Canada’s most vibrant city is also its top shopping destination, with an inspiring mix of edgy fashion boutiques, world-class design stores, and perfectly droll souvenir shops.
Downtown Toronto is rich in street-wear boutiques, but with so many, how do you pick the best ones?
In my small school, located miles away from the city, people dressed the exact same way. My fellow schoolmates would buy clothes for the same brand names, expecting themselves to be unique even though everyone else had the same clothes on. Hollister, Aeropostale, Abercombie, and H&M.
The four apocalyptic disasters that were sent down to this earth to prevent people from having a unique and personal style. I always thought the people with the most up-to-date styles and the newest clothes were always the coolest people.
I wanted to be a part of that group, one of the cool kids who were known for their sense of style and trendsetting abilities. The one trip to downtown Toronto’s fashion district changed my life. Every store there was so unique, so fresh, and so hip. If I could name all of the stores, I would, but out of all of them, five stores stick out:
Over The Rainbow
Opened in 1975 as a premium denim retailer, Over the Rainbow sold jeans and apparel from many different countries. As time passed, Over The Rainbow increased its reputation, and by 2007, the store was known as one of the go-to denim stores of the Country.
Over The Rainbow now sells over 250 styles of denim (largest selection in Canada) and carries over 100 different brands like 1921 and PRPS.
Roughed up and edgy are the thoughts that come to my mind when I think of the ambiance of the store. Established in 1973, Due West is a mid-end retailer that has a very relaxed and chilled-out vibe. When I first entered this store, I saw brands like Dom Rebel and G-Star (which I personally don’t wear) and a lot of more street-ish and more urban styles of clothing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is into the more graphic aspect of design.
Next Door is probably my favorite store out of the five. Located right beside Due West, Next Door sells higher-end brands such as D&G, McQ by Alexander McQueen, DSquared, and J.Lindeberg. You definitely get a more up-scale feel when entering this retail store, along with the simple and straightforward design of the interior. There is also a great contrast between the exposed plywood walls and the simple yet noticeable clothing showcase.
The first time I went into Show Room was during the 2009 boxing day sale. At first, I thought it was going to be impossible to find something that I would actually like, but I was surprised to see such a wide variety of clothes to choose from. After 20 minutes in the store, I had over $350 worth of clothes in my arms, and I was walking towards the cash register. This two-floor store is filled with higher-priced garments on the second floor and plenty of hips and up-and-coming brands on the first floor. From brands and labels that would get anyone spending every penny, they have, including: Diesel, Cheap Monday, Miss Sixty, Naked and Famous, Levis, True Religion, and Lucky 7.
Got Style Menswear
Voted as the top menswear store by in Toronto by Now Magazine, Got Style is the leading menswear store when it comes to casual or business attire. The aesthetics of the store are what every man would want to see while shopping; flat-screen TVs, comfortable furnishings, and a sleek interior. Got Style also has its very own male-only spa, which provides haircuts and hot-towel shaves.
This is the original, inspiring location of what has become a vintage chainlet offering a deep selection of Toronto necessities (wool cardigans, boots), along with plenty of femme finds (’60s slips, Bakelite bangles). We even found our favorite fur-trimmed coat on the racks at 69. The massive Bloor Street West shop—which shares a building with four smaller boutiques—sells clothes by the pound. A brand-new store, V by 69 Vintage, provides the most impressive picks, with a fun monthly theme.
1100 Queen St. W., 416-516-0669
Worth the detour on an otherwise missable stretch of Dundas Street West, this cute spot offers graphic-print tote bags, pillows, and tea towels—as well as custom-designed furniture—by husband-and-wife design team John Booth and Arounna Khounnoraj.
798 Dundas St. W., 416-203-2549, bookhou.com
The Cat’s Meow
This store’s window displays are perennial showstoppers. And the inside of Louise Cooper’s salon is even more thrilling, with high-end vintages like Chanel jackets and Louis Vuitton bags, plus a sale rack stuffed with Pucci dresses.
