There was a time in Halifax, not so long ago, that if you wanted to dress in local designs or with the environment in mind you'd end up looking like a church-basement yoga instructor or decked out in a tartan muumuu. Well, you're lucky, fashion-conscious students: It's a great time to move to this city as you no longer have to shell out a month's rent or wear a hemp sack to make a stylishmark that doesn't hurt tiny animals or the ozone layer.
The new fashion kid on the scene is actually retro in spirit. Pretty Things Boutique (5685 Cunard, 492-8329) sells rockabilly-inspired clothing for men and women that will make you want to watch Johnny Depp in Cry Baby 50 times over (right now they're selling dreamy tribute t-shirts). Owner Cadence Macmichael, founder of Pink Velvet Burlesque, knows that we're not all comfortable in her own line of Pretty Titty Pasties ($20), although she says, "You'd be surprised at the range of people who buy them---from giggling girls to couples in their 70s." You can still achieve that fun, rebellious look, and keep your shirt on, with pin-up necklaces, belt buckles and earrings ($12-$20) from local line Devilish. The more adventurous will love veils and tiny top hats ($20-$35) from belly and Pink Velvet dancer Monique Ryan.
You'll want to live in Lost & Found (2383 Agricola, 446-5986)---it's like hanging in the rec room of your coolest friend's older sister. Stock up on kitschy vintage housewares, eclectic vinyl, art, clothing and jewellery made by local designers, such as Stephanie Bruce's feather and lace pins ($18), Darla Kitty's electronic-parts earrings and Soraya Etemad's measuring tape-turned-flower brooches.
Downtown, Love, Me Boutique (1539 Birmingham, 444-3668) keeps its former apartment vibe, thanks to Chara Kingston's impeccable taste and warm personality. The shop carries exclusively handmade, small-run products for home and body: We're suckers for Orphanage Clothing's reconstructed designs and can't wait for Flavia Testa-Lytle's t-shirts screenprinted with images of Nova Scotian artists and musicians, coming soon. Ladies, if you come into some money, may we suggest investing in a dress from local designers Tuttle & Leonardo. Then, head up the stairs to Spree Designers Market (1530 Brunswick), also a former apartment. It's ideal for voyeuristic fashion-heads who get off on the feeling of snooping around while you shop for trendy used clothing.
Elsie's (1530 Queen, 425-2559) is a tiny slice of bohemia, just steps away from the more metropolitan Spring Garden Road. Owner Maureen Elsie Court has a keen eye for fashionable pieces and you can outfit an entire year's worth of style here, from cashmere sweaters to men's leather jackets. Recently, Elsie's has started carrying Wa'Ou (waoucreations.blogspot.com), a charming, flirty line from eco-designer Celine Vautour. Originally from Moncton, Vatour gave up her Parc Avenue, Montreal, thrift shop to move to Halifax.
These days Vautour makes her dresses, tops and scarves (watch for her Halloween costumes and masks) from manufacturer's leftover fabric, with old clothing to make appliques and other add-ons. "The cut of my patterns are always 'make 'em simple and stretchy.' I like clothing that drapes onto your shape in a very flattering way," she says. Vautour describes her fashion as surrealism, as she likes "clothing that contrasts with the rest of the crowd. I have a top available at Elsie's that is made of three-dimensional men based on a painting by René Magritte. Other motifs that show up are bananas, strawberries, teapots and mushrooms." Alhough Wa'Ou's prices are a bit higher than most of Elsie's fare ($25 scarves, around $140 for dresses), you're paying for designer hands and that's what student loans are for...plus, you can pair that cute, architecturally fitting yellow plaid dress with a find from Elsie's two-dollar bargain suitcase.
If Elsie's style spirit is Keith Richards' ex, the 1960s rock 'n' roll designer/model Anita Pallenberg, The Clotheshorse (upstairs from Elsie's at 1530 Queen) is totally Audrey Hepburn, with an amazing selection of costume jewellery and vintage beaded handbags. Clotheshorse also carries Cranky, a clothing line by Pamela McInnis, well known as musician Pamela Under Water. Her youthful dresses are whimsical but wearable---there's one with a skirt that's a totally twirlable perfect circle---and the average price is about $40. Paired with a tiny tee and tights and you're good to go next door to Encore (1528 Queen, 429-8788), where you'll find name-brand used clothing at remarkable prices. Don't forget shoes! Perhaps the most difficult vintage purchase, unless you're at Dressed In Time (5670 Spring Garden, 463-3444), where we've spotted good-condition Frye boots alongside pretty pink heels. Bring cash (no debit or credit card) and plenty of time to go through all the racks. Make it a day and visit 50 Hats (1086 Queen, 482-2487), Allie's Boutique (1144 Barrington, 420-1070) and Second Hand Rose (1272 Hollis, 423-0617).
Our favourite new find was discovered in the most unlikely of places: Halifax Farmers' Market (1496 Lower Water, 492-4043). Woodenbullets, a duo of kick-ass silkscreeners, are making some of the most inventive t-shirts and bags in town, combining illustration and photographic images. A joint project of Dal masters student Carey Jernigan and NSCAD's Shakeel Rehemtulla, the couple create their American Apparel-based t-shirts out of their two-bedroom apartment, using a screen Rehemtulla made in metal class. Each Friday they create a new design that's limited to 20 to 30 per run, so the styles are always fresh. Ideas come from everyday happenings---Rehemtulla refers to them as his "t-shirt diary." Some recent gems: mirror-imaged, two-headed hairless cats, a man with his head literally in the clouds, and one hand about to chop off a fingertip from the other hand, called "Could be worse." Gotta wonder what was happening that week...
Woodbullets t-shirts and totes are also available for around $30 at Seeds Gallery (1892 Hollis, 494-8301), which sells art and design from NSCAD students and alumni.
Finally, there's the old-school approach to used clothing shopping. Value Village (42 Canal, Dartmouth, 463-4050) and the Salvation Army Thrift Store (5280 Green, 425-7684) are worth repeat visits, but be prepared to put in effort, unless you're some kind of thrift guru (if that's the case, we want to hear from you). Don't forget the Nova Scotian institution, Frenchy's Used Clothing (2713 Robie, 444-3434). It's as big as bagpipes around these parts; there are even books and documentaries about digging through those bins and with 20 locations around the province, it makes a great day trip. So go, and show your style.
1. Dig deep. That’s where people hide the good stuff.
2. Secure an area and make it your own. Use elbows, if provoked.Don’t let go. It’s yours, fashion warrior.
3. Before you pay, check for rips, tears and weird stains.