“What’ll I wear?” It’s a thought that crosses most of our minds each morning.
For Janet Strong, those three words were the perfect name for her second-hand clothing store.
Strong opened What’ll I Wear on Princess St. in 1995, with experience working in consignment since she was 16. The business is a funky hole-in-the-wall store filled with costumes galore and great vintage-inspired pieces.
Second-hand shopping is the most effective way to discover great pieces at low costs. You can find all sorts of one-of-a-kind items, from designer suits to unique costume jewelry.
Apart from being fashion gold mines, second-hand stores benefit local businesses and are also more environmentally friendly than purchasing new clothes. Strong amasses her clothing through a variety of sources, ranging from friends in the industry to estate sales. She has a particularly keen eye for the outrageous.
“I am interested in the fabrics, naturals particularly. I like interesting classic colours and cuts — things that may be dated can be incorporated into someone’s wardrobe today,” she said. “A lot are costume pieces and crazy things, but you know there are some things that can be adapted.”
Compared to today’s shift towards mass production, Strong said clothing used to be manufactured with higher quality and more attention to detail.
“Clothing doesn’t fit. Fabric is crap. It is throwaway fashion now,” she said. “It is hard to recycle because it is not really worth much to begin with.”
Strong’s mother used to work in a factory making blouses in England. At the time, her mother was only 14.
“She had to make the whole blouse. It wasn’t like one person [only] made the seams … and there was quality control.”
Unfortunately it’s difficult to find such well-made clothing nowadays. According to Strong, fashion trends are one of the main culprits behind the decreasing sales in the second-hand industry.
“[Queen’s students] are often just buying for costumes, which, well, it is what it is. I would love to see people wear this stuff on a regular everyday basis,” she said. “What with your Lulus, that seems to be the uniform in Kingston.”
It isn’t all bad news for thrift stores, though. What’ll I Wear’s clientele represents a vast array of tastes, budgets and backgrounds.
“[Thrifting] is for smart people who want to have a unique look or quality piece that they aren’t going to find in a big box store, where you see racks and racks of the same thing,” she said. One of her most memorable experiences was a customer who wore a dress to a major awards show 15 years ago.
“Although I can’t remember exactly what the dress looked like, I did have a dress from here go to the Screen Actors Guild Awards,” she said. “And that’s kind of exciting. It wasn’t anyone famous — it would have been someone for writing or editing.” Strong stressed the importance of keeping an open mind while thrift shopping.
“[It’s] hard to come in with a preconceived notion of what you want,” she said. “You have to go through and see. Even though it may be a man’s shirt, it may be exactly what you want.”
Even though it may be small in size, What’ll I Wear is worth checking out for a refreshing dose of quality clothing and its impressive men’s selection.
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