on “wearing” it. Don’t panic.
Take stock: are you pairing too many vintage items together? Shanan has killer radar for this. My tolerance for a full vintage look is higher, but she has a point. If you want to feel more ‘yourself’ and certainly more contemporary, then be sure the Debbie Harry leather mini-skirt isn’t being paired with the hot pink Melanie Griffith-esque shoulder-padded blazer.
Accessorizing is also key. If your ‘new’ dress comes with a matching belt, that’s pretty much the quickest way to make it look dated – so try and pair it with something contrasting but complementary. For shoes, we love toughening a look up with distressed Frye boots or Madewell platform sandals.
Now, you look great… not Priscilla Queen of the Desert great, but legit great.
This has been fun! Thanks for indulging me. See you out there. xo G.
I’ve been thrifting since I was a kid. In the early days, it was not cool. With my mom, at random and sometimes sketchy second-hand joints, buying a lot of brown corduroy. That was the ’70s. The ’80s and ’90s were big decades for me, though. I came into my own, discovered my love for vintage clothing and embraced a retro-chic aesthetic that continues to inform my ‘style’ today.
My favourite teenage haunts were Toronto’s Kensington Market and along Queen West: Courage My Love and Black Market, of course. Exile and Flashback were later discoveries. My twenties were spent in Montreal where I spent hours (and I mean hours) poring through the archives at Eva B (now there’s a place you’ll never leave empty-handed), Friperie St Laurent and Local 23. Due to my tight student budget at the time, it was then that I also re-discovered the charity second hand shops of my childhood. The Salvation Army thrift stores, Goodwill shops (the one in Verdun is pretty rad), Value Village, and smaller charity-driven places (most notably, May Court‘s are insanely good). These types of shops are still my go-to as they are super affordable and often have great finds.
“How do I do it?” (find the good stuff, presumably) is something that I’m frequently asked. I often hear things like: “I NEVER find anything in those places,” and “how do you sort through all the crap?” There are some obvious answers. Like, it helps to have an eye, some creative vision and a sense of adventure. That said, there are also a handful of helpful, practical tips that certainly make the experience more accessible and fun to the nascent thrifter. And hey, a refresher for vets never hurts! Here goes:
Think of your thrift outing as a mission. Okay, you’re not going to space or anything, but this is terra incognita for most of us, so be prepared.
1. Dress comfortably (think change room ease here). Not only do you want to keep it simple, you’ll want to consider pairing items to try on with your existing outfit, so jeans and a black or white tee are a great thrifting uniform. Wear the shoes or boots that you wear most often. Or, if you are looking for a dress or skirt that you may wear heels with, bring ’em.
2. Be well nourished and hydrated. These places are usually terribly lit and often in cheesy/dodgy strip mall locations that don’t have a lot of accessibility to places you’d want to stop for food. Shopping and making decisions when you’re hungry sucks. So get your game on – eat breakfast and bring water and an emergency snack!
3. Make a list. What are you looking for? Try to narrow it down if you can, especially if time is an issue. In some of the bigger places (I’m thinking Value Village here) there are seemingly endless aisles. I often “attack” one or two sections of a couple of stores, rather than one entire store. It’s definitely more efficient if you know you want a dress, let’s say.
Okay, so you’ve arrived. Now what?
4. Get a cart. You may think you don’t need one – that you’re “just looking.” Don’t kid yourself. Thrifting is like crack. You’ll have a full cart in no time.
5. Check all the size categories. I’m talking XXL here, ladies. For one thing, vintage clothing is sized very differently. A vintage size 10 is akin to a modern size 4. A vintage 14 is a medium today. And although staff do their best to restock the racks, let’s face it – this isn’t Barney’s, and shit is often in the wrong place. So don’t skip the rack of muu-muus – there’s often a gem in there waiting for you!
6. Pit-stains. You gotta check. I’ve had a few pit-stain debacles, and although you likely haven’t broken the bank on your purchase, pit-stains almost never come out, they’re gross, and you’ll never wear said item – quel dommage. I find it helpful to take items I’m not sure about to the front of the store where there is usually a little natural light and have a closer inspection there. This is also a good time to check the fabric for overall wear, small holes, and any other potential flaws.
7. Not all flaws are deal-breakers. Moths are. I brought them home once in a beautiful cashmere sweater. They were larval at the time, and practically invisible, until they hatched in my husband’s closet and took out half his wardrobe. Oops. Again, have a thorough look at the item – inside and out. This is the time you take notice other details – like, will those 10-inch shoulder pads rip out or are they sewn on the inside?
