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Wanna Dress Vintage Like a Rock Star? Ask One Yourself

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By day four of a recent "staycation," my family and I had little to do and less money to do it with. My daughter suggested an afternoon of bargain-hunting in the thrift stores.

Everyone piled into the family vehicle and off we went. She asked what I planned to buy, if anything. I told her, without hesitation, I'd be searching for a concert T-shirt commemorating The Rolling Stones' 1981 American tour.

"O-kayyyy," she said. "Good luck with that."

"Preferably, a jersey, with red or blue sleeves," I said.

"Riiiight," was her response.

On the way to the shop of her choice -- Sand Dollar in The Heights -- I told her I was hopeful I'd find what I was looking for because there must be many, many middle-aged men who are now too fat (or too old) to wear these clothes, which they proudly sported decades ago. Maybe their kids don't care about vintage clothing and, needing to pare down their fashion accouterments, they've foolishly tossed them all into a garbage bag for disposal at the resale shops.

As the song says, my daughter reminded me, one's man trash is another man's come up. So everyone agreed to be on the lookout for any vintage music apparel I might be interested in.

We even decided to consult an expert, so we'd know what to seek out. Meg Michelle Cambern is general manager and merchandiser for a quartet of well-known Lower Westheimer vintage resale shops: Leopard Lounge, Taxi Taxi, Pavement and Blackbird. If anyone knows what music apparel consumers are searching for, it's her.

Cambern's first tip was to not limit my search to stuff on hangers.

"We do sell a lot of band T-shirts, vintage and modern, but people also are looking for patches, buttons, bags, shoes and other things," she said. "The world revolves around music and music plays such a huge part in fashion."

Cambern can say this with utter confidence because she's also a musician. She plays bass for local glam-rockers The Freakouts. The band has a sound that pays homage to their '70s rock idols and a decided look to match.

"I don't believe image is everything, but there's got to be something that separates you from the norm that catches the eye," Cambern said. "We've all dressed the way we do before we were in the band, mainly being influenced by everything punk and rock and roll."

"There's a thousand bands out there doing the same thing you are, it's your personality and image that helps separate you from the others," she added.

While spandex and platform shoes might work for them, I was looking for something modest that would also express how I feel about music. So, I hit the racks looking for apparel representing artists I enjoy. And, as I waded through used 3 Doors Down and Spin Doctors tees, I was beginning to learn something about myself.

My daughter walked over with a four-foot-tall stuffed kangaroo. It had a pouch and a stuffed joey peeking out from it.

"I gotta have this, Dad," she said.

Before I could answer, my son was approaching with a pair of olive-green briefs on a hanger.

"Really?" he asked. "Who is coming to the Sand Dollar to buy underwear?"

Had there been an AC/DC symbol emblazoned across the crotch, I might have spent a dollar or two on them. Not to wear, you know, just to have, in case they had any value to them. Another thing Cambern taught us was vintage music clothing can be worth big bucks.

"Some of the band stuff is considered collector's items more than everyday wear," she says. "I'd say any tour shirt you have, hold on to it. It could be worth good money in the future."

She sent me a link to an article that says a 1976 New York Dolls shirt listed on eBay is commanding more than $2,000. A Runaways tee from 1977 is fetching similar bids. Now I had a new goal in mind. Maybe our broke-ass family outing was about to become one of those moments where an unsuspecting bonehead buys a rare Degas at a garage sale, just because it looks cool.

I wanted to be that bonehead.

But before I could, my wife approached and asked whether some multicolored Chucks she'd found for $8 seemed like a good buy.

"Hell yeah," I said.

Back to hunting I went. I didn't see any merchandise that might hasten my retirement. Maybe there was something popular I could focus on.

"For Houston, I'll say a lot of Iggy Pop is being sold right now," Cambern advised. "Always Misfits and Black Flag. And, of course, the lovely Joan Jett."

She said Houston is trading a lot of Paul McCartney and, oddly enough, New Kids on the Block gear. Being fashion mavens, she and bandmate Ash Kay, who manages Leopard Lounge, aren't above snagging apparel for themselves when it arrives. Cambern said she had recently grabbed a Monkees shirt and an Ozzy Osbourne "No More Tours" concert tee.

I started noticing that the T-shirts I considered purchasing were by bands I'd never heard. I started thinking about all the good advice I'd gotten from Cambern, and that made me think of her band, too. They don't just look the part, they've got some chops. Meg comes from musical pedigree herself; her dad Dwain was a longtime local musician.

I first saw the Freakouts play at a house show/benefit called Fuzzy Fest a couple of years ago and have been a fan ever since. It dawned on me the gear I wanted to wear wasn't vintage at all. It was for new bands like hers, the ones I wanted to tell other people about just by pulling their T-shirts on before I went to grocery shop or to grab a beer and burger.

By the end of our family excursion, my wife, kids and I had bought $60 worth of someone else's junk. No underwear was purchased, and no music apparel, either. I figured if I was going to spend money on gear, I'd wait until I caught The Freakouts again and just buy some of their merch.

What people buy, Cambern explained, "really depends on the customer. I've come across people that just have so much love for a certain band they're on the hunt for anything that has their name on it.

"Also, I've seen people learn about new music from the band merch we carry," she added. "Everyone loves music... you don't have to be a certain type of person to express that."

The Freakouts' self-titled 7" release/tour kickoff is July 13 at Fitzgerald's. Everyone paying the $7 cover gets a copy of the record, and they will have music apparel for sale as well. The band begins their "Your Mama Won't Like Us" tour of the Southwestern U.S. on July 25.

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