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Colourful vintage clothing a hot commodity in Ottawa following a 'long, grey year'

Carol and Madison Kelly of Bellwethers Vintage say people are also looking for something nice to wear that costs less money.

While it is true that everyone wears clothes, only a few of us know how to dress.

I mean, you can find beige khakis anywhere, but where do you go when you want something chic and out of the ordinary?

Since 2017, young fashionistas have been turning to Bellwethers Vintage on Florence Ave., where Carol and Madison Kelly are reintroducing the glamour of the 1960s and '70s to the next generation of Ottawa's fashion-forward consumers.

The front door to Bellwethers is a gateway to the world 50 years ago, when psychedelic art, Peter Max, anti-war protests, rock and roll and outrageous clothes in day-glow colours were all the rage.

“The store is a cross between a clothing museum and an upscale boutique,” Carol explains. “There's a vibe here the stock has to fit. Fashion from the 1980s is trending now. There's a lot of eye candy. Everything here is special and super-fun.”

Bellwethers sells clothes designed and made between 1960-1990. Old. Perhaps aging is the better word, because these are not ordinary clothes. They're pieces of art that come with a history and a story. Some of them have a designer pedigree; Mary Quant, Laura Ashley, Missoni, Halton, Yves Saint Laurent. Some of them are curiosities. Many of them are handmade. Originals, made with love and imagination. Every item in the store is washed, pressed and ready to live again.

Mother and daughter find their stock online and at estate sales in places as close as Montreal and Toronto, and as faraway as New York and California. Occasionally, they'll find something at the local thrift shop.

The store's owners say it takes a professional with the experience, skill and taste to guide the customer through this maze of fashion's most creative era.

“We don't sell boring,” says Carol. “Here, the work is done for you. You don't have to root through any crap they way you have to at thrift stores. We go through tons of clothes looking for the diamond in the rough, for that designer dress or that Hardy Amies' original suit. Sometimes it's just a beautifully made piece I've never seen before. It's a slice of old glamour.”

The shop is the brainchild of Madison, who cut her teeth in vintage clothing while still an art student at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. Vintage fashion has been a big part of the Queen St. and Kensington Market scene there for 30 years. She opened Bellwethers with her mother Carol in 2017. They post news of their latest acquisitions, fashion shows and how-to's on their Facebook page.

In fashion, the maxim is 'everything old is new again.'

Vintage clothing is hot right now for a couple reasons, say the Kellys: After a long, grey year, consumers are looking for some colour, something out of the ordinary. The clothing is cheap, a fraction of its original price. Then, there's the moral argument for shopping vintage and buying recycled clothes. Every year, Canadians throw out 81 pounds of unloved clothing. In North America, it amounts to 221,000 tons going into the landfill annually.

As a result, vintage and "thrifting" are becoming, not just popular, but fashionable. Global sales for used clothing is projected to reach $64B by 2024. Local vintage suppliers Bellwethers, Darling Vintage and Ragtime in Centretown's fashion hub, are thriving.

“We came in at a time when vintage was becoming more popular and Ottawa needed more vintage,” Carol explains. “Ottawa's a good place for vintage clothing because it's a market still largely untapped. There's still a lot of great pieces in a lot of closets. I never know what I'll find next.”

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