Raising Vintage

Or: how I learned to stop resenting old clothes and respect the family business

For about 15 years, Re Threads was one of Toronto’s most poorly kept secrets. It was a consignment store in the Annex where you could find vintage kimonos alongside the latest little black dress from Club Monaco. The customers were a young, hip mix of fashionistas, Much Music VJs, and staples of the Toronto indie scene like Leslie Feist.

It was also where I grew up.

When I was about nine, my parents took me to an empty box of a building near Dupont and Spadina that would eventually become Re Threads. In her twenties, my mother owned a popular vintage store called Mumble Jumble in Ottawa. Being a small business owner was nothing new to her. But now she was older, working full time at the Toronto Reference Library, and she had a husband and two small children in tow.

It would fall to my father—a writer to whom clothes were simply utilitarian—to run the day-to-day operations. For me, that meant that I would spend my days after school at the store finishing my homework and helping my dad hang clothes.

I hated it. I wasn’t at all interested in clothes as a kid. Fashion for me was an oversized Marci Lipman sweater and stirrup leggings, a look I stuck with right to the end of Grade 6.

My appreciation for my mom’s store—and the development of my personal style—was triggered by two things: a pair of pants, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I discovered Buffy in Grade 7. She was, in all her confidence, the perfect role model for a gangly and awkward emerging teen like myself. I became obsessed with everything about her—especially her style. I even bought a cross necklace from the local Bi-Way, something that confused my strictly agnostic parents.

When a pair of red leather pants came into the store, I knew they were for me. Buffy always wore leather pants, and she kicked ass in them. I knew if I could get my hands on this pair—these glorious, bright red, hip-hugging leather pants—some of Buffy’s strength would run right to me.

Wisely, my mother wouldn’t let me have them. Somehow she knew that her 13-year-old showing up for junior high in red leather pants would not be the ticket to popularity I so desired.

But the pants were the first time I realized that I was lucky enough to have access to the kind of closet most people dream about. I started paying more attention to the clothes and the people who brought them in. There were the students, casually cool in the midriff baring tops and baggy jeans, and the Annex punk moms, that would come in tattooed and green haired, strollers in tow.

My favourite frequent customer was a woman who specialized in imports from India. When she had overstock she would bring us all the gorgeous textiles and clothes she couldn’t sell. There were the most beautiful bangles in jewel tones, soft little slippers with mirror inlays and gorgeous sari fabric. At the height of the Oprah-driven pashmina craze, she dropped us off a box full of the softest pashminas you’ve ever felt in a whole rainbow of colours. My mom snagged one for me; the first scarf in a collection that has since grown to comic proportions.

Towards the end of high school I was entrusted with running the store by myself. It was nice to be able to sit behind the desk for once, pricing clothes and bantering with the customers.

By that time, faced with rising rents, my parents had moved the store to Bloor and Ossington, an area my mother felt certain was going to be the next cool neighbourhood. She was right of course; but she was too early. The pedestrian traffic was too slow to encourage the word of mouth we needed. Plus, after more than ten years, my parents were simply tired of having to keep up with the changing face of the city. Low cost stores like H&M and Forever 21 took away much of the young clientele that provided Re Thread’s main source of income. They closed the store.

I hated the store when it opened, but when it closed I missed it terribly. Yet the memories continue to hang in my closet. There’s a gorgeous paisley multi-coloured Betsey Johnson shift dress that I’ve worn to more music festivals than I can count; a pair of Frye stacked-heel boots that my mother rescued for me; and a beat down purple purse that was my faithful bag for many years.

I got more than some great clothes from the store. Vintage clothes come with a sense of history; a story. If Re Threads gave me anything, it was the privilege of getting to know some of these stories a little more intimately as they were passed from one person to the next.

text // H.G. Watson
illustrations // Pamela Majocha