Deep in the maze of vintage clothes

Two years before launching an online newsletter about obscure vintage clothing — and a decade before publishing a book collecting 100 editions of that newsletter — I went to the first or second iteration of the Inspiration vintage fair in New York. A sort of Comic Con for old clothes, the event was held in a small rented event space on 18th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue. This would have been around 2012, when buying and collecting vintage, as a hobby, was still mainly practiced by artists, indigents and fashion workers. This was done carefully, either on eBay or in person at stockpile sales and flea markets. A few years before online commerce and elected officials made vintage purchasing more fluid, the show was preparing to become the meeting place for fashion designers and sourcers supplying their archives (or those of their employers). Professional shoppers mingled with hoarders, who all mingled with the handful of people, like me, spending their own money. Most of what was on display at the time was as historic and stuffy as possible: the older and more formal the menswear, the better. Outfitted in Vietnamese-era military pants, Nike franchises from 1979, and a t-shirt with a skull or swoosh on it, I flipped through duck canvas shelves, from shelves of boots to curled toes and I even found a few Brown’s The Beaches, the dusty ’30s woolen button-up vests that were the holy grail of that era. Flipping through the merchandising, I wondered why pre-war formal items were easier to find than the nondescript, quality American vintage I had that day, and which few people at that show seemed to take. seriously. A few small stalls were selling what I was wearing, but the main draw was a guy from Denver selling jeans he had literally mined. I wondered: Where were all the ordinary clothes?

What I wanted from vintage at the time was a way to dress with purpose and be invisible at the same time – to catch up, in a way that felt enduring, to New Yorkers effortlessly than I saw when I moved here. My vintage taste developed early, nurtured over a lifetime of music: mostly old, indie American hardcore, filtered through eBay. My friends were bidding on the old hardcore shirts listed there – for astronomical sums like $100 – so I kicked around trying to reassemble the outfits the musicians wore themselves.

Those simple, athletic, and seemingly mundane clothes made around my birth – jeans, sweatshirts, sneakers, etc. – were less costumed than those at the fair, but just as loud if you kept your ears to the ground. . It was all in the details – double stitching, longer-than-usual sweatshirt cuffs, puffy prints – that were only obvious when viewed up close. It was jock wear, but not really. Eventually, finding specific pieces became an obsession. This fix manifested itself, a few years after Inspiration, in a bi-weekly vintage clothing newsletter; Eventually, this newsletter ended up on this website. I discovered and wrote about curious auctions, reproductions of naval blankets, talked to sellers, explained how to date jeans, stuff like that.

The clothes I was looking for at the fair and writing about weren’t exactly good for the office. They were more ideals of what you wear while running errands. But, with the properly trained eye, they stood out as both different and important. These clothes—Nike Dynastys and Mac Attacks disappeared from production; worn high-waisted, carrot-shaped Levi’s 505s, cuts different from those at the mall; the Gucci tennis classics that Jay-Z was in love with – evoked, with some context, a subtle, unseen power. It was what designers like Alexander McQueen or Marc Jacobs wore when they appeared on their catwalks after their shows in the 90s. These invisible garments, chosen by the creative minds at the top of the clothing food chain, had a certain depth . And because the vintage market was siled, those things went unnoticed: eBay auctions would go unnoticed, and the find — one embedded in a popular seller’s Instagram or Depop account — wasn’t there yet. The differences between the ratty old clothes and the cannon would go unnoticed. The same Morbid Angel shirt or the same Patagonia fleece that sold for $2 on eBay would sometimes sell for a few hundred times a month later, for no reason other than the weather.