Tag Archives: vintage

A Moment with the New York Times

A Moment in Time, the NYT Lens Blog’s interactive compilation of photos from around the globe, all taken at the same time, is genius and beautiful. It’s touching, funny and revealing to see the different objects, people and, well, moments, that readers contributed. They vary widely. A camel rests in QatarA dad takes his new son to church in Texas. I absolutely love this shot of an Ecuadorian woman in arresting orange.

When I finally left behind a Moment in Time, I found my way to this little interactive feature in the Style section: photos of readers’ favorite vintage finds that accompanied Sarah Maslin Nir’s piece, “Prospecting in Manhattan’s Richest Vintage Veins.” (For my own take on the topic, see here.)

A Screenshot of the NY Times’ “Vintage Finds from Around the World”

It’s less grandiose than a Moment in Time, of course, but no less revealing to scroll through readers’ vintage favorites. I’d be smiling too, if I were wearing this striped dress in the sun. But I especially loved the shot below, with the little glimpse of what I imagine to be the photographer’s dresser, captured among her photographs.

A little moment all its own.


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Happy Easter from Closettour

This dress was originally purchased from Anthropologie in the year 2000, for the occasion of my sister’s college graduation, which is pictured below after a long night of celebration.

I’ve worn the wrap-dress (Anthropologie’s private label, made in the USA) every year since, layered with a semblance of slips, swimsuits and stockings take it from spring to summer and into fall.

Many of these moments (above) were immortalized by my friend and former neighbor Tom Slaughter, and today the dress is back, with an old Laura Ashley petticoat beneath and an American Apparel hoodie over the top–my easy ensemble for Easter brunch with long-lost pal Julie Roads. It’s all about resurrection.

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Is Old Fur the New Fur?

A few weeks ago, after I finished an interview with Jade Harwood, one of the lovely designers behind Wool and the Gang, she pulled on a blonde-colored lush fur coat. I told her I thought it was beautiful. She told me it was her mom’s, and that she didn’t even know what kind it was.

Image from Let’s Get Ripped and Go to the Aquarium (Doesn’t that sound fun?)

Then, last weekend, my friend Indrani wore a chocolate-colored “chinchilla” (she reckons it’s really rabbit) to a dinner party. The moment someone paid her a compliment, she said it was second-hand, from Sidney’s in Williamsburg, since displaced by an overpriced supermarket. It makes her feel gangsta. Come to think of it, Indrani usually listens to NPR, and that night she picked me up bumping Hot 97.

Puffy and Kate Moss photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue, 1999

There’s no getting around it. Wearing fur is fun. It makes us youngsters feel like we’re playing dress up–whether in our mom’s closets or Puffy’s. But it also makes us feel kind of guilty. Fur, after all, comes from animals. (My mom used to tell me her full-length beaver coat, which I named “Buster,” was made of roadkill, the implications of which I never fully understood.) It seems second-hand fur eases that sting.

Faran Krentcil of NYLON asked in the Huffington Post whether her hand-me-down black Mongolian lamb jacket was more ethical than her friend’s “vegan” fast-fashion. I would surmise that it is, and though I’ve seen neither, I’d be willing to bet money that Faran’s jacket is  much better looking, and a hell of a lot warmer.

Ethically, it’s the “it’s already dead,” justification, taken one step further, because the profits are removed from the brand that commissioned the slaughtering and skinning (sorry, it’s the truth) of the animal, so we’re not really supporting fur, per se, but rather…recycling! My mom has yet to send Buster my way, so for now I’m rocking this trend on my feet. I’m honestly not sure if the goats these came from were shorn or skinned, but I know these Lotto boots, which were my final purchase of the last decade at Amarcord in Williamsburg, are from the 1960s.

They are SO much warmer than Uggs, and less embarrassing to leave the house in. Okay, that second point may be debatable, but when it’s too snowy for sneakers, I wear these to the gym with leggings and a Patagonia top, and pretend I’m aprés ski, rather than midday yoga. Also, they’re a consistent hit with men of a certain age, and by a certain age, I mean toddlers. One such little fella was grinning at me on the subway the other day. When his dad asked him what he thought those shoes were made of, the boy gave me a little smile as he considered the question.

“Dinosaur,” he said.


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Update: Retail and Restoration

You may remember how disappointed I was last month when I came across this on a restorative walk through SoHo.


