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Thomas Drayton was Queen Street’s King of Vintage Clothing

Skill and talent built a successful clothing business. Personality and passion won hearts.

Skill & talent built a successful clothing business. Personality & passion won hearts.

NameThomas Leon DraytonBirthSeptember 23, 1943DeathOctober 24, 2007BirthplaceAlexandria, Virginia, USAEthnic OriginsAfrican AmericanOccupationsEntrepreneur, Poet/WriterShare

Fact checked by Charmaine Gooden

Social media comments
This was one of my favourite places in Toronto. Loved all of my moments spent wandering through : learning and listening to the wisdom of Mr.Drayton, Elizabeth and his son who was often a fixture there. Mr. Drayton once gifted me a book of his poetry and it was the last time that I spoke with him. A wonderful man. His son was the most beautiful person, too. I miss that place. I still have little trinkets and things from their shop. Thank you for sharing this today. —clotheslinesvintageshop

Cabaret Vintage was “a high fashion vintage clothing store and vintage-inspired bridal boutique“. owned by Thomas Drayton, whose warm and welcoming personality drew people from everywhere to his shop, where they knew they could always find the best vintage pieces.

Drayton’s children, daughter J’bai Deschamps and son Tao Drayton, proudly describe how Cabaret Vintage, owned by their father, was known for its incredible selection and carefully-chosen vintage pieces from the ’20s through the ’70s. There were dazzling beaded ‘20s flapper reproductions, stunning long evening gowns and their own ‘Cabaret Collection,’ a distinctive dress collection focused on the quality, uniqueness and detail inherent in the fashion of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

He was passionate about vintage clothing and spent hours scouring stores looking for one-of-a-kind pieces to add to his collection. Deschamps remembers driving, with her mother and father, to small towns and places with Woolworths and independent businesses that kept inventory in their forgotten and mothballed back room. “Mom and dad would buy 5,000 pairs of shoes from 1950,” she remembers. “Dad’s eye for style was unparalleled. He had a knack for finding hidden gems others might have overlooked,” says Deschamps.

Thomas Drayton & Dita Von Teese (Photo courtesy of Tao Drayton and J’bai Deschamps)
Thomas Drayton & Andre 3000 (Photo courtesy of Tao Drayton and J’bai Deschamps)

Early Life and Career

Drayton, the youngest of four children, was born Sept. 23,1943 and raised by a single mother who, Deschamps says, “had an eye for vintage.”  She explains that Drayton wore an eyepatch and had difficulty reading, which affected his ability to attend high school and university.

A Black American, Drayton was born in Alexandria, Virginia, but moved to California at a young age. “My mother was his second wife, and they divorced in 1992,” explains Deschamps. “They initially met in Europe, lived briefly in the United States and then settled near Toronto to raise a family,” says Deschamps. “Drayton wore several hats during his lifetime including  sculptor, poetry for children, business owner and police K-9 trainer,” she recalls.

Tao Drayton, Drayton’s son and former Cabaret Vintage Manager, reveals the store was like a stage for his father.  In fact ‘Life is a Cabaret’ is what inspired the name ‘Cabaret.’ “My dad was the master of ceremonies, making everyone laugh,” Tao recalls. Rhonda Riche, the Toronto-based writer, client, neighbour and friend of Thomas Drayton’s tells us, “he’d always stop to chat and compliment me on my outfit.”

Sadly, Drayton passed away on October 24, 2007, after a brief battle with cancer.

Dad’s eye for style was unparalleled. He had a knack for finding hidden gems others might have overlooked.

Thomas Drayton & Annabella Sciorra (Photo courtesy of Tao Drayton and J’bai Deschamps)

Breaking Barriers

Drayton opened his first store, From Here to Eternity, in The Beaches on Queen Street after his sister, Leona Drayton, opened the first vintage store on Queen Street in the late 1970s. “My aunt had Mood Indigo, the first vintage clothing store on Queen Street, and then my Dad  opened his first store further east in The Beaches on Queen Street,” says Tao.

After opening, selling and closing several other stores, including branches in Collingwood and Barrie, Drayton left the fashion business for some years. He returned to open Cabaret Vintage on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto on February 11, 1996.

Drayton’s establishment was a hot spot for people who wanted to buy high-quality vintage clothing and those who just wanted to be there. “When André 3000 came in for an interview, he wanted to stay there the whole day, and there were so many different situations like that,” recalls Tao. Other famous people stopped by Cabaret Vintage, including Brooke Shields, Dita Von Teese and Annabella Sciorra. 

“When the store opened on Queen West in 1996, the community was accepting of the Black and multiracial communities,” says Tao. “For one thing, my dad had so much experience with racism, he moved from the U.S. to Canada because it was a better environment for a Black man,”  he adds. “I would say Toronto and Queen Street were beautiful and wonderfully receptive to the store.”

Deschamps thinks her father “connected with American tourists who came to the shop and recognized him as a kindred spirit, different than Caribbean Black culture which was more predominant in Toronto then,” she explains.

Cabaret Vintage eventually closed its doors on January 31, 2016 after 20 years on Queen Street West and nearly a decade after Drayton’s passing. The store’s Facebook page announced in a post at the end of 2015 that it would be closing its doors to the general public. 

“It was great to be a part of it all,” Tao reminisces, “but our lease ran out and it was getting much more expensive to be on Queen Street, so it was just the right time to close,” he concludes.

For one thing, my dad had so much experience with racism, he moved from the U.S. to Canada because it was a better environment for a Black man.

I would say Toronto and Queen Street were beautiful and wonderfully receptive to the store.

Thomas Drayton with Brooke Shields (Photo courtesy of Tao Drayton and J’bai Deschamps)

Influence and Legacy

Drayton always had a smile and was loved by those who knew him. He took the time to help his customers find what they were looking for and he was admired for his knowledge of vintage pieces. 

Even outside of his store, Drayton was loved by his community. His children say he was known for his friendliness and selflessness. He was a fixture in the neighbourhood and was always willing to lend a helping hand. His funeral was a testament to his impact on those around him as over 400 people gathered to pay their respects and celebrate his life.

“Four hundred people came to my dad’s memorial,” Tao remembers, “from the area, from knowing him for so many years and because of the big impact he made.” In fact the memorial was held on Queen Street West at The Great Hall, because Drayton was so well known in that area.

Drayton’s influence and legacy lived on through Cabaret Vintage, which continued to be a popular destination for those seeking unique and stylish clothing until its closing. He will always be remembered as a kind and generous man who touched the lives of everyone he met.

About the authors:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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About the author:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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