The old-timey fair came to town this past Sunday April 13th in the form of the Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show. However instead of farmers and craftspeople lining up their wooden stalls side by side, open booths were set up in laneways like those I liken to the one behind my grandmother’s garden in Thunder Bay, where I used to play dressup in my aunts’ old clothes. All that was missing were the little white fences with rose and raspberry bushes peeking through them to complete the picture.
This spring edition featured not only long time vintage mongers from around Ontario, but also some fresh faces from Ottawa, who are newly throwing their vintage fascinators into the ring.
My first stop, down my vintage yellow brick road, was with Victoire co-owner Katie Frappier. “Vintage is a hobby of both mine and Regine’s (Victoire’s other co-owner) and it’s something that we do really just for us. But it has spiraled in that it was a collection we couldn’t keep private anymore. We have so much vintage in storage that we decided to start selling it to the public five or six years ago. We host private vintage sales in our stores twice a year for our loyal customers. This is our first year at a sale outside of Victoire so it’s something new.”
Frappier continues, “Where we source our vintage from has changed a lot over the years. When we first started it included lots of ladies’ houses, lots of flea markets, lots in the Ottawa Valley, lots in Montreal. All of that has pretty much dried up now for the era we like, because we only do 30’s, 40’s, 50’s 60’s.”
“So now to source our vintage we’re going further,” Frappier explains. “We’ve gone to Portland, Texas, Detroit, Upstate New York, Southern Ontario, Cleveland and California. It does kind of feel like we’re in a race against time for the era that we really like, because some of the pieces are almost a hundred years old now. And with vintage, when someone rebuys it, it never hits the market again. We love vintage because it is a perfect complementary interest to Victoire in that these dresses were made very very well, a lot of them were crafted by the designer themselves in Canada and it really feels like the beginnings of what Victoire’s designers do today.”
I took a turn down the laneway to visit with Jaime McLeod of Vintage & Flowers on Somerset and Housewife Vintage where she was dressed in high-waister ochre palazzo pants and a black top. Jaime has been, as she says, doing this for a long time, as she previously owned Attic on Dalhousie and Aunt Olive’s on Gilmore. “I’m just really nostalgic and into the history behind the clothes. I’m partial to the seventies. I love [this event], I came super extra early so I could shop before it opened and I love it! I got a pearl necklace that hits the ground. I got wacky, huge, wide vintage denim, a couple cute dresses, some pantaloons, just tons of stuff. When it comes to buying vintage just go crazy!”
Around the block I found DeeDee Butters and Rebecca Noelle of Ottawa’s The Peptides, selling their vintage collection from Hepkat Vintage with expected spunk and sass. “People find their meant-to-be vintage dresses at events like this and we want to bring the clothes to the people. We came to the vintage show before we were in business, so this is where we came to find our dream dresses.”
“Our project, The Peptides, requires some vintage costuming because of the soundscapes our songwriter produces, so we started vintaging together. Though for our May 3rd album release we’re going from true vintage to neon colour blocked technicolour. Now we source our vintage from auctions, estate sales, on consignment, even from thrift shops.” explain the duo.
When asked about where their love of vintage came from Rebecca says, “I’m a jazz singer by night and so I sing a lot of music from the 40’s and 50’s. When I first started performing in that genre I kind of wanted to take on the role. And I started falling in love with it. Then I learned more about the quality, the structure and the materials that they don’t use anymore. It was the glamour attached to it that drew me in and now I’m hooked.”
DeeDee also shared with us her story, “My grandmother and my great-aunt were both very fashionable ladies in the fifties. When I was in my early teens I was given some of their amazing couture dresses, which they would wear to socialite events around town. And I was dying over them. I wanted to repair them and to take them apart to look at the construction and that got me into fashion history.”
Lastly, I turned down the final lane and found friend Leah Miller of Second Grace Vintage, another young woman braving the vintage business. Dressed in jeans, riding boots and a vintage silk floral blouse, which she had just picked up at an estate sale that Friday. “I love the stories that go with clothing. I really like searching for treasure at Salvation Armies and estate sales but then I want these items to go to wonderful new homes. So I buy a lot of it, but then I have to sell it before it takes over my entire life. For me, what I would wear the most is definitely the fifties stuff. I love the styles and the shapes, which work really well on me. But, I really love a woman who can pull off eighties style maybe sometimes mixed with fifties. I love that! I can’t do it, but I love it when people do that. For today’s show I was definitely going for spring, so we’ve got a lot of trench coats and dresses. I was hoping people would come along and want a beautiful prom dress because I have these gorgeous party dresses and it’s almost prom season. I haven’t had a chance to walk around yet but I’m eager to have a look at all the great stuff here.”
It seems clear that with such thoughtful, knowledgeable and energetic young women taking a lead in the Ottawa vintage scene that we’ll be seeing a lot more vintage in Ottawa be it at themed parties or just on the runway of life, the streets. As Jaime McLeod said “I think Ottawa’s a little on the timid side and I think we shouldn’t be, they should think outside the box and buy wacky stuff.”