Secondhand Rose on the road

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.


Susan B said…
You have such a sharp eye, Duchesse. (And so does Marina!) Your line about needing a dentist cracked me up! I've seen women our age (and above) who can carry off really funky styles, but it's in harmony with their character. I find that the older I get, the more I prefer "simple and streamlined."
Oh what an observant post!
I do love your writing on the subject, the attention to detail is sublime!
It sounds like you had a wonderful time. I always admired Tavan & Mitto. The old St. Regis Room at the Bay used to carry some of their designs but I have not seen the label in Toronto for a number of years now. Those United Nude shoes are very intriguing. I just spent the past 20 minutes browsing their website - thank you for sharing the link!
Viktoria Berg said…
Following you blog has made me put Montreal on my list of places to visit. I love thrift shopping and turning old cast-offs into accent pieces for myself. And I agree about middle age women dressing like girls - however, it´s been quite a fashion the last few years, with lace and ruffles and whatnot.
materfamilias said…
Horrid Blogger! Just ate my comment. Said that this post reminded me fondly of our shopping day in Toronto a few years back. Envied Marina and said I was sure you had a lovely day together. . .
Duchesse said…
Pseu: I would not call that stuff funky, it is more uberfemmy, lots of ruffles and embroideries- which is even harder to rock than a hip skirt or leather dress, etc. You can find funky too and skin-tight sexy- at other shops. Montréal has it all!

hostess: I had such a good time, it was another world.

Louise: Yes, you're right, the new The Room has some divine clothes but not theirs. The Bay also stopped carrying Ca Va de Soie, which I love.

Viktoria: There is a lot of funky thrift (aka friperies;) so many of the young wear them wonderfully. After all, Leonard Cohen's line from "Suzanne", "She was wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters" was written about a local woman, Suzanne Verdal.

materfamilias: We *must* do it again, your place or mine!
materfamilias said…
I find myself looking for the "Like" button to respond to your last comment. ;-)
Maryl said…
I wish we could fine Tavan & Mitto in the US. I was just in Toronto and there isn't even a shop there! A fashion practice I've picked up from reading similar posts over the past couple of years is to keep your wardrobe pieces "simple and streamlined" as Une Femme put it and to go edgy and even high end with the accessories. Thanks.
Maryl said…
I wish we could fine Tavan & Mitto in the US. I was just in Toronto and there isn't even a shop there! A fashion practice I've picked up from reading similar posts over the past couple of years is to keep your wardrobe pieces "simple and streamlined" as Une Femme put it and to go edgy and even high end with the accessories. Thanks.
Überfeminine wouldn't have been my choice, even as a lass. Funky, yes, somewhat feminine (dresses, skirts) and I'll always be a boho, but have to pare down the look so as not to look like the proverbial craftsy-waftsy. What I do like in the 1861 boutique is the attention to detail and what looks like good craftspersonship for a relatively modest price.

I can't wear heels as high as those United Nude booties (very pretty) but see that they have many other styles, from more walkable to bearly wearable (chaussable) art pieces. Was surprised by the moderate price of those booties.

I'm glad your friends enjoyed their shopping expedition.

Mardel said…
I like feminine colors, but never was attracted to overly feminine clothes, even when I could have pulled it off. It all sounds like such a lovely day.

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