By Haley Sengsavanh
As a student, treating yourself to quality pieces of clothing or keeping up with ever-changing fashion trends can be difficult without making a sizable dent in your wallet. But having a limited budget shouldn’t stop students from owning quality basics and essentials. Long-lasting, well-made clothing will not only have you looking (and feeling) good, but also staying warm in the winter or looking polished when attending job interviews. Here’s a curated list of Toronto clothing stores where students can find a versatile selection of thrifted and affordable fashion without sacrificing quality, all while staying close to campus.
While scouring stores, writer Haley Sengsavanh considered three other factors besides affordability. The first was clothing selection; is it unisex? Does it have clothing for different occasions, like a blazer for a case competition or job interview? The second consideration was the quality of the store’s clothing; is this material made to last? Do they have items that are trendy and versatile but made with great stitching or natural fabrics? Third is accessibility; can you easily access this shop by walking or commuting from Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU)?
With the criteria clearly set, below are five shops and areas to check out to find good quality clothing for less.
Value Village (1319 Bloor St. W.)
While all Value Village shops are known for their wide selection of goods for less, the Lansdowne location on Bloor Street has a cult following. The store is massive and sprawling, with racks of clothing for any and all occasions, including multiple Halloween sections currently set up.
There’s menswear, shoes, accessories and the quality of the clothing is generally good. They have a wide selection of vintage and gently-used clothing, from tailored blazers to sturdy denim. Even though most styles are dated, that won’t stop you from finding some truly great pieces. For instance, the store had a cream blouse that has a trendy wide collar with lace trim being sold for $7.99. The store offers the true and original thrift experience, allowing you to feel the most pride in finding your diamonds in the rough.
Second-year TMU fashion student Kelly Woo has been thrifting for years and said her best find came from this Value Village. “I recently thrifted a layered dark grey wool Isabel Marant dress that’s nicely draped and beautiful for only $15. I don’t know who donated it but I’m glad I found it.”
Bonus tip: check out the Halloween costume racks before October ends. There are pieces that can be worn everyday if styled right. If you’re looking for a crinoline tutu to puff out your skirt or lace gloves for a photoshoot, this Value Village has a lot to offer.
YSM’s Double Take Thrift Store (310 Gerrard St. E.)
This charity shop allows you to purchase stellar finds while supporting a good cause. Yonge Street Mission (YSM) is an organization that has been combatting poverty in Toronto since 1896, according to their website. One of their projects is the Double Take Thrift Store, where all profits go toward supporting YSM programming, like donation funds for teens or hosting a toy market for children from low-income families over the holidays. They also try to hire community members that are seeking Canadian work experience or have faced obstacles gaining employment.
Within the Kensington Market area, you can find lots of amazing options for less. Exile Vintage is packed with great finds and unique vintage pieces. While the price point is higher than the other options on the list, the cost is proportional to the quality and brand. Sengsavanh found a vintage Highland Queen pure virgin wool reversible pleated skirt for $50. While this price tag ranks slightly steeper than most affordable fashion, the craftsmanship and detail that went into creating the garment will keep it looking new for longer. Exile Vintage has racks upon racks of vintage nightgowns, fur coats, Hawaiian shirts and leather jackets—balancing out fashion and function throughout a wide selection of clothing.
Another shop to check out is Butterfly, a tiny store filled with affordable jewelry and accessories. They have rows of rings for $3, a variety of harnesses for around $20 and even multi-coloured fascinators for $15.
If you’re looking for good quality vintage clothing with a menswear focus, Uncle Vintage is a must for you. This store’s price point is also higher but proportional to the quality of its selections. It offers a wide variety of vintage jackets, thick knitted sweaters and funky T-shirts.
Black Market Underground (Downstairs, 256 Queen St. W.)
Black Market has two locations, one that’s above ground with more expensive and brand-name items like ‘80s Gunne Sax gowns and Yves Saint Laurent ties and their underground location with its quirky clothing goodness. At Black Market’s underground store, all the racks on the floor are $10. They offer unisex clothing, dead stock tees and even have separate booths for other businesses, like a vinyl shop, a vintage homeware store and a barbershop. They also house Ken Munar and Hunter Thomas’ thrift shop, a cozy paradise of nostalgia and unique stylish pieces.
“We buy our stuff in used bulk and wholesale and also source from different places around the world,” Munar said. “We sell unisex clothing and it can give someone the chance to try out different types of cuts, different types of styles on their body and see what they experiment with.”
In their little booth, they have vintage action figures lined up against the wall, a PlayStation nook in the back, piles of vintage magazines and comics on glass cases and in bright red milk cartons. It’s like shopping out of every ‘90s kid’s dream bedroom, which Thomas said is the kind of energy they wanted to provide. “We had a kid in here who was 13 or 14 years old and he was clearly just starting to get into fashion. He sat down and played the PlayStation for a while, looked around and asked me a lot of questions. That was the dream, for the younger generation to have a place where they wanted some crazy designer pieces, it’s affordable and approachable.”
Munar and Thomas’ booth is also consigned by other local artists, like second-year George Brown College fashion student Angelica Trujillo. She has sold her clothing online and out of markets before, but it’s her first time selling as a vendor with a permanent spot.
Chosen Vintage (1599 Dundas St. W.)
Chosen Vintage is the furthest store from campus on the list but definitely worth a look for quality pieces of clothing for special occasions. They also have an online store for shopping convenience.
Chosen Vintage is housed inside a small, brightly-lit store with rows of colourful eye-catching clothing and accessories. Owner Melissa Ball sources pieces based on relevance, wearability, fabric and feel with a focus on natural materials like silks, cottons, denim, linen and wool.
Besides carrying good quality basics for everyday wear, they also have unique finds like a pair of leather chaps or a vintage asymmetrical lace gown.
Ball’s most important tip for saving money when shopping anywhere for clothing, however, is to be wary of overconsumption.
“It’s so important that we train our hands and eyes to recognize good quality clothing when we see it, whether it be new clothing or second hand,” she said. “Shopping for vintage & good quality garments just takes more research, patience and practice, but it will always pay off and you will feel more fulfilment in the long run, I promise.”