Category Archives: vintage

Why anyone under 40 should never move to Vancouver

My friend Danica moved out West to go to university — and never came back. Ever since she’s been bugging me to go out there. And finally, because of a work trip, I did!

My only question once she’d toured me around the city in her jeep was, “why did I wait so long?” And then I began to jot down excuses for why I should move there.

I could:

1. Train as a sushi chef
2. Teach at UBC – teach what? who cares? the campus is beautiful.
3. Train as a yoga instructor. Sure, you can do this in Toronto, but it seems so much healthier in that salty sea air.
4. Work for Geist.
5. Make gourmet hot dogs or the best fish & chips ever at Pajos.
6. Run off with a hot fisherman who supplies Pajos (note this is in Richmond, not Van proper).

All very good excuses. But then I made the mistake of going out at night. Blech. Blah. Boring.

Sorry Vancouver, it might be easy as pie to get tickets to your film festival and eat at a hot new restaurant on a Saturday night without reservations (try Bao Bei it is AMAZING), but where da party at?

Your like my parents – warm, welcoming, with ample provisions that I can’t get at home. Fun to visit, but no way I’m moving in.

Bonus: Check out my photo essay on Granville Street’s vintage store signs. Save them! Save them one and all.


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Havana & Varadero in the rain: art, nightlife and the odd slice of bikini

The trouble with all-inclusive beach resort vacations (aside from the clinical removal of any ‘authentic’ culture in the country of visit) is bad weather.

This happens rarely.  But when it does, every tourist at the resort is in serious need of a Valium to stop their chins from sinking into the white marble floor (these are available over-the-counter here, but in a cruel Communist joke, only in Departures at the Varadero airport).

Luckily we’d split the week – three days in Havana and four in Varadero.  The dilapidated capital of Cuba is so charming, it looks even better in the rain.  The pastel blues, peaches and greens of the once grand houses, now chipped away so one paint layer revels another like a patchwork rainbow, glisten bright against a dull, white sky.  After cancelling our “social projects” walking tour (bigged up in the LP) because of the torrential downpour, we skipped under the narrow concrete awnings of the buildings in the Old Town, jockeying for sidewalk space every few blocks with the rare local desperate enough to brave the wet, and into the Cuban section of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana.  A mesmerizing introduction to Cuban history and culture, we tagged surreptitiously, behind an Jewish couple from New York, being led around by a Cuban-born American thick in art knowledge and connections (“Oh, his work is finally in major demand, I’ve got one of his in my living room…”) and less narcissistic, more artistic, commentary.

We chose one of the Spanish Club’s for lunch, waiting in line of course, and walked three flights of winding stairs into the club complete with suited-up waiters and the skulls of bulls decorating the ornate, cavernous restaurant.  The food was the best we had in the city at a cheaper price than most.That evening we went out late, to a lounge, El Gato Tuerto, near the highly recommended Hotel Nacional.  It was as if we’d been plucked into 1950’s Cuba.  You could imagine American gangsters smoking cigars at the rickety metal tables and plastic black chairs crowding the L-shaped lounge, drinking rum served by the tuxedoed bartenders. Well, you could imagine it if you stripped away some of the more modern clientele.  We played a guessing game: pick out the prostitutes, easily spotting a middle-aged British couple and the round, young Cuban woman they’d hired for the week; Her boot in his lap while his wife danced drunkenly, dizzily pulling a Cuban man toward her after lighting his cigarette at the bar.

And the music.  Hard to describe.  A short, fat woman, caked in makeup, her brows darkened like her bouffant hair-do (complete with thick black headband) to cover the grey, lips full and red, chins waggling, stepped on stage with a four-piece band and her voice – like sweet, dark caramel – enveloped the room, willing dancers to the floor.  (Check her out here). I later found via a tripadvisor post, that Migdalia Hechevarria, is a regular weekend headliner at the bar.

That was our best day in Havana.  The next morning we boarded the Hershey Train for a ride on a once luxurious three-car sugar train, built to chug sugar from the plantations in central Havana and Veradero to the coast.  Since the closure of the Hershey plant around 2003, the thing still goes four times a day, stopping every ten minutes or so at seemingly any village, house or crossing along the way, it’s main function is transporting locals – many on the dole now – from one village to the next.

It’s a rich slice of Cuban life – one that shouldn’t be missed.  Just be prepared with books, blankets (in case of cold weather, it’s open air), and stamina to endure what feels and sounds like a four-hour ride on the Mighty Canadian Minebuster, one of the oldest, most rickety, wooden rollercoasters in North America.  It’s worth it.

Next Blau Varadero, a lovely high-rise resort built just five years ago.  This modern monstrosity is everything a simple all-inclusive should be, and it’s friendly, central bar was chalk full of Brits, French Canadians, and (English ones too, although they tend not to park it at the bar for as long).  The beach hut disco is good times, and we had two days of partial sun, warm enough for me to brave a bikini, pulling off my towel every 15  minutes or so when the clouds parted (and for Conor to pull his towel back on so as not to burn his whiter than white, freckled body).

That’s it.


Pictures?  You want pictures?  Check ’em all out here.