One of my favorite vintage haunts, Sweet Tater, had closed. I’ve since received emails from both of the Sweet Tater tots, Sarah and Christina, telling me where to find their wares. Sarah sells her vintage denim, shoes, and coats at Artists and Fleas every Saturday in Williamsburg, and Christina has opened a lovely shop, Portia & Manny, on Elizabeth Street in Nolita.
Portia & Manny, 198 Elizabeth Street
My sister, not usually one for vintage, picked up a pair of ’70s wide-leg jeans at Portia & Manny when she visited from Australia a few weeks ago. They’re made of nice sturdy denim, but are thin and loose enough to be comfortable for the summer Down Under. There she is in her front yard. 

I would be tempted to see if there’s a sister pair at Portia & Manny with my name on them, but the lovely thing about having a sister in the Southern Hemisphere is that we have our summer clothes on a time share. Maybe when Sara packs up the sundresses in May, maybe she’ll put those pretty pants in the box for me too. 


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Party Dresses

More than even the average occasion, weddings really beg the question of what to wear. They’re a special excuse to get dressed up, and see lots of people I rarely do, so I want to make it count! A few years ago–no, five years ago, my dear friend Mike asked me to be his last-minute date for a wedding in St. Louis–my hometown. I was visiting from California at the time, and didn’t have much with me. I wanted to go, but what to wear?

Mom? She descended the basement steps, dove into the archives, and emerged with this.

Remember Laura Ashley?

The British brand is not really what it used to be in the ’80s, which I imagine is when mom (pictured below) bought this.

She had kept it in beautiful condition, and it was the perfect fit for an August afternoon wedding, sipping Seabreezes at the St. Louis Country Club (seriously!) A good family friend, Mike had helped mom move years earlier, and probably carried the box that contained this dress–and many others, downstairs.

So it was nice that he appreciated it, and looked lovely himself in seersucker. But this weekend, he’ll likely be wearing a tux, as he will be the groom!

Tomorrow I’ll go from Vanity Fair, to an airplane, to the rehearsal dinner. (What to wear for that marathon? I haven’t the foggiest just yet.) But more importantly…what to wear to the wedding this Saturday?


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Retail and Restoration

I went to a class called Restorative Yoga tonight. It was sort of like institutionalized nap-time, except the teacher kept waking us up to change positions. It left me sort of restored, but not as much my walk across downtown on my way home–stopping in a few of my favorite spots that, incidentally, specialize in restoration.


My first stop was Amarcord, possibly my favorite place for vintage clothes in New York. Their original location in the East Village provided one of my all-time answers to my eternal question, of what to wear: this cream-colored cotton top–sort of tent-shaped, with fluttery sleeves and a crocheted neckline. That, is what to wear.


I have no idea how long this blouse was around before it belonged to me, but it’s been around the world on my back over the last five years.

sart.crochet with jess

2005 in the East Village, I think.

I can’t remember now how much I paid for it, but, if you calculate the cost by dividing how many times I’ve worn it, we’re talking fractions of a penny per wear. (I can’t remember who taught me this trick but I like it.) The same trick would apply to these boots, also from Amarcord, three winters ago.

Tonight I tried on a few beautiful things at Amarcord’s fancy Lafayette Street locale, but this suede butterscotch coat was the best-in-show. (My apologies for the blurriness, this was spontaneous photojournalism, via iphone.)


I deeply sighed when I pulled this off the rack. At yoga they say you’re supposed to let thoughts of the past leave your mind, but this brought back memories of a vintage belted chocolate suede coat with a fur collar and cuffs I bought in college. It came from one of the giant Ventura, California thrift stores, where prices rarely exceed $20. At the time it reminded me of Penny Lane from Almost Famous. I was going through a bit of groupie phase myself, which may explain some of the abuse that jacket endured. By the time I finally donated it, it was torn, burned (though it had a burn or two when I bought it), and shedding fur.


(Some people sit on stools reading magazines in the bookstore. I bond with clothing in dressing rooms.)

The one I tried tonight was made in Italy–like the vast majority of Amarcord’s inventory, and in mint condition. It also cost a solid ten times what its counterpart did at the Retarded Children’s Thrift Store in Ventura. (Yes, that’s really what it’s called.) So, I snapped this moment to remember it by, and went on my merry way. It fit perfectly, by the way. I walked away. Breathe deeply and let thoughts of the past leave your mind.

I headed east into Nolita and hung a left on Mulberry Street. I passed the Young Designers’ Market, which I sometimes enjoy, but this lovely November evening, I was in no mood for weaving between the tables in gymnasium lighting.

Instead, I continued on to Sweet Tater, a perfect little den of vintage high-waisted jeans, cognac colored platforms, and original creations, like this charcoal woolen smock-y number. If you saw me last winter, there’s about a 50% chance this is what I had on.


