Room to Fit

1/2 of a fitting room in Johnny Ruth & Living Planet in St. John's

1/2 of a fitting room in Johnny Ruth & Living Planet in St. John’s

One of the most important rooms in any (thrift) shop that sells clothing is the fitting room. A fitting room can actually make or break a sale. If the room is too small, or doesn’t have enough hooks to hang your own clothing as well as the items you’ve brought in with you, or if the inconsiderate-so-and-so customer before you didn’t bother to take all their clothing out of the room and the most-likely-overworked-volunteer hasn’t had time to empty it out yet, then your own experience is affected by this.

I’ve been paying attention to this recently, especially after I visited a very unique retail shop in St. John’s, Newfoundland called Johnny Ruth & Living Planet . This unique shop features locally sourced and ethically based clothing and accessories. They’re pricey (I paid $30 for a t- shirt) but it’s excellent quality and one-of-a-kind goods. Also, they have fantastic fitting rooms.

each room was decorated differently

the other half. each room was decorated differently

Seriously, this is over-the-top – each fitting room was furnished differently with unique artwork and furniture. And they were huge – lots of room to move around, get undressed, put your clothes/purse/jacket/shoes down and try on the items you’d brought in with you. If you were shopping with kids, there’s be room for you and your stroller. Heck, there’s room for a family of 5 in here! It’s all part of the store ethos, so it really works.

Now, most thrift shops have neither the space nor the budget to do something like this (although, if you’re a thrift shop that also sells furniture, why not do this? Put your furniture in a unique fitting room like this and sell it right out of there? how fun would that be?)

Here’s what I think is essential in every fitting room (in no particular order):

a fitting room, somewhere in Stockholm. leave it to the Scandinavians to come up with a nice, tiny space.

a fitting room, somewhere in Stockholm. leave it to the Scandinavians to come up with a nice, tiny space.

  • Space. It doesn’t have to be as enormous as the room above but there should be room to move around. I was recently in a little thrift shop whose fitting rooms are too small to begin with and then they put a chair in there. I couldn’t even stand squarely in front of the mirror because the chair forced me to stand to one side. In this situation, I’d put a short stool or fashion a shallow, wooden bench across the full width of the back wall of the room. This allows a person to sit down if they have to take off their shoes (or wrestle with an ill-fitting item, ahem) but doesn’t take up as much depth as a chair does.
these look pretty good

these look pretty good

  • Privacy. I’ve been in fitting rooms that are made up of strategically hung curtains. This is actually a good idea if you’re working with a low budget or if you’re just starting out and are not sure if this exact spot is where the fitting rooms should go. What is bad is if the fabric isn’t wide enough or if it curls, creating gaps where people outside can peek in and see you, perhaps wrestling with the aforementioned ill-fitting item.
yes, no, maybe

yes, no, maybe

  • Hooks. There should be at least 3 hooks in each fitting room: one for your own jacket and clothing, one for the stuff you’ve brought in to try on, and one to hang the things that you’ve already tried on. Four would be even better because then you can hang the “yes” items on one and the “return to floor” items on the other.
it doesn't have to be this elaborate and if space is a challenge, hang directly on the wall or the back of the door

it doesn’t have to be this elaborate and if space is a challenge, hang directly on the wall or the back of the door

  • A full-length mirror. I was in a teeny, tiny thrift shop in Ontario that used its bathroom as its fitting room – the bathroom being a tiny room with toilet and sink. The only mirror in the room was the tiny one above the sink. Picture me standing on the toilet and trying to see enough of my body in the little mirror to see if the ill-fitting item was worth buying or not. I understand the limitations of space but a full length mirror on the back of the door would have done the trick.
nothing fancy!

nothing fancy!

