California Dreaming: Exploring the LA Vintage Scene
On the second weekend of October, our Creative Retail & Wholesale Manager Max Sardi left the gloomy UK behind and headed out to sunny LA to discover some of the best vintage Americana clothing The Golden State has to offer. As an avid and highly regarded collector within the vintage world, Max took us along with him to the LA Vintage Rendezvous pop up event at Huntington Beach hosted by Vintage Production, and the legendary Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena to see what vintage treasures he could find.
'The Mamas & Papas wrote perhaps one of the most famous and recognisable song of the 60's, with their hit California Dreamin’ soon becoming the slogan of the era's counterculture. The song talks about a man taking a walk on a dull, bleak day and how he wishes to bask in the blue skies, sunny breeze and warm winter sunshine of the Californian coastline.
Since the early 1980's, the continued research for the best vintage clothing has always been associated with the West Coast. This might have something to do with the number of counter cultures that have exploded from the area over the decades – think surfing, skateboarding, rock music and Hollywood.
Every era had its own defiant style and clothing was a key feature for the generations that were pushing the boundaries of culture. The surfing community of the early 50’s brought huge influence to the Californian coast – WW2 GIs returning home from Japan were eager to find their freedom and regain happiness, and such they established their own style of clothing associated with laidback beachfront lifestyle. Many wore Levis and a classic white t-shirt as these basics were carried in the general stores of the era such as JC Penny. Influence also found its way over from Hawaii, with the silk fabric Hawaiian shirts soon being adopted by the Californian surfer community.
After the war ended in the mid 1940's, the now ex-marines returned home with a lot of surplus uniform that got issued to them during their service, and many started to shop at affordable Army & Navy stores where you could now buy mint condition deadstock surplus uniforms that were issued during the war.
Hollywood soon saw the need to invest in the by gone era from costume designers, as the ever-increasing demand for the upcoming film and book adaptations in motion picture saw the need for the perfect vintage wardrobe to be worn on set; from Marlon Brando in The Wild One, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, to Brad Pitt in Once Up A Time In Hollywood only to mention a few…!
Japanese stores started to import American made clothing in the 1970’s as the need to break free from normal society saw a boom in pop culture for the younger generations who idolised all things American, especially the lifestyle of the West Coast. Ametora is a great book by W. David Marx on How Japan Saved American Style for further reading about the unlikely style history between these two nations.
Over the years, the owners of the best curated vintage stores as well as collectors, buyers, fashion designers and stylists from all over the world have come together to share the same passion in history via vintage clothing events that are usually held once or twice a year (pre-Covid era).
Throughout the year, vintage dealers travel the length of the US in search of the best quality garments they can find in the most remote areas, whether that be in rag yards – where clothing are due to be recycled for scraps and turned into new fabrics and eventually new clothing –, to thrifts stores, local flea markets and garage sales up and down the country.
The best selection the dealers find will usually be kept for most of the year until one-day-only shows like Inspiration and La Vintage Rendezvous, that coincide with the Sunday legendary flea market Rose Bowl in Pasadena Los Angeles, making a bumper weekender for vintage lovers.
This year we went over to Los Angeles to start off the vintage weekend at one of the premium vintage retail stores of downtown, Raggedy Threads, celebrating 20 years of business in Little Tokyo district. We caught up with the owner Jamie Wong and shared beer and an Italian handmade pizza made by her husband Gianluca at the party, along with so many industry friends that we’ve not seen for the last three years during Covid travel restrictions.
Jamie started to sell vintage clothing in the late '90s at the Rose Bowl flea market twice a month on a Sunday all year around, all whilst working in a 9-5 corporate job. Her passion for vintage drew her to spend most of her free time and money hitting the thrift stores and rag houses, buying from others dealers and learning about the world of vintage clothing – from rare Levis denim to early 20th century workwear, Americana to WWII military uniforms. Jamie became a familiar face selling at the flea markets and she become well established amongst her repeat buyers, and so she decided to open her first retail vintage store in 2002 and the rest is literally 20 years of history in the making! Jamie expanded her vintage retail business to the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, NY in 2016 with the opening of a second Raggedy Thread store.
Up early with anticipation on the Saturday morning, we headed out for the Huntington Beach area to attend the much anticipated vintage show of the year. The show is held at Vintage Production showroom parking lot by the side of the building, where a closed off area was reserved for the selected vintage sellers booths. The show was free entry and anyone could attend, although you always need to be an early bird to catch the worm!
LA Vintage Rendezvous is a one day pop-up flea market event held at Bob Chat Vintage Production showroom with some of the best vintage clothing sellers from the US and overseas. They'll come together to share their best finds of the year, and many vintage enthusiasts and vintage buyers will line up well before the opening time of the show in the hope to be first in line to have the best pickings from their favourite selected seller. During the show there is alway a great buzz and anticipation for what you will see at the sellers booths, matching with the very high end price tags! Is not uncommon to see a very rare vintage denim work jacket from the 1920/30's era fetching up to $5000! Only a few weeks ago a pair of 1880 Levis denim jeans found in a mine sold at live auction for over $76,000!
Bob Chat, the owner of Vintage Production has been in the antique military & collectable clothing business for well over 30 years, building his reputation amongst collectors and dealers alike as one of the best in the business. When you first visit the jaw dropping showroom space (my usual reaction every time I visit!) nothing can't quite prepare you for you're about to see - the sheer scale and attention to detail can only be described as the place you've always wanted to visit but didn’t know existed... let alone shop! Where do you even start? Bob has worked over the years in collaboration with a number of Hollywood war period blockbuster movies to source and replicate the costumes used on set.
On the second Sunday of every month, the world's most famous outdoor vintage flea market takes place in Pasadena Valley, more commonly known as the Rose Bowl flea market.
The Rose Bowl antique market is one of the must do bucket list events when visiting LA: rain or shine, every second Sunday of the month over 2,500 sellers set up stalls of all kind of antiques, from vintage classic furniture, native arts and crafts to rare collectables, vintage and military clothing and jewellery. There really is something for everyone.
With over 20,000 buyers attending the market every month, vintage has become a big business. The Rose Bowl has been going since the early '70s and recently they celebrated the 50th anniversary.
For the die hard collectors in search of treasure, you will need to get up well before the sun is up and buy the “early bird” ticket with 5am entrance. Though it may be early, vintage sellers and Japanese buyers are already well into buy/sell mode in the dark for the best deals to be found, well before the general public will start to arrive around 9am. I still remember my first time at the Rose Bowl, I only managed to see half of it before the sun was too strong to walk around on a tarmacked car park – the temperature can reach well over 100F (37C)! That day I walked for about 10km and found some amazing vintage clothing!
After an exciting weekend seeing the best vintage in the country, no trip to LA would be complete without stopping at near by fast food chain for probably the most famous all American hamburger ever, IN-N-OUT Burger!