I discovered Edmonton’s vintage clothing community, consisting of people who actually focus on wearing fashions of an older time…
By Shelby Marler
By the end of high school, I was the kind of gal that out of the sheer frustration of thinking no set of clothes looked decent on me. I stuck to the simple jeans, t-shirt and/or sweater combinations.
Shopping was nothing more than a passionless drudge. I would glaze over the abundance of racks, picking out clothes for the sheer purpose of having something cover my back, as opposed to keeping my eyes peeled for the pieces that would act as a second skin to my personality.
However, my thoughts frequently wandered to what I believed was the dreamland of clothing: the fashions of the 40s and 50s – Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe – with long, full skirts, cinched waists and elegantly-cut fabrics that fit like a charm. It seemed quite impossible – perhaps even magical – that a woman could look so put together, sophisticated and tailored in every outfit as I browsed through page after page of browning vintage sewing pattern images, narrative magazine ads, and reproduction modelling photos posted on the internet.
I thought I would be alone in my endeavour to dress vintage style full time – that I would stand out like a sore thumb, as they say. That was the case, until I discovered Edmonton’s vintage clothing community, consisting of people who actually focus on wearing fashions of an older time on a regular basis, whether they’re going to the grocery store or to a cocktail party – and were doing it proudly and unashamedly. That, above all else, gave me the confidence to pursue vintage inspired fashion full-time.
Some are a little more “rockabilly” – that is, 50s with some rocker edge – some are a little more bohemian and embrace the more romantic side of vintage styles, and some are more noir and elegant, evoking the muse of the ever-alluring femme fatale trope in 40s detective movies.
Despite the abundance of outsides and in-betweens, I’d like to focus on these elements of vintage fashion more in this article, since they often encapsulate styles of the 40s and 50s. I’ll lead you on the path of smooth sailing by referring you to three of my favourite Edmonton stores with all the essentials for creating a look that will dress you in the fabrics of the past, whether or not your vintage style consists of reproduction pieces or vintage ones.
Before I detail the stores, however, let me give you a crash course on the fundamentals you’ll want to keep your eye out for when you decide to hop into the world of vintage clothing.
What do I mean by this? I mean the figure. When you’re picking out clothing that is meant to look as authentic as possible, regardless of if it was made today or in the days of yesteryear, you want to keep in mind the figure of the time. You can refer to the diagrams below for a visual explanation, but for wartime looks (left side), the major points of emphasis are the shoulders and the waist. For mid-century looks (right side), the major points of emphasis are the waist and the hips.
During the war, fabric rationing started cinching things in from the straighter silhouettes of the 20s and 30s, and women’s clothing started to copy the more versatile markers of menswear in response to women filling in the jobs of the men at war. However, once the war was over, and domesticity played in the foreground of societal standards for women, fashion got re-feminized with Christian Dior’s “The New Look” – that is, what many may recognize as the quintessential ballgown look.
Now, without further ado, let me tell you all about shopping vintage in Edmonton.
Rowena – now known as Retroglam (online only)
This store has a special place in my heart. It is what you would call a reproduction shop, meaning that all the pieces are new copies of vintage clothing patterns.
I always used to shop until I dropped at their Whyte Avenue location, which used to be decked out in everything that was bright rockabilly – the rather small space was brightened up like a charm with turquoise walls, with rainbows of clothing racks lining the walls of dresses, skirts and shirts galore.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has had to say goodbye to their brick-and-mortar store. Thankfully, Rowena isn’t going down without a fight, and the store is accepting online orders through the Retroglam website.
This rockabilly-inspired store focuses solely on selling just reproduction vintage pieces, and has the biggest varieties of styles from different eras as well as sizes of all kinds (from XXS to 4XL).
Besides the classic skirts and shirts, dresses or coats, this charming online boutique also sports plenty in the way of campy costume pins or jewelry for a flashy statement piece, headscarves for driving without a hood, jeans (yes, believe it or not, they were a thing back then too), bathing suits, vintage style undergarments and a whole slew of sunglasses, purses, hair products/accessories, makeup and hats.
It is where I got my black swing-style winter coat with fur trimming, and I always get compliments on it whenever I step outside the house. Although it was a little more expensive at $350 CAD, I can certainly attest to the quality of its make – the most I’ve had to do is fix the lining and take it in for dry cleaning, and it has lasted me a little over three seasons in still great condition.
The biggest downside to shopping at this store is that the online format can make it difficult to get a perfect measure of the right size, and they can only offer in-store credit as opposed to a refund should you decide that you wish to return something.
