Dressing well on a student budget can be a challenge, but it’s one that Donté Colley has risen to. The 20-year-old digital communications student at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto turns to thrift stores to find his signature pieces – cargo pants, 5XL tees and oversized blazers – and styles them in his own way. “I love the details on vintage items,” he says. For his part-time job as an inventory associate at Canadian women’s-wear retailer Aritzia, Colley’s work wardrobe is designed to be comfortable and professional, while still expressing his joie de vivre. “People often say my personality is pretty loud, especially by seeing the types of things that I wear, but it just feels genuine and authentic to me and who I am.” When he’s not on the job or studying, Colley channels his creativity into original digital content, like the choreographed videos he posts to his Instagram account, @donte.colley. He credits his high-school years at Wexford School for the Arts for allowing his personality to shine through his wardrobe. “It was probably the best place to be creative when letting your inner self out. I was just surrounded by positive and supportive energy, which really helped me to come into myself and figure out who I am as a person.”
Born in Monrovia, Liberia, Mirian Njoh moved to Toronto in 2009 and brought her sense of style with her. As a child, Njoh watched her mother and grandmother sew their own clothes, a skill she took up at 13. Most of her favourite pieces, like the shirt from Lagos she’s wearing here, were acquired on her travels, especially on trips to West Africa. “I’ve always loved DIY, one-of-a-kind fashion, so getting to pick my own Ankara fabric and going to the tailor to have them make me a dress for my mother’s birthday party or a ruffled jumpsuit to bring back to Toronto is really special for me and makes me feel more connected to my culture,” she says. In her mid-20s, Njoh considers herself a fashion multihyphenate, juggling work as a junior booker at an artist agency, freelance stylist, blogger, professional model and the founder of online fashion retailer Sororum, which sells ethical fashion from Morocco and Liberia. Fashion is a field that allows her to playfully inject her love of music into her look, whether she’s running to castings, styling a shoot or crafting a digital editorial story for her blog. “Right now I’m really into the nineties and aughties revival and street-culture styles,” she says. “I take all my influences, past and present, and what culminates is my style.”
A fixture in the Toronto publishing scene, Evan Munday is instantly recognized for his colourful take on suiting. As the publicity manager for children’s books at Penguin Random House Canada, the 37-year-old has made his mark through print mixing-and-matching, like the wool pants, patterned shirt and blazer seen here, and his prolific necktie collection. “I own 54 neckties and a few bowties, and it’s hard for me to play favourites with them,” he says. “I wear one about 360 days a year.” Munday may have been born on Long Island, but he wears his Canadian literary pride on his sleeve – or slacks. He once commissioned a pair of custom leggings by Toronto fashion label Nuvango made with a pattern featuring the nominees of the Giller Prize, a one-of-a-kind item he later gave to the mother of 2015 prize-winner André Alexis. “I like to think she wears them while doing aerobics,” he says. Munday credits his teenaged discoveries of ska music and Value Village as the catalyst for his sense of style, something he describes as power clashing in a stylish profession. “There are at least two dozen people better-dressed than me at my work, but maybe not more garishly dressed.”
As the owner of pop-up and online shop Phoenix Vintage, Madge Colleran channels her love of history’s most outspoken styles into her work. “I want to find remarkable things for people. I look for exceptional cut, colour, pattern, texture, and I would never put someone in something blah,” she says. Born in London, Ont., the 27-year-old has accumulated a museum-worthy wardrobe over the years, including an original 1968 Yves Saint Laurent safari jacket and a pair of purple silk bellbottoms by Balmain. “The bells are so generous with the draped fabric, they pool onto the ground,” she says. “They’re identical to a pair Stevie Nicks was shot in.” Being an entrepreneur gives Colleran the freedom to dress how she pleases, and she chooses more swishy looks in the evenings when she spins glam rock as DJ Madgic or performs with her band, Cherry Hooker. Expressing herself through fashion is a passion that Colleran found when she was bullied as a child. “My retaliation was adorning avant-garde street fashion,” she says. “When you can dress up and present yourself as a spectacular human being, it becomes a shield against whatever is trying to bring you down.”
When your career is steeped in creativity, like that of multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya, it’s impossible for that energy not to spread to your wardrobe. “There is definitely a direct link between my career as an artist and my style, especially when I perform, because it’s often only when I am on stage that I can present as feminine as I want to,” she says. Born in Edmonton, the 37-year-old recently joined the University of Calgary as an assistant professor of creative writing. With favourite labels that include Toronto’s L’Uomo Strano and Vancouver’s Okakie, Shraya crafts a specific uniform for each project she’s working on, like the album Part-Time Woman that she recorded with Queer Songbook Orchestra at Palace Sound studio, pictured here. “This helps with branding, but more importantly, it saves me the trouble of having to think of and pack different attire for different shows,” she says. In private, her look is considerably more casual. “At home, I’m a T-shirt-and-underwear kind of girl.” Dressing up is when Shraya really shines, wearing extra highlighter and piling on gold Indian accessories, a style she inherited from her mother. “I continue to discover how I have been unconsciously inspired by her, like how I always colour co-ordinate my bindi to the colour of my tops.”