  • A place to sit. After my experience with the tiny fitting room with the too-big chair in my point about “Space”, I wondered why one needed a chair at all. That was until I went to a second thrift shop on the same day and wanted to try a pair of pants on without taking my shoes off. A chair made this much, much easier. The last thing you want to do is fall out of a curtain-walled fitting room with your shoe-covered foot stuck half way in your pants. No one needs to see this. So, seating is a good idea, it just has to be proportionate to the space. Small room? Small chair.


mh-chair-and-mirrorCleanliness. Nobody wants to go into a fitting room that has a bunch of clothes in it from the customer before (I tend to clean this stuff out before I go in, a hangover from being a volunteer myself). You also don’t want the floor to be dirty, in case you drop your own clothing onto it. I realize that this is a tax on the most-likely-overworked volunteer so as a shopper, I remember to give grace, especially when it looks like it’s been a very busy point: Affirmation. One of the things I really did appreciate about the too-small fitting room with the un-needed chair mentioned earlier was the positive messages that had been stenciled to the walls. “You’re your own kind of beautiful” and “Let your inner beauty shine.”  Who doesn’t need a little bit of positive reinforcement – especially after an ill-fitting-item fiasco?

What’s the coolest fitting room you’ve even been in?


Posted in fitting rooms, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping | Tagged , , , ,

Reclaim Mending

Anna-Marie Janzen (photo by Tony Donovan)

Anna-Marie Janzen (photo by Tony Donovan)

I’ve blogged about my lovely friend Anna-Marie before. Anna is one of the most authentic people I know, someone who truly tries to live her life with as small a footprint as possible. She has tried to live out her passion by doing things to bring awareness to our consumer culture and our disregard for the earth. She spent a year not bought anything. She gave up plastic for Lent, wore the same dress for the month of October, and shaved her head to raise money for women’s education and employment projects.

In keeping with this passion, Anna has started her own small sewing business, one that has a very unique focus: mending. Reclaim Mending is intended to help you get more life out of your favourite clothes. On her website she writes:

In university I studied peacebuilding and international development, diving deeper into the broad human and environmental effects of consumerism. I struggled more and more with my complicity with the garment industry (as my love of clothes has never diminished). On a personal level I have tried various ways of removing myself from the industry – by buying only thrifted or fairly traded clothing; by wearing only hand-me-downs; by not buying anything new for a year. These experiments have been good, and fulfilling. But I felt like I wanted to do more.

photo credit Tony Donovan

photo credit Tony Donovan

So Anna has combined her love for sewing with her desire to help others reduce their carbon foot print by doing the repairs that will keep you from throwing out, say, a favourite pair of jeans just because the zipper is broken or has a rip in the butt.

The first blog on her website talks about tailoring jeans and body image. One of her statements was an “aha” moment for me. She writes:

One of the (many) issues I have with mass produced clothing is that it has made us all believe that our bodies have to fit our clothing rather than our clothing has to fit our bodies. Not long ago almost all clothing was homemade or tailor made to fit our wonderfully diverse shapes and sizes. With the age of vanity sizing and fast fashion, we have switched our thinking to believe that our clothes are right and our bodies are wrong. But our bodies are not wrong!

I had never heard the term “vanity sizing” but OH MY GOSH. It was like a whole bunch of things clunked into place in my head when I read that. It’s so true, isn’t it? That there is no way that mass produced clothing can actually fit anyone. We do grow to be a specific size (and we all know that the size stated on clothing labels isn’t even standardized so why should we believe that anyone’s body will fit into a certain brand’s certain size? So many women (and men) struggle with body image because we don’t fit a certain style or a certain size when, as Anna says, there’s nothing wrong with our bodies – it’s the clothing industry we should be struggling with!

photo: Tony Donovan

photo credit: Tony Donovan

Well. My sewing and tailoring skills suck but thank goodness for people like Anna whose skills are pretty amazing. My son has already benefited from Anna’s skills. He bought a pair of jeans when he visited France and absolutely loves them. So when they tore in the crotch, he was bummed – no pun intended. Anna came to the rescue, patching the tear and making my son super happy.

logo design: Courtney Klassen

logo design: Courtney Klassen

I love this initiative. Anna is reviving a skill that most of us have lost. My mother and my grandmothers all needed to know how to sew – and I mean create clothing, not just put a button back on. I learned to sew in high school and even though I didn’t enjoy it, I did it because at that time (in the late 70s, early 80s) it was still cheaper to sew your own clothing. That is not true anymore – clothing is cheap, literally and figuratively. So rather than make (or even buy) something of quality and care for it in a way that it will last, we buy cheap and cheaply made clothing that doesn’t last no matter how you care for it – with the added issue of it being made by people who are not paid a living wage, who often work in horrendous conditions. Anna is helping us rethink how we look at our clothes and is encouraging us to make them last. She’s helping us rethink how we look at our bodies and celebrate what is unique.

