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Two years before I started an online newsletter about obscure vintage clothing—and a decade before I published 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 events space on 18th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. This would have been around 2012, when vintage buying and collecting, as a hobby, was still mostly practiced by artists, the indigent, and fashion workers. It was done cagily, either on eBay or in person at storage sales and at flea markets. A few years before online commerce and elected officials made vintage buying more frictionless, the fair was angling to become the meeting place for designers and fashion sourcers filling their archives (or those of their employers). Professional buyers blended in with the hoarders, all of whom mingled with the handful of people, like me, spending their own money. Most of what displayed then was as historical and stuffy as possible: The older and more formal the men’s clothes, the better. Kitted out in Vietnam-era army pants, Nike Franchises from 1979, and a T-shirt with a skull or a swoosh on it, I leafed through racks of duck canvas, shelves of boots with curled up toes, and even found a few Brown’s Beaches, the dusty wool button-up vests from the ‘30s that were the grail of this era. Thumbing the merch, I wondered why pre-war, formal items were easier to find than the nondescript, quality American vintage I had on that day, and which few people at this trade show seemed to take seriously. A couple small booths sold what I was wearing, but the main draw was a guy out of Denver who sold jeans he literally dug out of mines. I wondered: Where were all the regular clothes?

What I wanted from vintage back then was a way to dress with some purpose and be invisible at the same time—to catch up, in a way that felt sustainable, to the effortless New Yorkers I saw when I moved here. My vintage taste developed early, nurtured over a lifetime spent around music: mostly old, independent American hardcore, and filtered through eBay. My friends would bid up the old hardcore shirts listed there—for astronomical sums like $100—and so I veered towards trying to reassemble the outfits the musicians wore themselves.

This simple, athletic-adjacent, seemingly unremarkable clothing made around when I was born—jeans, sweatshirts, sneakers, the like—was less costume-y than the stuff at the fair, but just as loud if you kept your ear to the ground. It was all in the details—double stitching, longer-than-usual sweatshirt cuffs, puffy prints—which were evident only when seen up close. It was jock wear, but not really. Eventually, tracking down accurate pieces became an obsession. That fix manifested, a couple years after Inspiration, in a twice-a-week newsletter about vintage clothes; eventually, that newsletter wound up on this website. In it, I discovered and wrote about curious auctions, naval blanket reproductions, talked to sellers, explained how to date jeans—stuff like that.

The clothes that I was looking for at the fair and was writing about weren’t good for the office, exactly. They were more ideals of what you wore out running errands. But, with the eye properly trained, they stood out as both different and important. These pieces of clothing—Nike Dynastys and Mac Attacks gone from production; worn Levi’s 505s with the high rise and carrot shape, cut different from those at the mall; the Gucci tennis classics that Jay-Z was in love with—evoked, with some context, a subtle, invisible power. They were what designers like Alexander McQueen or Marc Jacobs would wear when they appeared on their runways after their shows in the ‘90s. These invisible clothes, picked by the creative minds at the top of the clothing food chain, had some depth. And because the vintage market was siloed, these things stayed ignored: eBay auctions would go unremarked upon, and discovery—the kind built into a popular seller’s Instagram or Depop account—was not yet around. The differences between old ratty clothing and canon would go unremarked upon. The same Morbid Angel shirt or Patagonia fleece that sold for $2 on eBay would sometimes fetch a couple hundred times that a month later, for no reason besides the weather.