Gallery owner Juno Youn is used to covering walls in beautiful pieces of art, and it’s a talent that he’s transferred to building his wardrobe. As the founder, director and publisher of Galerie Youn in Montreal, he turns to artistic fashion talents such as Dries Van Noten and Yohji Yamamoto along with labels such as Comme des Garçons and Gucci when dressing for work and leisure. “I prefer to create my own style and choose style over brands, and I try not to follow trends or fashion but wear what’s more ‘me,’” he explains, adding that he often shops at Montreal men’s-wear boutique Michel Brisson. The 38-year-old grew up in Seoul and says his parents and the demands of their professional lives set the tone for a life well-dressed. “My mom always was super conscious about what we should be wearing. She was a bit of a socialite and my dad was the CEO of an electronics company. I’ve seen their glorious outfits for events and my own sense of style just came along naturally years after.” Once an aesthete, always an aesthete.
In her career as a fashion editor, Lauren Chan leads by example. Born in Hamilton and based in Brooklyn, N.Y., the 27-year-old editor at Glamour is an advocate for bringing stylish clothing for all shapes and sizes into the mainstream, a mission that’s had an impact on her own career. “Figuring out my personal style has helped me feel more confident and capable at work,” she says. Getting dressed for work involves checking in with how she’s feeling that morning. “I usually pick one piece that I know will fit me well depending on what my body has decided to behave like that day and go from there,” she says. When she’s not at the office, Chan spends time at the Wing, a women’s social club and co-working space. “Being surrounded by entrepreneurial women even for a short time gives me a level up in energy and inspiration.” Part of being a magazine editor involves attending dressy events after the workday is over, and Chan is quick to point out that plus-size options are still limited in the evening-wear category. It’s her stylist skills that perfect her outfits for each event. “If the piece is too fancy for an occasion, I throw on a blazer and some flat mules. If it’s not elevated enough, I add a metal clutch and heels.”
Owning a boutique in Winnipeg allows Alicja Dalecki to share her style with the Manitoban capital. The 37-year-old opened Boutique Anya in the Exchange District about 2 1/2 years ago, and says that her personal taste informs its selection of fashion, housewares and beauty. “The lines of clothing and jewellery I curate for the store are very much aligned to my sense of style,” she explains. “I might not wear every piece I carry but I appreciate every piece and see value in it, or I wouldn’t present it to my customers.” With favourite personal pieces that include her Acne riding boots, Saint Laurent peacoat and Oscar de la Renta tassel earrings, Dalecki says that developing her sense of style is an ongoing adventure, which means her closet and lifestyle aren’t always totally aligned. “There has been a lot of experimentation throughout the process, but I have come to a place where I am comfortable,” she says. “I’m looking forward to aging and being able to push the boundaries even further.”
With a past life as a graphic designer, Jackie Kai Ellis weaves her sense of style into everything she does. “Style is just a part of the beauty I see and express, every single day,” she says. “I don’t know another way to be.” The founder of Beaucoup Bakery in Vancouver and the food-focused The Paris Tours (when not travelling, she splits her time between the two cities), Kai Ellis documents her worldly observations through travel and lifestyle writing; her first book, The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery and Paris, was published this month. Born in Squamish, B.C., the 39-year-old’s personal and professional lives are so intertwined that she dresses for each function, something she says excuses her need for a big closet. “My days vary widely, from e-mails at home in sweats and knits, to evenings in cocktail dresses, to burger joints in jeans, to travel destinations requiring sundresses, hiking boots, stilettos and suits or Barbour coats in the countryside.” Kai Ellis considers her undergarments the critical foundation of her wardrobe, favouring lingerie by La Perla. “I’m a huge fan of feeling beautiful for myself, and feeling great in an outfit starts with the very first thing I put on,” she says. “It may be a cliché, but I think it’s true. Style is just self-love and acceptance expressed in the way you care for yourself, including the way you choose to clothe your beautiful body.”
Working as a stylist, it can be tempting to impose your personal aesthetic on professional work, but that’s not how Leila Bani rolls. “I like the challenge of taking a piece that I’m not a fan of and spinning it,” she says. “That being said, I try to be a part of the solution. Please do not come at me with Tory Burch flats.” Born and raised in downtown Vancouver, Bani says that the casual nature of the West Coast allows her to dress down when she’s running around for work, favouring grippy barre socks, pants with roomy pockets and anything that allows her to move freely. Not one to be afraid of taking fashion risks, Bani favours bold pieces by labels such as JW Anderson and Alexander McQueen, and admits she finds it easier to dress other people than herself. “It’s more difficult to be unbiased when dressing your own body. The seams I’ve split down the seat of my pants won’t lie,” she says. Bani thanks her mother, a former seamstress, for enabling her fashion hits and misses. “She’s the real MVP.”
How we did it
To compile this list, a group of Globe and Mail editors and contributors (Caitlin Agnew, Odessa Paloma Parker, Andrew Sardone and Maryam Siddiqi) reached out to their networks of wardrobe watchers, dug deep into their Instagram feeds and surveyed 2017’s honorees to create a roster of candidates from across the country. After narrowing the nominees down to 10, photographers in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and New York were commissioned to capture the subjects’ signature styles. Think we missed the mark and have a best-dressed suggestion of your own? Post a photo of your fashionable contender to Instagram and tag the picture @globestyle and #GlobeStyleBestDressed.
Writing by CAITLIN AGNEW; Compiled by CAITLIN AGNEW, ODESSA PALOMA PARKER, ANDREW SARDONE and MARYAM SIDDIQI; Photo Editing by RACHEL WINE; Art Direction by BENJAMIN MACDONALD; Digital Production by JEREMY AGIUS