Sibling duo Mike and Angie Dalla-Giustina have turned their lifelong passion for thrifting into a well-loved business; the two collectively own Upside Dive, a hidden East-end gem in the Toronto vintage scene. Mike and Angie share their tales of rural Toronto, their childhood idols, and their love affair with well-crafted clothing.
How did you two dress in elementary school? How has your look changed?
Angie: When we moved from Toronto to a small rural community (in the 80s) I dressed in stacked bangles and dolman sleeve tops. Let’s just say it wasn’t well received.
Mike: I remember being briefly obsessed with Chucks, peace signs, and vests. I think both of us have forgotten a lot from those early years, probably due to living in a little town and never really feeling like we fit in.
From an early age we were thrifting, usually out of necessity, as money was tight for a single mother with four children. Most of all we never felt parental pressure to dress a certain way, so we experimented when we wanted to. We’ve become more comfortable with who we are (could be that age thing) and we’re less concerned with defining gender roles. We have more of an appreciation of the piece in its form – material, cut, shape, quality – while setting aside who the design was intended for. That said, the shop takes priority so we often wear practical, comfortable clothing, saving the exciting fashion for our customers.
Being siblings, do you often disagree when it comes to the business? How about clothes? Do you ever share clothes?
Mike: Actually, all the Dalla-Giustina siblings get along. An important part to the business succeeding is our shared mentality and keeping it all level. We occasionally butt heads over ideas, but it definitely helps to flesh out ideas with one another. We also discuss with Elisa and Natasha, who act as great exterior moderators. Sometimes Ang and I can get so focused we get a bit blind-sided.
We don’t often share clothes, maybe a scarf or two. We definitely share a love for well-crafted pieces, and a good backstory is an added delight.
How do you think the rise of vintage inspiration in the fashion world over the past decade has affected sales at vintage stores? Does it make selling real vintage easier or more difficult?
Vintage and second-hand clothing has definitely become a major commodity in the last 20-30 years, and with its rise in the mainstream once again it perpetuates more vintage sellers, more vintage buyers, more creative minds musing on it, and an established business format. I think the real issue lies with the lack of value put on vintage and second-hand clothing. Fast fashion has offered an alternative to buying vintage by creating newly made vintage-inspired pieces, but the real power lies in the hands of the consumer. It would be one thing if corporate clothing manufacturers were responsibly producing well-made pieces that would retain value, but they don’t. The bottom line for them is money, and the consumer is happy to have the 15-minute look. We have faith that there will continue to be customers who value vintage, but fear that well-kept vintage will become scarce and deplete cherished vintage shops.
What fictional character has the best personal style?
Mike: Alex Owens from Flashdance. She looks good in every scene, and though she feels uncertain of her future as a dancer, I got the feeling she always knew who she wanted to be. Man, did I ever idolized her as a kid.
Would you argue vintage is better than new?
We prefer shopping vintage. There are enough people supporting mall mentalities that we feel compelled to support a vintage lifestyle, and that it indeed is worthy of more support. We don’t feel that we miss out on anything buying second-hand. Vintage can be more demanding as it requires more attention but the payoff is far more rewarding.
What TV show’s costumes outdo its plot?
Emma Peel looked amazing on The Avengers but the plot was fairly flat.
If you could own any piece of clothing from any era what would it be and why?
Angie: I would covet the late ’70s green and white mermaid ruffle bathing suit when I was three.
Mike: My late uncle Peter had a pair of flat, wood-sole, Dr. Scholl-style sandals from the ’70s that I continue to search for in my size.
Name your favorite pair of shoes of all time, when you owned them, and why they were so fantastic.
Mike: I couldn’t possibly name one pair as a favourite, seeing as I adore shoes, but I do remember the ones that sparked it all; a pair of patent point-toe, steel tipped oxfords that I wore to Ang’s elementary school graduation. I was seven and I had never loved a piece of attire as whole-heartedly as those shoes.
Oscar Wilde said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” How would you interpret this?
Angie: I can agree, if indeed the ugliness is a reference to our own boredom and uneasiness with ourselves, that we must constantly create and reinvent the image we see in the mirror. Fashion is one outlet in creation – eventually it outgrows itself.
Mike and Angie’s Top Ten Style Influences (both in their lives and for the store):
Pre’80s vintage photos of our mum
John Hughes films starring Molly Ringwald (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club…)
We grew up in the bush country so colours and texture in nature play a big part in our lives
Fables and fairytales
interview by Alyssa Garrison
photography by Rachel Wine