Building a movie wardrobe: insider tips on where Toronto’s costume pros shop

Building a movie wardrobe: insider tips on where Toronto’s costume pros shop

So, you live in Toronto. Great! And you’ve been reading Toronto Film Scene’s August issue on fashion in the movies? Great! But how can you incorporate all of the fantastical images and information you’ve gleaned into a practical application within this great city of ours? Are you a crafter or a sewer? Are you just a beginner who’s interested in learning about vintage clothing, costuming, and fashion design? Or perhaps you’re a student of fashion or costume design. Either way, it’s always best to ask the pros.

Meet Alex Kavanagh and Victoria Dinnick

We’re lucky enough to have  been able to chat  with Alex Kavanagh, Toronto-based costume designer extraordinaire for such productions as Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008), The Vow (2012), the Saw franchise ( II through VI and 3D ; 2005-2010), and Splice (2009), among many others. On the other side of the costume equation is Victoria Dinnick, owner of a vintage boutique called Gadbout, which rents and sells plenty of good stuff to costume and set decoration folks in the film industry. Dinnick is also on the resource committee of the Costume Society of Ontario, and so has plenty of good info to share. Currently, Dinnick is selling items to the new Global TV series Bomb Girls (cute outfits!), among a few others.

Let’s get shopping

Let’s start with the basics: anyone who has strolled around Toronto’s Queen West area has probably noticed the abundance of fabrics and sewing accessory stores that populate the strip between Spadina and Bathurst. But while it’s probably the most well-known area, it’s certainly not the only or main one. “Little India is a mecca for fabric and findings,” says Dinnick,”[and] Roncesvalles and Kensington are pretty popular too.” If you’ve ever strolled through Kensington’s colourful alleys and streets, you’ll know what she means. Perhaps more ambitiously, “many designers will shop online or order from L.A. if they have really specific need[s].   In the east end [of Toronto], Gadabout gets a lot of business from the movie/television industry. And MacDonald-Faber [a.k.a. MacFAB] has moved to 755 Queen East from the west end and have been catering to the costume industry for fabric and costumes since 1955.” Kavanagh has a great tip for a quirky little hideaway: “the hidden gem fabric store [in Toronto] would have to be Mrs. Bobrowski’s [at] 1306 St Clair W. She has some vintage fabrics and is a real character. Sometimes I make the pilgrimage to Ann’s Fabric Shop in Hamilton for knits. They really cater to the figure skating crowd and have some great finds.” As for her usual haunts, Kavanagh says: “Leo’s is always my first stop for fancy fabrics, and their other store Trendy Fabric for more casual and unusual textiles.”

The philosophy of fabric

And what kind of design philosophy drives these purchasing behaviours? Kavanagh says: “I design based on character. I like to create a closet for each character that is a mix of new and old (depending on the character, of course). New purchases, vintage finds, and custom pieces help to create a more believable, lived-in look. My secret for finding really interesting finds is the Toronto Fashion Incubator. I have put out messages on their bulletin board requesting wholesale items for characters in films such as Splice and The Vow and been able to use locally-designed clothing and accessories.” Dinnick’s philosophy for dealing in the business (and pleasure!) of vintage clothes comes from her earliest days: “I had to wear a uniform to school and perhaps that made me want to look completely different out of uniform.   When I was in my 20s I loved the 1950s and dressed in hugely full-skirted prom dresses whenever possible.   I went to my first auction in 1988 and took to buying odds and sods like a duck to water. To be honest there’s nothing I dislike about this business. Finding great items means it’s like Christmas everyday.”

Tips for finding quality vintage

Now, there are obviously two ways you could put together a costume: sew it or buy it. The latter is where the importance of the vintage clothing and accessories market comes in. If you’ve ever tried to go shopping for a vintage piece (and I frequently have, because older clothes are of a much higher quality for the same price than today’s “fast fashion”), you’ll know that one of the most frustrating things about it is the fact that you can’t quite get to know enough about the product (what fabric is it made of? How do I wash it? How do I care for it and repair it, if necessary?) Dinnick, ever the professional vintage shop owner, comes to our rescue here: she says it’s best to, first of all, “look at how the item is made. How does the item do up (is it [put together with] hooks and eyes, snaps, or zippers, and if so are they metal or plastic?)” This can help you date the item, since, for example, “in the year 1935 the words zip and zipper were not yet in general use.”

Also ask: “where does the item do up (upper back, side, full back, cuffs)? Would it take you and your mother and younger sister working together to get into the world’s most beautiful dress?” Probably not worth it. Finally, “you’ll need to hold the piece that you’re thinking of purchasing up to the light to see if it has any pin holes or moth damage.   Check the closures for rust [and] check the seams to see if the thread is still holding or starting to go. Also, the best vintage resource I’ve found is the Vintage Fashion Guild site. It’s a fabulous reference for all things vintage.” Kavanagh agrees that evaluating vintage pieces is difficult, but has an insider tip: “I would refer you to Ian Drummond of the Ian Drummond Collection. He rents to film, TV, and theatre, but also has items for sale. He is one of the top people in Toronto for vintage [items].”

For the craftier crowd

But if you’re feeling extra crafty, you could, of course, start from scratch instead of buying vintage. The only sewing I’ve ever done is a couple of holes in socks here and there, but I did recently buy my first-ever sewing machine in the hopes that I might one day be able to make simple pieces from high-quality fabrics in designs and styles that are not necessarily the ones being sold in most stores. If you’re like me, then here’s everything you need to know, courtesy of Kavanagh, to fulfill your sewing aspirations: “I buy most of my costume-related [sewing] supplies at Wotever. It caters specifically to costume departments. It has everything (whatever we might need) for working in wardrobe including Jiffy Steamers, Rowenta irons, sleeve boards, etc. If they don’t have something, they will usually track it down and get it for you. Best service ever;  love Wotever.” But Kavanagh admits to a simple secret, too: “I often get craft supplies at dollar stores out of sheer convenience.”

There you have it, folks; some excellent tips on how to build your own movie wardrobe direct from the pros.

This month Toronto Film Scene is unzipping the mystery surrounding  Fashion in Film. Who are the people behind the clothing choices, where  in Toronto do they shop and what are some examples of great costuming? We’ll also check in with CAFTCAD,  revisit  the relationship between Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock and look at films that have inspired fashion trends.

About The Author

Jovana is a critic, cultural worker, and student of media aesthetics. Her writing has appeared in Afterimage, C Magazine, and the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, among other publications. In addition to cinema, her interests include cheese, wine, etymology, tennis, celebrity gossip, and the politics of representation.

2 Comments

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