The articulate and vibrant "Marina" recently visited Montréal, accompanied by her 21-year old daughter. We passed an afternoon trawling boutiques, from vintage to hipster to girly-girl, trading stories and observations.
At the end of the day, neither Marina nor I bought anything, but passed judgment on many pieces. AKA "Secondhand Rose", she looks impeccable in designer dresses she has snagged, sometimes for as little as $30, in consignment shops. Not everything she buys is secondhand, but she is an absolute goddess of that niche.
Like me, she keeps to a budget, and unlike me, has a serious job that requires her to look polished and professional. It helps that she's a lithe size 4-6, but she has several tips worth sharing, no matter what the size.
She will, for example, launch enthusiastically into restyling a find, removing, for example, the cap sleeve on this petrol cotton dress by Twenty8Twelve (shown in my blurry cellphone shot) to achieve a cleaner, more flattering line.
She can cast her eye on a secondhand item and see possibilities: a skirt made from a dress, a dress from a long gown. She will check out the "markdown room" of a consignment shop to find gems others have passed by. In fact, the favourite part of the hunt for her is the opportunity to restyle.
Marina uses a tailor with the skill to handle designer pieces from makers like Ports 1961 or MaxMara.
Marina avoids large prints near her face, letting her tumbling auburn hair take centre stage. I had long wondered why I prefer long hair worn up or pulled back with prints, and she solidified it for me: visual clutter.
She observes runway design and looks for similar cuts in less stratospherically-priced goods, but would not compromise a millimetre on fit or quality. A friend bought Prada booties; Marina admired the style, but not the price. In Montreal, she bought this United Nude pair to wear to work with narrow, fitted dresses.
We were captivated by Tavan & Mitto's precise, refined dresses, and Marina thought she might return to order some pieces, high praise indeed. Their evident background working in European couture (Ferre, Chanel), delicious fabrics and reasonable prices put them on my "must visit" list for friends on the slender side of a 12. Once back in Toronto, she realized a recent vintage find was by them.
Our last stop was the ultra-girlie boutique 1861, spotted by her daughter, a sprite with a taste for romantic, flowy clothes, and the figure to show them to perfection.
Since I have no daughters, I can't remember when I'd sat in a pink-drenched universe, watching young women try on diaphanous, femmy pieces. They might have walked in wearing cutoffs and a tank, but they were laying into Taylor-Swift-like embroideries and lace like nobody's business, and accessorizing with red gingham peep-toe stilettos.
The clothes are not hootchie-mama sexy (another popular Montréal genre); they convey a lush, fairytale effect. Even a royal blue crew-neck sweater takes on a girlie glamour when shot with lurex threads and peppered by tiny black bows.
The boutique is a decadent cupcake, sweet and alluring, but a visit more than once a month might require a dentist.
We parked on a ruby-and ivory striped settee to watch the try-ons, and noticed one woman assessing a black lace evening number featuring this summer's ubiquitous mini-under-floor-length-chiffon overskirt.
She was a good twenty years older than the rest of the clientele, the age of several mothers patiently waiting. Though she had the tennis-taut body the dress demanded, her face, lovely in its maturity, was an utter mismatch with the gown, a graceful Georgian row house paired with fake mullions. Marina and I whispered, No. It wasn't the black, it was the ditzy array of cutaways and flourishes, the sheer busyness you can carry at twenty, but not so well at forty-something.
She bought the dress. If I could, I would have whisked her to Tavan & Mitto to consider the option of dressing like a magnificent grown women, perhaps in this turquoise silk.
But there you go: to each her own.