If you live in the Winnipeg area, I encourage you to make use of her mad sewing skills. In the meantime, tell me about your sewing skills. Do you make or repair your own clothing? What motivates you to do this?


Posted in alterations, consumerism, eco fashion, environment, sewing, sizes, thrift lifetstyle | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Granny and Grumpa’s

The store front of ONE of the barns at Granny and Grumpa's

The store front of ONE of the barns at Granny and Grumpa’s

Last week, my son and I visited a place that’s been on my “to visit” list for ages: Granny and Grumpa’s Antiques. Truly, dear reader, this is a place to be experienced.

The most honest way to describe Granny and Grumpa’s is “organized hording”. Their collection of stuff is housed in several barns on their farm in rural Abbotsford. Yes, you read that correctly: several barns. Not everything they’ve gathered could be called an antique but what they may lack in actual antiques they make up for in sheer volume. And it would appear that truly anything qualifies to be sold here.

One of the barns has an upstairs where they have books, movie posters, seaside themed stuff and barn swallows. Don't think the birds are for sale.

One of the barns has an upstairs where they have books, movie posters, seaside themed stuff and barn swallows. Don’t think the birds are for sale. But the giant Mr. Potato Head is.

Got a salt and pepper shaker collection? They have hundreds – and I bet they have a set you don’t have. Need an old sewing machine/typewriter/cash register/spinning wheel/bicycle/tricycle/chainsaw? They got em. How about a pack of Players from the 70s, with 6 cigarettes still inside. You could get a beer from the 60s or 70s – there’s a wall-full of FULL beer cans for you to choose from.

horror films should be shot here.

horror films should be shot here.

Or maybe a creepy doll?

GG aaron tractor 2Or maybe you like to think big. Come get a John Deere tractor, or a vintage fire engine, or a model T, or a rag-top VW – a standard with no clutch (actually, Granny isn’t really wanting to part with that one.)

because, you know, you don't want these to get dusty or anything.

because, you know, you don’t want these to get dusty or anything.

There’s costumes, records on vinyl and wax along with old players to play them, and a whole collection of bed pans. Behind glass.

I know, right?

GG hurricane lamps

GG wagon wheelGG barn 1They have a few things on display that are pretty cool – like their wedding outfits. Hers is framed with newspaper clippings of their marriage included. Nothing is priced, so for those who love to barter, this is the place for you. You know it’s open if the gate is open. You have to find Granny and/or Grumpa when you want to pay and they could be anywhere (we found them waiting in their garage.)

Aaron found these bad boys and an Alvin and the Chipmunks Punk album. On Vinyl. Be jealous.

Aaron found these bad boys and an Alvin and the Chipmunks Punk album. On Vinyl. Be jealous.

This really is a place to be experienced, even if you don’t buy anything. Here’s a tip or two: do NOT wear good clothes and it’s probably a good idea to wear close-toed shoes. If you have allergies to dust or cats, take your Reactin before you go – these are barns, after all, who dusts a barn? Plan on spending at least an hour, probably more if you want to get the full effect. Bring cash or a cheque book – I’m pretty sure they don’t do any credit or debit (although how you’d pay for a firetruck is beyond me.)

This is hands-down the most unique thrifting/vintaging experience I’ve ever had. What’s been your most unique experience?

Posted in antiques, second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, vintage | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Invaluable Advice

sofa pillowsAfter reading some of these antiquing tips from  Invaluable  I decided to share some of my  my best tips when it comes to vintage/thrift shopping. (They have a pretty cool website, by the way, you should take some time to check it out.)

I have to confess at the outset that my primary goal when I’m thrift shopping isn’t to find antiques or vintage things, necessarily. I either go with a specific purpose in mind or I go to see what I’ll find. Still, I have some guidelines that I follow when I’m thrift shopping that apply to antique/vintage shopping as well. I’ll also share with you some of my favourite finds and suggest a couple of cool places to check out here in BC.

This vintage glass piggy bank was given to my son when he was an infant. it has no plug - you have to break it to get the money out. Great way to save!