8. Try everything on. You may think it will fit you and look good, and you can’t quite face the faint urine odour of the change room. Put your big girl pants on and suck it up. There are lots of reasons this stuff ends up at thrift stores, and one of them is that there’s something wrong with it. My husband calls this the “land of misfit toys theory” – and it’s true. So take the extra ten minutes and try on that maxi dress. It might be Heidi Klum, but it might be be Mrs. Roper. You get the idea.
9. Don’t be seduced by the price tag. Of course, the $7.99 price tag has allure, and that’s fine (and partly why you’re there right?!) but don’t just buy stuff because it cheap. Buy stuff because you love it and you’ll wear it and, as Shan loves to hear me say… you look HOT in it! It’s true you can take more risks when items are less expensive, but in my experience if you don’t dig it now, you won’t dig it later.
10. Use your imagination… but not too much! The context of thrift shops feels a bit like a time warp – somehow the quilted full-length fur coat doesn’t seem so strange in there (because it’s hanging next to a leather one-piece, perhaps?). That leopard-print jumpsuit or vaguely boudoir lime green dress may be beckoning your inner vintage maven while you’re in the trenches, but will you wear it in real life? If so, I say rock on, sister. But beware of the goggle effect in there – it’s real.
I think that’s it for my round-up. What are your thrifting pearls of wisdom? We’d love to hear them!
ps. Don’t forget to visit The Symmetric’s Etsy shop for your online hit of vintage… we’re adding great new items almost every day.
This past week, Gillian was asked to be featured in the inaugural ‘style column’ of the local paper, The Creemore Echo! Here’s the text from her mini interview by Kristi Green (it’s not printed online so thought we’d include it here). Rock on, G. xx Shanan
“Winter can be harsh on many things – including personal style. In this column – the first in what we hope is an ongoing series – the Echo will showcase individuals in the area who “take it to the next level” when it comes to their dress. It could be a doldrum-defying colour combination, a surprising new way of wearing knitwear or the simple act of sporting a colourful feather in one’s cap.”
Occupation: Social Worker, Part-time Mental Health Counsellor at the Georgian Bay Family Health Team in Collingwood.
Co-owner, designer and curator (along with artist and graphic designer, Shanan Kurtz) of The Symmetric. We write a three-times weekly blog, sell vintage clothing and jewelry, host events and offer styling services. Our vintage clothing and antique and costume jewelry is for sale by appointment and online at our Etsy shop. We will launch our capsule collection of vintage resort-wear in February, and we are excited to host another trunk show on Saturday, February 22.
I’m also mother to Yarrow, age 7, and Frida, age 3, and I am married to Steve Sopinka, founder of Fieldesign architecture studio.
Describe your style: Eclectic, ironic, retro-chic.
Why Creemore? We have a strong sense of adventure and have moved around a lot as a couple and as a family. From Montreal to Toronto to Reykjavik to Northern Ontario. After a stint in North Bay, we knew we wanted to be somewhere somewhat rural, with a strong sense of community. Proximity to friends and family is important to us (we have both in Collingwood, Beaver Valley, Guelph and Toronto), and possibilities to pursue meaningful work. Creemore offered all of these things.
We bought our rambling old house on Caroline Street in June of 2010 and Steve spent the summer renovating it (and getting rid of the bats!). We settled into the village that fall.
Favourite thing about winter? The SNOW! We try to stay active – cross country skiing, walking the country block, doing what we can to get out of the house and soak up some vitamin D!
I think winter gets a bad rap. It’s actually the perfect time to experiment with different, more daring materials – furs (faux is also a nice alternative), wools, leather, some of the weightier silks and velvet. This season is also ripe to try rich, bold prints and vivid colours that may feel too cumbersome and intense in the warmer, lighter months – and they are the perfect contrast to the stark environs this time of year. I say embrace it. Go big, or go home!
What are you wearing? Everything I have on, I’ve collected from either thrift or second hand stores. I’ve dubbed these my Mick Jagger pants. They’re a great bold print skinny jean that I picked up at one of my favourite thrift stores, Wild Rose, in Guelph. The fur hat is made in Moscow, also vintage, and a gift from Steve our first Christmas with Yarrow, spent in Iceland (very apropos because it’s the warmest thing ever!). The teal wool coat is a London Fog original, 1980s, that I dug up recently at a Goodwill shop. And my “Chewbacca” wooly mammoth mukluks are circa 1970s, made in Quebec.