Canada: Thrift Shopping For Grownups - How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint And Look Great Doing It

Last Updated: June 25 2019
Article by Eden Kaill

What do fashion and environmental responsibility have to do with each other? A whole heck of a lot, as it turns out. Textiles are some of the hardest products to recycle, and among the most environmentally hazardous to produce. Textile manufacturing results in 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping1 combined. Some studies estimate that around 5% of total global emissions come from the fashion industry.2

Gross, right? And when you take into account that, on average, 20 new garments are manufactured per person every year,3 buying fewer new clothes starts to feel like a pretty good idea.

Still, those of us who work in professional environments (especially law firms) tend to have some significant hesitation around the idea of second-hand clothes. We need to look put-together, and most of us don't have the time or energy to go through the racks at Value Village in the hopes that one of the ten suits they have at any given time will be both nice and in the right size. We worry that used clothes will look cheap, that second-hand stores smell funny, and that we won't find anything that fits.

That being said, here's where I can help. In the last 5 years, I've bought maybe 4 new pieces of clothing, and I shop a lot. More importantly, people seem to think I dress well.4 I happen to like Value Village, but there are lots of easier options if:

  1. you have more money to spend
  2. you wear standard (non-plus) sizes
  3. your tastes lean toward designer clothes and accessories.

To that end, I present:

The Fancy Person's Guide to Second-Hand Office Clothes in Toronto

  1. Consign Toronto

I LOVE THIS STORE. I go here for fun even when I'm not in a shopping mood, just to chat with the fabulous staff and the ultra-fabulous owner, Dag, who has a knack for making every customer feel like a best pal. They carry impeccably selected designer and higher-end clothes for all genders, and their prices are miles below retail.

Officewear Spotlight: This Lanvin blazer for $135

  1. Garb

Along with Consign Toronto and Fashionably Yours, Garb is a part of what I consider the Queen West designer-consignment district, and this wee shop has provided me with some of my favourite event wear and shoes. They don't sell online, so be sure to pop in and see what's on the racks first-hand.

Officewear Spotlight: This Burberry shirt for $120 and Armani suit for $395

  1. Fashionably Yours

Rounding out the Queen West trifecta, Fashionably Yours is like Garb and Consign Toronto's younger sibling.5 They carry pulled-together office wear and fancy dresses along with clothes that I, as a middle-aged person, do not exactly understand, but respect. Some of them have more buckles and/or zippers than are entirely necessary. Still, a number of my best work dresses and a couple of blazers, including the Dior blazer I'm wearing today, come from FY.

Officewear Spotlight: These Chanel boots for $445

  1. The Cat's Meow

Here's where we get real fancy – at the Queen West shops, you'll find BCBG and Calvin Klein mixed in among the Chanel and YSL. Not so at this Yorkville boutique! Everything in this shop is breathtaking, everything once cost a *lot*, and the second-hand prices reflect that. You'll still find some amazing deals, though, and it beats the sticker shock at Holt Renfrew. Our own Ellen Bessner wears a gorgeous purple Prada suit from Cat's Meow!

Officewear Spotlight: These stunning purple numbers from Carolina Herrera, Christian Dior and Celine (prices on request)

  1. L'Elegante

Like the Cat's Meow, L'elegante's clientele lean more toward Ladies Who Lunch than Fancy Hipsters (and also like CM, they don't carry menswear). They have racks and racks of blazers and suits, TONS of Chanel, and handbags you'll want to show off. They had a grey Hermes Kelly for a while that I used to visit and look longingly at. Their prices are reasonable, especially when things go on sale – my two favourite Oscar de la Renta dresses are both from L'Elegante, and were both on sale for under $300.

Officewear Spotlight: this Louis Vuitton bag (price on request)

  1. Common Sort

Look, you say. Designer pieces are all well and good, but I want some nice basics, and I don't care if they're from the Gap, but I don't want my wardrobe to contribute to climate change.

Common Sort is your answer! They have three locations and carry a wide range of second-hand clothes, from H&M to Chloe. I even have a Dior suit I snagged at the Annex location for $200 (SCORE). Everything is in great condition, clean and organized, and the staff are incredibly helpful and pleasant.

Officewear Spotlight: This casual Friday look featuring Wilfred, American Eagle, and Kate Spade, for a total (!!) of $132.

The Takeaway: If you live in the GTA and work in a professional environment, you don't need to rely on disposable fast fashion or budget-destroying designer suits. You can look like a grownup, save money, and reduce your impact on the environment, while supporting some fantastic local businesses. Happy shopping!

1 A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).

2 Bauck, W. The fashion industry emits as much greenhouse gas as all of Russia. Fashionista (22 September 2017);

3 Drew, D. & Yehounme, G. The apparel industry's environmental impact in 6 graphics. World Resources Institute (5 July 2017);

4 These people include me. I look great.

5 This is not to say that CT and Garb aren't hip. They're still on Queen West, after all

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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