This vintage glass piggy bank was given to my son when he was an infant. it has no plug – you have to break it to get the money out. Great way to save!

  1. Set a budget – and know by how much you’re willing to blow that budget.

One of the frustrating things for those of us who are looking for deals is that the words “antique” and “vintage” do not necessarily mean “affordable”, in fact, it’s often quite the opposite, as though those words give a vendor permission to ask for a ridiculous amount of money for an item. Thrift shops are also picking up on this trend but there I comfort myself by reminding myself that my dollars are (usually) supporting a charity. So when you’re looking for something specific decide how much you’re willing to spend and don’t deviate from that. Some vendors will let you bargain with them, others won’t – be prepared to walk away OR be prepared to pay more but don’t cry over it later! Know what your absolute limit is.

i love the graceful, art-deco look of this sofa

i love the graceful, art-deco look of this sofa

  1. Be patient

Thrift/vintage/antique shopping is not like retail shopping where you go to a store to get what you want. Instead, you go to a thrift/vintage/antique store to see what you’ll find. If you’re looking for something specific, you may have to wait a while for it to find you. A few years ago, we were looking for a sofa, something to replace an uncomfortable hide-a-bed that we no longer wanted. I had something every specific in mind and we had a very limited budget to work with. I’d been looking for months and months to no avail. Then one day, I visited a favourite thrift shop to pick up some cheap Christmas ornaments and as I was walking into the store, I saw my sofa in the window. I walked straight to it, sat on it, told the lady who was looking at it to move on because this was mine. Then I told the store manager to come sit with me and chat about the price because it was more than I could afford. We landed on a price we could both live with and I was THRILLED. It was almost exactly what I’d been looking for, only the colour is not something I’d have chosen but it works in my living room and I’ve gotten used to it. It has great bones, was in fantastic shape and it only cost me $250. I know, right?

I sewed my grad dress on this sewing machine many, many years ago.

I sewed my grad dress on this sewing machine many, many years ago.

  1. Think outside the box

An old canoe can become a book shelf. A vintage beer bottle a soap dispenser. Old silver cutlery can be turned into eclectic jewelry. If you have a specific need, apply that need to whatever you’re seeing and see if it works. I needed an end table in my living room and had not been able to find anything that worked. Then I remembered that I had my antique Singer sewing machine tucked away in another room. When I hauled it out and put it in my living room it became a perfect end table, complete with little book-holding space beneath it.

Some of my favourite places to find gems

  1. Thrift shops.

If you’ve been following my blog, this is no surprise. Thrift shops are filled with treasures just waiting to be found. Nearly all my furniture, a lot of my household items and all my clothing is thrifted. Here’s a few of my faves: Wildlife Thrift on Drake in Vancouver, WIN in Victoria, Hidden Treasures, Abbotsford.

  1. Dedicated vintage shops.

I don’t visit these as often because they’re usually a little pricier than I like but if I am looking for unique furniture, this is usually a good place to start. Some great ones: Paraphernalia and Spruce Collective in Abbotsford. Other great shops can be found on South Main in Vancouver.

  1. Garage sales.

I don’t go garage sale-ing very often but when I have, I’ve found some great things although furniture pieces are not among them. My sister-in-law in Ontario has found some amazing furniture pieces and here’s something I’ve pondered: I wonder if finding vintage and antique gems is easier to find on the east coast of Canada rather than the west coast, simply because it’s older. You’re more likely to find a 200 year old wardrobe there than here simply because Vancouver as a city isn’t even 200 years old yet. What do you think?

Let me know your own tips and favourite spots to shop!

Posted in furniture, garage sales, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, vintage | Tagged , , , ,

It’s a WIN!


The WIN shop on Pandora Street in Victoria – this is an older shot, the store is now turquoise green

I visited one of my favourite thrift shops this week: the WIN thrift shop in Victoria. I’ve blogged about this shop before because I visit it every time I go to Victoria. If there was an awards show for Thrift Shops (is there? Does the world need this? Have I found the hole in the market?) WIN would win in a few different categories. (WIN, by the way, stands for Women in Need – supporting women in crisis).


also an older photo that, sadly, doesn’t do the store justice. i need to remember to take better pics in stores!

those pants, though. shoulda bought them, eh?

those pants, though. shoulda bought them, eh?