As well, some of their pieces can be a little more expensive than most modern stores (the coats are usually within the $300 CAD range), so if you decide to buy anything, note that it can very quickly add up with some of the brands that they carry. The average price for a dress is around $125 CAD, and blouses/skirts are around $60–70 CAD. If you’re wanting to take it a little easier on the wallet, however, Hell Bunny pieces are great to check out, and often go on sale for the $30–40 CAD range in terms of dresses.
9917C-110 St NW, Edmonton, AB, T5K 2N4
When you enter this store, you’ll be washed with a rather opposite vibe.
This store is not afraid to indulge in soft, muted and weathered pieces in their collection, and in contrast to Rowena, Tattered Rose boasts a host of Victorian inspired paraphernalia, from angel busts to old books down to the chipped paint of the antiqued doors of their changing rooms, giving the whole place a very romantic, yet gothic undertone. It is one of the more unique stores that I have come across here in Edmonton, and let’s just say that the first time I entered, I felt like my heart was fluttering.
This is a mixure of vintage and new, while the newer pieces tend to go for a softer, more romantic style of vintage. You’re going to find that many of their pieces wear their hearts on their sleeves, for the layouts and designs all give off a soft and effortless eminence, which is perfect for the vibes of a more romantic 40s look.
Popping in one day, you might be lucky enough to catch an authentic vintage piece that isn’t popular enough to be made into a reproduction. For example, slips/nightgowns are something that the vintage reproduction community doesn’t pay much attention to (hint hint: I’ve seen a fair bit of those in here!).
Depending on whether or not you’re buying fancy or designer pieces, the vintage pieces can range from $30 CAD to $400 CAD, although the average dress/blouse is within the low $100 CAD range. The same goes for the new reproduction pieces, although some pieces are more designer than others in this section, so it’s important to keep that in mind. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a range of sizes in this store for those who wish for options in the vintage section. So I’ve found myself in positions where I fell in love with a piece, only to be met in disappointment with the size tag.
This store even makes their own corsets if you want to pick up on some Victorian flares. Surprisingly enough, the corset I bought is extremely comfortable to wear throughout the day! Disclaimer: please don’t wear a corset on a daily basis – it should only be reserved for occasions.
My favourite part, however, is the jewelry section. This is where you can indulge yourself in a whole slew of purely vintage kaleidoscope jewels filling up the shadow cabinets right up to the edges! Bracelets, necklaces, rings, brooches, you name it – and they encapsulate the ritsy elegance of the early century. The prices here come in the full range – some costume earrings can be in the $20 CAD range, and some can go for hundreds of dollars. Most of the pieces range between the $20s to the $60s, but I’ve noticed some unique Victorian cameo pieces in there as well (warning: if they’re real cameos, these can be really pricy).
10826 124 St, Edmonton, AB T5M 0H3
I couldn’t end this list without making sure this pure vintage boutique made an appearance. I’ll admit: when I first stepped into this store, I found myself quite overwhelmed. Display shelves were piled with colourful vintage antiques that honed in on the days of seeing some of my grandma’s vintage belongings way back when. However, there were racks upon racks of clothes organized in an aesthetically pleasing rainbow style to endlessly browse. This store certainly has a more regal feel to it than the other stores that I’ve encountered, and makes me feel as though as I am stepping into an authentic boutique. This place, however, along with their collection of jewelry, has an amazing abundance of hats, whether that is cloche hats, bowler hats, fascinators, you name it! When I mean they have everything, they have everything, which sometimes comes at the expense of some minor organizational issues.
Although there’s a wide variety of prices available as cheap as $10 CAD, many of Swish Vintage’s top pieces include an abundance of designer vintage pieces, and since these pieces are in tip top condition, they are going to be full price – the average I’ve seen for many dresses/suits being $250 CAD. They even have fur coats – one might have even been a true vintage mink coat (since Swish knows what they’re selling, though, the $2,500 price I saw on one made me lightheaded), even though something like that screams elegant and glamourous.
Since this is another consignment store, it is once again important to keep in mind that sizing might be an issue. In my experience with Swish (especially as you look at older pieces), the pieces that they find run on quite the small size – so that’s something to keep in mind.
With all that laid out for you, these stores will give you an opportunity to explore a new facet of Edmonton culture that might seem a little more underground for you. Whether you’re more into consignment or reproduction, Edmonton’s clothing retailers have an abundance of options available to those who wish to keep a few pieces in their closet, or deck their whole wardrobe out in the spirit of vintage. At that, happy browsing and shopping!