I am beginning a new feature today – a ‘registry’ of vintage clothing dealers. Sometimes I feel like I am over a hundred when I begin talking about what it used to be like buying vintage clothing ‘back in the day’ – and I was hardly a pioneer when I started haunting vintage shops in the late 1970s.
It wasn’t necessarily always cheaper or easier to find vintage clothing then, but it seemed to be a lot more fun! I used to go out on a Saturday morning with $50.00 in my pocket and come home with bags of treasures from garage and church sales, thrift shops, and vintage clothing stores. Some of my friends also into vintage would get together for what we called ‘drag and brag’ – where we dragged everything to someone’s house and bragged about how good our finds were.
Some of my best finds came from shops that are no longer around. There are a few vintage shops like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet in London, and Screaming Mimi’s in New York, that are famous, but most of these shops were small, owner-operated boutiques that will fade into history unless it’s written down, and so I begin with these inductees:
Shortly after English-born Sandy Stagg emigrated to Toronto in August 1968, she opened a vintage clothing store on Charles Street called Amelia Earhart Originals. In the 1980s she sold her business to Lana Lowen and opened Fiesta, a restaurant that catered to the New Wave crowd. In 1990 Stagg moved back to London where she returned to the vintage clothing scene in Portobello Road. In 2008 Stagg sold off her vintage stock in London and came back to Toronto but not to work in vintage clothing.
Cabbages and Kinx
In 1977 I visited my first vintage clothing store – Cabbages and Kinx. Located on Cambie street near Cordova in Gastown, Vancouver. You had to walk down a set of stairs to get to the narrow shop, set below the sidewalk. The shop was decorated like a Victorian parlour, with bamboo bookshelves draped with Victorian paraphernalia, antique shoes and carte de visite photographs. It was very dark and moody and always smelled of incense. Steven Lippold founded Cabbages and Kinx in 1973. I bought my first antique garment from him – a black lace dress from the 1890s for $60.00. I stopped going to his shop in the early 1980s as his stock shifted more towards imported contemporary punk and fetish rubber and leather clothing. Lippold moved his shop around the corner onto Hastings street sometime in the 1980s and closed up in 2004 after a fire gutted his business.
Courage My Love
In 1975 Stewart Scriver and Patricia Roy opened a three-room shop at 60 Cecil Street in Toronto. The bulk of their stock was acquired from defunct general store stock and warehouses found across rural Ontario and Quebec, as well as the rag warehouses of Toronto where bundled old clothes were sold by the pound. By 1978 Toronto was becoming Hollywood North because of its potential location shoots, and Courage My Love began supplying costumes to the film industry. In 1980 Courage My Love moved to its present location at 14 Kensington Avenue and has built up a reputation for affordable vintage – but no bargaining! For more about Courage My Love, read their first person history here.
In 1973, 31 year old Ken Spada filled his red van with old clothing and accessories and vintage house wares as he drove from Toronto to Vancouver. Upon arriving in Vancouver he set up shop in Gastown but soon relocated to West 4th Avenue. In the 1970s most of the store’s stock was bought ‘by the pound’ from rag yards. As that source dwindled, Spada began taking vintage consignments. I went into Spada’s shop exactly three times and was kicked out twice for asking if he could do better on a price (his prices were always high.) Apparently you weren’t allowed to ask for a discount on bundles, or about anything ‘on display’ – even nicely. Despite the surly treatment I experienced, Spada must have had faithful clients because the shop remained open for forty years. They relocated back to Gastown in the 1980s and, after Spada’s death in 2008, remained open until 2013.