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a dress a day #4

vintage black shift dress, lace sleeves, empire waist, jewel detailing, 1960s, England
This dress found me at the Custard Factory’s vintage flea market held every Saturday in Birmingham, England ($30).  Its fun details made it stand out.  I adore the silvery bejewelled, empire waist. 

empire waist, shift dress, vintage, jewelled waist, embroidered

It’s label-less and homemade — demanding a trained eye to size it up.  In fact, all vintage dresses do.  I normally wear a US size 8-10, but I own vintage dresses in sizes 4 to 14; obey labels at your peril.   Wiggling into armfuls of musty dresses is key to finding just the right one.

vintage dresses, rack

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Filed under Birmingham, clothes, ethical living, green living, thrifty, Uncategorized, vintage

A dress a day #3

chain print, red dress, fashion,

When rummaging through racks of used dresses it’s easy to get lost in the heady mix of stained musty goodness.  But keeping the “classics” in mind will help you get a lock on vintage dynamite.  I spied this red, button down, shirtdress, with it’s classic chain print, while rummaging through Birmingham’s aptly-named Vintage Clothing store in Digbeth.  The tag reads 100% Baumwolle*, by Nak Stoffe, a German textiler.

red chain print dress

A staple of every designer’s winter cruise line, the chain print can also be worn by the rest of us — it’s graced shirts, dresses, belts and scarves at nearly every major retailer from J Crew to Guess (retch) to Top Shop.  And it’s all over the stores this season according to one New Yorker’s non blog. My current favourite is  Pringle’s geometric chain print on a classic day dress:

pringle day dress, chain print

*baumwolle: tree (baum) wool — commonly known as cotton

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Filed under Birmingham, cheap fun, green living, thrifty, vintage

A dress a day #2

vintage dress, england,
There’s something special about being given a dress once owned and worn by a woman you admire.  Here’s a hand-me-down 80s vintage number.  Sans labels, it was bestowed on me by a hard-working, farmer’s wife from Tunstall, Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England.  The centre of this tiny village’s life, she defines all that is great about the Women’s Institute.  Every Christmas hundreds of hanging cards sent from friends obscure the giant oak beams in her farmhouse.  A hard-working B&B owner, family is the centrepoint of her life and I learned much from her. 

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A dress a day, #1

pink, silver, polyester shift dress, vintage

Sheepish fashion columnists agree wardrobe staples are the white blouse, a good trench coat and a Birkin (yawn).  But real staying power lies in the mighty vintage dress.

Maxi, mini, gown, pinafore, tube, bubble, sun, cocktail, wrap, strapless, sleeveless, shirt, smock, tunic, trapeze, sheath, kaftan, shift, swing, flounce — I dare you not to find one you like.  Best of all the frock constitutes an entire outfit: simple.

Following some of the better advice in Brit fashion writer’s Tamsin Blanchard’s Green is the New Black, I rooted through my wardrobe to pull out all my lovely dresses in a bid to dissuade me from buying more, more, more.

So this week, in a nod to the lovely A Dress A Day blog, I’m putting my vintage frocks on show, beginning with my first purchase.  Pink polyester with silvery thread can feel a bit like sandpaper against skin.  If only it felt like how I imagine Michael Kors’s new — and not dissimilar — pebble brocade dress would.  But I digress, this is one hot number.  The jewel-encrusted collar is especially fun.  A surbanite, GTA teen, I found this shift dress on one of many frequent visits to Kensington Market, for peanuts.

If you’ve got info on this vintage fashion label, please share the love.

felix, portland, vintage fashion label, American


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Filed under clothes, green living, thrifty, Toronto, Uncategorized, vintage

birthday suit – part deux

My friend warned me she thought my new designer dress was a bit over the top for a casual housewarming party – with 70 of our closest friends.  But then, I don’t take her unsolicited advice very often.

 Following on the heels of last year’s vintage wrap dress for my big 3-0, this year was a wrap too, but flea market it wasn’t.  The undisputed first lady of the wrap – Diane von Furstenberg – designed this hot little number:
diane von furstenburg wrap dress, black, sleeveless
Which looks like this on:
diane von furstenburg wrap dress, erin tracy designs jewelry
How can a lowly, unpaid Walrus intern afford such extravagance?  Four words: Holt Renfrew Last Call.  Regular $445, this LBD was marked down to $150 with an extra 50 per cent off.  The deals were so hot, I picked up this maxi dress by L.A.s’ t-bags for $60:
t-bags, jersey dress, maxi holt renfrew last call, vaughan mills
And while Furstenberg isn’t a close, personal friend, I’m blessed to count two young, Toronto designers as my pals, mostly because they’re super awesome, but also because they make me fabulous things.
jessica smith, birthday cake, toronto
Jessica Smith, a French pastry chef, trained at Le Cordon Bleu who spent last year working at Yautcha, Alan Yau’s Michelin-star teahouse and dim sum restaurant in Soho, London – made this cake.  It served 100.
jessica smith, cake, toronto, ontario, party
And Erin Tracy, an established jewelry designer who is taking over the world one bangle at a time, made me the necklace I’m wearing in the top picture, along with matching earrings and Grecian-inspired bangles.
erin tracy, earrings, crystal and silver, toronto, canada

erin tracy, silver and gold bangles, toronto, canada
Armed with designer cake, dress and jewels – there was just one more accessory needed – the perfect stubby holder.
stubby holder, beer holder, beer cooler, grizzly bear
($6 at the Beer Store) grrrr.

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