Best Atmosphere – This shop doesn’t really feel like a thrift shop until you get to the very back of the shop where the furniture, books and vinyl, and household goods are. The clothing racks are beautifully laid out, not crammed full, clearly organized by size, category and colour and with enough space between racks for two people to pass each other with their shopping carts. So that’s your first impression but where they truly shine is in how they use their people and their value-added real estate: their people are friendly and helpful, greeting you at the door and making you feel welcome. What I mean by value-added real estate is their signage and their tags – their signs put a positive spin on what you’re used to

Isn't this nicer than - "3 Items ONLY!"

Isn’t this nicer than – “3 Items ONLY!”

And they use their tags so well. I can’t believe how often stores overlook this tiny piece of real estate – look at what you’re learned here: you know why you’re being charged more for one and not the other (boutique items are unique and worth more), you’re learning that they care about the environment because it’s printed on 30% post-consumer recycled paper and you’re getting a positive, feel good message – all on that little slip of paper. So smart.

WN tag

Best in Store – Leather pants photo above notwithstanding, it seems that either everyone in Victoria only wears and donates fairly high quality items or the folks at WIN are super picky about what they accept. Everything is clean, unwrinkled, unstained, and not missing buttons or zippers. For this reason, prices tend to land on the slightly more expensive side but there’s enough variety in their product that it doesn’t feel like you’re in a consignment shop. I picked up a few items, my cheapest item was $5 (a pair of MEC shorts) my most expensive item was $12.95 (a pair of Quicksilver shorts with the store tag still on them.) I saw a pair of TOMS in excellent condition for $24.95 – but given that they retail for over $50, that’s still a pretty good deal. I know that purists don’t want to pay double digits for anything in a thrift shop but I figure if it’s in good condition and I’m getting it for half (or way more) than what I’d pay for it retail, then I feel okay spending a little more because I know that I am supporting a charity.

silk scarf

I picked up a couple of pairs of shorts, a couple of t-shirts and this beautiful, raw silk scarf that just makes me happy. I think it would be perfect to wear to all the pride events going on over the summer!

Which thrift shop would you nominate for an award – and what award would it be?



Posted in second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops | Tagged , , ,

Puzzling Weather (or not…)

the view from my window in Twillingate

the view from my window in Twillingate

It’s 5C outside. The wind is howling, it’s pouring rain. And I’m on vacation.

Welcome to Newfoundland in June. To be fair, it was 17C and sunny yesterday and the day before. That was Gros Morne – now I’m in Twillingate and it looks like we’re in for a bit of this kind of weather.

gorgeous, isn't it?

gorgeous, isn’t it?

Mostly that’s okay because I did come  here to see icebergs, after all. And when the weather is too lousy for even that, what does one do?


One puzzles. John picked up this one at the (evil) Value Village in Halifax for $4 and since we’re here for 3 nights, this is what we’ll do! Yay, thrift!

Posted in second hand, thrift, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Great Things in Store

a little shop on Almon Street in Halifax

a little shop on Almon Street in Halifax

I’m traveling on the other coast for a couple of weeks, my hubby and I are taking my mom on another bucket list trip to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Now, my mom instilled in me and my sister a love for thrift shopping, so naturally we had to check out at least one thrift shop while we’re here (I’m pretty sure we’ll check out more.) Today we visited Great Things in Store (such a good name), which supports the local food bank.

We needed a couple of things: a few plastic storage containers to put food in for our journey and a candle to replace the one we’ve been burning at our Airbnb. And of course, we found a couple of other treasures.

a born model

a born model

Mom found a pair of Northern Reflections black jeans that fit perfectly, just need a little hem. Isn’t she adorable?

work it!

work it!

Also found a Rankin novel that I am not sure if I’ve ready yet. This is the only thing I will look forward to if I ever have the misfortune of getting Alzheimers: I’ll be able to read all my mystery novels as if they are brand new!

i love Ian Rankin's novels.

i love Ian Rankin’s novels.

Any Haligonian thrifters out there who can recommend a great place to shop?

Posted in books, clothing, thrift, thrift in Halifax, thrift lifetstyle, Thrift Shopping, thrift shops, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , ,