You could argue that vintage clothing was overshopped and overdone a decade ago, that the well of thrift shops and garage sales is bone dry, and that vintage has moved on from broad availability of bygone quality and honest design to rap tees and 90s polo, et cetera (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But beyond the obvious collectors’ items like Levis Big E denim and artists’ Schott jackets are still literal tons of slept on vintage items waiting to be discovered in basements and garages and available at good value from vintage shops and eBay/Etsy. As longtime collector (seriously, check out his blog) and Post Overalls designer Takeshi Ohfuchi told me, “I personally like [vintage pieces] because they are different in quality, design, fit, and ideas; they give charm and spark in my daily life.”
I wanted to put a list together of some of the vintage stuff I feel remains underrated and/or flies under the radar, and I asked a few other vintage heads to contribute their picks, as well. I prefer to mix in vintage with newer garms, but you could put together a pretty good head-to-toe outfit with simple vintage finds that isn’t period costume.
Outerwear: OG-108 Army Wool Field Shirts
One of our most consistent recommendations is surplus or vintage field jackets for outerwear. The Army field shirt is a solid option that’s not as ubiquitous as the M-65 or even the similar Navy CPO shirt. In a wool or wool blend, with two chest pockets and a big honkin’ collar, the field shirt was part of the M1951 cold weather uniform, to be worn under the related cotton parka. I especially like the crossed-yoke detail, although you don’t find it on every version. These go for as little as $25 in Army Navy stores or online.
Shirts: L.L. Bean Oxfords, Rugby Shirts
The pantheon of OCBDs is well-known at this point: Brooks Brothers and J. Press are some of the best you’ll find vintage. But I’ve found L.L. Bean’s to be pretty darned good–durable cloth, good collar roll, and a medium-full fit. Look for U.S. made and 100% cotton versions but, to be honest, I even like some of the blends. Plus, they’re generally significantly cheaper than the more sought-after trad outfitters.
For more casual wear, I like rugby shirts from the 80s (and to an extent, the 90s). Basic colors in that heavyweight jersey just feel right in the fall. Current brands like Noah are making quality versions, but there’s a lot for the picking online and in thrift stores. Look for L.L. Bean, Patagonia (older versions are collectible and expensive), or Columbia Knit.
Pants: OG 107 Cargo Pants, Navy Deck Pants
Milsurp strikes again! While fatigue pants are a pretty common recommendation, I specifically like the olive cargo pants with articulated knees and bellows pockets as pictured above–although the naming system is a little trickier for trousers than it is for jackets, you can search for olive, OG 107, sateen, and cargo pants to find vintage versions online. They’re baggy, sure, but comfortable, cheap, and look great with a plaid flannel or OCBD.
David suggests Navy deck overalls: “For weekends, USN Deck Overalls with the whipcord shell are on the top of my list right now. They come in olive and navy. The Olive version has multiple pockets and the navy version is pocketless, but comes with more interesting side clasps. The key is to remove the lining with some simple seam rippers (covering the exposed seams is a good idea for the more experienced) so that the majority of the bulk is removed. I love the whipcord fabric on these, which are in the same rugged fabric as in the famous N-1 deck jackets. They’re hefty and thick like super heavy weight denim and do well in chilly fall weather after the lining’s been removed.”
Shoes: Wingtips, Engineer Boots
Because some people are skeeved out by worn shoes, and because good shoes are damned expensive, one remaining category to find vintage value is in footwear. Says Brian of Wooden Sleepers: “If you know what to look for (specific brands, construction, style, materials, country of origin, etc.), you can get a really great, well made, and classic pair of shoes for a fraction of the cost of comparable new shoes. They may need fresh soles and a polish, but your local shoe repair guy can take care of that and in the process you have supported not one, but two small business. Also, no need to break them in!” After an apparent peak in the market a couple years back, American wingtips like Florsheim Imperials (photo above from WS) sell for lower prices and represent a pretty good value compared to other American makes like Alden. Likewise, engineer boots, favored by motorcycle riders, are easy to find and pleasingly tough looking, and a little less ubiquitous than mocc toe Red Wings. The above pair is by Chippewa.
For a category where things aren’t made they used to be, it’s hard to beat bags. New items from even revived old makers like Ghurka are often regarded as not up to par with the companies’ former selves.
According to Derek, “I dig the designs, but also think they used better (or at least heavier) materials back in the day.” And although you’re not likely to get a screaming deal on an old Ghurka or Hermes bag, they are almost universally cheaper than their newer, luxury conglomerate successors. Look for military bags, canvas and leather bags from Ghurka, Brady, or LL Bean; vintage mountaineering packs from companies like Gerry or Kelty; luggage from brands like Globetrotter.