180 Avenue Rd., 647-435-5875, thecatsmeowcouture.com
Drake General Store
They may not bear any relation to a certain Toronto-born rapper, but these three satellite boutiques are more than mere hotel gift shops; they’re a repository of wittily self-aware Canadiana souvenirs, like Erica Weiner’s maple-leaf earrings, Gibbons Farm maple syrup, and drinking cups that stack into a mini totem pole.
1144 Queen St. West, plus other locations, 416-531-5042, drakegeneralstore.ca
Jonathan + Olivia
This sleek-and-chic refuge on vintage-heavy Ossington Avenue is the city’s best resource for international all-stars like Band of Outsiders, Alexander Wang, Pamela Love, Surface to Air, and Fjallraven. Canada’s only Topshop concession takes up about a fifth of the store.
49 Ossington Ave., 416-849-5956, jonathanandolivia.com
Kate Eisen’s tightly edited boutique has pristine furniture (like Norwegian armchairs from the 60s) and unbelievable accessories (like Canada’s biggest stockpile of Freitag bags), along with a huge cache of coveted Lotte table lamps.
1160 Queen St. W., 416-533-6362, inabstracto.com
Founder Lauren Baker has been on a roll since she started LAB as a pop-up in 2009. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a blue-chip label that hasn’t made it onto the racks at one point or another. Believe us when we say it’s worth the schlep uptown.
1956 Avenue Rd., 647-345-4020
Peru native Cynthia Villegas travels home several times a year to seek out innovative textile artists and crafters. The best pieces—including felt necklaces and brooches—are so striking and graphic, they could double as wall art.
1022 Queen St. W., 647-344-3266
Lavish & Squalor
The hottest clothing shop in downtown Toronto boasts a spacious second floor complete with a fully-stocked espresso bar. Head here when you need stylish outfit options for a last-minute date — especially on Saturday evenings when cocktails are served.
253 Queen St. W., 416-599-4779
This impeccably-edited boutique showcases New York cool kid labels like Helmut Lang, 10 Crosby Derek Lam, and Rag & Bone, plus homegrown talent like Ela handbags.
8 Price St., 647-351-5011, narwhalboutique.com
The Public Butter
Don’t be overwhelmed by the mind-blowing amount of stuff—apparel, furniture, bric-a-brac—at this Parkdale shop. You’ll find more than enough treasure to justify sifting through it. We scored a pair of perfect red pumps for an equally mind-blowing $20.
1290 Queen St. W., 416-535-4343
While the local fashion community often reflexively reaches for gray and black, RAC refreshingly veers in the opposite direction, with colorful garb: Look for cheerful printed dresses from Mara Hoffman, hot pink tunics from Ashley Rowe, and sweater dresses from Rodebjer.
124 Cumberland St., 647-352-4433
If we had to outfit ourselves for the summer at one store, it would be Robber—all our favorites are here, including graphic-print Mociun swimsuits, eco-friendly Bodkin tunics, and breezy sundresses from Built by Wendy.
863 Queen St. W., 647-351-0724
This Mirvish Village shop mixes vintage clothing (Pucci hot pants and slipdresses from the’ 20s) with unusual decor items, like a French-language school map of the Middle East—all at terrific prices. Upstairs is Vintage Bride, a sister store dedicated to wedding gowns from the ’30s to ’70s.
588 Markham St., 416-818-1104
Michelle Germain showcases top talent in this all-Canadian boutique. Among our favorites are Ashen Drift’s braided necklaces, Freshly Printed’s silk-screened linens, and Charlotte Hosten’s rosette-style silk brooches. We picked up a pair of ultra-comfortable pants from local brand Yoga Jeans by Second Denim—better than leggings for the plane home.
1342 Queen St. W., 416-534-7467
Karyn Valino’s Workroom is a must-see for visiting crafters. The airy atelier in Parkdale Village offers a full roster of one-day classes (on ombré dyeing, simple alterations, and making champion ribbons, among others) and an astonishing selection of Japanese pattern books, sewing magazines, and indigo-printed fabrics.
1340 Queen St. W., 416-534-5305, theworkroom.ca