Nestled at the foot of BC's Coast Mountain Range, if you've heard one thing about Vancouver it will probably relate to its proximity to, and enthusiasm for, the great outdoors. Ask around a little bit more, and you might find the city also rates anecdotally for its high number of sushi restaurants, rent prices, and an unfashionable tendency toward yoga pants. Having lived here a grand total of almost 4 months, I can tentatively attest to this short list of general truths – with a few revisions.
Yes, there are plenty of outdoor sports to be enjoyed, from hiking, to biking, to skiing and beyond. True, the rent prices are high, and rising (for a single room in a euphemistically-named “basement suite”, I’ve seen prices over and above $1,000 a month).
The sushi restaurants do serve fresh, tasty fish, and they are very reasonably priced for the most part. I’m working on finding a local for every neighbourhood, which is a difficult task only because of the sheer abundance of places to eat.
And finally, okay to the yoga pants. But, here I feel compelled to rectify a misconception. It’s true that lululemon products probably hang in a good portion of this city’s wardrobes, regularly donned for a walk to the gym or a trip to the supermarket, but activewear is as much a part of the fabric of this city as its diverse Asian population, or the omnipresent London Fog Earl Grey latte (at least, I'm almost certain that last one's a thing).
Fortunately, during my short time living in the 3rd least fashionable city in the world, I’ve uncovered that its sartorial critics have a lot of unfair press to answer for. Maybe the broad presence of fitness apparel has distracted from one of the city’s best assets, or maybe times have changed, but scratch the surface even a little bit and you’ll find an unsung array of vintage and boutique stores. These independent shops are full of unique, well-priced clothing sourced both locally and internationally, so seeking them out makes for a more intimate, challenging, interesting, and infinitely more rewarding shopping experience than an afternoon on the strip of high-street haunts.
It’s thanks to this that I’ve put together a short list of my discoveries up to this point. I write "discoveries", but they haven’t been particularly hard to find – most of them have a great social presence which I will link to if I can. Bear in mind that what follows is by no means exhaustive, and I hope to add many more spots on down the line. For now, here it is.
Community Thrift & Vintage
Where? 11 West Hastings St. & 311 Carrall St. What? Community Thrift & Vintage runs two stores in Gastown, both gems for finding second hand clothing. In their Hastings St. location you'll find all manner of unisex pieces, with T-shirts ranging from $8 to $30, wool overshirts at $30, and jackets between about $60 and $100. Classic converse in good nick are generally priced around $25. This location also stocks a number of local artists' illustrations, as well as pins, badges, accessories, and crockery.
Last time I visited the smaller, women's fashion-oriented Community Vintage Frocke Shoppe (on nearby Carrall street), it had a cashmere rail for $30+ in a rainbow of colours, all in good condition, as well as coats, jeans, tops and accessories. Funky jazz piano sets the atmosphere, and the staff are very friendly.
Woo To See You
Where? 3671 Main St. & 1062 Mainland St. | wootoseeyou.com What? This well-curated collection of clothing will have something for women who like cool, modern looks that you probably won't encounter anywhere else in Vancouver. Woo To See You definitely has an aesthetic: oversized coats, simple knits and wide-leg trousers are just some of the styles you'll find hanging in their cute and clean stores.
They stock both Vancouver-based and international brands, as well as affordable jewellery in gold and silver, and lots of other bits including a small shoe offering with standout pieces from the likes of Australian brand Sol Sana. I highly recommend visiting for a browse, and even if you don't go home with a purchase, your sartorial interest will be piqued.
Where? 430 Columbia St. What? Centrally located in Chinatown, Duchesse is stuffed to the brim with Northwest vintage style. With their warm lighting, wood-panelling and exposed brick interiors, Duchesse's goods also remain close to their down-to-earth Vancouver roots. Here you'll find casual West Coast cool in everything from Carhartt workwear and Levi jeans to fur-trimmed wool coats (the blue one pictured above right was $120), all for thrifty-ish prices considering the quality.
Front & Company
Where? 3772 Main St. (and a few more next door) What? Consignment store Front & Company should be high on the list for second-hand clothing shoppers of this city. Of two Main Street locations that sell apparel, one houses a permanent selection of branded clothing that has been only lightly used, as well as a section with brand new pieces including clothes, bags and jewellery.
The other nearby location changes according to the season; at the moment its theme is centred around Christmas party looks, but it will no doubt be something new next month. This store is great if you're seeking out both high street and high-end brands, but don't expect items to be a steal, as items are generally well-preserved and priced accordingly.
Half & Half
Where? 436 Columbia St. What? Brightly-coloured Half & Half is so named because of its curation style: half of the store's products are chosen by one owner, and half by the other. It sells a variation of products, from locally-designed clothing and jewellery for women and men, to badges, patches, cards, and even candles made by one of the owners. Just a few months old, this charming store is located right beside Duchesse in Chinatown, so you can kill two birds with one stone while you're down there.
Where? 486 West Cordova St. | shopecle.com What? Though you can expect to spend a little more in E:CLE than in the above-mentioned stores, you might just find it's worth it for their trendy/quirky selection.
This little boutique's brick-and-mortar location houses a host of independent labels and Korean brands, like Rocket x Lunch and Andersson Bell, while London-based cool-girl brand Miista is also featured here. The kind of place that opens your eyes to previously unknown labels, it's worth some attention as you pass from downtown to Gastown.
Where? 2541 Main St. | muchandlittle.com What? much&little is split into two conjoined stores, one for wearable apparel, and the other for homey things. This one has some stock for the guys and a huge selection of gift-appropriate items. Prices here are the highest on this list, but clothing fabrics tend to be natural, and many brands are locally-sourced and pretty rare in this boutique, so they'll be treasured for a long time to come.
Where? 3101 Granville St | zebraclubvan.com What? I don't just love this shop because it's five minutes from my apartment, but it definitely doesn't hurt. Nestled among the many designer shops in South Granville, Zebraclub is a haven for well-priced clothing and accessories aimed at the 20s to 30s age group.
Both men and women are catered to, with local brands including Bianca Barr, Millie & Lou, Maggie Jayne, as well as international brands like Cheap Monday, Herschel, Camper and Neuw. You can see the full list of labels stocked on their website, but you can only shop their beautifully-curated ladies vintage rail in the store.
C'est La Vie
Where? 3247 Main St. What? Situated on lower Main Street, Cest La Vie's bubblegum pink exterior befits the unconventional cool that lies within. Expect to hunt through boho-chic looks including tulle skirts, fringe jackets and plenty of cowboy boots in this vintage spot, with good prices on everything from jeans to flannel shirts.
Let me know if there are any shops I should check out in the comments below! And big thanks to Gavin for the photos.