Vintage vixens

Ladies of vintage take on Mile-End studio project

Doyle and Emlaw bring the good old days back with a week of vintage mayhem. Photo by Zoi Kilakos.

Vintage has become more than just a style for Brooke Doyle and Becky Emlaw. What many fashion-savvy people consider a hobby has become these ladies’ livelihoods.

They call their pop-up shop, Vintage to Go, a “guerilla boutique.” After amassing a carefully selected collection of vintage treasures in their studio space, Doyle and Emlaw will annex the OFF Interarts not-for-profit studio and storefront space on St. Laurent Boulevard in the Mile-End. This multi-purpose space is affordable and open to the arts community for hourly, daily, or weeklong rentals.

For the week of June 17, the ladies of Vintage to Go will be turning the studio into a boutique to purge their treasure-trove for the enjoyment of all of Montreal’s vintage lovers.

Growing up in the early 1990s in the mid-western United States, shopping with friends at the local Salvation Army was a way to express her individuality in a small town. When she moved out to L.A., however, it became less of an art and more of a necessity. I was 21 and I couldn’t afford to shop at designer boutiques, so I would go thrift shopping—not even vintage shopping, because when you go to vintage boutiques, there’s usually a mark-up in price,” she explains. “Then, when I came to Montreal–I moved here a couple of years ago–it was kind of cyclical; again, it was born out of necessity. I didn’t have a job or a Visa, so I started selling things from my personal collection I’d gotten in L.A., New York and Seoul.”

Doyle has a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to finding quality pieces now for both Vintage to Go and her Etsy shop, Sunday Adventure Club. Besides shopping at all the places you would expect (Value Village, the Salvation Army), Doyle says that another good resource is clothing swaps. “I’ve been to more clothing swaps here in Montreal than in any other city. That’s a really good way to trade out either new items for vintage or vintage items you’re sick of for other people’s vintage.”

Doyle adds that garage sales and yard sales also harness good finds. “You can find good [yard sales] just walking up and down side-streets pretty much any day in the summer. There seems to be this real entrepreneurial spirit, a great ‘street tras’ culture with people sitting out on the sidewalks selling their stuff.”

An adept bargain-hunter, Doyle emphasizes the importance—and fun—of haggling when shopping for anything second-hand. “I love the art of bargaining, I really get a kick out of it. It’s about knowing what something’s worth,” she says.

When it comes to determining the quality of an item, what it often boils down to is experience and developing a good eye. “The criteria that I use is mostly aesthetic: does it look good, and is it relevant to current trends?” she says. “Personal taste is always a big part, as well. Certain collectors will stick to a certain era or style, but I find that my tastes are pretty broad, especially in terms of trying to find a wide variety of sizes–I think that’s really important.”

Of course, certain eras are known for certain styles, and a skilled vintage hunter knows which ones to look for. “For women’s dresses, I love the 50s and the 80s. For men’s shoes, I love the 40s and 50s. For secretary-style blouses–those are really big right now–those come from the 70s. It really depends on the article of clothing to determine which year is really special for that particular kind of item,” she explains.

With mass-producers catching on to the vintage trend, even an adept collector can be fooled from time to time. “I think mass retailers are picking up on the trend of buying vintage and I think it’s smart of them to reproduce items that aren’t exact replicas but borrow from the aesthetic of that vintage look and feel,” she says. “It’s always hard when something becomes popular and is mass-produced, and you think, ‘I can get that for $3.99 at Value Village!’ But by then, it’s too late. If you’re looking for a specific item, it’ll take you years to find it. That’s part of the art of it; if you just show up with $20 in your pocket and a free day to shop around, you’ll find som e amazing stuff.”

Seven Days of Vintage Sale happens from June 17 to June 23 at 5143/45 Blvd. Saint-Laurent. The opening party is on June 17 from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. There will be a cash bar and music by Dj Mitz and Dj Aaron Nathaniel Standen.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 1, published June 11, 2010.