Shipping to
United Kingdom

The Tribute

The Rise Of Thrift-Shop Style

Why designer menswear is now taking its cue from an eclectic mix of eras and movies

  • Gucci AW16. Photograph by

For any man who had lived through the 1980s and 1990s, there was a sense of déjà vu watching Gucci’s AW16 collection in January, designed by creative director Mr Alessandro Michele. The first look – an embroidered topcoat fabricated from what looks like a louche aristocrat’s old curtains – owed a stylistic debt to a cultural institution known as the thrift shop. As The New York Times’ Ms Vanessa Friedman described it: “Mr Michele [has] delved into an imaginary attic trunk full of vintage treasures, recombining the elements for the girls and boys of a haute flea market world.”

Mr Michele is not alone in tapping into the thrift-shop aesthetic. In his collections for Saint Laurent, Mr Hedi Slimane continues to design rock ’n’ roll looks – composed from mismatched, distressed and vintage-inspired pieces – that hark back to a time when Mr Jim Morrison still prowled the Venice boardwalk. And other designers are at it, too: this spring, Marc Jacobs showed 1950s-tinged silk bomber jackets worn with leopard-print shirts, while Ms Chitose Abe’s collection for Sacai was styled in the spirit of a jumble-sale rummage, with tartan shirts vying against Oriental leaf prints and kitsch retro logos. Several of the key trends – for example, souvenir jackets or bowling shirts – resulting from such shows are the sort of items that one used to find in charity shops. An accidentally prescient Macklemore and Mr Ryan Lewis described the aesthetic in their 2013 hit “Thrift Shop”: “I wear your granddad’s clothes. I look incredible. I’m in this big-ass coat from that thrift shop down the road.” Now, it seems, this is something of a sartorial mantra.

  • The Doors at Hard Rock Cafe, LA, 1969. Photograph by Mr Henry Diltz/Corbis

But as the thrift-shop look becomes a darling of style makers, the local thrifting spots are no longer happy hunting grounds for young men looking for ways to augment their wardrobes on the cheap. The sort of shops that helped define the looks of Mr Kurt Cobain in Seattle or Mr Marc Jacobs in New York are all but extinct. A lot of the action has migrated online to 1stdibs and eBay. There are fewer finds at the local Goodwill, and flea markets such as the Rose Bowl in LA get picked over by professionals, a case of design teams looking for inspiration and operators sourcing for high-end vintage boutiques. Which is odd because we are in a moment when the thrift shop is attaining somewhat mythic status, whether it is Three Rivers Press reissuing Cheap Chic, a 1970s guide to thrift shopping, or Mr Hiroki Nakamura of Visvim defining his aesthetic as creating “future vintage.”

  • Mr Jon Cryer as Phil “Duckie” Dale in Pretty In Pink, 1986. Photograph by Eyevine

One couldn’t blame a young style hound of today, having watched 1993’s True Romance on Netflix, for thinking that Mr Christian Slater’s character Clarence shopped on Rodeo Drive. Clarence wears Hawaiian shirts and sports a military jacket on his wedding day. What has been lost in the mists of time is that Clarence is a thrift-shop guy. For men of Generation X – whether they were punks or rude boys – this recycling was done with equal parts affection, irony and financial necessity. The thrift shop was often the only antidote to the high street. In the 1986 teen romance Pretty In Pink, Duckie (played by Mr Jon Cryer) is the guy we want Ms Molly Ringwald’s character to end up with, not the rich preppie played by Mr Andrew McCarthy. Duckie wears oversized tweed coats with military patches, Mr John Lennon sunglasses, bolo ties, hats, a midnight-blue tuxedo jacket and bowling shirts, and even lip-syncs Mr Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” to get his beloved’s attention.

  • Mr Kurt Cobain, New York, July 1993. Photograph by Mr Jesse Frohman

Nearly every man over the age of 30 has experienced a Clarence/Duckie moment. For me, it was attempting to crash a debutante party at New York’s Plaza Hotel wearing a red corduroy tuxedo with a grosgrain shawl collar. I had picked the coat up for $60 at Cheap Jack’s in the East Village. The man in livery guarding the door to the party was not impressed and turned me away, so I went to drown my sorrows alone at Trader Vic’s, the posh tiki bar in the hotel’s basement.

Military-surplus shops were important, too. Back before menswear brands started touting the washes on their jeans (and mothers still referred to denim as “dungaree slacks”), the best place to shop for workwear was a military-surplus store. Or if you lived in LA or Paris, there were amazing items to be found at the flea markets, the Rose Bowl and Clignancourt, respectively. That all began to change at the beginning of this decade.

  • Saint Laurent SS16. Photograph by Mr Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Mr Cameron Silver, who opened the LA resale boutique Decades in 1997, had a front-row seat on Melrose Avenue for the evolution of thrifting into the vintage business. Or, as he says, “When I opened Decades, the dominant look in fashion was very minimal – Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang – so vintage was really the only way to get some rococo into your wardrobe. In the beginning, we were this insider’s gem. People came to us as a kind of alternative influence.” Mr Silver feels there were a number of factors that led to the current Gucci and Saint Laurent looks.

Some of the first popularisers of vintage were female actresses who wanted to look glamorous on the red carpet. When Mr Silver first opened his shop, many of the major European brands did not have dedicated teams looking to gift celebrities clothes in exchange for exposure. Not every actress had a stylist, so buying a vintage Chanel gown became a way to stand out. The interest in old-school glamour started with womenswear and then spread to menswear. Mr Silver is succinct at illustrating the difference between Gucci’s current creative direction and that of its former designer, Mr Tom Ford. “Tom’s use of vintage was rich and jet set, playing with that 1970s sexiness; Alessandro’s is youth culture. Tom channelled Studio 54; Alessandro is channelling The Royal Tenenbaums.”

  • Ms Gwyneth Paltrow and Mr Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001. Photograph by Touchstone Pictures/The Kobal Collection

Regardless of the inspiration, this slouchy, sexy vintage thing is here to stay. By winter 2016, some of the most traditional brands will be offering looks that True Romance’s Clarence would recognise, such as oversized topcoats (Raf Simons) and pyjama bottoms with dinner jackets (Dolce & Gabbana). I like to think if I turned up at a black-tie party today in that red corduroy dinner jacket, I wouldn’t be shown the door but quickly ushered inside.

Get the look

  • Saint Laurent Leopard-Print Satin Harrington Jacket

  • TOM FORD Slim-Fit Striped Cotton and Cashmere-Blend Rollneck Sweater

  • Gucci Reversible Geranium-Print Silk-Twill Bomber Jacket

  • Saint Laurent Skinny-Fit 16cm Distressed Washed-Denim Jeans

  • Saint Laurent Appliquéd Distressed Denim Jacket

  • Valentino Camp-Collar Printed Cotton Shirt

  • Converse 1970s Chuck Taylor All Star Canvas High-Top Sneakers

  • Illesteva Porto Cervo Round-Frame Gold-Tone Sunglasses