Tips and tricks to find the fashionable you in Vancouver

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      When I first started writing this column, Vancouver fashion design hardly existed and, when it did, few supported it. Armani or Donna Karan, fine, but a skirt by a local unknown? The Block and Dream were about the only stores that pushed local labels. And now look at us. Lower Main Street bursting with homegrown boutiques, the fabulous indie fashion at Portobello West market, stunning and marketable looks coming out of the design schools—Vancouver definitely isn’t the style backwater it used to be. So that’s the good news.

      On the other hand, as one reader poignantly e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago, where do the fashionistas hang out? Not in the clone country of Robson Street, that’s for sure. Even South Granville has a dangerously high percentage of shoppers in the various local uniforms that suggest they’re off to practise yoga or rock climbing. My prescription: blogs, and a final plug for, not least for its terrific links, which include Seeing how others get it together can often prod you into putting on something other than the same old.

      Practicalities: check your own closet and you’ll discover you wear 10 percent of your clothing 90 percent of the time. Figure out the commonalities in that magic 10 percent and you’re less likely to waste money on clothing that still bears its price tag when you chuck it in the bag going to the thrift store. I don’t travel anywhere without my black silk knit T-shirt from local designer Kathleen Staples, which is an extra warming layer, provides decency under a sheer top, or fills in the gap in a jacket that’s slightly too V-necked for daytime. Another bailout is my crew-neck black cashmere sweater. When did Eaton’s close? That’s how old it is. Denim is a godsend—not jeans so much as a jacket or a simple, knee-length skirt that stops a look from taking itself too seriously.

      If you’re sinking serious money into clothes or accessories, always opt for timeless style over gone-tomorrow fashion. I’m thinking of the glowing silk jackets of Joanna Staniszkis, Zonda Nellis’s glorious dresses, and Fluevog shoes. Speaking of good shoes, treated kindly they last for years. That means inserting shoe trees right after you take footwear off to stop it from going boat-shaped, and having shoes reheeled or resoled before they need it.

      The trick of course is how you put it all together. One of this town’s most inventive dressers, graphic designer Vida Jurcic of Hangar 18 Design Creative Group, showed me how to make a “scarecrow” by experimenting with different arrangements of clothes and accessories on your bed before you go through the blood, sweat, and tears of actually putting them on. A stylist at a photo shoot taught me how you can mix prints together, provided the base colours agree. Aqua and black checks with aqua and black florals or aqua and black stripes, and so on.

      Something I figured out for myself is that whenever I get a look totally right, it’s bright to note it down to the last detail. You won’t believe how much time that little trick alone can save you. Example: “Black cotton cropped pants, red linen shirt, plus warrior-woman belt [you develop your own shorthand]; coin earrings; snake bracelet; red, zip-front shoes; and fishnet knee-highs.” Ah fishnet. Something else I’ve learned is that if any outfit looks as though you’re trying for a job in the corner office, fishnet hose moves it into a different, edgier realm. Animal prints do the same—picture the difference between a charcoal-grey jacket over a white shirt or a leopard-print T-shirt.

      A new look needn’t mean new clothes, just new rearrangements. An interesting exercise is to go through a current fashion mag and ask yourself what looks you could pull off from your existing wardrobe if someone held a gun to your head. Stretch your creativity, not your credit-card limit. Flexible thinking means a pashmina is also a sarong; that funking up a staid jacket with braid and buttons is an hour’s work plus a trip to Dressew; and elastic waists aren’t just your grandma’s territory but, hoiked up, turn a long skirt into a short dress. Belt it, sling on a cardi—who’s to know?

      Budget isn’t the only reason to shop at thrift and consignment stores. The most compelling reason is that it turns you into a sartorial risk-taker happy to grab an eccentric purple top if it costs five, rather than 50, bucks. (These days, you can also say you’re doing it to be ecofriendly.) Finally, always remember to quote the very stylish Oscar Wilde: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

      In the first column I wrote for this paper, I wrote that style is based on individuality. It still is.