I was anticipating a window at Sweet Tater with hay-bales, pumpkins, and perfect plaid shirts, but from down the street it looked dark. Did they close at 7:00? And then, I saw this:


Their neighbor, walking out the door with a chihuahua, said they had been gone for six months (Was there something I could have done? One more smock?), but he thought perhaps they were opening another store. I’ll extend my antennae for that and visualize. Autumn at Sweet Tater was a beautiful thing, and I always liked how one of the owners put a belt around my waist when I tried on floppy tops. I’ll just have to keep re-soling and re-heeling my favorite boots, also from the magical shop, until they (fingers crossed) re-open.


By then it was nearing 8:00, and I ventured further east, toward the subway stop at Essex and Delancey, resigning myself to window shopping along the way, but then…


The girls at Daha, on Orchard Street, were still there, eating leftover Halloween candy in the window. I thought I was done trying things on, until I saw these bronze heels.


They may not look like much here, but believe me when I tell you I’ve been searching for them–things always turn up when you’re not looking. I have a wedding to go to in St. Louis in two weeks, and the dress I’ve been saving for it (for three years–more on that later) begs for shoes just this height and color. And, as the shopkeeper noted, they’ll be great with jeans for going out. (Presuming, of course, that I do go out, rather than spending my Saturday evenings cataloguing my closet, window-shopping, and writing, in which case my Converse, pictured in the background, will probably suffice.) I tried them on:


I like going out. Sold, for $60. Look what I found in the display case when I went to pay:


Totally incredible, and not my size. (Exhale.) Just think how great they would have looked with that butterscotch coat I left behind at Amarcord.


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The Sartorialist's Dilemma

In yesterday’s introduction, I mentioned Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that poses a simple question, one I spend a good deal of time, energy, and money in efforts to correctly answer: What should we have for dinner?

Here, I’m posing a dilemma even dearer to my heart (rather than my stomach), that also has a bit to do with value, as well as values.

What should I wear?

I spend even more time, energy, and money thinking about what to put on my body than I do thinking about what to put in my body. Both of these “dilemmas,” the omnivore’s and the sartorialist’s, are problems of privilege. It’s because we’re blessed with so many choices, and presumably, a little bit of time, energy, and money, that we can question these matters at all. Combine that with an affinity for fashion, and ever-increasing information, and you’ve got the makings for a great deal of debate.

What on earth am I going to wear?

Sometimes it’s a question of fit, others it’s a question of cost, sometimes it’s about instinct, history, or dare I say, love.

Here’s an idea…I’ll deconstruct what I’ve got on in that snapshot (taken last fall,not for the purpose of this exercise) to give an example.


Okay, the necklace was my mom’s. It’s a tiny butterfly on a gold chain that my dad gave her a long time ago, and is unquestionably my favorite accessory. An identical necklace would probably twinkle at me from a jewelry store’s display case, but what makes it irreplaceable is its sentimental value.


The white top came from a little vintage shop in Rio I wrote about for Nylon. You can read a few of the reasons that I loved their store in that little article, and they sort of apply to the top too: it took a little bit of looking to find it, it’s one-of-a-kind, and both delicate and durable. Although the straps are a little fragile, it has worn beautifully. The fabric is a woven cotton, kind of like a thin sheet, so it hasn’t gotten stretched out or pilled. I have no idea how old it is, but I do know that to buy something similar (handmade and well-designed) new, rather than vintage, would be very expensive, and without the joy of discovering a little gem in a special shop at the top of a hill.


The cardigan is a sample from Edun, the fashion company I went to work for in 2006. I have lots of stories to tell about that, but let’s stick to the sweater. It’s a sample, which is sort of like a rough draft for the fashion industry. It was made at a small factory in Lima, Peru, where the boss lady was a fantastic creative problem-solver, which is pretty important when you’re trying to make a quality product at a specific price. That particular style didn’t make it into the collection, which means the stores didn’t purchase enough to warrant manufacturing, so it was cancelled. At Edun we used to dream about a collection called cancelled to incorporate all the lovely styles that never made it to the market. In the meantime I have my own little collection of cancelled samples–some from various jobs in fashion, others from sample sales. I’ve since updated this one by switching the buttons from metal to old-fashioned black leather knots.


Topping it off is a wool hat I bought in a market in Arequipa, Peru–a souvenir from a visit to Edun’s yarn manufacturers in the Andes.

So…as you can see, everything has a story. And I’m only scratching the surface here. My hope is that I’m going to be able to use my closet as a case study, to begin asking, on various levels–whether economic or ethical, scientific or sartorial…what to wear?

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