It's "in" for both men and women to collect and wear old clothes and accessories that date from the turn of the century to the '60s. This "out-of-sync" fashion idea has been around since 1968, when the flower children dressed up in Salvation Army hand-me- downs. The difference is that the new interest is coming all the way from the present teenagers to those who were born during the Roaring Twenties.
New York, Chicago, and some overseas cities, too, have caught the trend. In Los Angeles, the demand is being amply supplied by a specialized group of shops, mostly found along Melrose Avenue, and run from a cut above the charity thrift shop to the "high end," the Garment District's work for top quality.
Most of the clothes, incongruous with today's fashion, are sold in stores with equally incongruous names, such as Aaardvarks's, Flip, Paleeze, and Cowboys and Poodles.
Cowboys and Poodles is unique in that it offers only new merchandise from old stock sold in the '50s and '60s, such as women's capri pants, pedal pushers, miniskirts of plastic or fake fur, and men's pork pie hats, clam diggers, wraparound sunglasses, and brightly flowered surf jams. All of them delight young people who hadn't been born when these items were first manufactured.
The shop also carries brand new watches, wallets, and all of the shoes popular in that era, including men's blue suedes, bucks, and pointed toes, along with women's pastel-colored flats, low vamp baby dolls, patent loafers, and spike heels.
"Fashion makes a circle," says Phillip Heath, a partner in the shop. "These clothes blend with the current trend. They are high quality and better in the original. And they are still new."
All of the other stores must fumigate every piece of clothing before it can be offered for sale.
Some like Aaardvark's admit to only sterilizing the garments and offering them, unpressed and unrepaired, at bargain prices to their customers.
Owner Joe Stromei has opened six Aaardvark's in eight years and plans a seventh store soon. Their used clothing dates from the '30s forward, but none is older. Their customers are, from the most part, 20 to 30 years old.
There are a lot of Hawaiian shirts available here. Some are 40 years old and sell for $50. May buyers are shop owners from the islands, who do extensive work on them before reselling them at a much higher price.
At one time the Matson steamship line gave away Hawaiian shirts, signed by the artists, to its island passengers. These sell elsewhere, now, in perfect condition, for $300 to $500.
Aaardvark's stores also carry old Western clothing and kimonos, as well as a good selection of other used clothing for men and women.
Stromei also manufactures new garments such as satin baseball jackets, jump suits, and Hawaiian shirts, which are all copies of the originals.
The Flip's manager, Roberta Haze, theorizes that the fashion begins with the kids. "Then," she says, "It is picked up by French ready-to-wear and later finds its way into the US department stores."
In business in England for two years, with three stores there, the first Flip's shop in America recently opened on Melrose Avenue. The store carries clothes from the '30s and '40s and items ranging from punk zebra sweat shirts and New Wave clothes to beaded mohair sweaters and used leather jackets.
Tuxedos (from $10.99), US Army uniforms, trench coats, fatigue jackets, smoking jackets, and used cutoffs hang on the store's plain pipe racks. The most expensive item is a $120 flight suit.
Paleeze, named when an astonished patron previewing the array of '40s clothing exclaimed one of that era's expressions, caters to young people in their midteens to mid-20s. There are '20s and '30s clothes, but expect for a few 1952 poodle skirts, they feature only the '40s era of the zoot suits and early plastic colored jewelry.
The Crystal Palace presents a selection of gowns, lingerie, purses, hats, and costume jewelry dating from the early 1900s to the 1960s in a setting of gold and crystal. Creations by Chanel, Adrian, Norell, Gus Tassell, and the first couturier, Worth, are displayed in a mahogany armoire off the main room.
Owner Bob Becker says this and all of the other clothing are returned to like-new condition before they are ready to be sold, or they are simply discarded. He says that he loses 25 to 30 percent of the clothing he buys because many of the fabrics don't make it through his rigid cleaning and washing processes. He knows that if the article of clothing comes out in perfect shape, it is then worth restoring.
If necessary, a new lining is made, exactly duplicating the old one; expert repairs are done; and the garment is ready to serve a new owner for years to come.
All of these stores are shopped by famous people in the entertainment industry, many of whom have extensive collections for investment purposes. Foreign tourists find their way from the famous shopping areas, and Beverly Hills socialites wear these clothes regularly.
Why the return to yesterday?
One of the store managers suggests that this trend represents a new independence for the older crowd. A lot of people have decided not to "wear commercials" anymore for the name designers who brand their clothes. At any rate, the good old days are now!