Whether it be for the practical sake of saving a dollar, the nostalgic thrill of hunting down a hidden treasure from decades past, or a simple desire to avoid the ethical controversy of “fast fashion”, buying second-hand has become more than just a fad popularized in a song. No longer solely for those tight on cash, thrifting has evolved past its former stigmas and stereotypes to secure itself a place in the mainstream culture of our generation. Personally, my own love of thrifting was born when I became obsessed with the style of eras long past, and when I realized I could get my hands on authentic one-of-a-kind pieces for $1.99. For those of us who have developed our own strategic rituals of scouring the racks for the perfect find, thrifting goes way beyond “picking up the necessities” — it’s a full-blown hobby.
Being from a small town, and moving to Toronto at the age of 18, I was initially thrilled by the thought of having access to greater pastures than the good ol’ Salvation Army, but was quickly underwhelmed by the selection I was finding — and overwhelmed by the prices! Now, with a few years of city thrifting experience under my 50 cent belt, I’ve made a pastime out of finding the best— and most reasonably priced— thrift stores in Toronto. The key is to frequent the unknown, un-trendy, un-Queen West shops, which are usually worth the extra 15 minutes on the subway. These stores are less picked through, meaning that there are more than just flannel shirts and unisex tees leftover by the time you get there (yeah, I’m talking to you, Black Market), and the shop owners haven’t adopted the “vintage boutique” mindset (AKA $75 for a tattered t-shirt).
My favourite thrifting location, where I have had the best luck in Toronto, is the Value Village at Lansdowne Station. This huge warehouse building is about as un-Queen West as you can get, and draws in all walks of life. My first time there, I watched a toothless woman of about 75, crawl out of the back of a transport truck that was stationed in the parking lot, wearing only a bikini top and shorts that said “Juicy” on the rear. You’ve got to see past that though. We do it for the clothes, people. This store is massive, never busy, and has everything from home décor to Halloween costumes. They are constantly receiving new donations, and are never running low on racks upon racks of clothes to search through. Although their lack of curation requires a bit more time and effort, with an open mind, you’re sure to stumble upon that perfect vintage piece you’ve been searching for. We’re talking ‘70s suede skirts, designer menswear trousers, and authentic band tees. I have found my most enviable thrifted gems at this first location. My tip is to go often and allot at least an hour to search through everything. If you happen to run into her, say hi to the “Juicy” lady for me!
My next recommendation breaks my avoiding-Queen-West rule, but for good reason. Tribal Rhythm, just a minute’s walk west of Osgoode Station, is completely underrated and unknown to most of the thrifting community. All of their pieces are carefully curated and chosen from auctions and estate sales by the store’s owner. The store is categorized by decade, ranging from 1920 and all the way through 1990, so you can choose the time period you want to browse. The store’s owner is extremely personable, and loves to get to know customers and their tastes, often suggesting pieces that you might have overlooked. Due to its carefully curated and authentic selection, as well as the guarantee that all clothing is in optimal condition, the prices at Tribal Rhythm are a bit higher than Value Village, but are still worlds more reasonable than what you would expect from Queen West’s typical vintage selection. I visit Tribal Rhythm when I’m looking for something particularly special or hard to find, like overalls that actually fit, or a velvet prom dress from the ‘90s for $40. This store is perfect for that one item you’ve been in search of for years, but haven’t quite found the perfect version of yet.
Last, but not least, my third locale of choice is Exile Vintage, located in Kensington Market. This place was one of the first second-hand shops I visited upon moving to Toronto, and definitely encapsulates the quintessential Kensington Market experience. With a price range sitting somewhere between my two previous suggestions, this location can be described as a Black Market that hasn’t been completely raided of anything worth buying. It exudes grunge vibes, stocking a much more interesting inventory. Exile is perfect for vintage Levi’s and patched-up army jackets. They also have an expansive formal wear section in the back, laid out according to decade (similar to Tribal Rhythm), as well as a unique collection of eccentric costume pieces, making it an ideal destination with Halloween just around the corner. This store is perfect for outfit-completing odds and ends, like vintage motorcycle patches and perfectly worn-in (but not worn-out) ‘70s leather purses. Exile Vintage is a must-visit, not only for its selection, but also for the classic novelty of Kensington Market.
So, whether you’re looking for a back-to-school essential for $1, or are on a hunt for that perfect vintage piece, this guide to Toronto’s best thrift shopping should have you covered. Now get out there and get searching, and remember to have the same level of confidence in your outfits this year as our beloved “Juicy” icon had in her own daring ensemble.